Stephanie Dunkel - Bikini Competitor

I have been an athlete my entire life, but when I went to college, all of that changed. I gained the usual “freshman 15” (or maybe 30) and rarely ever did anything physical. I would go in spurts where I would maybe go for a run here and there, but I never touched a weight for years. Once I graduated, I started a job as a corporate tax accountant and sat at a desk all day, everyday. I thought that eating at home, or bringing my food to work was being healthy (didn’t matter what kind of food it was). I just figured that I wasn’t eating out, so I must be eating healthier.

A post shared by Stephanie Dunkel (@sddunkfit) on

I always followed fitness people on social media and it was always my motivation to look like them. I saw many people join different programs so I decided to try them out. I started with just doing some cardio & body weight workouts. I lost weight & toned, I started to feel better about myself, and I really was getting my self-confidence back. I loved having a routine and sweating made me feel good. But, I hit a plateau. I still didn’t look like that fitness chicks on social media and I wasn’t looking any different after completing several different programs. I started to get into lifting a little bit, but I only followed programs that told you want to do, for how long, etc. This didn’t last long because I felt that I needed to lift heavy & keep up with the people who I was watching when I should have been focusing more on form and what I was able to do.

I kept up with the cardio and body weight workouts for a while because I was afraid that if I stopped doing it, I would just gain everything back which was the last thing I wanted to happen. I knew I wanted to do more though, so I started training for a half marathon. My body changed drastically. I was skinny again. I could see ab definition. I was running like mad daily and it was working! BUT, I still did not look like those fitness chicks online. I finally paid attention to what each of these girls were doing that I wanted to look like. They were doing competitions! I did some research and ultimately decided that I was going to jump in feet first & I hired a coach.

I started my very first prep about 10-12 weeks out. I couldn’t believe the changes my body was making and I was finally starting to look like the fitness chicks I saw on social media. However, four weeks prior to my first competition, I found out I was pregnant. I could no longer compete in this competition. It wasn’t until almost 2 years later that I finally jumped back on prep and finished my first show. I have competed in 3 shows (all in 2016) and I am currently on prep for my 4th show (1st show in 2017).

Is it possible to have abs after a baby? Idk.. you tell me. ••• Left pic I was 3 months postpartum. Right pic I was one day out from my second competition. I was a year & 6.5 months postpartum. ••• It doesn't matter where you start, it's just about starting. Stick with it. There are good days & bad days. Stay consistent. Remember why you started. Remember who/what you're doing this for. Set small goals to help you reach your big goals. Keep looking forward. It becomes addicting & you'll never want to quit. You'll wonder why it took you so long to get started. Keep going. You're closer than you think! ••• Leg workout from yesterday: Superset: Frog leg presses 4x12 Leg presses 4x15 Barbell hip ups 5x8 Superset: Cable rope pull throughs 4x12 Squat to reverse lunge complex 4x15 Superset: Goodmornings 3x15 Barbell curtsy lunges 3x20

A post shared by Stephanie Dunkel (@sddunkfit) on

Contest Prep

When I first started training, my coaches would tell me exactly what food to eat and how much of it to eat. I logged everything into MyFitnessPal, but I never really knew how to read what macros were or even read a nutrition label properly. I now follow IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and absolutely love this approach. My first two shows I just had coaches tell me what to eat, when & how much, but my third show I started to play with IIFYM. I am not going to lie, I did not like that approach at first. I felt like it didn’t work – at least not compared to what I was used to eating during my first two show preps. After an offseason, I am back on prep using IIFYM and I absolutely love it. I am cutting slower & understand it much more now.

My first offseason I took was from mid November 2016 to February 2017. I was so scared that if I didn’t have a show to prep for, I was going to fall off the wagon into a black hole that I would never get out of. I was worried I would make excuses to not get to the gym and that I would eat everything in sight. Fortunately, this did not happen. I was in the gym 6-7 days a week and I gave myself some leniency on foods, but I still stuck with eating healthy 90 percent of the time.

Since I just experienced my first offseason, I can’t really compare it to other offseasons, but I hope my next one goes a bit smoother. Basically, after my 3 back-to-back shows in 2016, I was so “deprived” of bad foods that I ultimately only wanted to eat them – and all the time. I didn’t properly reverse diet and it really took a toll on my body. I gained back weight super quick, my metabolism got shocked, and I just wasn’t in a good place mentally with food. When I say I wasn’t in a good place mentally with food – I don’t mean I starved myself or anything like that – I mean that I looked at food and categorized it into good foods and bad foods. There is no good foods and bad foods. I would binge eat and then feel guilty. I would see a food and want it so bad that it consumed my mind and thoughts. I had a bad relationship with foods – and I still struggle with it to this day.

It always seems that when you can be more lax on what foods you eat when you’re in the offseason, that you don’t even crave anything, but as soon as you begin prep, you want everything – even things you normally don’t even like. (I think this is where my struggle with food comes in). Prep is more mental than it is physical. I can go to the gym and workout for however long every day of the week, but when it comes to food, I struggle so much.

I have done different diets through my different preps and the thing that worked best for me to lose weight was carb cycling. I enjoyed carb cycling because you always looked forward to that one high carb day. It was almost like a treat! Now that I do IIFYM, I just hit certain grams of each, but I get to experiment with all foods. I enjoy both approaches and incorporate both into my preps.

Failed diets: I haven’t really had any failures at diet plans during my competitions, but when I first tried IIFYM after being on a “bro diet” for several months, it had adverse effects on my body. I was eating things that I wasn’t before, and my body started craving things that it shouldn’t be. I didn’t like my physique during that show that I used IIFYM because I was bloated, but now that I understand it more, I enjoy this process. I do like the “bro diet” and giving yourself a cheat meal here and there (because it’s nice to look forward to something), but I also like being able to fit Halo Top into my macros for the day.

I lift 6 days a week. My training split is usually to hit legs and shoulders twice a week and hit everything else once a week.
Right now I have been doing cardio 3 times a week for 30 mins. I have been breaking it up into 15-minute sessions before and after lifting. I switch between steady state and HIIT training. Previously, I was doing 1 hour of fasted cardio (which worked well for me).

A post shared by Stephanie Dunkel (@sddunkfit) on

On Stage

I don’t think being on stage in a tiny bikini in front of several people will ever not be nerve racking, but it does get easier and easier. My first show I was like bambi trying to walk on stage in high heels while shaking so bad because of nerves. I was so scared of falling that I was so stiff and looked like a robot. The second show I was a bit more confident because I had already been up on stage once, but also because I was more proud of my physique. It is hard getting up on stage in spot lights for people to tear you apart after all the hard work you’ve put in, but when you know how hard you have worked and you look the best you ever have looked before, it feels good to show it off.

I feel like going into a show when you train by yourself can get your hopes up in a way and then you get let down real easily once you see all the other competitors. Basically, when you are training at a gym and there isn’t anyone else that is training for a competition, it’s hard to compare yourself to others. When you check in for your show, competitors are constantly sizing each other up. It’s hard not to stare and look at other competitors and compare yourself. Sometimes that can be a real confidence killer when you start comparing yourself to someone else.

Pre-judging goes by so fast. It is the most important part of the whole show day though – it is when the judges make their decisions on winners. When you get moved around on stage to get compared to others, it is hard not to get excited or even disappointed if you are not where you think you should be. If you don’t make first call outs, that is even a more confidence killer. I like pre-judging best of the entire show because you are up there with everyone else in your class. I don’t like being the center of attention, so this helps me not be so nervous.

Finals are where everyone says the fun happens. Pre-judging is over, food is in your system, and it’s your time to shine on stage. This is where you get to go out and complete your routine, and then the actual results of the top five are awarded. Once it is over, you feel a sense of relief that you can finally breathe and relax. It is a very long day and can be very tiring, but you meet so many people who love the same things.

My absolute favorite thing about competing is the people you meet. I have met some amazing people who share the same interests and just “get you” more than anyone else. It’s hard to find genuine people these days, but this is one thing that people who share the same love, determination and put in hard work all come together in one place at the same time.

Life as an athlete

I am so much more in tune with my body. I feel better. I sleep better. I eat better. Everything is just better. I am able to run around with my son without getting tired. I am able to be active and do things that a lot of people can’t. I am so blessed to even be able to have the choice to do this. I love the process of prep and then show day, but even more importantly, I love the routine. I love the benefits. I love the confidence it gives me. I am not as tired. I feel more energized. My moods are less likely to fluctuate. Overall, I just think being an athlete has positive affects all around in all aspects of life.

Future plans

I’m not quite sure. I am currently in prep for a show now, but after this show, I’m not sure what I will do. I think I will continue to compete, but sometimes it is hard when you don’t have support. I will always continue to workout, but as far as show prep, I may take an even longer off season this year. Who knows.


Competition Prep e-Books