As I begin the journey to the stage April 14, 2018, I thought about the route I would take for my coach.  My previous coach did a great job with my training.  Not only did I get to the stage but I received hardware (trophies).  I learned a lot on that journey.  However, I was interested in seeing how a different coach approached competition training and their perspective.

I reached out to Ray Binkowski, promoter of the OCB show in which I competed last April, to see if he knew of coaches.  Ray provided that his gym, Fitworkz in DeKalb, offers competition coaching and that he’d be willing to work with me. Knowing Ray from my last OCB show, he seemed no nonsense, passionate about fitness and nutrition, and committed to the sport.

John drove with me out to Fitworkz to meet with Ray and it exceeded my expectations. Meeting with Ray enabled me to learn more about him, his weight loss journey losing over 60 pounds and keeping it off for over 15 years, nutrition philosophy “Eat by Color” and his competition expertise personally and professionally.  I am confident that Ray knows what it takes to get an athlete to the stage.

There were a few things that Ray said at our meeting that resonates with me.  First, he asked about my goals.  John and I have always said that it’s getting to the stage/show.  Ray found this refreshing.

The other thing that Ray and I discussed is my history with him as coach, my baseline nutrition in terms of calorie consumption and macronutrients.  Since I didn’t have true history to share with him, we were starting on the first floor.  Ray used the analogy that a show is floor 1o.  The goal after the show would be to go down to the fifth or sixth floor.  After my last show, I went all the back to the first floor since I had no maintenance plan.   Part of training with Ray includes maintenance plan.

In working with Ray, he tracks/monitors my progress through Trainerize, an app that syncs with My Fitness Pal, and tracks workouts.   Logging into Trainerize, Ray can monitor my workouts, track my nutrition and see my macronutrients in comparison to the grams/percentage of the plan. Between our in person meetings, I will track my food and log my workouts.

Measurements:  To measure my body fat, Ray uses a 9-site caliper test.   The 9-sites are as follows:  abdominals -one inch to right of navel, bicep- vertical fold halfway between the shoulder and elbow joint, calf- vertical fold in middle of the calf, kidney- horizontal fold about 2 inches to the right of the spine directly over the kidney, pectoral-diagonal fold halfway between the nipple and front of the under arm crease, quadricep- horizontal fold midway up the thigh (done while standing), subscapula- slightly angled vertical fold between the right shoulder blade and the spine, suprailiac- diagonal fold following the natural angle of the hip bone, and tricep-vertical fold halfway between the shoulder and elbow joint directly over the tricep.  Since the test uses a 9-site to compute results, it tends to be more accurate than other manual methods.

Starting out on this journey, my body fat is 17%.  Every three weeks, I will be meeting with Ray for measurements, posing, and answers with training questions.

After my second show, I enjoyed life and all its wonderful flavors.  In May, John and I went on our long awaited trip to Italy where I indulged in cappuccinos, prosciutto, olive oil, wine, bread and occasionally pasta.  I thought of Italy as a reward for all the hard work, dedication, and restrictive eating I did while I was training for the shows, and I thought that once I got back home I would go back to a healthier way of eating.

However, the Italy indulgences continued when I got home where dinner lots of times became nothing more than grazing “Italian” style.  We would go to the store for prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, and bread.  Once home, we’d serve “dinner” with olive oil and a bottle of wine. This way of eating became routine.

I knew that I needed to do something to get me back on track. I heard a lot about the Keto diet, how eating that way trained one’s body to burn fat instead of carbs and how people have shed weight eating that way.  I decided to immerse myself in that way of eating hoping to lose weight and make a sustainable lifestyle change.  I bought books, read articles, and joined private groups on Facebook where I found the support and help from others who made Keto a lifestyle and found great success.  I enlisted the help of this Keto community to make sure that my macros (carbohydrates, fat, protein) were accurate for my goals. I joined the premium version of My Fitness Pal so that I could use grams to track my macros and I meticulously tracked everything I ate.

During my Keto phase, I was also trying to build muscle mass. I started working with a personal trainer, who embraces the Keto diet and even intermittent fasting.  During our training sessions, I always weaved in questions that I had about Keto.  During working with him, he shared that from his perspective it is very difficult to build muscle with Keto due to the way that the body needs glycogen to build muscle.

I was still determined to make Keto work.  For months, I meticulously tracked my food and made Keto inspired recipes however, the pounds were not falling off.  In fact, the scale was going the other direction (slowly). I thought to myself, “Don’t worry muscle weighs more than fat.”   However, that wasn’t the case.  I wasn’t putting on muscle as much as I was putting on weight.  I did not like how my clothes were starting to fit.  I knew that I needed to do a major reset.

During Thanksgiving, I got a black Friday email from Fitworkz, the promoter of the OCB show I competed with last April, offering half price registration for the April 14, 2018 show.  This was the push that I needed to reset myself, my eating and get me back on track. And so I registered for the show and the journey to the stage began.

I am competing in the INBA (International Natural Bodybuilding Association) women’s figure masters, novice, open, and classic (requires a one piece suit).

Upon getting information about tanning, I immediately contacted Janine, who was doing the tanning to book my appointment early.  Emily cautioned that if you do not book early you may get an undesirable time slot.   In talking with Janine, I found out that she lives about 20 minutes from where I do and she offered to do a pre-pre tan on Thursday night – two days before the show so that I’d have a base going into tanning.   I am glad that I had the benefit of the first show so that I knew the detailed prep needed for optimal tanning.

Below is  the meal plan which reflects what I ate before the first show.

WAKE UP:  Drink 16 oz of water and take your regular vitamins

MEAL ONE:   Eat 2/3 cup of oats with a Tbsp of flax seed oil added to them
with 4 oz of chicken with glutamine

MEAL TWO:  Eat 6 oz of tilapia, 10 thin cucumber slices

SNACK: 4 Grapefruit wedges

MEAL THREE:  Eat 3 oz of tuna rinsed with 1/2 cup of diced avocado and 2/3
cup of brown rice with glutamine

MEAL FOUR:  Eat 4 oz of buffalo or flank steak and 10 asparagus spears

MEAL FIVE:  Eat 4 oz of tilapia with lemon atop 1 cup of chopped Kale with
10 almonds and balsamic vinegar

MEAL SIX:  Eat 3 oz of tuna with 1/2 cup of diced avocado and 1/4 cup of
roasted red pepper


The day of the show, I arrived at East Leyden High school in Franklin Park, IL.  at 9am- the doors had not even opened yet.  I was the first competitor there!  Seeing Janine was comforting as we both could navigate the day and set up together.  Once the doors opened, I grabbed my bags and entered the theater.  Following Janine backstage, I poked around and found stairs leading to a basement area which was where competitors would set up.  I set my things up carving out a space for myself in front of the mirror.

Prior to the competition, all the competitors gathered in the auditorium to hear from the show organizers who touted their drug free testing. They said that they will test (urine, blood) if the judges flag the competitor.  Additionally, the promoters discussed show format for pre-judging and judging.  After the  meeting, competitors went back stage to wait for the show to begin.

I competed in as many categories-Masters Open, Novice, and Classic- as I could to get stage experience.  Classic is a division in which the competitor wears a one piece suit.

I am pleased with my performance and learned a lot from this show, the INBA organization, and myself.  At this point, I do not have any more shows on my radar.


The week between shows started a little rocky.   My stomach was a mess, and I didn’t have much of an appetite.  I did my best to eat on plan, but really eating made my stomach hurt .

I am back to my pre-show week meal plan and workouts listed below.   I got to the gym although I didn’t start the week with the same intensity that I finished the week.  In addition to not feeling well, this week was also challenging due to lots of extracurricular activities Monday night, Wednesday morning, and Thursday night.  Luckily, I was able to work from home as opposed to taking the train downtown, getting home late and still having to get to the gym.

While I was able to carve out time for the gym,  the time I spent there during the week was limited.  Instead of doing cardio and weights each time I was in the gym as I normally would, I dedicated Monday and Thursday for cardio and Tuesday and Wednesday for weights with a focus on lifting heavier and pushing myself to the point of failure.

Friday and Saturday not only was I feeling much better, but I had time to spend on both cardio and weights.

I competed in two divisions, Women’s Figure Masters and Open.  Just prior to going on stage, show tanners sprayed competitors with Pam for a light sheen to accentuate muscle appearance.

A show volunteer in the staging area lined competitors up by division and number.  My number was 12 so I actually was right in the middle for my divisions.

After walking upstairs, I lined up with other competitors in my division, behind the stage curtain, waiting for the judges to call our division, Figure Masters first followed by Figure Novice.  I was told by the back stage coordinator that since I was competing in Masters and Novice that I would stay upstairs and get lined back up since Novice followed Masters.

Walking on stage, I lined up with the other competitors, some of who were already on stage.  Once on stage and in line, competitors immediately strike and hold the front pose until all remaining competitors are on stage.  One holds the front pose until the head judge says, “1/4 turn to the right.”   Then competitors pivot one the right foot to a side pose and strike that pose until the judge cues “1/4 turn to the right,  cueing back pose and again waiting for the cue to ¼ turn again for side pose.

Competitors continue to ¼ turn until they are facing front again and hold the front pose until cued by the head judge. Any moves competitors make will be driven by the head judge.

The head judge calls out competitor numbers to switch positions so that those people switch positions giving the head chance an opportunity to view competitors from a different angle.   At this time, all other competitors continue to hold their position. In Masters, my number was called I raised my hand cueing my position to the competitor with whom I was switching positions and I walked in front so that the judges would see me until I got to my new position.  In working with Emily, she advised not to move until I knew where I was going and to walk in front forcing the other competitor to walk in back. This was the strategy because you want the judges to always see you and you don’t want to move until you know where you are going.

After I competed, I went back downstairs and waited for the women figure open (all ages and divisions) and men’s divisions to compete before intermission.   Since there was a small gap in the show,  I joined John and my parents in the crowd.

Following intermission,  T-walk routines began. T-walks, which were optional in this show, allow competitors to perform a routine.  During the T-walk, competitors go on stage, strike their favorite pose, walk out to the judges and continue their posing walking to the right followed by walking to the left.  So you’re literally forming a T.   Competitors wait back stage for their number to be called.  I walked onto the stage a little early- my number was called and I walked on stage, but I should have waited for the music to start.  My first pose was a double bicep curl followed by my front pose.  Then I walked to the right for a side pose and to the left for a side pose.


After T-walks, came awards.   The back stage volunteer called out divisions and finalists by number.   For Masters,  my number was called and all competitors walked onto the stage.  When my number was called I went on stage and to receive my trophy placing 4th.

John and my parents were there to congratulate me which was such a great feeling.

Now, I get to enjoy a cheat meal.   Since I have another show on April 22, this is not a true cheat meal as most competitors were going out for pizza and beer, but it is a cheat compared to what I ate this week.      We went to Kiku’s in Naperville for Hibachi.

Today is the day I have been working toward for the last year, my first figure competition.  My mom reminded me that I announced my decision to get on stage one year ago almost to the day.   It was a decision that I made and a journey that neither John or me knew anything about but we were on this journey together.  We learned a lot along the way.

I believe that my journey started six months ago when I began working with Emily as my coach.   Six months of dedication, hard work, a great support system, John, my family, and friends, got me to the stage.

I am excited.  I wouldn’t say nervous but maybe anxious. I don’t know what to expect as I have nothing to compare this to.

This journey has been all about preparation and support and today is no different.  I have my meals packed, my suit, heels, jewelry, and tools in case my suit breaks.

Schedule for the day:

Wake up:  4:30am

I made myself a cup of coffee to sip on since I would not be able to function without it, and off I go.

5:oo I left the house for the Holiday Inn Express in Sycamore IL, the host hotel for the OCB show.

6:00 I arrived and had meal one—2 oz flank steak and ½ cup oatmeal.

6:20  the makeup artists arrived and we began work.   I was glad to have two of them as it took quite some time- a good 40 minutes.

7:00 left hotel for the Egyptian Theater in Dekalb, IL

7:20 arrived at the Egyptian Theater

7:30 Tanning

8:00 Getting ready/waiting for the competitor meeting   (I was supposed to have meal 2 now, but I forgot to eat)

10:00 Competitor Meeting

11:00 Show starts

2:00pm T-Walk Routines (optional for this show)

3:30pm  Awards


Arriving at the theater, I didn’t know where to go.  There were no signs to direct competitors.  I did see someone who directed me to go downstairs backstage.    Once downstairs, off to the immediate left was what the show designated as the oil room (where competitors get sprayed with Pam prior to going on stage).   Just beyond that was a dressing area with ample outlets and cubby holes/shelving to store personal belongings.  There were other dressing areas further back and the male competitors seemed to be all the way in the back.

After getting a lay of the land downstairs, I took my bag and went back upstairs and got in line for spray tanning.   In line in front of me was Jen, a woman I met the night before at registration.  There was a comfort level in knowing someone, and I’m glad that I found Jen.

As a figure competitor, I received two light coats of spray tan.  Once dry, I went downstairs and set myself up in the front dressing area where Jen and a few other women were set up.   I used this time before the competitor meeting to prep. I touched up my hair and used my band to pump up my muscles.

Just before the competitor meeting, I had my next meal only to realize that I forgot to eat at 8:00.  I was not that hungry so it wasn’t on my radar plus I was caught up in the excitement and preparation for the show.

At the competitor meeting, the promoter provided show timing starting at 11 and running straight through ending at 4:00pm.   Most shows have a 3-4 hour break between pre-judging and awards.  The OCB had considered running the show straight through for ten years and this was the first show in which they are testing the format.  During the meeting, the promoter provided information regarding overall winners in open and novice divisions.  Competitors in those divisions who place first would receive their Pro card and be subjected to urine testing.  If the winning competitors did not get tested within 3 hours of the show they would lose their Pro card.  Since this is a natural show drug testing is critical.

After the meeting, all competitors went back downstairs to get ready.   I learned from Jen, who had competed in a prior show,  that now is the time to put your suit on and use glue to hold it in place.  I bought 3M Adhesive spray and Elmer’s adhesive spray.  I used the 3M because Emily mentioned that this is the one that she uses to ensure that her suit does not move.   There is really no science to applying the glue.  You basically spray the glue in the areas where you want the suit to stick.  I sprayed all over to ensure my suit would not move.

Now was the waiting period to go on stage and the time to pump up muscles.  I brought a band to pump but noticed that a few competitors used 10lb dumbbells.

Competitors lined up by class (Bikini, Figure, Men’s Physique, and Men’s Body Building), division  Masters 40+, Novice, and Open, and number.

Preparing for the show is intense.  There’s a lot to remember and know.  Having a coach and pro like Emily helps me, as a novice competitor, navigate these uncharted waters.

Hair– It was recommended that I straighten my curly hair because curly hair looks frizzy under the lights.  While I have a flat iron and can straighten my hair myself, I plan on going to a blow dry salon to get my hair professionally straightened.  I will touch up on Saturday morning before the show.

Nails– While I usually wear neutral colors on my nails, Emily directed me to get a french manicure on both my fingers and my toes.  Lately, I have been trying no chip manicures.  While I have experimented with no chip before with less than impressive results, I thought it would be different this time.  I find that it just doesn’t have the staying power.   I decided to try gel nails for my french manicure.  It’s such a clean look and the gel is supposed to last 2-3 weeks before it needs a fill.  I will get a french pedicure on Thursday in advance of tanning (which is Friday).

Makeup–  I have been coached to have my makeup done professionally.  Some shows will have a makeup artist associated with the show.  Since the OCB show on April 8th did not have a makeup artist associated with the show, I went onto Thumbtack, a site that has a network of service providers for any type of service you can imagine.  I used Thumbtack in the past to find a chef for John’s retirement out of P&G party and through Thumbtack we found Chef, Tammy, who we have used several times since.   Once again I had success with Thumbtack and found a makeup artist who was willing to do my makeup for the show.

Waxing–  Again, Emily cautioned getting waxed less than 5 days in advance of spray tanning to avoid two tone look.  In lieu of waxing, I will be shaving.

Tanning– Shows offer spray tanning services at an additional charge although there are competition tanning products that you can apply yourself including Jantana, Protan, and Dreamtan.  As I am a first time competitor, I felt more comfortable with using the tanning service the show offers.   To get the most optimal color and quality tan, it’s all about skin preparation.

Tanning Prep– Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate.  It is recommended to use exfoliating gloves and an exfoliating scrub every time you shower for five days leading up to your spray tanning day paying special attention to the sides of the torso, elbows, armpit, knees, ankle and back.  The day of your tanning appointment which is the day before the show, this will be the last shower and it was suggested to use Dial soap.  The most important thing to getting the optimal tan color is to have dry skin.  The drier your skin, the more absorbent the color.

Shaving– Five days before you tanning appointment you will shave your whole body with a fresh razor and shave gel.   Using shave gel as opposed to shaving cream so that you can see the hairs.  After shaving, you will shave your whole body again to insure all hairs have been removed.  After shaving, moisturize. The night before spray tanning you will shave your entire body twice again.   I shaved three times the night before to really insure that I got all hairs and moisturized after.

One can use a depilatory such as Nair, Neet or Sally Hansen.  However, it is strongly recommended to only use these types of hair removal if you already use them.   One is not advised to use these products for the first time before tanning because they can cause skin irritation and show uneven color with tanning.

I felt really good when I was at Emily’s house and selected my suit. However after practicing in the suits especially the two piece, I realized that I couldn’t wear the two piece for the show.   It was way too big and when I walked I was exposing myself.  I already knew that I was going to be uncomfortable on stage since this was a new experience, I was being judged, and the poses could come off rigid.   I didn’t need to add to these feelings by having a suit that I have doubts about and think doesn’t fit well.

I had to do what I thought was right for me even if it meant spending more on a suit and possibly even not getting a refund from Emily for the two piece I rented from her that I wasn’t going to wear.   I went online and researched figure competition suits.  There were very few sites that specialize in figure competition suits, and Saleyla which was most prominent.  Some sites were for custom suits only where I would design my own suit (color, jewels, cut etc) but time was not on my side for that as I would need to get measurements and it would take about a month for the suit to be made. Additionally, custom made suits come at a premium in terms of investment.    I decided to purchase a pre-made suit from Saleyla.  I had many options to choose from and the price started at around $250 for a bedazzled suit with rhinestones.  It was more than I was prepared to pay but I didn’t have many options.

From my experience at Emily’s and what I learned about color selection, I was able to narrow down my choices by colors that I tried on at Emily’s.  I found a suit with dimensions that would fit me in a purple color.  I decided to move forward with that.   When I got it, it reinforced my decision and the direction I chose to take.

As for Emily, she was very cool and understanding of the situation.  While she still thought the purple two piece that I picked out at her house looked beautiful, she didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable and so we worked out something regarding the two piece that I rented.

When my new two piece arrived from Saleyla, I immediately tried it on and felt like it fit me just right.   The bottoms felt a little on the snug side but I could position them where I wanted the suit to lie by using adhesive spray.

For the next four weeks, I will begin leaning out in preparation for my first show, April 8.   During this phase, I will continue to eat high protein and low carbs.    When I’m hungry, protein drinks (protein powder and water) will be my best friend.

Below is the meal plan that Emily crafted for me.   As with every meal plan that she has crafted for me, she determines what to eat and when based on how my body responds.   This meal plan is not a weight loss plan, and I do not recommend anyone to utilize this for weight management or weight loss as it is not intended for that but for leaning out and defining muscles.   Additionally, due to the restrictive eating of this meal plan there are supplements that I will be taking (see supplements section).

My feedback to Emily such as how I’m feeling, energy level, irritability, and how my clothes fit  is essential to any adjustments she may make to the plan.


Meal Plan:

Wake up:  Drink 16oz of water and take vitamins (multivitamin, Milk Thistle, and Thermogenic)

Meal 1:  3 egg whites, 3 oz chicken, ½ cup tomatoes, 1/3 cup avocado as omelet and take Glutamin

Meal 2:  4oz chicken and 1 cup of vegetables of my choice

Meal 3:  4oz tilapia or cod, ¾ cup brown rice, and ¼ grapefruit and take Glutamine

Meal 4:  5oz flank steak

Meal 5: 3oz tuna, 10 banana peppers, and one plain rice cake

Eat 10 almonds with 2 strawberries prior to training.


One week into this meal plan, my feedback to Emily was that I was drinking about 3 protein drinks almost daily and that my energy level was low.   She tweaked the meal plan as noted below increasing the amount of protein I was taking in.

Wake up:  Drink 16oz of water and take vitamins (multivitamin, Milk Thistle, and Thermogenic)


Meal 1:  4 egg whites, 3 oz chicken, ½ cup tomatoes, ½ cup avocado as omelet and take Glutamine

Meal 2:  4oz chicken and 1 cup of vegetables of my choice

Meal 3:  6oz tilapia or cod, ¾ cup brown rice, and ¼ grapefruit and take Glutamine

Meal 4:  5oz flank steak

Meal 5: 3oz tuna, 10 banana peppers, and one plain rice cake

Eat 10 almonds with 3 strawberries prior to training.

Protein drink anytime I’m hungry.

What I found on this meal plan is that I am less hungry and need less protein drinks.  My energy level is also higher.

John and I went to my coach, Emily’s house in Chicago for posing practice and suit selection.   This is the first time I’m meeting my coach, Emily.   Some people may wonder how I’m just meeting Emily now and our coaching has been done online.   Emily is a IFBB Pro and she has been able to manage my progress and tweak my meal plans and workouts through the pictures that I send her and the feedback I provide.

It was an exciting day and one that took me out of my comfort zone.

Today, I selected my suit for competition.  I will need a two piece suit for Figure and a one piece suit for Classic Figure.  In selecting suit colors, Emily took into consideration my skin color and hair color as she did not want the suits to make me look washed out.   I chose from suits she wore in past competitions and colors ranged from red, to purple to blue and yellow.  Each suit was ornately bedazzled with crystals.

There is a huge difference in these suits compared to the bikinis that I am used to wearing when at the pool or on vacation.  These suits are higher cut on the sides and have very little coverage on the back.  On the two piece, instead of the straps tying around your back they criss cross on the back and clasp into the hook on the bottom.

With Emily’s, expertise, I selected a navy blue one piece and a purple two piece.  After selecting my suits, I wore the two piece for posing practice.

Emily worked with me on proper position for front pose, side poses, and back pose.   She mentioned that a lot of it is muscle memory so your body/mind just think pose and smile.  For the front pose, you ground up from your feet and suck yourself in and upward arms coming out to the sides.  The most challenging part of this pose is to contract the muscles of your arms, pop your shoulders and flare your lats as your hands stay relaxed.  For the side poses you can put your back hand on your hip in a fist or back hand can go slightly outward and upward. We chose the former position because the higher up the fist on the waist, the smaller the waist looks.  Additionally, standing sideways v. straight on makes one look thinner.  As for back posing, I have a tendency to pinch my shoulders back which makes me lose definition.  Instead, my focus needs to be on  flaring my lats and bringing my hands forward.  In this position you almost feel like your shoulders round forward.

The poses were awkward and when performed correctly made my muscles hurt which Emily said was “natural.”    I learned that posing is all about muscle memory so you need to practice in your suit, wearing your competition heels, and strike the  pose with a smile.