Lacey Johnson - Figure Competitor

My fitness journey began long before I ever knew what bodybuilding was and had always been the easy part for me. I played soccer year-round from the age of 11 and worked out at the local YMCA throughout middle school and high school, and when I did have free time I was usually playing a pick up game of soccer or doing something active outside. I even used to rip the workouts out of Seventeen Magazine and do them in front of the TV using soup cans as weights. When I got to college I continued to workout and play intramural sports, but I still wasn't healthy in terms of fueling and feeding my body.

My health journey actually started during my freshman year of college when my dad passed away from a heart attack and stroke in January 2011. He had two prior to the last and doctors told him he needed to change his eating habits, stop smoking, and start exercising to prevent anymore. I realized after he passed away that his eating habits were probably the most detrimental and promised myself I was going to change my own habits (which were very similar to his) and become more conscious of my health.

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For a short time in college I actually started working on a nutrition minor, that's how dedicated I was. I made small changes at first like not drinking pop and chewing sugary gum, then moved to bigger challenges like not eating fried or fast food. I was still working out and learning about exercising and supplements during this time too.

The following year, January 2012, I moved from Michigan to Florida to participate in the Disney College Program and while I was gone my then boyfriend began getting more into bodybuilding, which is where my journey with lifting weights as a sport actually started.

When he came to visit me for Spring Break I got my first taste of what macros were and how important nutrient timing was, we worked out together and he showed me more strength training exercises, and by the time my internship was over and I moved back home, I decided I wanted to work towards a bikini competition.

I was gaining muscle steadily and found the gym to be a great coping mechanism for the adversity I've faced in my life because it gave me complete control over something. So I wanted to continue that high and I found a coach and we began my training for a bikini competition in June 2013. The only reason I picked bikini was because I felt I didn't have enough muscle for figure and being the impatient person I am, I wanted to jump right into this new world I was seeing all over social media. About halfway through this prep I was feeling very starved and unhappy, and around this time I was due to get my wisdom teeth out. After the surgery I had some complications and used it as an excuse to quit prepping with that coach because it wasn't what I thought it'd be and it was triggering some binge eating episodes.

After that I began really working hard in the gym to gain muscle so I could do figure. My body was responding well and I started researching and learning more about the sport. Eventually I decided I wanted to do an actually figure show and began prepping in Summer 2014 by myself. My first figure show was in September 2014 and I quickly realized how badly I needed a coach, I shouldn't have even been on that stage with that physique but I needed to just jump into it to see if I wanted to spend the time and money on it all.

After the competition I was having a hard time with food and that's when I found Jessie Hilgenberg and the Jessie's Girls programs. I bought the Muscle Building program and went through two rounds of it before deciding I wanted to try and compete again. I had gained a significant amount of muscle and found Shane Heugly, a coach based in Utah, and started prepping with him in Summer 2015. I competed in October and November, qualified nationally, then began a long bulk season while I finished my graduate school courses, and that brings me to my current prep for the fall of 2017.

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Diet and Training

I'm a very picky eater so my diet in terms of the food I eat doesn't change much, rather my macronutrient profile increases so I can gain more muscle in the offseason.

I don't think of it as "dieting" either, I think of it as a healthy lifestyle because the balancing act of enjoying food and eating for health is important to my life. I have an issue with binge eating that I struggle with during prep and off season, so I'm constantly challenging myself to beat that and find this thing called "balance". The diet I've found most effective for that is If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) because the focus, or goal, is to find balance so you don't feel restricted and triggered to binge eat.

I use IIFYM to lose weight during my prep season, but also in the offseason so I don't go crazy when I'm "bulking". So in terms of the methods I use to gain and lose weight using food, it's very simple: eat over maintenance calories/macronutrients to gain and eat under to lose.

My very first competition diet plan was the one I was on when I was prepping for a bikini competition and it was basically a meal plan that said, "4oz of chicken, 100g broccoli, no salt, etc" and looking back I realize that it failed my expectations, but also was the diet that began my binge eating issue. And you'll notice from the last question that I don't like to use the word "diet", but in this case that's exactly what it was. I learned very quickly that a meal plan/restricted diet wasn't going to be effective for me because it triggered binges.

When I prepped for my first actual competition and tried to prep myself I tried every method advertised on social media. I would try carb cycling for a week and be dissatisfied with the results and switch to low carb, then be dissatisfied again, and the cycle continued through every "diet fad" I could find. The reason none of those were effective was because my inability to adhere to them for longer than 1 week.

Once I started working with Shane Heugly I figured out that my body responds well to high protein, high fat, and lower fats for fat loss following a IIFYM approach. I only figured this out by adhering to a method for longer than a couple weeks and even through the process I would look in the mirror and doubt it, want to change it, but then when I really looked at the progress pictures I realized that this method was actually working for me.

Not only is this method effective for physical progress, but also my mental progress in relation to food. I find that any diet fad or lifestyle change CAN be effective for anyone so long as they adhere and commit to it. Some competitors do well with a diet plan that lays out exactly what they can and can't eat, or the typical "bro diet", and that's because they're able to adhere to it and b consistent. As long as you can adhere to something and maintain physical AND mental health, I think the chosen method will be effective.

My training program is pretty simple and not exciting at all: 6 days lifting weights, 1 rest day, and steady state cardio that increases throughout the prep as I get closer to show day.

I like consistency and I do things in the gym that I enjoy instead of trying to switch it up all the time. I don't get bored of the bodybuilding style in the weight room and I don't mind spending a few hours inside doing cardio.

My training split is whatever I feel like during the week, but since I train back and shoulders twice a week I make sure I have two days in between so I don't stress and overload those muscles. My week usually starts on a Sunday and my training split looks something like this:

Sunday: shoulders
Monday: legs
Tuesday: back and biceps
Wednesday: chest and triceps
Thursday: shoulders
Friday: back and biceps
Saturday: rest

Depending on my work schedule my rest day might be in the middle of the week too, but I always make sure I have two solid days in between training should take and back for the second time each week.

Throughout prep you have to decrease carbs and fat to achieve a low body fat percentage so as my carbs decrease I focus eating them more around my workout so I have fuel, and then I eat the rest in veggies and fats the rest of the day. I don't eat a lot of fat before/after my workouts because I want my body to use the carbs as fuel and burn fat. I eat fat throughout the rest of the day to sustain my appetite and keep me full since I'm not eating many carbs.

The balance of training and food really comes down to energy: how much energy you eat (how much food you eat) to how much energy you expend. That right there is the "magical" formula everyone is looking for and knows about to lose fat, but few adhere to because it's hard.

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Building self-confidence to compete

Growing up I was always teased for being too skinny, so I've never felt ashamed or embarrassed of my body or had self-confidence issues in relation to feeling fat. When I think of self-confidence and relate that to my body image, I more readily equate it to the things my body does instead of the way it looks. I feel confident because my legs are strong and my shoulder muscles grow quickly, and I've always felt that no matter what results or body someone ends up with on stage, they should be proud of themselves for going through a prep and completing that final walk.

During my first show I was incredibly nervous, but once I was walking out I felt proud of myself because I pushed my limits and got to a place mentally I never thought I'd be able to go. My pride in what I had been able to accomplish increased my self-confidence during that first show, and during the next two shows I felt the same.

Looking back at my first show I was no where near physically ready to walk on a stage against other women, but I remain confident about that show because I know I worked hard for that body and achieved things I never felt possible.

So when it comes to building confidence to be on stage half naked in a sparkly bikini and an orange spray tan, it really comes down to your mindset going into the show and the feeling of worth you place on competing.

I place my personal value and worth on the effort I put into my prep and I know if I don't win or place, then it wasn't my time, but that doesn't mean I look bad or shouldn't be confident. I'm more confident in the work that I put in and the only times I get down on myself or don't feel confident are the days I didn't put 100% effort into my workouts, my diet, my posing, etc.

If I ever base my self confidence solely on how I look, then I feel like I've failed myself and the people who follow me because that's not why I do competitions. I don't do them for the confidence boost, I do them to see how far I can push myself and prove to other women that they too can push and break their own limits if they put in the work.

On Stage

My last contest I was at my best physically and the feelings I had going into the show were a combination of "I want this to be over" and "I can't believe I worked so hard and got my body to look like this". I had done another competition two weeks prior, but it was rushed and I wasn't ready, so once that competition was over I talked to my coach and told him I wanted to do whatever it took to beat that Physique and what I basically did is cut carbs out of my diet and eat only veggies, protein, and fats, do 3 hours of cardio and grind it out for a week and a half until I started peak week. So going into my last competition I was a whole new person. I had a new suit, I worked on my posing, and everything I was doing I was going full speed, 100%.

During my tan I was feeling confident, very focused, and when I did my check in I was completely focused and confident that I had done everything I could, physically and and mentally, to beat the girl I was two weeks ago. I was completely confident and proud of that, so I knew no matter what happened I was going to be proud of myself and just wanted to enjoy the experience.

I talked with girls back stage, was in awe of the packages people brought, and just did my best to be present and take in every moment. You work so hard for months for less than 1 minute on stage, so I made sure to stay off social media more, take pictures when I could, and just spend time with the other people competing so I could make connections.

I was extremely exhausted, but the second I stepped on stage I knew that's where I wanted to be and why I worked so hard. I took in every moment and did my best to focus on my own personal achievements instead of comparing myself to every other person there. I knew I worked hard and put 100% in and I was proud of that.

After prejudging you basically know where you stand and what place youíre going to be given and based off that I thought I was going to take 1st. During finals I actually took second though and for about 10 minutes I was mad. I looked at the other girl though and realized that it was her time and if I keep working hard I'll have mine. And after that I was content. A few weeks later I saw the professional stage pictures and realized she had beat me because she was leaner but I had better posing. So I took that as fuel and noted that that's what I needed to work out, my conditioning.

Once the competition was over there was a lot of uncertainty about what Iíd do next, but life goes on and I just kept lifting with the intent to beat the girl I was on that stage the next time I got up there.

Life as an Athlete

My life motto has always been that "things happen for a reason" and I wholeheartedly believe that the passing of both my parents and the path that that put me on in life lead me to bodybuilding as a way to inspire others to work on their health and fitness goals.

To me being an athlete isn't about how many times I compete or how many times I place and rank as nationally qualified, it's more about the reach I have and the ability to affect change in otherís lives through health and fitness.

Bodybuilding began as a way for me to be close to an old boyfriend, but in reality it was saving me from letting my mental health eat away at me. After my parents passed away I struggled with depression, and while I still do, bodybuilding has been the thing that gets me out of that mindset and into one that allows me to thrive and progress not only in the gym, but all aspects of life.

My end goal isnít to become a figure pro, but rather to inspire as many people as I can and help them realize that the road to health is actually attainable and doable on a day-to-day basis. People ask me and wonder how I do it and when I take the time to talk them through it and educate them, the lightbulb clicks and suddenly they understand that health is a lifestyle they can manage.

I want to continue competing for myself as a way to have goals, but beyond that my goal is to help people on their own journey.

Ms. Lacey Johnson


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