It’s been 3 weeks since I earned my Pro card in the ANB Universe International show here in Manila, and those weeks have been filled with eating, celebrating, replenishing my body after 5 months of prep… and transitioning into life after the competition.
I want to address this topic of transition, not only for bodybuilding competitors who are finishing up their shows and beginning their “off-seasons”, but also for anyone who’s ever participated in a big event or competition. And even if you haven’t, I’m hoping this will shed some light into how your friends, family, or co-workers may be feeling in the weeks after the BIG ‘DO.
Post-event let-down is a real thing, yet few people talk about it, because when you think about it, it should be easy to go from “90 to nothing” overnight. To slow down??! To stop planning, training and especially, dieting?!… heaven!! But anyone who’s participated in any type of big competition knows that “lost” feeling that occurs after the racing bib is unpinned or the spray tan fades. We spend weeks… or more likely months… preparing, and then, in the blink of an eye, it’s over. And the temporary, yet all-consuming, focus of our lives comes to a screeching halt as well. It can be difficult to adjust.
Any intense competition requires an equally intense preparation. For a bodybuilding show, the focus is not only on exercise, but also on diet, which becomes more and more strict as the competition gets closer. For a triathlon or long-distance race, the workouts become longer and more gruelling to get into race-day condition.
But in addition to the physical preparation, it’s also about the mental focus… the planning, the scheduling, the ticking off of workouts and rest, meals and water. It’s a mental game to stay on top of everything required to not only compete, but to compete WELL. All this thinking and planning takes up a huge amount of mind-space, and there’s a sort of emptiness left when the rigidity lets up. It’s a challenge to figure out how to channel all that extra mental energy when the competition is over!
And for me, as for all bodybuilders, there’s the challenge of “un-seeing” my stage-lean physique and adjusting to my day-to-day, growing-softer self. For 5 months, I watched my body become leaner and tighter on a weekly basis, scrutinising every new striation that appeared as the scale inched down. Muscles that I built in the improvement season began to show themselves as I lost body fat. It was like waking up on Christmas morning every day to see what had happened overnight.
So, it’s quite a transition, after all this, to see my physique becoming softer and less defined day by day… to watch the scale go up in increments (or giant jumps!), and not somehow feel that it’s “wrong”, even though I know it’s right. My intention after the show was specifically to replenish my body, to gain weight and body fat back to a normal and sustainable level. During the weeks before the show, I tried to prepare myself for this transition, reminding myself that the trade-offs of gaining weight would be SOOO worth it…
- to be able to eat when I feel hungry,
- and eat until I’m FULL,
- to eat foods that would never be on my prep diet (like chocolate cake with buttercream frosting!)
- to sleep the whole night,
- to go out on social events,
- to not be cold all the time,
- to feel strong in the gym,
- and to just have energy past 6:30pm.
And it IS worth it! I rejoice every day to be back on a maintenance diet. I eat 2400 calories per day now… 900 more than the last weeks before each of my 2 shows. It’s such a joy every day to eat until I’m satisfied, knowing I’m nourishing my body well and replenishing all the depleted stores of body fat and glycogen that keep me healthy.
But I have to say that it’s been a big mental jump, after being laser-focussed on my diet and weighing out my chicken breast to the gram, to have the freedom to “eat whatever I want.” And I find that even though I have freedom to eat chocolate cake until I’m sick, I actually don’t want to. I still want to eat the whole, healthy foods that nourished me during prep… along with some chocolate cake! Ha ha. And I’m so glad I can.
So when people ask me, “The show’s over, does this mean you’re eating normal foods again?”, I just say, “Yes.” Because I never stopped. It’s just nice to be able to add in treats now and then.
Here’s something that’s occurred to me, in all my post-show musings: to have the ability to compete in an “extreme” sport (bodybuilding, triathlon, marathon, obstacle races, etc), I believe it takes a good measure of not only self-discipline and focus, but also a bit of obsession. Otherwise I’m not sure it would be possible to sustain the effort required to get to competition day. So I’ve realised that inherent in the extreme athlete is an extreme nature that won’t disappear just because the competition is over. To think that an athlete will completely STOP training after the competition just isn’t realistic. Nor that a bodybuilder will eat things he or she never ate even in the off-season. We will always stay true to ourselves.
This was such a relief to me to actually acknowledge this! You may be laughing right now, or you may not even be reading… if you are, I love you. But I know now that the greatest difficulty in navigating this transition comes in knowing how to slow down without stopping. To fill the time and head-space in a productive way. To be moderate again.
There’s a time and place for challenging yourself and pushing to the limits. But there’s also a time and place to relax and enjoy a more leisurely pace. The key is allowing for ups and downs during the transition. A dear friend often said to me, “Be gentle with yourself.”
And so I am, and it’s fun.
Cheers, friends! Here’s to making the transition, enjoying life, and still having that piece of chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. Or coconut cream pie…