Can I be that ball? Please!

Rachael Wesmiller walks onto stage, stops and poses. Flexes. The judges bark orders. Walk forward. Walk backwards. Each time another pose. This is the 2016 Arnold Amateur, an international bodybuilding competition named for actor and seven-time Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Wesmiller is about to pull down a top-five finish in her first appearance.

She may be competing in the Women’s Bikini contest, but this is no beauty pageant. A form of bodybuilding, Wesmiller describes the Bikini competition as a “less masculine and muscular” contest where the focus turns more toward leanness and symmetry of figure than brute strength. Musculature remains a key factor, but critical mass is not the goal. A relative newcomer to the sport, Wesmiller began her bodybuilding journey just last August, a mere seven months before her appearance at the March Arnold Amateur and two months before qualifying with a first place finish at the NPC All South Championships that November. It’s been a meteoric rise for the budding bodybuilder and affirmation of a life transformed.

Though today Wesmiller earns accolades for the body she built, it wasn’t always this way. A self-described “lazy” high schooler, Wesmiller remembers dropping out of volleyball because she thought the coach made them run too much. She developed a “bad relationship” with food, beginning a process of restricting, binging and purging that would eventually become full-on bulimia. “That was a very bad part of my life,” she says.

But she doesn’t dwell on that time, instead emphasizing the choices she made to come out on the other side stronger than ever before. Entering college, she still had trouble mustering energy for the gym, until she tried the local CrossFit group. What she found was the supportive environment she needed—a fitness family that would cheer her on even when she couldn’t do a single push-up. “I was ready for a change,” she says, “and it really aided me in becoming an athlete again.”

Although she’s still a workout regular and will be in the gym for an hour or two every day on the run-up to a competition, it’s her new, healthier approach to food and nutrition she credits most with her new life. “Probably more than 75 percent is diet,” she laughs. Adopting what is called a macro-based approach, Wesmiller uses her height, weight, body type and other factors to calculate down to the gram the proper amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat she needs to perform at peak fitness. “I started to look at food more so as fuel for my body and my workouts,” she says, “and I started seeing results.” Wesmiller will still “prepare and cut” up to 12 weeks in advance of a competition, slowly tapering calories to reach “stage level,” but she acknowledges such leanness is “obviously not sustainable through normal living conditions” and works to make it a slow and gradual process. “Otherwise it would be completely unhealthy,” she says. Wesmiller chronicles her experience in her online journal, where she shares workout tips, contest updates and inspirational tidbits, but mostly (and fittingly) various recipes for healthy, flavorful and workout-friendly dishes.

Wesmiller never claims this transformation was easy—no lifestyle change ever is. But she does want to tell everyone it’s doable. She took months to adapt—planning meals, finding gym time that worked for her and putting in the work and will to turn an ambitious plan into rock-hard routine. And she does all this while working shifts as a nurse in the Sarasota Memorial Hospital ICU. “It’s difficult, but it’s a balance,” Wesmiller says. “After a few weeks, it just becomes that habit.”

And sometimes that habit takes you to Columbus, Ohio, where more than 200 women from countries around the world descend upon the convention center to show off their hard-earned physiques and the 25 in your category consider you the competition. But even if it doesn’t, the important thing is to remember that you did it for you, not for the judges and not for the competition. “You need to love your own body,” Wesmiller says. “Do it for yourself and have fun.”

Rachael’s Tips for a Healthy Lifestyle

Find a workout routine that you enjoy. You will forever see exercise as a chore until you find a fitness class, workout or physical activity that you actually enjoy doing. Working out can be something you look forward to—it does not have to be something you loathe. Once you find a routine that’s enjoyable, it will become something you want to fit into your busy schedule. A workout buddy is great for holding you accountable.

Prepare healthy meals in advance. You cannot out-train a bad diet. Nutrition is so important when it comes to your fitness and fat-loss goals. I always say: in terms of meals, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. It is near impossible, especially with a busy schedule, to prepare a healthy meal whenever you are hungry. That is why I recommend setting a couple hours aside on your day off and preparing healthy meals in bulk for the next few days. My three favorites include: cilantro lime-baked chicken with brown rice and green beans, pan-cooked lean ground turkey with a sweet potato and onion hash and shaved Brussels sprouts and spinach artichoke shrimp over spaghetti squash. Healthy meals do not have to be bland or boring. Add fresh herbs, citrus and spices for flavor. Meal prepping eliminates many excuses as to why you were not able to eat a healthy option that day.

Drink plenty of water. Thirst can mimic hunger, so not only will you be staying hydrated and healthy, but drinking water can also help reduce hunger cravings. Drinking plenty of water leads to clearer skin. I recommend consuming 0.5 oz. to 1 oz. water per pound of bodyweight. Therefore if you weigh 200 pounds, you should aim for 100-200 oz. of water a day. To give you a reference, 100 ounces is 12.5 cups. Drink up.

Add weight lifting to your workout routine. No matter your fitness or weight loss goals, adding weight lifting will help you reach (or even surpass) them. Weight lifting will build muscle and increase your fat-burning metabolism. This means you will burn more calories at the gym—and even at rest. Many people, women especially, are afraid to be lifting because they do not want to appear too “bulky” or too muscular, but in reality gaining that amount of muscularity would be hard to accomplish without trying to do so and takes many bodybuilders years to achieve. Lifting higher repetitions with lighter weights is a great place to start for those with that concern.

Rest. Get plenty of sleep and allow yourself to have rest days from the gym to give your muscles an opportunity to recover. Aim for
eight hours of sleep per night (or day, for those of you on the night shift!).