Competitive Bodybuilding: The Risks and Rewards Of Natalie Joyce's New Hobby

ICYMI, Natalie Joyce -- that's former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s ex-wife -- is now a competitive bodybuilder.

The 49-year-old may have just started out but she's already doing pretty well.

The mum-of-four won not one but two medals in her debut at the iCompete Natural North Coast Classic bodybuilding competition in Newcastle on March 31.

She took out fourth place in the 'First Timers' and 'Miss Fitness Model Momma' categories according to her trainer Kylie Steele.

Steele was thrilled with her protege's success, writing on Instagram: "One very proud coach!! 2 x 4th placings, first Comp!!!"

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Joyce responded with an equal amount of praise, saying: "There were doubters, but you never did. You believed in me, encouraged me [with] a gentle, strong guiding hand."

Fans on Insta have come forward with messages of support and admiration for Joyce's hobby -- which saw her shed a reported 15kg.

One remarked on her "amazing transformation" while another called her an "an inspiration [...] to all women."

Another wrote that her new look and success were "The biggest proverbial middle finger you could give."

They are, of course, referring to her split with her husband following his very public affair with staffer Vikki Campion last year.

Joyce and ex-media advisor Campion share son Sebastian, 11 months, and in January announced they are expecting a second boy later this year.

Talk about a 'revenge body,' right? But is Joyce's bodybuilding pursuit -- which involves intense physical training and a restrictive diet -- healthy or harmful?

Joyce (far left) in competition-mode and before her transformation. Image: Facebook/ICN NSW, Facebook/natalie.joyce.904

According to exercise physiologist Drew Harrisberg, it all depends on how you go about it.

In order to lose and maintain their weight before competitions bodybuilders go on what Harrisberg calls a "calorie deficit" diet which means they consume fewer calories than they burn.

While a small deficit can actually be healthy, he explained that problems can arise when bodybuilders reduce their calories to dangerously low levels.

This causes their body fat percentage to drop dramatically -- which gives them that trademark ripped physique -- but it can be unhealthy in the long term in Harrisberg's opinion.

Restricting calories trains the body's metabolism to work very, very slowly -- so slowly that the person has to eat fewer and fewer calories in order to lose weight.

Eventually, it can cause something called 'metabolic damage' which results in a complete inability to lose weight.

When their competition is over and they stop their 'calorie deficit' diet many bodybuilders gain fat rapidly in something Harrisberg calls 'rebound fat gain.'

A slow metabolism and low body fat percentage can also impact the body's production of hormones which affect fertility, libido, mood and energy, he said.

Along with their calorie intake, some bodybuilders are also known to restrict how much water they drink to make their muscles look larger.  Harrisberg warns deliberately dehydrating yourself "isn't the end of the world but it's definitely not healthy either."

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According to online fitness coach, Bulk Nutrients ambassador and bodybuilder Ella Martyn, this is a hobby that's "definitely not for everyone."

She's been doing it for five years now and makes sure that she "eats a wide variety of foods" -- "I have chocolate most nights!" she told 10 daily.

She takes a 'slow and steady' approach to her pre-competition diet which she extends over about 20 weeks -- yes, this slows down her weight loss but it makes for a "better mental and emotional experience."

While she's not in it for the rewards -- competitions have "no prizes, no money" -- Martyn does get something out of bodybuilding.

"I enjoy the journey and transformation process," she said.

River Nygryn, also a bodybuilder, told 10 daily that she trains six days a week in the lead up to a competition and often skips meals before cardio sessions -- some people believe this helps the body lose fat fast but maintain muscle.

She eats "six to seven small meals" throughout the day and doesn't eat carbs after midday unless she plans on hitting the gym that same evening.

"Doing anything excessively for extended periods obviously can be bad [but] getting the right coach and really knowing and listening to your body whilst still pushing the boundaries is essential to avoid injury," she told 10 daily.

Nygryn has never trained with Joyce but suspects that her transformation may have taken "between six to eight months of solid no-cheating work."

"But if she continues, each competition will require shorter and shorter prep time as her body adjusts," she added.

From Harrisberg's perspective, any hobby that encourages exercise is good -- as long as people don't overdo it.

Feature image: Facebook/ICN NSW, Facebook/natalie.joyce.904.