The Fit Life on Vacation

Today’s blog post comes to you straight from the sunny beach of Aruba. Many competitors and fitness minded people have a hard time ‘being on vacation.’ We want to enjoy our time but struggle to find the balance between our fitness goals and our fun. Well, being that I’m on vacation, and I’m enjoying every minute of it while still maintaining a fit lifestyle, it seems only fitting for me to write a quick blog about how you too can enjoy a vacation while still staying fit.

Let me preface this by saying that if you’re within about 4-6 weeks of a physique type competition, this does not apply to you. But if you’re more than 6 weeks out or just trying to get/stay fit, then listen up.

1. Be active.
Personally, I truly enjoy working out, and I enjoy a variety of different activities, so this part is easy. Most hotels have some type of gym, so use it! But even if you don’t have access to a gym it doesn’t mean you can’t get a workout in. You can always bring a resistance band with you or create a circuit of some body weight exercises (push ups, sit ups, lunges, air squats, etc). Additionally, find some ‘vacation activities’ to keep you moving. Bike riding, stand up paddle boarding, walking or jogging on the beach, hiking…You don’t necessarily have to stick to your gym routine to be active, after all, you’re on vacation, so do something you enjoy!

2. Keep some healthy foods/snacks on hand.
If you’re lucky enough to have a refrigerator in the room you can even go grocery shopping for some fresh foods. We have a nice kitchen here, so we buy groceries and typically eat a healthy breakfast and lunch in the room and then enjoy a nice dinner out. Additionally, I’ll pack tuna, beef/turkey jerky, nuts and protein powder/bars just in case.

3. Enjoy local cuisine.
Fresh, local cuisine will typically be pretty clean (just watch out for the fried or processed stuff). Try to enjoy some of the culture of wherever you are vacationing- that’s part of the whole experience. Here in Aruba there are dozens of restaurants that serve fresh seafood and its delicious!

4. Ditch the guilt (and the tupper wares)!
You’re on vacation. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the food, have a drink or two, have dessert if you want and don’t stress about it!! As long as the majority of your choices are healthy, a few indulgences will not throw you totally off track.

I think the biggest key is to get away from the “on or off” a diet mentality. A fit and healthy lifestyle is just that, it’s a lifestyle. It means working out and eating healthy foods are part of your life, and thus it would be no different while on vacation. Continue to make reasonable choices, maintain balance, and fully enjoy the time with your loved ones. Vacations are special occasions so make sure you take it all in.
I know I sure am!

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7 Tips for Preventing Post-Competition Rebounds

It’s that time of year, competition season is in full swing and you’re in full contest prep mode. Here are some tips to help you keep that hard earned body well beyond your actual competition.

1. Maintain a reasonable/balanced diet throughout the entirety of you contest prep. Your contest prep diet should mimic your “real life” diet with some tweaks for portion size and macronutrient composition. If you’re eliminating entire food groups or eating nothing but proteins and vegetables for weeks on end, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.

2. Include regular “off-plan” meals throughout your contest prep. Notice I say “off-plan” and not “cheat” meals. “Cheat” implies you’re doing something wrong and promotes the wrong mindset. “Off-plan” meals are reasonably sized meals that may or may not include treat foods. One of my favorites is steak with sautéed mushrooms and onions, baked potato with real butter and a salad with real dressing. Ideally, try to save off plan meals/treats for your hardest training days. Allowing yourself to occasionally indulge in some off-plan foods/treats throughout your dieting experience will help you maintain balance AFTER the show is done. If you’re 3 weeks out and all you can think about is what you’re going to eat after your show, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.

3. Be mindful of the length of time you’re spending in a calorie deficit. Many competitors do multiple shows throughout the year, but this doesn’t mean you need to spend the entire time between shows in a calorie deficit. If you have 4-6 weeks or more between shows and you’re already lean, give your body a few weeks at a maintenance level. You should not gain body fat during a maintenance phase (and if you do, you may need to re-evaluate your contest prep practices to avoid metabolic damage), and your body will respond even better when you return to a calorie deficit. If you’re spending more than about 16 weeks at a time in a calorie deficit, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.

4. Be reasonable with cardio during your prep. Cardio should be used as a tool for fat loss and it should be used wisely. Always start on the low end and gradually increase your cardio sessions as needed. Try utilizing different forms of cardio including metabolic workouts, sprints, and HIIT (high intensity intervals) instead of just increasing the time spent doing steady state cardio. Your body adapts to cardio within 8 weeks. If you’re doing 2 hours of cardio per day at 12 weeks out (or at any point during your prep for that matter), you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.

5. Develop post-competition goals and have a plan! It is very helpful to have a structured eating/training plan in place for after your show. If you’ve followed tip #1, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Having post competition goals is also very helpful. Many competitors feel “lost” after a competition because they no longer have that driving force (the competition) right in front of them. Evaluate your physique before you even step on stage and determine areas you’d like to improve on—use this to help develop some post competition goals and a plan for reaching those goals. If you don’t have a plan in place for after your competition, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.

6. Avoid drastic “peak week” strategies. If you are not ready one week out, no amount of water/sodium/carbohydrate manipulations will get you ready in one week, and you may end up doing more harm than good. Keep it simple, stick to the diet that has been working all along, and skip the crazy electrolyte manipulations and diuretics. If you are using these dangerous techniques during peak week, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound (and putting yourself at risk for a host of other health issues as well).

7. And finally, be realistic! It is nearly impossible to stay competition lean all year round, not to mention for many it is downright unhealthy. It’s likely you will gain a few pounds back after your show, and that’s ok! Be prepared for this and focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For women, it’s reasonable to stay within 5-15lbs of your competition weight (for men it’s a little more) depending on your division- bikini, figure, physique, etc-, how lean you get for the stage and what your off-season goals are. Avoid “punishment” cardio and dieting after your show (i.e. extra cardio or cutting carbs after an indulgence) as this promotes an unhealthy mindset and can lead to metabolic damage. Keeping the right mindset after your competition will help prevent a post-competition rebound.

Remember, fitness is not a competition, it is a lifestyle. Use the strategies above to keep your body and mind healthy and maintain a fit lifestyle even after your competition is over.
If you have any more tips or suggestions, please feel free to comment below!

Fitness is not a competition, it’s a Lifestyle

For as long as I can remember I’ve been training for something. In high school I was training to be an elite gymnast, in college I was training to make the lineup on uneven bars, after college I was training for fitness competition. I’ve always had a tangible goal, something concrete to work for, and I’ve always been very good at doing whatever it took to achieve that goal.

I graduated from the University of Missouri in 2006 and that marked the end of my gymnastics career. Looking for something else to do, I decided to give fitness competition a try. Shortly after, I earned my IFBB Pro card in fitness in 2007 and from there it was full steam ahead- in 2008 I placed as high as 2nd in a Pro show and I qualified to the 2008 Fitness Olympia where I placed 10th. At that point I determined that my next goal would be a top 5 finish at the Olympia. It was also around that time that I began having pain in my shoulder. My Olympia performance had earned me a sponsorship with Gaspari Nutrition and my fitness career was on the rise, so there was no way I was going to let some shoulder pain stand in my way of achieving my goal. So despite the increasing pain, I continued to train through and I was determined to compete and re-qualify for the Olympia. I competed at the Arnold in 2009 and probably had my worst showing as a Pro. Instead of letting my body rest and heal, I continued to train even harder to get that Olympia spot. I went on to compete in two more shows that spring, where I placed 6th and 4th- neither of which was high enough to qualify for the Olympia. At that point I started making plans for my prep for the summer shows, but by that time I could barely lift my arm without severe pain so I knew something was wrong. I finally went to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with a torn labrum for which I needed surgery.

Even with the disappointing diagnosis and shoulder surgery (which was much more extensive than originally planned), I was planning my next competition. Doc said recovery would be at least 4 months, I was sure I could work even harder to speed up the recovery. And I did, or at least I tried. But things just weren’t right. My shoulder was “healed” but I still had a lot of pain. I could not raise my arm to full extension, I had limited internal and external range of motion and no matter what I did, I just could not seem to make any further improvement.

At that point, I decided, oh well, I’m going to go back to full training and competing anyway. I continued to compete for another 2 years but was never able to get back to the level of skill I had before surgery because my training was limited and inconsistent due to the shoulder problems. During those two years I still had horrible pain in my shoulder, and I eventually developed the same injury/pain in the opposite shoulder. I tried every treatment you could imagine- PT, ART, manual therapy, massage, acupuncture, cortisone shots, prolotherapy- you name it, I did it. Nothing really helped. I had an invite to the 2011 Arnold, and for the last 6 weeks going into that competition I was not able to train upper body or practice my routine because it was too painful. And it was finally at that time that I decided I had just had enough. I was so frustrated that I walked away from sports and fitness all together.
Last year, an important person came back into my life, and it was because of his inspiration that I was able to find my love and passion for fitness again. He said he could tell I still had some fire in me (despite my vehemently denying it) and he could tell just from speaking with me that I was still very passionate about fitness. It was his belief in me that brought me back to a life I love. Last summer I began training again, free from the pressure I had previously put on myself and I loved it. It felt so great to be back in the gym again, I felt like it was where I belonged. Things fell into place pretty quickly and so I decided to compete in an IFBB fitness show. Not for a placing, but for the love of training and competing. This was after I had sworn I would never, ever step on stage again. I had an amazing time getting ready for the show, and when all was said and done, I was able to achieve my best look ever- first callout with Bethany Wagner and Oksana Grishina—two of the best fitness pros on the circuit.
Unfortunately, getting ready for the show still took the same toll on my shoulders. You see, I have severe osteoarthritis in both shoulder joints, and while its not necessarily a “wow” diagnosis, at this point there is not much that can be done about it. Overtraining will continue to worsen the condition, and the only advice I’ve received (from several different top orthopedic doctors) is to avoid weight bearing on my arms.
The high of competing again, followed by the let down of yet again dealing with this chronic injury has left me in a bit of a slump lately. All of my life I’ve dieted and trained for a specific goal, an end purpose- a competition, a photo shoot, etc, but competing is not really in the cards for me right now. And without that driving force right in front of me, I admittedly feel a bit lost. Although many people find contest prep diets incredibly challenging, what I’m finding more challenging is sticking with that fit lifestyle approach long after the competition is gone. But what I’m learning is that fitness is a lifestyle. Even if I can’t compete, fitness is still my passion. Looking back on all my years, it was never the actual competition that I loved. It was always the training. I loved being in the gym, I loved training every day. The competition was just always there. But just because its not there anymore doesn’t mean I can’t continue to love training. I just need to learn to train in a different way. For so long I’ve focused on what I’m not able to do. I’ve let these injuries get me down because they ultimately prevent me from doing some of the things I want to do. It’s very frustrating to be an athlete and not be able to train and compete to your full potential due to injuries beyond your control. But I’m learning to view things differently. There is still so much that I am capable of doing and I am very blessed to still have the ability to train, even in a modified way.
That is why I’ve decided to enter the 1stphorm athlete search. For me, it’s not about winning. It’s about the motivation to get back to the life I’m passionate about; to help a company promote quality products; and most importantly, to help promote a healthy lifestyle to others. We all have our own challenges, our own obstacles, and our own limitations. Some challenges we can push through. Some we need to work around. But there is no challenge so great that you can’t still find a way to succeed and live a fit and healthy lifestyle. Competitions are great. And maybe one day I’ll be able to compete again. But in the meantime, fitness is not a competition. It’s my lifestyle. And I’m committed to living that lifestyle.