Post Comp 5: What Determines Post Comp Experience?

Well it appears that I’ve become world champion at something else.

Fat Storage!

For some reason, this year I appear to have rebounded further and faster at 5 weeks post comp than either of my 2 previous seasons. Despite attempting to follow a protocol that was specifically designed to prevent huge amounts of fat storage, I either screwed it up so badly that I achieved the direct opposite of what that protocol is designed to do and managed to switch every fat storage pathway into overdrive, or post comp is just the wrong time to even attempt such a protocol because no matter what you do, your body is going to store every ounce of excess food you eat as fat regardless of whether it’s clean food or junk food.

Even switching back onto my almost usual diet didn’t seem to help (initially) – I say almost usual because at night I’m having my blended berry + WPI + ice ‘protein sorbets’ and I’ve discovered that Emma and Tom’s organic raw food bars are the bomb! Especially the fig and lemon – I’m going through about 2-3 a day some days! But I figure that’s better than the caramel popcorn I that appeared to be my vice last year.

So I’m now sitting at 57kg which is 4kg over comp weight and is the level I want to hold at until next season. I was up to 58.5kg about a week and a half ago and looking distinctly squishy – but that was water retention caused by ‘the ladies’ and disappeared within a day or two.

Calorie wise I’m up at about 2600 and it appears that my metabolism has caught up to that level given that I think I’m holding at 57kg. Relatively recently I read an article that suggested reverse dieting was a waste of time and instead of spending between half and the same amount of time reversing your diet up to a new reset level, you should bump it up within about 4 weeks to the level you want to maintain at…maybe there is something to that…

Of course I’m now fascinated by this. All 3 of my post comps have been completely different in terms of length of rebound phase, amount of fat regained, emotional and psychological impact and I got to thinking about ‘What determines Post Comp experience?’

Trouble is, once I’d thought that a whole avalanche of other questions arrived!

  • What determines the length of time you feel out of control for (aka Rebound Phase)?
  • What governs the emotional, physical and mental impact on a person?
  • What governs how much and how quickly they rebound?
  • Is it purely hormones?
  • Does it depend on the persons health before they started prepping?
  • Does a person’s prep environment matter?
  • Does it depend on the severity of their prepping?
  • Does it depend on the category and hence level s of extremity they had to go to?
  • Does your prep experience determine your post comp experience?
  • Does the length and complexity of your competition season affect your post comp experience?

Hmmm…interesting.

So I thought I’d compare my 3 seasons to see if I could come up with some answers.

Uh-oh…I feel a data geek coming on!

Before we go any further I think I should define what I mean by the ‘Rebound Phase’. I think of it as the time from the end of your last comp to the time that your weight stabilises, you feel comfortable with your new shape and are in control of your diet/emotions especially where food is concerned.  I know that’s a bit of a subjective definition, but I think most of us go through a phase where we just feel crap, because we think we look like crap and give ourselves a hard time because we make less good food choices and/or binge…which makes us feel like crap, because we think we look like crap and give ourselves a hard time…

You get the idea. I define end of rebound phase as when you can accept the new you, stop giving yourself the shits and either get your diet back under control or be ok with what you’re doing and how you look.

Alright let’s take a look at the numbers:

Season Number of Comps Season length/Complexity
    Weeks Back to Back shows Interstate Shows international Shows Flights
Novice 3 7 0 1 0  2
Season 2 5 5 4 2 0 4
Season 3 9 9 2 3 3 15

 

Season Prep Details
  Prep Length (wks) Starting Cals Lowest Cals Cal Dif Start Weight (kg) Min stage Weight (kg) Fat Lost (kg)
Novice 10 1900 1250 650 54 51.5 2.5
Season 2 20 2800 1650 1150 63 52.5 10.5
Season 3 20 2300 1850 450 60 53.5 6.5

 

Season Prep Intensity
  Resistance Sessions (45mins) HIIT Conditioning
Novice 5 3 0
Season 2 5 2 0
Season 3 4 1 1

 

Season Rebound Phase
  Fat Rebound (kg) Fat Lost Rate (kg/wk) Regain Rate (kg/wk) Rebound Phase Length (wks) Psychological Impact
Novice 9 0.3 0.6 16 Severe
Season 2 3 0.5 0.3 9 Severe
Season 3 3.5 0.4 0.9 4 None

 

Eh?

Yeah, that’s a lot of numbers so what does it all mean?

Lets try and make some kind of sense out of it.

Firstly this is what my 3 seasons look like side by side from a length and complexity perspective:

season length complexity

You can see each season has got more complex as either I’ve done more shows, done more back to back shows and done more travelling, with this year being far and away the most complex in terms of combinations of back to back, interstate, back to back interstate and international.

Next we can see how my stage weight now is almost as much as my starting weight in my novice season. Given that I’ve come in at very similar conditioning each season it indicates that I’ve put on about 3kg of muscle in 3 years…how cool. Now, with my new training program about to start, if I can add another 1kg this year that would be awesome…but we’re all going to have to wait and see.

start weight vs min weigth

starting cals vs min cals

Next you can see that as both Aiden and I have learnt what training and diet works best for me, our process has become more efficient allowing us to achieve the same or better results with less work. Maybe this year I’ll be able to get shredded by sitting on the couch!

prep intens

Maybe not. But what this does highlight is not only how important consistency is, but also how it takes time to develop good systems and methods and how comp prep is an ongoing learning process even for experienced trainers and competitors. Although prep intensity is dependent upon other factors such as starting weight and length of time available you can clearly see, in combination with the previous graph, that I did the most work prepping from my leanest starting point, but that was also my shortest prep time.

Lets get on to answering some questions.

Serial dieters are commonly quoted as noticing that whatever they lose on their diet, they eventually end up putting back on…often with interest.

So my question is this:

Does amount of fat lost determine how much will be regained post comp during the rebound phase?

loss amnt vs regain amnt

From this, it would appear not. My leanest starting point resulted in the most rebound phase gain and my worst starting point, resulted in the least rebound phase gain. Strangely enough in the 2 years between novice and season 2 and the year between season 2 and season 3, in each case I gained an additional 3kg over the offseason.

I’ve already put on 4kg, so another 3 would put me at 7kg above this year’s comp weight, and I’d probably be looking at 20 weeks prep again if we took the gentle approach like we did this year.

Hmm…good point to note. I want to give myself as much time as possible to grow this year since I’ll be stepping up into a whole new level. I’ve got several potential season plans in mind all of which involve a significant amount of complexity, not as significant as this year, but still not easy, so I want as easy a prep as possible to ensure I have the stamina to maintain my conditioning at competitive levels.

Holding at 4kg would go a long way toward making my next prep a lot easier.

Next question:

Does rate of fat loss affect rate of regain?

loss rate vs regain rate

 

Again, no. although there’s kind of an inverse relationship happening here – fastest rate of loss had the slowest regain rate, the 2 slowest loss rates had the fastest regain rates albeit a little imperfect.

Question: Does Calorie restriction impact amount of rebound fat gain?

calorie restriction vs regain rate

No. My easiest prep in terms of calorie cutting resulted in the fastest rebound rate and my 2nd most extreme calorie cutting which is very close the my most extreme calorie cutting, resulted in the slowest rebound gain rate.

Question: Does Prep Length determine Rebound Phase length?

prep len vs rebound time

No, it wouldn’t appear so. I think this clearly shows that with experience I’ve been able to adjust post comp phase more quickly. However this does not show the whole picture – on the surface you might look at this and go ‘great, post comp gets easier with experience’. But there is the emotional and psychological element that is completely missing from here.

prep len vs rebound w stress

Although that is completely subjective, I felt that last year was a tougher post comp than my novice season and this year has been completely relaxed relatively speaking. So perhaps post comp DOES get easier with experience.

Maybe, but on a semi regular basis, I have competitors, not all of them novices, emailing and messaging me asking for help and advice in how to deal with post comp – sometimes months after they’ve finished their last comp and they’re still struggling.

Ok, so if experience and prep length don’t particularly affect post comp experience, does Prep Intensity have any influence on Rebound Time?

prep intens vs rebound time

Potentially, but not hugely. In 3 seasons we’ve managed to reduce sessions/week from 8 down to 6 – not a massive reduction, whereas rebound time has come down from 16 weeks to 4. This year my prep was the easiest so far and possibly as a result my rebound time has been so much easier.

So if prep length on its own doesn’t appar to determine post comp experience, and prep intensity is not a major factor in determining rebound time, what about the season complexity?

season complexity vs rebound time

Again, no. If anything this would indicate that if you want to have a shorter, better post comp experience then make your season more complicated! In reality I think this really does come down to experience!

So far there doesn’t appear to be any one factor that can be isolated as a determinant of post comp experience.

What about a combination of Prep intensity and Calorie Restriction – does that affect rebound gains?

cut rate prep int vs regain rate

 

No it would appear not. Again, my easiest prep in terms of both calorie restriction and intensity has resulted in the fastest rebound gain rate.

So from the above it would appear that length of rebound and amount of rebound is not dependent upon quantifiable factors such as amount lost during prep, calorie restriction, and additional exercise, length of prep or length and complexity of the comp season.

Hmm…interesting.

So why is it that even experienced competitors struggle with post comp? Is it purely hormonal?

Lets have a look…

There is a big difference this year compared to both of my previous seasons and I think this might be the key. My novice season was a whirlwind blur of a total of 17 weeks of excitement, adrenaline, learning new things, doing a new type of training for the first time, eating a very specific diet for the first time – which of course fascinated me! I had just got through major depression, so emotionally I was still very fragile having been through the wringer for the previous 9 months, then all of a sudden I leapt head first into this crazy new world. Post comp there was the devastation of and ensuing mental and emotional crash when I was given the news that I required double shoulder surgery – from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and then even lower when I was ordered out of the gym and to stop doing any form of exercise – not even yoga, in case I broke something else. Ironically that point, when I had nowhere else to go, physically and emotionally, is when I let go, cut myself some slack – and that is when I got my diet back on track.

My second season was a pressure cooker – a comeback after 2 years away, high visibility of every triumph or failure via the 3 blogs I was running simultaneously, and working the equivalent of another full time job, outside my full time job with the magazine.

Stress?

I could re-write the book.

Post comp and 7 weeks of hanging shit on myself, because I was determined to reverse diet properly to show that it could be done, yet failing visibly, publicly and horribly, I hit the wall. Burnt out. Full blown Adrenal fatigue, which actually left me with no choice but to cut back on everything, immediately and take it more easily.

And that is when I got my diet back on track.

Hmm…starting to see a pattern here.

Interestingly enough I’d also been having regular blood and hormonal checks as I had low oestrogen, low progesterone and low testosterone levels, which may also have been undiagnosed for as long as 4 years (hence the depression).

This year with the goal of World title attempts and being very conscious trying to recover from adrenal fatigue, I have very deliberately minimised my workload outside of work, and whenever possible done as little as possible, rested as much as I could, trained as efficiently as I could to maximise number of rest days. Even though I only had half as much fat to lose as last year, we started my prep at the same time to try and make it as gentle as possible. With intelligent training methods it meant I did not have to restrict calories for as long or as much as previous years – which was essential given the fact that I’d gone and organised the most stupidly complicated season ever!

I think that putting these measures into place must have worked – by creating a relatively stress free prep; I’m now ‘enjoying’ a stress free post comp.

Damn I wish I’d got my bloods and hormones checked just before this season started!

Despite the fact that I have plenty of stressors going on – finding out I’d been evicted the day after I got back from overseas, having to find a new house before Christmas, moving, worrying about how I’m going to pay 2 lots of rent + a bond when I haven’t earned any money for nearly a month and getting a new job, are not trivial events, but it hasn’t added any stress to my post comp. I have felt like I could deal with it, my resilience is strong.  I think my biggest concern so far has been the fact that I couldn’t have meat for breakfast when trying to follow the carb backloading diet!

Both my novice seasons and last year almost as soon as I stepped off stage, I had to find a new job, but both of those times I felt unable to cope with such additional stress and it really compounded my general levels of emotional and mental anxiety.

So could it be that the general state of your health leading into your prep, and your prep environment (family, kids, boyfriends, girlfriends, work situation) are contributory factors to your post comp experience?

Whilst everyone’s prep is different, having talked to many people about their experiences and my own post comp experiences they are also all very different, yet all so similar. There are definitely some common threads: altered body image issues, the altered sense of identity, feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, overwhelm, loss of direction, motivation and focus, feelings of helplessness and sometimes even depression.

But how do you measure that? If you could measure it, would you then be able to tailor a post comp plan to an individual just like you should tailor their prep? It’s an interesting theory and it raises a whole set of new questions!

If you have an easy time of it emotionally during prep does that set you up for an easier time of it post comp?

If you’re relaxed going in to your comps will you be more relaxed post comp?

Is it really impossible to state categorically what factors may affect your post comp experience?

For now, it would appear so, but maybe I’m on to something with the chillaxed version of comp prep…maybe I could get back to having regular bloods and hormone panels done in the lead up to next year…do a hormonal comparison…

I feel another experiment coming on!

Happy geek!

 

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