I spoke to female bodybuilders and they’re amazing
They train six days a week and eat six meals a day, nbd
I am not a bodybuilder. And there’s no way that in my current lack of fitness and motivational state that I could be one. When I spoke to my friends about this world, all of us had genuinely no idea about the sport at all – the most we collectively knew is that Megan Prescott who played Katie Finch in Skins now competes as a female bodybuilder. Actually there’s a lot more politics, discrimination and dedication that comes with a lot of sports.
So I looked more into this world and decided to actually educate myself. I spoke two women who compete; Gillian Lamb, 28 from Edinburgh and Anna Rhodes, 23 from Hertfordshire, to explain the culture to me.
Why did you start bodybuilding?
Gillian: I had been weightlifting for about three years before I finally started the process of prepping for a competition. I had taken part in Tough Mudder before and I really enjoyed weightlifting so wanted a new challenge
Anna: Some of my flatmates in first year first introduced me to bodybuilding.com. I saw some of the female athlete pages and thought they looked incredible. I got talking to an old friend who I knew was now bodybuilding, and over the summer of first year I started training with him more seriously. I went to watch a show with him and I was secretly hooked after that point.
How did your friends and family react when you told them you wanted to start bodybuilding?
Gillian: Most of my family and friends were really excited when I told them what I was going to do, and my parents in particular have been really supportive. I think it helped that everyone knew how much I enjoyed going to the gym anyway. Mostly I’ve been met with curiosity about what I do and the process of prepping for competitions .
Anna: About four years ago I started saying that I’d one day like to compete to my friends, but I was always half joking and never actually thought I would have the guts to do it. I was holding back because I was scared people would make fun of me, but my friends convinced me that if you really want something – who cares what people think. So I signed up to a coach and knew I wanted to compete that year. I still didn’t really tell all that many people and kept it pretty much to myself until I was about five weeks out. Some of my family didn’t even know until all my stage shots of me winning were coming up on Facebook.
What’s your daily routine and diet?
Gillian: It depends on what stage I am at in my prep for competitions. I wake up at 6am, do my 30 minutes cardio then have breakfast about 7am and get ready for work. After work I will weight train 6 days per week for about 90 minutes. I’m normally in bed about 10pm. I eat six meals every day and take in about 2,500 kcals a day.
Anna: I think people think I eat nothing but chicken and broccoli and I don’t like food all that much, but that’s definitely not the case. When my training is at its height I can do up to 45-60mins cardio six days a week and roughly an hour of weight training five days a week. When I am leaning down for a show and I am in a calorie deficit. I don’t follow a set meal plan most of the time – I follow ‘flexible’ dieting to make the diet a little easier for me. But I still eat mostly lean protein like chicken, Greek yogurt, steak, salmon etc with lots of veggies so that I get to eat more food.
How do you prepare for a competition?
Gillian: It can take quite a bit of sacrifice to prepare for competitions. It is possible to have a social life and see your friends and family but if your social life revolves around going out partying and for dinner with your friends all the time you would have to give up quite a lot. It can affect relationships with those closest to you. I have snapped at my parents quite a lot when I’m close to competition day but luckily they’re very understanding. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with people who support you fully in what you want to do. It can also be quite an expensive sport. From coach fees, gym memberships, food and supplements, to posing classes, stage bikini, shoes, jewellery, tanning, federation fees, and travel costs it all mounts up to quite a lot of money.
Anna: There’s a lot to get right and prepare for. Obviously you have your diet and training for up to 16-20 weeks before the actual show. But then you also have all your posing practice, choosing your bikini, buying stage shoes, booking hair /makeup/tan, booking a hotel if you need to stay near the competition location. The week before you’re on a strict diet, but then the days before you aim to fill your muscles through consuming carbohydrates to make them look “fuller” and most people will also manipulate their water/sodium consumption to ensure you come into the show in ‘peak’ condition looking as lean as possible.
Do you think female bodybuilders are perceived differently?
Gillian: I think so, when I first tell people what I do they look at me funny like they are looking for my massive biceps or something. I think there’s a perception that both male and female bodybuilders are a bit dumb and bitchy but this is definitely not the case. A lot of competitors work within the fitness industry but I know a few competitors who have PhD’s, are lawyers, vets, doctors etc. This sport attracts a wide variety of people.
Anna: Yes and no. I think the bikini category in which I compete in can be perceived relatively normally to the general population, but the female “bodybuilding” categories are not well received and the women will get a lot of abuse from the audience saying that they look “manly” and ‘too muscly’. Most males will think the really muscly men look a bit weird with all the tan, but appreciate how much work their physique takes. Coincidentally lots of people will criticise the men’s physique class (equivalent of the ‘bikini’ class but for men) for being “gay”. So both sides can receive lots of negative attention and gender stereotyping unfortunately.
Has becoming a bodybuilder affected your view of beauty?
Gillian: It’s really changed my view of beauty to something completely different from general society. I see beauty in the shape of a person’s muscles and how the body moves and works, and in a person’s strength and determination to push through the hard times. Sure there are lots of stereotypically ‘beautiful’ people who compete but just because you are good looking doesn’t mean you will be a success in this sport and I think that’s what is so great about it. You need to have a full package of discipline, determination, a great physique and stage presence, not just a pretty face and good body.
Anna: It takes time to realise that being stage lean isn’t the only way you can look fit and healthy and like you go to the gym. For a long time I only aspired to that look, and when I didn’t look like that I thought I looked unattractive. Actually in reality most people think you will look amazing on stage, but in real life think you look better with some meat on you.
Have you ever been subjected to any prejudice because of what you do?
Gillian: Not really, no. Most people who speak to me about have been really interested in my training and diet, and what the differences are between all the classes of bodybuilding. I have had some funny looks from other women when I’m practicing my posing in the middle of the gym in my high heels though.
Anna: My friends are mostly very supportive as they know this is part of my career now and something I am very passionate about. Other people I know may well say stuff behind my back, but I’ve never heard anything particularly hurtful to my face. I have definitely had to explain to some people that may have been concerned I looked “too thin” that it was for the competitions and I would look normal again after a few good meals!
How do you feel being judged by the way you look?
Gillian: It doesn’t really bother me because it’s more than just how I look. It’s judging me on my work ethic, discipline and determination. Judging can be very subjective and it can be hard to know exactly what the judges are looking for in a total package. I think I put more pressure on how I see myself as opposed to how other people see me, but that because we always focus on the parts we don’t like about ourselves and it’s something I’m trying to change about my mindset.
Anna: It’s definitely tough being judged for the way you look as it’s so subjective and completely depends who is up there with you. I have had competitions where I have come 4th and then a few hours later in a different category competed against some of the same girls who came 1st or 2nd and I’ve place higher than them. It completely depends how you look in the lineup.
What would you say to women who wanted to do this lifestyle but are too nervous to do so?
Gillian: So many young girls and women don’t want to weight train because they think they’ll bulk up like a male bodybuilder, but it actually takes a long time of training, eating the right food and a lot of it to get like male bodybuilders. I think women also feel quite intimidated about going into the weights are of the gym but in reality, most of the guys who are serious trainers don’t care that there’s girls in the weights room, as long as they’re training right.
Anna: If I’ve learnt anything from doing this its that if you want anything enough and can’t stop thinking about it then just go for it. I now have my own personal training business in central London as a result of bodybuilding, and I’ve also learnt to not care what people think. If they truly care about you they will support you. My mum thought it was a bit strange I doing it at first, and by my 3rd comp she was in the front row cheering louder than anyone else.