Premier Member Highlight: Victoria Howard
Victoria Howard has a regimented fitness routine, a specific diet, and a coach to keep her on track with both. She exercises almost every day, calculates her macro and micro nutrients, and is sure to get enough sleep. This might simply sound like a responsible approach to health and wellness, and it is, but its also more than that: It is the life of a bodybuilder.
Influenced by her boyfriend and other friends, Victoria got into bodybuilding in 2017, the year she graduated with her masters degree from FSU. She was a varsity letterman in 4 different sports throughout her high school experience and she has been an active person and an athlete throughout her entire life. It is clear that Victoria enjoys competition and exercise, which is why body building was an easy and natural choice for her, however an easy decision does not mean easy success.
Victoria works full time as a civil engineer, and on her social media, she calls herself an “engineer by day, body builder by night”, however, she admits the sport requires attention both day and night. Body building is not a sport that anyone does for quick gratification. It takes time, physical energy, and mental fortitude. In fact, one of the aspects of body building that Victoria particularly appreciates is how slowly progress happens. She likes the fact that it may take months or years to reach particular goals, and the contrast this provides from many aspects of our American culture. She says, “we live in a society in which people can get what they want in an instant”. Body building does not work that way; it involves incredible patience and dedication, which is why she thinks it is “a bit of a lost art”.
Beyond witnessing her growth and the benefits of her hard work and consistency, Victoria has grown to appreciate the community around body building. Through the sport, she has built countless connections and lasting relationships with others. According to her, the community is extremely supportive, even to those who are new on the scene. She says that other people in the sport want you to do well. They want to see you succeed because they understand the amount of work you’ve put in. When it comes to competitive sports, this is pretty rare. Along with the general camaraderie of the community, the sport itself is very inclusive. When asked about diversity within body building, Victoria called it “The great equalizer” because it is so subjective. There are specific aesthetic standards that everyone is aware of; race, ethnicity, gender, and age don’t really matter as long as you meet those standards.
So, how exactly does one meet those standards? The answer to that is going to vary from person to person, but generally, strict and specific diet and exercise will do the trick. Victoria works with a coach to help her stay on track with both diet and exercise, although she says dieting is about 70% of body building, while exercise and adequate rest makes up for the rest. Her coach calculates everything she eats and decides what portions of what foods she should eat and when she should eat them. Victoria eats several small meals throughout the day, spaced 2-3 hours apart. She eats roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Depending on how close she is to a show, she will eat more or less carbs. She gets her fats from foods like meat, olive oil, almond-butter, and some produce. Basically, eating has become an extremely mindful process for Victoria. She admits that since she really started paying attention to and altering the way that she consumes food, she feels much more energetic and happy. Before body building, she would maybe have a sandwich for lunch in the middle of the day and, without fail, she would feel sleepy and groggy afterwards. Now, that is not a problem.
When asked about the cliche relationship between body builders and steroids, Victoria laughed and said that as a body builder, “your steroid is your food”. She says that food and nutrition are the most important elements of muscle gain, along with exercise, of course, but steroid use is definitely not necessary. She even implied that it is not as popular as people assume. In fact, according to Victoria, many people who start off in the sport are not eating enough or they are eating the wrong things, and that is why they do not see results. Even if they did use steroids, the drugs would not help without proper nutritional discipline. She says “You can’t out-train a bad diet”, suggesting that there is no magical drug that can turn someone into a body builder.
Another common misconception that Victoria would like to clear the air about is the assumption that women who lift heavy weights will look like men. “You’re not going to look like a man… because you’re not a man! Worst case scenario, you put on so much muscle so fast that you don’t even recognize yourself”, she remarks hyperbolically, “then you just stop, and you’ll lose that muscle. It sounds obvious and kind of silly, but this is what a lot of women think”. Of course, without an intentional diet alongside heavy lifting, most people are not going to see huge gains in muscle mass. Victoria does not want women to stray away from lifting weights due this unfounded fear that they will become huge, because weight lifting can be a really healthy habit.
As noted earlier, Victoria’s fitness journey started a long time ago, as a student in school. However, just because fitness is a huge part of her life doesn’t mean she cannot understand how difficult it can be to decide to make that first step towards better health. It may be second nature for her to go to the gym 15 hours a week now, but she worked over time to get herself to that point. For anyone just starting their fitness journey, Victoria advises them to start with something they love, “If you’re trying to make a change physically, start by doing things you enjoy, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it”. Whether that is rock climbing, throwing the Frisbee with your dog, or just walking through the neighborhood, choosing something that you genuinely like to do is always a great start because that way, it doesn’t feel like a chore. Eventually, that activity might spill over into the gym or some other kind of training.