After being on prep for weeks on end, you find yourself ready to storm the closest doughnut shop as soon as your show is done. You then wake up from your food coma a week later up 30 lb and resembling a marshmallow. Twenty weeks of hard work vanish in just a few days. If this sounds familiar, there is a better way to handle yourself post show—a way that will satisfy those cravings but get you to the next level. What you do post show sets the stage for either tremendous muscle growth or enormous fat gain.
Limiting calories and increasing training volume cause hormone and metabolic shifts that set the body to store calories when they are reintroduced. This is pure caveman survival mode. See, your body thinks it’s starving, so when you actually get some food it is going to store it away in case this starvation happens again. The good news is that you can get the greatest pumps of your life because skeletal muscle is highly insulin sensitive and will super compensate glycogen. This makes for an extremely anabolic environment. However, once glycogen is topped off, that food has to go somewhere. Fat cells, also more insulin sensitive, can grow rapidly. Water and sodium, typically manipulated around the show, is another issue. Once they’re reintroduced, the body compensates and stores more than before. Stored glycogen also increases water retention. The body ends up puffy with edema. Although the simplest approach is to get right back on plan and don’t eat all the crap food, here are some additional guidelines.
Have a Plan
The first step going into post show is you should already have a post show plan set up and in place. You should know how many days you can eat freely and what you will be eating. You should also have a set meal plan you are ready to return to after the show. If your plan involves heading to a Cancun all-inclusive resort, best of luck with managing your diet at the buffet bar. Try to hold off on big excursions immediately after the show. Give it a few weeks and let your body stabilize first.
Water and Sodium
You’ll probably make a bee line to your favorite restaurant as soon as your show is over to indulge in all the salty and fatty goodness. But the first thing you need to do is drink fluids. If you have been limiting water, loading sodium, or using diuretics, then you need to rehydrate before adding in any more sodium. Otherwise you are setting the stage for massive water retention. Rehydrate with water or a drink that contains some carbohydrates and electrolytes. Keep water intake high over the next week to get your kidneys to adapt to excreting a greater volume of fluid again. It’s important that you do not continue eating high sodium foods or you will continue to have rebounding water retention. You need to be back to your normal sodium and high water intake by Monday after a Saturday show.
Managing Cheat Meals
I recommend you eat whatever you want immediately after the show. Do not binge, just eat until you are satisfied and stop there. The pleasure food will be giving you is so high that your brain will still want more, but your stomach will be on the verge of rupturing. You have to stay disciplined here and stop before that point. The next day after your show, have three good meals of whatever you want. This can be a pancake breakfast, followed by a burger and fries for lunch, and end the night with some pizza. Still, you eat only until you are satisfied and avoid the feeling of being over stuffed. You must stop at this point. The next day you go back to a set strict meal plan. After 7 days of being back on your plan, you can then implement a once a week cheat meal.
Setting the Diet
A good guide for your rebound phase diet is the meal plan you started on the first week of your prep. This diet should be pretty close to maintenance calories, possibly slightly lower. This slightly lower calorie amount can account for any metabolic downgrade that occurred during prep. I would also look at the diet plan you used to carb up the day before the show. Typically, you can find some macronutrient numbers that are between your first week of prep diet and carb up diet. For instance, I carb up on 60g of carbs per meal, so for my rebound diet this was my starting point for each meal. Protein can be adjusted up slightly to help with satiety and fats can also be added in to slow digestion and limit cravings.
If you feel like a bloated, watery mess the day after your show, try fasting until mid-day to give digestion a rest, then finish the day on just protein and veggies when your appetite returns. You can start the rebound diet the following day.
How to Set Up Training
Post show is a great time to make incredible progress. I like to get back into the gym that Monday following a Saturday show. Regardless, I would resume your normal weight training within a few days after the show. To be safe, adjust your rep range higher to compensate for the weekend of dehydration and lack of recovery. Do not add more training volume in to your workouts than you were doing on prep. Strength is going to start increasing fast, which will be a progressive stimulus on its own without needing to add more sets and exercises to your plan. I would also add in one extra rest day to aid with recovery. So, if you were training 6 days on 1 day off, switch to a 3 day on 1 day off schedule.
Resume cardio the day after your cheat meals end. You cannot go to the no cardio approach if you had been doing 1-2 hours of cardio per day before that. The last thing you want is to go from high activity-low calorie to no activity-high calorie. Most athletes should keep in at least 4 days of 25 minutes of cardio.
Post contest is a very challenging time—it takes some real discipline to rein in all of the cravings and go back to a strict plan. If you aspire to reach the pro ranks, you must master self-control. Once you do, you will really get to the next level.