Often I get asked questions about what I do to overcome the inevitable obstacles that bodybuilding throws at you. The hunger, the lack of energy, the injuries, the social restrictions etc. I can’t say I have spent a lot of time cultivating my psychological approach, I think it is an innate attribute in me, but perhaps it is something that can be taught or obtained and this insight into how I go about things may point you in the right direction.
Lets address the competition phase, because quite frankly if you aren’t having fun training hard, lifting heavy and eating ample food in the offseason, then this isn’t the sport for you. It’s when you pick a show and set a date as a deadline that the restrictions really kick in.
Food. As a bodybuilder food is a tool. It provides you with energy and supplies you with the nutrients required to build muscle. When restricted it allows you to create a calorie deficit to lose fat. It is nothing more. It does not make you feel better because your boss yelled at you. It does not take away the emotional pain of a break up. Food is fuel. Deny this fact at your own peril. Now obviously we are all human, would I rather a slice of chocolate cake than another chicken breast, sure I would. But would that pleasure be greater than me presenting my all time best physique in a few short weeks time, after which I can and most likely will eat cake until I’m sick? I promise you it is not. Throughout your contest prep you will have many opportunities to cheat on your diet. I have never, ever cheated on my diet. I have scheduled cheat meals once a week early in the prep. But from eight weeks out there is nothing that is not planned and measured. Feel free to cheat, it gives people like me the competitive edge.
Energy. The smarter and more experienced you become with your contest prep strategy, the less this becomes an issue. By eating a balanced diet, key word ‘balanced,’ you shouldn’t have any inhibitive nutritional deficiencies. Having said that, there will come a time when you are moving ever deeper in to single digits bodyfat percentage, that you will feel flat. Initially you will feel flat for an hour or so in the afternoon. Then that time frame stretches out so that eventually you feel drained and devoid of energy from the moment you swing your leg out of bed to the point where you lay back down on it for a restless nights sleep. This is the feeling of getting really lean. The only people I know that don’t go through this are those that compete in far from ideal condition. If you know this then you will also no that the longer you can endure this horrible sensation, the leaner and leaner you will get. It is a fact that conditioning is often the deciding factor at shows. Crazy conditioning and suffering go hand in hand, embrace it, seek it out, out suffer your opposition and then claim the ultimate prize at the end.
Injuries. Most of us get them. The majority of people get them in the lead up to a comp, many people pull out. But the best competitors don’t. An injury is like a loss and a severe injury will result in a grieving process. The faster you make your way to acceptance the easier it will be to deal with. File it under shit happens and move forward. Do your rehab, play it smart in the gym and figure out a way to train around it. Be confident in the knowledge your physique isn’t going anywhere in a matter of a few weeks so backing off on the injured bodypart is not a big issue. Or pull out, one less person for me to have to beat.
Social Restrictions. A lot of people struggle with this. I don’t. I’m not that social to begin with, I don’t have an abundance of free time to engage with the human race. I guess it’s a case of ‘you don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never had it.’ However I have attended weddings and whipped out my own Tupperware. I have attended family functions and knocked back the insistent relatives when they have repeatedly offered me food. Don’t be embarrassed if you find yourself in this situation, remember you have a goal and your food is a means to achieve it. If someone says, “One piece won’t hurt you.” Tell them that everything you put in your mouth affects you. Explain why you are eating the way you are eating and the strange looks will turn into dieting seminar, as you field questions from around the table. Or of course you could just eat the rack of lamb arrabbiata, but if you do, know that there are competitors out there that are instead eating their skinless chicken breast and broccoli.
To summarise, it is a simple case of choices. You can choose to do what is best to ensure your progress or you can choose the easier/tastier option. Choose widely, because come contest day you WILL be judged!