Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Staying healthy in Competition Prep - Bikini fitness

Is competition preparation unhealthy and what can we do stay as healthy as possible as a competitor?

Competition prep doesn't need to be unhealthy but it really depends on the individual and how they deal with certain aspects of preparation in and out of contest. Firstly we need to understand that in order to compete you sometimes need to take your body beyond it's limits particularly if you have a hard time getting lean, building and retaining muscle or are not consistent with diet, it is under these circumstances that unfortunately not the healthiest of choices are made. The stage 'look' often requires a lower body fat level than most people's bodies naturally are uncomfortable with. Some athletes may find during competition season menstruation may stop, this is not always the case however, it certainly isn't for me and a large number of the athletes I train, but does and can happen usually due to low oestrogen levels and stress to the body. I have been competing for five years with no health complications to mention. I have found as an athlete and a trainer consistency is the key to staying as healthy as you can be whilst competing. I have trained a huge number of women and competitive bikini fitness athletes who are perfectly healthy whose weight doesn't fluctuate greatly in and out of contest, however there is no denying that there have been some cases where competing just isn't for them both physically and emotionally.

 The most important factor in staying healthy is diet and nutrition. It is important to not yoyo diet, binge, starve or over eat because in time you can slow your metabolism. The biggest mistake a competitor can make is putting on a lot of weight after a show. Your body will be more susceptible to gaining weight after a period of low calories and stress. It is important therefore to increase calories slowly and gradually. This is easier said than done in most cases. We also need to remember that you had to work hard to be stage shape and if you stop working hard and return to your 'old' eating habits then your body won't stay the same, having said that trying to remain stage lean all year isn't particularly healthy either. The next biggest mistake is setting a deadline which is unrealistic or too soon to get the weight off either from the beginning or after a contest. I have advised competitors in the past to pull out of shows or that they are not ready to compete or simply need more time but if the competitor is insistent then they will find themselves doing more and more cardiovascular training, eating less and less calories and resorting to an array of fat burners to make a date. This practise does result in a slowed metabolic rate as the body tries to protect itself. Some people also find if they 'diet' for long and sustained periods of time that their body will stop responding, as mentioned before we are taking our body to it's limits and body fat needs to be lower than the average person, sporting athlete or model. Most people's bodies will resist dropping Bodyfat once it reaches a certain point. This is generally essential fat which is required for hormonal function. It is common to just keep on cutting calories and adding more training at this point, whilst this may or may not work short term, it can slow metabolic processes down and cause someone to hold onto body fat while eating less and less.

 My best advice is to give yourself enough time to prepare so you are not in a position to need to severely cut calories. If you find a particular diet is not working after a certain period of time, maybe it needs changing rather than simply cutting calories. For example you might be eating a carbohydrate rich diet with relatively low fats so you might find switching over to a diet higher in fat and lower in carbs and proteins may help you. Doing the same type of training over and over again has a similar affect. Your body will get used to whatever you do, it will become more efficient at a particular type of exercise. I would recommend changing up your resistance program periodically and making sure you do not do the same type of cardiovascular training everyday, the key is to mix it up, maybe you could rotate steady state, intervals and HIIT. Instead of adding more minutes, maximise the time you do have. Having said this, a deadline that is too short, is too short end of story and there aren't many 'healthy' practises than be employed at this stage.

 Take responsibility your own actions, recognise if you have been over eating, binging or are putting on excessive amounts of weight. Recognise if you have an unhealthy relationship with food, which is extremely common in female athletes across the board. If you have a show coming up that is unrealistic, move your show date to the next one. Stay consistent with your nutrition don't over eat and don't do extra cardio to make up for it or binge then starve the next day. Have regular health checks and blood tests to make sure you have no pre-existing conditions or what you are doing is not affecting you adversely. If you are doing the same cardio everyday then do something different. Pay attention to what you are doing and make sure your goal is realistic. If you have been training for less than a year, it's unlikely you will end up looking like a professional athlete at the end of twelve weeks, no matter who your coach is or how hard you are willing to work. If you aim for longevity in bikini fitness competitions it is important not to rush the process. Sometimes it's easy to caught up emotionally and set yourself a deadline then complain when you don't make it or have to train harder or longer to make it or wind up worse off for it. It is very easy to blame someone or something if things didn't go well but you must first look at your own practises. As an adult you have a choice, granted there are many trainers and coaches out there that give advice that might or might not work for you but its important to stay in tune with yourself and stay honest about what you are doing and what is realistic to achieve. Competing is not easy and it's certainly not for everyone, achieving a high standard physique does not happen over night.

 There however, many positives to competing that shouldn't be lost sight of, I for one have found mainly positive experiences during the time I have competed. There have been ups and downs of course but I am thankful to have found a love for 'fitness' and weight training and all of the people I have met along the way. I have learnt a lot about the human mind and body through my own training and training a number of other, things that cannot be learnt from a textbook. I have travelled the World competing in Europe, Russia and USA, I am passionate about Bikini Fitness and am happy I am able to share my experiences with others.

 Michelle Brannan www.michellebrannan.com

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sponsorship in the Fitness Industry

What does it mean to be a sponsored athlete? It is every competitors dream to be sponsored by a brand but what does this entail and what should you expect? There are many types of sponsorship but when it comes down to it comes down to two main types; 1. Paid contract The athlete is paid a wage to represent a brand, in return you might need attend photoshoots, events amongst other obligations. In mainstream sports or where the athlete is very well known, he or she has to to do very little in terms of work, instead they allow the brand to use their name. On the other end of the scale this type of contract is more like a part time job, the athlete is paid to attend events, store openings, use of images in return for cash and where applicable - product. This type of sponsorship is the least common in the UK fitness / supplement industry but is obviously the most desirable. 2. Non paid or Product only The athlete is given product in return for using images, appearing at events etc. Expenses are usually covered. Sometimes the brand will pay ad hoc for working on stands and other projects. Brand Ambassador is a term that can be used for either paid or product only depending on what is agreed. Product only sponsorship is perfectly acceptable if it is of mutual benefit, the competitor gets supplements or products that they would otherwise pay for and the brand gets a model and a marketing tool. However far too often supplement companies offer 'sponsorship' to competitors with a range of contractual obligations which far outweigh any benefit to the athlete. I have had personal experience a few years ago of being offered a product only sponsorship with a huge brand name, I was offered an allocation of product (at retail price not trade) and in return I would need to permit use of my image, attend up to eight events a year with expenses only covered, write monthly blogs, generate weekly social media interest and take part in other such marketing activities. For me this is unacceptable at any level. I would have been more than happy at the time to have permitted use of my images, written materials and promoted the products and if possibly work 1 trade show if travel and accommodation was covered. Over and above that I would expect to be paid for my time. If I offered you 'sponsorship' with Tesco but in actual fact the deal was to sit on the till a couple times a month to get an allocation of free food and a tesco t shirt... Would you call this sponsorship or a part time job? If it is a part time job then the competitor needs to decide whether the equivalent pay is acceptable. Do you get enough product for your time? Is it worth it? So let's look at the pros and cons of product only sponsorship Benefits - Free allocation of product - Promotion of the athlete which can then be used by the athlete to sell their own products and services - The feeling of being part of a team Drawbacks - Most competitors are self employed so if they are required to take time out of their paid jobs to work for the brand they are actually worse off financially The pro's for supplement company are great, they basically get access to a model, a promotions person and very cheap marketing in return for a very small price because the competitor is usually given products at retail value not trade. If a company were to hire a model or promotions staff they would need to pay the going rate, I have seen unpaid 'athletes' at fitness working alongside paid promotions staff... and guess who looks better? It is important to consider your situation before getting wrapped up in the term 'sponsorship'. Sponsorships with supplement company's do not help you win shows, at least not in this country. I for one am happy to endorse a product if I am sent free product. I can then help to promote that brand via social media, interviews, web links etc but to call myself a sponsored athlete just to have my supplements covered I do not think is justified. Other things that an competitor has to take care of apart from supplements: - food - travel - accommodation - personal presentation (tan make up hair) - suits and shoes - personal sacrifice - supplements not covered by their sponsor (vitamins etc) - gym memberships - coaching / posing fees Make sure you place some value on your time and don't get into a situation which is of no real benefit to you.

Monday, 21 October 2013

2013 Contest season

The contest season for me is over for 2013 so I decided to update my blog... This year I have competed in three IFBB Pro shows over a three month period. I placed 2nd at the Nordic Pro, I completed my dream of competing at the Olympia and placed 4th in EVLS Prague Pro at the weekend. The Prague show was quite small but the line up was made up of the top European girls, the titles between us included Amateur World & European Champions 2011 and 2012, Arnold Classic and European Champion 2011, Amateur Olympia winners 2011 and 2012, British Grand Prix Pro Bikini Champion and the Nordic Pro Champion. I competed 5lbs heavier than I did in 2012 and I am happy with the improvements I made to my upper body, glutes and hamstrings. I changed my training after my 9th place finish in Toronto on my 30th birthday in June 2012 and decided to focus a little more on improving these areas. Looking at the pictures I can always find something to improve and have to be very careful not to become obsessed and have to remember to view myself objectively and not home in on areas I dislike, we can all be too hard on ourselves if we allow ourselves to be. Competing is being judged on stage in very little clothing against other women (or men) so its very easy to get wrapped up in the quest for perfection and comparing yourself to others or the winner and thinking, ok maybe I need to look a little more like that... but in reality you really have no control over anyone but yourself, you can never control how others look and how the judges view the competitors, whether you think they look better or worse than you, it doesn't really matter. What matters is you and your own personal journey. What matters is you did your best and you improved upon last time or where you started from and if you didn't, take it as a learning experience. People compete for many different reasons and you have to remember those reasons because you will not always be the winner, if winning is your only goal you will be very disappointed very quickly. Don't get me wrong it feels great to win, best feeling ever but it wont happen each time, you got to have a few knock backs to realise that any day you place in a show is a good day. So I have finished the show and the first thought in my mind isn't 'what can I eat' as I thought it would be, it is 'What show can I do next so I can come in looking better than that' I am already looking at the calendar and checking flights but I have to stop myself as like I said, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the quest for perfection, if there is such a thing. At this point in time, what I really need to do is to take time to appreciate what I have done and what I have achieved, because if I don't then where is the joy in the already accomplished? If you never take the time to appreciate and be happy with what you have then you will never be happy. This doesn't mean to stay I don't strive for more but there is a difference. Don't get on the wild goose chase and lose yourself in the process. For me the things I need to spend time to appreciate include travelling to seven different countries this year and competing in my 14th show (half of those IFBB Pro league shows) and making history in being first person from UK to win an IFBB pro show and compete at the Olympia in the Bikini class. Five out of my seven Pro shows I have placed in the top five which is great. These are all things to be thankful and grateful for. I also run a coaching team called Showgirl Fitness (www.showgirlfitness) with over 50 girls Worldwide, training not just to compete but also to feel better about themselves and the way they look. This year five of my competitive girls qualified for the British Finals and one took 3rd place in a very tough line up with the top amateur competitors in UK. I have met so many women through coaching whose personal journeys inspire me and I have made some great friends. I feel happy to have built that network and hopefully I can offer support and inspiration to them. I am writing regularly for Muscle and Fitness magazine which I am really excited about, the opportunity to write about things relevant to me and what I do is something I am thankful for. I got married in June, I feel very lucky to have met someone who shares the same interests as me and we understand each other. For the rest of the year I have planned some non fitness activities to do with my husband, who also competes, we are going to Mexico in December for a holiday. We bought a camera so we are going to try out our own photography so that should also be fun. I am also looking forward to Christmas with my family. Contest diets do make you appreciate food more so I am looking forward to eating a wider variety of foods :) If you have just competed or have taken part in an event or just strive to be better in anything you do, at work or at home then make sure you take the time to appreciate your journey and what you have have achieved, in my opinion, the only way to move forward is to appreciate what you already have, then you are ready to receive more.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Right and wrongs of a Bikini Competitor

There seems to be so much talk on how Bikini competitors should train, how much to eat, how much cardio to do and what is right and wrong... usually by male coaches (no offence but seems to be the trend) I thought I should put my two pence in.... 
Firstly, there is no right way and no 'one' way of doing things, otherwise the stage would be a very empty place. There are many different body shapes successfully competing... Some are softer, harder, more muscular, a little more curvy etc that others, it is generally what suits the individual best. 
From my experience Bikini competitors are not big girls or overly muscular, average competition weight for a girl 5 foot 3 to 5 foot 6 ranges between approx 110lbs to 125lbs lean. Bikini competitors train hard with weights at 4-6 days a week and most I know do daily cardio anywhere from 30 mins to 120 mins a day, depending on the individual, again there is no right or wrong, different people need different things. Average calories in a contest diet, in my humble experience ranges from 1300- 2000 cals a day... 


During this contest prep I have done away with 'cheats' and replaced with low fat 'carb reloads', I feel way better and have less chocolate / cake cravings. I have an insatiable appetite for sweet things and when dieting I am lower carb than non diet as overall calories are lower, this makes sweet cravings really bad. By cutting out the chocolate / cakes completely I have less cravings. A carb reload ensure muscle glycogen stores are refuelled helping with carbohydrate / sugar cravings and helps me train harder and have more energy. If you are in constant glycogen depletion, it can be very difficult to train effectively.
I find this much more useful than a fat overload on cheat day which general makes you feel like crap... As my cheats are now not to 'keep me sane' or for social reasons as they were before I just have the reload when needed which might not be every week...

Monday, 17 December 2012

'We can treat it like its the end of the world' (2012 Chris Brown)

I realise it's been ten months since my last blog update, so many things have happened and 2012 is drawing to a close so I thought it be a perfect time to evaluate my year and tell you about my experiences.

In 2012 I started competing for the IFBB pro league, I turned 30, I won my first professional show and qualified for Olympia 2013, I ended a long term relationship and I travelling to some new places including United States (New York, St Louis, Florida), Canada (Toronto), Portugal, Germany, Tenerife and Czech Republic. 

In March I competed at St Louis Pro Bikini and placed 4th, I was pleased with my result and very happy to have completed my pro debut, I got some good feedback from the judges and looked forward to my next contest.  On 1st June I competed on my 30th birthday in Toronto and placed 9th. I must admit I was not happy with the result but on reflection I feel grateful to even be on the pro stage when there are so many amateur competitors that do not get that opportunity.  After Toronto, I remember coming off stage and thinking to myself 'I'm never doing that again' but it's all about perspective and discovering what you want.  Did I really want to give up the sport?  I would be lost without it and I hadn't achieved all that i wanted to do so  I decided to work on some weaknesses and not give up on my dreams.  I work with Shannon Dey who told me I needed to gain a bit of weight in order to improve, which basically meant I would not be in a calorie deficit so I could develop muscle.   If I'm honest I do struggle with this mentally and physically  but I did my best and I think I made some improvements.  In October I competed at the very first pro bikini event in the UK, British Grand Prix, and placed first. This will always be a memorable experience for me, to have so much support in my home country was amazing.  I qualified for Olympia 2013 which is a dream come true.  Last year I wrote in my blog that I reached my goal of getting a Pro card and this year I am so happy to write that I reached my goal of qualifying for the Olympia.  The week after the British Grand Prix,  I went to Prague to compete at EVL Pro Bikini, I took part in the show with no expectations as I already had the Olympia invite. I placed 5th in a good line up.  Each time you get on stage, you learn something new. I am grateful for the experience. 

In my personal life, I ended a seven year relationship that did not make me happy, my partner was not really supportive and I allowed things to happen that I should not have. Competing can be pretty isolating if you do not have a decent set of people around you, it's definitely not a team sport and travelling alone is not always fun.  I think this year I have grown as a person and my experiences have made me stronger.  I would like to think I am older and wiser and will not make the same mistakes in life.  

Next year I look forward to completing my competitive dream of being the first UK IFBB Bikini Pro on the Olympia stage. I look forward to being able to continue to train and improve my physique and enjoying what training gives me.  Training is my way of life, maybe one day I will give up competing but I will never give up the gym.  There have been days when the gym has been my only friend.  Days when I felt like not getting out of bed but I go to the gym and I feel good again.  Training is not just about the physical body it's about strengthening the mind. It gives me discipline, it gives me strength and courage, allows me time to think things through, evaluate my life and see clearly. 

So 2012 was about 'Doing the things you are most scared of' and for 2013?

Escutar com o coração, confiar em si mesmo - listen with your heart, trust in yourself

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

How do you monitor your weight loss progress?

How do you monitor your weight loss progress? Weight on the scales? Looking in the mirror? Dress size? Body fat calliper tests? This is an interesting subject as the traditional weight on the scales method does not always reflect what is happening to your body. When embarking on a fitness regime, many people are frustrated that the scales do not move or do not move in the right direction. Before I started my fitness program in 2009, my weight was similar to what it is now but I was 21% body fat and now depending on where I am in my contest prep can be anywhere from 11-14%, I weigh on the scales pretty much the same. Okay, so what about body fat tests? In my experience, gym machines are not that accurate and unless you are able to go on a flotation tank, the calliper test or the skin fold site test is probably the most reliable. What are the draw backs with the calliper tests? Well, you are reliant on the accuracy of the trainer to take a measurement from EXACTLY the same site each time and how experienced and skilled the individual is at separating the skin from the muscle. I do get my body fat tested but I use the same trainer each time so there is no room for variation, different people can differ up to 10% each time!! Another thing to consider is water, calliper tests do not take into account water retention under the skin particularly on the Suprailiac and abdomen site. As the body fat percentage is calculated as a total percent of your body, how are silicone implants accounted for? A larger set of implants will make the individual appear heavier indicating the individual has more lean mass than they actually do which in turn will give a lower body fat reading. Another important point to note is that the standard Poliquin Bio signature 12 point calliper test total percentage calculation does NOT include the lower body measurements, in my opinion this is a flaw to the system as many women store the most fat in the lower body, glutes and thighs. My advice on the calliper test is that it can be a useful tool in looking at individual sites, for example if you have changed your diet or training you may want to monitor what part of the body is gaining or losing fat, many factors can influence this including stress, diet and hormonal changes…

What else can you do if you cannot rely solely on the scale and the calliper test? In my opinion the best way to measure your progress is to take and compare regular photographs, record your weight as a guide at the same time each day, preferably in the morning and take the circumference measurements of your hips, waist, thighs etc. and if you wish have a calliper test done by a reputable trainer (I personally use Shaun Stafford as he is the most skilled reliable practitioner of the Bio signature modulation in London www.shaunstaffordtraining.com). You can then look at the picture as a whole. What you should be looking for is, of course depending on your goals and preferences, are marked improvements in comparison pictures and a reduction in the circumferences in waist and positive changes in the circumference of hips, thighs etc. You should also become familiar of your best weight according to how you look rather than what you think you should weigh or what you weighed when you were a teenager! The best way to see where you are really at is open your eyes and be honest with yourself. One point to note that sometimes we can actually be too hard on ourselves so it helps to have someone else look at you or try to look at yourself as if you were looking at a friend.

There is no magic. No supplement, no special exercise, no cabbage soup diet to the rescue. If you want to change the shape of your body, it will come with CONSISTENT training and clean diet, working out your daily macronutrient breakdown and knowing how much you should be eating for your height/weight and goals