A number of competitors have asked me recently how much they should expect to spend on competing, which prompted me to write this post. Competitive bodybuilding can get pretty expensive, so you should be prepared to invest some coin in your prep and contests. When I calculated the total amount which was spent by my sponsors and me on all associated costs (coaching, suits, tanning, entry fees, flight, hotel, rental car, supplements, food, shoes, makeup, etc.) which got me to the seven national qualifiers and fourteen pro qualifiers I competed in during the amateur portion of my contest history (2009 through 2013), I was shocked. The total came to over $100,000! Thank goodness my sponsors paid for the majority of those expenses, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to hit the national stage the way I did. Obviously the drive to compete took over me, and demanded a tremendous amount of financial and personal sacrifice which I was willing to make.
Over the years I have spoken with other competitors who have had the same drive to compete who have done stupid and risky things in order to keep competing. Though I took financial risks during my Pro Card chase, I didn’t have children or a spouse to worry about, so my behavior didn’t put anyone else at risk. I admit I had foolishly pushed myself to the limit in the past, knowing that as a consequence I would not be able to afford more basic living expenses, but I got wiser as I continued to compete. I have heard of others who have done similar things, with some competitors risking all they owned for the chance to continue competing. Let me be very clear: Pro status will never help you to cushion a nest egg, so if you are risking financial security for the sake of competing, you had better take a good, long look at the reasons why your obsession with competing is pushing the need for basic survival into the corner. It’s time for a reality check.
Be sensible about the money you spend on competing and set a competition budget which doesn’t put undue strain on your finances. Before I went Pro, I established a separate “show fund” in which I set aside money for competitions, so I was always aware of what I could and could not afford. Once a budget is set, it is important to limit oneself to the number of competitions which will keep one within budget. This can be challenging, especially when one is on a mad quest to chase a national qualification or Pro status.
I always advise competitors who frequently compete to search for potential sponsors. I have had competitors ask me how to obtain sponsorship and who also lament the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to land sponsorship from a supplement company. My response to this is that sponsors can come in all forms! Here are some suggestions for potential sponsors:
Friends and family
Smaller supplement companies
The trick to asking for sponsorship is to graciously ask for assistance in paying for an event. Remember that even a small amount will help. I have competed at events which have been sponsored by a number of entities, with the tan covered by one, entry fee covered by another, flight by yet another, etc.
If your budget is really tight, stick to nearby contests so you don’t have to pay outrageous travel expenses. If you are nationally qualified, you will be somewhat stuck since there are only seven national level events each year, and they place in very specific geographic areas. You might have to limit the number of Pro qualifying events you enter if your budget is very limited. However, I know the feeling of having to hit all the national events in a year in order to maximize one’s chances at a Pro Card. Even when I was sure I would not be able to afford doing a bunch of national events back to back, I somehow managed to to it because I wanted that Pro Card SO badly. I will be quite blunt and tell you that if you are a nationally qualified master’s competitor, you are probably better off confining your stage time to Pro qualifiers which have master’s divisions. That means that there are three chances at a Pro Card each year for you: NPC Team Universe, Master’s Nationals, and IFBB North American.
Other ways you can keep costs down while still hunting for that Pro Card are to stay with friends or family when you travel to Pro-qualifiers, or share a hotel room with one or more competitors. I strongly advise you to avoid sharing a room with people who are in your height or weight class, though, because it can be torture if you face off against each other onstage, and one of you does well while the other doesn’t. It could get uncomfortable or even ugly.
Even if you don’t have far to travel (those of you who live in the tri-state area are in a good spot geographically for several national events), you still need to pay for coaching, competition suits, spray tanning, supplements, food, shoes, makeup and stage accessories. The stream of contest related expenses is exhaustive, so you need to be prepared. There are ways to cut costs down, but whatever you do, don’t scrimp on quality. You still need to bring a polished and well-conditioned package to the stage.