Working out regularly is one thing, but training to compete in a bodybuilding competition? That’s a whole different ballgame — and one Tamra Judge now certainly knows a thing or two about.
Less than six months ago, the Real Housewives of Orange County star decided she wanted to transform her body. Now the mom of four is fresh off of winning her first Muscle Mania competition — but she’s not doing it for the trophies.
“To me, it was never about getting on stage and winning,” Judge, 48, tells PEOPLE. “It was more about setting a goal for myself and completing it. That’s what I did. That was the rewarding part.”
As for what actually sparked the decision to set that goal?
“I was at the age where a lot of women’s bodies start to go through menopause, and I’d been seeing some changes in my body and I didn’t like it,” Judge says.
As a result, Judge started training at her CUT Fitness gym with trainer Mia Finnegan and soon enough, she decided she wanted to kick things up a notch and compete.
“As far as competitions go, I’d always wanted to do one, but I never had the tools to do it,” Judge says. “Going to the gym is one thing, but this is a whole other level. This is like, bodybuilding. You have to train totally differently for it.”
“So I started training with [Finnegan] heavily, for the past five months, and I started seeing my body changing,” Judge continues. “And it wasn’t all at once. It took some time and it was discouraging — at times I thought: ‘What am I doing?’, and it was lot of work. And then it just happened. [Finnegan] said what I did to my body [in five months] normally would take a year.”
Judge ended up losing 16 percent body fat and got down to around 111 lbs. with an intense workout routine and a strict diet.
WATCH THIS: ‘RHOC’ Star Tamra Judge Wins Her First Fitness Competition
“I would wake up around 4:30 a.m. and I would do low intensity cardio at home,” Judge says. “Then I would meet [Finnegan] and she would just take me through lifting. I would do split body parts, legs and shoulders, or biceps and triceps. We do two body parts and pretty much always do abdominals — we’d work those out every single day.”
But perhaps even more important was her diet, Judge says.
“If you don’t have enough protein in you, it’s as bad as overeating,” says the star, who spent hours prepping her food daily and ate plenty of protein and veggies.
Says Judge, “I would eat often. In the morning I would eat oatmeal with blueberries, and then I would have four egg whites. Then I would go and work out, I’d come back home, I’d take an after-workout AdvoCare drink — I’m on a ton of supplements, still am.”
“Then I would have maybe four oz. of ground turkey and raw vegetables, and then I would have a protein bar, and then I would have a piece of chicken,” she continues. “It was about eating all day long, it wasn’t about being hungry, ever. I was never hungry.”
And if you thought cheat days might be an option, think again: “I stayed focused. I didn’t have cheat days. I stuck to my diet,” Judge says.
While it’s been less than a week since she won Muscle Mania — “an emotional high,” she recalls — the Bravo star isn’t slowing down. In fact, she’s gearing up for her next competition in November.
“I’m back to training, I started back this week,” she says. “I have to keep myself in tip-top shape!”
As for it comes to any backlash she’s gotten, Judge simply brushes it off.
“I’m definitely taking it to a different level. I’m not just working out, I’m building muscle,” she says. “I’ve seen women comment on my page like: ‘Oh, you’re so masculine looking,’ and I don’t care. I mean, I know it’s not for everybody.”
And at the end of the day, there’s one thing that comes first: “You’re working out to be healthy,” Judge says. “Your health is number one. Everything else kind of comes after.”
And according to her, a healthy figure “comes in all sizes.”
“We can eat healthy and work out, but not all of us are going to be a size 0,” she says. “As long as you’re healthy, that’s all that really matters.”
The Real Housewives of Orange County season 11 premieres June 20 on Bravo.