Some people would say that to compete in natural bodybuilding “you have to be mental!” Early morning starts to perform cardio, eating plain foods, feeling hungry, tired, etc. We shall talk about the mental changes and challenges that happen when one competes. There is a lot of information, some of it contradictory, regarding training and eating. However, there is not much regarding the mental changes that will potentially happen while you prep for a show. This is my personal account of the challenges during years of competing. You may directly relate to some of it, you may not to parts.
So you have been training for a while, put on some muscular size and you feel great. You’re big, you’re strong, and maybe getting a little bit more attention than you used to. So, you think the competitive bodybuilding scene might be for you.
Let’s fast-forward a few weeks. You have started your show preparation, and it’s all ticking along nicely. However, you’re starting to feel a little more tired than normal and a bit more hungry, but it’s great you’re looking leaner and, quite frankly, this bodybuilding prep seems easy.
Fast-forward four months. Eating the same foods at the same times has become a drag, you’re tired, you’re hungry a lot of the time, the cardio has become a grind and your strength has diminished. At this point, I find my mind starts playing games with me.
The tiredness and lack of flavoursome food to look forward to can have an effect on your mood, as the sense of ground hog day takes over and you feel like every day is a battle of will. Let’s not forget that the human body doesn’t like being extremely lean, so will do all it can to make you put weight back on. This can include, mood swings, severe energy lulls, and massive cravings. This is your brain’s way of saying “put some comfort weight on”.
So, how do we go about combating this? First of all, you need to remind yourself why you’re doing this. Keep your eye on the prize. Getting on stage looking fat is not an option! I tackle the hunger issue by drinking a lot of water and eating lot of green veg. Some substitutes to give the sweet tooth a treat and not wreck your diet can help, Pepsi Max, and sugar-free jelly are used by a lot of people. Some people choose not to use artificial sweeteners, but the choice is yours and you can become far less picky when the cravings for something sweet are nagging you. Coffee is also a great appetite suppressant.
The tiredness-aspect is not so easily solved. Within reason, you just have to drink a coffee and crack on. Look to get more rest, relax more, and look after yourself more, if that’s possible. If the struggle seems to be getting too much, as Mark Oakes* says, “It’s time to man up!” I’m super-tired and hungry, but that’s nowhere near enough to convince me to give up on my ambitions.
I can assure you that the time on stage is worth the months of testing yourself (prep). It will give you a great sense of knowing your body inside out. You will gain great mental-strength from your journey. How many people can have the control over fat loss and muscle retention that bodybuilders do? Not a fad diet in sight, it’s a body crafted from consistency and forged in will-power.
After the fun bit of showing (competing), you’ve likely got the bodybuilding bug and are looking to add some quality mass for your next competition. Enjoy the growing season and make sure the next time you step on stage you’re better than the last.
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*GP NOTE: Mark Oakes (pictured) is one of the finest natural (drug-free for life!) athletes you will come across. After 20+ years of competing, the 2013 season saw Mark compete against the best of the best and win every show he entered, winning his WNBF Pro Card in the process.