It’s that time of year, competition season is in full swing and you’re in full contest prep mode. Here are some tips to help you keep that hard earned body well beyond your actual competition.
1. Maintain a reasonable/balanced diet throughout the entirety of you contest prep. Your contest prep diet should mimic your “real life” diet with some tweaks for portion size and macronutrient composition. If you’re eliminating entire food groups or eating nothing but proteins and vegetables for weeks on end, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.
2. Include regular “off-plan” meals throughout your contest prep. Notice I say “off-plan” and not “cheat” meals. “Cheat” implies you’re doing something wrong and promotes the wrong mindset. “Off-plan” meals are reasonably sized meals that may or may not include treat foods. One of my favorites is steak with sautéed mushrooms and onions, baked potato with real butter and a salad with real dressing. Ideally, try to save off plan meals/treats for your hardest training days. Allowing yourself to occasionally indulge in some off-plan foods/treats throughout your dieting experience will help you maintain balance AFTER the show is done. If you’re 3 weeks out and all you can think about is what you’re going to eat after your show, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.
3. Be mindful of the length of time you’re spending in a calorie deficit. Many competitors do multiple shows throughout the year, but this doesn’t mean you need to spend the entire time between shows in a calorie deficit. If you have 4-6 weeks or more between shows and you’re already lean, give your body a few weeks at a maintenance level. You should not gain body fat during a maintenance phase (and if you do, you may need to re-evaluate your contest prep practices to avoid metabolic damage), and your body will respond even better when you return to a calorie deficit. If you’re spending more than about 16 weeks at a time in a calorie deficit, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.
4. Be reasonable with cardio during your prep. Cardio should be used as a tool for fat loss and it should be used wisely. Always start on the low end and gradually increase your cardio sessions as needed. Try utilizing different forms of cardio including metabolic workouts, sprints, and HIIT (high intensity intervals) instead of just increasing the time spent doing steady state cardio. Your body adapts to cardio within 8 weeks. If you’re doing 2 hours of cardio per day at 12 weeks out (or at any point during your prep for that matter), you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.
5. Develop post-competition goals and have a plan! It is very helpful to have a structured eating/training plan in place for after your show. If you’ve followed tip #1, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Having post competition goals is also very helpful. Many competitors feel “lost” after a competition because they no longer have that driving force (the competition) right in front of them. Evaluate your physique before you even step on stage and determine areas you’d like to improve on—use this to help develop some post competition goals and a plan for reaching those goals. If you don’t have a plan in place for after your competition, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound.
6. Avoid drastic “peak week” strategies. If you are not ready one week out, no amount of water/sodium/carbohydrate manipulations will get you ready in one week, and you may end up doing more harm than good. Keep it simple, stick to the diet that has been working all along, and skip the crazy electrolyte manipulations and diuretics. If you are using these dangerous techniques during peak week, you may be setting yourself up for a post-competition rebound (and putting yourself at risk for a host of other health issues as well).
7. And finally, be realistic! It is nearly impossible to stay competition lean all year round, not to mention for many it is downright unhealthy. It’s likely you will gain a few pounds back after your show, and that’s ok! Be prepared for this and focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For women, it’s reasonable to stay within 5-15lbs of your competition weight (for men it’s a little more) depending on your division- bikini, figure, physique, etc-, how lean you get for the stage and what your off-season goals are. Avoid “punishment” cardio and dieting after your show (i.e. extra cardio or cutting carbs after an indulgence) as this promotes an unhealthy mindset and can lead to metabolic damage. Keeping the right mindset after your competition will help prevent a post-competition rebound.
Remember, fitness is not a competition, it is a lifestyle. Use the strategies above to keep your body and mind healthy and maintain a fit lifestyle even after your competition is over.
If you have any more tips or suggestions, please feel free to comment below!