Career, Q+A — March 14, 2011 3:22 pm

Weird Career: Competitive Bodybuilder


OK, so maybe it’s more of a hobby. But bodybuilder Teresa Lake is one broad you don’t want to mess with.

Buffed-up bodybuilder Teresa Lake strikes a familiar pose in a Cincinnati gym. Photo Credit: Sam Spencer

When I first meet bodybuilder Teresa Lake at a small gym in Cincinnati, she’s wearing a track suit that nearly swallows her 5 foot, 1¼ inch frame. With her put-Michelle-Obama-to-shame biceps covered up, the 44-year-old looks petite, almost dainty. (Currently, she weighs around 125 pounds, but when she’s buffed-up for the bodybuilding season, she’ll knock that figure down to around 114—at about 9 percent body fat.) Her makeup’s done perfectly, even though she’s getting ready to work out—probably because she’s come straight from her desk job as a certified public accountant (CPA). Even if you happen to spot the faint outline of her broad, defined shoulders, you’d never guess that this University of Cincinnati grad (MBA, 2003) is a nationally competitive bodybuilder. But under the suit, she has a roaring six-pack, perfectly sculpted legs and a set of guns I’d never want tangle with.

Q: Tell me how you got started in bodybuilding.
A: One of the biggest things with me was always body image…I was anorexic. It began my sophomore year of college. I dropped down to 90 pounds when I should have been 115 naturally. When my graduate program ended, I felt depressed; I didn’t know what to do with all the free time. So I thought, “I’m a major challenge junkie. What’s the thing I absolutely hate to do the most?” And that was working out. I’ve always detested it. So I thought, “I’m going to do this.” I just wanted to start toning up. Then it started snowballing. I started working with a trainer in 2004 and I’ve been with him ever since.

Q: Do you receive any kind of salary or payment for what you’re doing?
A: [Laughs.] Nothing. If you are an amateur, you are not allowed to accept compensation. I do it strictly as a hobby—it’s all for the passion.

Q: How does this affect your family life? Are you married? Do you have children?
A: I have two kids, and I was married. That is part of the difficulty of the sport. Relationships outside of the sport are almost impossible. It’s bad to say, but it almost becomes selfish in a way: Others don’t understand it. At first they’re interested, but they’ll often become standoffish because they don’t understand why you do it. They’ll say, “Just have 10 chips.” I can’t. That’s 100 calories and 10 minutes extra on the bike or elliptical. No. I’m not going to do that.

Q: What do your kids think about your hobby?
A: They love it. My youngest calls me Mr. Incredible. And I ask him to explain why he puts “Mr.” in front of it. He says it’s because of my shoulders.

Q: Is there such thing as being too big for a female bodybuilder?
A: I think so. Your organs have a hard time carrying that much mass. That’s why a lot of bodybuilders—you’ll see them get out of breath quickly because they’re trying to carry too much of a load.

Lake focuses on her form during a typical workout session. Photo Credit: Sam Spencer

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about female bodybuilding?
A: People think you’re not as educated. What they don’t know is that a significant number of us are actually doctors, CEOs, lawyers, and that we just do it because it’s healthy, and a lot of the time you end up being a very competitive person.

Q: Do you think that a person’s bodybuilding potential is something they’re born with or is it all about the work ethic?
A: I think it takes a lot of work ethic, which is something you’re probably born with. To get to where I’m at right now at the national level, you have to live, eat and breathe bodybuilding. The competitive spirit and anal retentiveness [I have] as an accountant and as a control freak—all those things really help feed into this sport and mindset. You have to be able to stay on your diet. You’re eating the same thing every day for months on end. No added fats, no bread…the last time I remember eating an actual piece of bread was July 2005.

Q: Do you ever crave bad food?
A: After a show, I let myself have an absolute food fest. Usually it’s Mexican, chocolate, ice cream. And some vodka. At that point, you just need to relax.

Q: How many hours of sleep do you usually get?
A: About six hours on average a night.

Q: I’ve always noticed that in photos of bodybuilders, they’re incredibly tan. Why is that? Is tanning a rule?
A: You don’t have to, but if you don’t, you’re silly. When you get on stage, the lights are so bright that the paler your skin is, the more likely it is that your muscle definition won’t show up. Your skin has to be tight and dry and thin so you can see all your muscles.

Q: How do they judge winners at bodybuilding and figure competitions?
A: We don’t do any kind of lifting at the competitions—it’s all about the presentation. You do a routine. For figure competitions, you wear six-inch acrylic stilettos. You do your model turns, strike three or four poses however you want to present your body to the judges.

Q: Do you ever go on vacations? Ever take a break from working out?
A: Yes, but I never take breaks. A good gym is the first thing that I look for when planning a vacation. Eating out doesn’t happen on vacations. [On my last] trip, I packed and froze all my food to take with me.

Q: How will you ever know when to stop? Do you feel healthy?
A: I won’t stop. From the eating disorder standpoint, whenever you don’t do something like this to try to control it…I spent years obsessing…not eating to the point where you can say it’s still obsessive, but I’m eating the right foods, clean foods. You never really recover from anorexia…it’s always in your head.

Q: Are you planning on ever trying to go pro?
A: Probably not. There’s a dark side to the sport as well. Women will go the route of steroids. That’s something I can’t do. It’s illegal and it’s unhealthy.

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