Paige Sandgren - Physique Competitor

Most people who want to compete jump right in as soon as they start seeing results from weight training, but I fell in love with the Physique division - partially because of the more athletic look, partially because I'm a tomboy and can't walk elegantly in heels - and I wanted to be realistic. I waited until I had enough muscle instead of jumping into another category, so my very first shows were actually this past Fall (2016). I've put on 40 lbs of muscle (measured with a medical grade DXA scan) over the past 2.5 years of lifting weights, and it was not easy! It was certainly worth it though. I've always been competitive and active in sports, and when people started to ask me "when are you going to compete," I just decided to do it!

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Contest Prep

With the help of DexaFit (the fitness testing company I work for), I'm able to accurately track my body fat levels and resting metabolic rate throughout my bulks and cut. My metabolism is a bit of a genetic outlier for that of females, and in the off-season like right now, I'm eating at least 3300 cals per day...sometimes upwards of 4000. This is partially because of my genetics but also because I don't try to stay stage lean year-round. It's just not healthy. So I reversed my metabolism back up to avoid turning into a pig, but maximizing muscle growth. I follow flexible dieting and do not adhere to the old school "clean foods only" mentality. As long as I get enough protein, fiber, and stay within my calories for the day, I don't worry about added sugars or "dirty" foods, whatever that even means. I've found that high carb works best for me to gain lean mass as well. When I begin my cut, I'll just start shaving off a small percentage of fats and/or carbs from my macros at the time, and I slowly add in cardio if necessary.

I've tried the "strictly clean eating" before, and while it did work for a mock-cut down, I was miserable and was VERY tempted to throw the towel in and binge off my diet. Since we have science now that shows there's no need to do this AS LONG AS you hit a fiber requirement and stay within overall calories for the day, I don't even look back. I also tried keto (ketogenic diet) way back when I first started lifting weights in college, and that was a big mistake. With the exception of a few freak athletes, it's impossible to increase muscle hypertrophy without extra carbs and enough protein. While keto is a fantastic option for people who suffer from cancer or other diseases, it's not ideal for bodybuilders who train as hard as I do. The same goes for paleo, Mediterranean diet, juice cleanses, etc. There's no need to go to these extremes or cut out food groups if you don't have specific allergies and you train appropriately for goals. They just aren't realistic, sustainable, or even healthy.

Love back day. ?? I know it's not as low as a typical rack pull, but I still picked up 495 lbs for reps without a belt. Someday I'll deadlift this from the floor. Shoutout to @wgoley and @diegosbod for pushing me and secretly taking a video ?? #girlscankeepuptoo @byltfit

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In the off season, I don't do any cardio because of my faster metabolism. It would be much harder to put on mass amounts of muscle if I did. If I do feel like the extra cookies are getting to me, I just stick to a little HIIT on the manual spin bike, but my lifting is usually so intense that I don't need to do so. For lifting, I've shifted more toward a powerlifting/bodybuilding program where I'll do heavy compound movements with lower reps or 5x5, and then add accessory work with higher reps. I've always incorporated progressive overload, but now I try to hit each muscle group more frequently than the typical "once a week" bro split since I've hit a plateau. I never really taper, get burned out, or deload...but I'm a bit of a genetic anomaly.

I've been working with Cameron Mitchell of BYLT FIT aka BeyondLimitz (formerly JNC Fitness) out of Quads Gym in Chicago, and I can't thank him enough for all he's taught me!

On Stage

Building self-confidence to compete: I would say it was a slow buildup that's still occurring. I've never been a boisterous or overly confident person; I would consider myself more reserved and laconic by nature. The first time I stepped on stage, I could feel the muscles in my face shake as I tried to hold my smile. But that's just part of the challenge that requires me to step outside of my comfort zone in order conquer what's ahead. I'm looking forward to growing even more as a person from this.

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To be honest, at my first show, I was a little upset that the women in my division weren't more friendly. A couple of them were, but the others seemed to stare me down and ignore my attempts at small talk. I'm not sure if it was because they were stressed, trying to intimidate me, or thought that I was trying to play mind games, but I hope to set a much better example than that for the new novice competitors that I come across in the future. As competitors, we work so hard year-round for this one day to shine, and we should really be encouraging each other and having fun with it, regardless of how bad you want to win! Luckily I DID hangout in between prejudging and finals with some other competitors and we shared a lot of laughs. They might not know it, but they made my weekend more special than any trophy could.

As an athlete, I've always held higher expectations for myself in terms of performance, body composition, work ethic, etc. I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person so if I find something I love, I dive head first to learn as much as I can and excel as much as possible. This can be very beneficial, but also crippling at times. I'm always conscious of what I'm eating because I view food as fuel and not always something of pleasure, and I plan my days around my workouts. I've lost friends because of my extinct desire to go to the bars every weekend, and I don't have much extra time for hobbies outside of athletics and working 50 hours per week. You learn who your true friends are though, or you make new ones who have similar goals. I've had family members ask me why I would put myself through this arduous lifestyle, but to me, it's more than worth it. It's what I love to do, and I don't foresee myself ever stopping.

I plan to compete again this fall, re-qualify for nationals, and eventually obtain my IFBB WPD pro card (I'm not sure which competitor wouldn't want this), but I also want to popularize science along the way. I want girls specifically to EAT ENOUGH and not starve themselves year-round, and stay semi-lean in the process - it's definitely possible with a healthy metabolism. And as a community, we should learn to value body composition instead of being a slave to one number on the scale. There are so many misconceptions in this industry and I hope to set some things straight with the power of science and lead by example.

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Paige Sandgren
Body Composition & Fitness Specialist
tel: (231) 215-3685

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