Valuable lessons learned

As I near the end of the competition season, it’s time to reflect back on what I’ve learned, what I did differently from the past, and what I’ll do differently next year.

First and foremost, I want to talk about expenses. The cost of competing is not cheap. But, this year, I’ve learned that saving a few dollars is not worth the risk of losing a placing among my competitors.

I’ll start with nutrition…


All those chicken breasts, egg whites, sweet potatoes and vegetables really add up. Thankfully I live around the corner from Costco – it’s like that place was made for bodybuilders. They stock exactly what we need and in bulk:

  • three cartons of egg whites at Costco costs about the same as one carton at your average supermarket
  • you can buy 7-8 fresh chicken breasts for around $25
  • a pack of three large flank steaks will set you back about $30
  • don’t even get me started about asparagus in bulk – amazing!


I’m not a big supplement person – most likely because I’m really bad at remembering to take pills and potions, but also because I believe anything my body needs, I can get naturally. My coaches, Mindi and Dennis, follow the same belief. They’re not big proponents of pushing supplements. I stick to the basics:

  • good quality multi-vitamin, or Greens+ with multi vitamin
  • fish oil, the liquid kind, not capsules – your body absorbs it faster, and the liquid doesn’t remind you of what you ingested in the form of belching, like capsules do
  • whey protein powder – my favourite is BioX, and I don’t bother with isolate (if the reps from BioX are reading this, feel free to throw some free protein my way ;))
  • caffeine – a small black coffee pre-workout does wonders during competition prep week when my metabolism slows


Whether it be with an online trainer or a personal trainer at your gym, this is a must for anyone hoping to compete.

For my first show in 2006, the boy bought me some PT sessions to get me stage ready. I knew nothing about working out or how to devise a workout program, and was thankful for the help.

  • a good trainer will set you back about $200-$300/mth
  • a lot of online trainers offer competition prep flat rates, which start about 12-16 weeks out
  • it’s a bonus if you can find an online trainer you like that lives nearby and offers one-on-one or group sessions at “team” rates, such as Team O’Brien – there are also leg bootcamp days and posing classes available for Team O’Brien members, at discounted rates


This is probably where you’ll sink most of your hard-earned dollars. A $4000 suit, compared to a $400 suit, may not be the difference between 1st and 2nd place, but it certainly makes you stand out among your competitors on stage. That being said, too much bling may be distracting for the judges and cost you a placing because they’re too dazzled by the bling to notice your dazzling physique.

  • my first competition suit cost about $150. I came in 2nd. Not bad, considering I knew nothing about competition and didn’t have much muscle to brag about, although I was pretty lean

  • the second one was a fluke (see my post “The Cost of Competing”) I found Berns, of Passionfruit Designs, out of desperation and I’m glad I did. The suit still cost me about $250

The next two suits came about this year. After competing in my Passionfruit suit for the IDFA pro show in June, it was time for change.

  • I found the suit in photo 1 below on Diva Exchange, it’s secondhand and cost me $500
  • The final suit (in the photo below) was custom made for me by the amazing Colleen McConnell of The Crystal Suit. The design began in my head, Colleen made it come to life. The cost? $855 + HST (thanks, Dalton)


Make sure you check your organization’s website for what shoes are allowed, some won’t allow platforms and have heel height restrictions.

  • find them on eBay here
  • online shops (listed below) also carry them – shop around and be sure to check out shipping costs before committing to buying them
  • or check your local stripper shop πŸ˜‰


You can cut costs here, if you must. As any competitor can attest: it doesn’t matter how nice your nails look the day before the show, by showtime your hands are a mess with tanning product – what the hell goes on while we sleep anyway??!?


I have a confession: I have a makeup fetish. Just ask the boy, I have cupboards and drawers full of it, and I have learned the art of makeup through YouTube. Yep, everything I know about makeup I owe to YouTube – and I think I do a pretty good job of it.

To have it professionally done, will cost you around $100. You could go to a MAC makeup counter and ask them to do you up for a fee, they’ll show you how to apply it, then you’ll then be able to buy the same makeup they use and re-create it yourself the day of the show.

Top Tip: don’t forget to layer your makeup on heavy – I’m talking SCARY heavy – especially your eye makeup. It needs to withstand the washing-out effect of the stage lighting. And, don’t forget fake lashes – a must. To reduce the “scariness”, I use half lashes. They’re still noticeable under the stage lights, but don’t make me look like a drag queen up close.


Unless you’re a hairdresser, or have a talent for giving yourself a professional blow-out, do not attempt this alone. My hair was super short for my first show, so I was able to self-style. Actually, I self-styled for the second show too – it was still relatively short then as well.

This season was a different story, my hair was long. Instead of a tan-hair-makeup package, I opted for a blow-out from my own hairdresser, Kat Marcus of The Saloon. She’s awesome and gave me Victoria’s Secret volume. Volume is important when it comes to hair for the stage, those lights can really burn out definition – the bigger, the better.


I left this for last, for a purpose. This was my biggest learning curve, and I believe, cost me some favour with the judges at my last show. The importance of a dark tan cannot be stressed enough. Allow this photo to help me explain.

The first image is from the Fouad Abiad Open, on 6 October. I paid $80 for a professional spray tan. Despite issues with the tan not drying properly, and it ending up a dripping mess by the end of the show, it was dark and enhanced my physique. I won all my classes, and took the overall prize too.

The second image is a week later, at the KW Oktoberfest Classic. I decided to try to save a few bucks and tan myself with Jan Tana Hi-Def colour. The boy and I started layering it on Wednesday before the show. We slapped on two layers each day, then topped it with Jan Tana Competition Colour the night before and day of the show. I was dark, but not dark enough and it showed. I was washed out under the stage lights and looked flat and “watery” for pre-judging.

I decided to get some last minute help from Pam Bortmes of Absolute Health & Fitness. She threw on a couple of coats of spray tan and, as you can see in the third image, I was finally dark. Really dark.

But, by the night show, it was too late, the damage already done. Speaking of “damage”, the damage I did to my skin with all that self-tanner in the week leading up to the competition is still evident as I write this, it’s dry and scaly and needs some serious conditioning before I get spray-tanned for my final show of the year, in November.

In my opinion, a good tan is just as important as proper nutrition and training. At the end of the day, what is all that work worth if you don’t take pride in displaying it with a good tan? Of course, a good, dark tan isn’t going to give you muscle you don’t have πŸ˜‰

For a hassle-free day you can get a full hair/makeup/tan package for about $300-400. It really does add up.


The above list is by no means exhaustive, there are many things and people willing to take your hard-earned bucks at the shows:

  • fuel costs getting to and from the competition
  • hotel costs
  • membership fees for the hosting organization
  • entry fees
  • professional photos & video of you on stage – gotta have memories of peak day
  • professional “promo” shots pre- or post-show – for magazines, contests, etc.
  • jewelry – you’ll definitely need some extra accessory bling, check out eBay for cheap costume jewelry (links below)
  • silk robe or loose “breathable” clothing – for when you are spray tanned, or to hide your rockin’ body from prying eyes of fellow competitors backstage – why ruin the element of surprise?
  • sports therapies: massage, active release, intra muscular stimulation, etc. – trust me, without good benefits this gets expensive and is a necessary evil


  • DO NOT skimp on tanning, leave it to the professionals
  • save money by doing your own hair and makeup IF you have some artistic ability
  • buy your suit secondhand (either on eBay or Diva Exchange) – ensure you protect yourself by paying through Paypal, in case the deal falls through
  • if you use an online trainer, be honest with yourself and work hard – you’re only cheating yourself if you don’t
  • budget – look at what your bank account says and what you can reasonably afford. These competitions AREN’T cheap!


  • drink more water pre-contest, instead of trying to water load and de-load the week before
  • schmooze more – can’t underestimate the power of public relations!
  • pay for my bloody tan!?!

There are probably many things I should be listing here, but this post is long enough and my fingers are sore from typing!

I hope you found it informative and helpful!


Sinful Shoes – I bought these


Swoon Sexy



The Crystal Suit – Colleen’s personal touch throughout the entire suit making process is second to none!

Tamee Marie – expensive, but some VERY nice suits. You can also “rent” them for around $300

Saleyla – affordable suits, but crystals are slightly lower quality


Rhinestone bracelets – eBay

Rhinestone earrings – eBay


Cherry Bombs – a little bit of everything


Figure Fashion Jewelry




2 thoughts on “Valuable lessons learned

  1. Thank you so much Lisa, as someone very interested in competeing in the future this has given me great insight and better understanding. It’s everything you mention here that us newbies want to know. There is so much to learn, so many questions…lol. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more articles from you….Cheers!

    • It was your message that inspired this post. I’m glad it has information you can use! I’ll start working on the next post – that should answer your remaining questions! πŸ˜‰

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