A Figure Model Goes Paleo: The Recipe for Success
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.