Ashleigh Atkinson - Physique Competitor

Ashleigh: I grew up playing sports, but had stopped when I entered my Master's degree program to focus on school. I became a fitness instructor to stay active, teaching upwards of 7 classes a week, but I started to miss the competitive environment. I had always seen highlights of competitions in Oxygen magazines and was intrigued. When my husband and I first started dating, we discovered that competing was a shared goal, so we decided to make it happen. I targeted a show four months down the road, but a coach encouraged me to enter one which was only 10 days away. I ended up placing third, and was hooked on the sport.

My first season I competed in a total of 5 shows in the bikini category, then enjoyed my off-season training with my husband, a bodybuilder. My body changed really quickly, and I transitioned into figure and then women's physique, the category I've always loved. I'm lucky to have my husband as my training partner, someone with the same outlook on the sport and the drive to always improve - there's no slacking during training sessions! Plus, he supports (and encourages) my desire to be muscular, something not all men find appealing.

Diet and Training
My diet doesn't change a lot from off-season to prep in terms of food variety and frequency. I generally stick to the same foods, and eat six meals a day all year long. During the off-season I have two free meals a week, which I time around big training sessions. Obviously during prep, food quantity gets reduced as the focus shifts from growth to fat loss, and the free meals are strategically used when I'm depleted.

Commonly, my prep diets have been high protein, with a balance between carbs and healthy fat sources. For pre-contest, I've done moderate to low carb with low fat. While carbs are great (who doesn't love carbs?), my body does pretty well with a high fat intake. I keep the same schedule all year, so my prep diet usually consists of six meals a day.

For one competition, I was really low in carbs and fat for a prolonged length of time and ended up getting too depleted. When it came time for the competition, I wasn't able to fill back out and looked flat on stage. Lessons learned!

In terms of training, I'm in the gym six days per week, all year long. I follow a pretty standard training split with each muscle group getting attention. I usually train legs twice a week, once with a focus on hamstrings and glutes, and once with a bigger focus on quads. This year, I also did two back days a week as it was a body part I really needed to bring up. In the off-season my cardio is kept to a minimum (basically just the fitness classes I teach), so that when prep comes, I don't have to do endless hours to create a difference in energy expenditure. To fuel workouts, nutrition around training is the priority. There's always a big focus on pre, intra, and post workout nutrition. Leaner proteins and carbs are used both pre and post, and intra workout nutrition consists of carb powder.

On Stage
I think having the background in competitive figure skating helped - it's a judged sport where a lot of people are closely watching you perform. Plus, being a fitness instructor allowed me to feel comfortable "performing" on stage. I have to admit, the first time I saw my competition bikini, anxiety kicked in - they're even smaller than they appear. But, once I was backstage and on stage, the competitive athlete mentality kicks in and the focus is just on executing the job of posing.

One of my favorite memories is from my very first competition. The morning of the show, my husband suggested we go for a walk so I could get some fresh air and relax. We ended up at a park, and he proposed! After that, I was too happy to be nervous.

For the 2016 season, my focus is Canadian Nationals (my first national competition). My original goal when I started competing was to make it to nationals, and I'm excited to be representing my province there. Another goal is to one day step on an international stage to represent Canada.

Off the stage, I work full-time doing health promotion. I also write articles for a variety of fitness and bodybuilding magazines, which was a big goal of mine coming into the competitive fitness world.

Instagram: @iron_forged_fitness

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Ashleigh Atkinson

Ashleigh Atkinson

Ashleigh Atkinson