Tips for Preparing for your First Bodybuilding Competition
Maybe you’ve joined a few groups on social media, attended a show, or just admire the bodybuilder physique and you’re ready to take it to the next level.
The next level being your first bodybuilding competition.
Know where to start? Of course you don’t—that’s why you’re here. And that’s OK. The best advice you can get is from someone who has been in your shoes. That’s why we asked a regular guy turned bodybuilder—how do you take it from spectator to participant in a bodybuilding competition?
Mark was a fairly regular guy, athletic, in shape but wanting more. After competing in five bodybuilding shows, he knows a thing or two about the beginner steps. So we asked him—What first?
Be Prepared to Completely Change Your Life to Compete in Bodybuilding
“Be prepared to completely change your life. Both socially and physically,” Mark blurted out. You won’t just change your body. You’ll change everything.”
Get a Nutritionist
Mark said he started off first consulting with a nutritionist and then a trainer before committing to compete in a bodybuilding competition.
He said he needed to be accountable to someone else in order to stay on track.
“I saw my nutritionist once a week,” Mark said. “We’d go over what I ate and he’d take measurements. Body fat was the focus.”
He said he consumed around 6-7 small ‘meals’ per day with a total intake of 1,400-1,600 calories. He chose a keto diet, and removed carbs completely, with a re-feed once per week of complex, or good, carbs.
He said this change was, by far, the most difficult. He was always hungry, even though he ate every 3-4 hours.
“My focus was to drop fat and maintain muscle. I competed in my first show at 5% body fat, and my subsequent shows at 3.2%,” Mark recalled. “I competed at the Olympia with 199 pounds of lean muscle.”
How did you maintain muscle mass with such a quick drop in body fat? We asked.
“I preserved muscle mass with supplements because that’s a big drawback to Keto and training—the weight lost can be muscle loss. So I took protein shakes and HMB.”
Mark said he also lived on pre-workouts. They gave him the energy he needed to get through his days since he was restricting calories and cutting carbs.
Get a Trainer
You can’t enter a bodybuilding competition alone. Unless you know someone in the biz, you need to know someone who can help push you past your limits.
Mark’s trainer put him on intense workouts targeting one major body group per day, 6 days per week. On the 7th day, he did body weight exercises only.
“I would work in cardio at 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening with a solid hour of heavy weight lifting daily,” Mark said, “I would train with high reps and at least 4 sets of 15-20 reps per workout.”
In addition to the gym, he worked 8-10 hours per day in construction.
Mark was able to drop an astonishing 2% body fat each week with diet and exercise.
Get a Posing Coach
Posing is the number one thing YOU GOTTA know how to do in a bodybuilding competition—
“If you look fantastic but you can’t pose, you won’t place,” Mark said.
He said the posing coach will also help guide you on what to wear based on your category you’re competing in.
Mark’s Quick Tips to Preparing for Your First Bodybuilding Competition
Besides being committed, Mark said there are a few things to help make the rather rough journey a little more bearable.
- Attend a show. That’s the best way to get a good feel for what you’re going to face and what you should set out to achieve.
- Be ready to special order your food at restaurants if you want to stay social. He even recommended our blog as a good guide to “how to stay social on a diet”
- Focus on the diet, the body will follow.
- Make a commitment and don’t let yourself off the hook. Be ready to lose friends if they are more envious than supportive.
- Stay committed to training. Get a trainer, get a nutritionist so you can be accountable to someone other than yourself.
- Go with the tanning company that is provided at the show. That’ll be the best one you can get.
- Start off with small shows like local contests before moving up to the big ones.
One final tip he offered: Get creative with cooking. Mrs. Dash was a life saver to turn bland into taste-bud boom, Mark said. Watch your sodium, and meal prep like a hoarder the day before going to hoarder rehab. Prep all the things!
What to Expect Your First Show
What is the first bodybuilding competition show like? We asked.
“Expect to be very nervous, you’ll find yourself very self-critical and think everyone looks better than you. STOP, own your achievement, you’ll look back on this day and be so proud,” Mark offered.
He said it’s also very crowded, very chaotic and can be overwhelming.
“You’ll be assigned a call time so you don’t have to go when the show starts,” Mark said, “But I recommend getting there when the show starts so you can gauge the atmosphere and get a feel for it.”
“You’ll be exhausted, you’ll be depleted. You’ll be dehydrated so that you appear more vascular so you’ll be thirsty, hungry, overwhelmed, tired….but excited,” he said.
Mark said you’ll be most excited because the hardest part is over, you’re on the verge of making your dream come true…OH– and you’ll be thinking about all the carbs you’ll be eating that night.
Finally, he said being backstage is also overwhelming, but just ask people for guidance if you’re unsure and you’ll make it work.
What is the Hardest Part about Preparing for Your First Bodybuilding Competition
“Hands down, diet is the hardest part,” Mark said. He said training is cake compared to the commitment needed to stick to a diet. “Every day is a challenge because you want to quit because you’re hungry or you lack the energy levels,” Mark explained.
At times he said he felt solely fueled by pre-workout supplements because of the drastic change in diet and calorie intake.
OK, what was the best part? We asked.
“The best part was achieving the goal,” he said. “Completely transforming your body—people think its impossible because it’s REALLY HARD. But when you achieve that goal—it doesn’t even matter if you place, you won when you see what you can do.”
“You’re hungry!” Mark said half-jokingly.
“You might be thinking about the next show and how you can do better, but definitely treat yourself,” Mark said.
He binge ate for a week, but then hopped back on the competition train.
“Take it easy, though,” Mark said, “You don’t want to get bigger than when you first started, so you have to control your ‘fluff’. Don’t make more work. If you trained right, you can maintain that body for life, rather than letting yourself go. If you’ve got another show on the horizon, good, but if not—keep working your body towards better.”
Mark added if you’re thinking about competing for the first time, give yourself at least 6 months of training and dieting. That’s with a solid athletic base. If not, you should give yourself a year to increase your chances of competing and placing.
So, there you have it. From the mouth of a bodybuilding competitor who went from average to amazing.
You can do it.
Some third party assistance and some wicked awesome pre-workout and muscle preserving supplements and the rest is up to you.