When it comes to staying motivated for the gym, I feel like it’s nearly impossible to do so 365 days a year. Those winter nights where it’s so dark and rainy all you want to do is eat a nice dinner, curl up in bed and watch Netflix. Or those summer nights where all your pals are out for mid week dinner or drinks and you have to toy between going and risking a heavy night of food and drink or drag yourself to the gym. Within any season, there’s going to be times where you just can’t be assed to go. We all have them!
After competing twice last summer I went through a stage where I just lost all love for the gym. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy I challenged myself enough to compete 3 times, but it turned something I used to love doing into a chore. I was going to the gym because I had to on prep, and then after prep, I was going cos I felt I needed to, to stay in shape. I wasn’t going because I loved being there or loved how it made me feel.
The gym for me used to be somewhere I went to where I could push myself as much as possible, lift heaving things or run as fast as I could or even set myself new challenges to bear myself each week. But after the chore like prep life, I was turning up after work tired, with no plan, no real want to challenge myself and then leaving an hour later not really have accomplished much.
I went through a stage of doing HIIT style workouts – I thought I’d give the bodybuilding a break and just see what this had in store. It was fun, but I am so used to having a coach who lays all my workouts out for me and just following them (when you’re competing this is the best thing so you can just focus on getting through each day, lol) so when it came to being creative with my HIIT workouts I felt a little blank. Also paired with the fact in my home gym there isn’t that much space to do all the fun HIIT stuff you see on insta or do all these cool exercises without someone getting in your way..
Then I tried my hand at running. Considering my mum is a 10 x marathon runner, 4th woman of her age, most recently smashed out a 3:18 marathon in Chicago last month, I figured I may try following in her footsteps. A few 10k races later I gladly realised it’s just not for me..
But now I’ve finally found my feet at Marchon Athletic, a place where I get my ass wooped but some wicked PT’s, I’m getting stronger, fitter and having fun at the same time with a mixture of weights and HIIT stuff, always finishing with some disgusting conditioning the coaches have in store. I’m in my element and have found my love for training again!
I liked competing but what I loved was the challenge, not actually being on stage. I love food. I love socialising. So it was only a matter of time that I found somewhere I could push myself with new challenges, have fun and not have to restrict myself to ridiculous measures to get in an un-maintainable shape. It’s really important to know that you can get stronger, fitter, better aesthetically and physically without going to the extreme. Competing for me in my head was the only way I could get to that level and look a certain way, which is just so ridiculous! Abs are so overrated anyway, I had a 6 pack and still didn’t think i was lean enough! And not worth not being able to spend time with your friends and family, meals out, socialising or enjoying life.
With competing also comes the psychological and physical factors. Not everyone who competes will struggle with both or either, obviously it’s completely different for everyone. What I mean by that is some may find the diet side super super hard, or some may find the training or social side more difficult.
It’s a shock to the system – restrictive eating. If you’re used to not tracking your food or eating well but relaxing on the weekend, it hits you hard when you have to count every, single, calorie. Been there, done that, weighed the broccoli 🥦🤷🏼♀️ On prep you’re on such a calorie restricted diet you find yourself not eating a lot of food groups or if you are you’re eating the bare minimum. The last few weeks tend to just be protein and veg. Every day all day. It’s thrilling, really. So once the comp is over, you think you can go back to eating normally?! Nuhuh! As fun as the post show binge fests look, if you’re not careful you can mess things up for both your mind and your body.
Not only can it encourage you to get into the whole binge/restrict cycle, your poor stomach hasn’t had that much food in so long. Queue cramps and a lot of visits to the loo.
The biggest affect competing had on me is both physically and mentally in a way. The impact it’s had on my mind is that I’ve found it so hard to see myself now as anything other than out of shape. Once being so small and lean you just always compare yourself to that size, even if it was unmaintainable, unhealthy and just unnecessary. It’s body dysmorphia basically, and hard mentally constantly putting myself down and being sensitive about it, but I’m slowly getting used to the thought that I can be strong, fit, and look good without being so small and without having to eat next to nothing and I have massively improved since competing for the third time.
Physically, I’ve struggled with digestive issues for nearly a year now. I’m not saying this is all down to competing because I think it’s a number of factors and you can never pinpoint one thing, but I don’t doubt prep had a big part to my play. My hormones were all over the place, I wasn’t eating much food my body so I bought my metabolic basal rate so so low, I wasn’t nourishing my body, it was deprived thats for sure! I stopped competing after the summer and slowly bought my calories back up so I was eating more food again and was feeling stronger, fitter and introducing social situations back into my life where I could go out for food and drinks, which is a challenge after prep because you can’t help feeling a little guilty as it’s so different to how you act on prep.
Anyway long story short, in November I started to feel IBS symptoms, bloating, uncomfortable pain in my stomach, waking up looking 6 months pregnant and I hadn’t even eaten a meal yet. It could have been down to so many things but during stressful periods it got so bad, I ended up seeing a specialist, dietitian, CBT and hypnosis therapist, literally everyone under the sun to try and sort my stomach out! Going from a 6 pack to constant bloating and feeling like you need to do a poop but can’t all day every day, is stressful on your mind and body. It encouraged me to change some of my food habits for a while to try and be kinder to my digestion to ease the symptoms, and for a while it did help.
During this period I eased off meat quite a lot but as I train so much, not getting enough protein was always something I wanted to be careful of. The dietitian I saw at London Digestive Centre (she’s amazing) told me that some protein powders and supplements can actually make digestive symptoms worse. For example, for people wanting to go dairy free a lot of them go for pea protein, when actually pea protein is already fermented and there is no longer any good bacteria in the protein powder to promote a healthy gut, it can do the opposite. The claim behind fermented protein powders being better for digestion is based on the removal or pre-digestion of carbs, not healthy bacteria which is good for your tummy. So, in saying that, I went and tried out a new protein powder instead as I wanted one that wasn’t just pea protein but also at the same time didn’t have dairy in. (Note that I am now eating all food groups again and feeling better than ever!!)
It was hard to find one that would be better for my stomach but also vegan. I ended up trying out Innermost’s vegan protein, and it caught my eye because it was made from both pea & rice protein so it had a blend of both and not solely pea protein, as well as added superfoods and super rich in nutrients. There’s a lot of things I look for in a protein and it also helps that the packaging is SO CUTE I just wanted it to look good in my kitchen. I’ve tried out Innermost’s products before (The Strong One and also The Fit Plus Pre-Workout) and I really liked the taste, texture and flavours. Innermost kindly gifted me the products and I would definitely buy from them again.
What I liked about it wasn’t just the matte packaging (even though the instageek in me was screaming), it was the fact that it blends super nice in smoothies so you don’t feel like you’re forcing a shake down you, it’s creamy in oats which is great if you’re like me and prefer to eat rather than drink your calories, and it’s a sweet protein too so you don’t get that sticky, bitty taste and texture. It’s an all rounded blendable, tasty protein and perfect if you struggle to get enough protein from your food.
At the moment I’m not currently supplementing with any added proteins – I am now eating all food groups, my stomach problems have FINALLY improved so much after nearly 12 months of really upsetting struggles with it but I’ve done so many things to fight it and it’s finally paid off! If you’re struggling with similar issues and want to know how I improved my symptoms feel free to message on Instagram (@laurielfharris) and I’d be more than happy to give my tips.