Fitness competitions encourage students to stay active, eat better

Building muscle turned into a new competitive fitness trend that involves countless hours at the gym, strict macro counting and posing in a bikini to show off muscle definition. Weight lifting is taken to a whole new level when training to compete.  

Fitness competitions combine the discipline of sticking to a consistent training and eating program. Similar to beauty pageants, these competitions judge muscle definition as well as the bikini, hair, tan and pose of the competitor. 

Claudia Apaestegui, a senior nutrition major and former fitness competitor, trained five to six days a week while closely monitoring her macros − the intake of carbs, fats and protein. 

“I hired a coach and she gave me workout programs and macros to follow,” Apaestegui said. “When prepping, your goal is to get your muscles defined so you’re in a deficit which included a lot of cardio followed by a lower calorie intake than you usually are.” 

The process of prepping takes on average from 12-20 weeks, according to It helps competitors by taking this time to lean out and replace as much body fat with muscle as they can. Though everyone is different when it comes to prepping, Apaestegui said restricting yourself does not have to be a part of it. As long as the food fits into your macros, you can eat what you want, but foods higher in protein can define muscles faster. 

“During prep, you are spending a lot of energy on cardio every day so fueling your body with nutrient dense foods is key than to eating sugary food that will make you crash,” she said. “It’s not as intimidating when you take it week to week. Make small goals that can be achieved by the end of the week when you check in with your coach is what I found to be the way to go.” 

Transitioning from prepping back to normal training and eating needs to be done carefully. Shannon Perkins, a former Kent State student, used reverse dieting − the practice of increasing metabolism by gradually increasing calories while reducing cardio − to do this. 

“If you go from doing hours of cardio and eating in a deficit to automatically eating how you normally would, you can shock your metabolism,” Perkins said. “Slowly decreasing your cardio as you increase calories can ease your metabolism back without completely changing your body composition.” 

There are all different reasons for why people decide to do fitness competitions. It takes diligence and time to achieve the look judges are looking for. Perkins lifted weights in high school and wanted to challenge her muscles like never before.

“I wanted to see if my body can actually physically become super muscular and lean,” she said. “I proved to myself that I am capable of being this strong.” 

Apaestegui danced all throughout high school and wanted to try something different when she came to college. Since she spent a lot of time on a stage, the idea of being back on stage excited her. She had encouraged friends and soon after, she hired a coach and got started.  

“I wanted to do something that was challenging and prove to myself that I was able to achieve this goal,” she said.  

When training to compete, it is important to make sure you are still taking care of your body with the increase of cardio and decrease of calories. Nutrition professor Tanya Falcone said it can be very easy to cross over the line into unhealthy territories while competing. 

“If someone is trying to get lean for the competitions, it is important to still be eating enough and watch clues your body is giving you,” Falcone said. “That means to not focus so much on calories, but to focus solely on the quality of food. So, eating whole foods, not bars and shakes.” 

The body can physically tell you when you are overdoing it as well. Falcone said to take notes every day to record how you are feeling and your energy levels. 

“Listening to your body is also very important, if you are feeling rundown, tired or pale, your body is trying to tell you to slow down,” Falcone said. “As well as making sure you are not doing more cardio than you are eating which can cause many health problems down the line.”

Contact Sarah Arnold at [email protected].