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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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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
I enjoyed reading about this competition but NO WAY would I have wanted to do this. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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.

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.... Report
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. Report
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! Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. :) Report
Sorry. This seems pretty crazy to me.
terrific article, great to see what goes on behind the different types of 'fit.' Report
No Report
Nope! Not for me! Report
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. Report
Denise Austin is 5'4" and 112# and she's 56 yrs old now & the mother of 2 girls. U can keep it up, as she certainly has. Report
I appreciate this detailed interview especially because I used to subscribe to HERS FITNESS and got very confused about all the supplement ads. I want to reduce my bra size from a DDD to at least a C, but I can't give up carbs. Report
I, too, dreamed of competing when I was in high school. It was something I'd do later in life. After gaining weight, I put the thought out of my mind. Last year a co-worker who was naturally fit starting training for and competing in shows. We cheered her on, let her sniff our chocolate before we ate it, encouraged her to eat YET ANOTHER meal, rearranged meetings so she could fit in a workout, and served as her cheering squad. She has done well in competitions, but also says it's not something she would recommend to the average person. I admire anyone who can be that dedicated to a goal/dream. I wish all competitors luck and hope to one day have the courage to compete. You all are a wonderful inspiration. Report
I kind of wish there was an interview like this for the guys! I've heard some lamenting that they don't look like the guys on Muscle. It's an interesting thing about our culture that these unnatural and unsustainable physiques are competitions (what would people think 200 years ago about these?) and sometimes shown as the ideal on magazines. Thanks for this article that might help people have a more realistic perspective and hopefully less body issues because of it. Report
Gee, I've done the 1,400 cal. a day, and 4 hrs. a day exercise thing twice in my life, lost a lot of weight, but felt crappy and acted like a witch!!! It didn't last, either, got so sick of the semi starvation eating. How come people with abs showing, don't realize they look as though they just came out of a concentration camp, though?? Many swimsuit models in magazines look like that, not attractive, but ill. Report
no thanks, I'll stick to my wimpy Walk Away The Pounds DVD's! Report
Great article. I will never go in to one of these competitions, but the information in the article helped me think about my fitness goals and working hard to achieve.them just they way that Kelly did. Thanks for sharing this!!! Report
I enjoyed this article. I'm always impressed by the people who have such crazy willpower. I don't see her as someone with body 'issues'. I see someone who wanted to look a certain way to compete and worked her butt off to do it. She didn't starve herself. She just made some changes in how she ate. Maybe not the choices your average person would make but I think she looks fantastic and I admire her for going after what she wanted. Report
I understand the goal aspects of training and often times athletes have to really abuse their body for competition in order to get the desired results. It's true in just about any sport out there.

This is not the focus of Sparkpeople which is where you learn to take care of your body, eat right, exercise to your ability, without over training abuse or starving your body of nutrients to get a desired athletic look.

What I think the point of this article is that all the pictures of athetic models on the cover and inside articles of fitness magazines go through this type of training. If you want to look like this, then the training described in the article is what you do to be a "figure girl", but you can really pay the price by completely ruining your health if not done with proper training.

So what happens to your body when you are finished competing? How do you go back to your normal way of eating and working out? Report
Wow. This is the exact opposite of what you guys usually preach. I'm really disappointed.
It's lovely that she enjoyed it, good for her. But...
I really think she looked best in the first photo! (The second photo wasn't too bad... but the third?? not so much.) Report
I find this story really sad. She was a really attractive girl until she ruined it! I am astonished that Spark People would allow this to be on their site! It is unhealthy and dangerous! It shows a total lack of healthy eating or exercise! Is this the image that Spark People wants to promote! Report
Wow. I think this entire concept is so unhealty. Her description of how she felt while on the extreme diet phase clearly indicates a lack of health. This type of competition does not promote a healthy body image or an appropriate approach to heatlh. Report
I am so impressed by her dedication, and perserverance. I think that it would be fun to do once, but I wouldn't want to put my loved ones through the "moody" or "shocked" stage and I can't image having the time to give to this. Even when she says she wasn't doing "much" she was spending hours at the gym everyday of the week. For a personal trainer who is already there, it probably doesn't seem that huge, but for a professional who fights to get to the gym at all, I can't imagine dedicating this much time to something outside of work that isn't my family. Exciting for her to make the decision to get there and push through. What a Hoss! Report
I liked her first two pictures but the last is too muscular for me. But I'm impressed that she stuck to it - it sounds very hard!! I am sure I don't have the determination to pull that off. And I hate being hungry!

I also would worry about the effects of being on that kind of diet for even 6 or 8 weeks, then being "normal", then doing it again. What does that do to your metabolism? Report
This could not have been more appropriately timed. I announced to some of my friends and coworkers that I intend to compete in figure next year about a month ago, and I was actually just sitting here thinking over what I need to be doing for the next year to get me there. Loved this interview, and Kelly looks fantastic! Report
Kelly was gorgeous in the before and after photos. It takes so much willpower/perseverence and stamina to tackle such a competition. I admire these characteristics but would never attempt to try this myself! :) Report
I can imagine doing it once, to say I did it, but since she knows it is not actually healthy to do that restrictive of a diet for her well being, I can't say that I admire her continuing further to do one more competition.

I like the idea of the body being sculpted and fit, but I think she looked very good in the first picture at the top. The others, well that is pretty extreme to me.

I know how much time it takes for me to exercise and plan meals/dietary education and tracking here on SparkPeople, I just can't imagine all the focus it would take, and the lifestyle she lives.

I really love exercising and striving to be fit. I found this article insightful and fascinating, but I hope she preserves herself. That kind of carb depletion can't be good for her brain... that part where she couldn't think straight, that was scary!

Many lessons learned on extremes... here. Report
She looks amazing but no, I would never do that. Maintaining my weight and not going over is enough for me right now. Report
Very glad to hear a professional say "this is NOT healthy." I am pretty darn healthy but carry my body fat right below my belly button, very frustrating to have so little body fat in my arms and legs that I am veiny, but can still pinch an inch below the belt. My local gym owner has been giving me dieting advice - no grains, no dairy! Thank you Nicole for asking "how did you feel," because I have tried to follow these cuts, and can only go a couple of days at best before I do NOT feel good. Back to my Spark meal plans, where I can SEE when I'm cheating and know what an impact it will have, but can eat everything my body needs to feel good and be healthy. Report
Just came across this blog. Not my thing. Personally, I think she looked better in the "before" picture. To each their own. Wish her the best. Do hope she is careful. Report
I am just wondering if there has been any update to this? i.e. Did Kelley get her pro card? Thanks! Report
Very inspiring ! Report
Wow! What an awesome piece. When I see fitness models, I always admire their bodies. I knew it took a lot of work to get to that point, but I had NO idea about the restrictive diet, nor did I realize just how much intentional planning and strenuous exercise it took. Thanks for the insight! Report
Very informative, and very responsible of her to point out that this is strictly for competition and should not become a lifestyle or a weight loss diet plan. I took away some great points. Wishing her lots of luck in the next competition. Report
AWESOME!! I really didn't realize what all the hype was about fat percent was until I had mine done for the first time. To frame the scene, I'm a 51 year old mother of two 6 years post divorce. My 5'3" body was carrying 180 lbs, and I felt like crap, when I began my quest for "fitness" in January of 2011. I enjoy strength training classes and have recently discovered the R.I.P.P.E.D. program. I am now at 148 lbs and fighting a wicked plateau. I started working with a personal trainer who, after reviewing my diet and exercise plan, was a bit stumped with why I was so stuck. She called in HER trainer to do my body fat stats and help us re-design my program. We were all floored to learn that my body fat was 18.26% (at the time I had no clue what that meant but most fit individuals have an average body fat of 19-24%). This was just the info they needed to get my weight moving again. They are now nudging me toward competing, which at my age, just blows my mind :-)

I really enjoyed your blog and now have a more realistic idea of just what "competing" means....maybe need to think on it.
This was a great blog! Thank you so much! The story was very motivational as I sipped my coffee before starting to run again after a month of being out of the game.
I loved the questions that were asked, is this diet healthy for the average person, because so many people read stories like this and say "oh, that's what I need to do!"

Kelly, you are an inspiration and motivator, thank you!

And thank you Nicole for blogging! Report
ok, so, maybe looking like that isn't practical for me, after all, lol. As a 48+ year old mom of 4 with 34# to lose, maybe I'll have to settle for something closer to the "before" picture! It is amazing to me that she was able to do it even knowing that it's not "good" for you - kudos for the determination. Report
Wow, she looks amazing. Alot of hard work, self-discipline, and alot of sacrificing has been done to achieve this remarkable physique. I thought she looked lovely before too ! Report
I certainly admire her dedication and commitment. Is that for me? Not at all. I would not want my life to revolve around training nonstop and being very restrictive of my diet....and feeling crummy because of it.

This was very eye-opening. Who doesn't want to look their best? But the part that really caught my attention was when she wrote: you can't look at food as a pleasure, only as something to fuel your body. Hopefully, I will be able to find a happy medium for myself during this journey, to learn to enjoy my food, but not as much as I have in the past...

Becca315 Report
I am so happy to see that most people's comments are positive and inspiring. Thank you for the perspective! I knew it took commitment and focus, but WOW does it take commitment and focus to do this! I don't think it matters whether someone here makes a rude comment (some people are SO rude) on their opinion of how Kelley looks - she is stronger and fitter than any of us could even dream to be (even before she did her figure training). The point of the article was to show us the dedication and extreme focus that reaching a goal like this - of being a fitness model - takes. Report
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