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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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Good article. This is a great sport that is not meant for everyone It takes a huge amount of discipline to carb cycle, get the right amount of protein in,, completely reduce sodium and so on...... Report
interesting Report
No way would I be willing to diet like that. Not even sure I have that kind of will power, I like food too much. Frankly, I don't think the people doing this look healthy. Why would you starve yourself of fodd groups that your body clearly needs? Such limited carbs; where's the barley soup? The bean burritos? The kreplach & knaidlach? The pho & pasta? Not to mention fruit like watermelon, cherries, pineapple, currants, bananas, & pears. I understand no brownies, cookies, or cake but no cocktails or candy or pastries or donuts; I would be worse than bitchy - maybe even psycho! No thanx. Report
I would never consider doing anything approaching that. Some of the food practices are so demanding. There has to be a negative to playing around with your nutrition like that. Report
I was on a reduced calorie plan and couldn’t lose my belly fat, and pulled a muscle in my jaw from grinding my teeth at night Report
Interesting article. Report
Very good article. I don't think we realize what these "models " go through to look that way. I think she looked fantastic before her training. Congrats to her! I could not stick to a diet like that, so I better set more realistic goals for me. Report
Kudos! Beautiful at every stage! Do what makes you happy! Report
This is a great article - gives some perspective on what we can all expect from working out. Thanks. Report
I'm actually starting this now. When I was actively trying to lose weight, I was eating a diet not much different from this one and consuming 1,500 calories/day, so cutting an additional 100 calories shouldn't be that difficult. And starting today, I will be working with a trainer. In the coming year, I want to push myself as hard as I can -- just this once -- to see how far I can go. I just want to see what's possible. Report
I was a competitive woman bodybuilder in1980s, and trained/dieter like described in article. Forty years later, I suffer from scar tissue around all the joints, and more stiffness than I should for my age (58). I do have an athletic body, but wish I had not done this sport. Yoga or aerobics or biking would have been better. Report
Awesome article. Report
I have long believed that we as consumers should start demanding that magazines, clothing companies, etc start using healthy models. Normal BMI is defined as being between 19 and 24. If we define that as a healthy BMI why do we present models who are underweight or excessively lean as normative? And if they are within the healthy range they are always on the lower end. No wonder our ideas of healthy are so skewed! If the average american woman is overweight and the average american model is underweight then where are the in-between healthy people? Report
Very interesting article. And the comments are even more interesting. What people need to realize, is: TO EACH THEIR OWN. Report
Love the article. Report
Never! Report
I loved the detail in the article. It helps me visualize my weight loss goal, which is nothing like these pictures :-) However, it's really useful to see how people can really, really work for a competition. Report
As an anorexia recoverie, I probably should not have read this. It is a bit triggering. Report
I admire her dedication, and work ethic. I'm slightly horrified that more people notice the esthetics, than hear how sick it was actually making her. Report
Congrats on your hard work Kelly and following your dream! You worked hard and it showed. Awesome! You look incredible on stage. It IS for everyone to follow their dreams and to bring out the best possible version of yourself. And yes it is a sport. For that time in competition it shows what a human is capable of. I love that it shows that women can build strong muscles and get definition. Her training partner looks incredible too! Good work. Dedicated and disciplined! woo hoo! Report
Great article! Very interesting and informative. Thanks for including the before, during, and after photos. I have always been curious about female bodybuilding. Your article gave me a glimpse into that world.
Great article! Kelly looked beautiful in all her stages of development. Report
Hi Nicole,
Amazing interview with kelly. The hard work that goes behind any fitness based Competition, is so clearly visible in this post of yours.
We basically used the diet part from your interview with kelly and inculcated in one of our posts: 18 Fitness Models Reveal Their Diet Plans , you can find it on our website theworkoutmagazine.com
Just wanted to give you a heads up, let us know what you think
& also it would be awesome if you could give a link, email address or anything by which we can contact kelly, just to express how thank full we are to her, for sharing her experiences with everyone through this website. Report
I want to look like photo #1, that's my goal. Could never even think of the extreme measures it takes to be in competition. Report
She looked JUST RIGHT...in the original photo. Report
The only thing that bothers me about body building is the "spray tan" that all the girls still do for the competition. I know this blog is not about tanning and skin color, but I don't think that this is all spray, and people need to stop thinking that looking tan is healthy. It is quite the opposite, and people are literally killing themselves trying to fit people's perceived ideals. Its one thing if darker skin is your natural skin color, but people need to realize that light natural skin is beautiful and healthy as well. Report
I've always been very interested in bodybuilding. My dad loves bodybuilding and so I grew up with a lot of the concepts thrown around here and there. Really interesting article! Report
Nice article, one way is to try out fitness programs by models
here is my review on one www.goo.gl/vPcBPn Report
I would give anything just to look like her "before" photo. She looks great post training but my husband can't stand super muscular women so I would be happy just to look like her before her transformation. Report
I would like to be more muscular. I would never go no carb, though, because it must damage brain cells. I really need to work in more protein, and healthy oils. I'm glad she's defining her leg muscles. I was wondering why she was ignoring them. So it sounds like they do this in stages. Well, it was really interesting, thank you! Report
yes I could stick to one for my dream and it would be worth it Report
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! Report
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 :) Report
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.) Report
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. Report
When you have a dream, you do whatever you can to achieve it. That said, hers is a dream I don't share. Report
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 Report
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! Report
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.... Report
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. Report
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? Report
Informative article, but definately not for me. Too restrictive for my tastebuds. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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! Report
Very interesting article, with a true glimpse into what it takes. Wow. Report
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... Report
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. Report
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. Report