Want the Body of a Fitness Model? Find Out What it Really Takes

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/7/2013 12:00 PM   :  398 comments   :  352,491 Views

My good friend Kelly Booth is a NSCA-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. We met in college (since we had the same major) and worked together as trainers and fitness instructors during school. Kelly has always been fit. She has toned arms, a trim waist, and can kick my butt in the weight room. She even trained for a marathon and ran it all by herself. Obviously, she's dedicated to fitness.

A few years ago, Kelly shocked her friends and family when she decided to compete in a women's figure competition. Unlike female bodybuilding, figure competitors aren't as muscular—they're strong but feminine. But according to most people's standards, they're still pretty ripped. Kelly looked great and was already fit, so I wondered why she wanted to change her body so much. Even though they look like the epitome of fitness, male and female body builders alike do some not-so-healthy things—food restriction, dehydration, overtraining and more. Luckily, Kelly is a smart girl and an experienced trainer. She also had her best friend on board to train with her, as well as an experienced coach to guide her through it.

Over the course of several months, I watched as her body transformed—she developed larger, stronger muscles; reduced her body fat; increased her definition; and suffered through some major dietary restrictions (I've never felt to guilty about eating in front of someone!) to reach her goals. I'll never forget when she told me, "I have abs now; it's kind of disgusting," she laughed. After seven months of hard workouts and diligent dieting, she placed sixth in her class during her very first competition! Go Kelly!

I realize that most of you probably don't want to be body builders or land the cover of a muscle magazine. But most of you DO want to drop body fat, increase muscle tone and look better. I think we often compare ourselves to the women on magazine covers and then lament about our fat thighs or belly rolls in comparison. But what does it really take to look like THEM? And more importantly, is looking like that worth the suffering it takes to get there? I decided to interview Kelly about her experience, and she told me straight up, without sugarcoating it, exactly what how hard it was to stick to her strict diet, what her workouts were like, and how she felt about her body before and after her transformation.

Here's a photo of Kelly before she trained for the competition.


You looked great before you trained for the figure competition. What was your body like "before" and what did your workouts look like?
At 5'2-1/4", (that quarter inch is important!), I weighed about 106 pounds and had 24% body fat. I worked out 5 times a week. I alternated between upper and lower body strength training. I would do cardio at least 4 times a week for 45 minutes or so. I also taught fitness classes: Spinning (2 times a week), toning classes (4 times a week) and Pilates (3 times a week). Although I taught many classes, I never considered them part of my workouts. Including them, I probably exercised more than an hour per day 6-7 days per week. Overall, I was happy with my body. If I wasn't doing competitions, I would have never changed anything.

What was your diet like then? Did you count calories? Did you watch what you ate?
I ate what the average person would think was healthy. Sure, I'd eat ice cream and cookies or whatever, but in moderation. I ate balanced meals, but I didn't count calories or anything. I ate when I was hungry—whatever I felt like eating at the time.

How did you become interested in bodybuilding?
Since I had been in college, I missed competitive sports (like I played in high school). I did run a marathon, but I’m not a runner! I like lifting. My friend said, "Why don't you do a figure bodybuilding show?" I already thought I looked toned, but I didn't realize I wasn't "muscular" enough for figure competition. So, I started to train! I trained for 7 months, trying to gain more muscle.

What specifically is the type of competition that you did?
In female bodybuilding, there are three categories. First is body building (when you get extremely muscular and you do all the poses that the male bodybuilders do). Then there's figure, which is what I did. You're more feminine and you do all the "manly" poses, but you do quarter turns and a "relaxed" modeling pose. Women on the cover of Oxygen magazine—most of those girls are "figure girls" in real life. You stand there and try to look pretty. Then there's a fitness category, which is like a gymnastics routine, but they also have to do the quarter turns too—it's more in depth than figure, but the body shape is similar. Oh, and there's a new category called "bikini," which is a fit-looking girl without being dehydrated or striated. These are more "model" bodies, like on the cover of more mainstream fitness magazines like Shape.

During the first 4 months of your training, you were in a strength-building phase. What was it like?
I lifted weights 5 days a week, but did hardly any cardio (3 times a week for 30 minutes). I worked on one muscle group per day for no longer than an hour. We were lifting extremely heavy weights with low reps (no more than 8). The goal was to gain muscle—as much as possible—and because I'm a female, I can't get extremely bulky. It takes a while. I followed the same routine for 2 months, then changed it for the last 2 months.

During the strength phase, I tried to eat healthy, but I just ate MORE of those healthy foods. I ate more calories to help my body build muscle. I started to eat oatmeal and eggs in the morning (as most bodybuilders do). I got in a routine of eating every 3 hours, so, 5 meals a day and 2 of them were protein shakes. I didn't have to eat a lot more protein because I naturally ate a lot of protein before. But I did become more conscious of measuring things. And I didn't just eat when I was hungry. I had to eat even when I wasn't hungry!

After 4 months, I gained 10 pounds. I probably gained about 3 pounds of fat and seven pounds of muscle. Probably a lot of it was water though because muscles contain so much water.

Below is a photo of Kelly training during her strength-building phase.


Are these results typical?
I think it is if you stick with it. The training was a big part—I never missed a day.

What came after the strength phase?
We [Kelly's best friend Kirsten was her training partner] had to maintain our muscle mass and drop our body fat for the show itself. They say it should be 12%-16% for females, which is pretty low, but it all depends on the person. Some people can look like their body fat is 20% and be 30%. I "held my fat" pretty well, in my opinion. I don't hold it in my stomach—I hold it in my legs, like most women tend to.

Our workouts changed focus from building muscle to maintaining muscle and dropping fat. We did more reps (12-15) but we still tried to lift heavy weights for upper body. On legs, we changed completely—high reps to failure (20-30 reps) of leg exercises, because we didn't want to make our legs bigger. We did cardio 4 times a week for 30 minutes, and that gradually increased every 2 weeks until we reached 60 minutes of cardio 6 times a week on top of our strength training.

What was your diet like at that time?
Three months before competition, I stopped eating bread. I limited myself to 1,400 calories a day. I would only eat oatmeal (in the morning), eggs, chicken, protein shakes, sweet potatoes, more chicken, broccoli, some almond butter or avocado (for healthy fats), tuna or fish and salads (spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, and fat-free dressing with less than 6 grams of sugar). I ate like this for 6 weeks straight. You are not supposed to cheat at all—no going out to eat. No sugar. Very few carbs—oatmeal, sweet potato, brown rice—that's it.

It gets worse. Six weeks out, I followed a stricter diet, which was basically no carbs, except on a "carb-load day" twice a week, when I'd have a banana, sweet potato, oatmeal, almond butter, and green beans. The purpose of carb-loading is to give yourself energy until you can carb load again. This is when I saw my body fat start to drop.

I'm bored just thinking about it…
I would try to spice it up a little bit. I came up with different salads and seasonings. I liked to make my own dressings for all the salads. My mom helped me come up with recipes. I like to cook so I came up with creative ways to enjoy what I was allowed to have. If you're not creative with your meals, it's extremely boring. I was always thinking of new ways to make the foods I could eat.

To be honest, I never cheated in that 6 weeks. When I felt low on carbs, I'd eat a Luna bar for carbs (I had like 4 over the course of 6 weeks). That satisfied my chocolate fix and gave me more energy. I never ate ice cream. I never ate a cookie. I kept it fun by changing up my meals. I took expensive vitamins, too.

How did your body change after this phase?
My body fat dropped extremely fast. In 6 weeks, it dropped from 24% to 19.8%. I weighed 112. I did get bigger, according to my measurements. My waist went up to 25-1/2 inches during my strength-building phase, but when I was "cutting," it went down to 22 inches. My overall body proportions didn't change a lot. And I don't have boobs anymore. They went away…and I don't think they're coming back!

Below is a photo of Kelly (complete with spray tan and custom-fit suit) on the day of the show! Note the difference between this "show" look at her photo at the top, which is what she looks like on a day-to-day basis.



1,400 calories is not a lot when you're following such a strenuous workout routine. How did you feel during all of this food restriction and heavy exercising?
On the strict diet, I could tell a difference. I felt really out of it (my brain needs carbs). Once, I lost my phone for 2 hours, and I was talking to myself, looking everywhere for it, and it was right in front of me. I wasn't tired, but I got a lot of sleep. I did drink some black coffee or green tea for energy (and for something other than water, which I drank a gallon of each day). I was really carb-depleted. I felt weak and couldn't work out as hard. And I was moody! Sometimes I wouldn't want to talk to anyone. I could only stand talking to certain people, like my workout partner and my trainer—because they were the only ones who understood how I felt and what I was going through.

Is this healthy?
Well, it's looked at like a sport. It's not something you can maintain. The diet I was on, you should never do more than 6 weeks.

For the average person who just wants to look better, is a nutrition and fitness plan like this realistic? It doesn't seem healthy for the average person.
It's not! And competitors who follow it should never do it for very long. This is not a weight loss diet. This is a competitive body builder's diet. I’m a personal trainer, and I would NEVER put a client on this diet. The first week I was on this diet, I felt like I was going into shock. I felt like my brain was trembling in my skull! I worked with a trainer who is a bodybuilder who could help supervise me, and help me know when it was OK or not.

But to look like that and have that definition and such low body fat, there is no other way than to restrict your diet and work out. It's not one or the other—it's the whole package. You can't look at food as a pleasure. You have to look at it as energy to your body, fueling your body.

I have to ask: What is the first thing you ate after the show was over?
I ate a Reese's Cup, a Rise Krispies treat, LaRosa's pizza [it's a Cincinnati thing]. The next morning I went to a brunch buffet. I had a little bit of everything: waffles, muffin tops, scallops, black raspberry chip ice cream (that ice cream hit the spot!), chocolate chips on my waffle with whipped cream, some vegetables, a lot of fruit, some cookies. I did an extreme carb overload. They recommend not to "binge," but to eat some stuff that you want. Don't go crazy. Eat what you're craving. But then, you have to get back on to your normal diet. You don't want to go all crazy with cookies—your body is so malnourished that it will absorb everything you eat!

Would you do it again?
I did like it. I am doing another one. My next goal is to define my abs more (on stage) and define my legs more and get bigger lats. I liked the competition. All the women I met were like me—they're crazy [laughs]! In between competitions, I am going to go back to a less restrictive diet, though. My goal is to get my "pro" card. I'm going to eat a piece of pizza if I'm not "cutting" to prepare for a competition. For the most part, I'll stick with eating clean. But there's nothing wrong with enjoying other foods like ice cream in moderation.

Here's a photo of Kelly and her training partner Kirsten backstage at the competition.


Special thanks to Kelly Booth for the photos and interview! Congratulations on your accomplishments!

Would you be willing to stick to a diet and workout routine like Kelly's to achieve the fit, defined body of your dreams? Do you think it's worth it?

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Comments

  • 398
    Love this honesty! I follow a lot of fitness competitors on Instagram for motivation and sometimes it does the complete opposite.

    Your commitment and perseverance is very inspiring. Thanks for sharing your experience with us- the good and the ugly.

    I think you look great in all photos... keep doing you! - 9/29/2014   2:50:47 PM
  • LILBOWMAN
    397
    Props to her for starting and finishing her goal. I don't know that I could do it. I've ran 26.2 and was proud I did but honestly didn't like how depleted of energy and cranky I was or how my body felt. My energy level was low.It's a fine line between healthy and obsession I think. I'll choose my health :) - 9/29/2014   1:58:26 AM
  • 396
    The spray-on tans are so gross! Why do they do that?! (I know they say it makes the muscles look more defined...but ewwwwwww.) - 7/9/2014   12:49:13 PM
  • SHARONFIT5
    395
    Great article! I am 5 weeks out from my first competition & I completely understand the hard work & dedication competing requires. It's certainly not for every one, but I am enjoying the process & love the physical changes my body is going through. - 5/5/2014   2:46:48 PM
  • 394
    When you have a dream, you do whatever you can to achieve it. That said, hers is a dream I don't share. - 4/26/2014   11:08:44 AM
  • SHILOH141
    393
    I've just turned 55 and loved keeping fit all my life. I've had 4 children and I'm in pretty good shape for my age( I think anyway) but..... I've just started strength/weight training and I'm loving it. I intend to take it all the way so maybe next year I'll start putting myself forward for figure competitions for the over 50s. Your article is amazin and although I'm eating clean and fresh I'm not into any drastic measures yet but seeing great results.
    Youve so encouraged me to keep going.... Thank you - 3/17/2014   11:28:17 AM
  • FIREFLY_13
    392
    This is such helpful information to have. It's so hard to understand what it takes to get to a body like that, and stopping to think of the trade-offs is so helpful. I'm 5'3.5 (that half inch is important too) and 130lbs. I eat well, and definitely enjoy my chocolate desserts. I do cardio and strength training regularly, in addition to weekly Pilates Reformer. I'm not toned the way that I'd like to be, but hearing Kelly's story is so great to help me figure out where my healthiest place is. Thanks! - 3/7/2014   3:36:22 PM
  • EROSCHKINA
    391
    I could absolutely not do this....I am 5'2" and weigh 130lbs....I would love to loose 20, but it's just not happening....even though I am not eating any sugars or starches....lots of fruits and veggies, and juicing....I am 67 with a painful low back problem....I used to weigh 105 in my twenties....go Kelly.... - 2/5/2014   12:48:53 AM
  • CASGRBEAR
    390
    Thanks for the inspiration. My trainer has me on a similar diet and exercise routine. I am a firm believer he is a member of a torturers club. I get in my head sometimes and want to quit, or worse, not give it my all. Your story let me know that if I keep at it, I can and will attain my goals. - 1/29/2014   9:03:19 AM
  • 389
    I like her "during" picture best - pretty buff, but still some curves. I think I'd like to look like a "Shape" model myself. I LUV carbs way too much to ever go on a diet like that, even for a set period of time, BUT I need to drop some body fat. I'm about 20-30 lbs overweight, but the body fat is around 38%! Could you put together a diet & exercise program for fat loss without the extreme muscle building? - 1/28/2014   10:35:55 AM
  • 388
    Informative article, but definately not for me. Too restrictive for my tastebuds. - 12/6/2013   3:33:02 PM
  • 387
    Wow, what dedication this takes and I am happy to see that she was able to finish and complete like she wanted. This gives me a little bit of encouragement that I one day will be able to achieve my goals like I wanted. - 11/5/2013   11:56:33 AM
  • 386
    It's impressive, though the diet restrictions looked positively scary to me. A balanced diet with vegetables and fruits and whole wheat stuff is just great. But no whole wheat bread? No. Working out an hour a day would be far easier than eating so restricted a diet. And (this is a personal view and in now way an opinion on what others should do or look like!) I wouldn't like to have the shoulders those figure girls have. Their dedication for their goal I'd take any day, though! - 11/4/2013   6:37:08 PM
  • 385
    I think that having a goal is great. I think that Kelly is awesome for being able to stick with it. But I could never go as extreme as she did! Being able to maintain something that's worth it to you is awesome, and I'm really happy that she is happy with what she did! - 10/8/2013   12:52:13 PM
  • 384
    Very interesting article, with a true glimpse into what it takes. Wow. - 9/23/2013   3:31:10 PM
  • KIMEE1966
    383
    You know I'm to old now to do this.. marks of the babes across the belly and to out of shape but If they had had all the stuff on the market like they have now 25 years ago... I would have def.. been in the running GREAT STORY... - 9/22/2013   11:17:17 AM
  • FROGGYDOWN
    382
    I think it's great to educate people on what goes into this sort of thing. Personally, I know that being aware of it makes me less inclined to compare myself to an Oxygen cover model. Kelly seems to have amazing willpower, stick-to-it-ive-ness, and respect for herself and the goals she has set, which I really admire her for. I admit I am a little disappointed / confused that on the one hand she admits this process is not healthy (it made her feel tired, cranky, weak, foggy-headed, she felt like she was going into shock, etc) and yet at the end she says she liked it, wants to do it again, and wants to get even leaner next time. I guess I wish she went through it and came out feeling like it was not healthy and not something she would do again. I realize it's silly to wish someone else would feel a certain way or take a certain position - we are all different and are entitled to our own opinions and lifestyles and even contradictions - but I guess that's the sort of message I am longing to hear. - 9/18/2013   11:03:13 PM
  • 381
    Her "before" body is what I want my "after" body to look like! She's a very pretty girl and obviously very dedicated. I know I couldn't do that, but it's also not one of my goals to ever do a competition like that. To each his/her own. I just hope she continues to be healthy about it. - 8/1/2013   3:59:46 PM
  • 380
    Cutting diets jacked with the way I look at food. 2 years after my last one I am just starting to get a bit of a handle on what "balanced eating" is again. I'm never going to do that to myself ever again- not healthy and not worth it, IMHO! - 7/31/2013   3:53:34 PM
  • OBJECTIFM
    379
    Very interesting post. I'm not exactly a competition candidate to begin with, but would never be interested in training for that sport. Maybe for something else, though. I respect people who are willing to sacrifice for their goals.

    Kelly looks great at every stage. I'm on another fitness site and get frustrated when people don't understand that you have to start out with a very nice, well-proportioned body to end up looking like a fitness model. They all think all they have to do is exercise. They also don't understand that people who are training engage temporarily in extreme behaviors to get a result. - 7/26/2013   9:33:57 AM
  • CYBRIA
    378
    Very insightful. Thanks for the great interview. :) She looks great in both pictures I think. Very "Olympian" in the competition photo and "fit and healthy" in the before pic. - 7/2/2013   6:27:21 AM
  • BAMAJAM
    377
    NO!-- Can't believe Kelly ever ate a Reese's Cup !! LOL

    ( I join others in thinking Kelly was more beautiful in the "before" picture.) - 6/21/2013   12:59:48 PM
  • MADDIEKAY12
    376
    You go girl! - 6/11/2013   8:52:51 AM
  • 375
    Never, ever, in a million years would I do this. Number one I think it is for young people and I also wouldn't want to be so restrictive in my diet. Not sure if this is even good for you no matter what age you are! - 6/10/2013   5:17:36 PM
  • 374
    This was a great read! Kelly is amazing! The photo of her duing her strength-building phase is my ideal for myself--she looks strong and feminine. I'm short, stocky, small-chested, and soft, though, so while I'll never fit what society's ideal is, what it considers "feminine," I've taken a lot of pleasure and in the muscle definition I'm building. Besides that, focusing on strength training has helped me redefine trouble spots on my body when tons and tons and tons of cardio and simple toning exercises didn't. I wonder if Kelly would be willing to post some of her workout routines--I would love to see them! - 6/10/2013   12:15:38 PM
  • SANDRADANIELS1
    373
    I loved this article. I prefer the "before" body and it helps to see that and know the type of work it takes vs. the extreme diet/exercise that the "after" body requires. The article inspires me to work toward a more fit body than I have now. - 6/10/2013   7:30:00 AM
  • 372
    I loved this. Thanks for the honesty and candor. I'm glad she enjoyed it while at the same time admitting it's not for everyone. I really appreciate hearing all about it. Kelly, good luck with your next competition! You've got some serious dedication! Thanks for the inspiration and motivation! - 6/9/2013   12:31:23 PM
  • 371
    very interesting and inspiring. I enjoyed the article, you look nice. - 6/9/2013   10:50:14 AM
  • 370
    Thanks for sharing. You are awesome! - 6/9/2013   8:54:55 AM
  • 369
    Thank you for a very inspiring article! The nutritional details were very informative. I think bodybuilding is awesome but I secretly wish we could get out of the tanning part of it. We can do it, if everyone agrees to stop. I was obsessed with tanning while a young adult and greatly regret that now because my skin is paying the consequences. - 6/9/2013   8:36:47 AM
  • 368
    Good for her for achieving her goal. But NO WAY would I ever, ever want to do this. Yes, I need to build some muscle and lose some fat. But I would never go to this extreme to achieve it. - 6/9/2013   12:35:23 AM
  • 367
    Loved reading this article. I have went to a fitness competition to watch and LOVE IT......... I knew it took real hard work to do this. Good 4 her. I would love to be in better shape.......more muscles. I couldn't do her extreme due to my hypoglycemia. - 6/8/2013   10:26:48 PM
  • 366
    Loved reading this article. I have went to a fitness competition to watch and LOVE IT......... I knew it took real hard work to do this. Good 4 her. I would love to be in better shape.......more muscles. I couldn't do her extreme due to my hypoglycemia. - 6/8/2013   10:26:44 PM
  • 365
    interesting article but I would not want to do this. She is definitely more attractive in the first picture and it sounds like she felt better then too. - 6/8/2013   8:28:22 PM
  • 364
    My daughter did some figure competitions during college and enjoyed it. I had a hard time with the " food mood" swings. She did wonderfully and placed in all of the shows. Her last one she was 2nd place in NE United States. I was so proud of her. She works at a gym PT and has always been a gym rat. Quite literally, I used to bring my kids at 2 and 4 yrs old to the gym while I taught my class and then did my workout. They both work out pretty regularly now. We have made some big changes as a family and have lost weight and built health together.

    Good luck with any future competitions, they are extremely hard on the body for a period of time, but then it is done and you can relax. - 6/8/2013   7:33:30 PM
  • 363
    I enjoyed reading about this competition but NO WAY would I have wanted to do this. - 6/8/2013   7:14:33 PM
  • 362
    Since I can't stand that look, no I wouldn't. It can also be creepy on a guy. I'm glad she's happy with herself though. - 6/8/2013   4:47:58 PM
  • 361
    Obviously a lot of people who have commented disagree, but I admire her! She has willpower and the dedication to go for her goals. I do agree that this is not for everyone....to dangerous to cut carbs that way and to restrict calories like that. So it isn't something that I would try! But good for her! - 6/8/2013   3:28:04 PM
  • 360
    Great piece! First of, it's useful information for people that want to compete in this domain, and then it is so valuable for anyone to know what it takes to compete (commitment, restrictions, discipline). Some commented that this goes against what SP and Coach Nicole advocate and I completely disagree. This is about AWARENESS! This is about enabling people to make better informed decisions about their health!
    However we could go further and dig deep in the potentiall addictiveness of these competition
    Thanks for the article!
    P.S. To me she looks best, in the first pic.

    - 6/8/2013   2:02:23 PM
  • 359
    Thanks for this article! What a wake-up as to the process needed to get a photo on a fitness mag!

    If you ever get the chance....I've been wondering what the exercise and fitness routine was like for the women who won the olympic volleyball gold. Misty Mae Trainer (sp?) was one of that duo. Would really love an article on that. Haven't found one on the net.

    Thanks again! VERY interesting.... - 6/8/2013   1:08:03 PM
  • 358
    Amazing effort and motivation! I have a set of fitness tapes for body builders and I can't even get through the warm-up! So I envy all the athletic types! Nice to know that it can only be temporary. - 6/8/2013   12:21:06 PM
  • 357
    I do more cardio than strength training. I really need to set up a plan for building up muscle mass. I don't think I would ever be able to cut carbs like she did! - 6/8/2013   12:09:16 PM
  • ANDIRUNS1
    356
    Her first photo is my ultimate goal - glad to know I can at least achieve that! That's probably the strictest I could ever follow (I should say, that I'd want to follow!). But good for you, Kelly. And thank you for sharing what it looks like to achieve that! - 6/8/2013   11:56:41 AM
  • TERI081010
    355
    No, I wouldn't do that strict of a diet especially at my age. I don't think extreme diets and exercise are good for the heart. I do exercise and eat pretty good but I don't do anything extreme. - 6/8/2013   10:39:02 AM
  • 354
    Really sorry but my first thought looking at the third picture is that they look like men in drag. Don't mean to offend, just saying. :) - 6/8/2013   10:38:16 AM
  • LAURANCE
    353
    Sorry. This seems pretty crazy to me.
    - 6/8/2013   10:06:58 AM
  • 352
    terrific article, great to see what goes on behind the different types of 'fit.' - 6/8/2013   9:08:23 AM
  • 351
    No - 6/8/2013   8:17:39 AM
  • 350
    Nope! Not for me! - 6/8/2013   7:32:51 AM
  • 349
    Nope. And I wouldn't have done it when I was younger. It was fascinating to hear what she had to do - what it took - which was pretty much what I thought she'd have to do. Too extreme for me, though and not a look I'd want anyway but more power to her if that's what she wanted to do. In the end it's all about the goals a person sets and strives for. - 6/8/2013   6:41:49 AM

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