Guide To Competing – Part 2
HUGE CONGRATS to you! You’ve decided to embark on what WILL be one of the hardest voyages you will ever pursue. I’m not going to title this journey “most important” because although it WILL consume about 95% of your life for the next (insert adequate prep time here) weeks, in the grand scheme of things, this is not your life (you’ll still have marriage, babies, graduations, etc.). But I digress – you’ve chosen to compete! It’s said that out of all gym-goers, no more than 10% will decide to compete and less than 1% will ACTUALLY go through with the competition (though once you compete for the first time, you’ll make so many friends that it will seem like EVERYONE competes). So by deciding to compete, you have now just joined an ELITE group of physique athletes. You’re kind of a big deal.
I’m here to help guide you through this arduous, complex, mind-altering journey. We’ll deal with the psychology, physiology, and psychophysiology of competing as well as all aspects in between. I’ll do my best to hold your (virtual) hand from start to finish to post-competition. The following series will be based on my experiences as a competitor (ten shows in the bag, baby!), upon science, and upon the anecdotal evidence (read: BroScience) of fellow competitors. So for those of you seasoned veterans out there reading this article, while a lot of aspects may not apply to you (because I am a bodybuilder versus fitness, figure, or bikini), a lot of it will be relevant. If anything, read it to help with facets you neglected during your last prep or facets you could have done better. There might even be facets you didn’t consider.
So without further ado, I present:
PART 2: Picking the Right Coach
Note: Many competitors don’t use coaches; they train and diet themselves down for a competition; this works for them. Some of my close friends have even turned professional without the help of a coach. So this article does not insist that you hire a coach, it just helps guide you in finding the right person should you choose to use one.
So you’ve decided why you want to compete. You’ve set your goals, ambitions, and expectations, preparing to tackle the crazy journey that lies ahead. Now, you need guidance! I’m going to jump to the end and fast-forward in time. I’ll start in terms of what to look for in a coach, then work backwards from there.
First and foremost, find a coach that will provide off-season supervision and knows how to “reverse diet” you out of your competition protocols. If you read the first installment of this series, you’ll notice that I emphasize just how strong-willed you have to be in order to diet for a show. You’ll be dieting for anywhere from 12-24 weeks, but what happens when you come off the diet? When tilapia, asparagus, brown rice, and yams are all you know for four months, how can you control yourself when ALL foods are suddenly available? How do you manage your portions? Your appetite? Your food at social engagements? How do you manage your life without a diet? That’s where your coach comes in. He or she will assign you a meal plan that is hopefully based around moderation and takes your “new” metabolism into account (it may have slowed down during prep, so foods and food choices should be controlled). The plan should also help you adjust your mentality and switch gears to your off-season goals. The diet ends the night of the show and so should the deprivation that goes with it. A good coach will hold your hand AFTER the show just as tightly as they held it DURING to keep binging and “post-contest blues” away.
The next thing to take into consideration is a coach’s style. By style, I am referring to communication, diet, and training. In terms of communication, not every competitor prefers the “tough-love” approach. We don’t all like being yelled at nor are we all intrinsically motivated. We are not all automatons who work like a switch with only an “on” or “off” setting; some of us operate more like a dimmer. On the other hand, not all of us need our coach to be our best friend. We don’t all want someone who’s only going to tell us what we want to hear – that’s what our ACTUAL best friend is for! Figure it out; do you need a coach who will be a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board to bounce ideas off of, or a hard-as-nails-no-bullshit-task-master to shout when you feel like quitting/cheating/giving in? When you figure out what YOU need, talk to some of the coach’s past/current clients, accumulate facts, and check out their social media interactions to determine whether their style of communication is congruent with what you are looking for.
The next forethought to take into account is how a coach will dial you in for the show in terms of his or her diet/training conventions. Speaking from experience, having battled an eating disorder for almost a decade, I cannot use a coach who relies solely on meal plans and adheres to strict guidelines regarding what foods are and are not acceptable during contest prep. I specifically sought out a coach who I knew used the “If It Fits Your Macros” approach with his clients so that I could practice moderation and not feel like I was being deprived of certain food groups or macronutrients. As I mentioned in the previous article about self-esteem, contest prep is not for the faint of heart and if you have struggled with any form of disordered eating in the past, PLEASE tread carefully. Know your limits and make sure your coach is sympathetic, adaptable, fluid, and hopefully intuitive too (this will come with years of practice and trial-and-error). With that said, you have to be honest with yourself and your coach about what you think you’ll be able to handle – remember, you’re in this for the long run. You DO NOT want to do any damage to your health, mentally or physically.
Find a coach that knows when to be a taskmaster and when to be your best friend; one whose values, principles, and dieting style are in line with where you’re comfortable. Be honest with your coach and yourself in terms of what you can handle by way of a diet.