Posted 4 weeks ago

Post show/shoot rebound

If you’re reading this article, I am sure you follow many bodybuilders on Instagram, and if that’s the case, you will have undoubtedly seen them post pictures of their physique in the lead up to their shows or photoshoots. Once they have completed their dieting phase, they’ll also share the amazing shots they have from their big day.

Whilst most people are quite open about the highs and lows that come with the process of prep, not many are as keen to discuss what happens post-show. This is because the difficulties in managing the post-show period can often be a lot harder to handle. Not only do you no longer have a big goal in mind to push you, but you’ll also have to manage high levels of hunger and normally, a huge uncontrollable urge to eat.

This, plus the combination of the physique changes that come with taking the foot off the gas pedal for a few days, can leave people feeling embarrassed about their bodies, experiencing shame, and also a fear of being judged by others. After all, how can you manage such a strict diet for 20weeks and then lose the plot at the end?

Like I said, although it’s not spoken about as often, this is a big part of the process of getting absolutely shredded, and as such, merits being mentioned. Talking about it also reduces the shame associated to this very normal process. Therefore, the aim of this article is to describe and explain what you can expect post-show/shoot. I will also include some strategies you can implement to not only avoid gaining excessive amounts of fat in a short period of time, but to also make the transition into your offseason a lot smoother.

The lead up
It is likely that you’ll have been dieting for 4-5 months in the lead up to your chosen show or photoshoot day. In that time frame, you will have endured high levels of hunger, poor energy levels, lethargy, disrupted sleep, poor mood and low libido. All of these are fairly common side effects of pulling body fat levels down to extreme levels.

If it’s your first time dieting like this, you can become very food focused during the last few weeks of the process (and this can also happen if you’re experienced!!!). This is in part due to the restriction you’ve had to practice for months, but also because at the end, you only really feel somewhat human when you’re eating. However, because you know you’ll be in front of a camera or on stage in a few weeks’ time, you put up with the hunger and the other side effects so that you can look your best. This gives you a strong and powerful reason not to over-eat or slack off.

Given that you’ve put countless hours into this event, you will not let anything stop you from looking how you want to, so you persevere through the hard times. However, once the show or shoot is done, what happens then?

What to expect: Hunger
Your strong and powerful reason to not overeat and overindulge is now gone. Show day delivers such an incredible high feeling, but then all of a sudden, it’s over in a flash. Any reasonable coach will give their athletes a few days off the diet after such event, to allow for celebrations, time with family/friends and to reduce cravings/dietary induced fatigue.

After few days off plan, most coaches will ask you to go back on plan or stick to some sort of calorie/macro nutrient limit. However, your body and mindset might not be entirely ready to do so: it is likely that even after a few days of relaxing around food, your food focus will still be very high. In addition, there might now be some “treats” lying around the house, whereas before you would have probably eliminated the trigger foods from the environment. In an instance “I’m only going to have a little bit” can turn into the whole share bar.

This uncontrollable urge to eat more and more can often puzzle people but also make them feel very embarrassed and ashamed of themselves. Why does it happen? Well, let’s start with the facts: you have been actively starving your body for months to take body fat levels down to a place that it doesn’t really feel comfortable sitting at. Remember, some body fat is essential for the human body’s survival. For all it knows, you’re a caveman/cavewoman who has just endured a 5month famine and now must eat in order to ensure survival should this happen again. Your body does not know you’ve been busy getting shredded for a bodybuilding show!!!

Physiologically, when you diet, you downregulate your body’s metabolism and also throw-off hunger (ghrelin) and satiety (leptin) hormones (the signals that tell your brain whether your full or not). You’ve also become very good at ignoring your actual hunger and satiety cues. Paired with the fact that you can become somewhat leptin resistant when you diet, when the diet is over and your stomach is actually full, your brain doesn’t quite register it. All it knows is survival. Combine this with food focus being high and potential “trigger” foods such as chocolate being in the house, it can lead to big overeating episodes, even after you’ve had all your meals on plan or calories for that day.

This might feel uncontrollable, but rest assured the body will somewhat “reset” these hunger/satiety hormones fairly quickly as you increase food and add body fat. Most athletes will say after a week or two it’s like a “flick of a switch” and they feel in control again. The more you diet, the easier this is to manage because you can anticipate it better and put plans in place to help you manage the crazy hunger fluctuations!

What to expect: Weight gain
What you must accept is that you will gain weight immediately after these events. Your bodyweight as a whole on your show day / shoot day won’t be a true reflection of where you actually are, because you’ll be dehydrated, utilising diuretics, and perhaps even playing around with electrolytes. All in all, your peak week protocol is designed to have you looking fairly dry on the day and present the physique a certain way, which will have you weighing in at your lightest.

It therefore makes sense that the minute you add in water, fluids and electrolytes back in the system, your body weight will shoot up. Thus, I always say to clients that instead of pushing up/bulking with your stage weight as a baseline, we’ll accept that our start point will be 2-3kg above this number.

Other than changes on the scale, you can and should expect your body to look softer very quickly in that first post-show phase. But how does the body look so soft over night? It’s all down to physiology and your body just doing its job.

As we diet, we become very sensitive to the hormone that released by the body in response to eating, i.e., insulin. Insulin itself is responsible for shuttling nutrients into muscle AND fat cells, and in this extremely lean state, your insulin sensitivity is high, meaning that it shuttles nutrients into cells at a fast rate. If we consume carbohydrates that are high in simple sugars – such as cakes and biscuits – this causes a fairly sharp rise in blood sugar, whereby insulin will promote more nutrient uptake into fat cells as opposed to muscle cells. If we consume carbohydrates that are high in complex sugars such as potato and rice, then it will promote more uptake into muscle cells.

And here’s the truth: not many people are busy overconsuming basmati rice post show!! As a result, it’s unsurprising that bodyweight increases quite rapidly post-show, and equally, that when overconsumption of calories is prolonged, that people gain a lot of body fat very quickly.

If we consider that some of those meals eaten might be high in salt content, then this will compound the problem. High salt intake can make the body retain water which will be clearly visible in pictures the day after and produce a softer look.

It can be a vicious cycle of course, because with each meal you consume, you feel like you’ve got a little bit more energy, you feel more human, and it can cause you to continue to overeat. However, you really need to be mindful of the consequences – people can easily gain 6-8kg in a week post-show if they lose touch with how much they’re eating! As you can imagine, this can have devastating consequences for their mental health and body image but can also negatively impact on the productivity of their offseason. (Of course, these numbers are context sensitive: gaining 6-8kg as an assisted male bodybuilder is not the same as that sort of weight gain for a 5ft 1’ female bikini girl).

The Do’s and Don’ts
Firstly, please accept it’s completely natural for your body to be sending you those high hunger and low satiety signals. It wants to function optimally and get back to a state that permits that as quick as possible. While it is hard, there are a few tips I have learned over the years to avoid post show binging or excessive weight gain in that period.

The first tip would be to enjoy a couple days off-plan and guilt-free. In this timeframe, go and enjoy meals out or foods you’ve been missing and spend time with your family, friends and loved ones. I always implore clients to “eat like an adult and not a child” in those scenarios and it tends to work well. And once you’ve had those days off, get right back on plan but increase your calories by a good amount (e.g., 500-1000 each day). These will be person dependent and different between male/females, but the bottom line is: eat more. A tip that has helped many of my clients is to eat more of what you were already eating during your dieting phase. Why? Because you’ll feel as full as a house. The foods you’re eating at the back end of your diet will be high volume low calorie foods, so if you increase those, you will feel a lot better, a lot more satisfied, and will find it easier to adhere to your outlined calories/macros.

In the same instance, ensure an off-plan meal is incorporated into your weekly plan to give you something to look forward to each week and be able to plan ahead for the things you’ve wanted to do and/or places you’ve wanted to eat. At the same time, I’d encourage you to reduce your cardio and steps to help with the dietary induced fatigue; and also, don’t forget to get back into training fairly sharpish. I’ve seen far too many people put off training for weeks post show/shoot but trust me when I say that you’ll find your love for it again very quickly with more food in the system.

Alongside the Do’s, there after some things you should most certainly not to do or avoid as best as possible.

As you diet, please do not make a list of all the things you are going to eat or want to eat post show/shoot. Simultaneously, please do not hoard a box of chocolates or treats that will be there for after. I’ve found that both these things end in disaster, and before you know it, the food list is ticked off, the box is gone, and you’re up 8kg or more. Instead, if you are going to buy those types of foods, by them one at a time and don’t have any foods in the house that you feel you can’t control yourself around yet. Again, I’d always suggest you continue to keep your veg intake high and food sources similar to what you were eating on prep. If you had been eating chicken and veg before and all of a sudden switch all your calories to biscuits, it’ll be no wonder why you’re still feeling hungry. Another good way to think about it is to acknowledge that the things you crave during prep are things you’d probably never eat at the peak of an offseason, so buy as you go, eat mindfully, and continue to eat similar food sources as before.

In summary, in the lead up to shows/shoot you can experience high levels of hunger amongst other side effects that can make you very food focused. Once the show is over, it is natural to experience uncontrollable hunger and urges to eat due to a normal dysregulation in hunger hormones resulting from extreme dieting. Don’t worry, these feelings won’t last forever, and you have to learn to surf the wave as best as possible for a few more weeks, as you gradually start to feel more human again. Be mindful of your intake: do your best to limit yourself to being off-plan for no more than a few days, to avoid excessive weight and fat gain. There are some common do’s and don’ts that you can follow to avoid these types of scenarios. Managing the post-dieting phase is challenging, but when done well with the support and accountability of your coach, it will put you physically and mentally in a great place to start your offseason.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons