Competing in fitness and physique shows can be one of the best things you’ll ever do, but how do you know when you’re ready?

I’ve prepped plenty of clients for physique competitions, judged shows, and competed myself. I’ve seen it all! Doing physique or fitness shows can be the best thing someone can do for their health, body and confidence levels. Prep really can be life-changing. But a lot of people have the wrong reasons for wanting to compete. Or they jump on stage before they are ready.

If you want to compete, make sure you’re starting with a solid foundation.

Are you considering starting prep for your first show? This blog post is for you.

Here are my top 5 things to consider before starting competition prep:

#1 Are you ready to compete?

Fitness and physique competitions are getting really popular, which is great. But this means that more and more people are starting a prep before they’re really ready. Two things to think about here: your body and your mind.

Is your body ready? Do you actually have the muscle mass underneath? You won’t be building much mass (if any) whilst on your prep diet. And you might be smaller than you think once you diet down. Be realistic - have you got the mass, shape and size for your category. If not, no worries. Train hard for another year. Stage isn’t going anywhere, it’ll still be there!

Is your mind ready? Prep can be very tough. It can dig up some difficult old feelings about body image and food. And it can put strain on friendships and relationships. Is your mindset ready to deal with dieting, prep, physique changes, and the negative sides of prep? I don’t want to sugar coat anything. Competing is great, but there are downsides to it as well. Be realistic about how well you will cope.

Is your nutrition ready? I see a lot of clients who aren’t eating enough food when they want to start a comp prep. They are not in a position to start a diet, because their calories are too low. If this sounds like you, go back to the drawing board. Get your calories up in your off season and you will be in a stronger position. After all, if you start on low calories, where will you go after 4 weeks when you need to adjust your diet? You can’t just keep removing calories.

e.g. Jim is 80kg aspiring fitness model and is currently eating 2500 kcals to maintain his weight.

To start a diet/cut, the first thing Jim needs to do is cut his calories by 400-500 to create a calorie deficit, putting Jim on 2000-2100 kcals a day.

For the first 3-4 weeks this may work, but then Jim could potentially plateau, meaning a further reduction is needed e.g. 200 kcals

By week 6, half way through prep Jim would be on 1800-1900 kcals, training 5-6 days a week and possibly doing cardio. This is a going to be extremely tough mentally, he will be suffering with food cravings and prep will be a nightmare.

On the other hand consider Ryan who is also 80kg, but walks around eating 3200 kcals on a daily basis. Ryan’s calorie ceiling is higher to start with, meaning when he starts the diet he will start by eating 2700 kcals. This is going to be a hell of a lot easier for Ryan compared to Jim. If Ryan needed to make further cuts to his food he’s in a great position to do so, and could probably get onto stage never dropping below 2400 kcals.

This is why I emphasise again and again the importance of building your metabolism and calorie ceiling as high as you can in your off season because it makes dieting so much easier.

#2 Get the right prep coach

A great coach will be the best investment you make in your contest prep. A good coach will diet you sensibly, whilst looking after your health. He or she will take care of your physical health and your emotional wellbeing throughout your diet. Look for a prep coach who has knowledge and experience in coaching clients for the stage. They will help you with training, nutrition, and supplements. And they ought to help you with the next point, too...

#3 Planning for life after comp

Do not start to prep for a show without thinking about life after the show. This might sound meaningless to you now, but I guarantee you will know what I mean if you go ahead anyway! Please don’t find out the hard way. Get a coach who helps you transition back to normal life. Have good support around you (friends, family, training partners). Think about reverse dieting, and setting new goals for after you compete. Don’t be one of the many people who fall into a post competition rut, feeling lost, and left with a bad relationship with food.

#4 Give yourself enough time

Most people under estimate how long a competition prep takes. If you don’t know how much body fat you have to lose, be conservative and give yourself longer than you think. If you reckon you’ll need 12 weeks, give yourself 15. Prep is never as fast or straightforward as we’d like. And if it’s your first show, you have no idea how your body will respond. A longer slower diet is always better than a fast, panicked one. Build in time for plateaus, diet breaks, and real life!

#5 Why are you doing it?

This is the big one, and will underpin your entire prep. Ask yourself honestly - why do you want to compete? Your “why” will help motivate you even when it gets tough. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, or if your “why” doesn’t really mean anything to you, you will struggle to give it your all.

You need to be doing this for the right reasons. Make sure it’s for you, not because your friend is doing it or because you want to look like someone on Instagram. Your reason must be personal and meaningful. If you have a solid intrinsic reason, that motivation and self discipline will keep you on track. Competing is popular right now, and that’s great. But don’t fall into the trap of competing because someone on social media competed. There’s a difference between getting in shape, doing a photoshoot, and competing. Only actually compete if you really want to.

Hope you found this blog useful and please share with anyone you know who is thinking about competing!