Those of you who have competed in a fitness show, or are getting ready for a show, know of or have heard the stories of what goes on and all of the things that are required in order to reach the stage. It’s no easy feat. The nutrition plan, the training programs, the 24-7 commitment that it takes to get in top shape to stand with other competitors in the show. The sacrifices you must make to reach your goal of walking on stage can be intense and this article will explain some of those things along with how to successfully rebound to a normal way of eating after your show is over. This is coming from someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to compete. I’m a certified personal trainer, nutritionist and a figure competitor who will give you an inside look at what it’s like to enter your first show and how to deal with the ramifications afterwards.
As anyone who has competed in a fitness contest knows, the extreme dedication to adhering to an ultra clean eating plan leading up to the show can be difficult. Sometimes turning down invites to join friends and family at social gatherings like eating out at a local restaurant can be difficult. If you do choose to eat out, you have to be sure the restaurant can accommodate your strict nutritional needs for your meal. Your diet is very limited and it can be hard to find a restaurant that can meet those needs.
You can ask the waitress or waiter to bring your meal with no extras on it like having your fish baked or broiled, not fried and your vegetables steamed with no butter. You may find a restaurant that will allow you to bring in your outside food to eat while you sit with family and friends. I’ve done this very thing on more than one occasion, only to feel uncomfortable with others eyes on me across the room. You may be wondering why I’m bringing in food not served by the restaurant. It comes down to sticking to your plan no matter what it takes to get you through it. Keep your eyes on your goal at all times and you will reach your goal of stepping on the figure stage.
You’ve dieted for weeks, months or maybe even a year or longer to get ready for competition. You’ve weighed your food like a scientist in a lab to be extra sure you didn’t leave anything to chance. You’ve been drinking a gallon of water or more a day and running to the bathroom every 15 minutes and been training weekly without missing a single session while even doing cardio up to 2 times a day when necessary to get ultra shredded.
You’ve been eating the same nutrient dense foods over and over for months because that is what it takes, a 24 hour commitment to step on the stage at peak physical condition. Finally, after months of strict nutrition, razor-sharp discipline and extremely hard work, that day is finally here. The day you worked so hard for; the day you dreamed about. It goes by so quickly that it seems like a blur and almost like a dream. You pray for “First Call Out” meaning you have placed either 1st to 3rd place or 1st to 5th place depending on the organization you entered. The show has come and gone, now what do you do? You’ve spent many months dedicating yourself to this one day, but did you prepare for what happens after the show?
There is a little something I feel must be addressed here and it’s called “The Rebound Effect”. The what? There is something I feel I must explain to better prepare you for your big day, should you make the decision to step on the fitness and figure stage yourself one day.
Post-Contest Rebound Effect
It is real and many have experienced it, including myself. It was something I did not discover until after the “big day”. I fell off my diet and went absolutely crazy with my eating. As disciplined as I was in dieting for my first show I’ve ever competed in, I was that totally out of control after my show was over! This continued for a couple of weeks and it seemed almost like I was punishing myself with food after my show. I still cannot understand the reasoning behind this out of control binging, except that I had only focused my thoughts on the foods I was going to enjoy eating after the contest was over. I was so obsessed with all of the things I was going to have since I had not allowed any of the goodies I missed in my nutrition plan for 17 weeks and this is exactly what caused me to lose control. The goal I set for stepping on the figure stage was now gone. I did it! I deserved every one of the delicious junk foods I wanted and this is what I told myself. See, with no plan in place after my show was over, I was at a complete loss. This is why I stress to anyone who is considering doing a fitness show in the near future to consider getting a trained coach and a nutritionist to put a plan in place to help you transition from pre-competition to post-competition nutrition.
You’ll need help to return to a more normal eating routine once the show if over. Otherwise you will gain a lot of weight back and you will pack on the pounds in a hurry! The physical effects of the diet rebound could be harmful, if it is extreme. But even worse are the psychological effects that take a toll on you. This rebound can be devastating to a fitness competitor. After a couple of weeks of out of controlled binging, you may feel fat, bloated, and end up with low self-esteem. Your clothes no longer fit, in fact they are now very tight and snug. You can’t believe that body you worked so hard for so long is now gone. It can be a bit much to face.
This is where it would be wise to get the help from a nutritionist to put in place a “Reverse Dieting Plan”. All this means is simply adding back in calories to your diet, while also pulling back on the amount of cardio that was done to get you into that contest ready shape. Reverse dieting just slowly increases calories after a very low or strict caloric deficit that you adhered to for weeks, months or maybe even longer. By going about this in a slow manner it allows your body to adapt to the increases in calories each week and prevents any significant fat gain.
Example (note: each person’s body, metabolism and hormone levels are different so the response to carbohydrates and exercise will be unique, so be careful and slowly adjust each aspect very slowly):
- Week 1: add in a small amount of extra carbs to your diet while slowly reducing your cardio workouts.
- Week 2: add some additional carbs to your diet and keep adjusting your cardio workouts while keeping a close eye on your physique. You will be slowly increasing your carbohydrates and keeping your protein intake pretty much the same. You may also want to add a little more fat into your nutrition plan.
The bottom line is that maintaining a healthy physique after a competition requires you to follow the natural laws of metabolism and this is based on a lot of things.
- Base your diet on small, frequent meals.
- Consume enough protein to maintain your hard-earned muscle.
- Manipulate your carbohydrates and fat calories to meet your specific needs.
You will need time to return to an eating program that you can maintain post-competition. Start by adding in normal portions for your meals while continuing to do your cardio and weight training. Try to stay no more than 15 to 20 pounds over your competition weight. Remember to try to avoid being too hard on yourself because after all, you achieved what millions fail to do every day. You competed in a fitness show and were successful!