The Mr. Olympia Expo is the largest fitness/bodybuilding in the world. People travel hours from all parts of the country to attend the expo and show held in Las Vegas every year. It was my first time attending the Expo this year. The drive was close to 19 hours, but definitely worth it. I recommend anyone who is interested in bodybuilding or fitness to make a goal to attend the Olympia at least once in their life. That being said, here is a list of all the things I learned my first time attending the Mr. Olympia Expo:

1. Buy your tickets early!

The line to get tickets at the door on the first day took over two hours to get through. If you ever decide to go, make sure that you buy your tickets as early as you can. You can pick them up at will call and save a ton of time. Also, if you are planning on attending both days, make sure to buy a weekend pass, it is cheaper and also saves time getting in.

2. Have a game plan before you go

When you first step into the absolutely massive exhibition hall, it can be overwhelming to say the least. Make a mental note of where all the booths you want to see, and take a snapshot of the map on your phone.

3. Stock up on the free samples

Every booth’s selling point is their free samples. By the end of the two-day Expo, I left with at least 75 packets of pre-workout, protein, BCAAs, you name it!

4. Get a close hotel

Getting a hotel either on the strip or close to the Las Vegas Convention Center is a big plus. Parking at the Convention Center is $10 dollars a day, and if you don’t show up early enough, you will have to park in the overflow lot down the street. Staying at the hotel that is hosting the Olympia for the weekend is also a good idea because they have a free shuttle that runs all day from the hotel to the Convention Center.

5. Pack meals to bring with you into the Expo

A cool part of the Mr. Olympia Expo is that the food court in the convention center serves up special meals just for the event. You can get high-protein meals, like chicken breast with brown rice, or the normal pizza and chicken tenders. The food, however, is expensive. You can bring a bag in with you to the Expo, and I recommend bringing a ton of protein bars and other healthy snack options. If you end up running out of food, you can also just crack into the boatload of free samples you get!

6. Make sure to explore Las Vegas after the Expo ends

The Mr. Olympia is in Las Vegas for a reason. There is never a shortage of things to do. Get a break from the fitness part of your trip and take a walk down the strip. Go explore when the sun goes down and it cools off.

7. Be prepared to wait in line … a lot

If your goal at the Expo is to see anybody worth seeing, you will have to wait in line with at least 100 other fans to get your chance to meet a celebrity. Waiting in line is just part of the Expo. The lines usually move slow but steady, so don’t lose your patience and your waiting will pay off.

8. Come to terms with the fact that you won’t see everybody you were hoping to meet

There just isn’t enough time in the day to wait in line to meet the dozens of high-caliber fitness icons at the Expo. Pick your top five or six and focus your efforts on being at their booths at the right time to increase your chance of meeting them. Sometimes you may get lucky, too. I happened to run into the current Mr. Universe, Calum von Moger, right as he got to his booth, and I didn’t even have to wait in line to make his acquaintance.

9. Show Up Early/Stay Late

Maximize your time at the Expo by getting there right when the doors open at 10. This is when the lines are the shortest and everyone’s energy levels are high. It’s also worth waiting until the end of the day because most booths are practically giving stuff away. By the time 4:45 rolls around on the last day, some booths are throwing $50-$60 tubs of protein powder and pre-workout into the crowds!

10. Bring a Buddy

The Expo can be fun by yourself, but it is much better to bring a friend. Take turns waiting in line to meet different celebs. Additionally, it is always helpful to have someone to take a picture for you when you need it.

11. You don’t have to buy a ticket to the actual show to see the top guys

Tickets to the night show cost close to $100, but a ton of the prejudging and even some of the finals are held at a stage at the far end of the Convention Center. You can get really close to the stage for free and catch all the action. A surprising number of the top athletes are also at a number of different booths during the event, and if you are lucky, you may catch someone just walking around the Expo.

12. The small booths can be just as good as the large ones

Most people tend to make a beeline for the larger booths with the bigger stars and brand recognition. However, there are a ton of smaller booths run by smaller companies that are just looking to get their name out there. The lines for these booths tend to be much shorter, and often their giveaways trump the larger brands’ goodies.

14. Stay hydrated

It’s easy to get distracted in the crowds and noise of the Expo, but staying hydrated is the key to keeping your energy levels high and maintaining a good attitude all day. Drinking fountains are scarce, so make sure to bring a few water bottles with you when you go inside the Convention Center.

15. Wear comfortable shoes

The Expo center is huge! You will be doing a lot of walking, and you are on your feet pretty much all day. Make sure to wear a comfortable pair of sneakers and take a break and sit down whenever you can.

16. Be polite and keep your cool when meeting famous fitness people

It is easy to get intimidated by some of the big fitness names at the Expo. One minute you are waiting in line and the next you are shaking hands with someone like Steve Cook, Bradly Martyn, or Phil Heath. Try to remember that they are human, just like you. Say what you want to say to them politely; they will most often be very receptive and love meeting fans. Keep it short and sweet, grab a sick picture, and let the next guy in line have a turn.

17. Be prepared for a crowd

The Mr. Olympia Expo is like a rock concert’s mosh pit mixed with the gym on Jan. 2. Lines sometimes stretch for a hundred feet and it’s impossible not to constantly bump into someone. Log jams happen frequently, and it’s easy to get stuck in the crowd. Remember to keep your cool, be polite but assertive, and have a plan on where you are trying to walk to.