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So, you want to be a professional bodybuilder?
Tamara Ribiero-Bailey IFBB Figure Pro Bodybuilder

So, you want to be a professional bodybuilder? (Pt1)

by Tamara Ribiero-Bailey IFBB Figure Pro Bodybuilder

As a professional physique athlete, I am asked many times, “What made you get into this sport?” The people that ask usually fall into two general categories – some people are genuinely curious about what the sport involves; they admire what you’re doing and maybe they’re considering jumping into the fray themselves – one day. Many of these people quickly abandon the idea when they realize that curry and alcohol are not exactly muscle fuel.

And then there are those who look at you with a mixture of pity, disbelief, and maybe even a little bit of fear or even disgust, especially since women with muscles are “gross”. What they really want to ask is, “Why would you want to do this to yourself?”

I’d be lying if I said that I have never asked myself that same question. What I can say without hesitation is that this sport is not for the faint-hearted! I’m not even talking about the dieting and the intense workouts, the pre-contest carb, water and salt depletion, stepping on a stage in front of hundreds of people in a swimsuit while they make judgements about your body.

These things are fairly superficial in the entire scheme of things. I have found this sport rewarding in so many ways, but before you make the decision to enter the world of competitive bodybuilding (and its different incarnations), I can offer a brief insight into some of the things you need to consider.

1. Cost

I would imagine that any competitive sport involves a fair amount of expense, and I can confirm that bodybuilding is no different. Gym membership, personal trainer fees, food and supplements/vitamins all add up to a pretty penny. And that’s for “off-season” (when you’re not actively preparing for a competition) and for the preparation leading up to a competition. For the competition itself, you need competition wear, spray tanning products/services and for us women, the full works – hairdo (check out the price of extensions these days!), makeup, nails, shoes. And unless you are at the top levels of the international professional league, prize money is but a dream.

2. Lack of support

Unfortunately, bodybuilding is not a well-respected sport in Trinidad and Tobago for various reasons and therefore corporate and government support is very hard to come by. Many promising local athletes do not get the opportunity to test their mettle at the regional or international levels like those in other sports due to the lack of finances. The TTBBF, as the body established to administer the sport, has had to work miracles to make these opportunities available and the results over the years have proven that with the right level of support, our local bodybuilders can measure up to international standards.

3. Body image issues and disordered eating

It is important to realize that the physique athlete’s diet is designed to maximize muscle size, shape and tone and minimize body fat levels. Many foods that are fine in moderation as part of a healthy diet for the “average” person are off the table (literally) for the former. Dieting for a competition usually involves eating a small group of foods every day for weeks without relief. Many competitors will tell you they drool over food porn – images of rich, carb-heavy, fatty and sugary foods. The Food Network becomes our Spice Channel. We know exactly what we want to eat the moment we step off the stage. This is where danger lurks – some will binge on the foods that were “forbidden” during contest prep for days, even weeks after the competition. This leads to significant weight gain in a short space of time, which in turn leads to a negative body image. It does not take much to cross the line from there into developing an eating disorder. As a physique athlete, your body is constantly under scrutiny.

I know I speak for many athletes when I say that it is a struggle to love my “off-season” body. It took great courage for me to shoot the cover of the first issue of WeFitness magazine in off-season. Most of those outside the sport don’t understand that it is almost impossible and in fact, dangerous, to maintain the ripped, lean and streamlined competition look on a permanent basis and they take pleasure in pointing out that you’ve gained weight. When body fat levels are so low for a long period, vital bodily processes are compromised. But why oh why does my six-pack have to go away??

4. Social Life, Interrupted

As we all know, the typical Trini/Tobago social event revolves around food and alcohol – ah lie? Try carrying your own food to a family get together or a lime with friends and test the reaction when you open your container with grilled chicken and broccoli while everyone else bussing up roti and curry, macaroni pie and stewed chicken, pig-foot souse and roast pork. This is what you have to do if you want to achieve your goals in the sport, especially if you are preparing for a competition. A common reaction is “Oh gosh, yuh cyah free-up for ONE day self?” Or you might even get, “So wha’am, my food not good enough fuh yuh ah wha?” Or you’ll just get the strange looks that I spoke about earlier. There’s a flip side too – if you’re not in contest prep mode and you allow yourself some freedom, you get “Are you allowed to eat that?”

The sport also requires a fairly significant time commitment – sometimes you need to get in two workout sessions for the day, and then then there’s the time you have to spend preparing your food, which is so critical to success. This tends to leave little time or energy for social activities. Your friends will try to discourage you from going to the gym on a Friday night in lieu of the after-work drink up, “Oh gosh, relax l’il bit and enjoy yuh life nah!” and after you turn them down often enough, they just might stop asking you. Luckily for me, I am blessed with the kind of family and close friends that, while they may not fully understand, still support me all the way.

So why did I get into the sport, and more importantly, why have I continued to compete for 9 years?

I don’t think I can adequately explain it – but I know that for me, despite the challenges, the draw of the stage is a powerful, almost irresistible force. The intangible rewards have far outweighed the tangible and I thank God every day for the people that have been with me from the start of my journey – my loving husband and family, my trainer and the TTBBF.

So you’ve read the article, weighed the pros and cons and you think you’re ready to become a competitive physique athlete? Get ready for an experience like none other.

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