Bikini’s, bronzed skin, beach hair, heels and smiles. Perhaps it’s the warming weather and the threat of exposed skin that sees the clinic heat up with aspiring fitness models.
From Ashy Bines to Kayla Itsines, Instagram is rife with images of everyday females suggesting that you too can look like a fitness model in a short space of time. Whilst the majority of these are positively promoting a healthier active lifestyle, the flip side to taking this to a competitive level is something to consider a little more seriously.
As one of the few qualified Sports Dietitian’s specialising in this increasingly popular sport, I wanted to reveal the unspoken truth behind competing, what it demands physically and psychologically and highlight the ramifications of undertaking such extreme nutrition and exercise practices under amateur guidance.
Like many elite level sports, natural body sculpting is one of long-term dedication and commitment. The key difference however lies in competition where placing’s are not determined on clear performance outcomes but entirely based on aesthetics that promote extreme leanness with muscularity in combination with confident stage presence and posing.
One of my key questions to a new client wanting to undertake a fitness model competition process is;
“Why do you want to compete?”
The answer to this question is vital as it guides the direction of my professional approach. Ideally to have a solid resistance training background for a few years before thinking about competing would be a good start, it also helps if your body fat is already in a healthy or good range, which for most people that train consistently this should be relatively easy to maintain all year round.
In terms of when you start your cutting (or dieting) phase for a contest, 20 weeks is a good amount of time to ensure you are progressively putting yourself in a steady energy deficit to still nutritionally support your training needs and your health as long as possible. Amongst all this is to ensure you align yourself with a good posing coach that can dictate which category and federation your physique might be best suited to be competitive in, as well as give you a confidence boost to know you need to be able to put your body on show in the best possible light to enhance your efforts with a smile and in really high heels.
Still with me?
And after all that training (by now everyone in the gym is aware that you are there A LOT of the time), your dwindling nutrition budget starts to welcome hunger (after all my job is essentially to help starve you in the best possible way to leanness!) and all the time in front of the mirror practising your posing despite being your worst critic and finding flaws that question your confidence, you bring your best package to stage, where you still take the risk of being lost amongst a big crowd of equally amazing competitors, or you could be so close it comes down to the colour of your lipstick (yep, that’s an infuriating true story).
If that wasn’t enough to put on the line, there is no way you can come out of a fitness model contest without having some element of disordered eating patterns or feelings of deprivation or guilt around food in some way. Taking an already lean physique and getting it leaner requires extreme sacrifice, something our human bodies dislike and will fight hard against, particularly if you do it for a long period of time. Meal planning for this sport has to be extremely prescriptive and is adjusted based on accurate skinfold measurements by a trained technician – no eye balling here! There is as much science as there is art when it comes to how food and supplementation is adjusted, as this needs to consider the athlete as a human and not just an IIFYM robot.
Also understand that the body fat level that’s deemed competitive in this sport is NOT HEALTHY by our standard and done poorly with unprofessional guidance has seen disrupted hormone levels (particularly menstrual cycle dysfunction in women and low testosterone/libido in men) as well as electrolyte imbalances with severe fluid, diuretic and sodium malpractices.
And you thought that was a challenge? The largest hurdle you will encounter in my experience is realising all your dedication and efforts for a few moments on stage (irrespective of the outcome) captured in a photo that you will consistently revisit will only be a moment in your life but your psychological image of yourself might take a little longer to repair. This is something that is particularly hard to explain unless you have been through the process but telling an athlete that it’s not healthy and unsustainable to maintain stage physique leanness post-competition seems like it’s heard but not believed.
As much as I make it imperative to have close follow-up and post-competition nutrition planning as part of my contest preparation, once you set a benchmark that high you find that it becomes a new comparison, irrespective of nourishing your body back to optimal functioning and health. This is something that is very hard to let go of which will often see competitors return quickly back into competitions in the fear of losing their peak physique.
So I ask you that question again… “Why is it you want to compete?”
I can appreciate if you are a novice without the inside knowledge on what it actually takes to be successful in this sport along with its risks, you may be caught up in a desire to compete prematurely. There is no shame in realising that it just might not be the right time to take on such an event.
For those of you that have read this far and still have a burning interest to explore this sport, I encourage you (before you start to seek a qualified coach) to take the time to find your WHY. This must be something valid enough to be prepared to take on contest prep with as much proficiency as though you’re training for the Tour de France. Your WHY will be the reason that you commit to this day in day out, it will need to go beyond your brain telling you you’re tired or hungry or sore, it will be the underlying drive when you think you want to give up.
And once you’ve found that, then I congratulate you, as you are about to embark on the most amazing self-discovery that extends well beyond any physical capability. You are some of the most stoic, determined, intelligent and dedicated athletes I have ever had the pleasure to work with.
To my clients (past and present – you know who you are!) you all are absolute inspirations to me and what keeps my enthusiasm and love of this sport alive. I thank you all immensely for the knowledge I have gained as a clinician working with you all in helping achieve your goals with your best interest at heart. To future fitness models, I genuinely wish you success and longevity in an amazing sport.