What is the post-competition period?
The post-competition period is the stage of sports preparation of a fitness competitor where the objective is to reverse the negative adaptations that have occurred in the on-season period.
Many competitors forget that the weeks/months after competition is also a stage in preparation.
Characteristics of a recovery stage
The recovery stage usually begins at the same time as our competitive calendar ends, i.e. after we finished the last competition we had scheduled.
From there, this period is extended as long as necessary to reverse to the degree that each competitor considers necessary (ideally, a total reversal) of the negative effects at the endocrine metabolic level that occur by reaching such a low percentage of body fat.
An athlete should take a break from the competitions of the following season if you do not want it to have a potentially irreversible impact on your health.
How to start
Little by little.
That is the best advice I can give you, and that is that the recovery stage has a very intense psychological component.
When a group of bodybuilders (men and women) were asked about how their post-competition nutrition was going, they answered: :
- Ben: “You go into frenzy mode”.
- Kyle: “It is not so much hunger as gluttony. It’s more like I want to eat pizza because I haven’t eaten it in months”.
- Will: “We eat everything that we couldn’t eat for the whole year”. (Mitchell et al., 2017).
This is the food restriction issue that I have discussed with you in the on-season preparation article.
A diet based on rice and chicken leads to half (46%) of competitors eating compulsive meals.
It is inevitable that at the end of the pre-competitive period the variety of foods will have to be restricted, but try to keep it as high and varied as possible, as long as possible.
What happens when we do a “black hole” mode of recovery
Figure I. Physical change in Stephanie Buttermore before and after her period of body weight recovery.
Stephanie Buttermore, Jeff Nippard’s partner (who I used as an example in the on-season article) battled for years with anxiety and eating disorders trying to maintain a certain untenable physique in the long term, until she decided to try an “intuitive eating” style protocol, where she simply ate until she felt satisfied. In one year she gained more than 15kg.
You can follow the whole process on her Youtube Channel.
In fact, this is the only mechanism through which you can return (hopefully) to your pre-competitive state for the competition.
But, not planning anything and entering “black hole” mode, although it can meet the goal of restoring metabolic balance, will cause us to accumulate a completely unnecessary amount of body fat, which we will of course have to lose.
Figure II. Bodybuilder in off-season period, far outside a point of competition (could also be a strongman, I’m not sure).
We found weight gains reported in the literature of up to 8kg in 3 weeks, with the consequent increase in blood volume, blood pressure and increased risk of developing some kind of organic damage.
Not to say that in animal models, adipocyte hyperplasia has been demonstrated (Jackman et al., 2008) and it has been proposed that the same should occur in humans, making it possible for us to have more places to store future accumulated triglycerides.
Figure III. Proposed model of progress in lean mass loss and gain during and after a period of energy restriction.
It is not a bad idea to be more flexible (even more so than in other preparation periods) during this stage.
What happens when we do a well planned recovery period
Well, as we said, we will gain body weight.
At first in fact, the body, in an effort to recover an evolutionarily stable physical state, will begin to accumulate fat more easily in the face of a calorie surplus:
Figure IV. Anthropometric changes of a natural bodybuilder immediately after competing (0) and after 1, 2, 3 and 4 months. Body weight, lean mass and % fat. We can see how fat mass increases while lean mass is maintained or decreased slightly.
And it is important to note that the graph of this particular case is not anything far-fetched, even though they have gained 10% body fat in 4 months.
Figure V. Evolution from 26 weeks before up to 28 weeks after the competition of energy intake (discontinuous line), body weight (continuous line) and energy expenditure (points).
Their energy intake increased significantly after the competition and peaked at about 4 weeks post-competition, then rebounded again toward 7 weeks, and then moderated.
Leptin was not regulated in the 6 months post-competition, even recovering virtually all the weight lost from the preparation and even more fat mass.
So we do not know the reality of the exact time we need to restore the leptin balance, we do not even know if we would recover it, because in this case, a bodybuilder over 100kg, before starting preparation, already had suboptimal leptin concentrations (Rossow et al. 2013).
Figure VI. Evolution of certain endocrine parameters from 6 months before to 6 months after competition.
How do I do it?
I’ll go directly to what you want to read…
How do we do it then:
There isn’t any trial (that I am aware of) that evaluates and determines the most effective protocol for reversing the negative effects of pre-competitive caloric deficit, but as we know there is a direct relationship between recovered body weight and metabolic parameters, so… to regain weight…
For the first weeks 2-3 weeks I would leave the athlete to self-regulate:
- It is explained that this is not an eating competition and that no one will prevent you from eating what you want, so take it easy.
- Take advantage of a little ice cream with your daughter in a park, a pizza with friends at a social event.
- Significantly reduce training burden, but don’t forget to keep training and maintaining a healthy life routine according to your goals.
- Don’t weigh yourself or spend all day looking in the mirror (this is impossible, I’m warning you), you will become fat again and this is inevitable (don’t let it get into your head, women are more resistant to this process than men).
If you listen, in 3 weeks you will have resumed up to 8-9% body fat, if you don’t listen we’ll see that:
- You remain exhausted because you have not increased caloric consumption or are having compensatory behaviours (bulimia nervosa, usually), which should be put in the hands of a psychologist.
- Or you’re like a barrel and still experience terrible food anxiety over the so-called “hunger rebound”, which should put in the hands of a psychologist.
Protein intake should be kept high 2-2.5g/kgFFM/day during the recovery period, although the first few weeks I prefer that you do not weigh anything you eat so I would not worry too much, with the burgers that you are wolfing down, you will reach the protein requirement normally, and if this is not set, 2 protein shakes a day are recommended.
In this moment it is only interesting to use 1.5-6g of HMB in order to preserve muscle mass to the fullest.
Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, they will come in handy for satiety and in preventing gastric motility disorders that cause you to end up in the hospital for constipation.
You can use digestive enzymes (Digezyme 200mg) and betaine HCL to improve digestions.
Moderate consumption of alcohol, it remains a toxic to your body and there is no reason, beyond the personal/social enjoyment of having a beer, in consuming it.
Keep training, significantly reduce cardio, in the first 2 weeks you can even eliminate it; if you have active work that requires you to perform activity with high cardio demands you can completely eliminate cardio.
Plan the future
Take advantage of this moment to discuss upcoming sports targets.
Normally here you go into beast mode and say “I want to be a powerlifter” when you see that your strength is back, don’t get excited and measure it coldly.
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- Helms, E. R., Prnjak, K., & Linardon, J. (2019). Towards a Sustainable Nutrition Paradigm in Physique Sport: A Narrative Review. Sports, 7(7), 172.
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- Rossow, L. M., Fukuda, D. H., Fahs, C. A., Loenneke, J. P., & Stout, J. R. (2013). Natural bodybuilding competition preparation and recovery: A 12-month case study. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 8(5), 582–592.
- Trexler, E. T., Hirsch, K. R., Campbell, B. I., & Smith-Ryan, A. E. (2017). Physiological Changes Following Competition in Male and Female Physique Athletes: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 27(5), 458–466.
- Fitness Competitors’ Nutrition: Off-Season at this link
- Fitness Competitors’ Nutrition: On-Season at this link
- Fitness Competitors’ Nutrition: Tuning Up at this link
- Did you know about Intuitive Eating? We tell you about it here.