Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Relationship Costs of Competition

In this third and final part of the series, I want to go over the relationship costs. When you choose to compete, you do it from the perspective of something you are doing for you.  While you want to make sure you focus on self-care and honoring your needs, competing does not fall under self-care.  Competing by many accounts can be a selfish endeavor. Especially when you choose to continue prepping for a competition even when it starts affecting your relationships.  You have to wonder if the costs to your relationships with your friends and family worth it all.

There are many ways that prepping for a competition can be hard on your relationships. Many costs to relationships are going to come from issues with dieting, how you spend your time and your behavior changes and how that affects those around you. 

While your friends and family may support all the goals and paths you want to take in life, they might not have a clear understanding of what they are getting into when they are supporting your goal to prep for a show.   And if this is your first show, you might not know either.   How does support go from all in to becoming non-supportive?

What You Eat

Dieting can be hard for anyone and it is especially challenging during competition prep. You can diet by any method that provides results but typically the one thing you might be doing is weighing your food and tracking everything you put in your mouth. This is what you have to do to be the most accurate to be able lose weight to get lean enough to compete. But from the perspective of another person who doesn’t diet it appears to them you are obsessed or have an eating disorder.  Eating together has been for many years a way to connect and celebrate with others.  When you begin eating different foods than the people you dine with on a regular basis, they can’t understand why you do not eat the same foods as they do. They feel disconnected to you and you feel disconnected to them.  This starts to breed tension. You try to explain and they do not understand your explanation. This is where the stress and appearance of non-support begins.

What They Eat

Understand you are on a diet; your family is not. That means they may want highly palatable and high calorie foods that you are unable to eat. You see them eating these foods and you become resentful to them because how could they eat these foods in front of you when they know you are on a diet and can’t eat them.  They begin offering you foods you can’t eat and you feel they are not supporting your goals.

Social Events

If, you are invited to a social event that involves food you might not eat at the event or bring your own food in a plastic container.  You will hear, “just one bite, piece, or meal won’t matter”.  You want them to understand that it does matter but they can’t understand because they have not gone through this before.  In some cultures, food is a way love is shown.  Your grandmother makes you a special dish and you tell her you can’t eat it and now you have offended your grandmother and you feel awful.

If choose to compete around any holiday, birthday or special occasion you may not be able to participated because you are unable to track your calories. Along with causing anxiety for you this could cause tension with your family and friends.

Isolation

When being social becomes too challenging and you just don’t want to even deal with it you begin to isolate. You have decided I cannot eat at the events and I just don’t want to explain why I am not eating or drink or why I have to bring my own food you start decline invitations. More invitations you decline the bigger the distance you create from friends and family. From your perspective it is too much of a hassle to even try to explain because they just don’t understand.  From their perspective, you are isolating yourself and becoming obsessed with prep. It could be inferred that you care more about your show than your relationship with them.

Mood Changes

As you get further into prep and your calories are low and you become more irritated then fights flair up more often and tempers fly. Basically, you are not going to be a fun person to be around because you will be hungry and moody and be a pain in the ass to everyone around you.   I am sure in life people have said things or done things to you that are unforgettable. You may become that person in someone else life including your children due to how you treat them during this time.  While it may seem like I am making it sound worse that it is I assure you I have said things to the people in my lives that have hurt them during prep. I was not aware of my behavior but you can’t use that as an excuse for treating people poorly.

One of my clients a week out from her show called me to let me know that her spouse had asked her to leave the house. She told me she still needed to get in her workout for the day. I responded, “Skip your workout, go spend time with your husband and apologize for your behavior”.  While not intentionally trying to be difficult her behavior was affecting those around her.  As a coach I would rather you miss a workout or two if it means repairing something before it breaks.

Training

Another area that can look obsessive to the outside view is the level of training you are doing to get stage lean. Typically, you may have worked out a couple times per week and maybe did some cardio. In general, you had a balance between working out and everyday life. But in an effort to get as lean as possible you have ramped up your workout schedule. You may have increased your strength training from a couple time a week to 6 days a week.  You may have added more cardio to your program in the form of 1 hr. to 2 sessions a day of cardio on top of the strength training.  You prioritize your training about everything including spending time with your family.  And when you are home you are too tired from training to spend time with them.  This focus on training and not your family and friends create distance and leaves them feeling like they are an unimportant part of your life.

Is It All Worth It?

I get it you want to stand on the stage and say you accomplished something. But really what are you celebrating?  How will competing change your life? And if it changes your life will be it for the good or will it be for the bad.  

Do you see this potential spiral when you first start prepping for a competition?  No, you think I just want to get on stage and be in the best shape of my life. In reality, you have systematically over weeks or months gotten to an unhealthy place mentally, physically and you may have ruined relationship along the way. You have to wonder if the cost of competition is too high when you factor in the relationship, financial, mental and physical costs when the return on investment is maybe plastic medal or trophy, body dysmorphia, significant weight gain, and maybe an eating disorder.

The most important thing to understand is you have chosen this goal for yourself and that can cause extra stress for you and the people in your life. You can not expect them to understand what you are going through. You are the one that is changing and they are trying to support you without ending up a causality of your pursuit. This is your goal and not theirs and they will not in many cases understand but they will do their best to support you.

My personal experience resulted in my boyfriend at the time breaking up with me after I competed in my first show. He did not feel like he was part of anything. He felt pushed aside and unimportant to me. This might not be your situation but I know of some marriages and relationships that have fallen apart during the course of prepping for a show.

I really wanted to focus on the costs of competition that does not get talked about enough. You see the glitz and glamour on the stage and you think one day that will be you and maybe you even want to turn pro and be a fitness model. You might have amazing goals and the stage might be the jumping off point for you.  But with all things you are investing your time, money and energy in, make sure you have a clear picture of the costs to you and those around you in your life.

Make sure you take a moment to read parts 1 & 2 if you missed them.
Read Part 1 Beyond the Stage: The Financial Cost of Competition
Read Part 2 Beyond the Stage: The Mental and Physical Costs of Competition 

Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Mental and Physical Costs of Competition

In part one of, “Beyond the Stage: The Cost of Competition”, I addressed some of the financial costs to consider before deciding to compete in bodybuilding. If you don’t have discretionary funds in your budget maybe competing might not be in the financial cards for you.

In this article I want to address the mental and physical costs that you should consider before jumping into prepping for a bodybuilding show.  

Dieting

The first area I want to cover is the costs of dieting. I am sure you are fully aware that you will be dieting to reach the ideal leanness to be competitive against others on competing. You might believe, you have dieted before and it will not be a big deal.  BUT competition lean is a whole extreme level of dieting. Typically, when you have dieted before it may have been to lose a few pounds to look good for a trip or to look good in a bathing suit.  The point where you stop is the point where you as a competitor will need to dig deep because you may have to lose 10 to 20 more pounds.  Dieting is going to be difficult and you will be hungry.

If people in your life who are non-competitors are telling you that you look great when are a couple weeks out from a show chances are pretty good you are not lean enough yet.  The show ready lean competitor can have the appearance of looking sick and people begin to ask if you are okay and comment on your being too skinny.   My lean is vascularity everywhere, sunken in face, bones structure visible, and thin translucent skin. I know what you are thinking where can I sign up to get started, but wait there is more.

Ideal competition lean is different than lean. If you are doing the show just to say you did one and not to be competitive then you can compete at a higher body fat percentage.  But why would you spend all that money, put in all the time and effort into something you are not even going to try to be competitive at. It baffles me but I have seen it many times. You might have lost a substantial amount of weight and you are proud of your hard work and a bikini competition seems like a good idea. You are still paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to stand on a stage and be subjectively judged.

You have made the decision to diet for a show but do you know what changes your body is going to go through during the process?  Your body begins the process of adaptive thermogenesis as soon as you begin a diet.

Adaptive Thermogenesis

When you are in a calorie deficiency your metabolism adapts to your energy intake (i.e. calories consumed). As your metabolism adapts to a decrease in available energy, you will experience changes in your hormones. The hormones being affected include leptin, ghrelin, thyroid hormones, and testosterone. These adaptations are unfavorably affected by calorie restriction and weight loss.

Leptin is your satiety hormone that tells you when to stop eating. When you reduce your calories leptin levels decrease, which then sends a signal to your brain to eat more and burn less. This is your body’s safety mechanism that regulates energy expenditure and food intake. When we are in a deficiency for an expended time period leptin signals can become suppressed.  You do not get the signals you are full and can result in you overeating beyond normal capacity. Ghrelin is your hunger hormone. With a limited calorie intake and not responding to signals for hunger the signally could become suppressed. This can be a good thing for suppressing hunger and managing calorie intake.

Thermic effect of food (TEF) is reduced. When you eat carbs and protein about 10% of the calories you eat are burned from just the act of eating. The reduction in overall food intake naturally results in a reduction of total energy expenditure.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. NEAT), can play a significant role in helping to maximize the total amount of calories burned in a single day. NEAT naturally decreases spontaneous activity decrease.

The longer you diet the more effect you have on your sex hormones. Low levels of testosterone can not only affect your training it can also affect your sex drive. You might find your once high sex drive is stuck in neutral.

These changes in your basal metabolic rate, NEAT and other systems is known as Adaptive Thermogenesis. This is your body’s way of counter balancing the changes happening while dieting.

Behavior Changes

Due to your low carbohydrate and overall low-calorie intake, as your metabolism begins to adapt you will notice some changes in your behavior.  Actually, you might not even think you are any different but those around you will. Reduced carbohydrate intake means less glucose for your brain and nervous system and other sources must provide glucose. One change that will be apparent is your mood. You will become irritable, short tempered, small things will set up off, maybe some yelling and scream at people for the littlest things.  Those around you will notice you are angry more often.  One client of mine would yell at people who spoke to her while she ate. I personally, will get upset with people who eat off my plate when I already weighed out my food. I also don’t allow my family to eat certain protein sources so I can have them for my meal prep for my diet.  I know you are like WHAT?  But seriously, my family can eat everything and they want the one thing I eat to keep me on track.

Due to the lack of available nutrition, you will become hyper focused on food. This can be seen by you meticulous counting your calories/macros, trying to find ways to be created with your limited calories, thinking about food all the time and when your next meal is.  You generally spend way more time creating a low-calorie masterpiece in a diet phase than you would be when you are not dieting.  

Reduced calories mean reduced energy levels to support your everyday activities.

Energy Levels

At the beginning of prep, you are highly motivated. Your training sessions are strong and you are still achieving personal records in the gym. As your prep continues your energy levels begin to decrease due to the lack of calories. Your calories may be cut many times as training increases over the months to create a calorie deficiency to achieve the expected body composition.  Your energy level is in the toilet and you are barely moving throughout the day except for the most basic things you have to do.  You are tired all the time and can not seem to recover from your workouts.   Your sleep begins to suffer as cortisol levels rise.  Your exercise program could consist of 5-6 days of strength training with 1 hr daily cardio sessions to 2 a day cardio sessions.  Even though you are so tired the physical changes you are seeing in your body gives you motivation to push forward.

Physical Changes

Your body is changing as you get leaner and you start to see definition you did not know you had and you are in love with the new look. BUT, wait a minute. The new body you have is now below a healthy body fat percentage. This lean body should be viewed as temporary not permanent.  Far too many competitors fall in the love with that lean physique and develop body dysmorphia.  The reality that this lean physique is unhealthy to maintain after the show is over can cause many problems for you if you do try to hold on to it. Which leads us to pulling back the curtain of the bodybuilding stage.

Behind the curtain are the true horror stories that come out. Competitors not working with a coach or don’t have a post-show plan can start a destructive binge diet cycle.  During dieting you have a list of foods you can not eat because it is too many calories. You create a list of all the places or the foods you are going to eat post show.  It does not stop at one celebration meal for all your hard work. No, it turns into days of eating all the foods you couldn’t eat.  And with your leptin hormone suppressed you binge eat way beyond a normal intake for a meal.  After a week of unrestricted eating you realize you have gained 10-15 lbs.   WOW! Visually you looked amazing 1 week before and now your abs are gone, your definition is fading and you feel fluffy. You might be back at your normal healthy body fat percentage but your metabolism is still in a suppress state and needs time to adapt.

BUT you the competitor is now unhappy with how you look and you decide you are going to start dieting again.   Now begins the vicious cycle of dieting and bingeing. Now that you have eating all those foods you missed you tell yourself that you can eat just one more meal untracked it won’t make a difference anyway since you gained all this weight already. But at the same time, you continue to try to diet so you don’t end up back where started or weighing more. HOWEVER, dieting is not going to work for you at this stage of the game.  Your metabolism is in a suppress state and needs time to adapt to higher calories before another dieting phase can’t begin.   If you continue the binge and diet cycle to hold onto your remain physique chances are pretty good you are going to look like you don’t even workout after a month. Trust me, after my first show I tried to hold on to the leanness but couldn’t because I couldn’t get a handle on my diet. It became a vicious cycle. Now as a prep coach during the dieting process when my competitor reaches a healthy body weight that is manageable I ask them to remember their weight and how they looked because this will be where we come back to when the show is over. Generally, a good idea is to take at least 6 months to build up your metabolic capacity and for your hormones to return to normal levels before even thinking about dieting again or prepping for another show.    

Before I move on let’s discuss WHY you gained weight rapidly in a short amount of time.  Remember above I discussed adaptive thermogenesis, during the dieting phase your metabolism adapted to meet the energy intake you provided it to maintain basic body functions like breathing. Your body adapted to this intake so when you ate a vast number of calories over what your body expected it rapid stored the extra energy as fat.   Additional your total daily energy expenditure was at a higher weight now at a lower weight it is reduced.

In some case, you may develop an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. Body dsymorphia emerges when you begin to have unrealistic expectation about what you body should look like. You long for the lean unhealthy body composition and are no longer comfortable being at a normal body fat percentage.  It is important to work with your coach, doctor and a counselor to address eating disorders.  It is a serious issue that needs to be treated with professional help from someone who works with this type of issue. If you have every had an eating disorder, dieting and competing should not be some you should consider because it will most likely reactivate your disorder.  As part of the physical changes you experience, digestive issues may also become a concern.

Digestive Issues

The reduction in calories during a dieting period can result in some digestive issues. Consuming fewer carbohydrates means you could be consuming less fiber. It is not uncommon for you to experience limited bowel movements due to less food volume intake. Bloating is another issue that plagues competitors. In an effort to reduce calories you might start using artificial sweeteners, chewing sugar free gum, or eating diet food that might have fillers. These additions to your diet along with less fiber and not enough water can make for an uncomfortable situation.  Before you start adding things into your diet consider just adding one thing at a time and making sure your body does not react to it. It may also be beneficial towards the end of prep when you are having challenges with bowel movements to add a fiber supplement to allow to reach your fiber requirements.  Bowel movements assist with removing undigested waste from your body and supports overall weight loss.

Physcologically

Let’s say you put in the work. You achieved stage lean, make up is on point, you nailed your posing and the results come in. You did not even place in the top 5 in the division you competed in. Your friends and family say you were robbed and you should have won. You feel deflated and start to try to analyze what you did wrong or could have done better. Judging bodybuilding shows is subjective. While the judges have some guidelines it could come down to some of the most basic things like the color of your suit, your make up and hair. You do not have any idea who you are competing against and what package they are bring to the stage. While you might have done everything you could have, you have to understand you may not win or even place. Competing is a subjective sport. If you do not win or even place this can be demoralize and create doubt and break your confidence. You might also start bad mouthing the other competitors vs congratulating them for their hard work.

As you can see competing in a bodybuilding show can be a physically demanding sport that takes you to the most extreme levels of leanness.  The levels of leanness you must achieve to be competitive are unhealthy and can be dangerous. It is important that if you want to compete and be competitive that you should work with a qualified coach that specializes in prepping clients for the stage.  There are many prep coaches but few that have the experience necessary to help you reach your potential in a healthy way.  My number one advice is do your homework. Interview many coaches about their programs. Do not choose the one with the biggest client transformation picture or largest client roster.  Consider a coach that limits who they work with because that coach is the one that is not trying to pad their resume and that is a coach that cares about you and can take you to the top level.  

In the next part of the series, I will be discussing the relationship costs of competing in bodybuilding. It is a cost that is never considered before choosing to compete and it can the one that changes everything for you.


Read Part 1: Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage:The Financial Costs of Competition
Read Part 3: Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Relationship Costs of Competition

Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Financial Cost of Competition

Competing in bodybuilding shows is not for the faint of heart.   There are many costs that go into competing those of which are not all monetary.   In this multi-part series, I am going to give an overview on the different costs of competing.  My goal is to help people who are considering getting on the stage and give them a look into what they need to consider before they make that decision and if the “costs” are worth it to them. 

While I am sure everyone understands there are financial costs to participating in a bodybuilding show, I am not sure if they have considered there are also mental, physical, and relationship costs.  I will be providing as much in-depth information as I can to help you make the best and most appropriate decision. 

I want to start with the most obvious costs, financial costs.  Competing is not a cheap hobby. I say hobby because most people who venture into the world of competing do not make money.  The sport has been traditionally dominated by males. Interestingly enough they have the highest monetary rewards, but do not have to spend the same amount of money to get on stage as women do.  

As I said previously, competing is not cheap. Before making the decision to jump into prep to compete it is important to first consider do you have discretionary funds to finance this hobby. 

The financial costs to compete do not just include paying for entry into the show. There is far more monetary costs to consider. I have outlined the financial costs of a new competitor to consider when reviewing finances to see if prepping for a show is even feasible. 

Coaching

Coaching packages can vary depending on what your needs are as a future competitor.  Prep coaches are skilled at helping you with nutrition, training, posing, etc. You might be looking at paying upwards of $1000 for 6 months of coaching if not more.  However, an experienced contest prep coach is invaluable to helping you get to the stage. They have developed the skills to help you get stage lean. They have developed an eye for what the right leanness is to compete. They are your voice of reason when you have been dieting for a while.  Your coach will create the best peak week protocols for you to show your best physique on competition day. He/She will give you guidance with everything you need to get on the stage. If your plans or goals are to compete, it would be in your best interest and success if you worked with an experienced prep coach.  

Posing Coach/Classes

If your coaching package does not include posing you might have to pay someone else to help you learn how to pose.  Classes could start around $25 per session. You should consider meeting with a posing coach 4-8 times to prepare for a show and make tweaks as you get leaner.
 

Choreography Coach

Some divisions have posing routines or performance routines.  Working with a choreography coach to help develop a routine and put it to music is another consideration.

Supplements

While this is not a guaranteed cost you will have many people will use supplementation to help get ready. This could include pre-workout, vitamins and minerals, creatine, protein powders and etc.

Food

It doesn’t seem like food is a consideration when preparing for a show because well you are eating anyway. But consider you might be eating more protein than previously and that is a higher cost or you might be eating more in general than you were previously.  Some people find they need to utilize meal prep services to create their meals to keep them on track especially when traveling. If you are an individual that meal preps, add in the cost of meal prep containers.

Self-care/health care:  You are beating your body up during prep and need to make sure you are taking some precautions to stay healthy.  You might start going to the chiropractor, getting massages, acupuncture, getting tests done for issues for example hormone and digestive issues.
 

Clothing:  As you lean out your clothes begin to get looser and you might need to purchase new clothes.

Here are the 3 main costs you are going to occur just to even be able to compete. 

  • Federation Membership Card: To compete in a federation, you have to purchase a membership card. These can run you 65-120 per year.  If you are a PRO, the costs are higher up to $250.

  • Registration: There is a registration fee for the show you want to compete in.  They can vary from show to show and state to state.

  • Division Costs:  If you plan on competing in more than one division in a show there are extra costs to enter those divisions.  These costs also vary from show to show and state to state.

You have prepped for the show and now you have to factor in all the things you are going to have to pay for to be able to get to the show and get on stage with a complete package.

  • Travel:  While there are shows all over the world there might not be one close to where you live so you must consider the cost of travel.  Airfare, rental cars or Lyft/Uber services, gas money if you drive yourself.

  • Lodging:  You need to consider where you will be staying. Hotel, AirBNB, with a friend or family.  * You will need to bring your own linens and towels so you do not ruin the lodgings linens with tanning products.

  • Posing Suit/Costume: Each division has a certain suit you must wear.  For men, they might be looking at $20 board shorts up to maybe $100 for posing trunks. Women, have all the glitz and the glamour to consider you could get by with a less flashy suit around a couple hundred dollars all the way up to a thousand dollars. There are places online where you can rent suits to cut down on the costs. If you are in a division such as fitness you will need to also factor in an outfit for your routine. Personally, my suit costs around $500 and I made it myself.

  • Tanning/Hair/Makeup
    • Tanning: Each venue has tanners they have approved.  You can use the tanners they recommend or use your own.  You want to have a good tanner who can use for stage tanning because you do not want to stand out because of a bad tan. The cost is around $150

    • Hair and Makeup: While you can do your hair and make up yourself, if you have never done stage make up it is entirely different than everyday makeup.  Venues will have someone they recommend. These costs vary.

    • Waxing:  When you get tanned the recommendation is for you to remove your body hair. Some people shave but many people get wax. For women, this might also include a bikini wax because the suits are cut differently than everyday swimsuits.

  • Accessories: 
    • Shoes: There are specific shoes required for female competitors to wear on stage.  These can run you around $40 dollars.

    • Jewelry: Completely your appearance comes down to the right bracelets, earrings and rings you choose. Some competitors have custom jewelry created to match their suits. 

The last thing you have to consider is if you plan on having your coach at your show you may have to pay for a membership card, back stage access, entry into the show and possible travel expensive.

As you can see, competing can be a very expensive hobby that will require a substantial amount of discretionary finances to fund.  Finding the money to participate in bodybuilding competitions can be a struggle. 

In the next part of the series I will be discussing the mental and physical costs of competing in bodybuilding. 

Read Part 2: Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Mental and Physical Costs of Competition
Read Part 3: Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Relationship Costs Of Competition