A Figure Model Goes Paleo: The Recipe for Success

September 29, 2012 – Contest Day

My name is Gretchen and I am a wife, a personal trainer, a flight attendant & a paleo figure competitor.  Figure competitions have been more of a recent passion in my life.  I have been a personal trainer for about 3 years and as a personal trainer, competing in a figure competition was a big goal of mine.   I was nervous at the prospect but last year I decided to commit & go for it.

The first competition I did in was in my home town of Anchorage Alaska in August 2011.  I followed it up a show in Washington in September 2011.  I approached both of these competitions with a very traditional body builder diet/nutrition approach — brown rice, lean chicken, Greek yogurt, broccoli & far too much Splenda!  I was on a low fat/low carb/high protein diet.  The diet itself wasn’t too bad initially.  I found a rhythm with it, but it primarily focused on eating the exact same handful of foods day in and day out for almost 5 months.  Ultimately this got me results but as my husband can attest – they came at a great cost.  Some of the smaller things were the fact that my husband and I were not able to eat meals together because I was always eating my ‘special’ diet food.  That’s just the beginning though, there was almost no variety in the diet and I was becoming more and more nutritionally depleted.  The final month before my shows I was incredibly emotional.  I felt weepy all of the time.   I didn’t feel good or strong…  Most days, I was just trying to make it through.  I was irrational, emotional and definitely not myself as I am typically an upbeat, happy person.  My husband was incredibly supportive and I couldn’t have done it without him.  Ultimately, I believe my diet was too extreme.  I was exhausted from workouts and dependent on sugar free Rock Star energy drinks, fat burners & Splenda just to get by.

After competing in the August & September shows I had a heart to heart with my husband and we agreed that I would never again compete if it meant sacrificing my health in that way.  I also felt I had become a poor example to my clients of what true health actually looks like. I felt it meant I would never compete again.  This was tough for me because while the last month before my shows felt like hell; I thrived off of the challenge of competing.

Over the winter I was on a mission.  I was in search of another nutrition approach that would allow me to compete in these types of shows without sacrificing my health and happiness.  Around January of this year — I was researching some of the principals behind Crossfit and I was very impressed at how many of the female Crossfit athletes seemed to be extremely lean and still have energy and perform like elite athletes.  As I looked into it more,  I discovered that many follow a Paleo approach to their nutrition.  I continued to research Paleo and after reading quite a bit about it online, I
bought a few books (Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso, The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson & of course, The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf).  I started experimenting with some of these principles in my nutrition through February 2012 but in March 2012 – I started my 30-day strict Paleo challenge.  After one week — I was absolutely hooked! I couldn’t believe how good I felt on every level.  Physically, I had more energy and it was consistent energy.  My workouts and recovery improved greatly.   Mentally, I felt more alert and sharp.  I even saw a difference emotionally; I was stable.  After 30 days I believed that I had found my solution and my health.

Shortly thereafter,  I found Amy Kubal and started skeptically quizzing her about whether or not she thought it was possible to compete in a figure competition using a Paleo approach.  I wasn’t willing to go back to the ‘traditional’ body building diet but was unsure this could be accomplished by eating Paleo.  After several weeks of dialog and many questions I decided to dive in and start my Paleo figure competitor’s diet.  We started the adventure in June 2012 with a competition goal date of September 29th 2012.

Let me tell ya,  Amy sure had her hands full with me! While I am an extremely dedicated individual, I had a few ‘challenges’ to overcome.  Right when we started our program I was hired on with Alaska Airlines as a flight attendant. Training was 6 weeks long and it would take me out of state July through mid-August.  This meant that I would be training and cooking out of a hotel for at least 6 weeks.  Most (sane) people would put training on hold at this point but I am far too stubborn to do that. I convinced myself that it would be no big deal…  This proved to be much more of a challenge then I had anticipated.

Flight attendant training was very intensive. It was 6 days a week, 9 to12 hour classroom days plus 1-3 hours of homework each night.  It was a challenge to say the least!  If I wasn’t studying – I was grocery shopping or cooking. Workouts were no more then 45 minutes and usually started at 4:30AM.  Often I was too busy to go to the gym and had to do body weight workouts in a small room in the hotel which was set to 80 degrees! (I am not kidding – the thermostat must have been broken!)  The classroom where the majority of our lectures were held  was complete with two big tables FILLED with cookies, candy, popcorn and crackers.  They replenished it nearly every single day. On top of all this I was separated from my family and many days there was no time to even call my husband.  If those first 6 weeks were not hard enough, after I graduated from the program, I was stationed in Seattle instead of my home in Anchorage!  This meant that what I thought would be a short 6 weeks of competition prep in a hotel had now turnjed into 3 months! Lasting right up to the last few days before my competition.

Now, I want to make sure that picture is painted very clearly because amazingly despite all of that added stress and pressure, I felt 150 times better then I did preparing for my last competitions.  I had amazing energy despite sitting for 9+ hours listening to lecture.  Most of my classmates had diets full of sugar, diet soda, caffeine and many cookies from ‘that table’. I ate strict paleo every day.  I noticed that nearly every afternoon my classmates would struggle with staying awake to the point that it was common to see 10+ people standing up in the back of the class room to keep from falling asleep.  I remember that feeling from my college days but this time I noted that as long as I stuck to my nutrition plan,
made sleep a priority and didn’t indulge in too much coffee, I was incredibly alert all day.  In addition to how good I felt physically, I also noticed that I didn’t experience the emotional lows as during my competition prep the year prior.  I was absolutely amazed – especially considering the additional stress and pressure I was under.  On top of that, I was working out FAR less and leaning down much easier then I had for my last competition.  My food options were plentiful and tasted amazing -so much variety.  Eventhough I didn’t eat cookies with everyone else, no one ever picked out I was following a ‘diet’ because of how good my food looked and smelled.  Personally, I couldn’t believe Amy actually wanted me to eat FAT at every meal!  Coconut cream & avocados were staples in my diet.  Many days my classmates were actually jealous of my food. (One of them payed me to make her paleo meals for two weeks.  She lost 5 pounds and felt great.)

In addition to all of this – I looked so much better!  I was lean but my muscles still looked plump and full.  I looked far better then I did during my first season.  I actually looked and felt HEALTHY!

September 29th finally arrived and on the day of the show it wasn’t just my husband who noticed these change.  I had several friends and clients come up to me and tell me how much better I looked this year then last. People were amazed that I had done all this while traveling and living in and out of hotel rooms.  Fellow competitors at the show were impressed at how ‘together’ I seemed.  (I wasn’t emotionally all over the place like manyof them.) I placed 2nd in Figure Class B and couldn’t have been more thrilled with this achievement.

Amy and I are continuing to work together but we have a new focus. I would like to compete again in Figure but also in Fitness in the Alaska State Championships in spring 2013.  I couldn’t be more excited about this new goal.  I hope to be a living example in my community and to my clients of how enjoyable and attainable eating and being healthy is -even when circumstances are less than ideal.  I also would like to lead by example showing fellow competitors that competing in the body building scene doesn’t have to be an utterly miserable experience when it comes to nutrition.  I believe that eating paleo can be truly beneficial to nearly everyone and in in all stages of life.  I truly have found my nutrition solution and I am never looking back.


  1. Candace says

    Love the post! Thanks for sharing your story.

    Did you cycle “safe starches”? I would love to see meal plans leading up to your competition date.

    • Amy Kubal says

      We did use some safe starches to support training. The meal plans were very much designed for Gretchen, her needs and crazy life circumstances!

  2. Carrie anderson says

    I am friends and co- competitor with Gretchen and I can personally say as a first hand witness, this has been her best physique yet! Her energy levels and overall happiness were at all time highs in a time when most of us truly felt as though we were suffering. She has inspired me to start my own 30 day challenge, which I just reached the end of day one on. So far do good!!

  3. says

    Hey Gretchen,
    Congrats! You look wonderful. Naturally beauti-fully-fit! You’re setting a great example for your family and your clients, not to mention many of the other fitness competitors out there. Good luck in 2013!

  4. Pt says

    I been paleo eater for one year, and I would love to compete in a bikini or figure contest. I have been working out tons but I would love to know how can I improved my diet to achieve my golds. Any way to contact Gretchen? Or schedule a consult?

  5. Theresa says

    Wow! she looks fabulous! I too am on the paleo diet and I feel much more energized than before.Having a cookbook is pretty handy for anyone starting on the diet. It takes away the need for researching what to eat all the time. This site http://paleodiet.risap.com reviews some of the popular paleo books on the market today. I visit it whenever a new book is out and I have to say Robbs are my favorite!

  6. says

    Great story!I have so similar experiences in the competing and work field.I’m also a trainer and a cabin attendant (doing 3-4 longhaul flights in a month) and at the same time training to fitness competition.Last summer I was preparing for the contest with normal calorie restriction and low carb diet(rice,bananas,whey).I was doing a lot of work at the same time I was training hard.In the middle of the diet I started to feel depressed,very hungry and tired.My only goal was also manage to go through the day.I was so sad cause I had to always scale my foods and prepare those for my work trips to Asia. The competition workouts (rowing,dips,pull ups)were so hard that I couldn’t anymore recover and I felt everyday worse. Just 2 months before the competitions I decided to stop the diet.I was feeling so bad that I couldn’t continue. I felt I was becoming sick.The depression and anxiety was growing and I had eating disorder thoughts.

    Ok then I noticed the paleo diet.I started the 30 days trial and here I am,3 months of total paleo,feeling great and energetic.No cravings,no hunger and really much energy to train hard.The recovery is amazing.I’m using a lot of supplementation for bad PMS symptoms and low thyroid dysfunction.The advice I got from the paleo solution podcasts have been important and I’m wanting to learn more.

    These examples show that there is many ways to do things.The old bodybuilding diets are not working anymore,especially those huge carb loadings with grains,rice and junk foods are making you feel worse.I haven’t decided if I want to attend to a competition anymore.I feel so great now and have everyday challenges and good vibes from the training hard.I have also started to be more kind to myself and I try to not push myself too much.I try to sleep well and minimize high cortisol levels.

    • Amy Kubal says


      That is AWESOME! I’m so glad you’ve made so many healthy changes and are feeling better. The days of rice cakes, plain chicken breasts and lettuce are over!! :)

    • Gretchen Quast says

      Wow Nora! I totally understand. I am soooo glad you found Paleo! If you ever did choose to compete again — I am sure your experience would be far different. I am so thrilled I gave it another try and did it 100% paleo. It was such a positive experience for me. I am looking to compete in a few competitions this year. My first one will be this spring. If you did go forward with competing again someday — Amy Kubal is amazing to work with and if you were able — I would highly recommend working with her. Either way —- good luck with your health and fitness goals! :-)

  7. says

    I’ve changed my diet a bit too, from a high carb to a low carb with lots of good fats ( avocado, seeds, nuts, fish, eggs ).
    Hoping it will show better results in intense workout sets.

  8. says

    I ran into Gretchen the other day, and having not seen her in years, I was amazed to see what she has become! Girl, you are such an inspiration! I have been Paleo and CF for a few months now and I am loving it. There is definitely no going back to “SAD” and traditional gym routine. Thank you for sharing your amazing journey.

    • Gretchen Quast says

      Wow Dasha — your so kind. :) Thank you. I am so glad you found Paleo. That’s awesome!!! Hope to see you soon. :-)

  9. Natalie says

    with switching from a bodybuilding diet to a paleo diet, did you still consume the typical 5-6 meals a day or did you consume around 3 meals a day?

      • says

        While prepping for a figure competition, are the 5-6 meals mandatory or is there a way to do it with the traditional 3 meals a day? I’m a competitior (and Paleo fan!) but I find that the obsession over meal timing and frequency is hard to sustain since I’m a med student. Thanks for any advice you might have on this!

          • says

            Thank you so much…there’s a lot to get stressed about when prepping but meal prep and timing was the WORST. I never really understood why, even when so many people readily admit that more meals doesn’t actually quicken your metabolism or anything, they insist that there is absolutely no way to prep on fewer than 5 meals…

  10. Angie says

    Congrats to you Gretchen! I am also FA (SWA) and would be interested in hearing about your food bag when you fly. I’ve only been paleo for 3 months or so & packing food for my trips is my primary concern now. Thanks for your article!
    With Aloha,
    Angie Williams

    • Gretchen Quast says

      Hey Angie,

      It’s nice to meet another flight attendant who is paleo. :-) I try to make my food as simple as possible when I travel. I bring avocados, coconut chips, coconut butter & olives for fat. Sometimes I also bring a little home made mao (from the amazing book Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan) to mix with shredded chicken or tuna. For protein I bring bags of shredded chicken, tuna — whatever I have available. The veggies are the easy part! Loads of broccoli slaw, carrots, snap peas, grape tomatoes, ETC. Basically whatever I can pack easily. I hope that helps! Good luck and happy flying!!


  11. says

    Amazing story and body!

    Your dedication is inspirational.

    Its interesting how the Paleo diet has you buzzing with energy throughout the day. I have a problem with my energy levels and its having an impact on my work. Maybe, the Paleo Diet is answer.I really need to seriously look into this.

    Thank you for posting.

  12. Amber K says

    This is great! Did you still have to do crazy calorie restrictions and cardio? While on a more traditional bikini competition diet with carbs during the day and none at night and the added stress, I lost my period. It’s probably too personal to ask but is this kind of metabolic damage avoided when approaching competition on a paleo diet?

  13. Jamie says

    I’m so happy you posted this. I did my first competition in April and was absolutely miserable. I too started searching for a new approach and came upon crossfit and paleo. I HAVE NEVER FELT BETTER. I used to have to take 2-3 ambien per night just to sleep. I was totally over-worked, sleep deprived and carb overloaded. I was on every supplement under the sun. I still don’t know if I will ever compete again because like you, it took an emotional tole on myself and my family. But if I did I would certainly go Paleo!! You look amazing by the way:) Congrats!

  14. says

    This is great to hear! I have competed in the past but also got out of it for the same reasons (not being healthy!). Great to hear there’s a healthier way to do it and I may need to look into this and consider competing again!

  15. Katarina Ramirez says

    This article is Gold to me!!
    I’m competing in my first Figure competition in September so currently 12 weeks out and tried the ” competition diet ” in May when I was getting ready for one in July but I’m in the military and was sent out for a few weeks, but when I did the diet I felt Horrible! So I’ve been researching this whole week the right diet for competition and came across this article… LOVE IT! It’s like a Relief off my shoulders, Ill definitely try this and Amy, you might hear from me soon :) THANKS!


  16. Debbie Toomey says

    So I would love to be paleo while training for my next competition but I don’t know what to eat & what portions? How can I get help with this??? I did it my coached way last time and did not like some of things she was telling me to do and I did not like how I felt.

  17. noelle says

    This article is amazing! I’ve lost 50 pounds this previous year and am now training for my first ever figure competition. I follow a paleo lifestyle, but often worry if i’m eating to much or not enough. The internet is helpful, but can be extremely misleading. This article has lead me to believe I am on the right path, although help would be beneficial. How much would a weeks worth of meal plans be?

  18. Stacie says

    Similiar to Gretchen I am a personal trainer and have always eaten very clean similar to Gretchen’s original competition diet maintaining 10% body fat. I ate mostly fruit for starch and one serving of oats a day. I have recently been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and my doctor has removed all starch (grain, fruit and veg starch) my workouts are really struggling right now I feel as if I need some sort of starch for refuel. I’m feeling like my muscles are really flat and energy even lower than before the no starch. I am just starting to research paleo and trying to figure out how to incorporating refuel carbs I am supportive of no grain but don’t know where to begin and add the right amount of starch so it does not hurt my adrenals (my doc feels all starch fruit and veg included will hurt my adrenals) but supports my workouts (lifting and cardio). Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  19. Stacie says

    The article states to have starch pre and post what would be my best choice to not only support paleo but also adrenal fatigue? I have been told no to fruit because of sugar on the adrenals. Do I do sweet potatoes or would fruit just pre and post workout be ok for adrenals?

    • says

      It might be something you would need to play around with and see what worked best. I like sweet potatoes, winter squash, plantains, parsnips, etc. As for how much and all of that, it depends on the person and the workout. For someone with adrenal fatigue issues it’s usually best to limit or forgo the high intensity fight or flight type exercising, and stick to stuff more like weight lifting and walking (which usually doesn’t require quite as much carbs).

      If you would like some specific help, I highly recommend consulting with Amy Kubal. She’s one of the great Registered Dietitians on our team and would be able to help you optimize your diet and nutrition for your situation and goals. You can take a look at her page and rates here http://robbwolf.com/about/team/amy-kubal/. If that’s something that interests you, let me know and I can put her in contact with you.

  20. Stacie says

    Hi Squachy,
    Thanks again. I’ve been sticking to just weights and cardio. I was hoping you would say sweet potatoes that was my thought just wanted that confirmation. I’ve been looking at Amy’s site…thanks!!!!

  21. says

    I didn’t read all the comment, but would love to know if she took any supplementation ie. protein/creatine/bcaa as I imagine none of them are paleo.

    Very interesting article, I eat pretty well yet am always hungry, I’m thinking adding more fats will be the answer.

  22. Greta R says

    Hi Gretchen/Amy,

    First of all, THANK YOU for posting your success story competing on Paleo. There is so LITTLE available on-line in regards to fitness/figure competitions and this lifestyle. I have the same goal – my first Figure Competition going 100% paleo. I also Intermittent Fast as I too find the 5-6 meals/day enslaving. Usually my eating window is 11am-7pm. I am very serious about aquiring help from a trainer/coach who understands my goals/needs without questioning my approach on a paleo diet. I am coming off my first pregnancy and although I was quite fit prior, gained 55lbs during those 9 months and it has taken me 15 months to lose most of that. I am still looking to lose 5-10 more to get to where I want to be. To be honest, I haven’t been lifiting as much or as heavy as I’d like, so I need to get back into a solid routine. But help is needed. What is the best way to inquire about your services and to talk about my goals 1-1?

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