There is no denying that the fitness competition industry is growing. More and more people are taking the plunge to go through a competition prep and step on stage for the very first time. New organizations are popping up to cater to the ever growing crowd and with the help of the internet we have access to some of the newest, latest and most up to date information in regards to, training, nutrition, and supplementation. Of course, on top of this it is now much easier to access coaches all around the world who have the formal education and experience to back up their coaching protocols.
I have been involved in the fitness industry since 2006 when I did my first show and I can say that during this time I have tried many different preparation methods to get ready for shows. I am here to tell you that there is not one specific way of doing things, but what we have access to now is sound information and research that shows us that some of the ways we have done things in the past (and are still currently doing) are absolutely 100% not necessary and can be detrimental to one’s physique and health.
Some of the things that I speak about are: severe water depletion and dehydration, extreme carb and fat loading protocols prior to a show, multiple cardio sessions per day ranging from 1-2 hours, using only higher repetition training to ilicit more fat burning, cheat days, generic low carb/high protein diets that incorporate only lean protein sources, vegetables, and maybe a cup of oats or two, diuretics and fat burners for bikini competitors and the list could go on.
I have seen numerous competitors complain about placings due to them not hitting their peak right or holding onto too much water the day of the show when really they had another 10-15lbs of bodyfat to lose. If you do not feel you look ready at 1-2 weeks out, then you sure as hell are not going to perform some magic trick on your body during the last day or two to make yourself ready.
Whether you are training drug free or not, body fat loss is body fat loss and achieving the proper body fat level while maintaining muscle mass is the end goal of any physique competition. Sure there are many different categories appearing now including bikini, fitness model, physique etc, but ultimately most competitors have the goal of decreasing body fat and holding onto their strength and muscle mass. This is done through the proper manipulation of nutrients and training. Cardio should be done as minimally as possible to achieve a constant fat loss each week.
Be honest with how much bodyfat you have to lose and give yourself enough time to reach stage levels of leanness slowly. The longer and slower the fat loss, the more food you should be able to keep in and the less cardio you should have to do. This equates to a healthier metabolic rate at the end of a fat loss phase which helps a lot with returning to a more normal bodyweight post competition. The number of times I have seen post competition binges get out of control and the effect that it has on people mentally can be deveastating. I have been there myself, and the whole time believed that this was necessary and beneficial as I was assured most of the weight I was putting on was muscle.
The best post competition approach you can take is to reverse diet back up to a healthier bodyfat level slowly. If you took a long period of time to diet down to low body fat levels, clearly it would make sense for you to take a long period of time to bring your bodyweight back up to reasonable levels. This is great for building off-season metabolic capacity and taking care of your metabolic rate in the long run.
At the end of the day, stepping on the fitness stage should be about one thing and one thing only, and that is for self-improvement. When I first started in this sport I wanted to win every show and obtain as many trophies as possible. I quickly realized that this sport is very subjective. What one judge is looking for may not be what the next judge sees. Competitors are judged on different aspects including: symmetry (how well proportioned you are), muscle mass, conditioning, and now stage prescence and even other factors. All of these things are subjective and can be viewed differently in each person’s eyes. The other aspect you have no control over is who shows up to compete against you on any given day. Certain individuals may have genetics that outweigh you or training experience that doubles yours. The only thing that you can bring to the stage on any given day is the satisfaction knowing that you did absolutely everything you can and applied 100% effort to the program that you were given. If you did your research, decided that competing was for you and then applied a plan to 100% perfection to get on the stage, that is all that matters.
If you were unhappy with how you looked, then essentially it is up to you to figure out how to go about things differently and implement a new plan next time to improve how YOU look up there. Your number one goal each time you step on stage should be beating your previous best. Placing emphasis on first, second, or third place trophies will leave you with a lot of disspointment and negativity. Instead focus on what you can do at any given time to get better!