Competing is one of the most rewarding endeavours you can experience, but only because of how difficult it is – physically, emotionally, mentally & financially. It will affect every area of your life & if done recklessly, can have very serious repercussions. This is why I recommend clients spend time in a “pre prep” phase to ensure a successful, safe & enjoyable experience:
Increase Metabolic Capacity
If you’ve been dieting or eating low calories for a long time, you are NOT ready to start a prep. It takes -500 calories/day to burn 500g/ 1lb fat per week, so if you are starting a prep eating a baseline of 1200 calories, you would have to lower your intake to 700 to drop that 500g/1lb fat. That is a one-way ticket to misery calories that are not only going to increase your chance of muscle loss, but are going to be much harder to bounce back from post-comp. I recommend spending at least 6 months at a higher intake to give yourself room to make meaningful cuts when it does come time to diet. Generally speaking, women should aim for >2000 calories daily, while men should aim for >3000.
Improve Gut Health
The gut is the gateway between the nutrients you eat & what your body absorbs, & an impairment in any way WILL impact your ability to get lean & build muscle. If you suffer regular bloating, slow motility, reflux, constipation, diarrhoea or digestion issues of any kind you should fix these first before starting prep.
Increase Insulin Sensitivity
When we eat, the body releases insulin to regulate blood sugar. In an individual who is insulin sensitive, the body will prioritise glycogen replenishment over fat storage, but in an insulin resistant individual, the opposite occurs. Besides leading to a boatload of health problems, poor insulin sensitivity will make it near impossible to build muscle & get stage lean.
Your hormones influence everything from your ability to build & retain muscle, burn body fat, respond to stress & manage hunger. If there is a hormonal imbalance, achieving stage-level leanness will be harder & the stress of a comp prep will likely make the situation worse. Females should have a healthy, regular menstrual cycle before starting a prep.
We use cardio as a fat loss tool to further increase energy output, so starting a prep doing minimal cardio means you are going to have a lot more room to move when fat loss plateaus occur. Starting a prep eating very low calories & doing high amounts of cardio is like starting a road trip on an empty tank of fuel – you’re not going to get very far before the vehicle taps out!
I’ve spoken many times before about the impact of stress on fat loss & body composition, so ensuring you are embarking on a prep when life stressors are low is important. If you are going through a divorce, changing jobs, relocating or dealing with financial pressures, then you are best to wait until you are in a more settled position before prepping for a show.
When training at a high level, injuries are going to happen from time to time, but there’s a difference between your occasional muscle strains & niggles, & serious injuries that set back training significantly. As calories are reduced during prep, you will lose some muscle mass, & your ability to recover will be impaired, meaning any injuries you’ve been carrying will likely get worse. Training capacity & muscle mass should be at an all-time high before entering a prep, which means any significant injuries should be fully healed.
Can You Afford It?
Competing is not cheap! In addition to grocery bills, supplements & gym memberships, there are contest entry fees, federation fees, posing suits, heels, jewellery, hair & make up, tanning, travel expenses, not to mention your contest prep coaching fees. The last thing you want to do is get half way through your prep only to realise you cannot afford to compete.
Learn to Love the Process
As glamorous as competing appears on the outside, it is in reality a very UN-glamorous sport. You must enjoy the training, dieting & posing if you expect to see it through. A process fuelled by enjoyment will be far easier to maintain than one fuelled by a desperate need for approval.