Written by Memories Over Macros Coach: Ben Lawson (Learn more about him here)
For those who haven’t competed, here’s something to consider. Competing is like taking on a full-time job. Not only will you spend hours in the gym lifting weights and doing cardio, but you’ll also slave away in the kitchen.
Typically, as you ramp up training and cardio while pulling calories you literally feel like you’re starving. When you feel like you’re starving all you do is think about food. You constantly think about all the delicious food you’ll eat after your competition. Ask any competitor that’s 6 weeks or less out from a show what they’ll eat after, and they’ll start listing foods they’ve been craving. You may even also be sick of training and can’t wait to take a break from the gym. You’re going to feel burnt out. Your hormones will most likely be unbalanced and you’ll feel terrible. So, what do you do after your show to stay sane and stay healthy? Here are a few things to consider:
After you finally eat all the food, you’ll be excited to have energy to train. However, you just stressed your body to the max. You most likely overtrained for the past few months, underate, and dried out from peaking. The last thing you want to do is add heavy, intense training back into the mix to create even more stress.
As soon as your competition is over, you’d be better off taking a few days off. Take time to recover. Let your body rest and then when it is time to start training again, go light. Treat workouts as “pump” workouts with low intensity and higher reps. This is your time to have fun and re-build your positive connection to the gym. Immediately after peaking, you’ll be “dried out” so your joints will be more susceptible to injury. Just another reason to take it easy for few weeks proceeding a competition.
For most individuals, cardio is up to 45-60+ minutes a day at the end of their prep. It can start to feel monotonous and a struggle to get it all down. Therefore, the instinct is to cut it all off after your show. Keeping cardio in, to a lesser extent, is a good idea to mitigate things like water retention. In my experience, tapering it off as you work into a maintenance stage is a good strategy. You don’t need to do the same amount you were going into peak week, but a low intensity cardio session for 20-30 mins a few times a week will help control weight gain and help stop the havoc that holding too much water can cause.
This is where things get tough. Because you essentially starved yourself to obtain a shredded physique, your hormones get really out of whack. The hormone that is released in the stomach and signals hunger to the brain is called Ghrelin. After a period of intense dieting, your body will continue to release it, even after eating and being full. That’s why post show binging is a hard obstacle to overcome.
After your show eating an extremely high calorie meal is normal and really won’t do too much damage. The issue is, allowing that hunger signal to keep telling you to eat for days and weeks after. Many bodybuilders or physique athletes will develop binge eating tendencies during this period. Having a post-show dieting strategy after a show is essential. I’ve seen two ways to do this, that seem to work well, depending on the individual. There are pros and cons to each.
- Recovery Diet: this is basically where you immediately jump back to maintenance calories. This works well for those who are really struggling with eating and can’t handle a slow approach. It will help restore hormone balance quicker. However, you’ll gain more body fat rapidly, which will be hard to watch as you just built an extremely lean body. It can be a better approach for those who have an issue with binging.
- Reverse Diet: this approach will take a lot more discipline. After months of dieting, you’ll most likely keep calories close to where they were and slowly raise them week after week. An example of this would be to add 20g of carbs every two weeks and 5-10g of fat each month to your daily calorie intake. This will keep body fat increase to a minimum while you slowly recover your metabolism and hormones. This is the preferred method, but again, it depends on the individual.
Sleep is one of those things that no one tells you will be wrecked on prep. Some sleep fine, but most have many issues with sleeping while extreme dieting and overworking. After the show, it’s very important to re-focus on getting proper sleep. Get in a solid nighttime routine and block off enough time to get 7-9hours every night. This is crucial for recovery and proper hormone function.
Post show recovery is all about discipline. You just spent months achieving an elite level of leanness. Don’t allow for nonstop binging and failing to continue to train consistently in the gym. Remember, binging can lead to unwanted level of water retention which will place unnecessary strain on the heart and kidneys.
Have a post-show plan and stick to it! It’s highly recommended to have a coach help you strategize a nutrition program after your show to do it the healthiest way possible. Don’t be the competitor to gain 30+ lbs the week after the show. You owe it to yourself to maintain control and stay healthy.
If you have further questions on the matter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me via social media. Good Luck!
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Blog written by Memories Over Macros Coach Ben Lawson (learn about our team here)