Sunday, September 29, 2013

So You Want To Start Competing?

So, You Want to Start Competing?

Heck yes!  Good for you!  Motivation to compete in bodybuilding comes in numerous forms: some have a drive to win, others are fighting to achieve a better physique than they've ever been close to, while others are competing to overcome a fear.  Regardless of your reasons, there is no better time to start preparation than right now.  

(Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, coach, or personal trainer.  I am a hobbyist and am happy to share what has worked well for me.  However, I highly recommend that you consult a trainer to develop an appropriate exercise plan and diet customized for your own goals and body.)

Here's how to begin:

1) Decide what division and organization you want to compete in, and set a goal for a specific show date. 

     There are a number of organizations that host competitions; has a great list of the organizations.  I compete in, and therefore am most familiar with the NPC (National Physique Committee).  Below is a top-line overview of the NPC divisions, however most groups have very similar structure.  Most vegans compete in INBF events (International Natural Bodybuilding Federation), which I'll be exploring soon too.

Within the NPC, the women's divisions are Bikini (sassy, sexy, flirty and somewhat muscular), Figure (that's me), Fitness (which incorporates a dance/gymnastics routine), Physique (pretty damn muscular), and Bodybuilding (these ladies pack some serious muscle!).  YouTube 'bikini npc competition' and 'figure npc competition' to see the physiques, posing styles and attitudes.  This is also a good link to get to know the divisions.  When deciding what division to enter, you should desire the physique that is recommended for that division, and also be comfortable with the stage presence and posing that the particular division requires.  

2)  Start working out, even if you don't have a trainer.  

If you’re competing in bikini or figure (which I am most familiar with), you will want to develop a V-taper, which means having a wide back and well-developed shoulders, and a tight core, to give the illusion of a tiny waist (and you actually do end up with a tiny little waist!).   

Lift heavy weights!  You will not build muscle by lifting light weights.  You have to challenge yourself, push harder, and do more than you did before.  Your last rep of every set should be incredibly hard!  If it’s not, then increase the weight.  
Focus on particular muscle groups each day.  Shoulders, Back and Legs are my primary muscle targets, and I also work in the secondary focus groups.  I aim for 5-6 exercises on my primary muscle groups, and 1-2 exercises on secondary.  I generally do 4 sets of 20 reps on each exercise, and try to increase my weight with each set.  Often times my last set is a drop-set (where I have to switch to a lower weight part-way through), but I always strive to lift more.  Again, you won’t build muscle lifting light weights!  A typical week of lifting for me looks like:
Day 1: Shoulders & Triceps
Day 2: Back & Abs
Day 3: Legs & Chest
Day 4: Shoulders & Abs
Day 5: Back & Biceps
Day 6: Legs & Abs

Start doing cardio, and do what you can.  You can opt for steady state cardio (where you maintain a constant heart rate around 65% of your max) or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) where you maintain a heart rate around 65% of your max and increase for short time periods up to about 80% of your max. 

Try doing your cardio sessions on a steep incline treadmill, a spin bike at very high resistance, or a stair stepper.

I currently do fasted HIIT 5 days a week on a stair stepper. This means that I am doing cardio before I have any food in my stomach for the day (I got to the gym from 5-6 am, Monday thru Friday).  Fasted cardio works very well for me, and my body pulls energy directly from fat stores rather than burning through food that’s in my belly).  I love the morning energy jolt that I get from fasted cardio, and it jump starts my day.  Other people hate fasted cardio….you will have to decide what is right for your body, and right for your schedule.  

My HIIT routine on the stepper is generally 5 minutes at Level 9 followed by 2 minutes at Level 13, repeated for an hour.  I also do an additional hour of cardio one day on the weekend.

 2) Start eating better, NOW!

My main tips are:

  • Eat 5-6 meals a day, every 2-3 hours.  This keep your metabolism high, and keeps you full.  I eat about 300 calories at 7 am, 10 am, 12:30 pm, 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm and 7:30 pm.  Eat lots of green veggies, lots of lean protein, and some complex carbohydrates.  Eliminate all processed foods, and cut down on sugars and added sodium.

  • Drink 1 gallon of water every day (yes, you're going to pee like crazy at first!). 

  • Track your food using an online food diary.  I use religiously to log my food; it's a little tedious at first, but after you enter things for about a week, it gets really quick and easy.  (They have a good mobile app too!).  If you don’t log your food, then how do you really know how much you’re eating?

  • Build yourself a nutrition plan, based on realistic calorie and the macro-nutrient targets.  Refer to the article on my earlier blog for tips on setting target weight, calorie goals, and determining your appropriate macronutrient intake.

4)  Track your progress.

  • Have your body fat percentage calculated by a professional.  Most gyms or city
    recreation centers will offer this service for free, or for a nominal fee ($5-$10).  If you are beginning a weight training program, you will likely add muscle (weight) to your frame while shedding body fat, but the scale will not reflect this change.  An accurate body fat calculation every few months will let you see your progress, and will show you how much fat you’ve lost and how much lean muscle you’ve gained (in pounds).  

  • Start taking selfies.  Take them all the time!  Take them of your whole body, and of
    specific body parts (legs, arms, back, stomach, booty, etc.).  Try to wear similar attire, and take them in the same lighting and stance, if possible.  Remember, it takes 4 weeks for you to see change, 8 weeks for friends and family, and 12 weeks for the rest of the world.  I find nothing more rewarding than looking at progress pictures.
 5)  Stay Sane.

I love bodybuilding, because it provides me a healthy outlet for my OCD, but I have to keep it in check!  It’s easy to get obsessive with this sport, by calculating macros, tracking food, monitoring workouts, and checking weight & body fat stats.  Remember that skipping a workout or overeating one meal, are not going to derail all of your efforts.  Get back on track the next day or meal….one small slip is not an excuse to throw in the towel.

Good luck!  As always, please feel free to reach out with questions or feedback via the comments section here, or you can find me on Facebook or Instagram under PlantPoweredHauser.

Lift Heavy, Eat Clean, and Be Kind.


  1. Melissa, you are a God-send!! I'm so stoked about competing now, thanks to you!!

  2. Just found your blog and wanted to say thank you for the awesome info, this is all super helpful!!

  3. Hi there! I really enjoy your blog especially being a fellow health/fitness blogger myself. I would love to hear why you got into competing, as well as how long you've been vegan, and what led you into that lifestyle?

  4. Great post! Thanks tons for sharing!! ������

  5. I am so glad I found u. I'm a personal trainer branching out into vegan life and thinking about bikini competing. Warning. I may start asking lots of questions haha
    Gonna stalk your blog now
    It's been so helpful so far xxx