Tips to Compete in a Bodybuilding Competition on a Budget

by Chris Cucchiara

Athletic man and woman with a dumbells.

Competing in a bodybuilding competition is a dream for many, but once you decide to make it a reality, it can become one of the greatest decisions in your life. It will allow you to get in the best shape of your life, inspire people and learn discipline that will last your entire life.  But before you step on stage, there are many factors that you need to consider, but the two most obstacles that I and many of my friends have encountered on the journey to the stage are how much it is going to cost, and how to stay in the game mentally for months on end, leading up to the show date.

Today I would love to take some of your time and delve into both of these topics and show you how to compete on a more reasonable budget and how to stay strong mentally, which in my opinion is the biggest obstacle of them all! Hope you enjoy it my friends.

Saving Money on Your Contest Prep

If you have ever thought about competing in a bodybuilding show you may know about how downright pricey the entire process can be! First off, don’t let this discourage your from doing so because first off, doing the show will be one of the most gratifying and down right self empowering experiences of your life.

Second, you will learn a high amount of discipline from the process from doing so that will spill into every other area of your life, which equals massive production on all fronts!

Anyways, back to the subject at hand! Competing in a bodybuilding show can run you anywhere from $500 to multiple thousands of dollars. Bodybuilding shows are seen as a business opportunity for the promoter and everyone else involved. This means that the promoters and everyone else involved have an opportunity to make money off of both the competitors and the crowd.

Entree Fees

You have to pay to be a contestant in a show. Also if it is your first show then the fee for joining the organization or federation that is holding the event.

You may be able to get a partial sponsorship though. This can be done by approaching your gym and tell them that you will give them credit when the show MC announces who you would like to thank on your journey at the night show. Everyone loves name drops, so approaching the manager or owner of the gym you are working out at and asking them if they offer anything like this can allow you to save money on fees.

Posing Trunks

Getting your trunks or suit online is a great way to go simply because there are always great promo codes through sites like RetailMeNot and Groupon for nearly every online store that you shop at.


With this one, you will always want to book the hotel that is either chosen for competitors to stay at through the show you are doing. There will usually be a designated hotel where all the competitors are encouraged to stay because they offer a better deal on nightly rates, and most importantly they usually do all the things pertaining to the show there, like tanning and polygraph testing if you are doing a natural show.


My show charged me $169 for tanning! The best approach to save money on this one is to purchase a tanning product and learn how to apply it well before the show. There are so many great YouTube tutorials that can show you how to do so.

But before you even purchase the tanning product, make sure your competition allows for it. My bodybuilding show didn’t a certain tanning product called Dream Tan, so again make sure you get the OK on the brand you are looking to use!

Designate someone who can apply your tan, someone who is going to at your show a buddy, or family member, or just someone supporting your journey.


Hiring a coach can cost your hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But there are so many resources online about competing that you can literally learn everything you need to know on the web. The other option that you can do is that if you are planning to compete with friends, you can approach potential coaches with the offer of giving you a discount for bringing him/her multiple clients.

If you are going to be doing it without a coach, the first thing you will want to do is watch videos on doing mandatory poses. These are the poses that you will be needing to do in front of the judges. The amount of poses you do depends on the class, so whichever class you are competing in, be sure to search for the mandatory poses needed for that class. Like for example, for bodybuilders you need to hit a front and back double bicep, front and rear lat spread, side chest, side tricep, most muscular and quads and abs.

You first want to figure out how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight when starting out. You can do that through the service offered by the folks at Once you have this number, then you will want to eat 500 calories less than that number for your prep starting out. Now variables with your macronutrients will need to be adjusted along the way but this is a good place to start as this will allow you to lose a pound a week, usually a little more as your body becomes more efficient the leaner it gets. Losing anymore than 2 pounds a week will most likely result in loss of muscle.

Considering these factors, you will want to set you competition date out far enough for you to be lean enough for your show. You can do this by figuring out what your body fat percentage is. If you are 200 pounds and 15 percent bodyfat and want to get to 4 for the stage, then that means you have 30 pounds of fat on you and need to lose 22 pounds of fat.

Going off the rate of losing a pound and a half a week, this will take you around 14.5 weeks. Going at a slower rate will allow you to feel better in the long run and still have energy to have high intensity workouts instead of feeling sluggish in the gym It will also allow be very muscle preserving, allowing you to lose most if not all your weight from fat

I highly recommend follow the advice of Layne Norton, who is a natural pro bodybuilder, has coached over 60 clients to their pro cards and also has his PhD in Nutritional Sciences.

Staying Mentally Strong During Your Contest Prep

Body image becomes an even bigger issue than it already is when it comes to getting ready for a show. The 3-6 weeks, you lose a lot of your bulkiness that has come from having glycogen stores, aka as many carbs as you want during your bulk. For guys this can be a very tough issue.

I know for me, I received a lot of comments on how small I was getting! This is the exact opposite any guy who has been killing it in the gym wanted to hear! This is a huge ego blow and has killed the dreams of many individuals who want to compete in a bodybuilding show.

What helped me the most with this were 3 things. First off, I wore more sweatshirts and pants than ever, inside and outside of the gym. Staying covered up helped me focus on my routine instead of looking in the mirror and analyzing how “small” I am getting.

Second, I would take progress pictures each week and only look at them ONCE per week. When you look in the mirror everyday, you tend to think that you aren’t making any progress. It is kind of similar to your aunt seeing you after a year during your teenage growth spurt! You don’t see results because you are looking at yourself everyday, but when you postpone analyzing your body for a week or more, you will see more results. This alone will push you towards the stage and give your dieting plan the longevity needed to get lean enough for your show!

Lastly, but literally the most important, is you have to dig deep and ask yourself WHY you are doing the competition. For me, I wanted to get in the best shape of my life and not be mediocre. I also wanted to compete so that I could have the expertise needed to relate to my potential clients in my personal training business how to do the same. These reasons alone were STRONG enough to push me past the days where I felt like quitting. You are going to be in a caloric deficit for 3-5 months and will need to know EXACTLY why you are doing so and a strong enough reason to push through till the end!


The discipline I learned from dieting for 14 weeks without cheating once on my diet was incredible. I feel as if it has bled into every other area of my life, allowing me to be more disciplined in my approach to everything, resulting in a more efficient me.

Competing in itself will be one of the toughest but most gratifying things you will ever do in your life, and you should give yourself that gift! Remember to find the reason why you are doing it, stick to it and walk on that stage knowing you gave everything you had in your prep, and walk off the stage doing something that a very small percentage of the population will ever have the courage and discipline to do. Chris Cucchiara

(Chris Cucchiara is a personal trainer who specializes in building muscle, fat burning, powerlifting and pushing past limits in the gym. He is also a competitive bodybuilder and healthy lifestyle advocate, with an intense desire to help his clients and readers learn more, grow more and attain more results!)

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About Health on a Budget

We provide resources to eat and live healthy on a budget.

One Response to “Tips to Compete in a Bodybuilding Competition on a Budget”

  1. It was a pleasure writing this article for this awesome blog! I hope your readers get a ton of value on it, and I would love to answer any question that readers may have!