While there is a huge sense of satisfaction to make it through a bodybuilding contest prep, it’s no secret that the risk is greater than the reward.
When I was 16 I decided to get serious about my training and fell in love with bodybuilding. I bought magazines as soon as they hit the shelves. I listened to bodybuilding pro weekly radio to stay up to date with the scene. I took my protein powder, creatine, and even oats powder to school in cling wrapped bundles stored in my shaker bottle to drink at certain times of the day. I trained as heavy as possible, ate as much as possible, and loved the journey.
I had no desire to ever compete in a bodybuilding event. I truly just loved bodybuilding and Ronnie Coleman was my greatest motivation.
Moving forward, five years later I found myself 8 weeks out from a bodybuilding show with the consideration of stepping on stage for the first time.
I took some advice from a bodybuilder who I paid $200 to for a diet, yet everyday I got told something different from others. Cut out protein powder because it holds fluid under the skin. Cut out fruit. Cut out dairy. Cut out post workout carbs and only do cardio fasted.
It was at that point that I realised there’s more to competing than eating ‘clean’ and being consistent in the gym. Regardless of the confusion and restrictions, I ended up making it to the stage, placed second, and loved the fulfilling feeling of accomplishing what was once considered impossible.
So what’s the deal? Why am I no longer interested in competing? Well after something like 9 bodybuilding shows, I finally recovered from the mental craziness that comes with being a competitive bodybuilder. The stuff that doesn’t really get discussed. The stuff I’m going to touch on now.
Once you get to unmaintainably low body fat levels suitable for bodybuilding shows, for some strange reason you convince yourself that you’ve built the ultimate ‘maintainable‘ physique. As soon as you move away from that look you’re apparently fat, regardless of the fact that you’re probably the leanest person in the room where ever you go. It’s tough to look at yourself and be proud of anything less than what you displayed on stage.
You have no idea what flexible dieting is and limit your food sources for 8-16+ weeks to those that are considered ‘clean’. Similar to “the five foods that work”, if you remember that BS. As soon as you end the competition prep, going back to eating a wider variety of foods can be tough. You either binge uncontrollably and call it a reward, or consider ‘bulking’, which unfortunately doesn’t help the body dysmorphia.
As soon as you start preparing for a bodybuilding competition nothing else matters. It takes priority over everything you do. Work suffers. Social life suffers. Relationships suffer. There hasn’t been a single bodybuilding contest prep that I’ve done that I can truly say my focus and energy wasn’t affected. My ability to work with clients or be a good partner suffered every time which is totally unacceptable in my opinion.
When you are in a deep calorie deficit which is required to achieve an unmaintainably low body fat percentage, you can kiss your lean gains potential goodbye. Everytime I see someone complete a contest prep they come out of it trying to rebuild their strength. The truth is it’s near impossible to get down to 5-6% body fat and build strength or muscle, naturally. Being that lean, your training performance isn’t the only thing that suffers. You can forget all about bedroom cardio too. It’s not your fault either. As you get leaner your body starts shutting down systems to maintain life. Goodbye libido.
All for what?
Short term gratification. A trophy, maybe.
I rediscovered that loving bodybuilding doesn’t require you to be 5% body fat. I discovered that you can find a balance of progressive strength gains, lean gains, unrestricted food sources, and a maintainable lower body fat percentage that doesn’t make you crazy.
I now promote a lifestyle that includes everything positive about bodybuilding but doesn’t compromise general or mental health.
I sit at a comfortably low body fat percentage that doesn’t affect my performance. I utilise an eating structure that doesn’t restrict my food source selection or ability to eat socially. I gain a sense of satisfaction in helping many others to achieve their maintainable goals that encourage lifestyle balance and continued progressive results.
If you want to enter a bodybuilding competition I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I’m just sharing the real deal.
Although I no longer suggest or encourage bodybuilding contest prep, I still work with clients who ask me to get them ready for shows. Why? Because if I don’t work with them, they’ll probably end up on chicken, broccoli, and two hours of cardio a day. Instead, we utilise effective strength training, flexible dieting protocols, and make progressive adjustments as needed.
If you’re walking around in shape and unhappy with how you look please realise that there is more to life than being shredded.