In late February, I decided to sign up for my first bikini competition. It has been something I’ve wanted to cross off my bucket list for some time now. Having worked as a trainer alongside many body competitors, I have always been intrigued by their dedication to their training programs. This spring, I decided that it was my time.
1. I wasn’t starting from scratch as many first timers do. I’ve been pumping iron since the age of 13. Moreover, for the past 3 years, I’ve consistently weight trained 3-4x per week on top of doing cardio interval workouts.
2. My body was cleansed. Since starting a regular nutritional cleansing program last fall, I have eliminated toxins and extra fat weight (about 5-6 pounds of fat). It has also given me supplemental energy. This is a program I’ll be on for life.
3. I felt like I had somewhat graduated from feeling the need to go out and party with my friends. Eliminating alcohol, as most do during training, would not be a huge issue, merely just a small issue!
4. I had the time and means to train. I don’t have kids and a ton of responsibilities. I make my own schedule. And as a personal trainer, the gym is my dwelling space. Sneaking in workouts in between client sessions would be a piece of cake.
After some confusing research of a few competition federations, I chose the WBFF’s Fitness Atlantic in Wallingford, CT. I found the WBFF (World Beauty Fitness & Fashion Inc.) to be attractive because they tend to welcome and harness first time competitors. “Everyone is a winner” is the Fitness Atlantic motto because it is more about the results you see with your body than the trophy you take home. The show’s stage photos online looked glam and legit.
So I signed up. And that was the key– taking the initiative. I took it from, “maybe this is something I could do”, to “I have no choice because I paid money for this.” It was game over for me from there. For 8 weeks, I began training like a beast.
How I Did It
Food: Throughout my training, many were amazed that as an Italian chef and foodie, I was able to restrict my diet so much. While I undoubtedly missed the carbs, the creamy butter sauce pasta, and cooking with a glass of good wine, I felt that being a chef actually helped me. In Italy, I learned to cook healthy and how to portion food the European way. Competition dieting actually forced me to get creative in the kitchen. I researched and modified my favorite recipes. I used spices and fresh herbs to flavor my food. I used my vocation to my advantage!
Isagenix: As I mentioned, I have used nutritional cleansing to take by body to the next level. My dear family friend, Rachel introduced me to the Isagenix program last fall. In maintaining a lean physique, diet has always been my weak point. Following some degree of a program is essential for me. Isagenix is not a crash diet for me. It’s a lifestyle. Since being introduced to it and completing the initial 30-day challenge, I’ve found a way to make it work for me every day. I cleanse once per week, every week. I use the protein shakes as a lunch meal replacement and/or for post workout recovery. I love eating the protein bars as a snack. I don’t have time to cook every meal for myself so Isagenix complements my on-the-go lifestyle.
I read up on championed body builders such as Lori Harder and the girls that work with the famous fitness competition trainer, Cathy Savage. They all used Isagenix to their advantage during the training. I decided that throughout my own training, I would continue the program of cleansing and shakes while lowering my caloric intake of my other meals. Besides, I prefer a protein shake to a tupperware container of food any day. I credit this program to being a large part of my success with dieting for the competition.
Workouts: I love working out, so I looked forward to training like an athlete again. Thanks to my big brothers, I have quite the competitive drive. I enjoy challenging myself, in all realms of physical feats. I played sports in high school, I was an athlete on the Penn State boxing team in college, ran a marathon (in my goal of sub 4 hours– 3:48), ran a Tough Mudder with my brother, Charlie (and then won the pushup competition afterwards). I even regularly contest my peers to friendly squat competitions when we go out. You get the picture. Signing up for the competition was a no brainier for me.
Already well versed in weight training, the body builder style of training was innovative for me. I had experience lifting metabolically and for strength, but now my workouts were quite specific. My brother Charlie liked asking how my “calf and forearm” workouts were going. I list below what my workouts looked like. I really believe I programmed near perfectly.
Spiritual Connection: Being religious, I paralleled the discipline of my body to that of my spirituality also. I believe that devoting time to my spiritual self is just as important as putting in the gym time for my physical well being. I regularly use practices such as prayer, reflection, abstinence and service to stay close to God. With lent being at the same time as my 8-week competition training, I gave up drinking alcohol. While there were many temptations to just have one glass of wine, or just that one beer, I was able to resist because I had made a promise to God. I fasted and abstained from meat on Fridays. I took on the reading of a spiritual book, which gave me something positive to do when I’d spend Fridays and Saturday nights in. I know that God desires each of us to become the best version of ourselves, and that’s what I was striving for in training for this competition.
Support: I can’t dismiss having such an incredible support base as one of my advantages. Family members, friends and Facebook acquaintances were cheering me on throughout. I owe this explanation of my training process to you guys! I give my shout outs below!
Triumphs and Trials
As I became leaner, it didn’t suck waking up everyday and having a six-pack. I loved the way my body looked and felt. But it wasn’t easy maintaining this. It was actually sort of miserable.
Charlie related the social ineptness of my competition training to an article he had read in Men’s Health. It was an interview with Sullivan Stapleton, the leading actor in the new 300 movie, Rise of an Empire. Of his 12 weeks of strict dieting and training to earn the body of a Greek warrior, the actor quotes, “To stay in that kind of shape is boring, really,” he says. “If we go out to dinner, you choose from the entire menu—and I have steak, no sauce. You order off the wine list; I order water. And I love wine.”
I’d have to agree with Stapleton. Although, my body felt as lean and unstoppable as ever, from a social perspective, it was indeed quite boring. One particular Saturday I recall kind of sucking for me was my nieces’ 1st birthday party. My brother and sister in law had a barbecue. I had designed the dessert table but couldn’t sample a morsel. I even made these decadent French macaroons and I couldn’t even lick the damn spoon. Instead of enjoying hotdog (one of my favorite foods on the planet) I pre made a protein shake. While everyone else sipped on cold beers, I drank coffee–black.
I would say the worst thing of it all, was that my hunger hormones were completely imbalanced. Leptin and ghrelin play an indisputable part in a person’s satiety and cravings for food. At the party, I couldn’t stop salivating when I snuck a glance at the dessert table and the hotdogs. It was tough to relax and have a good time. I was even irritable. In general throughout the training, and especially during the last 3 weeks, all I could ever think about was food. When would I eat next? At what time? What would I let myself have? I was obsessed with food. It was a horrific feeling.
At the very least, I’m glad that I understood why I was feeling this way. Often times people live this way through life and blame their cravings and binges on lack of self-control. When it comes to hunger, you can’t discredit the chemical temperament of the brain.
I did allow myself to eat a cheat meal once per week. For some people, cheat meals are counter-productive. I understand that perspective. It truly depends on the individual. Cheats can lead down a slippery slope. For me, it was an opportunity to reset my hormones and my cravings. I never doubted that I’d be back to clean eating the next day.
With all of the strict dieting and calorie counting, I looked forward to the moment when I could indulge in some guilty pleasures again. I couldn’t wait to be back on a regular routine of keeping my body lean, but with balance in the foods and social activities I love. Although I looked incredible on the stage, the competition training was certainly not maintainable.
My brother really enjoyed teasing me that the competition training wasn’t so “FIGO” of me. At times it was not. In my lifestyle model, FIGO, I inspire people to “eat fresh unprocessed foods in moderation and move and challenge the body daily.” I also incite to live balanced. I want people to eat delicious foods and drink the good wine.
While there was a lot that I was limited to, I’m proud to say though, that I boycotted many “not-so-FIGO” practices of classic competition training. I avoided the stodgy meal of dry chicken, brown rice and sweet potato. I maintained the integrity of being a chef but was conscious to cook healthy all the time. For portioning, I didn’t weigh out my foods on a scale like many body builders do. I pride myself in pretty much understanding what a serving looks like for most foods.
Future Competition Training?
Many have asked me if I’ll take on a future competition. This 8-week process was truly the most physically challenging endeavor I’ve ever pursued with my body. Although tough to compare, I’d even admit that this was harsher for me than training for a boxing match. Not because of the fitness training (let’s be honest, I’m a physical specimen), but because of the self-control required for dieting. Let me reiterate that living this way is not sustainable. I don’t think I’ll rule out a future competition though. You’ll rarely hear this competitive queen say she’s going to do something and not follow through with it, so that’s why I’m not making any promises. This summer, I plan on barbecuing and “finding my beach” with some coronas. I’ll reassess next fall 😉
Day 1: chest/biceps & interval cardio
Day 2: legs/abs
Day 3: back/triceps & fasted cardio
Day 4: shoulders/abs & interval cardio
Day 5: stretching/yoga & fasted cardio
Day 6: full body metabolic weight training
Day 7: rest
Phases of Weight Training
-Pre-phase (winter 2013/2014): Developing a base– focus on form & movement patterns.
-Building Phase (weeks 1-4): super-setting– heavy weight.
-Cutting Phase (weeks 4-7): super-setting & mini circuits (3 exercises)– increased volume– more reps, more sets.
Peak Weak (week 8): continued same workouts first half of the week and tapered for the last 3 days before the competition.
One of my big goals was to build up my upper body. While I’m blessed with a toned butt and legs, my upper body can always improve. I worked a great deal on enlarging my latts and getting my delt cuts to pop. I learned how to work with clients on an aesthetic level at David Barton. I know that a larger upper body gives the illusion of a smaller waist. I also knew not to neglect my strong legs. I’d crush my leg workouts for the thermogenic benefit. They were my weapons of mass destruction for optimal fat burn.
I mustn’t fail to show gratitude to those who encouraged me along the way. I give a huge thanks to Dawn, my former DBG coworker and coach. She helped me with posing and even let me wear her winning bikini! Thanks to Rachel for being one of my biggest fans, her constant enthusiasm and for coaching me through Isagenix! I thank my Mom for being the most kick ass stage mom ever. She hauled to CT with me to my first ever competition! She made the last few dreadful days of deprivation before the competition actually fun. Most of all, I’m grateful for my fiancé, Ricky. As an ER doc studying to specialize in sports medicine, he helped me in structuring my workouts and with nutritional advice. He respected the hard work that I was putting in and never stopped telling me how proud of me he was. Love you guys!