This blog was written By Kate Gorman @ Lean Performance.
This coming weekend I will step on stage as a novice Figure competitor with INBA, a drug tested natural bodybuilding federation. Some of you reading this will have seen me in person over the duration of this journey, others since I started my comp prep 26 weeks ago and there may even be some people reading this who I’ve never met, who might be seeing pictures of me for the first time.
I wanted to write a little bit about the process of preparing for a comp which might help explain a few things to those who follow well-known names in the fitness industry on social media or just have a general interest in this subject.
So to start with:
- What is a bulk?
Bulking in simple terms is eating a calorie excess to your basal metabolic rate. This is done by gradually increasing your calories, predominantly carbohydrates and some fats, over this period with the aim of maximising muscle growth and to have enough energy to lift as heavy as you can during your training sessions. In addition to this it is vital to build a strong metabolism and increase the amount of calories your body can tolerate. The more calories your body can handle without gaining excessive amounts of fat means you have more calories to cut from when it’s time to diet down to your stage weight. Yes, some fat gain, is a part of the bulking process and if you are seriously thinking about competing or wanting to build some lean muscle you have to be comfortable with this before you start. An effective bulk doesn’t have to result in large amounts of fat gain IF calories are increased slowly and in a controlled manner.
Cutting is essentially dieting with the aim to drop body fat and maintain as much muscle as possible. This is usually done by reducing carbohydrates (5-10g/week) and fats intermittently too. The aim (if you are going to take away anything from this) is to drop body fat whilst eating as much as you can and by only doing small amounts and not hours of cardio!! For me this process was over 26 weeks, because of my successful bulking phase and how much I increased my metabolic rate during that time, I started dieting from 3,000 calories a day and 400g carbs a day. For a female, this is fairly large amounts of food! But think about this. If I hadn’t built my food up so much in my bulking phase, I wouldn’t have very many calories to play with 26 weeks later! Coming into my final week and my calories are still over 1500 a day. I know of girls who in the last month are having 700 a day… is a plastic trophy and a moment on stage worth that?? Well, not for me and not with a family and work commitments. I wouldn’t get out of bed for 700 calories a day! And that dreaded cardio, most people hate! You know what? This doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t make up the majority of your training. It doesn’t need to be for hours and it doesn’t necessarily need to be sprints on the treadmill. If your diet is in place and is consistent then cardio only needs to be a small addition to your training programme. My cardio sessions, were a mixture of high intensity sessions on the bike, the prowler and the treadmill, but they were all completed in 15 minutes max. I did some low impact steady state bike sessions to complement that high intensity training and I only did 2-3 sessions a week. In fact, the last 8-10 weeks all I’ve done is 4 x30 mins steady state bike rides and trust me they were more of a countryside amble than a Tour De France time trial.
- So now what?
Before you ask, no such a low body fat percentage is not sustainable. It isn’t healthy and it’s not a look I feel I need to keep. Most girls who compete do not maintain the lean look you see on social media all year round but will begin a gradual bulk to build more muscle, to improve their physique and bring a better package to stage next time round. This is done by doing a ‘reverse diet’ and very slowly increasing your calorie intake (i.e. 5-10g carbs) over the coming weeks and months to rebuild your metabolism. Having been in ‘diet’ mode for such a significant amount of time, any calories consumed above a person’s basal metabolic rate will immediately be stored on the body as fat. Falling into a binge mode post comp (as with anyone who has dieted for a long time) could and would quite easily gain 10kg within a few short weeks. People might think that prepping for a show takes discipline and focus but coming out of such a diet and minimising fat gain, in my opinion, is going to be the real test!
Will I compete again? Yes, definitely, watch this space! My “off season” will be to get strong and work on my weaker areas. I love having goals and know that I like to keep myself challenged. Have I enjoyed the process? You know what? I thought that comp prep was meant to be hard, that I would understand the true meaning of suffering for something that I truly wanted etc. However, because I did things under some very smart and knowledgeable guidance from a coach who I had faith in, I was able to enjoy the process and relax (apart from the occasional moment of will I be ready in time!) I learned to manage the female psychological warfare I had with myself at times whilst gaining a little extra body fat and focused on the fact that this was temporary and the results and end goal were far more important to me than image for a few months. I dieted down from large amounts of food so that I never actually felt like I was on a ‘diet’. I was never truly hungry and because I followed a flexible dieting approach I was able to still be part of family occasions. Yes, I have had to stop having a whole chocolate bar or bag of chips as my calories got lower but I have still allowed myself to have piece of chocolate or a small handful of chips up until last week. I have certainly not been deprived!
Of course I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been hard and challenging at times but it hasn’t been impossible or as hard as I thought it would be. I have 2 kids, a husband and a job with some funky hours but you really can fit it all in, if you want to make it happen. So if somewhere deep down inside you’re thinking about stepping on stage all I can say is ‘Believe in yourself and the world is yours for the taking!’
People have asked; is it worth it just for a plastic trophy and moment on stage? The answer, absolutely, because it’s not about any of those things. It’s about the journey, the process, what you learn about yourself along the way (good and bad). It’s about pride and accomplishment and the satisfaction that you have stepped out of your comfort zone to chase a dream. Its lots of other more personal reasons that I don’t need to share on here but most importantly for me ‘it’s about living’. A few years ago I experienced far too much loss and grief in a very short amount of time. It was back then that I made the promise to myself that I wouldn’t let their untimely deaths and the pain and sadness that people around me were experiencing be for nothing. I was going to get out there and make my life as challenging and fulfilled as I could make it. I’ve learnt that life can be whatever you chose to make it and this stepping on stage on the weekend is just part of that never ending journey to self-fulfilment.