Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Boulder County women get toned for bodybuilding competition


Ann Michele, 50, works out at the Longmont YMCA. She will compete in a bodybuilding competition in Boulder on Saturday.

Would you do this?

Weigh and measure six to eight meals a day, consisting mostly of egg whites, chicken or fish, protein shakes and veggies. Or subject yourself to grueling workouts every day, carefully calibrating your food before and after.

Would you give up happy hours with your friends or nice dinners out?

You would if you wanted to compete as a bodybuilder.

"It transfers into a complete lifestyle change," says Ann Michele, of Longmont, of her 16 weeks of training to get ready for competition at the Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure Championships that will be held Saturday in Boulder. "You're measuring and figuring out every meal. There's a science of what you eat and when you eat it. You're constantly fueling your body with clean food."

Michele, a 50-year-old personal trainer, used her birthday as a motivator. She had competed around age 40 and a couple of years later. The former Boulder High cheerleader made the decision to train for another competition after attending her 30-year high school reunion.

Katie Keller, 25, got into competing a different way. In January of last year she entered a weight loss competition at One Boulder Fitness.

After three months, she had lost 6 percent in body fat and put on lean muscle, mostly doing cardiovascular exercises. The owner of the gym approached her and pointed out that her body put on muscle easily. He suggested she consider a competition.

Keller, a makeup artist at Sephora, began training in June.

Both Keller and Michele are competing in the "figure" category, which emphasizes muscle definition and symmetry, rather than the huge, bulked-up muscles that define the public stereotype of bodybuilding. For the competition, female contestants will sport a spray tan, bling-encrusted swimsuits, 5-inch heels and professionally done hair and makeup.

Jeff Taylor, organizer of the show, describes the figure category as "more of a toned, athletic kind of a look."

Taylor says about 85 to 90 percent of nearly 100 people participating in the Boulder event are first-timers.

"It's a realistic goal for a lot of people," he says.

Older and better

Michele had always been interested in sports, but it wasn't until an injury in a serious car accident in the 1990s that she took to the gym to work through her problems.

"The docs were giving me muscle relaxers and painkillers. My back was atrophying, and I was getting cortisone shots," she says.

She credits her boyfriend at the time, a former Mr. Colorado, for helping to set her on a different path.

"He got me into thinking this whole different way about healing your body," she says. Although she still has pain every day, her disciplined lifestyle of careful eating and training has made the condition manageable.

"I have been able to heal my back as well as it will heal," she says.

In 2000, Michele competed for the first time in the bodybuilding category. For the bulkier musculature required for that competition, she lifted extremely heavy weights during training -- squatting as much as 230 pounds with a spotter, and eating 120 to 200 grams of protein a day.

"You go to failure, to pure muscle exhaustion, to deplete the muscle and rebuild it again," she says.

This time around, for the figure competition, she squats about 100 pounds.

One of the attractions and one of the challenges of the figure competition is its emphasis on posing in heels and swimsuit, Michele says. She is looking forward to the glam aspect -- she cites inspiration from the 50th birthdays of both Barbie and Madonna -- but she's also a little nervous in such unfamiliar turf.

"This is out of my comfort zone," says Michele, who doesn't wear makeup and got coaching to walk and pose in high heels. "I'm not a girly girl."

While the pageantry is new and exciting, the thing that keeps Michele coming back to competition is the commitment and discipline it requires.

"It's something to focus on when the rest of the world is so chaotic right now," she says. "I can focus on something positive for me. That's the spiritual part of it."

Knowing your body

The discipline of competing was also attractive to Keller.

"I'm really a goal-oriented person," she says. "When I set a goal, I have to do it."

Still, she says, it has been hard to commit to such an spartan lifestyle.

"It was really hard at first," she says. "I've lost friends over this. I haven't been able to go out and drink since January of 2008. Going out to dinner is hard."

Yet, she likes pushing herself and seeing the results in her body.

Keller does about 30 to 45 minutes of cardio in the morning and an hour or more of lifting weights in the afternoon every day.

She says the diet can be monotonous.

"It's boring. You eat the same thing every day almost," she says.

She has found one treat: nuts -- caloric, but also high in protein. And she looks forward to her post-workout 500-calorie protein shake with peanut butter, jelly, chocolate and banana, which feels downright decadent amid the oatmeal, egg whites, lean fish and vegetables.

What Keller really likes, though, is seeing the changes in her body.

"That's very enjoyable for me," she says. "You want to see what your body can do."

Keller says, however, that she got mixed reactions from high school friends when she went home for Christmas.

"They were like, 'Whoa -- you have way to much muscle for me,'" she says.

Keller, however, is happy with her progress.

"I guess I just love the way muscle looks," she says. "I've always been fascinated by the human body. Hunters and gatherers -- this is what they looked like. When you have to go out and hunt for your food, you have to be in this kind of shape. I think it looks really good."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Cindy Sutter

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