Welcome to the hardest part of competing – IMO. If you think you needed discipline and focus to cut down and get to stage condition and that’s it you’re done, off season is easy street, think again.
Post comp is hard. This is the part where, if anything, you need MORE support and understanding from those around you – I’ve sort of covered the emotional side of things in other blogs, so this is entirely about diet. How you manage your post comp eating is what can set you up to make next season much easier or you can screw up your metabolism in ways that could take months or even years to correct.
You’ve all heard of competitors who immediately post comp go out and binge on junk food – chocolates, lollies, maccas, kfc, pizzas, kripsy crème doughnuts, ice cream, cakes – all of the above for days or even weeks on end and pile on 5, 10, 15kg in weight in next to no time, feel like shit, look like shit, hate themselves, everybody and life in general.
And it is a sure fire way to screw up your body. It’s difficult not to and its easy to see why – the hours, days and months you pour into a show are unimaginable to most people. You literally live and breathe this every waking moment for 6+ months. It completely engulfs you at times. When you come out of prep you can find yourself at a complete loss with nothing to fill the void left from prep. Eating can turn into that comfort for you, your body is DEMANDING that you eat, but the more you eat the more you crave.
The problem is that after a prolonged period of dieting, your metabolism has adapted to your workload by becoming more efficient – it uses less energy to do the same tasks. If you suddenly and dramatically increase your calories that your body now does not require, it is going to be stored as fat until your metabolism catches up. Eating whatever you like for one or two meals post comp, 24 hours, maybe even 48 hours post comp is not going to hurt you too much as long as you rein it in asap. Much more than 48 hours and you’re on a fast track to massive, potentially damaging rebound and fat gain.
To avoid this happening, you need a plan and a sound strategy to gradually increase your calorie intake, add foods back into your diet at a steady, manageable rate, the aim being to return to a healthy balanced diet whilst minimising fat gain.
What you need to do is Reverse Diet.
And no, this is not the same as ‘bulking’. Mind you even if you are ‘bulking’, minimising fat gain should also be prioritised.
Reverse dieting is exactly what is sounds like – as you cut down gradually towards your competition, you now need to slowly add calories and foods, giving your body time to adjust to each new level, trying to get as high as you can whilst minimising increase on the scales. In addition to the fact that your body needs to learn how to absorb and burn the increased calories, it also needs time to adapt to the associated increase in variety as well as volume of food.
So how do you reverse diet?
There are many ways of doing this, some people suggest adding 10-15g of carbs and 2-5g of fat to your total weekly (not daily…) intake, some suggest increasing your daily calorie intake by a small percentage say 2-5% every week until you reach your maintenance level. You’ll need to work out what your maintenance level is (excellent article here).
Whatever method you use, the key is to add a little and watch, add a little and watch.
Another critical factor here is to keep your exercise levels up. Do not stop your cardio/HIIT cold turkey – gradually decrease the amount of work you are doing as you increase your calories.
My plan is to use the percentage increase method – 5%/day each week up to my maintenance level of 1663, then hold at this point for 2 weeks to allow my body to ‘rest’ then slowly increase again at 5%/day up to a max of 2200 – this is the amount that Aiden wants me to get to for my growth phase.
This is how my reverse diet plan works out:
Final Comp diet level: 1450 calories/day
Week 1: 1450 + 5% = 1520 (added protein)
Week 2: 1520 + 5% = 1596 (berry fruit just pre and pwo)
Week 3: 1596 + 5% = 1675 – maintenance level (berry fruit @ meal 1 instead of nuts, sweet potato pwo + meal 2)
Week 4 – Week 6: hold at 1675
Week 7: 1675 + 5% = 1758 (as week 3 + increase protein)
Week 8: 1758 + 5% = 1845 (as week 7 + sweet potato meal 3)
Week 9: 1845 + 5% = 1937 (as week 8 + fat @ meal 3 e.g add avocado)
Week 10: 1937 + 5% = 2033 (as week 9 + protein)
Week 11: 2033 + 5% = 2134 (as week 10 + carbs @ meal 4)
Week 12: 2134 + 5% = 2239 (as week 11 + nut butter with bedtime casein) – target reached, hold at this level
So, I’m looking at 3-6 weeks ‘rehab’ to maintenance levels and a total of 12 weeks to get to my growth target which will be by early jan. On paper that all sounds very sensible…lets see how I’m going with this.
Week 1: Increase daily calories by 5% – from Protein only. This I managed quite well – Mon – Thur, during the day to all intents and purposes I was still on comp diet – lots of veg, meat and nuts. No carbs yet…
Except on Thursday night when I needed to get some food shopping, there suddenly appeared an empty chocolate bar wrapper in my bag.
Where did that come from? It was from a particular low gi, organic, sugar free, diary free, gluten free, 70% cocoa, coconut and goji berry chocolate – 45g of. This brand of chocolate has such an intense flavour, on the rare occasions when I do have any I’ll generally have 1 square (there’s only 6 in a packet) then the rest of the bar will usually sit in my fridge for the next 2 months because I just don’t want to eat anymore, it completely overwhelms my non sweet tooth palate and I usually end up throwing it away!
But somehow I’d inhaled the whole bar and it hadn’t even registered, let alone touched the sides on the way down!
Then on Friday I added back the pizza cheat meal. Oh dear. That was followed up by 120g of caramel popcorn and another bar of coconut and goji berry intenseness.
That counts as a binge for me and I felt like crap.
Saturday 1st brekky was meat only, I had 2 pieces of toast with PWO brekky, kept the rest of the day clean, then had horrible sugar cravings at night resulting in another ‘binge’ – 2 scoops gelati and another bar of the chocolate (sour cherry and vanilla this time, new flavour – intensity overload!).
Sunday 1st brekky was meat only, did another HIIT session, skipped PWO brekky as still bloated from Saturday. In an attempt to knock insane sugar cravings on the head at lunch, I deliberately had a BLT with chips and a mini gluten free muffin. No afternoon snack as too full and last meal was meat + veg.
Felt and looked like a fat whale. 😦
Week 2: Increase daily calories by another 5%, up to 1600 (ish) and add some carbs. Monday I tried blueberries – 60g at 1st brekky and 60g PWO. Not good. Instant bloat. Tuesday I tried strawberries – 6 at 1st brekky and 6 PWO. Not good. Instant bloat.
Wed/Thur I had no carbs at all as feeling so crap. Friday, I looked lean and hard again, hopped on the scales and…I’d lost another 0.6kg from my last comp!!
Woohoo!! Feeling great again!
Until PWO brekky when I had 2 pieces of gluten free toast…and then the monster sugar cravings started again, all day I was fighting not to eat rubbish, I gave up at Friday night pizza which was followed by gelati, caramel popcorn (120g) and a whole bag (100g) of chocolate coated ‘Wallaby’ snacks (squares of chocolate, puffed rice and cranberries).
The rest of weekend was a battle – I managed to restrict myself to toast at PWO brekky, but it was incredibly hard – trying to keep myself occupied so I didn’t think about food constantly. I’ve been skulling down the (sweet) flavoured branch chains by the teaspoon to fill me up with water so I’m not tempted to eat.
Week 3: Up to 1650 (ish) calories, and I thought I’d try sweet potato since blueberries and strawberries have not agreed with me at all. 50g pre and pwo is what I decided on. I cover each piece in cinnamon and bake it slowly so the cinnamon caramelises…
OMG, its sooo good.
Dammit. 50g is a very tiny piece…and…well, I could just have ONE more piece…
Yep, the 300g I baked that was supposed to last 6 meals was gone before it had even cooled down.
Every night, that week there were a few pieces of chocolate – sometimes with honey on, sweet potato disappeared at an alarming rate and since when did I ever like lo carb, no sugar, gluten free cardboard flavoured ‘chocolate’ protein bars?
By Friday I was exhausted from the constant mental noise, beating myself up for being weak and feeling disgusting, so I decided to really go to town and have a full on proper binge. By deliberately and purposefully eating an absolute ton of food, I was hoping it would ‘cure’ me of this all consuming monster that seems to have taken hold of me. I went to PJ O’Brien’s and if you’ve ever been there you know that their portions are…’hearty’.
Chicken and bacon salad to start (it was the size of a main!), mussels in green curry sauce and a bowl of chips, 2 glasses of red wine, 2 mini gluten free cup cakes, 120g caramel popcorn, 45g organic chocolate…
and 15 prunes (?? I don’t know either!). It would have been 13, but I had another 2 just to make sure I was feeling really awful.
Nice theory, but it didn’t work. It just seemed to fuel my cravings. Despite being full to bursting point, my body was still demanding MORE food.
All I think about is food.
All. the. goddamn. time.
Saturday and Sunday PWO brekky I had toast, Saturday night in an attempt to have a ‘healthier’ binge I had a small tub of no sugar, no fat, flavoured yoghurt (??!! I’d never usually touch this stuff with a barge pole!), 2 scoops of gelati, 240g sultanas and 8 prunes. Sunday arvo I ‘only’ had a gluten free cake.
There was no room to fit anything else in.
Week 4: This week, I’m trying to keep it at 1800 calories, I know that’s way above my plan, but its what I seem to be able to ‘restrict’ myself to. I’ve just about managed to limit myself to one piece of sweet potato (75g) per meal – just…
But the problem is this week I’ve been hoeing into the lo carb protein bars – 2 a day. I even tried one of those quest bars that everybody has been raving about – not sure what the fuss is about, very bad move. It was the worst of everything, and I spent an extremely painful afternoon with a stomach blown up like a football, but at least it stopped me eating anything else all day.
I do have to add here that it’s not all bad – my base diet is still comp diet – brekky is still just meat, my pwo meal is meat+broccoli+spinach, lunch is meat+broccoli+more salad, afternoon snack is 2 boiled eggs and dinner is meat+cruciferous veg soup (At least I’m addicted to something healthy!). I’ve stopped having casein at night – it ‘saves’ me 100 calories.
What’s doing my head in (and my body) is all the extra stuff on top, I’m hangry all the bloody time (even yelled at a pedestrian stupid enough to be in the bike lane who gave me a death look for daring to cycle down it!) and to say my digestive system is now a f****d up mess would be a bit of an understatement.
If I went to the doctor and explained my symptoms, I’d be a classic case of IBS – alternating constipation followed by diarrhoea, painful bloating and gassiness, lethargy, tiredness, inability to concentrate (I’m writing my blog posts at work again!!), mental sluggishness…
It’s like filling your Ferrari with 3 month old chip fat and wondering why it splutters, backfires, farts clouds of black smoke then grinds to a gummed up halt.
I hate it and I’m totally struggling with it.
I know what to do, I know in theory how to implement it, I know I have discipline in spades – my stage condition proves that I can manage my diet exceptionally well and stick to a plan.
I want to stay lean, I love the cleanness of comp diet, I love how efficiently my body runs, how much energy I have, how mentally alert I am – on comp diet me and my body are 100% in sync with each other.
You could not pay me to deviate from comp diet.
I was eating a relatively decent amount of food right to the end, I wasn’t getting hungry or hangry, I had energy, stamina and recoverability to spare, I was smashing my training and if I took a day off I’d be bouncing off the walls wanting to get back in the gym.
My body was running like an F1 Racing car – a lean mean fat loss machine and I was still coming in even after my last comp!
It was awesome!
I have a fight on my hands…against myself!
Bloody hell. Wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
By some miracle I haven’t put on much weight, possibly about 1kg in 4 weeks – mind you it can fluctuate by about 2kg in 24 hours depending on which of the IBS phases I’m going through and whether I’ve kept things clean enough for a while for it to take effect and lean out again. I still have abs, vascularity, striated shoulders and cut legs.
However, I am totally unable to keep my calories down to 1675 as per week 4 of my plan. I have insane sweet cravings that are driving me absolutely nuts…I don’t even like chocolate! I cannot just have one piece of sweet potato and caramel popcorn?? What the…? I probably haven’t had that stuff since I was a kid!
I hate this phase. I know I need to put on some fat, and I’m actually ok with that. 1kg in the last 4 weeks is perfectly acceptable.
What I’m not ok with is this quiet desperation around anything to do with food. I simply cannot trust myself anymore and at times have caught myself thinking about skipping meals just so I can feel ‘thin’ again.
I know I should cut myself some slack, but by the same token I want to do this the right way.
Is this emotionally driven? or is there some real physiological cause?
Maybe I have fallen into the post comp void and am subconsciously trying to fill it up with something.
Just a side note here, your conscious mind is only 10% of your will, the other 90% of your will is subconsciously driven. So if your subconscious mind and conscious mind are not on the same page, guess which bit is always going to win out. That’s why I speak of myself like I’m in separate parts, because to a certain extent I am. Consciously I want to stay lean, but my subconscious knows that this condition is not sustainable. The fight comes because consciously I’m trying to do it at a sensible rate to avoid screwing up my metabolism for next time, but subconsciously my body wants to be back to normal right now. . This is why I sometimes feel like I’ve been taken over by an alien and am not completely in control of the situation!
It is just a phase however, and it will pass. Last time round I had no idea what was going on and was totally unprepared for the after effects of competing and the rebound that your body goes through (needs to go through?). It took about 3 months, I put on 9kg and felt fat, out of control, miserable and cranky the whole time.
I’m sure that there are plenty of you, especially novices who are in the same boat right now wondering what the hell is going on. If you are, hang in there, it does get better – be aware of your behaviour, work out a plan to bring yourself back on track and allow yourself some slack – not all day, every day, but give yourself some time to get back to your ‘normal’. If you slip up, correct yourself the next day.
I won’t lie (sugar coat it…? noooo! Think of the cravings!)
Its tough and it probably takes more discipline than getting to comp condition.
Probably the smartest thing I have done is to keep up with my weekly HIIT session, in fact last weekend I did 2! This weekend I will also do 2. Until I have got this thing under control, the HIIT’s stay.
Now, what am I going to do about it?
As always when something is not working for me, I take a step back, try to take the emotion out of it, analyse it and try to come up with a plan.
As you know comp diet can be very restrictive, and it’s restrictive for quite a long time, I’ve been used to eating a much smaller amount of food, so I think I’ve increased the amount of food I’m eating by too much too quickly and in the process done a bang up job of stuffing up my formerly perfectly functioning digestive system – maybe I should have gone for the 2% increase plan. I can’t change the last few weeks, so I’m going to make a real effort to stick to maintenance level this week and I’ll probably go for fattier meats – chicken, beef, maybe fatty fish – salmon and mackerel, instead of turkey and kangaroo so portions have to be smaller. I think the added volume of food is also not helping, but I’ll increase the cruciferous veg to fill me up and get things working again.
It’s also entirely probable that post comp I am deficient in some essential vitamins and minerals that help regulate various aspects of my metabolism. I take a fair number of supplements whilst on comp diet to compensate – Fish Oil, Vit D, Magnesium, zinc, Vit C, Vit B, Multi Vit, and I don’t get cravings for anything. Sugar cravings are usually associated with dehydration, but since I’m drinking about 4 litres of water (with BCAA’s) a day, it’s probably not that.
I just happened to be in Evelyn Faye yesterday buying yet another tub of BCAA’s when I asked if they had anything they could recommend for sweet cravings.
Had I tried Chromium and Magnesium they suggested.
Magnesium can assist with blood sugar management and chromium it turns out helps move blood sugar into cells to be used as energy. It is possible but not proven that it helps burn fat, build muscle and helps the body use carbs.
Hmmm…got lots of carbs in me at the moment that I could definitely use some help with managing and using!
So I got the Chromium, had some immediately and again on Friday morning, I also doubled my magnesium. On Friday, I did not have any sweet potato PWO and managed a single piece at meal 2 – I was very tempted, but I managed to put the sweet potato down and walk away…calm, in control and did not feel anxious or stressed about it at all (was even able to concentrate long enough to get some work done!)
I spoilt it by then having a mini gluten free cake with a coffee later, but again that was a decision made from a rational, calm space rather than an emotional, needy space.
At lunch, again just one piece of sweet potato and no anxiety or overwhelming craving to have more. Mid arvo snack, one piece of sweet potato and feeling fairly relaxed about the whole situation….could this be the answer? Am I deficient in some key vitamins and minerals that help regulate blood sugar and metabolism?
Another thing I did on Friday was have hummus with my morning snack and lunch salads. Hummus is made with chickpeas which have carbs…savoury carbs and fat. I appear to be overly sensitive to insulin spikes even from low gi berry fruit and sweet potato and I think it’s the sweetness that triggers the rampaging monster. So no more sweet carbs, just starchy veg from now on and I wonder if the fat helped? I’ll keep the hummus for now.
Friday night was a disaster – I decided to have Steak and Chips for cheat meal, but I then followed that up with ice cream and chocolate sauce, 100g dark chocolate covered cranberries, and 120g bag of caramel popcorn.
But there was a difference this time, again I felt quite calm and relaxed about it, rather than frantic and needy and I didn’t spend hours beating myself up afterwards either, so maybe the chromium is helping with the more emotional aspects of this? Don’t know, but I’ll keep taking it for now.
I’m going get a full work up of my metabolic situation. I want to know if competing has resulted in something getting out of whack. If you’re struggling with this, getting a metabolic profile might be something you want to think about. Better to know, than keep guessing and suffer for months longer than necessary.
On Thursday I went to my doctor and asked for everything, and I do mean everything – blood, glucose, cholesterol, vitamins, minerals, thyroid, kidney, liver, oestrogen, progesterone, free t, t3, t4, igf-1, iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, all b’s…
We’ll see what that turns up.
So I’m feeling much happier about the situation now that I have a new plan. I’m clearly going to need to be much smarter and way more disciplined than I’d anticipated and it also appears that it’s going to take longer than my estimated 12 weeks to adjust.
I’ll try to stick to my maintenance level until I’m feeling more comfortable and can trust myself again – I will get there and I will beat this beast.