Contrary to what you might think, not every bodybuilding competition is about super-sized muscles. In fact, bikini competitions—a form of female bodybuilding that gained popularity during the 1980s—focus more on a person’s symmetry, shape, and overall conditioning than her bulging muscles. And because spring is the season of renewal, now is a good time to start considering a new diet-and-exercise routine, which is why the average person might want to follow a bikini competitor’s lifestyle. To get that toned look of successful bikini competitors, we’ve created a list of seven steps to help you train with weights … all while eating a plant-based diet.
1. Immune system boost
There’s nothing worse than wasting months of training because a vicious cold keeps you in bed for days, which is why a strong immune system is essential for anyone looking to get into shape. Fatty, refined foods and animal products work to weaken the immune system, while plant-based foods can strengthen it. Unsurprisingly, vegans often have stronger immune systems than meat eaters. Studies have found that macrophages (immune system cells) becomes less effective in people with high cholesterol. Animal-based products are high in cholesterol, so a smart way to lower your cholesterol level is to switch to a vegan diet.
2. Digestion aid
No one wants to feel bloated and gassy while parading around on stage, which is why a plant-based diet makes sense for bikini competitors (and everyone else). Animal products and processed foods tend to stick in your gut longer than is comfortable, which can lead to bowel-system blockages. Filling up on fiber from fruit and vegetables will ensure your digestion stays regular and that you won’t wind up with uncomfortable constipation.
3. Absorb more nutrients
Your body can’t benefit from the vitamins and minerals it’s not able to absorb, which is why well-balanced plant-based diets are so essential for staying healthy. When you fill a portion of your plate with vitamin C-rich foods such as cauliflower, kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage, you will improve your body’s mineral absorption rate dramatically.
4. Better energy levels
No matter how good you look on the outside, not having the energy and enthusiasm to be your best is not fun. Studies have shown that removing animal products from your diet can reduce chronic pain and anxiety, while research shows that vegans experience longer-lasting positive moods with fewer negative mood swings than meat eaters.
5. Metabolism boost
Success for bikini competitors comes from shedding weight in key places for a long and lean frame, and the only way to guarantee this is to play to the strengths of your natural metabolism. While the rate you gain and lose weight is largely affected by your genetics, there are plenty of ways you can modify your diet to maximize your metabolism. Eating high-fiber food helps your body burn calories in the digestion process, while spicy food can boost your metabolism due to their capsinoids (aka, natural chemicals) that create heat in your body and help you release excess energy.
6. Diet components for bikini competitors
To stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to take your diet as seriously as you take your fitness plan. This means cutting out most refined carbohydrates (no junk food, pasta, or bread) and instead filling your plate with raw, organic fruit and vegetables at every meal. Loading up with high-quality plant protein such as seitan, beans, and tofu, and completing your meals with high-protein carbs like sweet potatoes, quinoa, nuts, and oats is a good way to ensure you feel full without overeating.
7. Structuring tips for successful meal plans
Your bikini competition-inspired diet means nothing if you can’t get yourself to follow it. For this reason, it’s important to eat six or seven small meals a day. Not only will you avoid feeling hungry but you’ll also make sure your metabolism has calories to burn. Next, building your meals around macronutrients and not calories is one way to get the ideal amounts of protein, carbs, and fats to help you look your best. Then, make sure to space out each meals so that they’re at least three hours apart, and stop eating an hour before going to sleep. Finally, keep a food journal to notice trends and to determine what’s working best for you.
Chris Willitts is the founder of VegetarianBodybuilding.com, creator of V3 Bodybuilding and Mindful Strength, and a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness, Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine, and Natural Muscle Magazine.