3 Life Lessons from Competitive Bodybuilding
1. Patience, Consistency & Dedication
Starting your first prep is excited and intimidating at the same time. I loved the fact that I knew I was going to be in the best shape of my life, but the thought of the sixteen to twenty weeks in front of me created some anxiety. Never had I ever been that committed to dieting for such a prolonged length of time. Not only on that, I really had no clue what to expect, which personally drove me nuts! Some might even refer to me as an obsessive-compulsive planner and control freak. I like having the control of knowing what will happen and have a plan as to how I am going to accomplish each goal. This does not happen in bodybuilding. I received a rude awakening when my coach said, “well I’d love to give you a play by play, but we have to see what your body responds to.” By far the worst answer I’ve ever heard and it couldn’t have been better for me.
Patience was never my virtue. Over my life, I have worked hard in athletics and was lucky enough to have the results follow soon thereafter. In group sports like soccer or swimming there was games or meets all the time to feel and see the results and success of your efforts. Bodybuilding forced me into having patience I never knew I had and resulted in me giving up the drivers. My coach was in control, she called the shots and I followed her lead. Diets don’t take days to take effect, but weeks to see results. And, the results will not happen without having full dedication to eating what you’re supposed to and training in the gym. For the first time in my life, I had to blindly trust that my weeks and months of consistency and dedication in diet and training will produce the physique I want. But, how sweet it is when three months pass, and you see those abs you’ve been dying for!
2. You Are What and How You Eat
Going out to dinner and enjoying good food with friends and family was a very common practice for me. Being Italian, food was always treated as a rather large part of life. It wasn’t like I was eating horrendously, but the portions were large and WHAT I was eating did not give me the lean look I wanted. Eating to compete was a whole different ball of wax. My portions were controlled, WHAT I was eating was drastically altered and I was taught how to eat to cut fat. I learned there are diets to help build muscle and other diets aimed specifically to cut fat. Counting macros and measuring food became the norm while eating out, dairy and alcohol became a dim distant memory. To be honest, I had never felt better. My energy level was higher than it had ever been, my time in the gym felt amazing and I was easily maintaining a low body fat percentage. It wasn’t until I had my first cheat meal post-show that I felt the effects of food on my body. It’s as if your stomach has become intolerant to burgers, French fries and cheese – I felt terrible. Don’t get me wrong, saturated fats should not be completely taken out of your diet because they play an important aspect in helping to regulate hormones and even joint health. But, this experience truly drove the point home that my body appreciates the apple more than the margarita.
Over the years, I’ve learned that there is a plethora of different prep diets and health is NOT always a priority. Some diets can result endocrine problems, metabolic damage, the list goes on. It’s a beautiful thing to step on stage and look the best you ever have, but at what cost? It’s important to think of the consequences of what your diet is doing to your body. Unfortunately, I made a poor decision to compete in several shows in one year. It took my body over a year to reverse the metabolic damage that I caused and return to what I considered my ‘normal.’ Which is why I cannot stress enough the importance of having a plan after show day. Be prepared to ask your coach for a reverse diet with the understanding that your body is in a vulnerable state to drastically gain fat because your metabolism is moving very slow. A plan to slowly have the body consume more calories over a few weeks will help prevent going from the best shape of your life to the worst!
3. Better Body Image
My motivation to start competing came from going to a show. A girlfriend of mine decided to compete and I went to support – after all, I hadn’t seen my friend in 8 weeks due to prep! I saw the kind of conditioning these women were able to achieve and I wanted it for myself. It was amazing to get on stage and see the changes in my body that I was never able to see before. But, after the show when I started to gain weight, I essentially freaked out. Watching the scale and body fat go up made me VERY upset. I felt that I looked terrible and I would only be happy with my physique if my body was exceedingly lean – like 3 weeks out lean. How ridiculous was my mindset? Attempting to maintain such a low body fat percentage ALL the time is completely unhealthy, and I had a warped perception of what the female body should look like.
Strangely enough, I was scrolling through Instagram about three weeks before a show and I saw a post from another figure competitor who described how much she loves her off season body as much as she loves her prep body. For some reason, her words spoke to me. I finally understood that regardless of what the scale or measurements tell me, I should appreciate what I have. Over time I learned and embraced the fact that I have to raise body fat to gain the muscle mass I wanted. I realized that I prefer a slightly softer look to my body during off season, but love to see the cuts and growth that I put so much effort into. Both bodies ARE beautiful and BOTH bodies are beautiful examples of the hard work and dedication that bodybuilding has taught me. Always love the shape and size of the body you have because it’s the only one you’re going to get!
Written by: Samantha Meinrod