Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Bigger Picture

You can't sculpt a pebble. Bodybuilding (previously bikini division, now on to my first figure competition) is your fight with yourself, a test that challenges to push your body when it says no. With three months of bulking, including eating thousands of clean calories, more complex carbs than you can imagine, removing cardio from my life and lifting heavy. I gained an overall 14 pounds, 4.5 of lean mass and increased my body fat during that time to 16%. The descent is on, 5 weeks in and 10 left in preparation to stage, two a day cards, meal prep, carb cycles, discipline and mental toughness.

If you don’t love yourself before, you won’t love yourself after. It’s your body. Adore it at every weight. Every after picture reflects a pursuit of perfection.  Every achievement comes at a price. The cost of earning a degree, aside from the actual money, is countless hours of study, coupled with a pretty lame social life.

Having a lean, strong, and healthy body is also dependent on the price you're willing to pay. There's a whole industry that wants to think the price is simply what they charge for their revolutionary exercise equipment, magical shakes, or superhuman bars. Anyone who has ever gotten into extreme shape knows it takes far more than that. ‘Perfecting’ your physique demands an unyielding training regimen, strict dietary guidelines, an investment of time and money, and a focused overhaul of your lifestyle.
Here's the truth behind this.

To achieve any level of conditioning, you need time. While I’d previously lifted and been involved in every athletic event thrown my way since a teenager, even playing almost every sport in school.. or at least attempting, I began weight training seriously and have continued to lift consistently for the past three years. If you assume I have weight-trained, on average, five hours per week over that time, along with two hours of cardio and another two hours of yoga or random athletic event each week I've already invested hundreds of hours into my body. I'm sure it's actually far more.
No special workout, diet, or supplement can override the need for time. Even if everything you're doing is spot-on, your biggest limiting factor in achieving the body you desire is finding the hours.
Somewhere over the course of my years, I just started to get it—I developed the frame of reference to make smarter decisions and this has carried through to my lifting potential and workout regimen as I became more serious the last few.
Everyone will need a different number of hours—and of mistakes—to gain their own perspective. Some never will.
Another misconception about many fitness fanatics is that we stay in ‘stage’ shape all the time. Maybe one percent does, and that group doesn't include me. I'm not willing to pay the price to maintain stage body fat all year round. Why? For starters, I have a life outside of competitions, I am dating a wonderful guy and we enjoy the opportunity to eat out, or wine and dine. For me, maintaining a reasonable body fat gives me flexibility to introduce more calories so I can build muscle and continue on to other fitness goals.
Not to mention, I wouldn't consider it healthy, physically or mentally, for anyone to stay in stage condition all the time, it’s unrealistic. I consider myself fit and healthy,  with the physical ability to jump into any workout, anytime, be challenged and not feel out of place. Being physically challenged is my love.
Bulking up requires you to let go of your obsession with always having show-off abs. Most fitness models whine and complain that they can't get bigger, but it's because keeping their abs or visibly defined body is the top priority. The truth is, it's virtually impossible to gain muscle size if you make the choice to stay lean all the time. There is nothing wrong with that decision, but it doesn’t work for me, or my goals.
Most will say how hard it is to lose weight, but it is just as hard to intentionally get bigger and then cut for a show. When you're bulking, do it like your life depends on it. When you're cutting, do it like your life depends on it. And understand that both can get beyond the point of being "fun" pretty quickly, so keep the faith. I'm okay losing my definition for a period of time, because I know when I strip off the fat I'll reveal a completely new and different physique.
My diet is strict, and every day is structured around food. I established a regular meal cadence, eating every three hours with different protein sources, carb sources and fats, and consumed vegetables with every meal. On top of the diet, I extended my arsenal of supplements. I used a wide variety of supplements including L-carnitine, fish oil, multi vitamin, probiotics, glutamine, BCAAs, and protein.
Over 14 weeks, my trainer customized my diet. He makes outcome-based decisions according to how I look on a week-to-week basis.
I believe in burning the fat off, not starving the fat off. For the transformation, I weight train three times per week, do cardio twice a day for 45 minutes each and Sunday included only one cardio allowing time to meal prep for the week ahead. Cardio was specific, stair master, spin bike standing and intervals on the treadmill or elliptical. I push the envelope with workouts as basic cardio just isn’t enough for a fitness freak like myself. Boxing, HIIT, Ryder, you name it and I will do it. Change it up and shock my body into transformation. I try to include yoga when possible for simple mental release.
Every night, I tried to go to bed by 10 p.m. Sleep is a priority, but a challenging one with such a busy schedule. School full time, working multiple jobs to attempt paying bills, and training which is like a job in itself. Not to mention, a life and time with my boyfriend. This is a sacrifice many with demanding schedules can relate to. On the flipside, going to bed early forced me to structure my day more wisely and manage my energy more efficiently. A work in progress even after having multiple shows under my belt.
Every morning, I rise at 4 a.m. to the sound of my increasingly annoying iPhone alarm. I know my boyfriend can attest to this, possibly a few snooze pushes later. The final four weeks tend to be more physically and mentally tough, but that is also about the time I start to see major changes, so I have proof that the sacrifices are worth it and to keep going. Those scents of freshly baked goods at Whole Foods when I walk through the door will just have to wait. Thankfully my boyfriend does the shopping so I no longer have to battle those urges, finding myself talking to the cinnamon rolls as though we were in a heated argument.
What makes my environment so great? It's more than just the weights they have, especially when you're spending as much time at the gym as I do. Colorado’s Pro Gym is stacked with a family of support who keep me motivated through every single workout. Of course, I know you can get results in any gym, but I feel like this gym gave me a personal edge in my workouts. Friends, home away from home, as are a few other locations like Endorphin Lowry and Touch ‘Em Up Boxing.
I am also blessed to have my boyfriend by my side the entire prep. I can't imagine getting ready for a show with a non-supportive partner. While dieting, he is gracious enough to remove foods from the pantry so there was no temptation. He provided support in times of doubt or hesitation, and motivation during rough patches. This process is not only physically draining, but emotionally too. Food has a way with the brain.
Staying motivated over the long haul takes more than a decision and a gym full of motivation. To ensure I get where I want to go, I add plenty of accountability to the mix. Announcing it to the world, to friends and on Twitter and Facebook.
It's perfectly normal to get motivated by the incredible physiques of the health and fitness industry, but understand that ‘perfection’ doesn't exist for them any more than it does for you. My goal is simple, become a better me than yesterday. I don’t have an idol in a magazine, I have myself, my own competition. I have a healthy perspective and positive body image and I step on stage not to win trophies but to take a step back and look at my journey, my transformation forward to becoming a better me. Physically and mentally.

Rather than being discouraged, you should be both empowered and encouraged by what I've shared. Once you accept the truth of what it really takes, you can shift your focus from trying to look like someone else to becoming your best self. You can focus your energy on achieving realistic goals you can be proud of. What happens next is an incredible journey that is different for everyone.