Who would of thought that part of getting ripped first meant getting a little plump?
When I first signed up for this bodybuilding journey I was expecting to dial up the exercise, dial down the food intake and then see my amazing muscles grow and bulge all the way to the stage.
I, of course, did not understand the science of muscle building at that time.
Cutting and muscle growth are not something you can do in tandem. You can cut and spare muscle, but you cannot cut and gain muscle.
That was news to me.
Muscles need plenty of energy from food to fuel their growth which happens with caloric excess and cannot happen with a caloric deficit. You shouldn’t be packing in a thousand more calories a day, but 200-300 over your daily expenditure should do the trick. And those calories should be good ones, mainly from complex carbohydrates which will increase your glycogen levels to create a favorable environment for muscle growth.
The more I travel down this road to competition, the more I realize how many unfounded beliefs and strange ideas I carry with me about my body and muscle building in general.
I am now travelling down the road to enlightenment
Like many women, I have been hung up on being slender – if not skinny – my whole life. I have worked endlessly with no real finish line in sight to change my body to look like something I don’t even know if it could.
When I started working with my coach I was 5’10”, 145lbs. His goal for me was 155. I couldn’t believe that I was signing up to getting heavier, but I did sign up.
This is me before.
Having suffered through eating disorders in the past, my mind was going a mile a minute trying to be at peace with what I was doing. I could see glimmers of my 6-pack disappearing due to water retention. My thighs started to touch.
I was sincerely uncomfortable with what I was doing, and my brain was unable to find the rationale behind gaining weight. I was allowing my body to morph right before my eyes away from what I wanted it to be.
What was I doing?
I did a lot of self-coaching over the next few weeks. I told myself that although this was uncomfortable, I had never tried to gain muscle by eating more ever before. I read more online. I talked more with my trainer. I found rationale behind his advice.
I needed to gain muscle, so I needed to fuel myself more. I had to give this method a try, so I pushed on.
I reassured myself that my body is malleable, that my body will be okay and that I can return my body to whatever state I so desire – if I choose – after this is competition is over.
I couldn’t deny my brain that I was seeing my muscles grow, even if they were covered by an extra puffy little layer of body fat. I now knew that I couldn’t cut back my calories and expect the results I desired.
So I decided to charge on.
It was a Tuesday night. I was in the gym. I was doing squats and looking at myself in the mirror as I worked through my last set. I was staring hard at my legs as I raised up from a deep squat, clenching my butt cheeks. Are my legs fatter? Do I look fatter?
And suddenly a switch flipped. I finished out the set and put the bar on the ground.
No. I’m stronger and want to be strong and I will continue moving forward and I will not look back.
And I was suddenly over the skinny thing.
I wasn’t going to beat myself up over the fact that my pants were a little tighter. I wasn’t out of control. I wasn’t doing anything ridiculous. I was adding some calories and adding some muscle and this was purposeful.
I want to achieve my goal and so I will do what needs to be done to get there, even if it is slightly uncomfortable for a while. Even if my pants do feel like sausage casings.
I decided that I was going to let my body do this and then finally my brain decided it was going to do this, too.
And so I am continuing to allow myself to get stronger in every sense.
What have you learned on your journey?
My first training session last week was a killer: Leg day.
I couldn’t walk without wincing until Thursday and if you had seen me wandering around New York City Tuesday or Wednesday you would have noticed a distinct limp. It was an intense session.
In between one-legged squats, lunges, jump squats and leg extensions my trainer and I talked about what I would need to do to get into competition shape.
Albert said I would need to adjust a few things first so we could get the muscle I needed like: increase my calories to 3,000 per day (really?), adjust my macronutrient intake to 2:1 carbs:protein (get out of here!) and lastly he said he wanted me to gain about 10lbs.
Hold the phone, sir.
As I started my next set of squats I couldn’t get “10lbs” out of my head. Rep count: 7, 8, 9, 10lbs, 11 and…12! I handed off the bar to Albert, “Nice set.”
“Ten pounds?” I panted, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
He told me that he most certainly did and that the 10lbs would come over a period of several months. He wanted me to gain about 2-3 pounds per month and that we would be gaining good clean weight: muscle.
It was made clear that I would not be permitted to eat sleeves of Oreos, entire pizzas or fatty cheeseburgers, but that I would need to make these gains through consistent clean eating and training.
He said that at competition time I would be back to my current weight but that the 10lbs I would lose by that point would be 10lbs of fat (whew) and that I would be a ripped Figure Competition Winning Machine.
So maybe 10lbs wasn’t so bad?
As we worked through the rest of the session I realized that I did have a lot of muscle to gain. My shoulders need to be more cupped, my lats need to expand, I need to get more of the bubble and sweep in my quad.
When I thought about my initial reaction to the weight gain proposal I realized that I had immediately thought about gaining all the weight in my hips and my butt – and I have never wanted to gain 10lbs in my hips or my butt.
But as I finished my final group of sets I thought about gaining 4 pounds of muscle in my arms and shoulders (nice!) and 4 pounds of muscle on my back and glutes (not too shabby) and about 2 pounds of muscle on my quads – 1 pound each, please.
Why was I fearing this weight, again? Ten pounds: let’s do this!
As I walked to the bus, legs like jelly, I realized how closed-minded I had been that night and maybe how closed-minded I have been for many years about my body and other things.
There is a lot of life out there that has the potential to make us uncomfortable, but we have to be open to understanding things beyond the uncomfortable and look deeper.
It could be weight gain or loss, initiating a job change, starting a new relationship, or even going on a trip, to a museum, movie or party alone.
If we take the time to think and look past our hasty preconceptions, we have the potential to realize amazing opportunities that are out there for ourselves.
There are new and marvelous things waiting for you out there: do you let uncomfortable hold you back?