06 Nov Life After Competing – Harsh Truth On How To Transition Back To Normalcy
For those who have competed or prepped for photo shoots in the past, I’m sure you will be able to relate to this blog. Well, at least 95% of you, because there are those small percentages of people who do just fine getting back on their nutrition programs and hardly gain any weight after a vigorous diet for 3-6 months (even though I’m convinced this is just from learning and experience over the years and getting fed up with getting too fat afterwards). But for those who haven’t competed and are thinking about it, or are just thinking about dieting hard to get into the best shape of your life for no other reason than personal ones, I’m certain you will benefit from this as well. I’m going to go into what life is like after the competition/photo shoot is over (literally, like the next day forward…) and enlighten you on the risks and what you may end up having to deal with, and then also give you some advice and methods to use to help you along this transition.
First, let me just briefly tell you about my experience. I did my first competition at age 19. I dieted hard on the “bro-eating” plan (chicken, tilapia, asparagus, etc.) and hopped up on stage 12 weeks later. It was amazing. I got bit by the bug and have competed and done photo shoots ever since. However, no one told me how hard it was going to be after my “diet” was over. I gained 15 lbs. that following week after my contest. Went out to eat everyday, ate whatever I wanted, took the week off from lifting, and just engorged on every food I was deprived of during my contest prep (this is called binge eating). Two weeks after my first show, you’d think I wasn’t even a bodybuilder, or that I stepped on stage just 14 days earlier. I was fat. Overweight. Puffy from all of the sodium. Even though I had a six pack and was in the best shape of my life not even 2 weeks before this. I don’t want this to happen to you. I’ve done 6 competitions since my first as a teen, countless photo shoots, and have started learning more and more about how to stay healthy, how to eat, and how to enjoy life once the competition and harsh prep diet comes to an end. Most of my clients that I help now are great after their diet and preps are over (some are even great DURING the prep – GASP!). I don’t just help with the process to the stage or camera, but I go into how important flexible dieting and reverse dieting are. These are great ways to avoid some of the common pitfalls you see with almost everyone who competes, and we’ll talk about them later.
Here are just some of the things you are probably going to experience after dieting hard for months on end, whether for a competition, photo shoot, or just getting in fantastic shape. These aren’t all of them, but I can’t make this blog 20 pages long (lol):
a. You can be the nicest person in the world, but prepping for a competition can turn you into a d*ck. Somebody you never were. You get snappy; quicker temper; don’t want to talk to anyone; want to be alone most of the time; and this happens following the diet. For some, it takes 4-8 weeks post-competition to feel “normal” again.
2) Eating disorders.
a. Harsh dieting creates terrible relationships with food. You’re depriving and restricting yourself to a high degree, for months on end. I’ve been through it many times, and so have 95% of other competitors and models. All you think about is food and once the prep is over, many say they simply cannot control themselves when it comes to eating. Again, it’ll take multiple weeks to get back into the groove of things.
3) Hormonal problems.
a. For both men and women, you’ll likely lose your sex drive and libido will drop geometrically (not for everyone). Guys, you’ll likely not get an erection for weeks on end and for the women, you’ll go without a period for a couple months (again, this doesn’t happen to everyone). Getting to such a low percent body fat causes huge disruption in hormone production. Testosterone, estrogen, leptin, serotonin… I can go on and on. Once the diet is over, these things are all out of whack and that is why it’s important to start reverse dieting immediately.
4) Body Dysmorphia/Mental-Emotional Issues.
a. You just stepped off stage or away from the camera after looking the best you’ve ever looked. You pound the water and eat a disgusting amount of food. The next morning, you gained 7 lbs of water and possibly some fat… and you have no idea what to do. You hate what you look like because you literally just looked amazing, not even 10 hours ago. You may even start dieting again the next day because you want to get back to that “competition” look and that’s even more unhealthy. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, with all that said, what can we do that will help us avoid these constant struggles and problems 95% of us deal with following a competition prep or harsh diet?
1) Take a step back.
a. This is tying into my #1 above relating to irritability. If you find yourself snapping at your mom, your spouse, your friends, etc. and then you get by yourself and ask, “Why am I being like this towards them? They didn’t even do anything.” You need to take control of your mind and understand that no one forced you to diet or compete. You chose to. Don’t put them through hell just because you’re suffering a bit. Go meditate, do a yoga class, listen to some inspirational audio tapes, read a book, pray… these are just some of the things you can do once you start feeling like you’re about to snap and let your temper get the best of you.
2) Learn how to flexible diet and calculate macros.
a. Honestly, flexible dieting changed my outlook on food. This way of dieting and eating works because it’s much more sustainable long-term. Myself, and the clients I work with, claim to not even feel the need to binge after a harsh prep because they’ve been eating the foods they have wanted to eat all the way up until the day of the contest or photo shoot. There is no deprivation or restriction with flexible dieting. Let’s be real; dieting is dieting. It’s tough and takes a lot of work. If you’re not eating that many carbs or fats, you don’t have much wiggle room to fit in tasty foods because they are too calorically dense. But, if you do have a high macro allotment, you have the ability to eat certain foods that aren’t coined as “favorable” to your physique, even though that’s nonsense. Now, flexible dieting isn’t for everyone. I also have clients that have serious trigger foods, as do many people. They can’t just have three cookies… they’ll end up eating the entire box, and that’s okay. They just want a plan of meal 1-6, with the exact foods to eat and that’s what they prefer and operate best on. If you’re interested in learning more about macros and flexible dieting, go to our ebook section on our website and check out our “Calculating Your Macronutrients: 101” system that we just released.
a. Most of the hormonal problems are due to very low body fat percentages. We need a healthy amount of body fat for hormone production, insulation, protection, etc. During harsh caloric restriction (think bodybuilders, gymnasts, etc) testosterone, leptin, serotonin, HGH… all of these hormones drop geometrically. Females will go months without their period. Libido and sex drive will plummet for males (not all). Females will get very emotional and sensitive (again, not all). These are all due to hormonal imbalances. You need to start reverse dieting immediately following your diet. Get the calories back up slowly, to prevent excess fat gain. Decrease the amount of cardio you do over time. These things will help support normal and healthy hormone production and get you out of that “funk” you were in during prep, and then sometimes, weeks after the prep is over.
4) Be comfortable in your own skin.
a. Here is something you need to come to terms with: you will NOT look how you looked on stage any other day of the year. Say to yourself on the day of your competition or photo shoot or whatever, “I look the best I have ever looked, and this will only last for today.” What we do to achieve that lean, fit, ripped look is unhealthy. The overtraining, over reaching, starving, excessive cardio, depletion, etc. All these things are not healthy in the long-term, so you need to be okay with gaining 5-10 lbs of weight and be JUST FINE with that! Fat is needed for the growth and repair of new muscle tissue, to gain strength, mental clarity, hormone production, and a ton of other things for your every day life. I would suggest gaining about .5-1 lb. every week after your “diet” has ended until you reach 7-10 lbs over the weight you were the morning of your contest, photo shoot, etc. Then play around with your macros, cardio regimen, and training protocol so that you maintain that body fat level, while still making progress in strength, hypertrophy, and any other goals you have of improving.
Regardless of if you compete or not, make sure you’re trying to get into the best shape of your life for YOU, and only YOU. If you go through this journey and make the sacrifices, experience some of these things, and are doing it for other people or to please anyone else but yourself, you will fail miserably and end up hating the things you once loved about health and fitness. Also, screw what other people have to say. “Whoa, you’re too lean.” “What you’re doing is unhealthy.” “I liked how you looked before you lost the weight.” Blah, blah, blah. I wish these people would realize that no one f*&king cares what they think. Don’t live your life to please other people; that’s the fastest way to complete failure. Do what you love, accomplish your goals, dream big, and soon, those people who were laughing at you, telling you how what you’re trying to do is stupid…. they’ll be asking you, “Hey, how did you do it?”