What should I do to prepare myself for a contest prep?
The hardest point of contest prep is your mental ability to carry on during the stages where you are tired, drained, fed up and hungry. I think on social media we are not shown every day struggles that people in a prep put themselves through, and that in turn gets missed out when you are trying to prepare for a show.
Before even thinking about doing a bodybuilding show, you need to consider if you are ready for that diet phase? The best way to do that is look at your calorie intake now. If it’s lower than your BMR then you need to go into a bulking/offseason state first, so that when you do start to diet, you’re not dieting on dangerously low calories that could affect you for the rest of your life.
Best advice I ever got was to get yourself a coach!!! These people are essential for you to keep pushing through stages which will better yourself each time you do a show or go into an offseason. They will tell you straight away what to do and how to do it. It’s better having someone else look after you while you’re in a prep mode because your brain lies to you, and you will start to cut calories too low or add in extra cardio when it’s not needed.
How much cardio do I need to do for prep?
Again, get yourself a coach as this is person dependent. Sometimes all that is needed on prep is a high step count so that you’re not burning muscle by slaving away doing endless amounts of cardio. On the other hand, cardio is needed for some people so they are able to get their weight down without dropping food too low, as that can ruin your health.
How much weight do you lose in prep?
As before, it is person dependent. For a show a female’s body fat percentage is below 8-10%. A male’s is 3-5% and it can be hard to get that lean. This will entail a long prep, usually 20 weeks for a female and 12-18 weeks for a male. Without ‘cheat meals’ and consistency in making sure that you do have a coach to be able to check in with, they can guide you what to change through those weeks of prep.
What does it mean to be in prep?
When you have decided on a show to compete in, this is where calories are reduced slowly in order to reach the aesthetic goal of stage shape. Every single preparation is different. It depends on how high you have been able to push food in an offseason, and how well you have trained in the offseason. These are some of the main reasons a bulk/offseason is necessary. Calories can drop very low in order to be able to get stage lean, females are usually around 8% body fat and males 3-5% although everyone is different. There isn’t a specific body fat goal, it is up to your muscle definition plus the category you are aiming for which determines the end look.
Will I need to do a carb up?
The purpose of a carb up is to fill the muscles with glycogen (sugar) to make them appear fuller on stage and sometimes even leaner. This does also depend on what federation you have chosen and the category, as each has their own unique look. Carb loading for bodybuilders is about planning periods of high and low carb intakes to balance energy stores. However, each group has a drastically different reason for loading up. Some athletes don’t need those 2-3 days of carb loading just because their body might not react well to it. Or maybe they are not lean enough to start with in order for their body to use the carbs correctly; this is when they can over spill.
Will my calories be low?
If you are in a contest prep, your calories will end up being quite low as you will need to be in a deficit to reduce weight. To be able to get to the desired look required for stage, your body will need to be leaner than ever before. It is important to consider the main goal when wanting to take part in a prep, as mentally, the dieting can last a long time. From experience it can get difficult, but if you have a strong mindset to push through and carry on, you will have no problem.
What happens on stage?
Depending on the federation and category chosen this is always different. The best advice I can give is to research different categories and federations to find the one which you feel fits you the best. You also need to consider your natural body shape when looking at the categories, as you’ll need to have the right amount of muscle in certain areas to be able to be competitive. Don’t be disheartened if you then realise that you need to do an offseason/bulking phase first before you compete. Personally, I think that it is the best way to enter the competitive world, as you have got used to a routine and you know that you are committed to the sport.
What do I need to know as a first timer on prep?
Here’s a few things I wished I’d have known:
- Make sure you have a coach
- Sticking to plan is so important
- Posing, whether male or female, is important – sets your stage presence
- Making sure you have a good daily routine
- The gym you go to has a good range of equipment
- Asking for help is ok
- Find the right federation and category for YOU
- You are going to have some bad days
- Organise everything you need for show day (bikini, posing trunks etc)
- You have little time on stage so embrace every single second
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