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“It’s not for the weak-minded:” Anna Wright Shares Her First Bodybuilding Competition Experience

By Published On: January 12th, 2024

Brain fog. Exhaustion. Insatiable hunger. 

These might sound like symptoms of COVID or the flu, but they’re actually symptoms that Anna Wright suffered while preparing for her first bodybuilding competition. 

Anna is currently a college student and was a gymnast all throughout her teenage years. She got weightlifting as soon as she graduated high school. 

“I finished gymnastics when I graduated and there’s not a lot of options to be a gymnast out of high school unless you’re going to be an olympian,” she explained. Seeking a new exercise outlet, Anna turned to weightlifting and strength training.

A few years later, Anna found herself completely immersed in the weightlifting world. She followed countless fitness influencers on Instagram and some of her gym friends were interested in getting involved in bodybuilding competitions. 

“I have one friend who was getting into competing for figure bodybuilding and she works with all of these different athleticwear brands like Alphalete and Oner Active, and she just opened up this whole new world for me,” Anna said. 

From there, she found a trainer through social media that was looking to coach a woman for an upcoming bikini bodybuilding competition. “I was her first client! So it was something that was new for both of us.”

Competition Prep

Anna chose to compete in the bikini division at the National Physique Committee Long Island Championship on November 18, held at Hauppauge High School. Her competition preparation started all the way back in May, which is when she started working on maintaining her caloric intake with her trainer. From mid-May to August, she worked on finding balance and maintaining calories, while also building up muscle and bulking slightly. (Bulking is generally defined as eating in a strategic caloric surplus in order to build muscle mass and strength.) 

From August to November, Anna started seriously preparing. Over eight weeks, she began lowering her calories week by week. 

“It wasn’t too bad from the end of August to the end of September, but once I reached October, it was very difficult,” she explained. “I was following a very strict plan and simply put, I was hungry.” 

While Anna would eat a lot – between six and seven meals per day – the calories in each meal weren’t there. One meal would consist of four ounces of plain chicken breast and a half of a cup of white rice. 

“My carbs just were not there. I was eating vegetables, but not real carbs.”

The preparation process was not easy on Anna. She has both obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety, and combined with her history in gymnastics, the entire process took a significant toll on her mental health. 

“Everything I did in gymnastics was judged on perfection, so I carried that mindset with me throughout this process as well. If I messed up or went over on weighing my food, it would really freak me out,” she explained. “You look at bodybuilding and you see all of these girls on stage and that’s supposed to be the pinnacle of health, but the process of getting there is the most unhealthy thing ever.”

Throughout the month of October, Anna decreased her food and increased her cardio. She was doing up to an hour and a half of cardio every single day on top of conditioning and bodyweight exercises that she was doing daily. Without the necessary nutrients to provide energy, it was difficult to complete all of this and took a significant toll on Anna’s body. 

“About two weeks before competition, you have to slowly dehydrate yourself as well. I went from drinking two gallons of water, down to one gallon, then a half a gallon, and then only four cups a day,” she said. “I would take medication to help me pee out my water a few days before competition too – I was so dehydrated.” 

The Day of Competition 

The day of competition, Anna arrived at 9 a.m. to check-in and get her second coat of spray tan. The first coat of spray tan was done the day before. Fake tan is used by bodybuilders to accentuate their muscles for competitions. 

“You can’t wear deodorant when you get a spray tan done because it can cause your armpits to turn green, so everyone smelled so bad,” Anna laughed. 

Something that stuck out to Anna was the plea to drink water from one of the competition hosts. 

“He said, ‘please stay hydrated throughout this competition,’ because they had already had two people pass out and therefore become disqualified – and this was all before 10 a.m.,” Anna said. “There were points where I felt light headed and needed to sit down and drink water. Looking slightly leaner on stage isn’t worth feeling ill.”

The first part of the day was pre-judging, which is where the judges decide the placing for all categories. Anna competed in three categories: true novice, which is for those new to competing; juniors (18-23), which was her age category; and her height category, which is any woman of any age who is 5 ‘1. 

She went on stage around 2 p.m. for the juniors category. “I was so nervous before going on stage,” she shared. “The requirements for the competition are front pose, s-pose, side pose, and back pose with transitions in between. I don’t remember much from it other than getting through my routine because I was so nervous.”

Anna said that the best placement on stage is to be in the middle of the pack. The further you are from the middle, the lower your placement is. Originally, Anna was placed second or third. 

“That was pretty good for my first time! I was competing against girls who have been doing this for their entire lives, so placing that high made me really proud of myself.” 

During final judging, they bring all of the competitors back up on stage and place them officially. Anna ended up placing third in the juniors category, fourth in the true novice category, and sixth overall for her height class. 

“I had the craziest post-competition high,” Anna laughed. “I was completely over the moon. I didn’t even care about placing high, I was just so happy that I competed in the first place.”

Anna said that the environment for bodybuilding is very encouraging, as opposed to other sports where competition is championed. 

“In a lot of other sports, it’s very much you versus other players, whereas in bodybuilding, the only person you’re competing against is yourself,” she explained. “In gymnastics and cheerleading, I found that people will bring you down as a way to elevate themselves. In bodybuilding, I found that everyone was so encouraging and motivating.” 

Biggest struggles 

But Anna’s incredible experience on stage doesn’t cancel out the struggles she endured to get there. 

Since her competition, she’s been struggling with body dysmorphia, which is a condition in which someone obsesses over their appearance and supposed “flaws” that are often unnoticeable to others. 

“I’ve been dealing with a lot of panic attacks since the show because I kept thinking I was getting fat, but I wasn’t. It was my body retaining water and fat more easily because I had been depriving it of its basic needs,” she shared. 

Anna also abstained from alcohol for the duration of her prep before the show because it can hinder progress significantly. A week after her show, she went to a party at her friend’s house and suffered a panic attack. 

“It was so great to be around all of my friends, but everyone doing normal things like drinking beer and eating pizza gave me so much anxiety because I had been on such a strict regimen. ‘Cheating’ or letting myself enjoy my life in any way was scary to me,” she said. “Nobody talks about how much work it is to readjust back to normal.” 

Participating in the competition also hindered her social life significantly. During the three months that she was preparing, she barely saw her friends or family. 

“I would wake up, go to class, take a nap, eat, workout, and sleep,” she said. “I was so exhausted all the time. I didn’t see any of my friends and they understood, but it was very isolating.” 

Now, Anna is doing much better. She’s been seeing her friends more regularly and seeing a therapist that is reminding her of the importance of balance in all aspects of life. 

“What I was doing was temporary. It’s not something that’s sustainable,” she said.

Anna found that while she was at her leanest during her prep, she received lots of compliments from people, all of whom were praising how good she looked. 

“I felt really weird about it because the process of getting there is so unhealthy,” she said. “I appreciated the support, but I wish more people would understand the damage it does to your body.” 

Damage, indeed. Anna regularly received blood tests during her prep to ensure that her hormones were stable as she was lowering her food intake. She didn’t get her period for over two months. She encountered brain fog to the point where it was difficult to do daily tasks. Her mood swings and emotional fluctuations were all over the place. 

“I feel like when people are starting to consider training for a bodybuilding competition, they should know about these effects beforehand. If I knew that all of this was going to happen to my body before I got into it, I think I seriously would have reassessed and maybe waited to do the competition or even changed my preparation protocol.” 

Going forward 

So why compete again? 

“That’s a good question and I think about it a lot. Throughout prep, there were so many times where I wanted to quit, but getting on that stage on the day of the show made it all worth it,” she said. “It’s definitely not something for the weak-minded, though.” 

While Anna does plan on competing again, she’s going to give herself some time to adjust back to normal first. 

She also plans on competing in a different competition. She’s found a fitness division that combines gymnastics, dance, cheerleading, and bodybuilding – all of which are right up her alley. 

Pre-judging for the fitness division is similar to that of bodybuilding in that competitors still have to do the posing routine, but the final is a fun gymnastics/dance routine to showcase fitness skills in other ways. 

“The fitness division is different too because you need to have the energy to do all of the skills in the dance routine, so that means I’ll be drinking a lot of water and I won’t have to cut my carbs nearly as much as for the bikini competition,” she said. “I’m looking forward to that. I think it’ll be a lot more fun and will be better for my body and my mental health, too.” 

*Disclaimer: All medical claims made in this article are information provided by the subject. The information is general in nature and not specifically meant for any particular individual. You should always seek out medical assistance from a medical professional based on your individual needs and circumstances.