Competing as a Masters Competitor

Why it's Never too Late to Step on Stage!

By Deborah Baska, NPC National Bikini Competitor; Brand Director, Angel Competition Bikinis

I posted a photo the other day, and one comment in particular caught my attention. She said, “So what does a 50 or 60 year old do to get rid of the wrinkles above the knee…you’re a fitness warrior and I see you still  have them.”  My response, “Since I still have them, I obviously don’t know!” LOL!  

But all kidding aside, I’ve been competing for 6 years! I started at 50, and at 56 I love this sport and this lifestyle and truly believe it is the fountain of youth! A little backstory about me…I have been re-inventing myself since I turned 40:

  1. Found Sobriety
  2. Retired as a Corporate America Exec having worked at the same company for 20 years!
  3. Built a successful online at-home fitness and health business.
  4. Became a NASM CPT and a Certified Nutrition Coach
  5. At 50, I found bodybuilding, retired from online business, and turned my  hobby into my passion and my new career!

So as you can see, mid-life for me has been about continuing to grow myself, expand my interests, and take on new challenges! Sandy Williamson, the head women’s judge for NPC/IFBB, has said that the female masters classes are the fastest growing classes in the sport!  There are 4 opportunities for masters ladies to earn an IFBB pro card, and I’ve competed at 3 of them for the past 5 years. Every year, the competition gets more intense and the classes get bigger!  So ladies, we are BRINGING it!  Go us!

Knowledgeable coaches will tell you that working with a masters aged athlete does require special considerations versus working with a younger one, particularly as we start getting into peri-menopause and post-menopausal age…aka Hormones!  Following are some things to consider (Note: These are based on my own experiences and should not be considered as medical advice or the best protocols for all women)

  1. Know Your Baseline Health - this is always the place to start at any age. I have full lab panels done a few times a year checking everything from thyroid, liver, the standard CBC panel, as well as a full hormone panel (this is something your doctor won’t do unless you tell them specifically what you want tested). My doctor will interpret them for baseline health - yeah, I’m all good! My coaching team will interpret them for optimal performance which can be a very different outcome. Ladies, we are elite athletes, so barely in range is not necessarily optimal for our goals, right?  Once you know your baseline numbers, you will use that to check your ongoing health as you progress in the sport.
  2. Work with a Reputable Coach - I recommend working with a coach who is well versed in masters athletes, as the protocols, training, rest and recovery, and general lifestyle issues that are unique to us must be considered. Your coach will work with you, and most likely a functional health practitioner, to review your panels and programming to make sure you are at your healthiest and optimal best.
  3. Muscle Maturity is a thing (a GOOD one)!  I have been into fitness almost all my life, having taken about a 10 year hiatus while I was raising kids and building my corporate career. Once I got back into working out at age 40, I was able to put on muscle fairly easily due to muscle maturity and muscle memory, and something that only comes over time (not even  the young whipper snappers can bypass that one!).  Having said that, if you are new to lifting as a masters athlete, you may find it challenging to build muscle which is why you need to do steps 1 and 2! 
  4. Hormones Matter - OK, let’s talk about them! Yes, I use them, therefore I’m not “natural”...#gasp!  It seems like this is not a subject most athletes talk openly about, but bodybuilding aside, proper hormone levels make us feel GOOD! And I want to feel my BEST as a high-performing woman, so that’s my choice. I use a daily progesterone cream to help with flashes (ladies you know what I’m talking about!), and I do TRT.  (Fun Fact: did you know that women produce MORE testosterone than estrogen, yet testosterone is considered a “male” hormone, and thus not FDA approved for women, even though proper levels of testosterone helps us with so many things including sleep, brain clarity, libido, energy, bone and muscle density, etc. #soweird). Most GPs are not well versed on female hormones, much less optimal levels, so see #1 and #2!. 
  5. Got some sags and bags? Me too! (as we’ve already established! LOL!)  As we age we do lose elasticity in our skin, so don’t compare yourself to the younger ladies with skin as smooth and flawless as a baby’s bottom! I have found that cleaning up my diet these past few years (a huge benefit of being a bodybuilder) has vastly minimized my cellulite, as well as helped me reduce overall body fat. As to those saggy baggy knees - well, build some nicely toned quads and that will also be less noticeable!  I do use a collagen powder which I think helps with my skin, nails and hair (which oh BTW, does tend to thin as we get older). Scientific reviews are slim, but anecdotal evidence is solid!  There are skin tightening procedures, some of which I have tried, but honestly, they are pricey and require ongoing maintenance;  I have not found the outcome or the price tag to be worth it for me. 
  6. Training for YOUR Goals - My coach plans my programming so that it is balanced with the rest and recovery I need (which can be more than a younger athlete might need) along with the training and cardio I need to achieve my goals. No cookie cutter approach! In the off season, we focus mainly on building muscle and have minimal cardio. In prep season, my cardio is increased and my training time declines. Again, this is individual to me and my body. 
  7. Mindset Matters - As a masters female bodybuilder, you will be a  unicorn in your regular circle. Most of your friends are settling into mid-life, retired life, and perhaps winding down their own personal expectations, while YOU are revving yours up, seeking new challenges and striving to be an even better version of yourself than you were before. 

You are probably the ONLY one of your kind that your friends and acquaintances have ever met so they may not get why you do what you do. When you look on social media, you see scroll after scroll of younger female bodybuilders - with their flawless skin and chiseled bodies, and you think, “I could never look like that!” Well you’re right! And that’s OK!  They aren’t your competition! That is why we have the masters classes! While many masters ladies do compete in Open classes (and kill it!), there is something to be said for standing on stage next to your true peers and being judged solely as apples compared to other apples. #nopunintended 

8. Find Your Tribe - Last but not least!!! This has been the BIGGEST game changer for me! I met my tribe thru this sport–by attending national level competitions with other masters athletes who then became part of my social network; and by doing things like the Masters Only Angel Competition Bikinis Angel Fashion Show. I thought that talking shop with other bodybuilders was my jam, but talking shop and life in general with other masters bodybuilders filled my soul!! Now I have my very best friends, and my strongest support system, amongst the athletes with which I have met and shared these amazing experiences. 

One of the most flattering compliments I get is from younger athletes, even some of the top pros that I have had the honor to get to know, who tell me “I want to be like you when I grow up!”  The best compliment I receive from ladies my age is when they tell me that I “inspire them every day”  and they want to set new goals for themselves! My favorite compliment from the gen pop (aka strangers on the street) is “Girl! Your shoulders are amazing!” My response, “Aww thank you, thank you for noticing.” 

And my very favorite saying is, “We all age, God willing; HOW we age is our choice.” I chose to be Fit, Fun and Fabulous at 40 and 50, and will continue choosing it at 60 and beyond! 

Follow along with Deborah on Instagram here.