I’ve seen it so many times, read about it constantly and even experienced it myself to a certain degree.
Preparing for a fitness competition (in my case bikini) can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying endeavors you will ever take on. On the flip side, not many realize the negative impacts it can and does cause. Post-competition blues, metabolic damage, bingeing… these are just a few of the common but not all the time spoken of effects.
Imagine transforming your once pudgy, “out of breath after walking up a few stairs self” into a lean, muscular physique that looks like it could be on the cover of your favorite fitness magazine. You go through twelve or more weeks of intense daily cardio sessions (sometimes you even go twice because once surely wasn’t enough), you lift for 5-6x days per week and you follow an extremely strict diet. Heaven forbid you have a bit of dairy or fruit. The big day finally arrives… you’re ready to go, smelling of Pro Tan, your abs showing through your Oompa Loompa glow. You’ve got your hair and makeup primped and primed and you pray your glued on suit stays in place while you step out on stage. You try to block out the thoughts of falling on your face while wearing your five-inch heels with the hot light beating down on you. You try to forget that hundreds of people are watching your every move while you walk out in the smallest bikini you’ve ever seen. If you’re like me those daily posing practice sessions fly out the window and you walk out like a stiff robot, your entire body quivering, praying that nobody notices your shaky upper lip. After the initial unexpected stage fright you manage to loosen up and look a bit more alive.
Two minutes later that’s it, you’re done… You wait around backstage for another eight hours, and if you’re lucky, manage a quick nap before the finals. One last walk on stage to announce the awards and it’s over. No matter how you placed you feel accomplished at how far you’ve come. There’s also the element of relief that you’re finally allowed to be “normal” again (and if you’re lucky you get to chow down on some oreo-stuffed cookies conveniently provided by your mom who is watching in the audience).
Fast-forward a week. Grocery shopping has suddenly become difficult. What do I buy? Should I get bread, should I buy fruit, how much should I eat? Gym workouts become a bit more complicated… how much cardio should I do? The carefully structured routine that you immersed yourself in for the past 12 weeks has suddenly become a free for all. While you used to curse your extremely limited shopping list, you now wish for a bit of guidance and structure.
Eventually, you move past this and the new “habits” emerge. You used to be completely satisfied with a bit of peanut butter or a cookie, you now cannot put down the jar or stop until you’ve cleared through entirely too many cookies. And then the guilt sets in, “what’s wrong with me, what happened to all my self control? I never used to be like this before.” If you’re lucky you satisfy your cravings that first week and get back to your normal eating habits, while allowing for some cheat meals here and there. While most people don’t think this would ever happen to them, I can tell you from personal experience that this isn’t something one can predict. All too quickly the pounds creep back and before you know it, you are heaver than when you started to prep for your show. The guilt and self-deprecating thoughts begin and you long to have back your old self.
So why does this happen? What causes this and what did you do wrong? If you continue competing will this happen all over again?
While there is no “right or wrong” way to lean out or prepare for a fitness competition, there are definitely ways to do it smarter and avoid the possible negative side effects. I’ve found much more success in allowing myself to have a cheat meal occasionally and to limit the cardio as much as possible than I have when following a black and white nutrition/training plan. A huge part of this is finding a coach that has the same beliefs/opinions as you when it comes to prepping for a competition (or simply dieting down to lose some body fat). Even if your preferred coach is the typical “I eat only boiled chicken and broccoli 5x a day” type, you still need to be able to communicate how important having balance is to you and make sure the plan they design reflects this.
More coming in a later article on my personal tips for leaning out and how I plan on prepping for my next fitness competition the smart and sane way!