When I first began competing I would typically diet anywhere from 17 to 25 weeks. Back in those days there weren’t many coaches or so called “gurus”, and neither coaches nor competitors
incorporated any sort re-feeds or cheat days. Instead, we just used good old fashioned hard work and standard clean meal plans for the duration of our contest prep. As you can imagine I would get shredded for a show, losing a little bit of fullness by the time things were all said and done, but that was par for the course for those of us who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of bringing our absolute best to the stage. I've notice
d some trends through my years of competing, but nothing quite as dramatic as what happened following a heavy injection of social media into the bodybuilding world. Suddenly we could see what other competitors were doing in their off season, pre-contest, and post contest protocols – not to mention some of the gluttonous, and epic, post-show pig outs that some competitors take pride in.
I am not here to go full-on angry Grandpa, “Hey you darn kids get off of my lawn!” and tell you whether or not you should shovel down enough food to choke a horse post-show. Trust me, I would love to eat epic proportions of all those cookies, desserts, and what have you! It looks spectacular, and if in your mind you feel it leads to better gains then by all means do what you feel works best for you and your body.
Typically I tend to think of things from a physiological perspective. The body has a certain amount of fat cells. When you're dieting for a contest you're shrinking those fat cells, because the only way to actually get rid of fat cells is to have them surgically removed with an invasive procedure like liposuction. But if that isn't something you've done, each time you finish a contest and eat to your heart's delight, those very same fat cells get filled up - actually making you fatter. If it’s done too long, or too often, the body will start to create more fat cells. That makes it harder and harder each time you diet down for your contest to get lean and shredded.
Admittedly I used to fall victim to this same vicious cycle until I realized that I wasn't really gaining any quality from this type post-show eating and in retrospect, looking back throughout my career, I would get bigger, and add some muscle, but also a good amount of fat in the process. Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe in implementing strategically timed re-feeds to take advantage of both the physiological and psychological benefits, but there’s undoubtedly a huge difference between a refeed and an unproductive pig-out.
Over the last six years I've been experimenting post contest with a very strict controlled variables in my rebound and reverse diet, in addition manipulating other variables such as supplementation and water. During this process it becomes especially critical to pay close attention to how your body is responding, and documenting exactly what you’re doing, and what’s going on I can't emphasize this enough - WRITE IT DOWN!!!
After being depleted in several ways for an extended period of time a competitor's physique becomes primed for growth. This is the most opportune time for testing and conducting experiments to see how your body responds, and reacts to different foods, calories, supplements, macros water, or sodium, etc. During your testing phase, regardless of whatever variable it is that you’re manipulating, it’s important to remember that during this time your body is extremely anabolic, primed for takeoff, and most importantly ready to grow.
When you have no contest dates looming or pressure of messing up your contest conditioning, that’s when it's primetime to learn. I am a firm believer in taking full advantage of the time between shows. Not only does it give you greater knowledge and understanding of how your body works, but it also allows you to maximize your anabolic window post contest. I believe this window lasts about ten to twelve weeks, and I like to train immediately after the contest, with caution, to put all of those extra calories to good use. Best of all, if this is done while staying lean you will find that putting on quality muscle is easier, not only in the physical sense of less pain and pressure on places like your lower back and joints, but also on your psyche as well as you see your begin to grow and transform before your eyes.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I used to get a little depressed after my contests as I watched my hard work blur, and start to disappear under layers of water and fat. I understand that during the "off-season" these changes are going to present themselves. But keeping body fat low is still absolutely necessary. Not being able to see decent delineation between muscle groups is a clear indication that your current off-season program isn't producing quality gains, and is adding to the amount of time and work it will take to get that extra fat back off.
Being able to see the quality gains that you're making is your secret weapon to making improvements each and every year. Being able to see what you're improving, filling in the holes, and correcting the weaknesses in your physique will ultimately make for a more competitive package onstage. It’ important to approach both your offseason training and nutrition with specific plans based on what improvements you need to make to your physique, as opposed to simply eating, training, and only improving your strengths while your weaknesses become even more glaring.
For the serious competitor or athlete trying to improve yourself every single day, there is no downtime.
Despite feeling like it’s monotonous and boring to stay so consistent day in and out, this is what separates the weekend warrior or regular old gym rat from the top level competitors that go onto to become champions – it’s difference between 1st place and everything else.
The results of your diligence speaks volumes on show day!