“Badass or Bad Idea”

These days it seems everyone wants to be “hardcore.” But in reality, there is a very fine line between dedication and just plain dumb.

Let me preface this by saying that pretty much every mistake I’m about to list- I’ve made. The thing about pros is that we can be very good at only showing what we want people to see. After all, we are pros, we are supposed to be the best of the best and we have an image to uphold. But in turn, we are doing a complete disservice to those people who look to us for inspiration and advice.

What you get to see are the beautiful stage shots and photoshoot shots and contest shape gym selfies that we like to share, but what you don’t get to see through those photos are the actual consequences of what it might have taken to get there. You don’t get to see the permanent injuries, the thyroid damage, the 25lb post contest rebounds, the reproductive issues, the broken relationships and all the other not so nice things that can go along with taking “badass” a little too far.

Since returning to the fitness world last year, I’ve made it a point to maintain perspective and balance in my life, to keep my health and my relationships at the top of my priority list, even while contest prepping. It’s definitely still a work in progress for me, but let me share with you a quick reference list that may help…

>Getting your fasted cardio in at 5am before a long day of work and returning to the gym later to get your weight training in is pretty badass.
>>Spending 4 hours on the stepmill everyday is a bad idea.

>Training when you’re sore, or improving a different lift/body part/area while recovering from/working around an injury is pretty badass.
>>Continuing to train on a known injury to the point where it becomes a lifetime problem is a bad idea (yes, this one I am very guilty of).

>Getting through your very low carb days two weeks out from your show with no deviations to the plan is pretty badass.
>>Spending 12+ weeks eating nothing but tilapia, chicken, eggwhites, broccoli and asparagus is a bad idea.

>Going to a party and opting to avoid the desserts and alcohol while still spending time with friends is pretty badass.
>>Skipping all special/social occasions for an extended period of time because there will be “bad food there” is a bad idea.

>Doing some extra work on the side to make some extra money to put towards competing is pretty badass.
>>Spending your life savings and putting yourself into debt for the sake of competing is a bad idea.

>Completing a 12-16 week contest prep to the absolute best of your ability is pretty badass.
>>Spending 6+ months on a contest diet without giving your body any time to recover, only to rebound 30lbs when you’re finally “off” your diet is a bad idea.

>Going to the gym instead of to the bar on Friday nights is pretty badass.
>>Being a complete bitch because of your workout schedule/diet to the point where none of your friends/family even call you to hang out anymore is a bad idea.

I’m sure the list could go on and on. The point is, there needs to be a distinction between giving your all and being stupid. You can still be hardcore/badass/completely dedicated or whatever you want to call it, while still being SMART. You still need to dedicate yourself to your goals and do what it takes to accomplish them. If you want something, you need to work your ass off and sacrifice and do things that may not be a lot of fun to get there.

I’m NOT saying to slack. I’m NOT saying to take the easy way. I’m NOT saying to give less that 110% every damn day. But what I AM saying is that part of being “badass” and dedicating 100% is also being knowledgeable enough to realize when something you’re doing is just flat out not good for you. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s the importance of keeping perspective. You always have to keep in mind the things that are most important in this life- spending time with the people you love, maintaining good health, enjoying this short time we have here on the earth—because winning that plastic trophy at your show will not mean anything if you lose all of those other things along the way.
Just something to keep in mind.

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Survival of the Fittest: The Last Few Weeks of A Contest Prep

You’re tired. You’re hungry. You’re cranky. You’re not sure how you will make it through your next workout, and then cardio, and then four more weeks of the same. You question whether or not you’ll be ready. You’re checking the roster to see who else is competing, sizing yourself up against them. You check your abs a few times per day to see if hat last bit of fat has finally gone away. And all you can think about is pizza and donuts.

No, you’re not crazy. You’re 4 weeks out.

Even the most well planned, well thought out, sanely executed contest preps can be extremely grueling. Competing in a physique contest is NOT easy. You are pushing your body to a state its not likely comfortable maintaining and this can prove mentally and physically challenging for even the toughest of athletes.

So how do you handle the mental aspect of those last few weeks before a show, without finding yourself elbow deep in a gallon of ice cream?

It’s easy.

Just suck it up buttercup, you’re almost there…

But for real, here are a few pointers that have helped me through those last few tough weeks before a show.

1. Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed. This is one of the only times I would suggest NOT looking at the big picture. If you overwhelm your thought process with “oh my god, how am I going to do this for another 4 weeks” you will never survive. So break it down into pieces. Take one workout, one cardio, one meal at a time. After all, it really is only one workout, or one cardio, or one meal that you have to get through. It’s nothing more or nothing less. You’ve done it before and you can do it again.

2. Trust the process. Your body will be ready if you just trust the process. You can only do what you can do. Stressing out about how you look or not being ready will only increase cortisol levels, causing you to hold more water and fat. Relax. Take a deep breath. And have faith that your body will do what it needs to do.

3. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Do what YOU are supposed to do. Just because Johnny is cutting sodium and Mary is doing two hours of cardio does not mean that YOU need to be doing that. Do what is best for YOU.

4. On a similar note, stop worrying about who else is going to be at your show. You can only control what YOU bring to the stage. It doesn’t matter if Jay Cutler is going to be in your class. It should not change what YOU put into how you look. So stop worrying about it!

5. Keep your mind busy with things other than contest prep. I know that all you feel like doing is sleeping until it’s the next time to eat again. But staying busy can help distract you from the overwhelming thoughts of “will I be ready in time” and “how will I look.” Find things to do- movies, hang out with friends, read, clean, etc. Time is going to pass regardless, but it’s better spent doing things that help keep you calm, rather than stressing you out.

6. Surround yourself with people that support you. Having a solid support system is key during those last few weeks. The last thing you need is negativity. Stay near people that boost you up and give you the confidence to keep going.

7. And finally, believe that no matter what, it will be worth it. And trust me, it will be. No matter how you look or where you place, you will be so happy that you didn’t give up. You want to be able to say, I gave it my all, I could not have done anything more. It is an experience you will never forget.

So there you have it. I hope you find these tips helpful. Please feel free to comment and share your own “survival of the fittest” tips below!

How To Recover from a Bad Day

As a registered dietitian, I don’t believe in ‘good’ foods or ‘bad’ foods, I believe all foods can serve a purpose. I try to encourage my patients and clients that are looking to achieve a healthy lifestyle to choose fresh, unprocessed, natural foods ‘most of the time.’ On the other hand, as a pro fitness athlete I understand that there are foods that will help reach you goals and there are foods that will not. And I encourage those athletes with a deadline (competition, photoshoot, show, etc) to choose the right foods ‘all of the time’ – especially if that deadline is within the next six weeks (off season athletes refer to the first recommendation).

Regardless of which category you fall into, there may come a time when you have a ‘bad’ meal or even a ‘bad’ day, whether by choice or by life circumstances. It happens to all of us. And in all honesty, a single bad meal or even an entire day should not be enough to completely derail your efforts. How you recover from such a day though, can make the difference between continuing to move forward toward your goal or taking several steps backwards.
So here are some strategies for recovering from those ‘bad days’-

1. Don’t delay getting back on track. Often one cookie turns into 10, one meal turns into a whole day, and one day turns into a week. Don’t let that happen. Make a conscious decision to stop. Turn it around, and get back on track. No procrastinating!

2. Avoid compensation cardio, cleanses, crazy diets, etc. There is no need to punish yourself for overindulging. All this will really do is mess up your metabolism and water balance even more, and it will create a negative mindset. So don’t do it. Get back to your normal meal plan and your normal workout schedule.

3. Drink lots and lots of water!! This will help get rid of any sodium or carbohydrate bloat. Additionally, if you had a drink (or 10), you’re likely dehydrated, so make sure to get that water in.

4. Try to avoid processed carbs and high sodium foods. Typically I’m not one to recommend a sodium restricted diet for athletes however if you’re sodium sensitive and already retaining water from yesterday’s food fest, you may benefit from just cutting back a little bit. And if nothing else, just stay away from the processed stuff.
– as an addition to #4, if you do tend to retain a lot of water you can try to include some foods with natural diuretic properties such as grapefruit, asparagus, cucumber or fresh squeezed lemon in your water.

5. Try adding a probiotic and a good multivitamin. Probiotics can help aid with digestion and healthy bowel function which may be necessary after eating foods your system is not used to. Furthermore, most metabolic processes rely on vitamins and minerals as cofactors so a good multivitamin can help boost your body’s ability to handle/metabolize the excess food. Antioxidants can also help rid the body of oxidative stress brought on by poor food choices.

6. And finally, and most importantly, let it go. Move on. Do not dwell on yesterday’s decisions. Do not waste time beating yourself up about what you did or did not eat. Don’t get on the scale for a few days because odds are you’ll have gained some water weight (and that number may be enough to freak some people out) Focus on what you are going to do now. You have the choice to keep moving forward toward your goal or to let it hold you back. Choose to move forward!!

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!

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!