Yasmin Benaleten, 22, competed in her first bodybuilding event, the UKBFF Kent Klassics in Gravesend on Sunday, 25th August. She has been cutting for the competition since 16th May of this year (2019). The 22 year old has studied at the University of Kent for 4 years and has recently completed her masters in Organisational Psychology at the Canterbury campus.
Consistently keen to enjoy an active lifestyle, Yasmin shares: “I have always wanted to compete since first being introduced to the fitness world by my first boyfriend.” However, she adds: “I lost interest due to educational priority.” After focusing on this life direction, Yasmin admits: “In my first year of university I became lazy and gained 20kg through birth control and unhealthy eating.” A situation relatable to many students.
Taking steps to reverse these changes, Yasmin signed up for Kent Sport’s membership, to use the gym and other sporting facilities. Although a positive step, finding a balance between healthy eating and training is hard when faced with a multitude of studies containing contradictory and misleading advice. Looking back on her struggles, Yasmin recalls: “For 3 years I gained and lost muscle, trying out: vegetarianism, veganism, lactose free, gluten free. I developed a confusion to what I should really have.“
This year she decided to pursue bodybuilding and sought professional advice. By talking to Kent Sport Strength and Conditioning coach, Mike Burrell, Yasmin was given an adjusted training plan and was also introduced to Nickola Ricks, an experienced body builder, nutritionist and posing coach. Training initially for the Bikini class, the smallest muscle category, Yasmin’s subsequent progress led her coaches to recommend she enter the Wellness class, which sits between Bikini and Figure.
Delighted with Yasmin’s response to new exercises and honing her technique in others, her coach Mike proudly remarks: “She has built more muscle in 2 months with me, than her previous year.” He explains this was achieved by applying the correct intensity to each session and he adds: “Bringing sufficient intensity, coupled with the ability to tolerate discomfort are the two thing that most lifters are lacking – not Yasmin!”
Through a combination of adhering to a weight and cardio programme, alongside a bespoke nutrition plan, Yasmin has gone from 82kg down to 62kg, a significant 20kg weight loss and significant muscle gain.
The feel good sensation of lifting as heavy as guys in the gym soon wears off and motivation to train can easily waver. Yasmin recounts how she went through phases of not wanting to listen to any music but she just had to push on. Setting your alarm for 4am to complete your academic studies early in the day while your mind is fresh and working out in afternoon, can be a tiresome routine. Although time-consuming, training can have the opposite of a detrimental impression on these important other areas of life, Yasmin says she found: “It gives a good life balance to mental exertion I used to get from my university degrees.”
Diet is crucial in preparation for a competition. Yasmin’s meal plan from week 11 consisted daily of 3 whole eggs, 2 egg whites, 180g chicken and rice twice a day, 180g mincemeat, 140g new potatoes, 180g mincemeat, whole avocado, casein before bed, and a banana and protein shake post work out. In peak week this dropped to 120g chicken twice a day, 120g white fish twice a day and 200ml of egg whites.
The University of Kent student acknowledges: “Women’s bodybuilding has often been highly critiqued due to drug abuse” but she emphasises: “I would recommend staying away from those. They do not belong into a female body.”
Reflecting on the value of following a individualised plan, Yasmin does admit: “It is really hard to do anything when you constantly feel like passing out”, but “I know from the weekly weigh-ins and posing session that it is worth it.” She explains: “It is adapted to my metabolism weekly” and therefore she stresses the importance of having a unique nutrition plan in order to have a successful cutting phase. Psychologically, adapting your eating habits when increasing your workload, is one of the most challenging aspects of bodybuilding. To succeed at physique competitions, commitment has to also be shown outside of the gym, as Mike further outlines: “Your day will revolve around your meals. You will make them days in advance and have to carry them around with you. You will always be thinking about your next workout.”
Not intended to scare off anyone truly interested in bodybuilding, Mike’s central point is quite simply, “you have to want it”. As with most trials of life: the most intense are the most rewarding. Addressing the issue that some face but too many deal with inappropriately, Mike stresses: “If it gets too much for you physically or psychologically, do not be afraid to quit, there is no shame in that.” He emphatically adds: “If you don’t come out the other side a better person, then what’s the point?!”
Fully aware “being lean for competition is unhealthy and not maintainable”, Yasmin shares she is allowed two cheat days after competition and explains she will slowly increase her calorie intake over the next 3 weeks, “to prevent a yoyo effect of weight gain.”
The dedication to prepare yourself for a bodybuilding competition requires an unwavering desire that will push you through the tough times, which will inevitably appear in all aspects of your life. Bodybuilding will become a part of your life. For Yasmin, she shares: “I found the passion to shaping my body is an art”. She elaborates: “knowing what muscle groups and how to train in order to look a specific way is just great.“