Tomorrow will mark two weeks since my last contest of the 2016 season. I had been in a strict competition prep for 27 weeks. For 20 weeks, I was on a “bro” meal plan and for 7 weeks, I followed an IIFYM approach. Any competitor could tell you how challenging this transition and mindset “switch” can be after a show. Athletes often feel lost, depressed, and directionless while battling hunger/cravings so terribly strong they can’t regain control. This post will primarily include my experiences (past and present) with my diet coming out of a show and how my body is responding, including how I’m handling these nutrition protocols and how it has affected my training and mental state.
A little background…
After my first season of competing in October 2015, I was given a reverse diet to follow from my coach at the time. Compared to my peak week, this reverse diet had about 25g more of carbs and 10g more of fat. I recall it adding up to approximately 1,300 calories. Now, this being my first off season, I was (a lot) naive and super determined to nail this diet. I *thought* I had mentally prepared myself for how “hard” people described post-show as. I came to find very quickly what they meant. I was over eating on my reverse diet by about 500-1000 calories/day. Sometimes I would have successful days. Sometimes I would have full-on binge episodes – but they were more rare. Mentally, this struggle with my nutrition really took it’s toll. I’m a perfectionist, and failing over and over and over again destroyed me. I would cry every night I overate and considered the day a “fail”. This mindset dragged me into a cycle of restriction as I tried everything in my power to hang on to the stage body I had. (Familiar, anyone?) I was honest with my coach about the problems I was facing, but her response was that I “wasn’t really hungry” and that I just needed to “keep trying”. My coach kept my macros as they were for five weeks – no increase, no “reversing” into more food. I continued to over eat and struggle, and I eventually dropped my coach and started to do things on my own out of frustration.
This post-show experience was different in every aspect. My most recent peak week (3 weeks ago) was challenging with my depletion. I reached my lowest weight on show morning of 110.6 pounds. Red and I had already discussed my post-show goals and we planned to have me back on consistent macro’s by Monday. It was the typical “enjoy yourself Saturday and take Sunday off from your diet and training” kind of thing. Our primary goal was to get me back to “normal” as soon as we could. So… we did just that. My calories DOUBLED (literally, I’m not kidding) and I was eating over 4x more carbs than I was 4 days prior. No “slow climb”, no “reverse diet”… just eat and grow. I would be lying if I said this approach didn’t scare the crap out of me, but the results after two weeks have spoken for themselves…
The initial post-contest water weight and bloat was severe for quite awhile. My body was confused, my equilibrium was thrown, and I was terrified to step on the scale or look in the mirror for the first few days. On Wednesday, 5 days post show, I weighed 121.6 pounds. This was eleven (yes, 11) pounds over the weight I woke up at on show day. Initially, this number threw me off – the tears started to pour, and the self-doubt of jumping calories so violently set in. I questioned what I was doing and if it was “right”. I was anticipating maybe 5-6 pounds, but 11? No way. After speaking with Red about my weight and I shared progress photos, I understood that THIS WAS OKAY. He explained the scientific aspect of it all (I only understand to a certain extent) and we talked about how much water your body can hold post-contest after a depletion, how carbs are processed and how glycogen stores are affected. He assured me things would calm down and my weight would settle at around the two week mark. I was eating 200c per day and over 2,200 calories. Two days later (1 week post show), I was up to 124.4 pounds. Almost 14 pounds over my stage weight in ONE WEEK. Carbs were dropped down for a couple of days, and I ended up having an episode of overeating this past Sunday. For the first time since my show, cravings got the best of me and I ended up eating a plethora of cereal that most definitely DID NOT fit my macro’s. I was really upset and disappointed in myself for having a moment of weakness, but after fessing up to Red about it, he helped me realized that every one truly does go thru this… some just can manage it better. And I realized too, look at the progress I made from last time…. to only have ONE day of severe over eating post-contest was huge for me.
Now, I am carb-cycling (AAB) with a high day of 250g of carbs. This is 6x more carbs than I was eating during my peak week. Today, almost 2 weeks post-contest, I’m only five pounds above my stage weight. FIVE. Over this past week, my body released the water I was holding and it’s “calming down”. It’s not fighting me, it’s not working against me. It’s THANKING me for giving it the fuel it needs. My hunger is barely noticeable, cravings manageable, and energy is thru the roof. I’m having the most incredible lifts and my mood has increased tenfold. I enjoy going to work and teaching my students again. I enjoy being with my friends and family. I’m mentally and emotionally stable. I feel normal. I feel alive. I feel healthy, and happy, and strong.
Bottom line… You don’t have to struggle post-contest. You don’t have to be afraid to eat. You will be more successful in the end if you don’t restrict yourself with a reverse diet that you can’t stick to. We all battle with the post-contest transition, but why should you make it harder for yourself than it needs to be? Your body is a magnificent machine and if you take care of it, it’ll take care of you. Eat. Fuel yourself. Grow.