Occasionally, I like to profile compelling stories from some of the clients and athletes that I have worked with. This week, I want to introduce you to a figure athlete, Rebecca White, who is a shining example of overcoming a challenging work situation to totally crush her physique goals!
When Rebecca first applied to work with me a little over a year ago, she mentioned that she was fresh off a broken wrist (in fact, at that point she was still in a cast), and that she was working with a trainer in her hometown towards competing in a figure show in October 2011.
So far so good. In general, I’m pretty flexible in terms of programming my nutrition plans around most other trainer’s workouts. And although the wrist injury would require some additional time to work around (she had lost some muscle mass in her injured arm that needed to be rebuilt), Rebecca was was giving herself almost 6 months to prepare so I was confident she’d be able to do it.
Ahh… the dreaded shift-worker “physique death blow”.
In my opinion, there are very few things that impede someone’s “getting shredded” efforts more than regularly throwing off circadian rhythms (and by extension your hormones) by rotating between day and night shifts.
Thankfully, with creative programming it is possible to negate much of the damage caused by shift work and to her credit, Rebecca never once used her work schedule as an excuse for skipping a workout or indulging in junk food.
If anything, Rebecca’s nursing background turned out to be a benefit as she quickly proved herself as one of the most inquisitive and hard-working clients I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching!
Here’s her story…
Growing up I was never overweight. No one would have ever even described me as chubby. I was a size 6 when I got married, but had gained a size a year. For my husband’s birthday, I got him one of those electronic body fat measuring things. We were messing around with it and it said my body fat was over 40%!!!!! I was in shock and totally embarrassed. I was “skinny fat”, even though at the time I had never heard that term.
After that, I found a trainer and over the course of a year, lost about 20lbs and 20% of that body fat. My trainer was into figure competitions and invited me to come watch her compete. I had no idea what I was in for. Seeing those women in teeny tiny sparkly bikinis, clear heels, and dark tans; for some reason it inspired me. I wanted to do that. To look like that, have that confidence, and really just see if I could push myself that far.
Rebecca when we started in April 2011.
So, we picked one out. This was in February. The show we picked was a local one planned for October. I had 8 months to prepare. Nutrition wasn’t her forte, and as a nurse I wanted to make sure to do this as healthfully as possible, so I looked into getting a nutritionist for my contest preparation. I wasn’t sure where to start, so I looked around online and stumbled upon Graeme’s website. He had trained figure athletes before with success and he really seemed to know his stuff. I spent one night at work reading every post on his blog.
After I had contacted him and we decided it was a good fit, my trainer and I had a difference of opinion on how I should be training. She wanted me to cut my intake down to 1400 calories/day, eat the same 6 meals over and over, take a ton of supplements, and start doing cardio 2x a day at 6 months out!
I was confused and frustrated, and was wondering if I could still do this. After speaking with Graeme, we decided to have him write my training program as well. I couldn’t have made a better decision.
What stood out to me about Graeme at first was his Prep Outline for me. Here are a few excerpts: “start hating life, your husband, and your coaches”… “have days where you cry for no reason” and “hate your life some more and wonder why you decided to do this”.
He was completely honest with me from the start about what this could be like. Also, when I was freaking out about problems with my former coach he was supportive and informative. He had a reason why I was doing everything and was able to provide rationale without hesitation.
No matter how many questions or follow up emails I sent after he would send me an update to my plan, he would address them all and then some.
Working with Graeme, I never experienced some of the awful things I had read about contest prep. My fatigue and hunger was manageable, he worked with me to keep some of my favorite foods on the meal plan, and even helped me plan around a vacation 3 weeks before my show. I absolutely love some of the recipes that he sent me and still cook them weekly.
On October 22nd in the OCB Charm City Classic, I took 1st place in every category I entered, and won the overall. The first few wins I texted Graeme, and by the fifth time I took the first place trophy and won my pro card I called him to tell him the good news.
Rebecca White takes home the overall title!
All my hard work had paid off. We celebrated by eating at an all night diner with pancakes, cinnamon rolls, and beer!
Although I’m always proud of my athletes when they place well, and I suppose winning the overall title and a pro card in your very first show ain’t half bad ;-), I’m more proud of the attitude Rebecca carried throughout her entire prep.
Having to deal with a coach who refuses to adapt their programming to your lifestyle is incredibly challenging, a fact Rebecca discovered early on.
Thankfully, she made the tough, but wise, decision to cut her losses early.
Because of Rebecca’s work schedule we actually prepped her almost exclusively using a home-gym set-up, which took some creative programming. Then to account for the hormonal challenges presented by working night shifts, we also played around with her diet programming by adjusting her caloric intake on night shifts (when metabolism is slower), as well as strategically implementing the occasional controlled fasting day.
In my opinion, there is no way any coach should be recommending an athlete be doing twice daily cardio sessions 6 months out from a show (hell, I don’t even like giving my athletes much cardio at all until the final few weeks).
In the early stages of contest prep, sacrificing an hour of sleep for more cardio is bad idea. But that pales in comparison to the recommendation of pairing excessive amounts of cardio with the regular use of fat burners, which is akin to metabolic suicide.
I always cringe when I hear physique coaches recommend stuff like 2-a-day cardio and fat burners for long periods of time. It’s essentially telling your athlete, “hey, I might help you get lean for show day, but get ready to balloon up 20-40 lbs in the weeks following your show!”
The days after a show are when the real work begins…
Honestly, if a coach feels that a client has so much weight to lose that months of 2-a-days and fat burners are necessary, then the athlete is in no way, shape or form ready to prepare for a physique competition. Help them get their body composition and diet under control first, then suggest they consider competing at a later date.
My opinion on physique coaches is that the best ones don’t only help their athletes get ready for the stage, but also work with them to properly manage the period following a show (which is much tougher psychologically).
Nothing is as crushing to the psyche as spending 3-4 months of hard work getting shredded to all of a sudden have an athlete gain back all the weight they lost in the week following their competition.
But to Rebecca’s credit, she was as focused with her training and diet AFTER her show than she was before her show. In other words, Rebecca was the perfect client!
And to wrap up the Rebecca story, I got a note from her several months after she was done competing telling me that she was doing great and was actually contemplating a career switch into culinary school.
Imagine that: someone going through a figure prep and coming out of it with a love of real food. If that doesn’t bring a smile to the face of a nutritionist, then nothing will.
Till next time, train hard and eat clean!