Two Beginner’s Journeys Through Contest Prep

Everyone has a starting point on their fitness journey, regardless of the end goal. Since today’s world is all about fast food and little activity, these journeys include a change in the habits from every part of our lives. It is never easy to make those changes, even for those who already live a “healthy” lifestyle. LAC Dixie’s Personal Trainer, Nikki Henry and Personal Training Director, Casey Wilkerson competed in the bikini division of the Kentucky Derby Muscle, a bodybuilding competition, in April of this year and discuss their 12-20 week competition preparation and the lifestyle changes they endured.



What made you want to do it?

N: I got into exercise and fitness through sports-specific weight-training for volleyball, which I’d been playing since I was 8. I fell in love with the Olympic style weight-lifting I was doing and began competing in 2008. I eventually went on to place #9 in the nation in my weight and age class in 2010. After my competitive weight-lifting career was over, due to health reasons, I wanted to aim for another solid goal. Prepping for a bodybuilding competition gave me the drive and competitiveness I was missing in my personal exercise programs.

C: I’ve been playing competitive volleyball since I was 12. I finished my 4 years playing college-level this fall and knew lifting would be my “go to” to fill the void. Figured since I was already a fitness enthusiast and had been through a heck of a fitness journey already; doing a bodybuilding show was right up my alley.

What diet and exercise changes did you have to make for prep?

N: My ENTIRE diet. I was eating whatever I wanted and going out to eat several meals a week and not really paying attention to what I was eating. I had all of my meals prepped every week. I had cheat meals prescribed throughout the week. My training was more structured and intense; it changed every 3-5 weeks and more frequently as the show got closer. I had to do a lot more isolation work on areas that were lagging compared to others.

C: My problem was I wasn’t eating enough and was already in a deficit in calories before I started prep. I would fall into binge sessions, which led me to this point in life where I thought having a goal like standing in front of tons of people in an itty bitty suit would encourage me to get my eating habits back to healthy again. This meant I had to do a “mini-bulk” to raise my calorie intake so when it came time to cut, I could without it being excessively low in calories. I carb-cycled and hated every second of it. You could most certainly tell when it was a low-carb day.  I stuck to traditional training techniques. I kept lifting heavy up until about a week out and just did bands and high reps. Cardio was THE WORST. I did fasted cardio in the AM and HIIT some nights as well.

What were the cheat meals like?

N: Cheat meals were Mexican food and really whatever I was craving throughout the week that was higher in carbs than my diet called for the rest of the week. I structured them to be 2 meals throughout the week (whenever I needed them for my emotional happiness) until 4 weeks out, then dropped it to 1 meal a week until 2 weeks out. After the 2 week out mark I did not have any cheat meals planned until the final Sunday before the competition (6 days out).

C: I had cheat meals up till about 8 weeks outs. They usually consisted of pizza and donuts or Burger and sweet potato fries. I would only have them on Saturday nights. I eventually had to break them off because they were hurting me more than helping me. At that point I had a strong enough mentality that I’d rather stick to my clean meals than not make progress. Not to mention, having a binge eating disorder before I started prep, it was important for it not to creep back up on me, which was an extremely empowering aspect of the experience.

What was the biggest struggle?

N: I just started a new medication a few days before prepping for the show started. This caused a lot of bloating, water retention, and swelling in my legs. There was also an adjustment period in the medication that made me not feel like working out. Transforming from an unstructured diet to a fixed one was also difficult because I hate to spend that much time thinking about what, when and how much I was eating.

C: My biggest struggle was moodiness. I was very irrational at times. I stressed more often over little things. Very irritable. It was hard to deal with especially in my personal relationships and at my job. I only had about 3 weeks to increase my calories without gaining too much. My coach didn’t want me to do this show but I was willing to suffer the consequences and deal with possibly being very low in calories. It eventually took a toll on me. However, it taught me a lot about myself and future competitions.

How did it change your training perspective?

N: I’ve learned a lot of different training methods and learned to coordinate those into my workouts to reach goals faster. I’m so used to doing a certain type of workout because of my past in competitive weight lifting. This has taught me to try out new routines especially when it comes to rep range and sets.

C: I was so used to the traditional conditioning/training due to volleyball. I watched a lot of Dana Linn Bailey workouts and did a lot of “till-failure” and “burn-outs” and absolutely loved them. About every four weeks I changed what I train together in a workout.

Where did you get your motivation/support from?

N: My family was my biggest supporter. I had a lot of friends who would consistently ask me to go out to events or dinner, despite repeatedly telling them I’d already had a cheat meal or that the next one wasn’t for a few days. But if I called my family during these times they would help get me back on the right path and make me feel more confident in the prep process.

C: My support system came from a handful of close friends. They would check to see how I was feeling. Even members at the gym (who knew I was doing a show) would ask and it honestly meant a lot more than they know. Competition prep requires mental toughness, but that leads to having more internal motivation. It’s easy to fall off of the path when you are the only one accountable and wanting something you can’t have makes it extremely difficult. There were days I didn’t even want to move from bed and days where I just felt bloated and crappy. It was a long, SLOW process that I give props to EVERY competitor because it’s far from easy.

 How was post-show?

N: AWESOME! Post show I didn’t gain all the unexpected weight that other competitors had warned about. I got my metabolism back on track and was able to resume my workouts within a week of competition day without any problems. I realized how much I had learned about myself as an athlete and about new and different nutrition and training styles. Prep was the boost that I needed to really make a lasting change in my habits for the better. Since the competition, I have not really craved food the way that I used to and eating unhealthy now has immediate consequences because the food is processed with so many chemicals. Seeing how much those foods negatively affect me now has really opened my eyes to just how poor my diet was.

C: The weekend after the show I had a photoshoot and another “peak week”. After that was when the post-show really started for me. I was told to reverse diet since I was so low in calories and that if I increased too much I’d just pack on a lot of fat. I tried that…and nearly drove myself mad. I started to manipulate my own calories and macros. Now, I feel awesome and keep hitting PRs every week. I’m not afraid of food. I can happily say I overcame an obstacle where eating disorders controlled my life. It’s a very easy trap to fall into when in sport. Before the competition, I sometimes struggled with not eating, or chewing my food just to get the taste and spitting it out (gross I know), or binge eating. Regardless of how oblivious we want to be, these sort of things happen to people and it’s important to me now to let them know they’re not alone. Overall, it was a positive, learning experience and made me look at health and fitness with a different perspective. It has inspired me to want to open up and be honest about my fitness journey to help others who may be struggling with eating disorders or self-image. I feel the best I’ve ever felt and have put on a quality amount of mass which will benefit me when it’s time I lean out again.

We both encourage others to try something new, whether it’s a fitness class, lifting weights, or trying personal training. Life begins outside our comfort zone.