There’s a lot of things to like about bodybuilder Kait Cavers.
For starters, she wasn’t the most athletic kid in school. “I was a very artistic kid. I played several instruments… and had a passion for drama.” But it wasn’t the allure of the stage that drew Cavers to competitive bodybuilding, “it was desperation… I was not happy with the way I looked- I was an inactive, overweight teen- and I knew if I didn’t get my ass in gear, I was never going to be happy. Or healthy. I knew things had to change.”
Cavers, aka Coach Kait, began weightlifting nine years ago and bodybuilding in 2013. The next year, she began a 14-month bulk followed by a 20-week cut to compete in her first figure competition. New to the bronzed and beefy world of bodybuilding? A female figure competition is one of five categories within women’s bodybuilding. It falls between the bikini and bodybuilding tiers, focusing more on muscle definition rather than muscle size. As explained by the Canadian Physique Alliance, (CPA) the figure competition consists of both a presentation and comparison round in which competitors wearing a two-piece swimsuit and heels will be judged on muscularity, muscle tone, healthy appearance, make-up and skin tone.
While female bodybuilding isn’t new, it’s not something even sport enthusiasts are very familiar with. And like anything a woman does that pushes her body to a certain extreme – proves to come attached with a certain amount of stigma. Assumptions about women and the mental stability or femininity of those who choose to compete in such a punishing level of fitness are plentiful. Cavers is the first to acknowledge that the sport doesn’t fit the “the social norm.” She even goes as far to say that it’s a cyber-bully’s dream. But that hasn’t deterred her from being open and honest in all forms of social media.
Scroll through her Instagram and you’ll see everything from bulging biceps, to protein powders to something she affectionately refers to as slutty brownies… Oreos and Reese’s peanut butter cups sandwiched between brownies. Now I’m no fitness guru but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t fit into most people’s idea of a nutritious meal. I’d call it something closer to a handful of diabetes.
Typically, bodybuilders go through two cycles: bulking and cutting. When bulking you’re trying to gain weight and grow while building muscle. Cutting, as you may have already guessed, is essentially the opposite. Now that you’ve hit your gains, you’re looking for those shredded muscles rivaled only by Marvel’s Avengers. Cutting normally requires a pretty strict fitness regime and even more restrictive diet.
Cavers routine consists of about 6-7 hours lifting a week, in addition to hiking her dog. While that might not sound too intense on paper, let’s not forget this whole process took her 19 months the first time- competing in her first show in January 2016. It didn’t go as planned. Cavers placed last. She was too lean, with not enough muscle. That didn’t deter Cavers who saw it as a learning lesson. She followed up her defeat with another 14-month bulk and 16-week cut. She placed second in what she called the “road to redemption.” Cavers is now aiming to snag the first place spot in her upcoming competitions, actively bulking up.
Common in the world of bodybuilding, what the gen-pop (myself included- see diabetes reference above-) may mistake as binge-eating, she refers to as bulking. In fact, Cavers wished to make it very clear that bulking and binge eating are different, “I do deal with disordered eating among clients, I want to ensure those two things remain separate.” Bulking is generally the healthier part of a bodybuilder’s cycle. Cavers follows the form of dieting referred to as counting macros- measuring your carbs, fats, fiber and proteins to a certain percentage.
She maintains a flexible dieting program- so she can eat what she wants, when she wants, by counting macros while paying close attention to her micronutrients as well. “The majority of the foods that I eat every day are very nutrient dense – lean cuts of meat, fruits or veg, healthy fats, complex carbs, with room for the odd “treat” here and there. I don’t want to portray the image that I’m just stuffing myself full of slutty brownies on the daily, “she laughs, “my diet is just as healthy when bulking as it is when cutting – it’s simply more of those healthy foods in the off season, bigger serving sizes, but the same, healthy foods that I eat when cutting.”
In other words, don’t be fooled by posts about chocolate and donuts, come cutting time, her diet is pretty much the definition of healthy. “A lot of folks have a misconception about flexible dieting – thinking it’s an excuse to ignore the fundamentals of nutrition and eat a lot junk food – it’s not, and I don’t want to get wires crossed. [I’m] forever trying to dispel that misconception.”
That said, bodybuilders do go to extremes on the days leading up to the show in order to appear as shredded as possible. Much like boxers or fighters before a fight they withhold food and even water right before competition in order to have the optimum muscle definition. It’s not recommended for the inexperienced or average fitness enthusiast. When I referenced one especially low-calorie day pre-show, Cavers explained, “it’s not something I would consider healthy or sustainable for anyone, even competitors, long-term.”
By humanizing her otherwise nutritious diet- greens and meat on repeat- Cavers encourages people to follow her and, eventually her hope is, choose her to be their coach. Glance through Cavers’ feed to see some pretty impressive transformation pictures of her clients. And another striking thing when digging into the comments on her posts? The fitness industry is incredibly supportive of each other- cyber-bullies be damned!
After an ebb in female bodybuilding popularity, social media has helped so-called fitness consultants build a following much faster than ever before- offering more exposure with less paid advertising. There are all sorts of tags- #strongnotskinny, #girlswholift- that provide insight into a new niche world of online fitness coaches and their ever-growing followers. That tide has turned bodybuilding back towards mainstream thanks to always-accessible coaching and the frequent reminders about people who are both more shredded and dedicated than we are.
While “influencers” are a new norm in a number of industries, the world of bodybuilding is not as glam as some others, despite the deep tans and glittered bikinis seen in competition. Cavers vlogs her lead-ups and prep for all competitions on Youtube; and in one such video on competition day, films herself eating chicken and fish with her morning coffee at 4:30am. While I’m impressed by her dedication- I’m not exactly yearning to set my alarm and down double proteins before sunrise in order to strut about in see-through heels.
Of course there’s a lot more to it than that. And there’s a lot to be learned for first-time competitors as Cavers points out, “like in my case, among many things, learning how to transition without looking like a potato on stilts.”
With all the existing pressure to be the biggest or fittest even without competition, it’s no wonder that steroid-uses, is prevalent in the world of bodybuilding. There are separate competitions within the CPA held for “natural” bodybuilding compared to shows allowing the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s)- although it doesn’t explicitly state that on their website. When I asked Cavers if she’s felt pressured to use steroids or GH, she replied, “I’ve never felt pressure per se, but of course I’m curious. Once you hit your natural potential – it’s tempting to look for alternate ways to top that.”
Think what you want, but in one study on the social and psychological effects of competing in figure competitions, the women, feeling judged even by family and friends on their grueling commitment, believed the benefits outweighed any negative impact.
“In competitive bodybuilding,” Cavers explains, “it’s near impossible (unless you are some kind of genetic outlier) to climb the ranks in non-tested streams without the use of PED’s. To each their own – it’s a widely accepted part of this sport –and we have two streams, tested and non-tested, for a purpose.” Given that, and the associated health concerns of taking anabolic steroids, it does give more weight to family and friend trepidation in an otherwise health-oriented sport. Especially if you fall short of your goals.
While the criteria for judging may seem subjective Cavers insists the judges within the CPA and Canadian Bodybuilding Federation hold themselves to high standards.
“You’re not always going to get the result you thought you deserved – you can either let that discourage you or light the fire under your ass to make necessary improvements. The reality is, you can only show up to a competition at your personal best. You can’t control who shows up to compete against you. Even when you show up at your best, you still might have the worst physique on stage. It can be frustrating – but judging for the most part, from what I’ve seen and experienced, is fair.”
Questioned about the state of her mental health after a competition, Cavers answered, “post-show can be extremely difficult. It’s near impossible to maintain the physique you bring to the stage on show day. That level of leanness is not healthy – long-term. So there’s an adjustment period post-show… as you put on some (necessary) body-fat. If you’re not prepared to accept those changes, which can often feel like regression, it can be a bit of a mind-trip. Also, after an extended period of strict dieting, there are disordered eating patterns that can surface. It’s not a sport you want to get involved in if you have underlying eating issues– prep can definitely exacerbate those.”
There’s a certain ownership and mental fortitude needed to compete and bounce back healthy and ready to coach others. And that’s another thing to love about Coach Kait: she clearly wants to be a responsible resource for others on their fitness journey.
Beyond her own competitions, Cavers has established herself as a successful fitness consultant. For the last five years she’s carved out a career as a full-time coach tailoring her work to overlap her passion. “There’s not a single aspect of my job that I take for granted. I’ve become a whole heck of a lot more aware of and confident in my own abilities. And after working with hundreds of clients, getting to know them, what makes them tick, why they struggle, I’ve become a lot more conscious and considerate of the fact that everyone is fighting their own battle. Coaching has taught me how to be a more compassionate human.”
Inspiring, sure. Respectable? Oh hell yeah. And even better, Cavers is relatable. A quote from the coaching page on her website:
Maybe it’s her drama-geek youth slipping through, but Cavers’ sense of humour is frequently found in her captions and blogs. And it serves her well, framing her as a more approachable coach. For a “weekend warrior” gym-goer like me, it’s another check in the column that places her closer to human and further from Hercules.
So thanks Coach Kait, for being so unexpectedly inspiring, wonderfully supportive and perfectly candid.
Kait Cavers can be found hiking her dog or in the gym, currently coaching and training for the 2019 competition season including the Vancouver Island Showdown on June 15th. Looking to make gains? Click here to get in touch with Coach Kait.
Follow Kait Cavers on Instagram @kaitcaversfitness