Post-Contest Bodybuilding Diet
by Myprotein Writer David lyszczek, UKBFF Bodybuilder, Personal Trainer, BSc Human Nutrition Student
It has been weeks if not months of counting calories, ramping up the cardio and resenting friends eating junk food in your hungry …but shredded presence.
It was worth it though… you stood proud and at your best in the stage lights of the bodybuilding show you marked with a giant “X” in your calendar – your body a testimony to the journey full of sacrifice, dedication and hard work… but what now?
As the vision of the competition fades away will you trade the stage lights for the light in the fridge? The pre-contest diet is not designed to be sustainable but is there really no way to stay in shape afterwards? Find out in this article on post-contest bodybuilding diet.
Many competitors believe that post contest your body is primed for growth or deserves a rest; it is not uncommon to see athletes eating whatever they want for few weeks or jumping straight into conventional “clean” bulking diet, determined to make improvement. In both scenarios initially muscles get fuller, pumps at the gym are insane, body weight goes up daily while abs stay on show. Then all of a sudden, as if overnight, you land in the fat land – often carrying more body fat than before starting the diet.
How did that happen?
1. Metabolic Damage
During the course of the pre-contest diet your body goes through a complex series of adaptations to…as dramatic as it sounds… prevent you from starving to death. For example in scientific studies such as a peer reviewed case study of a bodybuilder several different physiological outcomes were witnessed. During the review the bodybuilding subject was preparing for a contest, whereby it was observed that his resting heart rate decreased so low that an ECG machine could not pick it it up, on top of that his blood pressure and body temperature all decreased in order to put up with the lack of available energy delivered from food (Rossow et al., 2013).
It is also known that as a result of harsh dieting thyroid hormones regulating metabolic rate go down, sex hormones decline, hormones controlling hunger stay elevated until body fat reserves increase (MacLean et al., 2011). All of these (and related) symptoms have recently become termed “metabolic damage”.
Does this sound like a good environment to build muscle, binge eat or relax your diet?
Definitely not and the thing to keep in mind is that putting size on during this phase is more likely due to muscles filling up with glycogen, water and intra muscular triglycerides rather than building solid, lean muscle tissue and too relaxed dietary approach will lead to a rapid weight rebound.
2. Healthy Relationship with Food
This article is not supposed to fear-monger the metabolic damage, rather provide some understanding and allow making educated lifestyle decisions. Food is an important aspect of our social lives and there is nothing wrong with enjoying a celebration meal with your friends or family after a show. Do not obsess about it and do not treat it as reward either, heave a healthy approach towards food, eat until feeling comfortable and do not feel guilty about it. However, once the day is over you should be getting back to the game plan.
Remember that bodybuilding does not end once the show does, it is a 24/7 lifestyle!
3. Reverse Dieting
The concept of reverse dieting is not really new, but it recently became a new hype in the industry. It is simply a set period of time during which you methodically increase your calorie intake while reducing cardio – allowing the body enough time to catch up and use the surplus of food to restore the basal metabolic rate rather than dump it in your love handles. By doing so within few weeks you will restore body’s homeostasis and settle the cravings along with hunger before losing sight of your abs. This approach can not only be used by competitive athletes but also by fitness enthusiast who pushed their diet and training for a summer holiday, photo-shoot or maybe a wedding day, to find that their regiment is not-sustainable.
It is important to keep in mind that the degree of metabolic down-regulation (“damage”) will depend on how hard you pushed your body, the more drastic the diet and training the harder the crash. Also the rate at which the metabolic damage sets in will depend on how gradual were the nutritional and training changes, more rapid and unreasonable changes will speed up the process.
Therefore the reverse dieting protocol will greatly depend on how your pre-contest programme looked like. There is no set in stone guidelines, however you can use the template below to get an idea of what to do and make the necessary adjustments.
-Week 0: To start off I recommend simply getting back to your diet at 2 weeks out from the show. In your final week you probably stopped training for few days and followed some sort of carb loading protocol so the flood gates to fat land are close to opening, it is not the best time to ramp the calories up.
-Week 1: From now on start reducing the length of your cardio sessions also replace any extra protein intake you added during contest prep with carbohydrates.
-Weeks 2-4: From now on start adding 50g of carbs daily from any non-processed source (~200kcal increase), preferably around your workout and any other physical activity.
-Weeks 5-6: Once you stop noticing any extra muscle fullness form the added carbohydrates, start adding 15g of fats daily from any healthy source (~135kcal increase), preferably into meals low in carbohydrates. At this stage the cardio programme should be already reduced to the maintenance level, typically 3x a week of low intensity 30m steady paced walking, cycling etc.
Remember to take weekly photos to assess how your body composition changes and assess if the protocol too mild or aggressive. At the end of the 6th week you can expect to be few kilograms heavier but still lean and feeling much more alive. Keep up with your diet and training until you will be mentally and physically ready for an off-season when the time will come to put more food on the plates and more plates on the bar.
MacLean, P.S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M. and Jackman, M.R. (2011) ‘Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain.’, American Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiolog., vol. 301, no. 3, September, pp. R581–R600.
Rossow, L.M., Fukuda, D.H., Fahs, C.A., Loenneke, J.P. and Stout, J.R. (2013) ‘Natural bodybuilding competition preparation and recovery: a 12-month case study.’, International journal of sports physiology and performance, vol. 8, no. 5, September, pp. 582-592.