Disclaimer: This was my first bikini competition and bodybuilding is a very individualized sport, not everyone goes through the same experience. Don’t let what I’m about to share discourage you from competing but I hope it helps shed light on some of the struggle that can be experienced post competition. More importantly, “post competition” is usually a topic that is avoided because people, like myself, don’t want to feel vulnerable or defeated. At the end of the day your outcome is solely based on what you put in, so just be aware of the major changes your body and mind will go through. Just like you, I had my moments when I let the way I look while prepping for my first show completely distort the way I should look and feel on a daily basis. I am also no expert but I have been around the fitness industry for years.
For someone who was so intimidated by entering a weight room, I am no stranger to the gym these days and have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears (literally, all three of those) into months and now years of training to build the physique I have today. My interests have varied with the type of training I have done, i.e. bodybuilding and power lifting/strength training and I have found true satisfaction and results doing both.
Last year, I felt like I was meant to do something meaningful with all of the hard work I was putting in at the gym day in and day out. I even thought about doing a power lifting meet but there was something that made me gravitate towards bikini competitors. Their poise and confidence on stage, the sparkling bikinis, the glamour, the attention but most importantly their incredible physiques.
After weeks of careful consideration and A LOT of research, I decided to hire a coach to help prep me for my first bikini competition. I won’t go into detail about my prep because prep (for me) was an amazing experience. My coach guided me through a 16 week prep; I didn’t miss a single meal, didn’t miss a single cardio session, practiced my posing every day and kept my spirits high knowing this was my choice and I was going to give it my all.
I trained/prepared for months, and going through the process the anxiety/excitement got me through both the good and bad times. In addition, I saw myself go through a transformation that few will ever experience. The beginning was a little slow but I stuck to my guns and soon witnessed my body change on a weekly basis, it was incredible! Point is, for months I saw better and better in myself.
The day of the competition arrives, and regardless of the outcome, at the end of the day, it’s over! The next day I woke up, and that first meal or morning cardio session is not a “must” anymore. All of a sudden I didn’t have a “deadline” and a plan to get there. I turned my life upside down in preparation for this event. So now what do I do? After months of preparing, I no longer had a competition to strive for, I no longer had the same structure in my life…
That brings me to my post competition plan – The Monday after the show, I started a 4 week reverse diet. Although you won’t find the term in any dictionary, reverse diet is a term used within the bodybuilding and competitive weightlifting communities (aka “bro-science”) to describe a period after a calorically restricted eating protocol during which you slowly work to increase calories back to a maintenance level. This worked really well, I only gained about 5-8 lbs above stage weight in that 4 week period BUT this still wasn’t a maintainable body weight for me.
(Left) 3 weeks post show vs. (Right) peak week
NOTE: The reason it is unrealistic to maintain the stage look all the time is because it’s not ideal/practical for the human body to maintain. One’s adrenals and hormones are working double overtime for those months but after a while nobody’s body can keep doing.
I fell victim to looking in the mirror afterwards and judging myself based on how I looked a week or two ago on stage. I would tell myself to get back to eating the way I was leading up to the show, but would be so burned out after 2-3 successful days of eating back on the contest diet, that one night I’d just lose it and eat 1, 2 or 10 cookies! I never found myself too bloated or puffy but my eating habits were not overly balanced/normal. The more I think about it, I was completely fine in the 16 week period of my prep but my 4 week reverse diet and post competition anxiety left me feeling hopeless and out of control.
I went through moments when I felt gross, “fat”, lazy and even unmotivated to go to the gym (the In A Slump post does a great job of explaining how I felt in that period). I had really let “post competition depression” take a hold of me emotionally and physically. During competition prep I didn’t track any numbers for food and followed timing rules which in my opinion worked really well. I should also mention that I was at the gym twice a day, every day. However, post competition this type of diet and training is not necessarily sustainable when you get back to living a “normal lifestyle” and I was freaking out about it.
I was so sick of feeling like sh*t, I decided I needed to find balance and quickly before I lost my mind. I needed to establish new eating habits that would allow me to have peace of mind but also allow me to reach my fitness goals (aesthetically and physically). I think post-competition issues usually arise because there is such a grey area between intense contest diet and living a normal life while still being able to hit your fitness goals. With that being said, I have gone back to “tracking my macros.” (If you’d like to know more about tracking macros let me know and I’ll make a post about it!)
Tracking my macros has made more aware of what is in the foods I’m eating. I can finally say I am loving it for the off season for several reasons:
- I can eat whatever I want as long as I stay away from foods that make me crave such as sugar (I’m a sugar FIEND).
- I am getting a huge variety of foods in my diet which results in me being less sensitive to all foods.
- I am at peace of mind when I eat out with my friends and family.
- I am leaner now than I was before prep but I am eating a lot more.
- I don’t have to worry about eating every 2.5-3 hours BUT eating every 2.5-3 hours usually makes it easy to hit my numbers so I end up sticking to that anyway.
- I get to make fun dinners for my husband and enjoy them too!
- I have caught myself having less and less tendencies wanting to binge or overeat.
- I feel SO HAPPY!
Since I’m not sure if I will compete again, it really feels like I am doing this for me and it feels so damn good. I really feel like I am finding a balance and I have control over my life again. Trust me, I never EVER thought that food, workouts and how I look would take over my life but it’s a trap that anyone can fall into.
Moral of the story, I know what makes me feel good so I just had to get back to that. I still love going to the gym, my motivation is at an all time high and I’ll even go twice a day if I feel like it! I have a healthy relationship with food again and enjoy the finer things in life.
Not everyone will completely understand how I felt but if you’re struggling like I did, I’m here to talk to. I give a lot of credit to all the fabulous ladies in my life who have listened to my rants, given me advice and helped me get out of my slump. I hope this post also gives insight to those who are unfamiliar with bodybuilding and competitions – Diving into the world of competing really opened my eyes to what the human body can achieve. In light of how I felt for a short period of time, it was an amazing experience and nothing can take that away from me 🙂
Bye for now!