Contest Prep, Recipes

The Hard – ish Part

With only a few weeks left until I step onstage, things are getting intense. I’m up to 1.5 gallons of water per day (not counting coffee) and I’m down to about 1200 calories per day mostly coming from protein (fat is almost non existant and carbs are limited to veg and a little post workout sweet potato). The goal now is to take off any tiny bit of body fat so that all of my hard earned muscle and curve will show while I’m under the bright stage lights.

Although I started my prep back in March, it’s now the end of October and that means it’s time to “tighten up” as my coach put it. Thankfully my entire training wasn’t quite as intense as it is now; many competitors go super low calorie from the get-go and spend months doing two 60 minute cardio sessions per day plus weightlifting! Yikes. Now I’m at 5 weightlifting days and 5 fasted cardio days each week and even that will shortly be done as I get closer to show day.

For now though, sleep is my best friend. When I don’t get restful sleep I feel lethargic and snippy. The important thing to keep in mind with any intense training is that the harder it gets, the greater the recovery time your body will need in order to see results. Another interesting thing is that although I have cut out weekly treat meals at this point, I surprisingly don’t miss it. Before I would count down the days to my next treat meal, making big plans for what I would indulge in, but now there’s nothing. No cravings, nothing. It certainly helps to look in the mirror and see my six-pack of abs and cellulite free tush, but all in all I’m good. The first few days on this stricter diet were challenging (as it usually goes with any diet change), but I got used to it really fast and the only time I get hangry is when I’ve gone past the 2 hour mark since my last meal.

I continue to get creative with my allotted ingredients for each meal, so there is no deprivation here. Most recently I came up with a protein packed postworkout waffle that I love and find is only fitting for the cooler autumn weather.

Pumpkin Spice Waffle

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Ingredients

4 oz baked sweet potato (without skin)

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

1 tsp cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg, cardamom, clove (optional)

Directions

In a bowl mash sweet potato until smooth then add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined (texture should resemble a thick batter). Heat waffle iron on medium-high, when ready pour in batter and spread evenly throughout. Cook until golden and crispy.

I’m usually not one for cooking with heat when it comes to protein powder, but this recipe is really good and combines the complex carbs and lean protein to help me recover post workout. You may have heard of protein pancakes and such; they have been very popular with bodybuilders for many years and are now becoming more mainstream for those looking for a healthier alternative to the standard (and unhealthy) breakfast. Instead of spending money on the expensive pre-made mixes that you can sometimes find in store for a hefty price, try your own recipe instead (like this one) or do a quick google search for protein pancake recipe and you will find tons. There are plenty of options that play around with protein sources (some use egg whites or silken tofu instead of protein powder) and complex carbs as well.

As I’m nearing the end of this training, I’ve come to realize that the final weeks of contest prep are a lot like kindergarten where snacks are scheduled, naptime is essential, and you’re always right on the edge of throwing a tantum. It’s funny because I swear its true. Without question, this entire experience has been completely worth it. I’ve learned so much and have a far better appreciation of how important it is to put your health first, always. Being stage lean may be only short term, but the journey towards it is really spectacular.

Start It, Finish It

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Contest Prep, Fitness

Running on Empty

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Two words: Fasted Cardio.  This method of training is very popular amongst bodybuilders and although I was hoping to avoid this throughout my contest prep, unfortunately that’s no more. It can rough and incredibly challenging (as it has been for me since I’ve started) or it can be just a regular part of your routine (as it is for many who follow this approach).

The idea behind fasted cardio is that you wake up in the morning, maybe take a pre workout, but do not consume any food whatsoever including protein shakes, and then you start your day off with a cardio session. This approach is mainly geared towards fat loss as some believe that when you workout on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, you have the potential to burn more overall body fat. When you’re asleep your body is fasting and tends to hold on to its carbohydrate stores and can be geared towards using fat stores as fuel instead for its caloric use. Some people swear by this method, while others are hesitant (as I was). Research is fairly mixed on this topic as some results do in fact show that there is fat loss with fasted cardio, but other studies will show no real difference between a pre cardio meal or none. One big concern though, is muscle loss. Whenever you are trying to lose weight (and ultimately fat) there is the risk of losing muscle as well. With fasted cardio what happens is that the body can also turn to its amino acid stores (the building blocks of protein) and may cause you to start breaking down muscle tissue as well as fat. No good!

How to avoid this and optimize fat loss? Before hitting the pavement, have a scoop of BCAAs, which is known for stopping the breakdown of muscle, and have a quick digesting protein as soon as you’re done with cardio and combine it with something slow digesting as well. I opt for a shake of a fat free plant based protein blend with another scoop of BCAAs, along with a non starch vegetable sautéed with coconut oil. I know it sounds totally unappealing, but it’s very effective for me as I am nearing show day.

Right now I am  5 weeks away from my first competition and so my nutrition and workout plans have massively changed, hence the fasted cardio. I went from 4 days of 20 minutes cardio intervals along with 5 weight training days per week, to 5 days 30 minutes fasted cardio and 4 days of weight training instead. The goal now is the preserve muscle and drop the last bit of fat before I step on stage. I stopped doing fasted workouts years ago, when I realized that my sleep was being compromised, but of course back then I didn’t have all the knowledge about health and fitness as I do now. Thankfully I’m not up at the crack of dawn for my cardio, so I am able to get restful sleep, but it doesn’t make it that much easier. The first 2 days on my new plan were rough; I could feel the emptiness in my belly throughout my run, I had to move at a slower pace than usual and when I reached the 30 minute mark I would have stop altogether to get my bearings before being able to start my cool down walk. By the third day though, I started to feel significantly better and each day since, I feel improvements. Why? Because this dumb-dumb ran out of BCAAs last week and didn’t buy any until 2 days after starting my plan! What a difference once supplement can make.

Since I started my training back in March, every six weeks I would get and start a new plan from my coach; I always find that the first week is the hardest. The workouts feel super intense and the diet feels strict, even though it hasn’t very restricted, it was challenging, but I have always seen great changes in my physique as a result of being regimented and following everything as best as possible. I am so close to show day that I can practically feel what it will be like when I take to the stage, and although these last weeks in prep will no doubt be the most challenging, this will also be what gets me across the proverbial finish line.

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Contest Prep

The Bodybuilding Bride

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Earlier this month I tied the knot with my long time better half of over 11 years! My wedding was awesome and actually took place eight weeks before my very first bodybuilding competition; basically I was right in the thick of contest prep during the biggest day of our lives. Just because it was a special day didn’t mean that I would be slacking off from my regiment and indulging like a maniac in everything in sight and the same goes for my honeymoon beach vacation the following week. Here is what I did to stay on track, but while still having the best time and enjoying every minute of this incredible occasion.

Although most would probably say to themselves “It’s my wedding day, why would I hit the gym? I just want to be pampered all day long”, that wasn’t me or my groom to be for that matter. I woke up earlier than usual (at 6am to be exact) to get my workout in. Thankfully I was staying at my mom’s place, who’s building happens to have a fully equipped gym, making it very easy for me to alleviate any potential excuses for slacking off. I had a great workout; the gym was quiet as there were only two other people there and the is a great view overlooking the water so I got to watch the sunrise will simultaneously completing my sets of bicep curls. I even made sure to give myself enough time to practice posing following my workout; at this point it’s so important to practice for at least 10 minutes per day in my competition heels. I also made sure that I continued with my usual supplements, shakes, well balanced meals and kept myself hydrated throughout the day. The main event went smooth and then it was time for our kickass reception and for my weekly treat meal! The food was delish! As I don’t drink alcohol, I opted for a couple of mocktails instead during the party and had an awesome time!

The following day we headed out for our honeymoon. The 4 hour plane ride to the south was bearable but dry. Traveling by plane is always known to cause bloating due to the super dry air onboard. Although I was constantly drinking tons of water throughout the flight, I had massive dry mouth and could feel my belly gradually getting more bloated by the minute. I did plan ahead and packed some snacks and supps for the trip (check out my video here for more details on what I packed to keep me on track) and they were a massive help to keep me from having to resort to the unhealthy stuff instead. When we landed it was so humid and hot, that again the bloating continued. It’s just one of those things that tends to happen during travel, especially when going to a climate much hotter than what you’re used to.

We chose wisely when it came to our accomodations; the resort had several fully equipped gyms and plenty of restaurant choices including a massive buffet with tons of options. In terms of nutrition, I focused on always eating tons at each meal and adding some whole grains, beans and a treat or two of the local cuisine. Obviously I wanted to enjoy myself without going overboard, so when I did eat something “off plan” I made sure it was something special and local that I can’t just get at my grocery back home, and I also made sure that the portion of these treats weren’t too crazy either. I couldn’t track my macros, so I just had eyeball everything. It was challenging in that I knew and could taste that there  was oil, salt and seasonings were added to pretty much everything, so my salt and fat intake was definitely higher than usual, but I kept everything as balanced as possible. A very nice surprise that I discovered on my first day was that the buffet had soy milk! Although it was sweetened, I had some everyday as I wanted to get a little extra protein wherever I could. I also used it to make myself a quickie version of overnight oats at breakfast every morning; I found at the buffet plain rolled oats so I would take a few spoonfuls of oats, add some soymilk and then top it with toasted coconut and pumpkin seeds and then let it absorb for about 20 minutes. It was great and everyday day I got to have oatmeal and a good amount of fiber and complex carbs.

Working out with my hubby!

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In terms of sticking with my workouts, well I’m happy to say that I got all of my weightlifting workouts in. Now the gyms didn’t have every piece of machinery that you’d typically see in the large fitness centers, but they had more than enough for me to work up a good sweat and challenge myself too. The problem with the machines, was that the weights were all in kilos instead of pounds and the minimum weight on the machines was almost double that of the machines at my local gym. So for the exercises that I complete that are in the higher rep and lower weight range, it was next to impossible to complete. My form was off and I just couldn’t do it, instead of giving up altogether I focused on alternative exercises with free weights instead, and it was just as good. Unfortunately, my cardio session were a bit scattered, not because of laziness or some lame excuse, but because it was really stuffy in the gym. Even with ac, we might as well have been working out right on the beach, because it was super hot. Physically there was no way that I could get through 20 minutes of intervals in that heat without risking keeling over, so I did shorter session with intensity instead.

Another key component to my staying on track was that I knew I would have to stay as hydrated as possible throughout the day. So I made sure that I always had water with me. What was very funny was that on our first day, the reception employees told us to drink at least 2 litres of water per day to avoid getting overheated and sick. They then mentioned “I know it’s more what you’re used to, but very important”. I couldn’t stifle my laugh as I am now up to drinking 5 litres per day for my contest prep, so needless to say, this would not be an issue.

This trip was amazing and relaxing; it definitely helped temporarily diminish the intensity of bodybuilding in that my main focus was taking it easier and lying on the beach everyday, instead of always thinking about my upcoming show. Prep can be very hard and stressful on the body, so this vacation allowed to incorporate some relaxation into the mix and get a new perspective in terms of how I can continue including some extra “me time” even when back home.

I am very happy to say that although I did come home bloated after a week on the beach, it only took a few days for my body to start feeling normal again (check out this video here on how I managed to debloat and fast). What’s more, is that once I started getting back into my usual regiment my body rebounded very quickly and I started to see big changes and progress once again. At this point I am 7 weeks out and well on my way. For the first time, I was able to go on vacation, actually enjoy myself without going overboard on the food and coming back several pounds heavier. Instead I took in all of the experiences at my fingertips while staying healthy without any kind of deprivation and strictness. Best vacation ever!

Start It, Finish It

 

 

Contest Prep

Contest Prep: Posing Part 2

Earlier this week I visited my coach for our third posing session together. I am happy to say that it went really well and that my coach mentioned that with each session I am getting better and looking more confident going through each pose. There is still room for improvement, but thankfully at 10 weeks out, there is plenty of time to get it all down to a science.

Posing really is everything when it comes to show day; especially for Bikini competitors; not only are the judges looking at your physique, but they also keep an eye out for poise, confidence and overall presentation. So many times athletes will come into to a show looking fantastic and will be well balanced with curves and muscle definition, but they place poorly because their posing isn’t on point. Many competitors that do especially well either have a dance or sports background, so naturally they are athletic and agile. I however have minimal experience with this; sure I’ve taken ballet classes and I workout often, but I’ve never trained in this way before, which is why I knew I had to start posing as early as possible…I am so glad that I did.

As I mentioned in my earlier post Contest Prep: Posing, we have mandatory poses to go through especially during comparisons (i.e. quarter turns). Each pose faces its own challenges as you need to place your body in a way so that you look well proportioned with an hourglass-type shape, all while maintaining good posture, without overly sticking out your booty, keeping your core pulled in and keeping a big smile on your face without looking as though you are in any pain whatsoever . In reality though your muscles ache, your feet hurt from the heels, you’re dehydrated and standing under big bright lights with your skin the color of mahogany, makeup that would make a drag queen look tame and a really massive hairdo. Up close you look hilarious, but on stage you look stunning.

That being said, since all that effort goes into looking a gorgeous an equal amount of effort has to go into presenting just as well. The areas that I need to work on mostly involve transitioning from one pose to the next. The movement needs to flow so that you don’t end up looking stiff because you’ll ultimately look awkward and uncomfortable. For me, once I’m in the pose it’s perfect, but actually moving from one position to the next still isn’t quite there yet. Thankfully I was able to figure out what I was doing wrong and now I know exactly how to transition. Case in point, when holding front pose and moving into side pose I would move my entire body and shift all of my weight one shot which looked terrible, what I am now doing is just turning my hips around while maintaining the position of my legs and then gliding my left foot to my right aligning both legs and twisting my upper body to get into the side pose. It sounds a little technical and very specific, but it’s had a huge impact on how I present.

What the judges are looking for with my division are broad shoulders, small waist and shapely glutes and hamstrings. I don’t have broad shoulders so in order to create the illusion of this, when moving through each pose I will need to roll my shoulders back halfway and then slightly prop them up giving off a more proportionate look to my physique. In back pose (facing away from the judges) I will need to do the same thing except that I will also need to flare out my lats to make my waist look smaller. Again, it’s all about the illusion of a very specific physique; if you don’t have a particular shape or you just can’t build up more muscle in certain areas, then you position yourself so that you look like you do have it.

Here are some progress pics showing what how my posing has improved from my first session two months ago to now:

June                                        July                                         August

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So as you can, practice definitely makes perfect when it comes to posing. If you are thinking of competing, start posing as early as possible.

Going forward I will be practicing for 15 to 20 minutes each day (up from 10 minutes) and on my weekly active rest day I will practice for at least 30 minutes. This way I will have enough time to go through each movement and getting comfortable just holding each pose since it does involve a lot of balance and flexing.

I plan on meeting with my coach another two times prior to show day to work out any others areas that I may be lacking and to be sure that I am stage ready. All in all it was another great session and just seeing my progress photos is more than enough to keep me going.

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Contest Prep, Nutrition, Recipes

My Contest Prep Meals

My approach to food during my prep has been a combination of simplicity and deliciousness; I focus on eating the foods that are in line with my goals but that also taste super great and are easy to prep. So here is what a typical day of eating looks like for me at 12 weeks out from my first show.

Meal 1

scrambled tofu

1 serving of lean protein with 1 cup of non-starchy veg and 1 tsp of oil. What you see here is my scrambled tofu with one cup of kale sautéed in 1 tsp of coconut oil. Sometimes I’ll add either hot sauce or salsa for a bit of added flavor.

Meal 2

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1 serving of either a starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes or a whole grain like oats (the equivalent of 15 grams of carbs) with 1/4 cup of blueberries and a serving of lean protein. I will typically have an oat bran donut and protein chocolate mousse topped with the berries.

Meal 3 – I aim for 30 grams of carbs coming from a whole grain or starchy veg (usually 1/2 cup of quinoa or popcorn – 3 tablespoons of kernels yields 30 grams of carbs, or 2 slices of sprouted grain bread to make a sandwich) along with 1/4 cup of beans and 1 cup of non-starchy veg

Meal 4 – 1 serving of lean protein, 2 cups of non-starchy veg and 1/4 cup of raw nuts. Usually I’ll opt for this recipe:

Vegan Caesar Salad

caesar salad

Ingredients

2 cups mixed greens

2 tablespoons sliced onions

3 ounces extra firm tofu

1/4 cup almonds (soaked for 1 hour)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Pinch of salt, pepper and oregano

Directions

Place mixed greens and onion in a bowl. In a food processor combine almonds, vinegar and spices, blend until smooth (can add a tablespoon of water if too thick). Poor dressing over greens and toss to combine.

Meal 5

dinner

1 serving of lean protein, 1/2 cup beans and 3 cups of non-starchy veg. Pictured here is 3 ounces of extra firm tofu with 1/2 cup lentils and a combo of green peppers, brocoli, kale and onions. Everything is sautéed together with a mix of spices and seasonings. FYI, this is the meal that I look forward to the least each day! No matter what combo of flavours or veg, by the time I get to this meal I’m usually fed up with all the fiber and vegetables…but it keeps me full and leads up to my favorite meal of the day!

Meal 6 – 1 serving of lean protein and either 1/4 cup of raw nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter or oil (the equivalent to 15 grams of fat). My go-to recipe that was a happy accident is what keeps me happy during my contest prep. Check it out below and try it out for yourself, I know you’ll love it.

Chocolate Drizzled Cookie Dough

cookie dough

Ingredients

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds

1/2 tablespoon peanut butter *

2 squares of stevia sweetened dark chocolate **

Pinch of cinnamon

Directions

Combine protein powder, ground flax and cinnamon in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of water and the peanut butter to the mix and stir to combine (you are looking to have a thick batter that resembles the consistency of typical cookie dough). Place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and heat for about 1 minute on high in a microwave until fully melted. Slowly drizzle chocolate over the cookie dough mix and enjoy!

*Always opt for the natural nut butters where the only ingredient is nuts

** If you can’t find stevia sweetened dark chocolate, melt 100% dark chocolate with stevia instead. If you are caffeine sensitive opt for unsweetened carob chips instead of dark chocolate; in this case it would turn out more like a chocolate chip cookie dough batter.

So there you have it, 6 meals each day spaced out 2-3 hours apart. I always keep the same structure for my meals as listed above and all meals are consumed in this exact order each day regardless of the timing of my workouts. Usually I try to schedule in my workouts around the higher carb meals just for the extra fuel source, but I still find myself having great workouts regardless. Thankfully I am still enjoying my weekly treat meals, but now it’s very important to keep them balanced and to never overdo it and eat to the point where my tummy is super full…although last week’s meal did have me waddling out of the restaurant!

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