Preparing for a bodybuilding competition requires a great deal of physical and mental discipline and frequently the assistance of a nutritionist and exercise trainer. Bodybuilding is a sport that requires attention to diet, training, nutritional supplements, and physical appearance. Nutrition is closely monitored and usually involves eating high amounts of protein, vegetables, and unprocessed, or “clean” foods, while limiting sweets and high-fat foods. Training requires hours of weightlifting in an effort to gain muscle mass. As competition day nears, bodybuilders practice poses, apply tanning products, make travel arrangements, and choose posing suits.
Depending on a bodybuilder’s goals, gender, body type, age, genetics, muscle symmetry, and interests, bodybuilders may choose from a variety of types of competitions. For both men and women, there are professional, amateur, teen, and natural bodybuilders who do not use steroids. For women only there are fitness, figure, and bikini competitions. As a rule, men and women do not compete against each other.
The primary focus of a bodybuilder’s preparation is training. Bodybuilders exercise virtually every muscle group with weights several times per week. A typical workout routine requires lifting increasingly heavy weights that work the muscle to failure, or until no more repetitions can be performed. For the six months to a year prior to a competition, training focuses on building as much muscle mass as possible. As competition nears, cardiovascular training may be increased, or added if it was previously absent, to reduce subcutaneous fat layers so muscle striations will be visible through the skin on contest day.
Nutrition is important when preparing for a bodybuilding competition. A bodybuilder’s diet is carefully balanced to provide more calories than are expended in order to gain muscle, but not so many calories that fat is gained. Most bodybuilders eat extremely clean to fuel the muscles with the nutrients needed to support muscle gain. Protein is an important building block of muscle. Many bodybuilders eat high amounts of protein in excess of daily requirements when preparing for a bodybuilding contest to build as much muscle as quickly as possible while limiting fat intake.
Many bodybuilders use a variety of nutritional supplements and thermogenics, pills which some believe help speed fat loss. Creatine is one of the most widely used supplements because research has shown it helps build muscle faster than a placebo when taken in conjunction with a weight training program. Some other commonly used supplements are whey protein powder, because its protein is easily absorbed and used by the body, glutamine, essential fatty acids, and high-protein meal replacement bars and shakes.
Many use artificial tanners in the belief that a tan body is more physically appealing to judges. Posing suits are selected and poses are practiced in the weeks leading up to the bodybuilding competition. For women especially, hair style and makeup is carefully chosen.
As the bodybuilding competition approaches, many bodybuilders change their diet and exercise routines to make drastic alterations in appearance. Many of these last-minute transformations involve extreme techniques that can only be maintained for days or hours. The purpose is to pump up the muscles so that muscle bulk appears larger than normal and muscle striations are highly visible. Some of these techniques include restricting water, sodium, and carbohydrate intake to highlight musculature during competition with the hope of gaining the advantage over the competition and gaining the favor of judges.