This week it’s been almost 2 months since my last NPC competition and just a tiny bit over a year since I started competing at all. What started out as something new and fun that I wanted to try out to challenge myself, has become something that I have found that I actually really love and want to keep improving at. This competition season was really invaluable to me and I learned soo much that has helped me now and will continue to help me in the future. Coming off of doing 2 shows and being in prep for such a long time, many people have been asking, “so when’s your next competition?”. In a lot of ways, I wish that I had another one right around the corner. However a couple things have happened that have made this just not possible. I’m currently sitting at about 8-11pounds heavier than I was 2 months ago (depending on the day), which is actually a relatively healthy amount of weight gain coming off a competition prep. But why did I put on the weight and what’s up next for me? Here it is!
Before I started this competition season, I had a plan in place. I’m quite the planner myself, and as much as I wish I didn’t, I struggle when plans don’t go the way that I had hoped. From my experiences this year, I’m learning that that’s a big part of life and learning to make the best of every situation is an invaluable skill and that things seriously never go quite how you planned!
After my first competition last year, I spent about 4-5 months reverse dieting (if you don’t know what this is, more to come later) and eating in a caloric surplus in order to put on more lean mass. I wanted to do a competition in the spring and see if the 5 months that I had put in would make a difference in my overall physique. I began cutting (eating in a caloric deficit) around the end of December. I knew for sure I would do one show in Utah in March and then left to door open for another one. My coach and I had discussed the benefits of me doing a couple of shows this year and getting more experience and
time on the stage.
My prep went great and was far easier than the first time! My starting weight was around 121 (keep in mind I’m only 63 inches tall) and I dropped fat pretty quickly. We kept my calories high and cardio low and each week I lost about a pound of fat. I was excited about how much more progress I was making in my second prep versus my first. As well as prep was going, everything else in life was a struggle! At the same time that I was prepping, I was also working full time as an elementary school teacher, training clients in the gym part-time, and taking a full-time course load towards my masters degree.
People told me pretty frequently that they thought I was completely crazy with the load I had put on myself, but to be honest, I was a little oblivious to it. My husband was also working full-time and working towards a graduate degree and although I knew I had a lot going on, I’m not one to shy away from a busy schedule. Things continued to go smoothly with my prep and I was proud of the results I was seeing, but my immense workload combined with a strict workout and diet regimen began to catch up with me. I know I could get through it though, after I was so close to the end of my degree, and my competition was fast approaching.
By the time the show day came, I had lost a total of 12 lbs and came in even leaner than I had the year before. I had a good experience and felt soo much more confident and was able to enjoy the day so much more than I did for my first competition. I went away from this show after
talking with my coach with the realization that to be more competitive in another show, I would need to take a longer off season and really commit to putting on more lean muscle. Nevertheless, with a couple of girls on my team planning to compete in the Jay Cutler Desert Classic a month later, my coach and I thought that I might as well do another show and get even more experience before committing to a long off season. 5 weeks later, I headed down to Las Vegas to compete in my first out-of-state show-and had a great time! I placed pretty high against huge classes of competitors, many who have been at this for years, and just had an overall fun time.
A part of my “plan” from the beginning had been to come out of prep into a reverse diet in which
my daily caloric intake would slowly increase and I would work on putting on muscle without gaining unnecessary fat. However, as life tends to do, things didn’t go quite as I had planned. Here’s when things get a little personal…so if that’s not your jam, you may not want to keep reading.
About a month and a half before my first show this season, I lost my period. I was kind of surprised at that time since I was still eating within a very healthy caloric range, we were keeping my daily fat intake high, and I did at my maximum about 20 minutes of cardio 3-4 days per week. I wasn’t too worried though, after all this is something that happens to a lot of competitors and athletes when they reach a certain level of leanness. I figured that once I was done with dieting, it would come back no problem. A few months passed, I did my first competition and my second and decided to schedule a doctor’s appointment just to check on how things were going.
A blood test revealed that I had developed Hypothalamic Amenorrhea-which was the cause of my lost periods (by this point had been gone for a little over 4 months). Ever heard of this? I definitely hadn’t. Here are some of the things that can cause this:
- Low body weight
- Low percentage of body fat
- Very low intake of calories or fats
- Emotional stress
- Strenuous or excessive exercise
- Other possible serious medical conditions
Although I was surprised by the news, the doctor said that all of my hormone levels looked great and that my body was in overall excellent health, we just needed to work on getting estrogen levels up-which is the common identifier of HA. Although I wasn’t expecting to hear that, I had been experiencing some of the underlying symptoms which are:
- Always feeling cold
- Trouble Sleeping
Of course being the type of person that I am, I went home immediately after my doctor’s appointment and looked up all the information I could on my current condition and felt shocked! Almost everything that I found pointed to people who had eating disorders or obsessions with cardio-neither of which applied to me. The doctor said that they would expect someone with this condition to have a body fat percentage around 12% or below, and mine was never lower than around 16-17% (which is actually relatively high for a competitor).
After spending more time looking into this and chatting with other doctors I found that it was more than likely that my HA was not caused by extremely low body fat or excessive exercise, but by the combination of having an overall low body weight meaning I was not necessarily too lean or had too little body fat, but I’m just a small person in general and need more muscle mass on my body to sustain lower weights and having extreme stress.
The advice of my doctor? To get my calories + fat intake up significantly, to cut out all exercise for a few weeks, to focus on sleeping and cutting out any stresses, and to put on at least ten pounds as quickly as possible. From my research, I already knew that getting calories up was my next step and following my doctor’s appointment, my coach and I made it a priority to bump up not only daily calories, but also daily fats. I began eating around 2000-2200 calories per day and keeping my fat intake at 70g or above. I took 2-3 weeks off from intense training and luckily with the end of my school year combined with completing graduate school, my stressors decreased immediately.
You may think so what? Why is she putting this information out there? To be honest, I was a little nervous about sharing so much of my personal life on in the internet and that people would think I had done one of those crazy “fad” diets that had gone wrong. But in the end, my goal with my fitness journey is to help others with transparency and real, honest information. My main reason in wanting to write this post is to do just that and also to connect with others who may have experienced some form of HA despite following a healthy balanced plan. As I was doing my research on HA (hypothalamic amenorrhea) I could find not one single case where the conditions were similar to mine. Every case was either someone who was eating around 1000 calories per day (and in many cases doing two hours of cardio) or someone who had around 8-9% bodyfat. In case you or someone you know has had a similar experience, I would love to be able to connect and hear more about your experience.
So here I am now about a month and a half post doctor’s appointment. Currently sitting around 11 lbs heavier than I was on the stage and honestly feeling great! I am not fully recovered yet, in fact many women have to put on around 15-20 lbs before their amenorrhea goes away. And am I willing to do that? 100% yes. In the fitness industry there are SO many women who will stop at nothing to be lean year round (and
sometimes even a little too lean) no matter what their body is telling them. That is just not me. My health is my biggest priority and I will do whatever it takes to give my body what it needs.
Luckily, the recovery process from HA is very straightforward, you eliminate the causes- in my case stress and low body weight and give your body the chance to regulate itself. Doctors have advised me that it could take anywhere from 1-3 months to be completely recovered but I have heard of people where it was closer to 4-6. I’ve got time and I’m willing to be patient and keep stress low in order to recover!
Will I ever compete again? Yes! But, definitely not for a while. I won’t be attempting another “cut” until I have enough lean mass (muscle) on my body so that I don’t reach that low
body weight. For me, I probably need at least 10 pounds more muscle, which could t
ake 1 year +, but that’s okay! And in all actuality would help me to be significantly more competitive in another competition! In a lot of ways, I’m surprised with how well I’ve done having such little muscle compared to other competitors.
So what will I be doing in the meantime? I definitely will be enjoying my 2000+ calorie diet, focusing on lifting HEAVY, and working on myself as an overall person. Will I put on some fat in the meantime? Totally. Putting on muscle when you tend to be on the small side usually involves adding a little
fat and I’m okay with it! I know the potential my body has and that it will be even better the next time I prepare to compete.
For a while there when I was in over my head with work, school, and prep, things got a little hectic. I was tired, emotional, rundown, and burnt out. I’m starting to feel more like myself every single day and am loving having some time off to just enjoy life.
I’m so grateful for my amazing husband, family, friends, fellow Fitbliss Teammates, and clients who support me on my journey and are there for me whether I’m worn down or well rested, lean or bulking.
While I have been on my fitness “journey” now for almost 3 years, this is really only the beginning.
I can’t wait to share more with you as I continue to improve, learn, and grow!
I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on this post or what you’d like for future ones.
More to come soon!