GOING to the gym 14 times a week; no alcohol; eating almost nothing but chicken, white fish, and rice. Welcome to the world of natural bodybuilding, where success means some of the most intense discipline imaginable.  

But there are also huge benefits, says Tracy Hogg, an NHS physiotherapist who took up the sport 4 years ago as a way of overcoming low mood and other symptoms associated with perimenopause.

She says she soon discovered a raft of other physical and well-being benefits, including improved self-confidence, focus, and the promotion of an all-round healthy lifestyle.  

The mum-of-two is currently ranked number three in the British Natural Bodybuilding Federation’s (BNBF) masters figure category, and she’ll be competing in the European Championships in Munich on October 28.  

Northwich Guardian: Competitors in Tracy's class are marked on symmetry, tone and shape, and individual presentationCompetitors in Tracy's class are marked on symmetry, tone and shape, and individual presentation (Image: Tracy Hogg)

The 48-year-old gets all kinds of support from her family, including coaching from her partner, Nigel Collyer, and her 21-year-old daughter Charly goes with her to all her competitions.  

BNBF competitors can’t use performance-enhancing substances like anabolic steroids, testosterone, and growth hormones - which is what makes it 'natural' - so all her gains are a result of hours and hours in the gym, and diet plans which would make most people run a mile.

Northwich Guardian: Tracy Hogg (left) with daughter and number one supporter, Charly LoganTracy Hogg (left) with daughter and number one supporter, Charly Logan (Image: Tracy Hogg)

Tracy, who in competition season attends three different gyms and visits twice a day, every day, said: “I love pushing my body to its limits.

"It is amazing what a natural body can achieve with hard work, determination and dedication.

“I also couldn’t do without the positive effects on my mental health and perimenopause symptoms by improving my well-being, mood, confidence, focus, and general healthy lifestyle.

Northwich Guardian: Tracy Hogg (left) with partner and weightlifting coach Nigel CollyerTracy Hogg (left) with partner and weightlifting coach Nigel Collyer (Image: Tracy Hogg)

“I’d always gone to the gym for fitness, but about four years ago, I was looking around for a meaningful personal goal and someone suggested natural bodybuilding.

“I was struggling a bit with mental health at the time, and I just wanted something to aim towards.

"I was experiencing perimenopause symptoms, including low mood, and it really helped with that. There’s a real feel-good factor from exercise.

Northwich Guardian: Tracy at the BNBF 2023 British finals, where she came third in her classTracy at the BNBF 2023 British finals, where she came third in her class (Image: Tracy Hogg)

“The new friends – all like-minded people - I’ve met have been really beneficial too. It all helps with your self-confidence.

“My favourite thing about natural bodybuilding is the way it makes you feel. It makes you feel good about yourself. I just love exercising.

“The worst side of it’s the diet, without a shadow of a doubt. I was at a gathering this week and I couldn’t eat a thing. That’s a bit of a restriction. It’s very strict.

“I eat lots of chicken, lots of white fish, and rice, and little much else.

Tracy says she massively proud and excited to be headed to Munch for the European Championships, but also looks forward to the off-season, when her life looks a bit more like other people’s.

“Off-season, you’re lifting heavier weights, but you can factor in a day off.

"But when competition time come around, you’ve got to include cardio, to get the fat off. That’s when it starts to feel never-ending.”