So many people enter competition prep and develop tunnel vision: they don’t/can’t plan for anything post-show because they’re so focused on stepping on stage. It’s understandable, and I’m guilty of this myself. Because I was so physiologically stressed out due to training all the time on a caloric deficit, I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to plan out what would happen after the competition. This was especially true of my last competition, the 2018 City Limits Championship, where I didn’t have concrete plans for competing afterwards. I wanted to decide my future after I knew my placing, as I had aspirations of getting to the National stage and being competitive there. I just took it day by day and decided to worry about what would happen afterwards later.
After 20 weeks of gearing up for this one event, I felt a deep sense of ennui after the show was over, defined as:
a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.
It’s easy to fall into the mind trap of thinking there’s nothing to train for anymore, nothing to diet for anymore, and the resulting lack of structure throws many competitors off. This is commonly referred to as “the post-show blues.” Compounding the feelings of ennui is the common post-show rebound. Many competitors are well aware that being stage lean is not maintainable year round, but that doesn’t stop people from feeling disappointed when they inevitably gain a bit of weight from the post-show refeed and get a bit softer.
Morning of show (114 lbs) compared to 3 days out from show (123 lbs).
Clearly, I’ve lost some definition and have gotten softer, but my curves are fuller and I am very happy with how I look. I’m not upset about having gained 10 lbs because I know that a good portion of that is water being held both in the muscle and under the skin, and I needed the calorie boost to get back to a physiologically comfortable place.
Sure, there are ways to minimize the immediate post-show weight gain, like keeping calorically-dense foods into one cheat meal, limiting carb and sodium intake so that it’s not vastly above your normal, and making sure you drink lots of water. Most of the time, the immediate post-show weight gain is due to water weight – after all, water and carb depletion during peak week are extremely common, and you hold three grams of water per gram of carb ingested. However, like how one day of eating salads won’t get you lean, one day of indulgence won’t make you fat either.
Even if stepping on stage was a “bucket list” item and you never plan on stepping on stage again, it is important to develop a healthy lifestyle – incorporating a healthy attitude towards food and exercise for long-term health – so that you can enjoy being in your own body. Otherwise, you run the risk of developing a yo-yo type mentality towards health and fitness driven by guilt – you fall back into your old habits, you feel guilty, and you fall into the trap of disordered eating and exercise, getting discouraged when the crash diet method doesn’t give you the results you want.
I’ve been in off-season for about a week, and this process is much easier than it has been in previous years. Despite having an epic 9000 calorie cheat weekend, I’m not disgusted with myself, I’m not ashamed, and I’m not emotionally attached to the shreds of show day. This is because my goals have changed as I enter a new phase: I am now focused on learning how to be comfortable and feel good in my body, no matter my body fat percentage percentage. I have long-term goals of stepping on a Nationals stage someday, which require that I lean-bulk (eating to gain muscle while minimizing the amount of fat) and continue training and dieting. Your off-season dieting and training will and should look different – you’ll do less cardio, eat more, but still weight-lift with the same intensity as having a set show date in mind.
For the first time in my life, I’m incredibly happy with how my body looks and what it can do, even though I’m post-show, because of the changes in my mentality. I’m not emotionally attached to the abs – they were cool to see, but I know I have to gain weight to continue improving my physique, and I can always diet down to stage lean again. What is impossible for me to do is continue growing while trying to stay stage lean, or competing in back to back shows for the majority of the year without easing up on my metabolism.
What also helps with the post-show blues is having a reverse dieting plan in place. Reverse dieting is the process of slowly adding back calories to allow for your body to adjust your metabolism accordingly. Weeks of being in a caloric deficit does slow your metabolism down significantly, and it requires time to build it back up again. Reverse dieting, while tedious and sometimes more difficult than contest prep (it’s hard to be structured when there’s no show date/deadline involved), is extremely beneficial.
After weeks of intense dieting structure, going to eating with no structure often leads to disastrous consequences, especially if your meal plan was extremely limiting. All of the foods that were too calorically-dense to fit into your macros are available to eat, and you’re not stepping on a stage anytime soon, so why not indulge for a day or two? Unfortunately, without a reverse diet in plan, this indulgence can last for a week or even longer, which does lead to putting on fat, decreased self-image, and increased feelings of guilt. These set up the conditions for a serious eating disorder, which is far more dangerous to one’s health.
I’ll be doing a follow up post on the science behind a reverse diet and how to do one in the future. If you want to follow my reverse dieting progress, feel free to add me as a friend on MyFitnessPal to see what I’m eating. Honestly, I’m still struggling to get my diet under control – eating more processed foods than I should be – but I’m letting myself get the cravings out of my system in a structure that fits my macros and learning to be kind to myself. If you’re on Pinterest, follow me to get ideas on macro-friendly, healthy recipes that get you out of a super-restrictive dieting mindset.