First-time bodybuilding competitor questions (and my answers)

February 2, 2015

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a friend of mine who is doing her first bodybuilding comp. She’s got support at home, but is certainly not surrounded by other competitors in daily life. So she often pings me questions on whatsapp or email. Now I’m not a coach or a PT, nor do I have one single qualification in training, nutrition, programming or coaching. But as a female competitor I am always happy to help out where I can (even if it’s just to give options or signpost to other/better resources!)

first-time bodybuilder competition prep questions

Here are some of the questions she’s asked me (and the answers I’ve given).

(Her questions in bold, my replies underneath).

Our chit chats cover all sorts of things that a first-time competitor feels, thinks, wonders about and worries about. Everything from cardio, to unwelcome gym comments, to what to do when you want to throw every tool in the box at prep all at once…

They might be helpful to you, too, if you’re just embarking on your first prep.

Feel free to add your own answers in the comments section (and don’t flame me if I’ve given really bad advice – I do always remind her that I’m not a coach, just a pal…)

On the topic of a stranger saying something pretty hurtful at the gym

Being a female bodybuilder means strong mind as well as muscles. You will come up against comments like that (also “don’t get too muscly”, “don’t overdo it”, “why do you want to do that to yourself” etc). What other people think of you is none of your business πŸ˜‰ And don’t forget he knows nothing of the criteria of your competition and category.

Frankly the only people’s opinions who matter are
-yours
-your loved ones
-the people sat at the judging table

Head down and focus on what you’ve set as your goal. Everything else is just chatter in the larger scheme of it all

Do you use MyFitnessPal or any kind of app to track your macros/calories?

Yes I use MFP. I also wear an activity monitor bracelet thing (Jawbone UP) which tracks output and syncs with MFP.

Had a deep tissue massage before the gym – OMG it hurt!

Ooh ouch! Try to have them on rest days if possible, not ideal before training. After training is an option too.


I’ve still got a fair amount of cellulite and naturally hold a lot of fat in this area…[legs]

Do you dry body brush? I swear by it for improving skin texture esp when prepping skin for show tan. Massage helps with blood flow; can’t hurt. Dry body brushing might not actually help the fat loss but will improve skin texture. I love it!


I don’t know enough about supplements! I only go buy what I read on the internet. I’m thinking because I’ve got a lot of leaning out to do, I should give everything a go? I can’t stand casein though… I’d rather eat cottage cheese.

I’d say the opposite: do the least, because then you’ll know what works. In terms of supplements I don’t think anyone “needs” anything but here’s what I take:

Whey, whey isolate, beef protein isolate (only after training)
Vit C, Vit D
Green tea capsules
Prebiotic and probiotic
ZMA (zinc and magnesium) at night (but I sleep like sh!t and you don’t)
Sometimes a BCAA drink/powder but don’t think I actually need it.

I’m never sure CLA does much for me but I know people who absolutely swear by it. Same as Creatine…never sure it does much but others wouldn’t be without it!

I’m on a downer… looked at where I was this time last year compared to now and feel my physique has barely changed… I feel like my dream is impossible

Your goal is NOT impossible. I promise. First up welcome to the head f**k of being one of the few to ever address a physique goal and actually do the hard work involved in changing health, fitness, body and mind. It is tough which is why we have these wibbles. But don’t let them overwhelm you. And “don’t believe everything you think” πŸ˜‰

Secondly, changes will always be less visible at the start or anytime you’re less lean. But they are there and to discount them just because you can’t see them clearly is doing yourself a massive disservice. Think of it like the tip of an iceberg. That’s what you can see but you’d better believe there’s a lot more going on.

And finally don’t forget the stuff you can never “see”. How has your knowledge, passion, focus changed? Your education about training and nutrition? Your ability to walk into any gym and know what to do? Your ability to make good food choices, to prep food? What impact has it had on your health, confidence, performance at work?

You’re looking far ahead and the body needs to catch up with the mind that’s all. Body is always a slow coach but it’ll catch up in the end! Promise.

(Evidently I was in some kind of Yoda-mood that day LOL)

Majorly craving chocolate Nic… I’m so addicted!

Me too if it helps! Here’s what I’d try: Options (or similar) hot choc, or proper cocoa powder and coffee together. Or would that set off cravings? If so then try a fatty but savoury snacks: bit of steak, eggs, salmon, even a burger (just the burger) yes it’s unplanned cals but maybe better to eat as a strategy than potentially give in to cravings and ending up eating much more that way! Or use the distraction/change of scene tactic….bath and go to bed!

Think how different you’ll feel in the morning if you do have choc now vs if you don’t. Your brain and body are battling….. it’s up to you who wins

(This was sent late at night by the way, I wasn’t suggesting go to bed during the day just because you fancy a bit of choc).

I’ve barely eaten all day. Back to back meetings then jumped in the car straight after to try get home at a reasonable time! Nearly 9hrs with nothing. Debating what to have for dinner (aka trying to resist every naughty thing in the cupboards) That 3hr car journey has taken it out of me!

My response to this was on an email but it involved thinking about planning ahead, always having your meals with you (if you’re actually prepping for a show – which this person is – so you can stick to your plan, not get over hungry, and not run the risk of overeating because you’ve lost touch with your hunger cues).

I need to start doing cardio before work…

I’d say give current diet time for now…keep back morning cardio as a tool up your sleeve so you have somewhere to go. Don’t throw everything at it at once.

I go at it hammer and tongs rather than a tactical approach

Get the most results from the least…otherwise 1) you won’t know what thing worked and 2) you’ll have nowhere left to go when things slow

Do you think it sounds like I’m on the right track with my prep so far? 0.75kg loss per week?

0.75kgs off a week is perfect. Any more than that won’t be fat and you don’t want to lose muscle or be dehydrated. We can’t know what you’ll look like at [target]kgs of course but the rate of fat loss is perfect.

Should I just use spin as an occasional tool if the weight loss slows down? I did wonder how often to do it.

I think stuff like spin can be good for prep from time to time, just not often/regularly. Don’t agree with those who say avoid it. Good intervals, but really it’s too long (45 mins?) to be real HIIT. It’s more like longer cardio, but pretty stressful. Better to REALLY blast HIIT and really make the steady stuff steady, if you see what I mean.

OK so I’m think my new routine will be…[new plan follows with lots of changes and lots of cardio]

Every day? No chick, too much. Either/or am plyos/intervals or PWO cardio. And just do abs like any other muscle group, they need time between sessions.

You think doing cardio/plyo in the AM and weights in the PM works better than doing them combined?

Yes but only if it doesn’t compromise sleep, or happy family relationships! And 2x cardio definitely too much. And too much hiit/plyos too much. And throwing everything at it at the same time not a good idea. Needs to be gradual and measurable. So long to go yet, don’t think too far ahead. Stick to the plan, be CONSISTENT (always most important of all).

Should I up the cardio this week?

No don’t change anything. You’ve already changed some things this week. Fat loss may be right back on track! Just sit calm and wait and see. Plenty of time to tweak again if needed. Take measurements as well as weighing.

I’m sat at work hungry and grumpy and tempted to eat something naughty…

Maybe develop some snack ideas you can have on hungry days (especially when is such cold weather) so you don’t push the hunger to cravings but also don’t wreck progress. But for now I’d say it’s a good sign that the morning HIIT is doing its thing.

My team at work are doing a ‘Fat Friday’ today – cakes, fish and chips, pizza. I’m sticking to my chicken and rice

Fat Friday lol is that what they really call it? I have Fats Friday as its a rest day so low carb. Whole eggs, chicken thighs and steak πŸ˜‰

Can you do a high fat day on comp prep?

If you carb cycle then yes of course, when carbs go down fats go up. Not too many changes all at once – you need to be able to measure and track.

First-time bodybuilding competitor questions (and my answers) is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

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Should YOU compete in bodybuilding competitions or not?

January 23, 2015

A few weeks ago, this article from T-Nation was doing the rounds. John Romano on Why You Should Never Compete It’s a pretty harsh (but also true) set of statements about why some people should accept the fact that bodybuilding isn’t the sport for them. Genetics, structure, psychological inability to diet hard enough, that kind of thing.

Whether you think Romano is correct or cruel, whether you think it’s the taking part that matters or only the best should be up there, it got me thinking.

Should you compete? Should we – as current or former bodybuilding competitors – encourage people to compete? What are the questions we should encourage people to answer honestly to themselves before they embark?

Or is there no need for over-thinking at all – should anyone who expresses an interest in physique sports be encouraged to get on stage, and see how the feel afterwards?

I’ve asked around, and here are what my fellow “existing competitors” have to say.

“I sometimes think ignorance was bliss! In some ways I’m so grateful and proud that I know what I know and have had some achievements, but I half wish I’d never seen myself stage lean – anything less feels like a bit of a fail now!”

“It depends very much on their motivation to want to do so. If someone asks me for advice because they want to compete my first question is always “why do you want to?”…

“I recommend competing to everyone who trains: set yourself a goal and go for it. Signing up for any comp will motivate you better!”

“I have given first-timers my advice in the past and my honesty has been misunderstood. Some people have unrealistic expectations and are in denial.”

“For first timers I’d say “why not!” Go for it see if it makes you happy, miserable or somewhere in between. Is how you feel worth making all the effort? You can’t really know know unless you try.”

“You never know until you try and it could change your life in a positive way, be the perfect fit for you and give you a lot. Or it may turn out to be something you find does not suit you, but you will have lost nothing by trying except a few weeks of your life on a strict diet. The worse than happens is you answer an internal question.”

“After my first comp, the eating demons were hard to control. I have a background of “issues” around eating. Now I’m off-season, and I know you have to eat more to gain size… but I’m really struggling. Mainly mentally, as I just question how I think I look now!”

“More of us should openly share the real struggles nobody wants to admit.”

“I would ask them a lot of questions. I think competing is risky for anyone with self esteem or self confidence issues, and also anyone who’s experienced any sort of disordered eating. I would certainly encourage first timers to weigh up the pros and the cons and then decide for themselves. But you never really know if you’re going to enjoy the experience until you do it.”

“Their “why” is important. Weigh it up in terms of risk:reward ratio, and think about the potential benefits. Having said that, I did none of that! I just knew I wanted to do it and find out what I was made of. I learned loads I can apply in other areas of my life and work. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but also one of the most rewarding. 10 comps later don’t regret a single one.”

Interesting variety of responses, huh! I can tell you that it was mostly male friends who were of the “go for it, you won’t know til you try, and what have you got to lose…” school of thought. Females were the ones who suggested you need to identify your “why”, and it was 100% females who gave any response to do with disordered eating, body-image struggles and struggling to know what’s normal after you’ve experienced a comp prep.

My view? Somewhere in between. I’ve often wondered what life would be like having never done a prep diet, not knowing about macros, how to crunch the various numbers in a meal, or how to design a meal plan. Would I be better off without the knowledge, or worse? And by that do I mean physically, mentally, in body composition, emotionally, or what?

But then again you could say that for anything!

It’s certainly true that you can’t “unknow” any of the things competition prep teaches you. But the extent to which you let them affect or control your life after the stage (or between competitions) is down to your personality, the rest of your life, your non-bodybuilding support network, and many other things.

Competition prep is a harsh mistress. So go into it with your eyes open, with full support of both bodybuilding and fitness folk, and those in other areas of your life. Ask questions – of coaches, of bodybuilding friends, and of yourself. Be very honest, and realistic. And remember that the challenges of contest prep don’t end when you step off stage. In fact, many people would say that’s when they’re just beginning.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Are you a competitor who’s been asked “do you think I should compete?” by a newbie? Have you ever felt it was your obligation to advise anyone against it? Or are you a first-time competitor who wished someone had told you what it would really be like… or shut up and let you get on with it?

Should YOU compete in bodybuilding competitions or not? is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Fitness photoshoot advice from Fivos the photographer

November 10, 2014

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As part of my prep this year, I booked a photoshoot with Fivos Averkiou, a photographer who specialises in physique-type shoots. He’s been a (very good) bodybuilder himself, and is also the guy who shoots the official stage photos at most of the bodybuilding shows I’ve ever done, so was the obvious choice!

It’s something I’ve been promising myself for a while, and I thought… well, I guess I thought why not! I wanted a record of how I look during prep (and I now have a load of useful work/fitness type promo and headshots, which will come in handy for work!)

The day after the shoot, I ached from head to toe and was absolutely shattered! This wasn’t helped by being in the latter stages of a (lonnnng) prep diet, I’m sure, but the shoot was a lot more tiring than I anticipated. We essentially did a high-rep full body workout (something I never do), with lots of holds and squeezes and plenty of posing, too.

I was pretty clueless going into the shoot. I sort of knew what to expect, from sitting in on magazine shoots as a journalist, but this wasn’t editorial. I was also incredibly nervous, despite knowing Fivos very well (Fivos – I can tell you this now – I nearly cancelled on you about five times!)

Things to do before a photoshoot

If there’s anyone else out there who, like me, has booked a physique/sports gym-based shoot for themselves without having the first clue about how to get the most out it, I hope this will help:

I asked Fivos to give me his best advice for anyone else as clueless nervous new as I was to this kind of thing. Here’s what he had to say.

Who arranges the location and how do you decide what to do when you are there?

Locations are your personal choice, but personally I mainly shoot around London and Essex (where I’m based). Although I have had shoots further up North.

With bodybuilders – what I’m mainly known for – it’s easy to set the shoot criteria as most will want the same kind of thing. I tell them “you train, I shoot”.

I will add in some staged, “static” shots once we’ve got warmed up, which always look cool.

For me, it’s about making the person feel comfortable in front of the lens. Most that shoot with me are bodybuilders/physique athletes, so it’s about coaching them into how the different shots and angles will look, etc.

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On the flipside, when I shoot fitness models, it’s the opposite. They tend to be great at getting in the right position, but need instruction when it comes to muscle contractions.


What do you advise people to wear, bring with them?

I generally tell people to wear what they would normally train in. With men, shoots tend to be mostly topless. I also encourage outfit changes throughout the shoot. And, if the person wants, we can to more brand clothing β€œmodel shots” at the end of the shoot.

(Thefitwriter says: for example, I brought two tops to my shoot and only wanted a few frames in each: one for the friend who’d kindly sent me one of the tops as a gift, and one of the wording on my favourite training top: Work Hard, Be Nice… can’t really go wrong with that simple mantra! πŸ˜‰ )
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How would you suggest someone prep for a shoot, both in the medium and short term (e.g. getting your body ready, deciding what sort of images you want to go for, and having a tan…)

If they are prepping for a show, I advise people to shoot one week beforehand at the latest. At one week out you are ready to go and have not started any water manipulation etc. You don’t want to do anything which will affect your show prep, but equally you don’t want to be at your shoot in the middle of a carb deplete. I would always advise a great base tan, as it really shows on the images.

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Fiv’s five top tips for a physique photoshoot
1) Remember you are paying for the shoot so make sure you get what you want.
2) Check out the photographer’s work and ask around about the photographer’s work ethic (word of mouth is the best recommendation).
3) Choose a photographer who will act professionally on your shoot and ask you permission to release any shots.
4) You pay for the shoot, so you should know exactly what’s going on with your images (I always ask permission from the person I shoot if it’s OK to post an image on social media.
5) Take time to talk to the photographer before the shoot: bounce ideas off each other and get a shoot criteria laid down.

Thanks Fivos, I really enjoyed our shoot and love my images!

You can get hold of Fivos via Fivos Photography on Facebook or at his website Showshoots.

Fitness photoshoot advice from Fivos the photographer is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


6 things female bodybuilders know (…and now you do, too)

October 30, 2014

Bodybuilding teaches us a lot of things. Time management. Patience. Self-sufficiency. The power of playing the long-game.

But for the females in the sport (holla!) it also teaches a few interesting life skills. Read on to discover a few things only a female bodybuilder knows (until now).
Dream Tan

Dream Tan 2 makes a pretty decent bronzer
Dream Tan is the “wash off” (kinda!) tan used by some bodybuilders in some associations. As opposed to the ones which need to be sprayed/rollered/layered on over an excruciating amount of days, “DT” (as it’s known) just gets slapped on there and then just before you get on stage.

What women know: DT also makes a mighty fine bronzer. Simply tap a (very) small amount onto cheekbones, clavicles or cleavage (wait.. you still have a cleavage? Are you off-season?) Et voila.

Bikini Bite has other uses
Bikini bite is the “glue in a roller” that bodybuilders use to literally stick their bikinis/trunks to themselves to ward off the horrendous possibility of slippage during a particularly enthusiastic bout of posing (I told you about this here).

What women know: Bikini Bite needn’t be banished to a drawer between November and May. In fact, it comes into its own over Christmas and New Year… cos it can be used as “tit tape”.

How to work the MAC counter

Here’s the thing. When you tan for a comp, you don’t put tan on your face (unless you want that lovely “Leprosy 2.0” look going on for about 3 weeks – never a great look). So, female bodybuilders tend to use a really dark foundation, usually one made for black skin. But not all of us are actually black under the tan. So we don’t necessarily want to buy an entire bottle of a foundation we’ll only use for a few days of the year.

What women know: ask your foundation-manufacturer of choice for a little sample. There’s no need to tell them you have no intention of ever buying the full size.

Once you go orange, you never go back
Tanning is a pain in the glutes. But everything just looks so much better with a tan. Along with fake eyelashes, tan becomes one of those things you possibly never indulged in before taking up this bodybuilding lark. But now… you can’t stop!

What women know: how to apply tan without ending up with orange deadlifting-callouses πŸ˜‰

Body weight takes on a new meaning

To generalise horribly πŸ˜‰ most women who care about their body weight step on the scales hoping to see the number go down.

What women know: that body weight only really matters if you’re in a weight class. Body fat, now, that’s a different matter.

Sorry, I’m (not) washing my hair

Little things are a big effort when dieting (and after doing a particularly arduous gym session). It becomes a case of priorities. Does my hair really need washing? Honestly? I know, I’ll ask the dog for his opinion…

What women know: dry shampoo exists for a reason. This is it.

6 things female bodybuilders know (…and now you do, too) is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


So you want to date a female bodybuilder?

October 9, 2014

You sure about that?

OK. I understand – hell, I find some of my female bodybuilding friends schmexy too! πŸ˜‰ (And I get to tan some of them up!) But I feel it’s only fair to let you know what it could be really like. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
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(With thanks to J, J and L for some of the following bits of intel… and to all the other crazy single female bodybuilders I am privileged to know and hang out with).

The hotter the bod, the crazier the mind

I get it. You like muscly, lean ladies. Trouble is, you can’t have it all. You see, being that lean doesn’t come naturally (understatement…) It’s either/or, most of the time anyway. And, sorry, I can’t tell you when you’ll stumble upon the small window of time that is the Holy Grail: lean, funny, with it and a joy to be around. You’re just going to have to keep trying your luck. Most of the time, you get a) hot bod and bordering on maniacal, or b) reasonable state of mind but somewhat “off-season”. Just being real!

On the topic of libido
Here’s a funny thing. I hear most of my male BB friends say that their sex-drive takes a nose-dive during a bodybuilding diet. Yet most women I talk to say quite the opposite. It goes into over-drive. I have a theory here (absolutely not grounded in scientific research, btw). Could it be because we’ve now got more muscle mass and less body fat, our hormones are less “female” and more “male”? We’ve got more testosterone than previously (and more than non-BB women), and less oestrogen? I have no idea.

But on the flip side, one of my female BB friends said that, during prep, she is genuinely too tired for any of that shenanigans and will “expect the man to do all the work in the last few weeks of prep”. And she’s not talking about housework or grocery shopping.

I think the take-home point here is prep makes women more up for it (in their minds, at least), but when it comes down to the actual moment… we might have run out of steam. Soz!

On the topic of food
“Do not eat my food or I will kill you”. That’s a direct quote from a single FBB friend of mine. What can I say, she’s a redhead. I’ve got brown hair, so my attitude to food is a bit less fiery, but essentially I agree. We don’t get a lot of food, and what we do get has been carefully prepared, probably weighed out (tedious) and dreamed about for the previous few hours. If we open the fridge and you’ve eaten the damn thing… well, more fool you.

Cardio… not that kind of cardio
You’re unlikely to be our first thought in the morning. That accolade goes to the joy that is cardio. And, no, sorry, not that kind of cardio (what are you offering, anyway, LISS or HIIT?)

Choose your words carefully
You think women in general are unpredictable and difficult to please? Oh, sweetie, you have no idea.
Do not say “I’m tired”. To quote a friend… “I’m tired, you just have no f*****g clue…” (and that one’s not even a redhead!)
Do say: “Can I prep your food for you?” Friend quote: “I will love you forever”
Do say: “Sure, I’d love to help you shave your entire body ahead of your first tanning appointment.”
Don’t say: “Hang on… just snapchatting this….”
Do say: “I’ve found a cafe we can go to which does chicken/fish and plain veggies.”
Don’t say: “Oh yum, I can’t decide whether to have the pulled pork burger with triple cooked fries or the all-day-breakfast. What would you have?”
Don’t say: “Why are you just sitting there? You look like a zombie.”
Do say: “Let me carry that empty glass into the kitchen for you, it looks very heavy. Would you like a cup of green tea whilst I’m out here?”
Don’t say: “Great to meet you, I’m glad you like my choice of coffee shop. What can I get you, latte? Cappucino? How about one of the Christmas seasonal coffees? Oh – nearly forgot – do you want any cakes or muffins?”
Do say: “Great to meet you, I’m glad you like my choice of coffee shop. I’ll go and order: black coffee, right? Or would you prefer a green tea?”

I’ll leave you with a few choice words from my female friends:
I love nice tupperware. If you buy me some, you can stay (?! LOL!)
If I ask you to tan me it doesnt mean you get sex. (Friend 2 Yeah! Same goes for posing!)
I cry a lot during prep. It’s not about you! That’s normal for me.
Appreciate the hard work and commitment and we will be ok πŸ™‚

Lots of love… the ladies of the bodybuilding world πŸ˜‰

So you want to date a female bodybuilder? is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


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