We’ve all ogled extremely defined six-packs on Instagram or wondered how that girl at the gym got so shredded. The most likely answer? Bodybuilding.
Outsiders of the bodybuilding world may scoff at the sport, thinking it’s all just sparkly bikinis and spray-tanned bodies flexing on stage. But, as any dedicated competitor will tell you, months (even years) of tireless effort and unfaltering discipline go into achieving the lean, toned competition day physique.
We asked five veteran bodybuilders to fill us in on the lifestyle, workouts, and eating habits that have helped them get stage-ready—take a look at the things they’ve learned along the way…
It’s Not Just About The Gym
“I’d say bodybuilding is 90 percent nutrition and 10 percent gym,” says IFBB Pro and Betancourt Nutrition athlete Jon Delarosa. If you want your body to look and function like a Ferrari, you’ve got to put top quality gas and oil into it, he says.
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Four months out from a physique competition, Delarosa starts to tighten up his nutrition, saying see-ya to cheat meals and prepping foods like eggs, chicken breast, potatoes, and greens.
Bodybuilding Is A Lifestyle
“When I first got into bodybuilding, I didn’t realize how much dedication and time it would take to compete at an elite level,” says ISBB Pro and BPI Sport athlete Courtney King. In fact, King chose to take college courses online instead of going away to school in order to focus on her goals for competing. “I always say, ‘If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want will be the sacrifice,’” she says.
Sometimes You Gotta Pack A Lunch
While competing in bodybuilding competitions on a more recreational level doesn’t have to mean a total life overhaul, extra care toward exercise and eating right is a must. “I make healthy choices when I eat out and if I know I’m going to be somewhere that won’t have healthy options, I bring a meal with me,” says health and fitness writer and trainer, and Cellucor athlete, Jen Jewell.
Contest Prep Takes Loads Of Willpower
“When you’re prepping for a show, you follow a strict workout schedule and diet plan,” explains King. “Your entire day revolves around your training and eating.”
For King and many other athletes, that means two gym sessions per day and measured, clean meals. No mindless grabs from neighbors’ candy bowls or $5 pitcher bar nights with the girls. #Respect.
Prep May Involve Serious Nutritional Strategy
“Many bodybuilders manipulate their water and salt intake throughout the competition prep period,” says IFBB pro and Cellucor athlete Craig Capurso. At the beginning of prep, that means taking in tons of water and salt to ‘teach’ your body to secrete them efficiently. As you get closer to the show, you cut down on your intake in hopes of flushing any excess in your system and looking crazy lean. “At one point I was drinking three gallons of water a day and putting an entire packet’s worth of salt on every bite of my food,” says Capurso.
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“Many people really restrict their carbs in the days and weeks leading up to a contest,” says Jewell. “While I don’t like to go that hardcore, I’ll cut back on carbs a bit the week before a show, then add them back in the day before.” Your muscles suck those carbs right up just in time for you to take the stage.
You Don’t Have To Be A Slave To Cardio
“Before becoming a competitive bodybuilder, my workouts usually consisted of lots of cardio with maybe 10 minutes of strength training,” says national NPC bikini competitor and MuscleTech athlete Katie Miller. “I was scared to cut back on cardio and focus on strength training, but it wasn’t until I lifted every day and slashed cardio that I started seeing the muscle and results I wanted.”
Bodybuilders Don’t Look Crazy-Lean Year-Round
“The first time I saw a training magazine, I thought the women looked the way they did at a competition all year long,” says Jewell. “Competitors often tweak their nutrition by dropping carbs and water intake before a show in order to achieve that lean look day of, but those strategies aren’t sustainable all the time.” Keep in mind the next time you see a super-shredded bikini competitor on Instagram: Those eight-pack abs aren’t an everyday reality, and she gets bloated on Thanksgiving, too.