How to Prep For a Contest the Smart Way (Or simply lean out) – My Tips & Tricks

contest prep

First off, let me preface this article with the statement that there is no “right” way to prep for a contest. Every person and everybody is different, and while one individual may respond great to a certain method, another may experience entirely different results. Therein, a problem arises.

A large majority of contest prep coaches and personal trainers out there will prescribe all their clients the same cookie cutter training plans (low carb, 6 meal/day, cardio 5x/week etc.) and expect everyone to have the same results. When this doesn’t happen they do one of the following, lower calories and/or increase cardio. Initially, your body will most respond, however, what happens two weeks down the road when your weight loss begins to stall? Your body has hit a plateau. So what does your trainer do next? He/she increases the cardio, cuts down your calories, and so the cycle continues. You’ll eventually get to where you need to be, but after show day you’re on your own. Your metabolism has slowed significantly and don’t you dare think about increasing those calories or doing less cardio… you’re bound to return to pack on the pounds faster than you can say metabolic damage.


So how does one help prevent this?


1) Find the RIGHT trainer– Some people are in such a hurry to reach their goals, that they will rush to the first trainer who shows a couple good “before and after” pictures or promises quick results. Just because someone has a few letters behind their name and has trained Bob and Sally doesn’t make them a trainer. And even if someone is qualified, it doesn’t mean they are right for you! 

Think of hiring a trainer the same way that you would when choosing your personal physician. You aren’t going to pick the first doctor on the list who went to medical school and hire them. You’re going to (or should be) researching their background, learning more about their personal views and talking to their former or current clients. Most likely, you will want to meet them as well. You’ll want someone who will listen to your goals and help you achieve these in a realistic and healthy way.

Just as importantly, you want someone who has the time. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to be shelling out your hard earned cash (and lets face it, coaches aren’t cheap), only to find that you’ve received the same cookie cutter plan as the three other girls that are prepping for the same show. Or how about spending two weeks closely following a workout/diet plan that was “customized” for you, to find that your bi-weekly progress has gotten a nice response of “looks good- keep it up.” I dont know about you, but I want someone who cares about my results and I want more than a sentence response every 2 weeks.I want someone to pay close attention and make the necessary adjustments that are necessary for MY body to get the results I’m looking for.

In addition, I want a trainer who has more in their toolbox than simply cutting my calories/increasing my cardio to help me achieve results. A majority of people could do this themselves, so why would you pay someone to do it for you? Unfortunately, many will find the “perfect” trainer and sign up, only to find that everything I mentioned above is happening to them. Don’t let it happen to you! Take the time to find out what you’re really signing up for.


2) Carb Cycling– Let me start by giving a quick “in a nutshell” definition of what carb cycling is for those of you who may not know. Essentially, you rotate through higher and lower carb days, consuming the majority of carbs on those days in which you train your larger muscle groups and save those lower carbs days for when you will be expending less energy (ie. your rest days). This allows you to take advantage of the energy that carbs provide on the days when your body needs it most.


Incorporating this method provides you some room for variety in your diet (and trust me you will look forward to those high carb days). At the same time, you get the benefit of lower carb days (especially when paired with HIIT style cardio- High Intensity Interval Training) while, enjoying the energy that “high carb” days provide.


3) Moderation: This is the one point that seems to be the most obvious, but is the most ignored. I wish when I had followed my own advice more closely when prepping for my first show.


The typical contest prep diet will allow no room for any type of carb (unless it’s brown rice, yams etc), fruit or dairy. The problem with this is that 99% of people will be making significant adjustments to their diets to achieve this, and realistically, cannot continue for much more than 12 weeks. There is no reason that you have to cut all of this out 12 weeks out, sure when you’re a 2 or 3 weeks away from show day you’re going to have to buckle down more, but allowing yourself a small bit of chocolate, a piece of fruit or a latte every now and then is NOT going to derail your progress. I would actually dare to say it will help. See, dieting is all a mental thing and when you tell yourself you can’t have something, you’re bound to want it even more. Allowing yourself a small treat here and there will not only help maintain your sanity, it will help keep your cravings at bay. So go ahead have a small piece of chocolate and dont freak out that the world is ending- move on. You’re going to be a lot happier with yourself in the end that you allowed yourself to have a bite versus gorging on the entire bar. Just dont take my advice to the extreme and have a chocolate bar every time you get hungry 😉


In conclusion, I think its important to mention that competing definitely isn’t for everyone and you may find that it’s not for you. There’s nothing wrong with this! You dont have to get on stage to have an amazing body that you’re proud of!


Stay tuned for my reoccurring, Contest Prep Journal!

In the next few weeks I will be starting to prep for my next show. Through this process, I plan on writing a regular column on my progress. It’s my hope that sharing my honest thoughts on what’s working/not working well, as well as what I’m learning this time around, will help others in their journey! (As well as providing some entertainment as I get closer to show day =)

Again, thanks for reading and if you’re interested in regular updates be sure to follow us on Facebook!

About Melissa

Melissa Wilson is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through NSCA and received her Bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo. In addition to in-person training, Melissa is the founder of ProShape Fitness -- a healthy living company, which specializes in online fitness and nutrition coaching for individuals who want to get back into shape and adopt healthier lifestyle habits.

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