An Old Lady Puts On a Bikini…

It’s been almost two weeks since the Iron Man Magazine Naturally Championships and Los Angeles FitExpo 2011, where I competed in my first bikini contest at the age of 38. I didn’t win (I didn’t expect to), but I didn’t lose (at least not both classes I entered). I came in 3rd in Class C (5’6″ and above) and 3rd in my age class (35+). My competitive side was disappointed at first that I didn’t place higher, but in thinking about the experience as a whole, I am still very proud of what I accomplished.

In this and the next few posts I’ll be sharing some of my reflections on the process. Probably the most logical place to start is here:

What on earth would possess you to enter a bikini contest?

First, I was looking for a goal and purpose to guide my diet and exercise goals. For the past few years, other than when I was preparing for my wedding, I had just been working out to work out. This made it too easy to flake when I was lazy, or indulge in food and drink more often than necessary.

Second, as a former competitive athlete, I wanted a challenge. I had told Nate a few times that I was curious to see what I was capable of and how much I could change my body composition if I truly dedicated myself to a plan. I have always admired his discipline and focus when he trains and wanted to see if I could do the same. Signing up for a contest – especially one that Nate was doing too – would hold me accountable. Once I paid the registration fee, there was no going back!

Finally, we were coming upon the end of the year, which was stacked with back-to-back celebratory events and holidays (two birthdays, an island vacation, travel to attend two weddings, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s…all in just two months!). I knew this would be a recipe for disaster when it came to my diet, workouts, and waistline. By signing up to compete in late January, I would need to eat clean and train through the holidays, and would thus avoid the otherwise predictable weight gain.

The other contest type I had considered was a Figure competition. Figure athletes have physiques that are in between those of Bikini and Bodybuilding competitors; they are leaner and more muscular than women in Bikini, but do not have the size of someone in Bodybuilding. Because of the relatively short period of time I had to work with (12 weeks after I registered), I was concerned that I didn’t have the time to both lose fat and gain the muscle necessary to be competitive in Figure. Figure competitors also have more expensive posing suits and do specific poses upon which they are judged. With this being my first contest, I didn’t want to have to worry about those extra issues.

How awful was the diet?

To be honest it wasn’t bad. Yes, it was restrictive in the sense that I couldn’t eat a lot of things that I like (primarily sweets and dairy), but those are precisely the things I was trying to reduce in the first place. I ate 5 times each day, with a combination of lean protein and carbohydrates in each small meal. Yes you read that right, CARBOHYDRATES. Nate did not put me on some crazy diet where I could eat nothing but protein and lettuce for 3 months, as that would truly kill my metabolism (if not me). Since my workouts (which I will talk about later) were centered around weight training, I needed energy from carbohydrates to fuel my body.

Here’s what the diet looked like for most of my pre-contest period:

Meal 1: 4 egg whites and 2 rice cakes (or ½ cup plain mashed potatoes)
Meal 2: 4 egg whites or a protein shake and 2 rice cakes
Meal 3: 4 oz lean protein (usually chicken breast or fish), 2/3 cup plain mashed potatoes, mixed greens and tomatoes
Meal 4: same as Meal 2
Meal 5: same as Meal 3
LOTS OF WATER. No soda or fruit juice. Coffee sparingly, and as much green tea as I wanted.

You’ll see that it’s actually quite a bit of food! Some notes:

  • Protein shakes were just the powder mixed with water. The shakes were easy to deal with at work, and provided a “sweet treat” during the day.
  • Mashed potatoes were just that…peeled, boiled potatoes that were mashed (no dairy). If you leave a little of the boiling water in the pot it makes them a little smoother, and you’d never know there was no milk or butter! The most important thing here was to measure my portions – literally with a measuring cup.
  • You’ll see that everything is plain. Most sauces have sugar to give them flavor (sugar is no-no #1 on this diet), and you aren’t able to control the amount of salt. I added flavor to my meals with just a little dash of sea salt or garlic salt (or both). In the beginning I would sometimes use a little salsa (check the ingredient list in the brand you choose) but that got cut out at the end. I also would periodically add Japanese umeboshi paste (made from pickled plums that is typically used in sushi rolls)…it was a salty/tart taste that was a nice change.
  • As for the salads, I ate mixed greens with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar (no oil). You could add other veggies but I was pretty lazy. I sometimes wilted the greens in a skillet with some water, but in the end preferred the fresh salad.
  • As it came closer to contest time, we made some changes, like replacing the protein shakes with egg whites (to both eliminate the sugar substitute which can cause bloating, and to focus on consuming “real foods”), and reducing my carb portions.

My competition plan was based on Nate’s standard diet and nutrition principles for fat loss and body composition change, the same principles that are shared on this website! While it was more restrictive for the purposes of competing, the building blocks are the same and can be used by any healthy person. If you haven’t already done so, go check out the Articles section for details!

Next up: Gym Time! (My competition training plan)