How I Eat and Train for Figure Competition

By: Suzanne Barlas
Magazine 13 #1

I’ve been competing in Figure for 3 years now and have learned some things that might help you whether your goal is to compete, or even if it is just to make your body the best it can be. Either way you’re trying to achieve the same thing – a toned, lean, muscular physique. In this article I’m going to tell you how I do it. I’ll cover my eating, supplements, training, and anything else I can think of that might help you achieve your goal.

Here’s a typical day for me

Get up at 4:00 a.m. (now that doesn’t mean you have to get up when I do if you want to follow my program, but it does mean that you should either get some of your training or cardio completed before work, and that you prepare your food for the day in advance).

I eat breakfast, do my weight training, get ready for work, pack my food, and then it’s off to work for the day.

When I get home from work, I do a session of cardio. For cardio, I ride the stationary bike if I stay inside, or I go running outside, or head to the gym to use the pool (yes, swimming is definitely a cardio workout). I am in bed by 9:00 or 10:00 pm.

I eat 7 meals a day, and I prepare all my food ahead of time. I like to cook oven-stuffer roasters for the bulk of my chicken meals. I then weigh out all my food, package it into individual serving sizes, put some in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer. I pre-cook several steaks as well. I make rice in large quantities and keep that in the refrigerator, too. The only foods that I really prepare on a day to day basis are my salads and vegetables.

Suzanne Barlas with trophy

My Off-Season Diet


Stay healthy, add muscle, and keep body-fat gain to a minimum.

The off-season for a competitor is just as important as the pre contest push. I recommend my off-season diet that I have listed below to any female that wants to start getting in shape. Sure, you might need to adjust the amounts to suit your metabolism, but try to stick to the make-up of the meals and the food choices. I adjust it myself sometimes. If I get too hungry I just eat a little more of the protein, carbs, and healthy fats. One thing I learned is that by including the "good" fats in my diet such as nuts, salmon, and steak, I am able to stay much leaner without being hungry. On average, I eat about 20-30% fat a day.

My typical off-season nutrition plan looks something like this:
Meal #1
5 egg whites
½ cup oats
10 almonds
Meal #2
6 oz. potato
6 oz. chicken
½ cup vegetables
Meal #3
2 rice cakes
2 corn tortillas
2 tbsp peanut butter
5 oz. fish
Meal #4
1½ scoops Ultimate Muscle Protein
1 tablespoon peanut butter
Meal #5
8 oz. potato
6–oz. chicken
½ cup vegetables
5 oz. chicken
large salad
1 cup of peas
¼ avocado
Meal #7
2 scoops Muscle Provider
cup strawberries

Don’t think that I just came up with this nutrition plan right off the bat. I had to learn from my mistakes. And I made quite a few. The first thing I learned is that there is a big difference between working out for everyday life and trying to get into your best-ever condition for competition. Starting my first contest prep, I had no idea how much weight I really had to lose and the steps in my nutrition plan that I had to take in order to get ready to compete.

I struggled for months to try to lose the fat that I needed to lose. I did everything wrong, from over-training to over-dieting and seemed to be getting no where. I tried to stick to the traditional method of no sugar and very little fat in my diet, but my energy was so low and I was so hungry that there was honestly no way that I could stick to the plan. My workouts were starting to suffer and my running looked more like grandma’s slow walk than an athlete training for competition.

I finally hit on the solution. It really was rather simple. Cut the carbs a little, increase protein, and start eating some "good fats". I added a little red meat into my diet and added a small amount of nuts and/or peanut butter. It made all the difference. Before long my energy increased and wonder of wonder, I started losing body fat.

Then I hit on the next "secret". I started taking Beverl’s Super Pak to fill in any micro nutritional gaps that my restricted diet had created in my overall nutrition. Then to give my fat loss another boost, I started using Energy Reserve and 7-Keto before my cardio workouts for accelerated fat loss. Then, I realized it might be a good idea to add Glutamine Select into my program to preserve my muscle while dieting. I took it before and after workouts, and also before bedtime.

Once I added these supplements I started getting results really fast. I had more energy, retained muscle that I had built up over the previous 9 years and was losing fat faster. Just what I wanted!

Contest Preparation

When it was time to start preparing for my first contest this year, I just increased my cardio to 45 minutes per day, 5 days a week. Nutrition-wise I cut my carbs in half and increased my protein to replace the missing carbs. It really was that simple. And, it worked very well for me. In fact, I didn’t have to do much more to reach my contest weight. I only needed to lose six pounds for my Figure competitions this year.

If you have a written nutrition and supplementation plan, it is easy to make changes as necessary. I used the off-season to experiment, got a good base for what did and did not work, and then was able to use that information when implementing my pre contest plan.

When contest prep starts I really get strict with my supplements. I learned during my first year of competition how important supplements were. Now I always keep an ample stock of Beverly supplements on hand. I bought a five month supply at this year’s Arnold Expo because I don’t like to be without.

My Favorite Workout Routine:

I won’t go into my entire training routine because just about any routine out there will work as long as you are consistent and train progressively. That means don’t just settle for using the same weight, sets, and reps every session. Always try to add one more in perfect form. Or, as you advance add another exercise, increase your sets, change your rep range, and always try to increase weight when you reach the top of your designated rep range.

I do want to share my leg training routine with you. Legs are a problem for many females so maybe I can offer some help. My favorite leg routine is simple, yet effective. This is the leg workout I’d normally do in the off- season to build and shape the legs, with specific attention to the glutes and hamstrings. (We all need it, don’t we?)

I start out with a little lighter weight on the lunges for my first sets. This way I am able to push another 20 pounds or so if I pyramid the weight up. It is also very important to push through the heel to get the maximum benefit from lunges.

My second exercise is the leg press with feet high and close. Your foot position with toes sticking off the top of the foot plate makes pushing from the heels mandatory. This version works your hamstrings and glutes much more thoroughly than the regular leg press.

The last two exercises are self-explanatory.

This routine could be done with light weights, too. Just shorten the rest intervals. The four exercises could also be done as giant sets. For example, for more of an aerobic weight training session, I could do a giant set of lunges, leg presses, prone hamstring curls, and seated hamstring curls, then rest, then repeat that sequence 3 or 4 times. That’s why I like this routine. It’s effective, but I can do so many different things with the routine just depending on how much rest I decide to take between sets.

ExerciseSets RepsWeight
Smith Machine Backwards Lunges612 each legpyramiding the weight up
Leg Press Feet High and Close415keep weight the same for all sets
Prone Leg Curls412keep it the same
Seated Leg Curls412keep it the same


There is one more important aspect to Figure competition, presentation. To achieve a good presence on stage, I make it a structured part of my schedule just like training and cardio. I set aside time twice a week to practice posing. I go to the Olympia and the Arnold Classic every year and watch the pros. I see how they perform on stage and then implement some of what I see the professionals do with my own ideas. This way I am able to come up with a professional-style presentation that fits my own personality and physique.

There’s more to competing than just having the perfect shape or physique. Your tan, suits, and presentation are also just as important. During my first year of competing my physique was about as good as could be expected, but from a presentation standpoint, I was far behind. The biggest problem was my tan. I could never seem to get dark enough no matter what method I tried. Even if I went tanning and then put on 3-4 bottles of tanning products, I was never dark enough. I finally came across a product called Claude Groulx’s Final Touch. It was formulated for bodybuilders and made me really, really dark. I used it after I tanned and used my 3-4 bottles of tanning products. My tan was so dark that I was actually "too dark". Luckily, I was able to squeak by for the rest of my first competition season. Since then I have found another product that I really like. It’s called Stage Tan by Jan Tana.

Suzanne Barlas 2 piece close up pose

This year, doing National shows, I found that all the traveling brings up other contingencies. It is crucial to have several days of food packed for each trip. Now, I portion out all my food ahead of time and package it into individual servings. I froze all the meat product packages so they would stay preserved while traveling. I learned that it is not a good idea to depend on room service for your food before a show. The hotel food service just does not understand the importance of no oil, salt, etc. They think they are doing you a favor by putting seasonings on your food. Even when they remember your request, there are often residual oils and seasonings on the grill they use to prepare your food. Be prepared.

Final Thoughts

I competed in some of the toughest figure competitions in the country the past year. I did well, placing 5th at the Emerald Cup followed by 10th place at this year’s Junior Nationals. These results have spurred me on to do even better next year. Wish me luck!

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