So… You want to compete. You know it’s a challenge. You’ve read the blogs. You know it can take over your life. You know it can be a challenge to recover mentally post-show. You know it costs a lot and that can be for very little reward. But you also see the amazing transformations. You’ve seen the trophies. You’ve seen the mental battles won by competitors. You want one of the most rewarding challenges of you recent life. You know that it’s right for you. You (hopefully) enlist the help of a coach (for your first show at least). So what exactly can you expect? Slightly straying from my usual style, I have decided to give you a bit of insight in to what a typical week on prep looks like for me, currently 5 weeks out from my first show of the season. And what this may have looked like 2.5 years ago before my first show in 2015, or 1 year ago before my 2016 season. The first season that I competed, I had a coach who I respect eternally, so for that period of time I’m going to talk more about my mindset rather than the training plan, because RESPECT to that man and what he did for me.
This year, I have made the move to compete with PCA (a new federation for me). With slightly different criteria, different look and some different rules, I feel like a scared little newbie again. However, the same rules underpin my prep regardless of the federation. The only thing that has changed over shows for me, is my flexibility and mindset.
Keep in mind when reading this, that everyone’s prep is different (or at least should be unique to you). People require different intakes, expenditures and methods to get the results that work for them.
2017: Prep consists of lifting and cardio. This, my friends, will always be a fact for us bikini girls. This year, I am working my training around energy expenditure according to my FitBit. This is something new to me, but something I am trialing out before implementing with others. Simply put, I set a target exercise energy expenditure to hit daily, via a combination of lifting and cardio. That means that, on days that my lifting has a huge expenditure (e.g. glutes and hams training), I may only do 10-15 minutes of cardio. It also means that on days that I don’t lift, I do enough Stairmaster to make even the machine sweat. What I have mentioned in an earlier post on social media, is that as you get deeper in to prep, your heart rate may drop and you become more efficient at doing the same exercise. Efficiency sounds like a good thing though, right? Not for exercise it isn’t. The more efficient you are, the less calories you burn at any given absolute intensity (e.g. Level 10 on the Stairmaster starts to work your body the same as Level 8). Tracking expenditure on the FitBit means I don’t get away with it that easily. It means I have to push myself harder to get the expenditure up. More importantly, it also means that I can combine my lifting and cardio in to one session and be finished all of my training by 7am. That’s right, I can be so efficient with training that I am basically a normal dieting person from the hours of 8am and 9pm. This also means far less hunger-dominated lifting sessions (prep hunger is a lot lower in the mornings than after a full day of work). I roughly track my daily energy expenditure too, ensuring that my physical activity doesn’t drop as I get more tired. Lifting split focuses on my weaker areas (delts and quads) as well as my glutes, because bikini needs glutes. I still lift heavy and add some metabolic conditioning type sessions in every other session. But I still aim for improvements in strength, this rarely stops. I do no suddenly enter prep and assume sudden weakness and inability to lift like a strong girl.
2016: Last year, I followed the traditional competitor split of fasted cardio (which peaked at 60 minutes per day) in the morning (usually), followed by a lifting session after work, and as prep got deeper, a final cardio session at home on my bike in the living room (which peaked at about 30 minutes a day). THREE sessions a day. That started at about 6 weeks out from my first show of the season because I could not lean down. That equated to roughly 3-4 hours daily training. FYI I have a relationship, family and best friends, a full-time job as a lecturer and a self-employed consultancy business to run. I didn’t moan (except to the other half and best friend, but that’s basically the same as in your head so doesn’t count… right??). This is YOUR choice.
A lot of people expect to walk in to a prep and have their nutrition change weekly. They think that in order to continue to drop fat, that things will continually have to change. This is most certainly not the case. I mean, if something is working, why change it? You don’t want to be in a situation where you make changes to your nutrition so often, that after 10 weeks of prep, you have nowhere left to go, are running on 3 hours training and 9 hours work a day and 1200 kcal. Just no. Nutrition changes are based on weekly progress. They cannot be anticipated.
2017: I never tell people my macros split because I worry that people will compare their intakes against mine and think that (despite reinforcing the importance of individuality at all times) they will try to emulate my meals. But this time around, I want to give you a really honest insight in to how I prep. Not what I do for clients, but what works for me. So right now, this week, my macro split is as follows: 190c; 142p; 36f (roughly). I work with a calorie intake first, ensuring then that I hit my protein intake, then I work from a basis of predominantly low fat meals so that I can keep a decent carbohydrate intake. Reason being – I like carbs. I respond well to carbs. Carbs make me happy. I know that a low carb, high fat diet as followed by so many would make me sad. Also, because there is no need to go super low carb or super low fat. You can go moderate carb some days, low carb others, high carb others, provided protein and energy intake is consistent. So stop stressing over fats vs. carbs macros –when undertaking a general fat loss diet, it doesn’t make much of a difference! My structured nutritional intake has changed once since I started prep 7 weeks ago. ONCE.
I follow a flexible dieting approach. This means that I eat predominantly whole, nutrient-rich foods that are satiating and beneficial for my health. But it also means that I will have a little bit of less nutrient-rich foods if I fancy. Sugar doesn’t make you fat. Chocolate isn’t bad for you. Nothing is bad in moderation, in fact, a lot of things are good in moderation. In fact, I genuinely believe that those who follow a more flexible approach to prep actually have a greater nutrient density in their diet (potentially controversial to what the ‘clean eater’s may postulate), because those with a more structured diet tend to stick to the same 2-3 meals daily for months. Crucially missing out on a wide range of nutrients that are not available in sweet potato, chicken and lean red meat.
Here’s an example of my meals this week:
|Meal 1 (post-training)|
1 scoop ON Gold Standard whey
5 giant Milkybar buttons
|3 Heck chicken italia sausages|
Giant serving of cauliflower
1 Fibre One brownie
|1 ON OptiLean Meal Replacement Bar|
1 Muller rice pot
1 Coco Pops Choco Bake
1-2 Costa large soya milk Americanos
|1 Warburtons Toaster Pocket|
150g cottage cheese
Onions, green salad
40 Eat Lean Protein Cheese
10g ON casein
1 Galaxy Light hot chocolate
Do I ever have off-plan meals on prep? This prep, I have allowed myself an off-plan treat meal once per week. There is absolutely no other physiological reason for this, other than it helps to restore my muscle glycogen levels to allow me to have a few good strong sessions afterwards. Most importantly though, is that it simply helps me psychologically. It gives me a night of normality to look forward to. It does not ‘restore my hormones’. ‘Refeeds’ on prep for me, are not essential. They are simply sanity-saving. These will be removed as of this weekend (5 weeks out from my first show) and replaced with high carb untracked weekends. ‘Untracked’ I hear you yell? At 5 weeks out? YES. For me, this works. I trialed it last year after my boyfriend made me grow some prep balls (and perspective). I know how to eat within my requirements. But the mental break this gives me cannot be underestimated. I prefer NOT tracking. I prefer less obsessive behaviour towards my nutrition. So, going against all the prep rules, I allow myself this whilst I can. Not the mindset of a winner? Reason I usually come in third and not second or first? Possibly. But I’ll take it (especially considering my feedback is always too spindly and small, rather than lacking condition).
I very rarely deviate from my macros. I DO stick to my plan. I don’t say ‘I was hungry so I had to eat extra’. No. When I’m hungry I drink diet juice. I eat a few pieces of broccoli (which I actually track at this stage – there are 150kcal in a small bunch of broccoli which actually is quite a lot relative to a low calorie intake). I go for a walk. You’re going to be hungry. Suck it up. This prep, I’ve had a few other struggles which have led to my own life being prioritised. Life > prep where essential (and I mean essential for your sanity or long-term quality of life). On those few occasions where I do deviate (duh duh duuuuh), I train a little harder, take an extra lunch time walk or take walks to the printer at work that is slightly farther from my office. And I keep perspective – I work hard enough 99% of the time to allow these human feels.
2016: Never did I ever have a macro off track. I did not have a handful of cereal, or a gram of milk. I was on super low calories for me at this stage out from my competition (roughly 140c, 30f, 160p) and lots of cardio. However, as I said, this year I introduced untracked high carb refeeds every weekend. This meant aiming for high carb, low fat food choices throughout the weekend days (cue the ultimate in Froyo purchases and lots of waffles and beans and oven chips…). Introducing the latter saved my sanity and my personal life. Sure I held water for a few days afterwards, but the weight drop was consistent weekly. These higher carb days only became tracked at 2 weeks before my show, after which time they were still present but monitored (and contained slightly less sugar). Although I don’t necessarily believe that refeeds are required for ‘hormone restoration’, if this were to be even slightly true, it would take more than 24 hours to do so (not simply one ‘treat meal’). So I bunched my few higher carb days together to take any potential advantage there may have been, and continue to do so today. I also found that this greater relaxation in my approach vastly improved my post-show feelings (you can read about them in earlier blogs), and I found that I wasn’t craving post-show, or desperate to overeat. I was just happy to start removing the guilt from good again (which again, was far less following this more relaxed approach).
2015: No treat meals for 10 weeks. Emotional breakdown over consumption of a Lemsip (there was a good 20g of carbs in there). No cup of tea for 10 weeks. Very little flexibility in my diet due to my lack of awareness of benefits of eating to macros targets. Insane cravings. Insane ‘post-show treat box’. Insane head space. But consistent progress and no cardio over 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week with some additional post-workout. Hardest and most rewarding prep to date. Tears when the pizza came.
WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO THROW YOU OFF
One day this week, after my lunch time walk, I got such bad shakes that I had to eat lunch at 11am. No idea why, at two meals down this happened. Our bodies are finely tuned to regulate our blood sugar, so it isn’t that. I could have ignored it, but work is my priority at these hours of the day. I’d rather give good teaching time to my students and be starving at night than prolong meals at the expense of the quality of my work. Didn’t hinder progress because I had meals at the wrong times or spaced out. Super hungry afternoon. Early night. No worries. Did not decide that I ‘needed’ additional meals. Understood my body was just adapting to nutritional changes.
Cinema date. I personally don’t believe that cinema trips should ever occur without snacks. It would be a crime against life. Therefore, this day, I saved some additional macros throughout the day and used them for cinema snacks. A chopped up protein bar, a bag of sweet potato baked slices and a giant cola bottle from pick and mix, made quite the suitable alternative to a giant Candy King and Ben and Jerry’s sundae. And I still lost fat according to the next days check-in.
Forgotten words when teaching classes. 1000’s of mgs of caffeine struggling to keep me awake. Waking up with sore joints. Waking up feeling sick because tiredness. But NO ONE CARES. Have more caffeine and smile. No one is here to help you. The more you smile and force yourself awake. The happier and more awake you are… I promise. Prep isn’t easy. But imagine what having a child is like and then moan about sleep deprivation… (if you don’t already).
PREP IS INDIVIDUAL
This is MY way of prepping. Some of my clients do similar. Some eat more. Some cardio more. Some eat less. Some eat the same meals most of the time. Some eat to macro-led meals of their choice only. This article is not to advise you of what to do. It is to show you that each to their own. Progress can be made in so many different ways. If your coach tries to force you in to a way of prep that they think is best, when you know yourself better, you are allowed to question it. Trial and error. Always learning. And more importantly, always enjoying. Prep is a learning curve, like everything else in your life. And that’s just it – there is so much more going on in life. Don’t blur your vision with so much chicken and asparagus that you can’t see the love for the broccoli trees…