This is a huge topic of conversation amongst coaches, athletes, judges, and many others in the bodybuilding industry. I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in so many of these conversations; and want to share what I am hearing from others as well as my own input on the topic.
Competitors are often competing in back-to-back shows, then maybe taking a few months off to turn around and compete in the following season. However, not only is this horrible for your body on a physical & mental level but if you are looking to be competitive and make the necessary changes in order to actually improve your physique, you need to take more time to work on those things.
Through the eyes of a judge
As a judge of many competitions, I see too often the same exact people at show after show. The unfortunate part is that every single time they step on stage their overall physique looks the same. Sure they may come in with better conditioning/leanness, or better posing, but they were unable to make the necessary changes to their muscle mass that is needed to be competitive.
For example: I’ve seen a competitor bikini athlete step on stage with very little muscle on her. With minimal muscle, while she may be lean, she doesn’t look as lean as if she were to have the muscle under it. Judge’s comments ranged from “need more glutes & hamstrings”, “need more delts”, “need to be better conditioned”. Lean and conditioned are not always the same. Many people with little amount of muscle are lean. High-level athletes with nice muscle mass and symmetry with the proper amount of leanness are conditioned. There is a difference. Problem is, she steps on stage again in 1 month. During that month in between shows, she got leaner. However, she still gets the same feedback from the judges.
Here’s the thing: while she may have been leaner, she still wasn’t conditioned. She still was unable to build her glutes & hamstrings.
Because it takes time to build muscle. It takes eating in a surplus to build muscle. And it takes patience.
Most high-level professional athletes aren’t competing show after show, season after season. And if they are, they are never improving their physique really, they are simply prolonging their ability to improve.
As a coach, I typically have athletes compete in one season then take minimum 1-year off-season. I want them to look at the judges’ comments and start working on a plan to focus on the weak points. Focus on improving those weaknesses so that the next year that they compete. They can be confident that they have made improvements.
I have also witnessed so many competitors have horrible hormone issues related to competing too often. If you are a female athlete, you need to take the necessary time to improve your hormones during your offseason. This will make for a better competition season in the long run.
I was one of those competitors.
I competed in back-to-back shows multiple times. Guess what happened? Major problems. I started going to a doc because I just felt something was off. My cycles were all over the place. My emotions were irrational and uncontrollable. I went through several docs and finally had some testing that was not typically done with a full hormone panel. It came back that I had Premature Ovarian Failure. The doc explained to me that it was typically seen in anorexic patients and that my ovaries were basically aging at the rate of a 75-year-old woman.
Ok, so how do we fix it?
We can’t. Instant lump in my throat. See the problem is that once the ovaries are at this level, it’s irreversible. I was then informed that I would not be able to have any more children. Thankfully I have 3 rambunctious healthy boys, but still. Even if I wanted more, I was no longer able to. I didn’t quite know if I was done having kiddos, but I was now at a point that I had no choice. I was not able to make that decision any longer. It was taken away from me. My doctor was aware of my competition and my diet intake, strenuous workouts, and so on. She made it very clear that my dietary habits and stress on my body were the cause of my now-crushing issue. It’s also fairly common in other high levels female athletes (not just bodybuilding). Awesome…
That was when it was made very clear that hormone health is a huge issue in this industry. We often think we are incredibly healthy because we are competing, eating right, working out, and so on. But what we don’t know, is that many coaches aren’t well versed when it comes to female hormones and unfortunately we don’t even know the wreckage we are creating within our own body until it’s too late.
If you are a female competitor, there are a few things to ensure that you are doing and that you are doing them properly to avoid health implications.
- Take your damn offseason and for a minimum of 1 year.
- Reverse diet properly. Don’t go off the fucking rails which will only further harm your health. Reverse dieting should be around a 1:1 ratio. If you dieted for 12 weeks for a show, you should be focusing on your reverse for around the same amount of time. (This isn’t always exact, but a generality)
- Do a full hormone panel. Yes, I know it is expensive. But so is competing, so if you can afford to compete, you can afford checking your hormones. If you’re willing to pay a coach hundreds if not a couple grand, you can do something just as important by getting a panel. One at the beginning of the offseason, another in 6 months.
- If something feels off or not right, talk to your coach. Hair falling out is not normal. Feelings of irrational thoughts leading you to depression/thoughts of suicide are not normal. If you get the runaround with your coach, see a doc and get a new coach.
- Keep fat intake above 30-35g. If you are peri, in menopause, or post-menopausal, you may need even more than that. Fat intake is highly linked to hormone health.
At the end of the day, you are in control of your own health. Not your coach.
Remember that always. As a coach, we are here to guide you, but we are not the “boss”. You are. It’s your life, your prep, your offseason, your body. If something doesn’t feel right, most likely it’s not. Don’t believe the hype that you have to just do whatever your coach says in order to be successful. There are tons of terrible coaches. But there are also tons of amazing ones, who truly care about your overall health, both mentally and physically, as well as your physique improvements.