Miss America Contestants Reveal the Diet and Exercise Plans That Get Them in Shape for Competition

Miss America contestants swear by 5 a.m. workouts and low-carb diets to get bikini-ready

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Competing for the Miss America crown involves performing a talent, answering tough questions, and strutting your stuff in a bikini in front of the entire country.

So how do the contestants prepare for the swimsuit competition?

Each state title-holder seems to take a different approach. Miss District of Columbia Cierra Jackson commits to 5 a.m. workouts to get in shape.

“I have an amazing trainer,” Jackson, 24, tells PEOPLE. “We do ropes, we do squats, and even when I’m not with him I call him for workouts.”

When it comes to diet, Jackson makes healthy choices, rather than doing anything extreme.

“Sometimes we pick up a diet because we want to win a pageant or [look good for] our class reunion, but I think you need to make lifestyle choices or you’ll pick up a bad habit as soon as that diet drops,” she says. “If you make lifestyle changes, you’ll continually make better choices for your life.”

Miss Kansas Kendall Ellen Schoenekase has been following a high-protein, low-carb diet as part of her prep.

“I’m eating at least six meals a day, so I’m constantly eating,” she tells PEOPLE. “Usually I’m snacking on veggies, chicken, egg whites and a lot of nuts. My diet has been very strict, so of course no alcohol altogether!”

Schoenekase, 22, has also been working out every day.

“I do cardio every morning for at least 30 minutes, and then I’m doing at least an hour of strength training,” she says. “The gym is kind of my stress reliever. It’s like my home, and I absolutely love working out. I’m also a registered nurse, and I think just knowing so much about the human body makes me want to work out even more, and follow a healthy diet.”

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Miss Missouri Erin O’Flaherty says she stays active year-round, rather than prepping specifically for the competition.

“Before a pageant, I really don’t try to kill myself in the gym because I want the judges to see an accurate version of me,” O’Flaherty, 23, tells PEOPLE. “I stick to workouts that keep it fun. I do something different every day. If the weather’s nice in Missouri, I go outside and play soccer. I like to play on volleyball rec league, and my gym offers interval style classes with running and weights, so I try to mix it up a lot just to keep it fresh.”

And Miss Idaho Kylee Solberg credits her ballet training to keeping her body pageant-ready.

“For the past 14 years of my life, ballet has been my exercise and my motivation to stay healthy,” Solberg, 21, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve never, ever dieted in my life actually. I’ve learned that balance is key, and that the lifestyle you live has to make you happy.”

Which means she doesn’t hesitate to treat herself.

“I’ve always been taught that if you want a cookie, go for it,” she says. “Dieting has not been a part of my pageant prep!”

The 2017 Miss America competition airs Sunday, September 11 at 9/8c on ABC.

With reporting by JULIE MAZZIOTTA

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