In Part 1’s post, I shared my post-competition blues story, after my very first show. Without knowing or really understanding the insanely fast and ridiculously powerful effects of sugar on the dieted-down body and mind, I was surprised and saddened about what happened–gaining 15 lbs in 2 weeks and within days after the show not being able to recognize myself. However, luckily, I would never experience an outcome even close to that same degree at subsequent shows because a) I knew it could happen and b) I learned how to prepare for it.
In this blog, I will share with you my tips for coming off a competition diet safely, sanely and expectant. But first, I think we need to address something, and that is that putting on weight after a show is not only normal, but healthy and needed. At showtime, many girls will be around 9-12% body fat, some will have lost their menses and many will have dehydrated for the show. If that is the case, simply drinking water post-show will add weight. The loss of menses is not normal, not healthy and prolonged, can be associated with bone loss and other hormonal disruption. Putting on body fat, even a little bit, will in most cases, bring your menses right back. However, I have heard of pros saying that they stayed at their competition weight during their “off-season” so that they could come down even more for the next show. Insanity. Many dieted down competitors would have to do hours of cardio A DAY just to maintain. Not everyone has the same experience when it comes to fat loss, but it is safe to say that staying at 8%, 10% or 12% body fat year-round is not recommended. Putting on weight after a show does not have to be scary and when done slowly and safely, both the physical and mental components of weight gain can be managed. So, here are my recommendations:
1) Adding body weight back slowly is recommended, to manage both the physical and mental aspects. I am sure many can relate–the sinking feeling of clothes beginning to be too tight. This is inevitable if you bought clothes when you were at your most dieted down. I remember for my first show, I had lost 2 dress sizes and I was shopping with my mom a few days before the show (NOT recommended :)) and my mom was saying, “I wouldn’t get anything too small or fitted!” and of course I was like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, I am going to stay this size forever!” lol! Well, within 2 weeks of the show, those new goodies went to the back of the dresser drawer for the next time I was going to be “in shape.” Hilarious. I am sure many ladies can relate to having a “range” of clothes in their closets to match the seasonal ups and down. I used to do this too, until about 2 years ago, when I was fed up with all the up-and-down and vowed to maintain moderation and balance year round.
2) Be mindful of adding refined sugars back into your diet. This is usually one of the hardest things for many newer competitors to control, simply because after months of deprivation, there is a build-up of “off limits” foods ready to be indulged in. Ice cream? Check. Peanut butter? Yep! Burger & fries? Yes, please! Like many other chemicals, sugar can be addictive at the biochemical level and I am sure many of you can relate to the slippery slope that eating sugar creates. The more you eat, the more you crave. This is why the initial weeks of a diet are usually more difficult than staying on the diet is. Sugar affects brain chemistry strongly in the production of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters involved in mood, cravings, relaxation (serotonin) and motivation (dopamine), among other things. It’s no wonder that it hard to stop eating refined carbs! Hence, back to the post-competition period when these things are no longer off-limits, you need to be consciously aware of your consumption of refined sugar, both quantity and frequency. Add these back in slowly and in a structured way, i.e. go back to 1 cheat meal per week instead of allowing yourself random indulgences, as these will inevitably get out of hand.
3) Don’t just stop exercising. Depending on the individual program, competitors can be doing 30, 60, 90 or more minutes of cardio per day leading up to a show. Your body is responsive at this amount, but simply quitting cardio or weight-training altogether immediately post-show is not a good idea. Slowly reducing exercise volume IS a good idea. For example, say you were doing 60 minutes of cardio each day leading up to your show. Perhaps the week after your show, you cut back to 45 minutes each day. The next week, it’s 30 minutes each day and then the final week, perhaps you cut back to 15-20 minutes each day. This structured slow reduction in exercise volume will prevent super-fast weight gain. Then, depending on your off-season goals, you and your trainer can devise a new exercise program to achieve them. I have almost all my girls cut back entirely on cardio during the off-season to focus on building and improving weak areas, but cutting back on cardio slowly is key.
4) Have a post-show eating strategy and get a coach to hand you an off-season eating plan. This is super-important and should be tailored to you still: an individualized plan to address off-season goals and also maintain structure. Most competitors love the structure and routine that comes with training for a show, and post-show, there can exist the panic of “where do I go from here?” if there is no plan in place. I remember I client once texting me the week after her show–from the grocery store, in a panic, going, what should I buy??? This was a good lesson for me to learn early on that giving a client a post-competition plan helps to maintain structure, momentum, motivation and direction.
However, the biggest difference in the post-competition plan is that it should stress the importance of eating a greater variety of foods and creating balance using moderation. In essence, nothing is “off limits” but using biofeedback tools like cravings, energy and hunger allows you to understand how your body responds to food–this is what Metabolic Effect calls your “Unique Fat Loss Formula.” For example, post-show you might now be able to eat dairy foods but you may find that they make you feel bloated, have cravings, GI upset and retain water. Those are indicators that dairy might not be ideal for you any time of year. The off-season offers a unique opportunity to really understand both your physiology and psychology. Become introspective and tune into your body’s responses to certain foods.
5) Practice good body esteem, learn balance and be realistic. Probably THE #1 piece of advice I can give new competitors about this sport. Figure, fitness and bikini competitions can mess with your head, big time. What you used to consider “in good shape” you now consider fat. WTF? Ladies, this is key not only to healthy body image but also to your self-worth and happiness: YOUR SELF-WORTH IS NOT DEFINED BY HOW LEAN YOU ARE. Period. I know this, because I have struggled with it–that feeling of having to be “in show shape” or feeling embarrassed if someone saw me “out of shape” which for me meant 17% body fat versus 12%…hello! I found the more pressure I put on myself to stay extremely lean and the more guilty I felt about not be able to, the harder it became to maintain a clean diet and less success I had. A few years ago, after many competitions and ups and downs with my weight, I finally had enough and changed my attitude and outlook. First, I relaxed about it all. Scary, yes, but probably the biggest lesson I learned. When I stressed less, I actually was able to eat better with less ups and downs in cravings and energy. Staying leaner was not as hard.
Second, with the help of my husband, I was able to realize my self-worth outside of my physique. What about my intellect? What about my drive to be a successful businesswoman? What about my coaching ability? Embarrassingly I had pinned my self-worth on my body fat percentage and how many magazines I was in, and I had a hard time realizing my potential outside of these things. Jade encouraged me to focus on other things I had going for me, and so I dove into my business, earning my masters degree and focused on modeling over competitions. It felt like home…fulfillment, passion, happiness and peace with my body. This is an on-going process and the more you practice, the more liberated you can begin to feel from the idea of having to maintain a certain look or leanness.
Everyone competitor will have their own path with this stuff, and I encourage you to look at yourself outside your physique. Remind yourself the importance of balance. Realize what a great mom/sister/wife/girlfriend/daughter/friend you are. Realize how intelligent you are. Realize how driven you are (you did a show, remember! How much more determined can you be??). Realize how much fun you are! Realize how many people look up to you, because of your attitude, not your physique. Look in the mirror and appreciate how beautiful your face is :) And finally, realize how perfect you are, as you are, right now, no matter what size, weight or body fat.
Good luck! Let me know how you do! ox Jill