Are you worried your competition training is going to get in the way of your hunting season or vice versa?
Juggling multiple goals or priorities can be tricky, but here are ways to be smart about approaching each one. I am a bodybuilder who is attempting to get my pro card so I can compete as a professional athlete in the figure division while still being able to balance my life with the things I love most, the outdoors. Hunting has been a big part of my life and it is not something I want to sacrifice.
In the past, I found myself choosing one goal over the other because I did not know how to balance the two things I am passionate about—hunting and fitness. My time in the woods, hunting and hiking, was important to me because it was how I refreshed my mind, body, and supply myself food. Fitness was important to me because it challenged me in a different way than being able to put food on the table—it kept me healthy and feeling good in my own skin. When I first started bodybuilding, my time in the woods became limited because I thought I needed to be in the gym lifting OR had to eat every 3.5 hours and was worried I wouldn’t have the energy to hike for hours each day. Then I knew that whenever I am in the backcountry, I had a hard time slowing down to eat or hydrate—let alone rest. I knew in order to keep both of these activities in my life, I needed to find a balance.
Despite there being some aspects of training that can be shared with my outdoor adventures, there are some issues that can complicate balancing these two goals. One obstacle is that the closer you get to a competition, the less energy you have to do even just daily tasks. You get tired easier, you are very hungry, your mental state can be very fragile and cause mood swings, and your body is very tender because your body fat is low so there is less cushion if you will. The mood swings could be problematic for hunting partners OR decision making and, for some, low body fat can make it be painful to even just walk around a lot.
These two problems can cause you to make bad decisions in the backcountry because you aren’t necessarily making the right decision due to a lack of clarity or brain fog. The second obstacle is that although hunting can cause weight loss, part of that weight loss can be muscle. You spend a lot of time building muscle, years even, and to lose it can be counterproductive for bodybuilding. One way to minimize muscle loss is to increase protein intake during hunting trips as well as carbs to help fuel the muscles you have so that your body doesn’t become catabolic.
Another option is to take shorter hunting trips where you can rest for a few days between hunts instead of being out for multiple weeks on end. This allows the body to recover between trips and get good fresh foods in the body to restore macro and micronutrient levels. There are supplements to aid with this but whole foods are what our bodies function most optimally on in the long run and we all know that when we get out of the backcountry we crave a good fresh meal.
How could I combine these two activities and still be successful at both? I started by thinking about what I can accomplish in the woods that might help me with my fitness and physique for my competitions. By thinking about what kind of training I can accomplish while I am hunting, I came up with 3 strategies to help set myself up for a more successful season.
Conditioning. In bodybuilding your goal is to build muscle, then present a lean physique when you are on stage. You must have conditioning that demonstrates muscle separation in the form of lines separating your muscles, which typically (for females more so than males) requires lots of cardio along with proper diet. In the past, when I was getting close to a competition, my daily requirement for cardio would reach up to 3 hours in addition to a minimum of 20,000 steps. As I thought about it, why couldn’t hiking be part of those steps AND the cardio requirement. As we all know, backcountry hiking surely gets your heart rate up, burns calories, and gets your body into better shape. Hiking in the outdoors is also much better than walking on a treadmill or climbing on the stair-stepper and who hasn’t lost weight during hunting season due to the physical exertion required to track an animal for hunting opportunities.
Diet. When we prepare for a backcountry trip, we always have to pack our food, ration out our portions, and plan for extra days in case something goes wrong or we get an animal. This means that whenever I am in the backcountry, I have total control over what I am eating and zero temptations because there are no stores around to give me other options for meals or snacks. In bodybuilding you HAVE to stick to your diet and being able to pack my exact meals and proportions during the hunting season allows me to stay on track with my meals and not veer from my meal plan. Even though my meal plan calls for refrigeration, there are options that make it easy to still stay on track. I’ve also found that I don’t eat from boredom or from other stressors in life because I am focused on being in the outdoors and finding animals! Boredom and stress are two of the main struggles when it comes to sticking to a meal plan because it is hard to eat the same 5-10 clean foods every single day during preparation for competitions. In addition, it is hard to stick to your calorie restrictions to lose that extra fat that hides the muscle lines you need on stage. Despite the calorie restriction, I do plan ahead and pack a few extra meals/snacks in case I run out of food due to an unexpected extended trip OR my body can’t physically handle the physical exertion it takes to hunt/haul out a critter on such a restricted diet from competition prep. Also, there are times where health is more important than any competition and I would never risk endangering myself by not veering from my diet (i.e. being hypoglycemic etc). These extra calories are still typically very clean snacks that won’t put me behind for my competitions and my body will respond well too if I do end up needing them.
Mental health and focus. Competitions can become a mental struggle due to the physical and emotional toll they take on the body and can make you lose motivation or sight of the longer term goals. Months of dieting can feel very long and endless the harder it gets so it is important to find ways to alleviate yourself from that stress. For me, being in the outdoors has always been my outlet and allowed me to sort of hit my ‘reset’ button. By being able to focus on something other than training and dieting gives me a break from the extreme focus it takes to get through prep or for any kind of fitness competition. I believe taking a break from the day in and out of meal prepping, hours in the gym, and hunger allows me to come back from a hunting trip with more motivation, focus, and excitement to continue training for my goals. By fining a balance between fitness and the outdoors, I get to enjoy more parts of being alive and continue doing the things that are important to me and bring me happiness.
In addition to my whole food meals, I typically take a few supplements into the woods with me. These products just help me sustain energy and aid in recovery while still out hunting. The three products I would recommend are the following:
- Energy booster that is long lasting—caffeine.
- BCAA’s to help with recovery and hydration.
- Protein powder for a quick absorption energy source that doesn’t have a crash like sugar.
Follow Laura and her hunting/fitness lifestyle on instagram: @adventure.lady and on Youtube at "Laura Ehlen".