Before we start I want to explain how this came about.

One morning after one of the classes at the Performance and Fitness Academy Nikki and myself got chatting. It came up that she had done a bodybuilding show in the past.

Food, fitness and training is my career – I LOVE talking about it with people so I pestered her with a load of questions and we had a great chat.

While I think fitness has evolved in recent years, I remember there would have been a point where I myself (before I got in to the industry) would have immediately thought ‘bodybuilding’ as my first reference point for ‘getting in shape’.

I felt like her experiences might help someone else in this context so I asked her could we do an interview – she kindly accepted.

I’ve never done a bodybuilding show, I’ve never prepped someone for one – it’s not my client base. I’m not trying to say it’s a good or bad thing to do a show, this is just Nikki’s experience.

At the same time I know what’s probably not-so-good when it comes to nutrition and eating habits, so if it feels like I’m pointing that way I am, because I am biased toward thinking about it in terms of my own client base.

I have dieted down to a fairly lean body fat level…not stage ready but close. I’m not sitting here playing Dungeons and Dragons having never strict dieted before passing judgement on something I haven’t done myself.

If shows are your thing – don’t get butthurt over this.

Here’s the transcript of our recorded conversation. If you read on, I hope you find it interesting…

Thank you Nikki.

[Philly]

Hi Nikki, so first off  thanks a mill for doing this, I find the whole topic intriguing. I’d just like to point out to people that this was pretty early on in your ‘fitness journey’ if you want to call it that…that’s what got me so interested.

Had you done much training before prepping for the show? And I’d love to know why did you started training at all in the first place?

[Nikki]

Before I got into it I didn’t do a huge amount of training, but I kinda got into training because I’d had kids, and I felt I had about 4 stone to lose. It felt like I had a lot of weight to lose.

I just got fed up and said ‘right, that’s it!’…

And how much would you have known about nutrition and say, managing your weight?

Nothing. Hadn’t a clue. I was the typical ‘the less you eat the better’ type of person.

Get out and walk, just eat the bare minimum. I might have had a bowl of soup or something like that.

Cheese and crackers!

Yes!!

I just decided that I had to do something about my weight as I was really unhappy. I joined a fitness class in Clondalkin, it was like a kettlebell/cardio class, and there’s where it all stemmed from really.

Once I got into it I started to see results and feel better about myself, so I was kinda hooked.

So from the outset it was just unhappiness with carrying a bit of weight that motivated you to ‘get moving’?

Yeah, I wanted to lose weight but I wanted to feel like me. I wanted to feel like I was Nicola again, that I wasn’t ‘mammy’.

Because that’s what my life was like at the time, everything was around the kids. I wasn’t working, I was at home with the kids 7 days a week.

So no exercise?

No exercise. Nothing at all, I just kinda felt I had lost my identity a bit…so it was like a fresh start.

So you joined a kettlebell class, how long did you do it for and what made you transition toward a bodybuilding approach?

I did it for about 2 years and I was kinda following bodybuilding, I went to a couple of shows to watch and, it’s just, I was just in AWE…I thought they were amazing.

And it looks very glamorous from the outside *laughs*…then I just thought ‘could I do it?’, and yeah that was it.

The guy that ran the kettlebell class had a really big interest in bodybuilding himself, and he said ‘I’ll help you out if you want’.

That was it, I set myself the challenge and said ‘okay – let’s do it!’.

What was your perception of bodybuilding at that time then to make that decision? Did you think like ‘these people are in great shape, they must be so healthy and fit?’.

Yeah, I thought looking at them they HAD to be because they all looked in such amazing shape when they stood on stage…so nobody could be as fit or healthy as they were.

The goal then must have been to look like that and stand on stage?

That was the ultimate goal – to step on stage and do a competition….that was the end goal.

I didn’t know how long it was meant to take, but we had set a time. We looked at what competitions were on and was it achievable in that time frame.

Do you remember what the time frame was?

I started training in August 2012 and I did the competition in April 2013.

So just as far as achievement goes, what did you feel like this would help you achieve personally? Or I guess, how did you think it would make you feel?

What I thought I would feel? …….

I thought I would become ‘body confident’, which is honestly what I did think.

It’s definitely not what I achieved at the end, but it’s what I thought it would do for me, yeah.

I thought it would make me more confident in my body and how I looked.

Okay so you’re ready to start, you’ve thought about your goals…how did you transition into the different style of training AND nutritional strategies?

Okay, so I had lost 4 stone at this stage from a couple of years doing kettlebell classes 3 times a week. I had no experience doing bodybuilding training, so a lot of my progress before that was just self-taught as far as dieting goes.

I went straight into 6 days a week training bodybuilding style.

I didn’t know how to squat with a bar, I didn’t know to do bicep curls, I didn’t know anything so it was completely new to me.

6 days a week…longer sessions and no more kettlebells right?

I trained with a trainer for about 2 hours. Day to day it was probably back and chest one day, and then legs the next day…

More of a traditional bodybuilding split…any cardio?

Yep. I trained like that 6 days a week at the start – I didn’t do any cardio at all at the start.

And the nutrition?

I was trying to build muscle and I was on a specific diet, it was restricted diet, and it was a lot more than I was used to eating…but it was very bland.

Ha, how bland is bland!?

Chicken. Broccoli *laughs*. Rice, pitta bread, oats….and eggs, that pretty much sums it up to be honest!

At the time did you have any idea why this was the case?

Not really, I kinda had it in my head that you had to eat ‘clean’, that that was the best way forward.

I just did what I was told I guess, I was pretty naïve and totally uneducated… and I guess I just believed what I was told.

So all in all it’s a pretty dramatic change from your 3 day a week kettlebell class, did you enjoy it?

I absolutely LOVED the training in the gym, it was very intense.

Well, up until Christmas I really enjoyed it, but then as it got closer to the competition the sessions were getting longer.

Cardio was getting added in, sometimes I was training twice a day.

What did the cardio sessions consist of?

At the start we only did 15 minutes but this increased over time, so I was on the treadmill, I was going out walking, I bought a cross-trainer for at home.

Some days I was doing 20 minutes in the morning, then 20 minutes before I went to bed at night with a 2 hour training session in the gym.

I had to spend time on food prep as well, I had 2 young kids so I was trying to keep family life together as well…trying to be normal…

Was it doable?

*pause*

Emmmmm…….it was doable because I did it.

But all that time must surely have had some kind of effect on things?

Definitely.

I would think it’s kind of a selfish sport, just in that you have no choice – if you want to get there, and you want to do well, you HAVE to give it everything.

It takes up so much time – to prep your food, travel time to the gym, 2 hours in the gym…a training session could be 3 or 4 hours accounting for everything.

Eating itself took up time as well because I ate 6 meals a day, so it felt like if I wasn’t eating I was still prepping getting ready for the next meal, or tomorrow’s meal.

This was all on top of bringing the kid’s to school and everything else that goes with family life.

It sounds like a tough one to juggle!

Do you remember how things went as you progressed on closer to the comp? How you felt?

I remember that from 13 weeks out from the competition I started to diet down, I cut my calories and I remember I was pretty low in myself because I was exhausted.

I was really tired, and I felt like ‘was it all worth it?’. But I had come so far, and I’m a very stubborn person – if I put my mind to it I won’t give in.

So I kept going, I kept pushing through…

Were you hungry?

Yes, I was!

I had been bulking before this so say….from August up until past Christmas and through January I would have been eating more than I was used to.

It was bland, it was plain and I was eating more of it.

After that though you start cutting down, you’re hungrier, you’re tired and you have to increase your cardio all the time. So I was doing more and more exercise as time passed and eating less food.

More exercise, less food….equals exhaustion!

Do you remember how you felt about your body image at that time?

Yeah I remember when I was probably about 6 weeks out from the competition I looked in the mirror and thought I looked REALLY good.

I was really happy with my shape, I looked healthy.

If you looked at me you’d say, ‘she’s fit, she works out’.

The closer I got to the competition, the more I didn’t like what I saw. To me, I looked like a boy.

I had no shape, that feminine shape was completely gone, I was really gaunt in the face, people were starting to ask me was there something wrong.

‘What’s happening? Is everything alright in your life?’.

I had to explain that this wasn’t for ‘every day’, it was for a competition.

‘It’s for a show.’

But I know I didn’t look healthy walking around.

The point where you felt great, do you think that it was sustainable? The time, the effort, was it sustainable the way you were doing it?

Emmmmm….probably not. I was doing my cardio, I was doing my 2 hour training session so…if you didn’t have a job or a family it was sustainable, but it’s too difficult to maintain when you have everything else going.

I’d like to move to the day itself, do you remember much of it?

I do, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day! *laughs*

It’s a VERY long day, you’ve to be there early in the morning to register. I was competing in Limerick so I travelled down the day before hand.

I was in the arena at 8 in the morning, didn’t get on stage ‘til 6 o’clock that evening.

You’re sitting around ALL day. I had decided the day before that I didn’t look lean enough, I didn’t look tight.

So I decided – against what I was told to do – I decided I would completely dehydrate. I wasn’t advised to do that, but I decided to do it.

What did that entail doing?

Up until that week I was drinking 4 litres of water every day. The competition was on a Saturday so from the Thursday (the week previous) before I had slowly brought my water intake down.

So on Friday (the day before the comp) I was down to 2 litres, which is what I would take in on a normal day now.

On Friday afternoon I decided I was going to literally sip on water, and when I say sip….I was dehydrated, I was SO thirsty.

On the morning of the competition I woke up in my hotel room, in my madness I had a George Foreman with me and I cooked steak *laughs*

Steak and eggs on a George Foreman with the window hanging open waiting for the smoke alarm to go off! *laughs*

But that was it like, I would have done anything – whatever had to be done. I didn’t trust – like I couldn’t go to a restaurant and have breakfast in case they would put anything on the food I shouldn’t have.

So I had breakfast, put on my make-up and got ready. Make-up, hair, everything has to be done to perfection. Then I went and registered.

I would have done some posing classes in 2012 and knew some people that were there on the day, but when I went to register absolutely no one recognised me.

They didn’t know who I was because I had changed so dramatically. I dropped so much weight I had completely changed.

Do you remember what weight you were on the day?

On the day……I was about 50kg. Maybe a little bit less than that…I started out at around 62kg.

Today, I think I’m around 65kg.

I remember I was just a nervous wreck on the day, I thought ‘can I actually do this?’.

There was no way I wasn’t going to do it, but that’s how I felt.

When I looked at myself I wasn’t confident.

I didn’t look in the mirror and think ‘wow, you look amazing’. I just didn’t see it, I couldn’t see it.

I didn’t have that confidence that I thought I was gonna get.

I thought I was going to look at myself and feel really confident you know? Like, you can stand up on that stage and LOOK confident, but it’s a different story to what you actually feel inside and what you think in your head.

I went out on stage, I did my best, I LOOKED very confident on stage but I absolutely WAS NOT confident.

No confidence in myself, I thought I looked absolutely rubbish.

I got off the stage – I have to say when I got off the stage that feeling of ‘I actually did it’. It was done.

I was so overwhelmed, I was really proud of myself for following it through and getting to the end.

I came third, it didn’t really matter where I placed it was just actually doing it that mattered, and the whole experience of doing it.

I remember taking pictures with other girls and they were so confident, they came across so confident.

Saying that I never actually had a conversation with them and asked ‘were they actually confident?’.

But I felt like everybody around me was SO confident, and they were all walking around half naked!

I literally stood on the side of the stage, I had a dressing gown around me. I did not take that dressing gown off me until they called my name to walk out on stage. That’s when I took it off.

I had someone waiting on the other side of the stage so as soon as I came off I put it straight back on again.

You’d put a crazy amount of work into all this, sometimes you see with people there’s an anti-climax the days after the event…did anything like that happen? Did you have a plan?

I didn’t have any real plan except that I knew I wanted to go back training. I knew I loved training.

That’s the one thing for me, I can train, like I could go by myself now and train. I could go to a gym and I do have the confidence to train by myself.

Before I started it all I would have never had the confidence to go to a gym by myself, well, I would have just gone on a treadmill – that’s all.

I would never have dreamed of picking up a weight or squatting or anything like that, whereas now – I’m not a qualified personal trainer or anything like that – but I could do a programme for myself and I could go to a gym and with good form I could train well.

So that was good.

I knew I was gonna continue with the training…and at the time I did have this thing in my head that I would do it again because I felt when I looked back on it I felt I looked very well on stage, but there was a couple of things I could have improved.

I felt I wanted to show off my physique a lot better, I felt I could bring a little bit more if I did it again…yeah, with a little bit more experience.

But it just kinda spiralled for me once I finished…trying to eat ehhhh, trying to eat ‘normally’.

I had eaten a lot when I was bulking but I had been very restricted with food…chicken, broccoli, rice, sweet potato – I ate those foods all the time, so when I tried to eat different food…

I tried to have a burger but I just couldn’t eat it, it was like my digestive system just couldn’t handle it.

I had severe cramps, I was vomiting for a couple of weeks after, and, yeah, it WASN’T over indulgence…a lot of people that compete, when they come off stage they feel they had been so restricted that’s all they wanted to do – they just wanna eat.

Burgers, chips, crisps, chocolate.

That evening I tried to have the burger, like literally half a burger, and a couple of chips. That’s all because I COULDN’T physically eat any more.

I wasn’t able to finish it, I felt sick, it was like my body just wasn’t used to it. I was up all night vomiting, it was just like my body couldn’t cope with it.

How did you find moving on from this point, say reverting back to normal eating patterns?

Well the competition was 2013………………………. 2 years.

2015 was when I started to….I was obsessed after the competition, as in I couldn’t just put ANYTHING past my mouth.

I was so lean, like after the show you are obviously going to put back on weight to a normal, healthier weight.

But after being that lean and then having to work back to that more ‘normal’ weight, yeah I felt like I looked huge.

I felt I looked awful.

That just played havoc on my mindset, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror but I had to constantly tell myself ‘this is normal’.

This is a healthy weight, this is what you’re supposed to look like!

So you had gone into the show with the idea that this would make you feel very confident about yourself and your body, but it doesn’t sound like it turned out like that…

No.

It definitely didn’t work out that way, that is what I thought…body confidence – that’s what I thought I’d get.

I didn’t have any eating problems before going in to it, I was like everybody else. I didn’t necessarily know what good nutrition was, but definitely no problems.

I didn’t have any hang ups about food, I never felt guilty about what I ate.

I went out for dinner, I met my friends, I ate what I wanted to.

AFTER the comp, yeah… everything I ate I felt guilty for.

‘Why am I eating this? I can’t be eating this’.

It took me 2 years to realise I didn’t have to watch every morsel of food I ate, I don’t have to feel guilty.

Now I eat everything in moderation *laughs*…. I have a really good relationship with food, I don’t feel guilty for anything.

If I eat it – I eat it. If I eat a bar of chocolate that’s fine…I enjoy it, and that’s just the way it is!

And training, you went back?

I went back, I was still bodybuilding but I kinda got fed up training by myself and being on my own.

That’s when I joined TPFA.

So as for training now, do you find it enjoyable in the group atmosphere?

Absolutely, I love training in a group. I think it’s brilliant, I’d never change it.

I am a people person – as in I like to be around people… having banter.

You can’t beat the encouragement you get from everybody and I like encouraging people.

I love seeing new members come in and be in bits *laughs*, but I love seeing them in a couple of weeks absolutely flying it…it’s amazing to watch.

I see a big change in myself, I’ve become more confident, I’ve made loads of friends….emmmm, yeah, I just wouldn’t like to train on my own again, it’s lonely!

If someone was considering doing a bodybuilding show who’s in a similar position to you when you did it, what advice would you give them?

And if you had to do it again, what would you do differently?

If I had to do it again I would be in a much better position to do it again…obviously I have a good few years experience training under my belt now.

I have a better relationship with food than I did back then. I would eat TOTALLY different, I wouldn’t be so restrictive and I think that would set you up to not have those ‘food relationship’ problems.

I’d have a much more varied diet.

I think it can be done with a less restrictive diet – I’ve seen people do it.

And yeah, I’d probably do the whole thing as a slower process.

If somebody came to me asking for my advice on whether to do it… I’d tell them about the ‘not so glamorous’ side of it, that it looks great on stage but what goes on in the background….

Yeah…mentally and physically AFTER you finish the competition what you need to be prepared for.

I probably didn’t have a plan in place myself, and that’s REALLY important…it’s probably MORE important, the plan for after….more important than the plan going in to the competition.

Your plan for after gets you back on the right track….back to normality if you want to call it that.

It’s food for thought for anyone thinking of doing one who doesn’t have any real experience, and who maybe looks at it and thinks it might help them with their confidence…that isn’t necessarily going to be the outcome.

I do think it’s such an important point that you mentioned – when you diet down to a really lean level of conditioning, any weight you put back on afterwards is really tough to deal with…even if it is moving you back toward a more normal, healthy weight.

For me, someone who doesn’t have much experience with training, for this to be their entry point or near entry point is just an incredibly tough thing to do.

Yeah, it was! I was just trying to learn how to train – I didn’t even know the proper form. There’s just so much involved in it all.

There’s also a huge expense!

There’s lot of factors, and then of course you can be ‘natural’ or ‘not natural’ too.

Just to state you were natural, right?

Yep. 100% natural.

And that’s another side to it as well, there is pressure to choose the ‘not natural’ route.

You’ll have people say ‘you’re not gonna get anywhere, you’re not gonna do anything’, and unfortunately…yeah, it was always men who chose ‘not natural’, but now it seems to be the thing for girls as well.

For me, I stood on stage natural. It wasn’t regulated, there was no testing so someone beside me might not have been. You don’t really have a chance when you stand beside someone on steroids.

It’s a whole discussion in itself, we won’t delve into it.

Nikki thanks so much for your time on this, I find the whole topic really interesting and it’s been great chatting to someone who went through the whole experience ESPECIALLY dealing with family life as well.

Thanks a mill for having me, I hope it might help someone who’s reading.