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For The Competitor

Ashleigh Atkinson MHK

Ashleigh Atkinson obtained her Bachelors of Physical Education from Brock University, followed by her Masters of Human Kinetics from the University of Windsor. Academically, her research areas focused on sport and exercise psychology, but since leaving school, her interests have expanded. The science of bodybuilding, from muscle growth to hormonal impacts and supplementation, drew her in and she has completed a handful of certifications around training and nutritional constructs, including the Nutritional Medicine Profile certificate from the International College of Applied Nutrition & Strength. In addition to the work she does for Muscle Insider, Ashleigh works as a health promotion specialist, runs a successful online coaching business with her husband, and is also a national level figure competitor with the Canadian Physique Alliance.

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Competition Junkie: Are you addicted to battling on the physique stage?

The excitement and glamour of competition day is undeniable. The culmination of months of hard work peaks on a single day as you show it off onstage. You’ve sculpted an enviable physique, which you’ve posted on social media to countless likes and supportive comments.

Unavoidably, this peak is followed by a decrease in attention and excitement. The rush you felt as you pumped up, posed onstage, and took pictures with your family disappears as quickly as your spray tan washes off. Soon, you feel a void that you’re unsure how to cope with. For many athletes, the seed has been planted and an addiction has formed—an addiction to the stage.

The Brain & Addiction

Activities that we enjoy and bring us pleasure can be addictive, even without the presence of chemical substances. When a pleasurable activity occurs, dopamine floods the brain’s reward center, pairing the enjoyment with the desire to want it—motivating us to experience the feeling again. In this case, the activity of competing is the catalyst for hormone release, sending the message that this is something enjoyable and should be done again … and again, and again.

Addiction manifests itself in various ways, two of which are the craving of the activity and the continued involvement in the activity despite negative side effects. For many people, competing can be a positive athletic challenge and a competitive outlet. But for some, it can take a dark turn, with an addiction forming in one of the following ways:

1. Physique Addiction: Competing requires you to unveil an elite-level physique, which is the result of months of complete dedication and the perfect execution of a plan. This type of life is strictly structured and allows for no deviation, which isn’t conducive to a well-rounded life or good health. Ultra-low body fat levels are only attainable with a diet low in vital nutrients and high in energy output.

Seeing your body look superhuman is obviously pleasurable and can become addictive. But the attempt to maintain it can wreak havoc on your hormonal health, energy levels, sex drive, and general ability to function at your best.

2. Attention Addiction: The attention received when in peak stage condition can be addictively overwhelming. Research has found that getting likes on social media, receiving compliments, and general positive attention releases dopamine, triggering the psychological reward response. In many cases, athletes tie their identity to this attention; without the aspect of competing and the attention that comes along with it, who would they be?

Time to Reflect

For those who develop an addiction to the stage, the consequences can range in severity. It may hinder your ability to improve your physique as you compete too frequently or make an effort to maintain a stage physique year-round. Or it can become a more serious health concern as you never take the time to allow your body to recover.

If you find yourself unable to take a break from competing, talk to your coach about it. A well-educated coach should support and encourage a healthy transition to a balanced off-season, taking your psyche into consideration. If this is outside your coach’s knowledge, seek the help of a trained expert such as a sports psychologist. Your long-term health and longevity in the sport will benefit when you’re able to step away from the stage.


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