So you wanna be a bodybuilder: The aftermath

It’s been one week since my figure competition. Sorry this post took a while, but I was too busy eating boxes of cookies. Entire boxes, in one sitting. That takes a lot of fortitude, trust me. Quick status report: abs are mostly gone, boobs are mostly back, and mentally and physically I feel great, if a little shocked at just how quickly you go from being “stage ready” lean to “normal person” again. Sure, the two boxes of Poptarts and two bags of cookies I consumed in a 24 hour period didn’t help matters, but I have a feeling even if I’d eaten pretty cleanly, adding water and a bit of fat and salt back into my diet would still have resulting in softening me back up. And those treats, while excessive for any normal self-respecting human, were a long time coming. I felt more surprised at my ability to ingest it all than guilt over doing so. Luckily I did my research and my mental preparations for “post-show” life–most people can not, and should not, try to stay as lean as they are when they compete, and I feel fine with a few pounds added back on. I am going to try to cut down on the peanut butter cups though.

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The competition itself was an interesting and fun experience, if a bit frustrating at times. I won my category, which of course was extremely rewarding and made the effort that much more worth it, but it was entirely the icing on the cake because it was the 3-4 month process of getting there that was the real challenge for me. In my mind, I had accomplished what I set out to do, so I’d won before I stepped on stage. I was able to walk in front of those judges with no nerves – no matter what they thought of me, I thought I had pulled this whole process off pretty well, so I was happy with whatever placing they wanted to give me. Perhaps it was my lack of nerves that helped—the judges gave me great feedback on my posing, stage presence, and of course, broad shoulders (thank you again, pullups). Anyway, instead of giving you the play by play of the entire, long day, I thought I’d just give you some bullet point-observations to paint a bit of a picture.

  • Spray tanning, for those who’ve never had the odd privilege, involves standing completely naked in a standup tent while a stranger sprays you with freezing cold tan spray. All over. Repeatedly. Then, you get to stand around drying in front of a bunch of equally naked strangers (all women, of course), shaking your head and laughing at each other, wondering what the hell you’re doing.
  • Remember when I said that stage makeup was intense? I was completely unprepared for how much makeup would be on my face—my makeup artist did an incredible job and the pictures looked great, but when she first showed me my done-up face I thought I looked like a combination of a Real Housewife and Tan Mom. It was scary. Thank goodness it looks very different—and much better—in pictures and on stage under those bright lights.
  • While you’re only on stage for a few minutes the entire day, you spend hours backstage, sitting in a giant room with all the other competitors, waiting for your few minutes of spotlight. It’s a very interesting “people watching” opportunity, and here are a few things I saw:
    • Dudes eating honey straight from the bottle before stepping onstage (the sugar and carbs help plump up your muscles)
    • Boxes of candy bars and Tim Horton’s donuts (for “plumping” purposes and also post-stage celebrations)
    • Legions of lean, tanned women in sparkly bikinis standing around, fanning their armpits to avoid their spray tan melting down their bodies
    • (TMI ALERT) Being taught to pee through a cup with a hole in the bottom so you don’t have to sit on the toilet seat, and also avoid splashing, which also messes with your tan.
    • Having a complete stranger glue your bikini bottom to your buttcheeks so you don’t have an unfortunate, glittery wedgie while posing on stage.
    • After hours of sitting around and doing nothing except smearing tan everywhere, you’re suddenly rushed backstage where you spend a few moments frantically repping out shoulder excercises and eating peanut butter and jam before you are, rather unceremoniously, ushered on stage in front of very bright lights and very clinical judges.
    • It turns out that the discomfort of the actual poses weren’t an issue on stage, which was something I was quite concerned with, but another issue arose: every muscle in your body trembles. I don’t think it was nerves, it was more a combination of adrenalin, dehydration, and effort, but it had never happened in practice and I was convinced that the judges could see my quads shaking (they said they couldn’t).
    • No matter what your accomplishment (competing in a figure competition, running a marathon, earning a university degree) there’s nothing quite like seeing the smiling faces of your loves ones and hearing their cheers—being surrounded by people who love you and are genuinely proud of you is the best reward anyone could ask for.
Post-show carb-loading. I fell asleep shortly after this. Bliss.

Post-show carb-loading. I fell asleep shortly after this. Bliss.

Think bodybuilders only eat fish and broccoli? Think again.

Think bodybuilders only eat fish and broccoli? Think again.

So, what’s next? I qualify for the provincials in Hamilton, Ontario at the end of July, and I’m considering going for it—again, no expectations, but might as well keep the momentum going while I’m still in “the zone.” I don’t plan to make this a career or even a lifelong hobby, but I did well in my first competition and enjoyed the process more than I thought I would—why not do it again while I’m having fun? I’ve also wanted to do a sprint triathlon for years but never could seem to build up enough enthusiasm for biking—but I have a bunch of friends in the area who are doing it and I thought I might finally get my act together. I’ve learned that I function much better when I have a physical challenge to work towards, one with a tangible event at the end that I can aim for, enjoy, and reflect and learn from.

If you have any questions about my competition prep, the show, or anything else, leave a message in the comments, email me at, or send me a message on Instagram @themusclemaven, where you can see lots more pictures of my training process, food, and the competition. Thanks for coming along for the ride


  • Reply January 7, 2015

    Melissa S

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! I am going to be competing in the OPA Ottawa Classic on July 4th and finding this blog (well, my partner found it as he’s helping me out!) has been a huge help :)

    Did you go to any posing seminars before the show? I have so many other questions…not even sure where to start!

    Did you end up going to Provincials?


  • Reply January 8, 2015

    Ashleigh VanHouten

    Hey Melissa,

    Thanks for the response, glad people are finding my articles useful!

    I can answer any questions you have – just shoot me an email at Good luck with your training!

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