Part two of the two part Q&A Interview with Rachel Mateo, focused on her experiences doing Figure Competitions in past years, and the reasons why counting calories never mattered.
Rachel has 15 years of personal training experience and a B.S. in Exercise Science. She currently works for Juice Plus+ as a Qualifying National Marketing Director, inspiring healthy living around the world by teaching on nutrition, and she is a certified group fitness instructor with Body By Rachel online and recently Fitology. She loves her husband and their dog May. She spends weekends traveling from Pennsylvania, her home state, to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware where she gets the freedom to run and play with the dog in the water.
Q: You did figure competitions a number of years back—what made you want to get into that type of training? A: I had a few friends who had done some figure competitions, and in seeing their pictures online something definitely clicked in me that made me want to give it a try myself. I saw it as a fun opportunity to try something new and really challenge myself with my diet, exercise and commitment. I actually enjoy the thrill of being onstage, so it was exciting to think I could feel that rush in showing off all of my hard work!
Q: How often would you workout each week in those seasons? What types of training would you do? A: That kind of training is very different than what I do now. Because I would focus on strength training a different specific group of muscles each day, I was working out every day of the week. One day might be legs and shoulders, the next day might be chest and triceps, the next day back and biceps, etc. So while a particular group of muscles were pushed hard, they also got the chance to fully rest the following day to move onto the focus of another group. Because the focus was muscle development, I also limited my cardio (which was tough since I do enjoy running outside and had group fitness classes to teach).
Q: Did you have a favorite or most rewarding part of the experience? What was it? A: Most definitely! I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment and pride in the hard work I had put in to experience that end result. Then showing all of that off in front of the crowd, the other competitors and judges was extremely exhilarating and so much fun! (Putting yourself out there like that in front of lots of people may not be for everyone, but being proud of what you had achieved certainly helps to get you through any nervous jitters.) Also, I so enjoyed sharing my experience, lending advice and guidance to others looking to make some changes in their bodies. Felt great to have people notice my progress and results and trust me to help them too.
Q: What were your daily calorie restrictions when training for a competition? How did you know you were getting enough? A: I honestly didn’t put my focus into counting calories. I was guided by a fellow trainer friend who had worked with figure competitors and bodybuilders to focus on counting/monitoring my “macros” (fats, proteins and carbs) in grams. I had some reservations about some of the extreme approaches and dietary choices my friends had made in their prep and process, so it was very important to me to do things my way and keep my health as my number one priority.
I was determined to see how well I could do without consuming the synthetic, artificial “foods” that so many others ate in order to meet their daily macro numbers. I focused on eating as healthfully as possible (LOTS of vegetables, quality healthy fats, vegan protein powder, fish/seafood, eggs), while staying within the parameters of the amount of grams of each macro daily I was guided to start with. As the days went on, I payed close attention to how I was feeling, my energy level, my digestion, how my body was physically developing, etc and if something wasn’t feeling or progressing right I would tweak my numbers a bit by adding or subtracting some macros from one area or another.
Q: What would you recommend to someone trying to cut calories for a specific reason such as what you did? A: Since the monitoring of healthy, clean macros worked for me, that is what I would recommend. Calories don’t need to be the concern if you are focused on quality nutrition going in and listening to your body. The more nutrient dense a food, the more satisfied you’ll feel and the healthier you’ll be. Keeping within your allotted numbers of macros per day will ensure you’re not eating too much. Then use your intuition (as well as trusted guidance) to tweak what area you might need more/less of to keep seeing great results.
Q: What would you recommend to women when it comes to body image to find balance in dieting, working out, and pushing themselves to try something new, yet also honoring where they are currently at? A: That is a tough question, a lot of factors go into this for everyone. I think what it all boils down to is working on your mental state first and foremost. Figure out why you’re feeling the way you do about your body and hopefully come to realize that we don’t need to try to look like anyone else or fit into any particular size/shape box. Our bodies are individually beautiful and unique. I implore everyone to please focus on health first and then everything else can fall into place. If, like me, a particular goal of a competition or something similar is in your focus, then be very clear as to WHY you’re deciding to do it and then give yourself grace as you work through the challenges involved.