This can be the best time for positive change! No, this is not “pigging out” after the show. Nor is it time to regain all the body fat you lost before the show. It is a time to gradually re-introduce responsible, off season eating, back into your program & gradually reduce activity levels.
Right after a show, usually our “muscle- to –fat” ratio is high, meaning that our metabolically active tissue (muscle) is high and that our pounds of fat are low. The body is typically tired, possibly over-trained and often under-fed. It is easy to over-eat, after a show, because we have been deprived of calories, carbs and our favorite foods, especially if we had to lose a lot of fat in a short period of time. Emotionally, it is hard to resist the “treats” but, if you do, you can make incredible gains.
A few concepts have to be put in place to make good muscle gains without gaining unnecessary amounts of body fat.
- If your hours of cardio were high, you must gradually “back off” on the time you spend on these activities. Too often, athletes stop 100%, which results in a drastic change in caloric expenditure. If you were doing cardio, daily, back off to 4-5 times a week, then less and eventually, settle in to a minimal amount for heart health, in your off-season.
- Keep taking your supplements, however, back off on the ones you may not need in your off-season. For example, you do not need BCAAs if your carbs are moving back up to “normal” levels”. If you are bringing dairy back in, cut back on your calcium supplements. Many sports nutritionists suggest keeping a good quality multi-vitamin in your program.
- Weight training time & intensity should decrease, gradually, to increase recovery time. Use a medium repetition range (10-12), no forced reps or crazy intensity. Your body has been through a lot. Time to let injuries heal and over-trained muscles recover. This time frame varies from person to person. Once the body has recovered intensity has to increase to maximize your gains in the off-season.
- If you have been on a calorie restricted diet, with low carbs and possibly, low fat, these nutrients need to come back into the diet. No one can live on an extremely low carb diet. It does not support growth or optimal health. Low carb diets promote dehydration, low energy, poor performance, constipation, moodiness and a plethora of other uncomfortable and health-threatening side effects.
- Bring calories up by about 150-300 a day, for about 2 weeks. See what your weight does. If you still look lean and your body fat has not increased, increase it again, and again, bi-monthly, until you notice your cuts fading, slightly. Stop increasing your calories & let your body adapt to an off-season amount that supports muscle growth but not so much that fat accumulates, unnecessarily. If you increase your body fat, too much, you have to work harder during the pre-contest phase.
- Add variety back in. There are 10 Leader Nutrients: protein, carbs, fat, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, thiamine, niacin, & riboflavin. Most pre-contest athletes have NOT been getting all their nutrients in food. If you were only eating rice, oatmeal & sweet potatoes, why not bring in potatoes, quinoa & legumes? If you didn’t have any fruit for weeks, bring in the low glycemic fruits, first, like berries, apples and pears. If all you ate were almonds, avocado & organic peanut butter, bring in olive oil, seeds and other nuts, in moderation. Have fun with healthy variety. Stick to “foods from Mother Nature”.
- Avoid over doing wheat products, man-made foods, dairy, sugar, alcohol & too much fat. If you do add too much of these, too soon, you may experience digestive complaints, excessive water retention, and/or bloating. Know that sugar is an appetite stimulant. If you must indulge, do so in moderation but NEVER on an empty stomach.
- Your protein may not have to increase, initially. Usually, during the pre-contest phase, it is pretty high. Some competitors may even have to lower their protein intake to make room for the other foods they are bringing back in their diet.
- Pigging out after a show may be fun for some but, from experience, I know the aftermath can be damaging, both physically and emotionally. Not only are digestive complaints a given but the water retention can actually hurt. After a show in 1991, I overdid it and my legs were so swollen and all my joints ached, for a few days.
- Emotionally, watching all of your hard-earned cuts fade away can be depressing. After a show, athletes often experience the “post-contest blues”, too. We spend so much time working on the goal and suddenly, win, lose or draw, it’s over. So much time to fill up with other projects, but for some, they don’t know how to fill up that time. This is a “double-whammy”, psychologically speaking. Post-contest is a time to bring balance back into your personal life.
If you avoid gaining excessive amounts of body fat, after a show, you will make great gains moving into your off-season, you will see your changes, and you won’t have to diet as strictly or overdo the cardio next time you choose to compete.
I’ve coached many competitors, over the last 30 years, and followed these guidelines towards the end of my competitive career. As an I.F.B.B. Pro Bodybuilder, I was able to compete at a ripped 151 lbs. compared to 141-145 lbs., when I was yo-yo dieting. My muscle gains were incredible! As a Figure competitor, I didn’t have to do any cardio and placed top 3, every time.