Exercising nearly every day of the week, a ban on processed food and no alcohol allowed: welcome to the life of a champion bodybuilder where hard work and sacrifice are the keys to success.
Four years ago Marlena Woźniak from Newcastle was like many other women, eating what she wanted and exercising when she felt like it. But that all changed in 2018 when a New Year's resolution to do strength training opened the door to the world of bodybuilding.
After 10 months of intense training, the 41-year-old mum took part in her first competition in Gdańsk, Poland, in February 2019 under the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB). Although she didn't win, the experience left its mark, and from then on Marlena was hooked on competing - no matter what the result was.
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Marlena, who is originally from Poland, said: "Ever since I started bodybuilding, I noticed that I have become more confident. Although I have a large amount of muscles, I am still able to feel feminine.
"Before my journey with this sport started, I was usually a quite shy and reserved person, but this sport made my confidence grow to a point where my shyness has significantly decreased."
During competitions, all eyes are on Marlena and the other participants as they pose on stage to show off their muscles to judges.
She continued: "Competing is very special to me because I feel absolutely amazing being able to show people my form that I spent months or even years trying to build and develop. Winning feels great, but any person who takes part in this sport knows that just participating in these kinds of competitions is the biggest win."
The restaurant worker has now secured top places in a number of bodybuilding competitions, which include winning the PCA UK Open competition in Birmingham in 2020, coming second place in the "bikini fitness masters" category of the PCA North East competition in Newcastle in 2019, and coming third in the PCA Polish Finals competition in 2019.
However, the build-up to every event involves months of hard work and dedication, as Marlena explained.
"The run-up to each competition is full of hard work and sacrifices," she said. "You always have to go to the gym sometimes nearly every day of the week, no matter the way that you’re feeling, whether you’re sick or healthy, feeling good or bad. You have to train to achieve what you want."
For Marlena, that means completing full-body workouts five days a week where she works with a personal trainer in the gym for more than an hour at a time. The dedicated restaurant worker must also live off a diet of homemade meals that have been carefully weighed out to help her form develop.
As well as a diet that's heavy on staples like potatoes, chicken, and vegetables, Marlena also relies on a variety of supplements including whey protein and zinc. But the bodybuilding champion says that the sacrifices to her diet are worth it because the changes to her body make her "incredibly happy."
"I love seeing my body transform through this sport," she said. "Being able to see even the smallest transformation occurring in my body makes me incredibly happy. It is especially amazing about two to three weeks before a competition when my body is basically changing every single day."
While Marlena's family and friends are very supportive of her bodybuilding, the mum admits that she has faced negative reactions from other women who don't see it as a "feminine sport".
"People usually have very positive reactions to what I do when they first find out about it," Marlena said.
"They often tell me that they admire the discipline and hard work that I put into my preparations. However, some people can also have negative opinions on what I do.
"This is often because they don’t think it’s a feminine sport, especially for women over 40."
But Marlena is determined not to let critics stop her from achieving her goals and urged other women to do the same when it comes to their interests.
"Unfortunately, I have experienced many negative responses to me competing and bodybuilding although, this always happens online and never in real life," she said. "This negative response usually comes from women who think I should not be showing and embracing my body at my age, or building my muscles as they view that to be lacking in femininity. However, I never let these responses tear me down and I continue doing what I love most.
"My advice for everyone is to not listen to what others think about you and simply keep doing you."
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