What I wish I'd known before I trained for my first fitness competition

By Jen Jewell

FULL DISCLAIMER: I am going to be completely honest with you about the ups and downs of doing a fitness competition. I'm sharing my perspective to arm you with as much information as possible so you can decide if entering into a fitness competition is right for you. 

First and foremost, I think it's important to be realistic about your expectations:

1. Competitors don't look stage-ready all year long 

For the most part, the only time competitors look like they do in all of the stage photos and videos you see online is on the actual day OF the competition, give or take a few days. It's NOT a realistic, healthy look to maintain year-round.

2. The expenses are going to add up

I knew competing would be pricey, but if you factor in traveling to and from your show, the entry fees, tanning, professional hair & makeup, nails, bikinis, and heels, working with a coach, etc., you need to make sure you understand the full cost of competing so you can budget accordingly.

3. It's beneficial to work with a coach (especially if it's your first show)

I honestly recommend working with a coach for your first show. Even though I'd had years of experience in health & fitness, I still sought out a coach to work with me the 12 weeks leading up to the show. I figured if I was going to spend the time, energy, and money preparing for a contest, I should go all-in and work with someone who could give me solid advice and feedback from one week to the next.

4. You'll need motivation on tough days

Your reasons for training to compete may seem obvious to you right now, but there is going to come a time revisiting your reasons will be helpful. The lower carb days, the longer work days when getting to the gym for your workout is the last thing you want to do (or have time for), the days when you just don't want to prep another chicken breast, the nights where you really want to relax on the couch and not think about your posing routine...these are the moments it will be extremely important to recall your "why".

5. You should train for your body type 

Embrace what you're working with and be realistic. If you've never lifted a weight until just now and you want to be on stage competing in the figure category in 12 weeks, that's more than just a lofty goal, it's actually not realistic. I'm not saying this to be negative but if I am being honest, having a foundation built before you begin training for a competition will actually make the process a bit easier (on both your body and mind).

Prepping for your first competition

Please note that if you have NEVER worked out before and you are using this competition prep as a way to get lean "quick" or achieve some drastic results, I'd like for you to rethink this.

If you are brand new to strength training, I'm going to advise that you give it a bit of time in the weight room and adjusting to a newfound healthy eating approach before you implement any sort of contest training. While you don't have to spend a decade in the gym before prepping for a show, I think it is advisable to have a solid fitness foundation. That includes knowledge of: training muscle groups, how your body responds to certain workouts, foods and beyond.  


A post shared by Jen Jewell Gonzales (@fitnessjewell) on



You're allowed to feel challenged, to have tough days and feel stressed out from time to time throughout the process. What don't I think you should do? Complain. Do not complain about the process. YOU have elected to do this. Whether it's the process, the meals, waking up to do cardio in the AM on weekends when your loved ones are sleeping in, don't complain about it, just do it. Relish in the fact that you are doing something by choice that is HARD.

When I prepared for my first contest, there were definitely some dark days, but one thing I always kept in mind (aside from the main goal of stepping on stage) was that complaining about the process or the sacrifices that I made wasn't going to make any of it better or any easier. It was hard to push my body to that extreme for workouts. It was challenging to make healthy choices all the time. But I'd opted to put myself in that position and part of the fun was doing something I never imagined I'd be able to do. 


You should make enough time to workout 5-6 days a week. This is completely typical of a contest prep schedule. 

DO make sure that you take at least one full day off each week. Your body does need to rest and recover. The actual workouts you do will vary according to your body type, starting point, goal and more. There's no real one-size-fits-all approach to contest prep.


I'll be honest, this is the part that I found to be the most challenging with contest prep. I can proudly say that during my first contest prep, I never missed a single workout!

My meals, however...well, this is the area that I was on about 80-90% of the time but definitely had some meals (or weekends) where I most certainly wasn't sticking to what my coach had advised me to do. I cut some corners and had more meals out than my coach would have liked, I definitely enjoyed some treats on weekends (even when I wasn't granted "permission" for them) and to be perfectly honest, having those is what helped me stay on course for the 12 weeks of prep. Which brings me to another point...

Be wary of a coach that puts you on an extremely low-calorie diet, especially when you are 12-16 weeks out from your show. Working in the fitness industry for several years now, I've seen some seriously scary "meal plans" written by some quite well-known coaches.

Some of these plans had girls on 800 calories a day, no fat and hardly any carbs, all the while, the coach had the client doing 2 hours of cardio a day PLUS 90 minutes of strength training.

Unfortunately, this type of approach is too common, so if you go to work with a coach, please ask them questions right off the bat about the lowest amount of calories you'll be consuming throughout your prep.

Yes, cutting calories and ditching carbs will have you seeing results in a matter of days, but this severely restrictive approach also affects your energy levels, your attitude/mood, ability to focus, and more. I don't want people to be miserable during this time but have enough fuel to rock their workouts, feel great AND earn the results needed for the competition stage.

What about supplements?

Depending on where you are starting in your fitness journey and the division/category. Here are some options to consider:

  • C4 Original to start and then the closer you get to the comp day (8-12 weeks), swap C4 Original for C4 Ripped. You'll get a workout boost and additional fat burning ingredients found in C4 Ripped.
  • BCAAs are a must for anyone who is strength training, no matter if you’re a beginner or a pro bodybuilder. BCAAs are essential for recovery and help you build and maintaiin lean muscle as you are doing cardio and dieting down for the competition stage.
  • Whey! A solid protein supplement like the ISOPRO Grass Fed Native Whey is something that is going to help ensure you get a sufficient amount of protein during prep. It's a simple way to get a quality, low-calorie protein source of 25+ grams of protein in one shot. This way you don't have to eat/cook chicken and other animal proteins for every single meal all day, every day. When prepping for a show, 1-2 whey meals or snacks a day is extremely helpful (especially for those that have a sweet tooth!) for meeting your body’s protein needs for fuel and recovery.
  • SuperHD! This can be added 4-8 weeks out from your competition to help fine-tune your physique and highlight the lean definition you need (and want) for your time on stage. It helps with energy, appetite control, focus and more, which is something extremely helpful for competitors the closer they get to the stage.
  • SuperHD Water: Consider adding in on the final days before you hit the stage. This is NOT to be taken the entire contest prep but only the last 3-5 days prior to getting on stage as it will help to allow your body to excrete any excess water weight, which will result in a more tightened, lean and defined appearance on stage. 

Have questions about competition prep? Contact me via Facebook + Instagram @fitnessjewell  .


Good luck!

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