You’re a fitness enthusiast about to enter your first competition. You’ve talked to other competitors, read about contest preparation, studied the diets of the champions, and read all the magazines for all the tricks and tips from the professionals. You decide that you want to compete. You are ready to go!
You find someone to help guide you and depend on their knowledge to get you through your first preparation. You decide, you are going to do everything you can and listen to whatever your trainer or coach tells you and go for it. You are so excited. And so your journey begins.
You have your new shoes and cute outfit and are excited to begin your preparation and also excited for what the journey will bring. Your water intake is up, protein is the main source of your diet, carbs are fairly low, you weigh out all your food, prepping all your meals, your waking up early in the mornings for cardio, you are training hard 5 days a week. And before you know it you are doing cardio 2 times a day and spending few hours at the gym.
You are doing everything right and you have walked so many miles at the gym, that you’re thinking about buying your own treadmill and maybe buying a few new pair of shoes. Because the once your got before already has holes. You are checking in weekly, with your coach, and you are exhausted as the weeks go on but you are still motivated and driven by the changes you are making in your body and the adrenaline you are feeling when you are pushing through those training and cardio sessions. You feel so good, but very tired, by the end of the day, no matter how challenging it is. All you can think about is the final product you will bring to the stage and how well you will do.
You learn all there is to know about posing, tanning, and walking on stage, your confidence is high and you feel ready to take the show. You pay your entry fee and membership fee and have your travel plans all planed out. You are ready to go with your bags packed and your mind is focused on walking on stage and taking home a trophy you worked so hard for.
But have you thought about what going to happen after the show? Has your coach started talking to you about what you are going to do or what your future plans are, when you are not eating, breathing, drinking, sleeping competing? Let me guess, probably not. And this is the scary part that most trainers, coaches, nutritionists do not include in their programs.
You have battled through all the prep but the biggest battle and challenge has yet to come and you had no guidance on what to do, who to talk to, what direction to take, what to eat, how to train after all set and done with the show.
You are absolutely lost and feel like you are in a maze and can’t find your way out. No one has prepared you or even warned you about what’s going to happen post contest.
Are you prepared for what happens after the contest? Have you even thought about it?
Think about it, your whole world, for the past 12-20 weeks has been show, competing, eating, working out, cardio, prep, prep, prep. Then you wake up the day after the show and it is all over. What do you do? Now you don’t need to wake up early in the morning for cardio. Now you don’t need to be strict on the diet. Now it’s the open road, which you never been prepped for.
There is the part of the competition that many people do not discuss and this is what drives people down the road of post-contest rebound craziness. I bet you heard the term “yo-yo” dieting? It is a scary point to think about what will happen when you stop eating the contest diet and back to normal food or living day to day life! It is only realistic that you can’t obtain a low body fat and highly restrictive diet, which it takes to compete, all year long, much less for the rest of your life.
Strict competition diets and training programs work, even for for people who is not competing. But the extreme results can’t last forever. And definitely shouldn’t last forever. Anyone who is considering entering a competition should be prepared to deal with the physical and, more importantly, the emotional and mental impact of returning to a more normal eating habits.
The goal of pre-contest dieting is to lose as much fat as possible, and in order for most competitors to achieve this, most have to go on a highly restricted eating and exercise plan that last 12 to 20 weeks before the competition. As the caloric balance shifts toward high protein, moderate carbs and low fat, the competitor’s body begins to shed both fat and water.
As the intensity of the pre-contest diet increases, the competitor’s mind is full of a list of foods that she can’t wait to eat when the show is over. It is only natural that you want what you can’t have and those “can’t have” foods become something people dream about. And i am not joking.
Most athletes want to celebrate, months of sacrifice with a feast right after the competition. Not only do they allow them the self-induced feeling of it being okay to indulge, you hear most people telling you, “you have worked so hard, you deserve it, go for it, enjoy yourself”. Some will take their indulgence a step further and immediately follow an off season diet. This type of competitor may also stop taking the fat burners that helped her get through her twice daily cardio workouts, and will cut back on the cardio or stop altogether, and decrease the intensity of her weight training sessions.
This kind of change in eating and workout schedules will shock the body and cause a rebound effect. While on a calorie restricted diet, a competitor’s body tends to go into a starvation and survival mode, which then causes her metabolism to slow down. When she starts to eat a few more calories, her body will quickly and easily store them as fat, stocking up for the next food shortage. Within a couple of days, her hard, lean appearance will smooth out, mostly from water being pulled into the muscles when glycogen enters the body. After even one week of less controlled eating and drastic reductions in her training intensity, she will regain body fat. This is the very same yo-yo effect that plagues many conventional dieters. Is this what you want and are you aware of this part of the competition?
Although the physical effects of diet rebounding could be harmful if taken to the extreme, perhaps the more significant impact is the mental struggles. To a competitor, this kind of rebound can be emotionally devastating. She may only rebound to half as much body fat as she started with, but to someone who has been in the single digits, that small increase may feel like not only like you failed but you will feel huge. You feel so fat and as if you just dieted for so long, worked so hard and now are back to square one (if you are lucky) and possibly even worse than before you started, in such a short period of time. One day, you are onstage presenting your perfectly sculpted and lean physique and hard work. You subject herself to the judgment of a panel of strangers, and shortly after, you are feeling fat, bloated, and self-conscious.
The form fitting clothing that you bought during your prep no longer fit and your six pack is gone. You feel so embarrassed by the sudden change in your body and weight gain. That you cant even show the photos from week ago. But think about this. When you started your diet let say at 22% body fat and get to 15%. You feel like you are on top of the world and couldn’t feel better. As your body fat drops from 15% to lets say 12%, you feel like wearing a bathing suit all day and then when you get to 8%, you can’t believe that you’ve reached the best condition of your life and it is the best feeling ever. And doesn’t matter how shitty and tired you feel. But once you begin to rebound, you feel as fat at 10% as you did at 20%. Isn’t it crazy how your perspective of yourself and what meaning “being in shape” changes drastically?
The problem isn’t that the willpower is lost or control is gone but the standards you place on yourself are unrealistic. Rebounding is the though reality. It is normal. In fact, most people believe, that one can achieve and sustain competition look year-round. And that is a fact. You need to understand that, when you look in the magazines, those perfect bodies are not results of being off season. Those pictures were taken same day or few days after show. Competition shape is unnatural and unrealistic, and at some point not healthy. Nobody is staying in competition form whole year round. NOBODY.
For some people, the only way to stray away from a rebound and a sense of failure is to begin another competition diet. They don’t know what to do without that show goal in mind. They forget how to live a normal life and how to deal with the right food, nutrition and training. The problem is, at one time winning, placing or simply entering a contest was the goal and suddenly physical perfection becomes a goal.
Unfortunately, for women, there are health risks associated with having too little body fat. Some of these risks include hypothermia, cessation of the menstrual cycle, and osteoporosis. Female athlete should carry enough body fat to maintain her menstrual cycle. We have to remember that without our health we have nothing. You have to remember how you felt at 15% body fat. Remember you felt amazing, before you dropped to 12% and even lower. Remember you still can look good at a higher percentage and remember compared to the average woman, which is still very low.
How do you avoid this mental and emotional part of the competition and learn to live a more realistic, accepting view of your body and life? First, you need to realize that 10% or 12% or 15% body fat is totally acceptable, especially since you felt good about yourself when you first got there on the way down to your competition shape. Take a moment to remember yourself at that percentage and how good you felt.
An athlete must go into a competition knowing that she is trying to achieve a temporary condition of being lean, and accept that her body fat will return to a natural level, or leaner. With this in mind, she can prepare for a smooth transition, extending the discipline she’s gained from dieting and training for competition into a healthy program that she can maintain for rest of her life.
To maintain your physique after a competition, you have to follow few steps:
Your metabolism. Base your diet on small, frequent meals, still eating every 2-3 hours with clean and balanced foods.
- Learn how much protein you need to maintain muscle mass
- Adjust your carbohydrates and fats intake to meet your specific needs
- Maintain clean meal plan, but allow for moderate refeed meals few times per week
- Eat less carbs later in the day.
Remember, even if you decided to stay lean after a contest, when you start eating more normally, you will still be hungry. Because your metabolism will be fast. To keep your metabolism up, continue to eat your meals but just be smart about what foods you will eat and how much. For example, if you ate eggs and oats for breakfast every morning, stay with your eggs and oatmeal but add some berries or peanut butter. Have a plan for when you are done competing. When the competition is over, celebrate and eat whatever you want that night and the next day. But on Monday (because most likely your show will be on Saturday), resume your clean eating, except for a refeed meals once or twice per week. Do not eliminate your cardio. Still do 5 cardio sessions per week, 30 min each session. You can do cardio after workouts.
If you dieted for 12 weeks to get into contest shape, it is normal, that it will take time for you to get back into the normal life routine, physically, emotionally and mentally. But you need to know that there are people who will help you through the transition. Like your coach or fellow athlete.
Allow at 8 to 10 weeks to return to a good state of mind, for some longer. Slowly start adding back small portions of good food. What I mean by good? I am talking whole grain breads, fruits, nuts and nut butters, more complex carbs, etc. But do not let yourself think that fast food will do any good. As long as you stay with your good foods and continue on some sort of structured healthy diet, you will be just fine. Just take notes on the aftermath and be prepared with what you will do, post contest. If you going to read this and make adjustment to your post contest plan. You already ahead of game. And you will be ready to look good and feel good after the show. Especially if you want longevity in this sport.
Continue with your cardio and weight training, and healthy nutritional choices. Continue with progressing and building your winning body. Stay around people that are a positive influence and who understand you. Learn the difference between contest shape and healthy balanced living.
Remember you are the one who can make this happened. I am here just to guide you through the process of getting better after show. If you weren’t prepared for this, now you are. To be a champion you need to learn how to be one. Off season, pre contest, post contest.