Contest Prep, Wellness

I’m not as healthy as you think


I had a bit of an epiphany a few days ago. I was speaking with a friend about my New Year’s resolution to get more sleep, and I mentioned that I have been doing the exact opposite. I’m not sure if it’s just resistance on my part or something else entirely, but the bottom line is that I’m actually getting less sleep now than I was last year. As we continued chatting it suddenly hit me…the reason why I’m sleep deprived is because I like it. It sounds twisted (and it probably is), but this whole lack of sleep thing puts me under a bit of extra pressure, and like some, I thrive under pressure. What’s more is that I like the feeling of being under pressure.

It’s pretty common for athletes to burn the candle at both ends, and with an extreme sport like bodybuilding it’s 24/7. The goal with competing is to be the best you can and bring your best to the stage each time and what you put your body through is not even slightly close to the norm. We get up at sunrise for fasted cardio, spent at least an hour and a half weight training each day, eat like we have OCD, drink crazy amounts of water, take massive amounts supplements, cut ourselves off from the outside world for weeks on end, all to be on stage for a few minutes, covered in spraytan and glaze with only a few inches of material covering us up. We are extreme athletes with extreme lifestyles and the truth is you can’t be a “normal person” with this kind of lifestyle.

Bodybuilding puts you into a thrilling (and slightly punishing) state of mind where you’re always pushing more, lifting more and seeing just how far you can take it. In my case, what I’ve noticed is that I love the way it feels to be tired, going to the gym, lifting super heavy and beating my previous week’s PRs. There’s nothing like being exhausted but crushing it anyway. It makes it that much more awesome when I pick up that barbell and knock out some deadlifts like it’s nobody’s business and then up the ante on my next set by adding an extra plate or two. Like I said, it’s a little twisted.

I know this is unhealthy, but bodybuilding in general is pretty unhealthy. There is nothing healthy about dehydrating yourself for several days, or dieting down for months at a time or exercising for 2-3 hours every day, but that’s the nature of the sport and being on stage is pretty addictive. Most people will stop after one show, but for those who stay the course, like me, you get the stage bug and can never seem to shake it. This is what leads to the extreme and the constant need to push yourself further each day.

As I sit hear writing this now, it’s about 1am and my alarm will be going off at 7:30 so I can head out to my day job and then of course hit the gym. This pattern and ritual that have created is probably not one that I can maintain in the long run and it’ll most likely lead me straight to a burn out. But even with all of this logic and awareness, I still consciously choose to keep going. Maybe it’s some weird way of my trying to rebel after spending my life being on the straight and narrow, or maybe it’s about my wanting to be in control of letting myself be a little out of control, or maybe, just maybe I’ve become a glutton for punishment. Again, pretty twisted.

I know how this all started too and what’s triggered this for me. This is the first time in my life that I’m fully on my own. I met my ex-husband when I as 18 and I went straight from my parent’s house to moving in with him years later. I always had some accountability to go to bed at a decent time (although that did change for a few years in my early twenties when I was living it up, going out all the time while still living at home). Overall though, I stuck to a schedule with school and work, and I never really had any kind of big rebellious phase. So maybe this is some kind of early mid-life crisis, and a fairly tame one at that J. This is still a whole new experience for me in that I can hit gym at midnight if I want (and sometimes I do!) or go out and do whatever I want whenever I want. I’m assuming some shrink would probably think that this is a kind of coping mechanism that has to do with partial avoidance (an issue that I’ve been dealing with my entire life), but now it’s only magnified by all of the massive life changes and shitstorm that I’ve gone through over the past two years.

On the bright side, I am fully aware of what I’m doing and that it’s not good, so I think that’s the first step in my being able to work through it and get back into a healthier space. What this is making me realize is just how hard it is to break unhealthy habits. We get real comfortable, real fast with these rituals of ours and it sometimes seems impossible to let them go. The way I see it is that eventually I’ll get my shit together and start getting some real sleep again, but for tonight I think I’ll put on Netflix and watch a little Gilmore Girls instead.


Contest Prep

The Dark Side of Bodybuilding


Competing is awesome, I love it so much that I didn’t know what to do with myself when my first prep was over. I initially thought that I would take a full week off of training after my first show, but the truth is that I only lasted 2 days away from the gym. Bodybuilding is fantastic, but it can be also become too intense, too strict and even a little obsessive. That’s when athletes tend to toe the line between competing for themselves and their own personal goals, and competing only for the win and to beat out the person standing next to them.

It’s easy to see that side of it and to become obsessed with winning; I think that’s the case for all athletes in every sport. That’s usually when a person takes the decision to take everything up a notch and they become willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Many people unfamiliar with competing consider bodybuilding to be synonymous with steroid use. They see a big buff person and think anabolic steroids, which they view as something that is unhealthy and that cheaters use. In reality though it’s not necessarily the case. The thing that really gives bodybuilding a bad name and that has created this stereotype comes from athletic hopefuls who bought steroids from whatever source they could, without doing any research or talking to a healthcare professional. They took whatever amount they felt like (probably the highest dose), then ran out of the steroids, stopped taking it altogether, maybe stopped working out too and wound up with some pretty narly side effects and health problems. It’s substance abuse, that’s what has created the negative perceptions of bodybuilders and steroids. If you ask the average person about steroids, chances are they don’t even know what they are or why they “bad”. Allow me to shed some light…

Steroids are testosterone or testosterone derivatives that can be either taking orally or injected. When it gets into the bloodstream it goes into the muscle cell attaches to the receptors in that cell and turns on genes that produce more protein in the muscle. This ultimately allows the muscle to grow and get larger. Steroids don’t do the work for you, in fact, they don’t even make it easier to do the work, all that steroids do is allow an individual to take their training up a notch and push a little harder and lift a little heavier. You still have to do the work; you still have to get your two-a-day workouts in, you still have to follow a specific nutritional regiment, and you still have to workout just as hard.

The potential side effects can be dangerous if one chooses to take a performance enhancer without proper knowledge or without consulting a healthcare professional. Abusing steroids can cause kidney and liver damage, and can increase the size of the heart (because it is a muscle) leading to cardiovascular problems. Another thing to consider is that steroids in pill form can be rather toxic especially with prolonged and excessive use, that’s why injections are preferred as they are less damaging  (but the injection site can become swollen or infected overtime). Please note though that these side effects are not absolute with steroid use; it’s only in cases where people take too much, too soon and are abusing them. The key with any performance enhancer is to speak with not only a trained coach but also a medical doctor BEFORE starting them. Give full disclosure to your physician about what you are considering taking that way they can monitor you, they know what to check during your blood tests and they can refer you to a cardiologist to ensure that your ticker is still top notch.

In the bodybuilding community, many are now throwing around the term “natural athlete”, this refers to a competitor who does not use steroids. However, that alone does not mean natural athlete. If you look at natural bodybuilding leagues and shows, the athletes are not only banned from using steroids, but also fat burners and diuretics as well. All athletes have to pee in a cup pre-show, but not all athletes are tested because it’s too expensive, so usually the league will choose a handful of competitors at random in each category to test. A very interesting fact that I learned recently is that not all competitors in the natural league are actually natural athletes. This was confirmed to me by a judge who said that a good and savvy coach will guide their athletes to cycle off of the substances in the months and weeks leading up to a show, so that when they do the urine test it comes out clear, even though they have used an enhancer during their training. The judge said that regardless of the league, performance enhancers will always exist and will always be prevalent in competitions and training.

That being said, technically I wouldn’t be considered a natural athlete because I do take fat burners and diuretics during my contest prep. Mind you it is the lowest dose for fat burners and I’m not taking chemical diuretic, it’s mostly dandelion root, but I digress. I still would be banned from the natural league. I’ve never used a steroid and don’t plan on it, but I can definitely see how easy it would be to consider it and where the appeal is. Overall men can handle added testosterone better than women can, as men naturally have more testosterone. For women the side effects can be dangerous and the impact on one’s hormones can be long lasting. This is mainly why I’m just not comfortable even considering it, but to each his/her own. Make an informed decision regardless and seek medical counselling so that you are getting the best care possible. In my case, my doctor knows all of the supplements that I take including the fat burners and diuretics, the dosage and time frame of use as well. Safety first.

Diets are a whole other component of the dark side of bodybuilding. I met with many ladies during my first show who mentioned that their diets consisted of protein shakes and celery for weeks on end or who were overtraining each day for hours and hours and practically passed out after each gym session. It’s easy to go extreme when you have a big and clear goal ahead of you.

Competing is amazing and it is about bringing your best, for some that means doing whatever it takes to do so. Going to an extreme isn’t necessary, but it does happen. For myself I always want to focus on my health first above all else. Not matter what any competitor in any sport may be thinking about doing, take the right precautions, talk to your doctor and work with a coach who always has your best interests in mind.

Start Strong, Finish Strong