I have always hit the gym 5-10 times a week and I have always had a semi-clean diet, but I always persisted that I would never do a competition because I wouldn't be able to achieve the level of dedication required. Part way through my 12 month working holiday in Australia in 2016, I moved to Darwin and started working for a company on a 3 month contract. One of the women in the office was competing in a competition the week I arrived, and we discussed it at length. She mentioned that there was a competition in Darwin in 13 weeks time. It dawned on me that this was the perfect time for me and that if she could do it, so could I. Typical comp prep is 12 weeks; I was living in a tropical climate where it's much easier to get out of bed and do cardio at 6am and the warm weather encourages you to eat lighter and healthier foods. I knew if didn't do it now, I never would. From the second I decided to enter, my whole mindset changed. Before, if I was cutting and I was offered some bad food, I had no real reason to say no. Now, every time I considered eating or drinking something that wasn't in my plan, I knew it could be the difference between first and second place when I stepped on stage. When I struggled for motivation, I would appeal to my competitive nature by reminding myself that somewhere in the same town there were another 5 guys all working harder than me to try and beat me. With these psychological drivers, I rarely found comp prep to be a struggle.
That psychological edge was however a double edged sword. Although it drove me to stick to my diet and not skip any training sessions, it dominated my whole life. I couldn't do a single thing without first considering how it would affect the competition. It became an obsession. Of course there were other hard parts. Sometimes I felt crazy hungry, but I knew that was a good sign. That meant my metabolism was firing and it had nothing to burn, so it was going to have to burn fat for fuel. Once you get your head round that concept, hunger almost becomes enjoyable! I have always trained hard, but what I didn't count on was that my body would struggle to train hard and recover quickly with such a low calorie intake. In the last few weeks, my 1RM dropped on most exercises by about 30-40%. My joints and muscles hurt and I had to be clever about calculating rest periods and choosing exercises that worked around my aching. The hardest part was the strain on my relationships. Operating on low blood sugar consistently is a real test of your patience and temper and that really effects your relationships. If you're relationship isn't solid already, doing a comp will put a real strain on it. I have heard this over and over from other competitors and now I can confirm it too!
My training and diet were another level. I trained 12 times per week. Fasted cardio and/or abs 5 mornings per week and 7 lifting sessions per week. My diet used carb cycling to protect my muscles/metabolism and strip fat. My biggest mistake was dropping calories too early. This made it hard to keep my metabolism up later in the process. You should start high and gradually drop your calories leading up to the show. The hardest part of the whole competition was the dehydration in the last 48 hours. I got this wrong too, starting too early. But once I had started, I had to hold out. In the 48 hours before stepping on stage, I used several tactics to sweat out water and only drank about 1l of water. This transformed my physique overnight, giving me that shrink-wrapped look, but I felt terrible! I'm a very confident individual, but stepping on stage severely dehydrated and standing next to guys in incredible shape, under blinding lights in front of hundreds of people was intimidating to say the least. It takes a certain type of character to enjoy that experience. I came third in the men's physique category, which left me deflated and disappointed. I remember clearly regretting my choice to do the comp, and had things ended like that, I don't think I would have recommended it to people. However, in my main category (men's fitness model), I won the overall title and I was ecstatic. Now I'm so glad I did it and I don't regret a single second! It's one of my proudest achievements. If you took me back to June 2016, I would 100% do it all over again. However, now I have ticked it off the bucket list, I don't intend to compete again. The sacrifice required is just too high, for what is just a hobby!
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Guest post by Lee Betts - CEO of Fitterr.