Anna Muir from Te Puke has always been a runner and used to play competitive sport, but keeping fit as a mum with four kids and a busy life can definitely be a challenge. In 2016 she was inspired to try something new. She had noticed the stunning achievements of another Te Puke woman, Lyn Wright, who trained at the same gym – Te Puke Health and Fitness – and who had been scoring multiple wins in body building competitions. Anna decided she wanted to try it.
“I used to see Lyn in the supermarket looking so great and I’d be like, ‘what’s in her trolley?’ In 2016 I had got quite overweight, so I set myself a goal to do one body building competition before I turned 40 (in November 2017).”
Body building is a combination of building muscle, eating the right foods and getting adequate rest. For competitors, like Anna and Lyn, getting their bodies in shape for contests (the competitive season runs from April to October) is also about shedding fat, known as ‘cutting’, to make the ripped body fully visible. The sport is not just about pulling some weights at the gym; it’s a carefully planned and rigorous routine requiring months and months of determination and commitment and preferably under a trainer’s supervision.
“I didn’t get serious about it until Lyn put me onto Kaye O’Neill who is a trainer from Mt Maunganui and has done a lot of competitions. She told me what to eat and what category to enter, and I thought, ‘On my God, what have I signed myself up for?’ But I’m a very determined person. I’m at the gym five days a week, usually for less than an hour, and really enjoy it. I stick my headphones in and go hard out.”
Anna exceeded her goal last season by entering three competitions – each involving a judging session with set poses and an individual routine with dance moves – and even though she didn’t place, she’s now addicted to the sport. Both women compete in the ‘figure’ category which requires toning and definition and a bit of muscle without going to the extreme; it’s still quite feminine, they say.
Not trying to look masculine
Lyn, 53, hadn’t played any competitive sport as an adult, and like many people, had always thought body building was about women trying to look like men and didn’t want a bar of it.
“At 45, if someone said that I was going to get up on stage and strut my stuff in a bikini I would have thought they were crazy, but then a year later I was doing it and it was great. To be able to accomplish that at 46 felt amazing.
“It’s not about looking masculine. It’s just a really great way to tone up your body and give you back a bit of shape because when we get to a certain age we tend to lose that shape. Training for competitions was my excuse for going to the gym.”
Now Lyn works there too and is studying to become a personal trainer. She won the first competition she entered and has now accumulated “about 40 trophies” from both national and regional competitions in the NABBA New Zealand body building federation (there are four different federations in New Zealand with a number of different categories). She won the 2017 Nationals in the Open Figure category, the 50+ in 2015 and the 40+ in 2013. Needless to say she got addicted very quickly.
“When you do well there’s always that aim to keep working hard at it and do even better the next year,” says Lyn.
Shed fat, maintain muscle
Maintaining the right nutrition can be the real challenging part though, especially for newcomers to the sport. Pre-competition fat ‘cutting’ needs to begin 3-4 months out and essentially involves a high protein, low-fat diet of limited calories that maintains muscle mass while reducing fat.
Where Lyn can visually judge how much of each food she can eat, Anna weighs her food and counts calories meticulously, initially cutting down to 1500 per day and then to 1200 for three months (maintenance level of calories for an average height/weight female, aged 40, would be approximately 2000 calories per day, depending on exercise levels). Despite having to eat every three hours or so, ‘cutting’ means the body is in constant calorie deficit.
“When I first started, I really struggled with the fatigue so would sleep a lot and would have to drink a lot of coffee to stay awake,” says Anna. “For me working and having four kids, it hasn’t been easy; it felt like I was walking through mud all day.
“I eat a lot of omelettes made with just egg whites and I add spinach and mushrooms, but what saved me was protein bars and Weight Watchers jelly. I would make a whole jelly in the morning and eat it before bed. I needed to know there was something I could look forward to. It meant I went 10 or so calories over my limit, but then I was expending over 1000 calories during the day just by going to the gym and being a busy mum.”
In competition mode Lyn’s intake consists of rolled oats and protein powder, protein shakes, green salads, scrambled egg whites, grilled chicken breast (without skin) and white fish.
“I’m very strict with myself because I know it works but you have to be really organised and committed, especially during cutting season. You don’t want to be a social butterfly because you can’t eat what everyone else does – that could set you back a whole week; you actually need to hide yourself away a bit more from social occasions.
“It all seems really hard at first but when you go on stage it’s all worth it. For some people it’s just a one-time bucket list thing and for others they love it so much they go through all that hardship to do it again the next year.”
Following their passion
Both women say a lot of people can’t understand why they put themselves through all that stress and Anna particularly has had to reassure her children who wonder why their mum is “so skinny and tired and grumpy all the time”. The both say it’s a passion that some people just don’t get.
“People ask why I do it and I say, ‘why do we do anything in life?’ I love it and I don’t really care what other people think,” says Lyn. “It’s my reason for going to the gym and when I do well I feel proud of myself, and for 80% of the year it keeps me really fit and healthy.”
As a sport for mature women, there’s a lot going for it – the oldest competitor in NABBA NZ is in her 60s – so Lyn is planning to continue for as long as she can. And after a festive season of yummy (and very tempting) foods, both women are now back into training to prepare for the competitive season ahead.