So if there is a number one question that I get asked often (in the case of contest prep) I can say that it would be, “How do you come off of your diet?”. I think that knowing how to properly transition from weeks (and months for some) of dieting is the pitfall for many competitors, particularly those new at the game. After years of competing, and countless shows under my belt, I’ve pretty much come up with a simple and great strategy that I tend to follow myself, and implement with all of my contest prep clients. So I’d like to share some of this hands on advice with you guys, and do it in bits and chunks. We’ll touch on how to get back into normal eating through reverse dieting, how to properly deload training and swing back into a less intense training set up, what kind of supplements may prove useful as your body gets used to foods that haven’t been on your plan in a while, and how to tackle the mental demons of seeing your body in a more normal state vs. the unrealistic leanness you’ve gotten used to when you were contest ready. Let’s kick off this series with nutrition, shall we!?
Reverse Dieting – The Key To Keeping Fat Gain At Bay
Reverse dieting is the method of slowly bringing your calories up to more normal (maintenance) levels after being on a fat loss plan. What you have to realize is that after weeks and months of dieting, your body and metabolism are in a more sensitive and slower state. This is regardless to HOW WELL you diet, it’s simply a matter of human physiology. While your goal of stepping on the stage is a conscious choice, the cells of your body see this process of fat loss and dieting as going into starvation/famine mode. Essentially, it doesn’t really care that all you want to see is your six pack and your glute/ham tie-in, it only cares about your SURVIVAL. And it wants to bring you back to state of physiological homeostasis by any means necessary. This is what accounts for that increased hunger as you get leaner (ie. more show ready/conditioned) and also your pre-occupation with food and cravings that often arise and derail many a prep plan. So when you are ready to come off of your diet, it is very crucial that you are mindful of how you eat, and how MUCH you eat.
Water Intake Post Show
Following a show, I typically like to enjoy WHATEVER I WANT – guilt and drama free – right after finals. I will typically watch the amount of liquids I consume because during my own contest prep water levels are manipulated and a diuretic introduced during peak week. On a show day, I can drink anywhere up to 1/2 gallon of water all day up until after finals. I have found in the past that when I tend to go super crazy chugging water, along with high amounts of carbs and sodium (and hey a little red wine too, lol), I tend to hold more water in the days following than I’d like. So it helps, in my opinion, to reverse my water in the opposite way I had during my show. So that means, Saturday evening (or the evening post show), I’ll try to get in an equivalent of about 1-1.5 liters of water before bed. The next day, I’ll increase my water intake to about 3/4 of a gallon all day, and then by Monday, I’d be back to drinking my full gallon as I had during my contest prep. During peak weak, my daily water intake is at 2 gallons or more a day up until Friday before the show where it drops to 1 gallon, then Saturday 1/2 gallon. When a diuretic is thrown into the equation, the body’s water levels become very sensitive. So this reversing of intake can once again allow your body to SLOWLY find homeostasis without shocking your system.
A quick note regarding diuretic usage. There are many schools of thought on the issue – to take take it or not? Is it necessary, or not? Honestly, that’s a very individual thing and a whole nother topic in and of itself (that we won’t cover here). However, if you do take any kind of diuretic, whether it be herbal or prescription, I do suggest that you reverse the amount you’ve taken (essentially decreasing your dosage over a few days) until you are back to none at all. Remember the more you can do things slowly, and allow your body to normalize at an even pace, the less chance you have with dealing with huge rebounds from water and other issues.
Food Intake Post Show
Food, you’ve DREAMED of the moment you can enjoy all those good and yummy treats you couldn’t have while on your plan. And now that the leash is off, it’s time to dive right into all the things that you’ve missed while eating clean and contest focused. Yeah… Not so fast! Remember, your body is still in a state where gaining fat at a more rapid pace is very possible, unless of course you exhibit some control.
I always say that the first day or so after your show, you can have more freedom to get away with eating crazy things, and still be in good shape afterwards. But by day 3, if you’re nore reeling in your eating, you WILL blow up, and you WILL put on some body fat along with water weight, and that can actually get to be very uncomfortable if you go over the edge.
The one thing you want to keep in mind, the more things you manipulate during peak week, the more of a chance you have at having a hard rebound post show, and the more you will have to take care when it comes to reintroducing food to your meal plan. So if you played around with carbs, water, and sodium – and let’s say you’ve thrown some kind of diuretic in the picture – then you have to be especially more careful than someone who has maybe only varied one or two things on their plan during their peak. So when it comes to food post show, again I like to enjoy whatever my heart desires the night of the show. Of course I watch my liquid intake during my meal, but the meal will consist of whatever I wish.
The next day, let’s say Sunday post show, I like to get what I call “loosely” back on plan. So I may not particularly measure all of my food, but I will keep to similar meals on my plan that I would typically eat during the day. And if I feel like having something off plan, I simply enjoy it. For me, that will mean about 2 meals or so off plan out of 6 that I typically have. And if I want any little snacks in between (cookies, or chocolate, or ice cream lol – I don’t discriminate), I simply enjoy it but in a smaller amount – nothing crazy and staying in control. However once Monday rolls around, I really try to get back on my plan. My meal plans are written with a way of adding variety as I wish, so if tilapia or chicken isn’t cutting it for my palate, I easily sub those items out for whatever else I want. This is what makes a plan more flexible and easy to follow. Later on during the week, I will add a free meal so that compliance isn’t an issue since I know a planned break lies ahead. I implement this kind of approach as well with all clients in a post contest mode and have seen nothing but success when it comes to transitioning to normalcy.
Bringing Calories Up
For me, a reverse dieting period can take a good 4 weeks or so to fully complete before I move into an off season mode. After enjoying a few days of off plan eating, it’s time to reel things in and get back onto my meal plan. Typically, I like to start back on the diet that I had followed just before my peak week. The calories and macros are typically low enough to help move off any excess water retention I may be experiencing, and remain as a slight constant of what my body had been used to right before the show. So essentially, I’m starting where I left off. After about a week at this caloric level, I’ll simply increase calories by about 200-250 calories, and stick to that for a week while carefully watching how my body responds. For the third week post show, I’ll raise calories once again about another 150-250 calories all while watching my body very closely.
What am I watching for, you might ask? Well, simply that I’m not gaining weight too rapidly, and that any water retention that I might have experienced post show is starting to dissipate. It’s really hard to gauge what a “normal” amount of weight on the scale is post show simply because so many factors influence that number. And depending how carefully (or not) that I come off of my contest diet, I can see a weight fluctuation anywhere between 5 and 20 POUNDS! Yes, 20! However, that’s a very extreme situation (like stuffing myself silly without a care on EVERYTHING that New Orleans cuisine has to offer) and a very rare one indeed. And even when I’ve seen jumps like that post show, it always goes down once normal eating resumes and bloating subsides. So the best piece of advice I can give you is to watch the mirror, and rely on the scale only as a secondary measure – particularly if you are one who gets freaked out by numbers. If you are careful about how you eat, and what you eat in the days after your show, you shouldn’t see any extreme swings in the opposite direction.
As I go into my fourth week, I’ll increase calories one final time before hanging around at this new caloric level for about a good two to three weeks. If you’ve done your math correctly, over a 4 week time period, I can increase calories anywhere up to about 600-1000 calories post show. With training still in the equation, I’m still burning ample calories to thwart off rapid fat gain, and essentially still maintain a lean physique as I prepare to swing deeper into an off season program.
Now, the amount of calories that one can/should increase by each week is an individual thing. Those with slower metabolisms will have to be more mindful and make smaller caloric bump ups. Those with faster metabolisms can take more food when it comes to adding calories back into their plan.
All and all, if you are smart about your approach, and you listen to/watch your body closely, you too should be very successful in finding the best strategy for making your transition from contest mode to normalcy very simple and easy.
In Part II, we’ll discuss how to deload training post show and then successfully swing into your off season. You can check that out right here!