Competing & Contest Prep

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The journey of competing in your first bodybuilding/fitness/figure/bikini show it is an experience.  

As par with that of the organization of a wedding, you could spend 6 months to 2 years preparing for this one day.  

There are some aspects to the process you may want to understand, before investing in this journey to the stage.

The Good

Fitness Family

Probably the most rewarding part of the process that you will meet people who are just like you.  

You will learn the ‘lifestyle’, and perhaps make ‘fitness friends’ for life.  You may bond with other competitors, or those in your gym who have competed.  People might come up to you in the gym, and start conversation as now you take your training seriously much more than you did before.  

Other members of your gym will be more interested in what you are doing, and maybe lend some kinds words, as they will see changes in your physique and want to talk shop.

Those who have been through the process themselves, might give you encouragement, or suggestions for the day of the show.  

You will be welcomed into a family that thrives on eating well, training regularly and no one will ask questions when you pull out your cooler, tupperware containers, or your 4-gallon jug of water.

Body Awareness

You will learn more about your body, and how it responds to training.  The reps, the sets, the exercises, the frequency, the intensity, the consistency.  

How coming to the gym before and doing just cardio and abdominal work is not what goes into a preparing a stage ready body.  

You learn that IT is work, and that pushing weights (sometimes very heavy weight) is what can change a physique.  

You learn to let go of what popular media tells women about training, and appreciate the dedication that is required to build muscle over time. You realize your limits, are only limited by your thoughts.

Setting Goals + Consistency in Application

You have set a goal – to compete – and are able to come to the gym day in and day out as you keep that goal in the front of your mind (and sticky noted everywhere else) 

You commit, and show discipline to the process.   You realize now when your coach speaks  consistency, and patience, you can picture it.  

You are practice patience daily trusting the process.   You thrive on that one date in mind, like a wedding, where everything you do surrounds getting ready for this one day.  

Having a goal gives you a reason to go in and push hard, and you manage to carry on, even when you are tired.


You learn that the food is THE most IMPORTANT part to the competitive process.  

You learn what your macros are, and how calories work, and how even though protein and carbs are calorically the same, they do very different things to the body.  

You learn to appreciate food in a different way.  You learn that you can eat your vegetables raw, or with no other flavor, eat your meals cold, and strapping your food to you everywhere is just part of the process.  

During the process you will see food as fuel for your training, and learn to appreciate those times when your coach allowed you a free meal/treat meal or refeed.

The Bad:

The Cost

Competing costs money. Not just a little money – but a lot of money.

If you are a student, or on a limited income it could break the bank.  You can estimate the total costs of stepping onstage to be equal to a week’s vacation (sometimes x2) at an all inclusive resort.

The day before or day of expenses can run you upwards of $1000+.

Be aware of the costs, and plan accordingly.  

Many credit cards have been maxed out, and marriages broken, due to financial issues related to competing. Budget accordingly, so this does not happen to you.

Time Commitment

It takes time to build a body. To lose weight. To gain muscle.

Prepping for a show could start as late as 3 months before the show depending on your current training status, or take upwards of 3 years if you are a beginner to the gym, and have quite a bit of weight to lose.

The food shopping, food prep, the training, the posing practicing, the travel, finding a suit, shoes, personal grooming, and meet with your coach, are just a few of the items you will have to add to your already busy existence.

You will have to balance this with your regular life such as mom, wife, professional, student, coach, and find time to sleep.  You can expect it to add around 8-12 hours of training, food prep, and anything else related to stepping onstage.

Work/Life Balance

This can be the hardest part for most. If you decide to take the stage you will have to become slightly unbalanced in your life.

Maintaining balance is for maintenance training and the off season.  

If you want to be onstage, and the investment is already huge cost wise, and time wise, bringing anything less that your best, is an absolute waste of your time and resources.  

The commitment is training, sleep, eating, and working.

Family time gets slightly cut, social events get cut, travel is tougher, recovery is primary and taking on any other projects is generally not recommended.  

You have committed to this process, and will need family and friends to step up, as you must go train, as it is not optional.

Optional training is for off season and vacations.   If you have to be up early to train, you need to go to bed early to make sure you are well rested, and have energy to get the job done.   Late night parties, are few or none.  

You can still have fun, but it is planned fun.  Anything spontaneous is generally out of the question.


For your family and friends who might NOT be into this ‘process’ it can be a big change for them. They might or might be supportive, and they can be tough on you at times.  

They put ‘non compliant’ foods in your face, and just don’t understand the commitment it takes to complete the process.

They say you are getting too skinny and need to eat something.  You will have to explain numerous times why you are doing what you are doing.

The Food

It really is all about the food. You will have to carry a cooler with you most of the time, prep your food in bulk, eat most of the same types of foods day in and day out, and repeat this process for up to 8-16 weeks.  

Your social events will be few and far between, and you will need to bring your meals to weddings, parties, holiday events, birthday dinners, graduations, summer BBQs, your child’s birthday, or any other social event where there is ‘free’ eating.  

You are on a deadline and need to make one date in time, and therefore have to adjust accordingly for the time you are getting ready for this show.  

Spontaneous eating is out, and planning structured, calorically and macro controlled meals will be on the menu for the day, usually 4-6 times per day.

The Ugly

Post Show Emotions

After competing you may or may not experience a low or a depression.  Much similar to preparing for any big event – like a graduation, or wedding, this post show depression is real.  You competed, and left feeling with a ‘now what’ feeling.  It can crush some into a place that is very dark or it can motivate others to continue training and do better next time.

The Results + Your Score

For most getting on stage is a rewarding experience but there are some that can be devastated by the outcome of the show.  

As a competitor you followed the diet perfectly, exactly what your trainer told you, and they said you looked good, yet, you did not place in the top 3 or top 5, and spent less than 30 sec onstage, and feel confused on why you did not do so well. This is part of the competing process.  

Sometimes you can compete, and really not get noticed by the judges, or even get callouts.  Your body is compared to others onstage, and then you are ranked against yourself and the competition.  

It can be tough to accept the outcome considering how much effort you put into getting ready for that one day.


This one needs to be mentioned as it does happen.  

There are times when girls will compete, and their trainer is the head judge, or on the judging panel, or there are ‘teams’ of competitors who compete, and due to this get a better nod by the judges or other individuals who are influencing the judging panel.

It is a judged sport (ahem pageant of muscles), and it is the cumulative subjective opinion of a panel of individuals who determines the placings of the competitors.  

Much like figure skating with artistic marks, or a dog show – physique competitions are looking for what is the ‘ideal image’ for the category you are competing.  It is hard to know what that ideal is going into the show.  Competing is a bit of a gamble.

Post Show Weigh Gain

Unfiltered reality check –> You will gain some weight post show.  

You spent all this time getting ready for the show, losing weight, sculpting the body, and now you are in a body you love, but we do have to get real.  This stage ready body is not your everyday body.

It is moderately unrealistic for you to think you can maintain this body 24-7 in the off season.  

You have a life, you like to socialize, you like to eat food (like most humans), perhaps drink alcohol, so it is unrealistic for you to believe you can hold a stage ready body all year long.

Are there people who can maintain a beach body year round?  Absolutely.

The question you have to ask yourself is:  

Are you willing do the lifestyle most of the time to maintain a beach body look year round?

There are individuals whose work relies on their bodies for income like models, or trainers, who can maintain a certain shape year round.  It requires effort, consistent nutrition, and all the other elements you used to get into shape for the show.  

Throw in some good genetics, including a strong metabolism, and you can maintain a certain off season leanness.  

If this is what you want great, yet, for the majority of individuals they cannot maintain this shape.  You need to accept your abs might fade, the cuts will soften, but you can and should still look athletic.  

Depending on what kind of prep you had, and how hard you pushed your body, you might end up 10-15lbs over what you started with or in worst case scenario end up 40lbs + post show.  

Your contest prep process, will determine how you respond post show. This is why you need to do your due diligence when selecting a prep coach.

Post Show Eating/Binges

This is probably the hardest part of competitive process. Since most of the training surrounds the food, you might bring out food issues that may or may not be present, which includes binge or purge eating issues, or even if you had a particular hard prep – binge eating that continues over days.  

You have been on structured eating for so long, now that you have to option of eating whatever you want, you might go crazy on foods you did not eat over the prep period.  You might consume too many sweets, high fat, and high carb foods.  

You will feel bloated, heavy, the scale will seem move up 10lbs overnight.  

You have to remember, and remind yourself that the food will be there tomorrow, and you do not have to eat it all today. It will be hard, as your hungry hormones are into overdrive post show.  

Best strategy is to make sure you have an exit plan that helps wean you off your prep diet, back into a more normal healthy eating structure.  That means, more food prep.

Unbalanced Lifestyle + Return to Balance

Finding your balance post show can be a rough road for most, especially newbies.  

As a coach I prep my clients on their exit strategy prior 2-3 weeks prior to competing to make sure they are ready for what is about to come.   You cannot prepare for what you cannot see coming.  

Before you compete you must have a solid understanding or at least have practiced for months balanced eating, and balanced training before throwing yourself into the world of competition prep.  

Most who compete have a hard time returning to their normal daily lives, which includes adding back in all those activities, that were put on hold prior to competing.  You need to find a new reason for training, for eating well, for being consistent and staying motivated.

Self Esteem

How you view your body can be warped for a while post show.  

You once saw abs, tight definition of muscles, that too weeks/months to achieve, and in only a week you feel watery, soft, and bloated. Abs definition is fading, cuts are smoothing out, and now your once tight body, is again soft.  

It can be really hard on a competitor post show, as they might feel that those in the gym are judging them, as they are not ‘in shape’ like they once were.  

I have known competitors who switched gyms as they did not want individuals thinking they ‘messed up’ post show.

Post show rebound weight is generally temporary, something more serious like metabolic damage, is more long term.   This can also set up binge/purge, or binge or try to train off the extra calories/eating with exercise.  

It is a vicious cycle in which competitors will eat, and then the next day try to make up for it with cardio and extra training.  

We all know that you cannot out train an extremely high carb high fat nutrition strategy.


After reviewing the good, the bad, and the ugly about competing, it is up to you to decide if competing is still on your bucket list of fitness goals.  

If it is, I wish you the best of luck in your journey.  If you start, the process, and realize it might not be the right time to pursue this goal, that is okay!  Most of my clients just want to look the part, but don’t have the desire to step onstage.

Have you ever started the process of competing and decided to step away?

Would love to your thoughts.

Like + share or leave your comment below.

Original 08 Nov 2015
Update 22 May 2021

Allison Ethier is an online coach, mother of 2, and lover of all things related to competing.  

With over 25 years of competitive experience in stage competition, she specializes in fat loss, muscle gain, and helping individuals find their fitness + lifestyle balance.

  • Fat Loss & Muscle Gain
  • Contest Prep
  • Accountability
  • Contest posing: Fitness, Figure, and Bikini
  • Lifestyle & Habit Coaching
  • Balance

How can I help?

Check all those that apply.

First, and last name.

Your best email address

Facebook and/or Instagram Handle so that I can DM you.

Anything you would like to mention.

Written by Allison Ethier
Allison Ethier, is a wellness lifestyle & body coach, IFBB Fitness Pro, and mom & coffee lover. She provides structured training, and flexible nutrition, to guide everyday athletes, to move better, build strength, and feel good in their own skin. B.Sc, B. Edu, NSCA-CPT, ISSN, PN1
Verified by ExactMetrics