If you are a physique competitor then you know what it is like to diet down for the stage to become as lean as possible for the division that you are competing in. This takes getting down to low calories where you are slowly decreasing carbohydrates and fats while keeping the protein high to keep your hard earned muscle and shed fat to get to a very low bodyfat for the stage. Hunger levels increase as we get this lean and the diet becomes mentally tough. As well as we see an increase of training with more cardio and more time in the gym. But those that stay strong mentally become successful and get their body to where it needs to be. Typical contest prep can range from 12-20 weeks. It will vary from one individual to another depending upon bodyfat levels in the off-season.
But after you have achieved this level of stage leanness and the contest is over there is the urge to eat a lot of food since you have been deprived for a long time and been in a caloric deficit. However, this is also a very vulnerable time where the body is very depleted and many competitors tend to overeat following the week after the show and get a terrible rebound of weight gain. Some we have seen gain 20-30lbs! Why? Because the body went from a caloric deficit to a very large increase of a calorie surplus. This will result in a rapid weight gain and the competitor now looking like they barely competed a week after the show. Their physique is now taking on a bloated, puffy look and a large increase of body fat.
So how do we avoid this post-show rebound and get the body back to the off-season looking not stage lean but still athletic, healthy looking and back to a normal weight? And by the way, this will greatly vary from one person to another and depending upon what the goal is for the off-season. Enter the REVERSE DIET!
REVERSE dieting is a great strategy to use post-show to slowly bring back the body from being in a depleted state and out of a caloric deficit to gradually move to either maintenance calories or a calorie surplus to building without gaining too much body fat and more quality muscle that may have been lost a little bit during contest prep. Also, it is a time to get hormone levels back to a normal state since they are altered during contest prep.
Now I am all for having a cheat meal post-show and maybe another one the morning after to give yourself a break from the mentally tough contest prep diet. But the key here is to quickly start reverse diet afterwards to prevent yourself from binge eating the whole week after. If you have a solid reverse diet to follow shortly after your show, then this will keep you on track and avoid this entirely.
With reverse dieting, we are gradually increasing carbohydrates and fats every 2 weeks so the body can adapt slowly to eating more food. Protein intake stays high during this period. The amount of carbohydrates and fats will vary for the individual but the key here is the increase it in small amounts. One thing you do will see is an increase in weight but not a huge increase since we are slowly adding more calories so the body can adjust. Eventually the body will stabilize and then you can slowly again increase the carbohydrates and fats until you have reached your target goal of calories/macros. Mentally this can also be a better approach for the competitor as the increase in weight is not so rapid and the change in the body is not so drastic.
During this reverse diet time, you also want to gradually taper down the amount of cardio you are doing to a moderate state and slowly increase your intensity of weight training to transition into an off-season program. The biggest mistake that many competitors do is not set a sound goal/plan for the off-season or work with a knowledgeable coach that will reverse diet them properly and get them on a different program that differs from their contest prep program. This is will greatly result in the competitor as feeling lost post-show and not knowing where to go.
So the lesson here is to avoid this post-show rebound and feeling lost you definitely want to get on a sound reverse diet plan to successfully transition into the off-season where you will gain less body fat and more quality muscle. Staying leaner on the off-season is also the key so that when it comes time to diet down again for the stage it won’t be such a struggle to get there! Your body will respond better and will improve even more from one season to another.
Certified NASM Personal Trainer
Certified ISSA Fitness Nutrition Specialist
Contest prep coach