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Preparing for a NPA Figure bodybuilding show? Got what it takes?

You may have landed here because you are interested in getting up on stage, or in the process of preparing for your first show. The glitz and glam of a sparkling bikini, hair done, makeup on point has really lured you in and you want to give it a go.

Bodybuilding needs to be taken seriously, it’s one of the most gruelling things you can put your body through. Competition preparation can be a total minefield and a confusing one at that. Unless you have an experienced coach, or have done an awful lot of research and networking- it isn’t a good idea to step on stage.

In this post, you will get the lowdown of what it means to prepare for a show and what’s involved. Prepare for the hardest 12-16 weeks of your life ladies...

Section 1: The Training 

This section is all about how training should look like during a bodybuilding prep. Athletes usually take about 12-16 weeks to get ready for a show and the training portion is a crucial part. Make sure you set aside enough time to dedicate to the muscle building component, or consider entering a different show or buy yourself more time.

Resistance training for muscle gain and maintenance

Usually, the resistance training component of the prep is very specific. Training is focused on splits with plenty of isolation exercises to really sculpt the individual muscle groups. 

“I usually do an hour of weights and maybe 15-20 minutes of cardio.”
- Ashley Kaltwasser, Miss Bikini Olympia x 3


An example of a resistance training schedule for a bodybuilder on prep would look something like this:

Monday: Glutes and calves
Tuesday: Quads and Hamstrings
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Back and biceps
Friday: Retrain of your weakest muscle group
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Shoulders and triceps

Some bodybuilders choose to keep the reps high, in the 12-15 range to help burn fat where others prefer the 8-10 rep range to try and gain more size during the last few weeks before show day. It all depends really on what your coach thinks you need the most. Rest days are very important when it comes to prep and training. They give your body that much needed time to recover from the immense strain you are putting it under. Don’t skip rest days thinking you will get ahead of the game - you won’t. You will burn out.

The cardio for melting body fat

The cardio when in prep is considered the hard part. Oh, boy does it get gruelling. Cardio is there to strip the body fat off bit by bit. But, there’s a catch, you and your coach need to be smart in your approach because the human body adapts very quickly so you will have to keep pushing it further to keep the fat melting off. In order to keep your body progressing your cardio needs to be staggered. An example of how your cardio regime may look over 12 weeks would be something like this:

Week 1: 30 minutes of cardio 4 times a week
Week 2: 35 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 3: 40 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 4: 40 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 5: 45 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 6: 45 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 7: 50 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 8: 50 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 9: 55 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 10: 55 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 11: 60 minutes of cardio 5 times a week
Week 12: minutes of cardio 5 times a week

Section 2: The nutrition

Ahh, the nutrition. If you aren’t committed to your diet plan 110% then read no further. This is a ‘no stone left unturned’ approach. What you eat is EVERYTHING when it comes to bodybuilding prep. Your foods will be weighed and measured. 

Carbs: Your diet plan should consist of carbohydrates worked around your training, your coach should tailor this for you. Over the weeks to keep the body fat stripping off they will likely be dropped and dropped.

“I like to follow a low carb, moderate fat diet, but I am very lenient with it. I don’t have
a certain diet that I stick to. I don’t count calories but I do stick with lower carbs and moderate fat because that’s
what works best for me”

- Ashley Kaltwasser, Miss Bikini Olympia x 3

Proteins: Proteins should be lean and high to maintain muscle mass. They need to be the focus of every meal.

Fats: Fats need to be measured to the gram too, to ensure you are getting enough for energy and repair.

Your nutrition plan throughout your prep will change and be tweaked. One size doesn’t fit all, there are so many different factors that can affect your eating regime for example, what category you are in, how much fat you have to lose, any medical issues and your metabolism. 

“During competition season, I stick to six meals per day. I cut out all
artificial sweeteners and I usually cycle my carbohydrates (higher vs. lower carb days). In the off-season,
I am a bit more relaxed” - Nicole Wilkins 4 X Ms Olympia, Figure

An example of a competition prep nutrition plan (based on an individual’s stats) would look something like this:

Sex: Female
Age: 27
Starting Weight: 9st 7
Height is 5,46
Daily Calorie requirements for cutting: 1493
Nutrient ratios per meal: 13g Carb/20g Protein/8g Fats

Meal 1
40g of oats + 1 1/4 scoop of protein + unsweetened almond milk + one teaspoon of peanut butter
1 green tea with sweetener
Snack: 1 small apple

Meal 2
1 tin of Tuna with lots of Salad (no carbs)
One teaspoon of mayo. Light salad dressing if needed.Meal 3
Pre-workout shake – 1 scoop of diet whey with water + small banana
1 green tea with sweetener

Meal 4
Post-workout Shake – 1 1/4 scoop of diet whey

Meal 5
100g Salmon or mackerel with 50 grams basmati rice

Meal 6
1 ¼ scoop of whey protein with water
5 walnuts

For as many kick-ass fitness tips, meal prep ideas and effective workout plans you can get your teeth into, please subscribe to!


About the Author

My name is Betsy Green. I am a natural Figure Athlete, competing with the Natural Physique Association (NPA). I have competed a total of 4 times and I am also a competitive swimmer having competitively swam for 20 years. I am also a fully qualified personal trainer with an exercise referral specialism and fitness writer with over 10 years of experience. Other than exercise and fitness I have a passion for healthy eating, good nutrition and my Dachshund called Freddie Mercury.


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