But then, there's day 1 after the competition. If you're not competing soon, often times athletes splurge this day as well. In an ideal world, clean eating albeit more "normal" clean eating takes place on day 2 after the competition. However, this isn't always the case. Doing just 1 more day of cheat meals turns into 2, then 3, then a week then somehow longer. Weight gain returns, and sometimes at an alarming rate. Despite knowing full well how to get back on track, something holds you back and you can't stop eating the sugar, the unhealthy carbs and fats. Family or friends may tell you not to worry as you just did a competition and to give yourself a break. You might even listen to them but you come to a point where you repeat unhealthy choices and the scale climbs and your self esteem takes a nose dive. This is known as the 'Post-Competition Blues'. You become lost without a plan to follow. Either there's no next competition to keep you accountable or the next competition is further away. To quote the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” You suddenly have the freedom to do whatever you want, but you become overwhelmed with stepping outside the strict rules of competition preparation.
Does that mean getting the Post-Competition Blues (PCB) is inevitable? Not necessarily. Here are 5 things you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting PCB.
- You fail to plan you plan to fail: That means pre-plan what you're going to eat day 2 after the show. Check with your trainer for suggestions but it's hard to go wrong with lean proteins and veggies. Since food is more than just fuel for many people, it's important to enjoy the taste of the healthy foods you're eating. If you're not, or have maxed out on chicken and broccoli for instance, choose other healthy foods. The key is to gradually increase your caloric intake. This will allow you to reprogram your body and be kind to your metabolism otherwise it will fight back. Increasing your water intake particularly 1 week after the show can help manage the post-show bloat as well as keep sodium, fat, and toxins flushed out of your system.
- Manage your expectations: You cannot maintain the physique you had on stage 365 days a year. That isn't even healthy. To extend that type of training alone for a prolonged period of time would play havoc on your adrenal system. Lengthy periods of physical and mental stress can lead to adrenal fatigue, which is not relieved by sleep. The activity of the adrenal glands becomes so diminished that you may have difficulty getting out of bed, changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive.
You can also expect to gain weight; 10-15 pounds is normal but you want to do it in a healthy way. I know from personal experience the sadness one can feel by seeing their abs go into hibernation; however, it doesn't have to be for long. You know what to do to get those abs to come out and play. You've done it before and you can do it again. That's a fact!
- Return to normal: Yes you can incorporate 1-2 cheat meals a week without sabotaging yourself as long as they are cheat meals and not cheat days.
- Recover: You just tested your limits so now it's time to rest and recover from any and all competition training. I admit I struggled with this one. After the Saturday show, I thoroughly enjoyed a cheat meal and a full cheat day on the Sunday so my muscle cells were full and I felt super strong. I wanted to hit the weights with a confident fury but I was warned beforehand that would be a muscle or joint injury waiting to happen and I listened for the most part. So I recommend that you can look at the weights but no touching. ;) For the first week after the show, either don't train at all or just do some low to moderate cardio or even better yet do something entirely different. This could include activities you haven't done in awhile because they would conflict with your competition prep or try a new activity or hobby.
- Reconnect with your family and friends: One of the many sacrifices in your competition prep is focussing on yourself, especially the 12 weeks before the show, which is needed. Supportive family and friends have tried to be understanding of your seemingly anti-social behaviour and moodiness (think Despicable Me's purple minion). After the show, reach out and spend time with your supportive family and friends. They probably miss doing the "normal" things with you that you had to cut out during your prep. Relationships are a two way street. They supported you and it's only right you acknowledge and appreciate their support. Reconnecting is also important for the mind and soul.
Now what if you're going through the Post-Competition Blues right now?
You may be feeling like you're losing your identity. You don't recognise your body anymore as what you looked like on stage is SO different than what you see in the mirror now. In fact, you avoid the mirror and reach for the junk food. You've blown it anyway so what's another cheat meal or cheat day? DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOURSELF! You still have the power to make different choices. Learn to forgive the choices you've recently made by focussing on what you're going to do differently from that point onwards. We can't change the past so your day 1 will be later than day 1 after the show. Dust yourself off and get back up again. Your new day 1 is your commitment to yourself to regain control. Distract yourself from the food temptations by spending the time formulating your new plan of attack with concrete strategies. This can include researching a new activity or hobby, drinking water, protein and veggies, reconnecting with supportive people in your life, etc. If you didn't make a plan before, make a plan now. It isn't too late. Start fresh; start now!