Fat to Figure
16 weeks of contest prep with Ms. New Jersey
by Anthony Roberts
I really hate flying. The worst part used to be trying to board and setting off the metal detectors. I'm both heavily tattooed and heavily pierced, and I set off metal detectors like it's my job.
And speaking of my job, that's probably the worst part of flying: I never know what to fill out on those little cards where they ask you what you do for a living. "Other" is usually all I can think of to write. But, as I recently found out while helping a figure competitor prep for her contest, "other" is actually what I do for a living.
The Jersey Girl
First, a little background on how I got wrapped up in helping a figure-girl train for her first win. I was researching physique competitions and physique competitors for an upcoming article, and I didn't want to leave the women out. So I put out some feelers around the 'Net to various girls I know, hoping for an introduction to some competitors. I'd wanted to learn about contest prep; I ended up learning a lot more.
I had been put in touch with Rosanne through a mutual friend who'd told me that she was someone who really pushed herself to the limit when prepping for a contest: no water for days on end, two hours of cardio, etc. So I spoke on the phone to her a couple of times about her past experiences with contest prep, then went to meet her since she was from New Jersey and relatively close to me. She'd placed third twice and fourth once in her three contests.
This Jersey girl wasn't the frontrunner to win her next contest either, having never even taken second place. At the time, none of this occurred to me, but in retrospect it seems appropriate that we first met at a bar called The Dark Horse, because she was the dark horse entry in her next figure competition. Rosanne wasn't the girl who was "supposed to win." A true dark horse — a 164-pound dark horse that had to be transformed into a 120-pound figure goddess by mid-year.
So there we were, at The Dark Horse bar, with her telling me about her experiences in contest prep, and me apparently trying to set some kind of record for most shots of tequila downed in a single business meeting (the epitome of professionalism, I'm not). At one point in the night, when she told me that she'd placed third in her best showing, I stuttered something about being a winner just for getting up on stage. Big mistake.
That made her hazel eyes flash with the same kind of intensity I see in any of the athletes I work with. She told me she wasn't interested in that. She was entering her next contest — dark horse or not — and walking away with a first place trophy. I did a shot of tequila and thought, "Now this is an athlete I can work with!" Then I did another shot.
She agreed to let me tag along during her sixteen week contest prep phase in return for some help with training and other advice. In short, just as I fill out on those annoying cards when I fly, I'd help her with any "other" things she needed, from training to supplements to, well, whatever.
During my interactions with Rosanne over the next sixteen weeks, I learned about the world of figure competition. I learned that figure competitions became popular because the majority of women aren't interested in competing in traditional bodybuilding. I also learned that to be successful in figure or fitness, a gymnastics background is practically a necessity. The routines are very advanced at this point; even the compulsory moves can require years of gymnastics training.
Monica Brant. That's "The Monica" to you, pal.
I learned that "Monica" is the Holy Grail of figure. Mention "Monica" to any figure girl, and you'll hear about her in a tone that approaches reverence. Mention that Monica Brant earned her living by competing in bikini and wet T-shirt contests prior to entering the world of figure and you'll get a look that's usually reserved for people who curse in church.I also learned about the cost of competing. A decent swimsuit will cost you about half a grand... and you need two of them. Then there's the entry fee for the contest, groceries, protein powder, and other supplements. Finally, there's the make-up to match the swimsuit, the matching jewelry, and the 5" clear high heels... unless the competitor already owns clear heels.
And then there are the figure legends and rumors. The story of the girl who had the top of her two-piece suit stolen by a competitor backstage. The story of the girl who left her high heels unattended in the bathroom, only to return to find one of them had the heel cracked off. These are the stories of figure legend.
After our initial meeting, we worked out the next week, with me following her training protocol. It took an hour and a half, without cardio, to finish the routine. After that, we kept up communications, talking about a possible plan of attack for her contest. We started with a very casual clean-up of her diet, just to get her weight a bit closer to where it needed to be at the start of the contest prep, which began sixteen weeks out from the contest.
At that time, with only some minor changes in her diet, she'd dropped to 153 pounds. At this point, she took photos in her two-piece competition suit. Then she cried.
It was also at this point that she began consulting with a very good diet coach, who also handled prep details, presentation, and cardio. Seemingly overnight, her diet got clean. She stopped missing meals and never missed a workout. Supplements were taken religiously.
Several tandem workouts followed over the next month, and she appeared to be following every bit of advice to the letter. Meetings with me were in the gym for workouts or at coffee shops to talk about how the prep was going. Although our initial meeting was in a bar, going to bars was now out of the question (for her, anyway).
But the really fun stuff started when she began dropping carbs and calories. At week twelve, she began dropping high carb days out of her carb cycling program. At week ten, more carb-up days were dropped, and low carb days became no-carb days. At week eight, her carbs and calories were dropped absurdly low, maybe even insanelylow.
It was also at week eight that I took over writing her workouts, and began taking more of a heavy hand in helping her. Her five weekly hour and a half weight training sessions were changed to four weekly sessions, each lasting no more than forty-five minutes. Lower body was trained two times a week as was upper body, and I replaced all of her machine movements with free weights. We stopped thinking "bodybuilder" on lower body days and started thinking "rap video."
As an added bonus, I was still working out with her regularly, and since she needed a spotter, I volunteered.
At eight weeks out, her body weight was 149. The two of us were freaking out. Her calories were only in triple digits, and she was now doing two hours of cardio per day.
She'd added in the "step mill" to her cardio, too. If you don't know what this is, it's basically a stepper, but instead of a step that rises and falls with your foot, it's a moving set of steps. Like a treadmill, if you stop your forward progress, you'll get spat off the back of it. Most gyms don't even have one because nobody in their right mind would use it. Rosanne, with her three hours of training a day on 900 calories, fell squarely into the category of people who'd use a step mill.
Since her body fat was primarily being stored in her hips, I suspected that her weight problem was at least partly due to estrogen. Finally, I was in my comfort zone! I went to work making her a transdermal preparation with nicotine, yohimbine, and caffeine, in a pharmaceutical grade carrier called "Phlo-Gel."
Caffeine is well-known to be a potent fat loss agent when applied locally. Yohimbine is particularly useful for women who want to lose fat, as they have a much higher concentration of alpha-receptors. Yohimbine acts to antagonize those receptors and thus aid fat loss, particularly in women.
Finally, and maybe controversially, I added nicotine into the mix. Nicotine is a very potent fat loss agent, as well as a very nice appetite suppressant. But the thing that I was really banking on was nicotine's anti-estrogenic activity. Hell, if estrogen was the problem, this was the solution.
At seven weeks out, she weighed in at 139 pounds. We'd blasted through the 140 pound barrier that she was stuck at. A week later, she'd lost another pound and her period. Yes, at lower body fat levels, menstruation stops. And since we'd taken steps to take away some of her estrogen, her period went bye-bye.
If this doesn't sound normal or healthy, you're beginning to understand what a figure girl goes through during contest prep. Normal tasks become struggles. Work becomes almost impossible. During this time, business luncheons are attended without eating. Meals are consumed every two hours precisely, and they're eaten at a desk because she needs her lunch hour to workout and tan.
Rosanne needed to use her lunch hour because her two hours of cardio, performed on an empty stomach, are done immediately after waking up at 5AM. As a coach, I've seen my athletes walk off the field bloody and battered, but I'd never seen anything like this.
Her diet coach took out more carbs. Counter-intuitively, this was actually a very good move, because it meant that she spent a longer time in ketosis, where the body shifts from burning carbohydrates to using ketones for fuel. The more you fluctuate in and out of ketosis, the more "lag time" your body has to begin this shift, and the more anxiety you suffer from.
Your brain likes carbs, but it can run on ketones. It doesn't like shifting from one to the other frequently. At this stage, Rosanne's body was rebelling, and calling on thousands of years of evolution to fight her at every step. She suffered from anxiety. She suffered from mood swings. She suffered from insomnia. I suffered from watching her.
At this point, we increased her use of Spike to help her get through the day. We also replaced her ECA stack (which can cause anxiety) with Fahrenheit. I had her begin taking "contrast showers" which is something I learned about while playing rugby in New Zealand. The idea here is that you alternate between 30 second bouts of hot water and extremely cold water during your post-workout shower.
A large body of evidence suggests that contrast showers can decrease post-workout trauma and activate the central nervous system to aid in recovery. As an added benefit, you don't leave the gym after a hot shower feeling drained. This helped out a bit, and she was arriving to work from her morning cardio and afternoon workouts feeling refreshed. Well, as refreshed as a two-hour session on the step mill can leave you when you're existing on 900 calories a day.
At one week out, we did a depletion workout for her lower body, followed the next day by one for her upper body. High reps were the goal, and she worked quickly moving from machine to machine. I dropped the free weights out of her program for the depletion workouts because the goal here was simply to suck everything out of her body. Building muscle just wasn't going to happen.
Although her weight training workouts ended at this point, her cardio was continued until two days prior to the contest. Now her nutritional manipulation and water depletion started.
Rosanne followed her diet coach's advice to the letter, depleting her body of basically everything, including water, by using an herbal diuretic tea that had her wearing down a path in the carpet nightly between her bedroom and the bathroom.
The morning of her contest, she weighed in slightly less than 120 pounds for the prejudging. Throughout the day, she ate a variety of foods (including a whole jar of peanut butter, a bag of rice cakes, some candy bars, and other goodies). I'd say she weighed in at about 120 or so by the time of the evening comparisons, which are quarter turns in a variety of poses, in both a one and two-piece swimsuit.
In the six hours between the morning prejudging and the evening finals, I watched Rosanne curl her depleted body up into the fetal position in pain. Now, I don't care who you are; if you have to see one of your athletes in this type of pain, it's difficult. It's not just difficult, it's heart wrenching. I don't care how tough you are; you're wishing you could just make it stop.
So there I was, a couple of hours after watching my athlete curled up in misery, leaving her to the care of her backstage handlers. And there she was backstage, blacking out, twice.
But the girl I'd met in the dark horse — the girl whose eyes flashed with anger when I suggested that anything less than winning was acceptable — was back. She forced herself out on stage, hours after being curled up in the fetal position, minutes after passing out, cramping from dehydration, and seeing stars.
She did quarter turns.
Then she walked away with first place and the title of State Champion.
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