Competition Reflection: Part I- Prep
Well, as some of you may already know, I just wrapped up my first ever competition! It was a long-time dream of mine which I constantly suppressed. It was months of hard-work. It was years of preparation-- and it was an absolute blast.
All of that being said, I wanted to take to the blog to dive a little deeper and really reflect on the whole thing, and maybe, in the process, help out anyone else that has been considering competing.
To start, I have to say that I am officially hooked. And that is not just because of the hardware and PRO CARD (!!) I took home with me after...
No, no-- I was hooked well before that. It has been a very long time since I've felt this connected, enthralled, and genuinely happy with a sport, and I'm so grateful that I took the plunge and finally did a competition, or else I never would've known this feeling. (For those of you that care to know the backstory of why I decided to compete, see my first blog post here)
I became hooked very quickly-- like almost 2 weeks into my prep! And while I plan get into all the details of the competition and process, I really want to take some time to just discuss the preparation right now.
Bikini prep gets a bad rap in the fitness industry as it gets made out to be this period of time where you eat no food, do way too much cardio, spend hours in the gym, 2-a-day workouts, can't spend time with friends or family, etc. etc., and quite honestly, this is one reason I put off competing for so long. I've always loved working out, eating healthy, and all that jazz, and I didn't want something to ruin that for me. What I realized through my prep? It doesn't have to be like that. It doesn't have to make you loathe fitness!
Though prep was hard, I legitimately loved the process. It forced me to get creative, both with my eating and with everyday life/social situations, it pushed me to improve my lifts and strength, and it mentally toughened me up! I loved prep because I made it work for me instead of letting it rule me.
But, this is not the case for many. So, what's the top reason it was all such a positive experience for me, then? Easy: my mental/physical history and state going into it.
Competing is NOT for everyone, and it is especially not for those with any sort of mental disorders (i.e. body dismorphia or eating disorders). If you are not in a good place mentally, you should not even attempt a competition prep. If you do not like your body and have body image issues, you should not attempt a competition prep. If you have disordered eating, you should not attempt a competition prep.
Competing and prep are both 100% mind games, so you need to be in a safe, healthy spot mentally. If you go into a prep disliking your body and having a negative body image, you are only going to make it worse. You are going to be spending weeks looking at yourself in the mirror and noticing every area that needs to be improved on, you need to be strong enough to handle that without letting it destroy you week after week. You need to be comfortable enough with your body going in to take your self-critiques lightly. You also need to be comfortable enough with your body to understand that the final outcome is just temporary. Competition prep is not a quick fix, the body that comes out at the end is not going to be permanent. Mentally, you need to be able to handle it changing (somewhat) back to what you started with as definition will fade and natural, healthy fat will come back. If you don't have self-love for your body going into prep, then you will definitely not love it after a few weeks of coming out of prep.
Aside from the mental aspect comes the actual, physical aspect. You need to have your body ready for bodybuilding prep. I do not recommend jumping into a bodybuilding (be that bikini, figure, physique, etc...) competition if you have no experience with weight training and/or a healthy lifestyle. A lot of people view entering a competition as a way to jump-start their new, fit way of life; however, this isn't the approach you should take for a lifestyle change.
Rather, use a competition as a motivator to get you more into the health and fitness world. Think of eventually competing and taking on a prep as the end goal to (at least) a year of fully submerging yourself into this new lifestyle and becoming accustomed to all things bodybuilding-related. I say this because...
1.) The weight training and nutrition get pretty meticulous during prep, so knowing what you're doing and how to do it is essential-- this isn't the time to start learning about weight lifting and "healthy" foods/essential macro-nutrients.
2.) You need a good base to start with! You need a solid amount of time to BUILD, BUILD, BUILD your muscle, otherwise you're just going to look 'skinny' rather than 'fit' once you're done cutting.
3.) Just like your body/muscles, you need to get your metabolism right. You need to be in a good place metabolically and calorically before you head into a prep. If you're only taking in 1000-some calories a day and doing hours of cardio a week as you enter contest prep, you're setting yourself up for failure because calories are only going to get cut and cardio is only going to get upped. If your body is happily accustomed to higher amounts of food and average amounts of cardio, then you are in a much better position to start cutting without eventually reaching an unsustainable amount of each.
As I said, I loved my prep, and that was thanks to my mental and physical history/state beforehand.
Going into this, I've been *seriously* lifting, resistance training, weight training, conditioning, etc. for 4 years. Before that, I was still conditioning and working out regularly, lightly weight training, and competitive cheerleading for years-- I've been naturally drawn to fitness for as long as I can remember. My eating habits were never horrible back then because thankfully I'm inherently drawn to more 'healthy' foods (aside from my massive sweet tooth), but within the last 4 years I've learned more and more about nutrition and how food works within our bodies, which foods work for which types of workouts/goals, etc. through a combination of classes, tests, certifications, experience, and genuine interest. All of that being said, I came into this prep with an above-average knowledge and application of training and nutrition (and I say that in the least 'braggy' way...). Essentially, I have been preparing for this show for years.
On top of this, I had plenty of time to get myself together mentally. As expressed a few different times through various Instagram posts...
I haven't always had the most healthy mindset.
I disliked a lot of parts of my body, I didn't approach food/nutrition correctly, I thought the skinnier the better, and viewed "skinny" as the ultimate goal.
This was not the type of mentality that would have flourished in a bikini prep, that is FOR SURE. Had I gone into prep with these thoughts, I would've only made myself worse and come out the other end majorly disordered. Thankfully, I had years to learn more about my body and, most importantly, learn to LOVE my body. I had years to find balance and to put myself in a healthy, happy mindset and to gain positive body image. As I previously said, I've been preparing for this show for years-- and THAT is why I had such a positive experience.
Competition prep requires more than just a few months of no drinking and watching what you eat-- put in the time and put in the work, and you'll most certainly be rewarded.