Stephanie Merlo - Figure Competitor

Stephanie: Growing up, I had always been physically active, playing sports through high school and college, so being in the weight room was never foreign to me. I looked to various fitness magazines for workout ideas, and admired all the athletes that were in them. Their drive motivated me to work beyond what I had always known and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I told myself, one day I'll look like them. I dabbled with the idea of competing, but knew I didn't have the resources to do it alone. So I hired a coach and committed to the crazy, but so rewarding, lifestyle of bodybuilding.

My diet doesn’t change too much from pre-contest to off season.

Pre-contest is very strict, consisting of lean proteins, complex carbs, healthy fats and dark green vegetables. My diet followed a very structured regimen of 5-6 meals a day, and precise meal timing every 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Water intake is also very important during pre-contest, which was typically 1-2 gallons a day.

During off-season, it is still imperative to include the same clean staples, but I have since adopted a more flexible approach, where no foods are off limits and practice more of a balanced intake. Doing so provides much more variety and is much more relaxed.

I worked with the same coaches for both shows, who were very meticulous with my diet. They monitored what worked and what didn't, how my body reacted to certain things, energy levels, etc., and adjusted accordingly. Everyone has a different genetic make up and what works for me, might not work for someone else, and vice versa. It's a relationship you have to build, one in which you trust your coaches, and they trust you.

I follow a normal training split 5-6 days a week, which includes giant sets, super sets and drop sets. Additional accessory work is added in, which focuses on lagging body parts. My cardio regimen consists of both HIIT and occasionally, steady state 4-5 times a week.

My diet and training was monitored by my coaches, Nikki and Aj Sims, but was typically carb cycling. Higher on leg/back days, and lower on others, like chest/arms.

Building the confidence to strut yourself on stage comes from within. I think of it as a showcase, something to be proud of! The early mornings and long nights in the gym, the commitment, the dedication, this is where it all pays off! While it is important to have fun on stage, it is also very important to practice. Picturing yourself on stage and going through your routine, day in and day out, solidifies that confidence.

One of the most memorable feelings was at my first show. It was during Finals at the Michigan State Championship. I was competing in three different classes, which were all announced back to back, so by the time I stepped off stage for one, it was time to get back in line for the next. It was so overwhelming, yet exhilarating, because you didn't have enough time in between to get nervous again. I took 1st in Figure Class A, 1st in Novice Class A, 3rd in True Novice Figure, and Novice Overall, and in that moment, the tears, the exhaustion, the pain, the sacrifices, everything, it was all worth it!

Right now I am focusing on having a strong, solid off season. Working on the judges suggestions to be sure I bring a stronger package the next time I step on stage. There are a few shows on my radar but I have yet to commit to anything as of now.

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