How to Come Off a Pre-Contest Diet - The Right Way

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I can’t count how many times I have heard Bodybuilding/Physique competitors publicize on Social Media what they will be devouring after their contest is finished. I have seen people buy and stockpile hundreds of dollars’ worth of empty calorie, non-conducive to Bodybuilding, junk food. Photos of pantry cabinets filled with the latest flavor varieties of Oreo cookies, Chips Ahoy, full fat ice cream assortments, and do not forget all of their close friends, and relatives baking them special fattening treats that could feed any Army!

If this happens to describe you ​(assuming you are in the midst of a contest diet) or something you have done in the past -- please read this article carefully and save yourself some ​damage control​ .”

I want to thoroughly discuss the pitfalls, and even dangers of having this ​“I am going to demolish some junk food for 1-2 weeks after my show, then I will clean it up” mentality!

Adhering to this 2-week ​ “see food diet” will potentially lead to the following unfortunate outcomes -

  • Extreme full body edema​ → initiating hypertension, and depending on severity, hospitalization.
  • Extreme lethargy​, and lack of motivational energy.
  • Depression​ due to going from a ​ ​“contest ready” physique → to the Pillsbury Dough Boy in 7 days or less.
  • Electrolyte imbalances​, causing irregular muscle cramping and muscle tightness enabling you to weight train or even walk for prolonged periods of time.

So let me embed some very crucial and helpful information into your brain on how to really come out of a contest prep diet, and not suffer through the negative side effects and outcomes listed above.

First off - I want people to adopt the mindset that a champion needs to be concerned with bringing their very best package to the stage and solely focus on 1st place. Not what junk foods they are craving most towards the final 4 weeks out from their competition. I believe seasoned competitors realize this, but I still see experienced vets talking about food fantasies quite often. This is completely understandable for a “newbie”, or first time competitor, but I would expect more from seasoned vets. During the final 4 weeks is when you design (or have your Nutrition Coach) design ​“A plan of​ attack” for post-contest with precisely how to transition out of this delicate phase properly. Planning your post contest nutrition plan, supplement regimen & off-season training protocol will ease your mind so you are not ​“winging it”,​ or playing it by ear (which will never work out optimally).

Next- I am not saying you cannot, or should not have some fun and celebrate and eat amazing foods you have been deprived of, but you need to know when to call it quits, and how to control, and regulate the rebound effects from enjoying these tasty delicacies.

Some important questions that need to be asked when coming off of a contest diet-

-How carbohydrate & dietary fat depleted were you going into your contest?

-How much water depletion did you undergo?

-How much sodium manipulation did you endure?

-How much cardio were you doing?

-How many thermogenic, weight-loss products were you taking prior to showtime?

These questions can certainly play an integral role in the severity or mildness of your rebound post-contest. If you went to extreme measures to make weight, or used extreme depletion methods to achieve your final stage ready physique you will be the most susceptible to experiencing the harshest rebounding effects. The individuals whom did not need to make a certain lower weight class, and only made minor adjustments in regard to ​water/sodium/carb manipulation will undergo the least repercussions coming out of a contest diet.

Another factor often not considered is, are you naturally a stubborn ​endomorph body type? Or, are you a blazing fast ectomorph​ body type? If you are the metabolically slower ​endomorph this article is even MORE IMPERATIVE for you to read and take to heart, as I have witnessed these individuals (endomorphs) go from stage ready to looking 20 weeks out in 5-7 days! (I am not over-exaggerating either) Endomorphs that let loose on their nutrition post contest for just one week can manifest into a body composition nightmare for their body types. This common mistake completely ruins the start of their ​“would be” productive off-season in making the leanest gains possible.

The ​ectomorph counterpart will have much more leeway with coming off of a contest diet, and could potentially only experience water retention from going ​“Gung ho” on a week-long food frenzy. However, this does not mean the ​ectomorph should not keep things regulated immediately post contest to ensure the best transition into off-season is optimized. 

Damage Control!

(I am going to lay out a detailed example of how a competitor can avoid the negative ramifications of coming out of the contest diet the wrong way)

The competitor is now 3 days out from his/her contest. They have reduced carbohydrates to fewer than 50 grams per day ​(from their previous 200 gram allotment). They have now begun to reduce sodium levels to attempt to rid the subcutaneous tissue of water retention. Water consumption prior to this point was at ​2 gallons per day, now they have reduced water to ​1 gallon, and eventually to just sips of fluid 1 day out from the contest. The competitor has also employed ​water-loss pills in conjunction with the water/sodium/carbohydrate restriction to further increase diuresis, and hopefully appear​ “shrink-wrapped” the morning of the contest.

Every single one of these crucial dietary manipulations that this competitor utilized will spell absolute disaster if they choose to go hog wild post contest with eating everything in sight.

Here are some physiological effects that took place during these (in most cases) unnecessary manipulations -

-Depleted glycogen levels increased GLUT-4 transporter proteins in muscle cells, and increased glycogen synthase enzymes which will cause super saturation of glucose storage.

-Lowered sodium levels (from higher levels) over a few days will now increase aldosterone levels (“sodium hormone”), and the body will go into “fight or flight” mode, and actually preserve water in extracellular tissues (under skin).

-Tapered water levels (from higher levels) over a few days will now increase vasopressin (Anti-Diuretic-Hormone) and also cause the body to scavenge water in extracellular tissues since no water is being ingested.

-Diuretic products will deplete electrolyte levels in cells and blood, and cause mild to severe mineral imbalances causing a myriad of potentially awful side effects.

So how do you come out of this properly?

After concluding the contest night show ​(award ceremony), and hopefully collecting your 1st place trophy, you then go off to a fun restaurant with friends and family to eat anything you have been craving.

Have a blast, eat until you are satisfied, then I am sure on your way home or back to your hotel you will make a few more pit stops to pick up some treats to shove down your throat before passing out.

The next morning --​ have a breakfast of your choice, I am sure it will comprise of pancakes, waffles, bacon, eggs etc… This is now where I tell my clients to then eat your normal “diet meals” until dinner time that day, and then have a dinner of your choice with your significant other, friends, or family.

Recap on the day after the contest -

      ● Breakfast of your choice

  • Eat normal pre-contest diet meals after breakfast
  • Dinner of your choice in evening

Then on Monday it is time to put in some work and fight through this inevitable rebound that will unfortunately take place. You will now go back to your pre-contest water ingestion amounts, perhaps 2 gallons per day. You will also go back to your lowest carbohydrate phase of your pre-contest diet. Finally, you will resume cardiovascular training to also fight the rebound, and get the body’s water balance to return to homeostasis.

Something to be aware of is the rebound will creep up on you Monday morning, and as you ingest more water, you will now bloat more dramatically since ​aldosterone, and vasopressin are trying to normalize and regulate fluid balance. You will be a ​human sponge and soak up all ingested water from Monday until Wednesday give or take a day or two. By Thursday, assuming you have implemented the ​pre-contest cardio, low carbohydrate menu, and ​normal sodium intake, the body will then start releasing subcutaneous fluid, and you will start looking ​“stage ready” again.

By the next weekend, you should be balanced out, and ready to slowly dive into your off-season nutrition, and training plan. I understand this will be very difficult for most to fathom going back to cardio, and low carbohydrates, but trust me; you will thank me for sharing this approach with you!

After the ​“damage control” week, the following week you will slowly increase your carbohydrate allotment, and perhaps slowly taper your cardio duration. I will usually allow my athletes to schedule a cheat meal or two on the weekends, and when I say cheat meal, I mean one meal of their choice -- not an entire day of gluttony!

Remember​ -- starting a gaining phase from a lean starting point is your best option.You can preferably slap on lean muscle over fat mass given you carefully give your body the right amounts of healthy macronutrients, opposed to complete, utter junk food!

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