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Posted 1 year ago

Back-to-back shows and getting tighter

As I write this (Aug 2021), I am currently in the process of doing 4 shows in a twenty-day period! It’s the first time in my competitive career that I’ve ever done something like this. In 2017 I only did one show; then in 2020 I did one show before lockdown hit, and therefore I had never truly experienced what it feels like to do back-to-back shows or multiple shows over a short period of time.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to give you an overview of the process I implemented for my diet, training, and in this case, depleting between shows. I will also go into detail on how we were able to bring a tighter look for each one of these shows.

Now, please bear in mind that this is written from the experience and standpoint of an assisted male bodybuilder, with a decent amount of muscle mass (if I can say so myself). If you are reading this and you are a 50kg bikini girl, it may not apply to you. But if you are going into your first or second season with multiple shows lined up, some of which are back-to-back, and you’re male or compete in the more muscular female categories, then this article is for you.

Before we get into it, let’s first look at how the protocol might be different if you had a few weeks’ break between two shows, as this approach is probably the most common for competitors.

One show then a break

In this first scenario, let’s assume that you have a show and then your next one isn’t for another 2 weeks.

If you didn’t already know it, show day is exhausting! And if you’re anything like me and you’ve signed up to do two classes, you don’t tend to realise just how tiring it can be. But when you think of it logically, you’re tensing every muscle in your body as hard as you can for as long as the judges say so. It is physically very draining and burns a fair number of calories.

This will mean that the following day, you will be feeling extremely tired and beat up from show day. However, given that you’ve allowed for a bit more time between shows, it means that you’ll have a bit more leeway with food and training in the days that follow. In other words, that extra time will allow you to perhaps enjoy a meal the night of your show, and then relax the following day, allowing your body to rest. This may serve as a good mental break and allow you to celebrate any placings you may have received with your loved ones.

After this you could then get back to your usual diet, training, and expenditure, and spend the rest of the week depleting. This is the process by which we look to deplete our body of the muscle glycogen stores that we have just filled up for stage and get us back down to our “flattest” look. If you are unsure on what being flat or full means then check out the article I wrote on it previously by clicking here.


Let’s talk now about how the process might be different if you are doing back to back shows. By this I mean competing on subsequent weekends, with no rest in between. To ensure that you present a tighter package each time, unfortunately, what this means is that – irrespective of your show day result – there will be no scheduled free meals. Some people may not be able to handle this.

For example, let’s say you’ve just won or achieved a placing you never thought was possible. You are excited, you want to celebrate, and/or your family/friends/partner want to celebrate with you. Celebrations are often associated with food and drink, which you can’t have. Combine this with how exhausted you’ll feel, show day just got even harder because there’s no celebration at the end.

For myself after each show, I simply had protein-based meals for the rest of the day and ultimately hit the daily calories that I would have been on prior to the carb load. I didn’t mind, it just meant feeling completely drained by early evening. However, it’s not that day that is the hardest, it’s the day after. On show day, you’re still riding a high from the result. I won the British finals and then for the rest of the day ate protein, but I didn’t really care. It was something I’d worked on for years, so just the achievement was enough.

The next day though, is draining. Think back to how exhausted I said you’ll feel, and combine that with getting back on cardio, a big leg session and your usual low calories. By midday, you’re extremely fatigued. It’s at this point that your mind will want you to give in even though the tiredness is nothing a nap won’t sort.

The reason for getting straight back to it is that you’re trying to get down to that low set-point you’d achieved before your carb load, and you’re trying to do it in 3-4 days. I’d usually begin loading for a Sunday show on a Thursday. If your show is the following Sunday you’ve got to hit it hard to get back to baseline, as we like to call it.

But here’s the thing: once you’re over that first day post-show, by the next day, you should be feeling somewhat okay again. Well, when I say okay, you’re just feeling back to how you felt the week prior, which won’t be amazing, but it’ll be better than how you were feeling immediately post-show. It’s the small things that count during prep, right?!

How are you able to get leaner?

I’ve spoken about getting tighter between shows, but how is this possible if you’ve been carb loading back-to-back? Well, let’s use a real example to illustrate this.

The Wednesday before my 2nd show (PCA North West) I hit 103.6kg on the scales; then the following Wednesday, before my 3rd show (PCA South West), I hit 103.2kg; and then, the following Wednesday before 2bros British finals, I hit 102.8kg and then finally before my last show, FitX, I hit a 102kg.

Now, we know scale weight isn’t everything here, but when you combine it with visuals and you see the physique get leaner and leaner each week, you know that it’s body fat coming off. How is this possible, you might wonder? How can you get leaner in only a few days? Let me explain.

You’ve more than likely read the article about refeeds, right? If not, then that’s where I would start. Don’t worry if you need a reminder though, let me refresh your memory. In our most depleted state, when we are extremely lean, fatigued, and stress on the body is high, cortisol levels are elevated, which goes against fat loss and promotes muscle loss. What does more food do? It washes away that fatigue and stress, and ultimately, lowers cortisol levels with zero impact on body fat. Remember the body is still in an aggressive caloric deficit – all you have done is topped up muscle glycogen stores.

Once you’ve done so, the body can continue to mobilise fat as a fuel source, as the extra food means that you train harder, move more, and put more into your cardio. So even if I put in 2500g carbs over 3 days, which was my usual load, it’s done nothing to body fat stores. I then go straight back into the diet following the load, and guess what happens after a few days? Yup, you guessed it, you get leaner. As an example, the day following a show I might weigh 106.5kg (due to increase muscle glycogen but also the water rebound after drying out) and then by the Wednesday, I’ll be down to 102.8kg, when the week before the previous low (pre-loading) was 103.2kg. To the untrained eye, that seems like a lot of weight to lose in such a short period. But to us, it’s somewhat normal in those scenarios.

My preference

You don’t always get to pick the amount of time there is between the shows you’d like to compete in, and I’ve done back-to-back shows as well as shows with a break in between. My first show of this season was on the 4th July (2Bros regional) and then it was two weeks until my 2nd one (PCA Northwest). Although I needed the time in between to take off more body fat as I simply wasn’t lean enough for the first show, I found the week in between extremely hard. It was mentally challenging, as I was just sitting around waiting for the next week to “hurry up and get here” so I could do it all over again.

In hindsight, this was maybe the wrong way to look at it but it’s how I felt at the time. How have I felt doing these 4 shows back-to-back instead? In all honesty, I’ve much preferred it. Yes, there’s no meals out after, but food hasn’t ever bothered me anyway, and when you’ve just consumed so much food to get full, you’re not in the mood to keep eating.
The days after are and have been very hard, the hardest days of prep yet; but ultimately, they were rewarding because I knew that if I could make it through them, then the next show wasn’t far away.

It hasn’t given me much time to process the results, yet, but I know that it will come after they are over. Instead, what it gave me was a clear focus on the task at hand, there was and have been no slip ups. Why? Because the drive to be better outweighs everything else. I’ve had an appreciation for just how hard it is, but ultimately how rewarding it can be too. I tell my clients I’ll never ask them to do something I wouldn’t do myself and I had never experienced this. Therefore, I knew I needed to do it to be able to relate to or explain how to handle those periods for clients who do the same in the future.

In summary, doing back-to-back shows or a few over consecutive weeks can be challenging. Competing is hard on the body and to get back down to baseline or even to bring a tighter look will involve 1-2 hard days post-show, but then you’ll be back to feeling as you were before you know it. When that time comes, you’re only a few days out again and then it’s time for more food to go back in to get full. You can most certainly get leaner but it requires not missing a beat or enjoying meals out after your show.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons