Top competitive bodybuilder Debbie Allsopp chats about her journey into women's bodybuilding and how the sport has developed for her over the past few years; from her very first competition back in 2012, to her most recent 1st place in the IBFA Miss Britain.
Lovely to catch up with you again Debs, and thanks for taking time out to chat to Tough Talk. When did you start bodybuilding, and why?
I started lifting weights at the age of 44. I'm now 51 years young! I had just come out of a messy divorce, I was drinking to much and living on junk food and takeaways. I woke up one morning badly hungover after being out on an alcoholic bender the night before, and looked at my daughter's face as she slept and thought to myself; what must she think of this wreck that is her mother? I immediately decided to stop drinking and change to a healthier lifestyle. I joined a local gym the next day.
Were you previously interested in health and fitness?
No, I had no interest in health and fitness previously. I'd just been a single mum struggling through life and doing the best I could for my kids. However, I did have a few friends on Facebook who were into fitness and bodybuilding so asked around about what I needed to do to start out. I needed something to keep me motivated and also to make me proud of myself, as well as to make my kids proud of me.
When did you first decide to compete?
It wasn't long into my training that I decided to compete. I saw the posters of female bodybuilders on the gym wall and thought how strong, beautiful and confident they looked. That was what I wanted to be; strong and confident. And so I got myself a great female coach, we trained together and I dieted for 16 weeks to get me ready to go onstage for my very first competition. It was the NABBA Wales in Barry Island, 2012, and I got a runner up trophy.
How did you feel standing on stage for the very first time?
I was terrified! My nerves were shot and I could feel my whole body shaking the whole time I was up on stage. But I also felt totally exhilarated and loved it. I knew I'd found something that I really loved doing. The minute I got off stage I knew I wanted to be back up there again! My life changed from that very first competition, what started off as a new hobby back then has now turned into my lifestyle ; I train hard every day, I care what food goes into my body, and I no longer drink.
What do your friends and family think about your sport?
The majority of my friends now are bodybuilders and it's a great sport to be involved in. Most of my family are all for me bodybuilding too, and my children are very proud of me. After following in my footsteps, one of my sons is also now a fitness model, so we're proud of each other. My fiancée is my rock and stands proud, cheering me on at the side of the stage when I am competing. He also kicks my ass constantly in the gym and pushes me to my limits, which I love him for.
I do occasionally get awful, snide comments about how disgusting I look with muscles and how I look like a man though, mainly from women and mainly in supermarkets! I choose to ignore other people's comments and just laugh them off as they almost always come from very overweight women... or very skinny men!
How do you think the sport is evolving for female bodybuilders?
Female bodybuilding has suffered immeasurably over the last few years and since the women's bodybuilding class has been dropped by most federations. However, thankfully a few like the IBFA run by Martyn Yates Brown still have the class, and he keeps bodybuilding at its grass roots and 'old school', like it should be. But generally I think that women's bodybuilding is now evolving too much into the beauty and aesthetic side of it, and that's mainly because if the Federations have more bikini and physique classes they bring in more crowds to the competitions, and more crowds means more money. But that's just my opinion!
What could be better?
The problem is that a lot of women bodybuilders like myself struggle to know what judges are looking for, as different Federations seem to want different looks. It would be easier if they all said; right here's what we want for athletic figure, trained figure, etc., etc. This would make things so much more easier to understand, and we would know what the judges expected our physiques to look like; shredded, soft, striated, etc. It's a minefield out there! But we just get up on stage nevertheless and give it our all... because it's what we love to do!
What would you say are the toughest things about being a competitive bodybuilder?
The amount of hard work that has to go into it day by day. It's not an easy sport. It's time consuming and extremely demanding on your body, and you don't get much down-time between working and training; you often have to force yourself to say no to some things so that you can have time with your family. It's a very expensive sport too, everything from food and supplementation, to hotels for the competitions and entry fees. The costs quickly mount up and I know a lot of people who have stopped competing purely of the cost of it all.
What are the best things?
Standing up on that stage knowing your body is looking phenomenal! Especially when you know you've suffered for months and you have worked your ass off! Seeing friends and family cheering you on and rooting for you. And the camaraderie with the other competitors backstage; we all cheer each other on, help each other get ready and just generally boost each other's confidence if our nerves start acting up. These are some of the best things.
What is your training schedule, on and off season?
Off season I train 4 -5 days a week and lift as heavy as I can on each set. I don't do cardio when I'm bulking as I don't see the need, but that's just me personally and what works for my body; I have a very demanding job so I'm constantly on the move anyway.
On season I train 6 - 7 days a week. I do cardio at 5 am for forty-five minutes before I go to work and then I'll go to the gym for up to two hours in the evening after work.
Lead up to competitions I am fully focused on the goal ahead so my training will be hard, heavy and focused on particular body parts. Also, as the body fat drops your body becomes more susceptible to damage and injuries so I concentrate a lot more on the muscles and my form as I move the weights.
What is your diet, both on and off season?
Off season dieting is generally bulking with lots of meals, dense in rice and potatoes and red meat. I don't hard diet, I just eat sensibly, but if I want to have a little unhealthy food a couple or so days a week I will do, but in moderation.
On season diet my foods change to four portions, which generally revolves around chicken, fish, vegetables, rice and oatmeal.
Leading up to comps I put between 4 - 6 meals a day into my body, which starts after my morning fasted cardio and continues every three hours throughout the day. I see so many women bodybuilders losing muscle by not putting enough food into their bodies and overdoing the cardio to the point of exhaustion. You need to keep your carbs in your diet and keep a decent amount of calories going in too, as the body needs the energy that food brings.
How do you manage to fit a bodybuilder's lifestyle around work?
My day typically starts when I get up with my fiancée Neil at 4.30 a.m. As he leaves for work I go to the gym to do my cardio (on season). I am a store manager of a very busy book store so I will generally get into work between 6.30 to 7.30 a.m. I leave work at 6 p.m. and head straight to the gym to meet Neil where we will then train hard for up to two hours before going home to eat and sleep. EAT, SLEEP, TRAIN, REPEAT. But I feel no matter what job you do, if you're a bodybuilder you make time in your day for training regardless.
Do you get any sponsorship?
I am currently sponsored by FrostedGWBBikinis (@frostedgwbbikinis) for my bikini and have a new one made for me for each competition.
What other comps have you competed in?
2018 IBFA Miss Britain Masters Figure, 1st place.
2017 IBFA Yorkshire Masters Trained Figure, 1st place.
2017 Coresport Classic Trained Figure, 1st place
2016 Lee Priest Classic Trained Figure, 3rd place.
2015 NAC Trained Figure over 40s, 3rd place.
2014 Hercules Olympia Masters Trained Figure, 4th place.
2014 BNBF Masters Figure, 3rd place.
2013 Hercules Olympia Toned Figure (unplaced).
2012 NABBA Wales Toned Figure (runner up).
What are your plans and goals for bodybuilding in 2019?
I will be competing in the IBFA World finals in Rome in October 2019. I was supposed to compete there last year but had a couple of minor problems which unfortunately meant I couldn't compete, but as I did originally qualify so I am still able to take part. Besides that, I have a couple of competitions I'm thinking of doing too, so watch this space!