As much as I stress the importance of nutrition for everyone in general, any competitor can tell you that their meal plan is the most vital component of their prep. It’s a carefully calculated, individualized plan which manipulates your protein, carb, and fat intake to achieve the best physique possible. The science and care that goes into the plan to get you to the stage is impressive. But, what about when you step off the stage?
What is reverse dieting?
After being on a calorie-restrictive diet, you need to carefully bring yourself back to a healthy baseline. This is where reverse dieting comes in – it’s a calculated, gradual increase in calories that needs to be used post-show. By taking this approach, you can protect your metabolism, keep it running high, and bring your body weight up without adding unwanted fat. For those who wish to compete again, all these factors are incredibly important to set yourself up for a great prep next time. For those who don’t want to step on stage again, this is smart for your general health as a rapid weight gain is never good for your system.
Anyone who competes in a fitness show can fall into one of two categories post-show. They can either become someone who thrives (and relies) on a scheduled meal plan, or they can rebel and go wild on food once the restrictions and “fear” of the stage are removed. Both of these cases can be dangerous once the stage lights are gone. If the person has become reliant on a dictated plan, and they’re suddenly left without one, they likely feel lost and confused. I’m not joking when I say they forget how to eat normally. I still fall into this camp – when we’re having my family stay with us for a vacation, I stand in the grocery store and say, “What do normal people eat? What do I buy for them? Bread? Cereal? Milk??” It’s an odd feeling, and it can hit you pretty quickly, even after just one competition. If these types aren’t given a plan following the show, it’s too easy to stick to their prep plan. In this case, they won’t increase their calories, and will start to hurt their bodies by being calorie-restrictive for too long.
In the second case, the competitor is like a teenager who leaves home for university and goes wild with the sudden freedom. All the food which was off-limits for prep is now free game, and everything tastes amazing. It’s incredibly easy to lose control and binge… every day. Suddenly there’s no one holding you accountable, no weekly progress pictures in your bikini, no competition date looming over you, so why not enjoy that doughnut or that third serving of ice cream? After all, you “earned it.” Before you know it, you’ve put on all the weight you lost (or more) in just a few short days.
Just like other aspects of nutrition and weight, everything is relative. Your reverse diet may need to be long and really slow, or you may be able to increase calories faster – it all depends on how long your prep was, how low your calories got, how your body is functioning, and how much weight you lost. I think a reverse plan should last at least 4 – 6 weeks, as a general guideline.
Ok, so what’s the problem? Well, first and foremost, many coaches don’t provide these plans to athletes. This pisses me off. It’s so easy to just walk away after the show considering the job “done.” If you’re looking for a coach, ask about post-show plans and if they’re included in your prep – they should be, in my opinion! If they’re not included, ask about an off-season plan and how they can help you with that aspect. Second, it comes down to the athlete and how much will-power they have. Any coach will tell you, it’s one thing to give plans to someone, but it’s up to them to stick to it. The responsibility falls on both parties.
The typical scenario – the night of the show, you go for dinner with your friends and family to celebrate and you have an amazing meal, things you’ve been craving for weeks. You wake up the next day and look even better than the day before – amazing! You think that your body is a magical machine that can handle anything, so you keep it going. Breakfast buffet on Sunday, more burgers for dinner, another slice of cake, and countless snacks throughout the day. Monday rolls around and you still look good, so why not keep some “extras” in? Tablespoons of peanut butter, an extra scoop of oats, a small cup of ice cream… by Tuesday or Wednesday, it’s all gone to shit and you feel terrible. You’re holding water, bloated, and you’re struggling to breathe. All the hard work you put into 16 weeks is gone and you don’t even want to leave your house. Food becomes your comfort and it just continues to spiral downhill. No, this isn’t overly dramatic – it happens to MANY competitors, both rookies and veterans alike.
Your body is in a hyper-sensitive state following a show. This can be used to your benefit, or it can be incredibly dangerous if not handled properly. Think of your body as a sponge – following the show it’s pretty dry and ready to soak up EVERYTHING and anything you feed it. Use this to your advantage and feed it good food to help make you better!
Advocate for yourself and make sure your prep includes a post-show plan. Being proactive is the only way to ensure you’ve got this aspect covered. If your coach doesn’t have one ready for you, ask around for someone else to help you – before you even step on stage. These plans should be in place for the Monday following the show. And no, simply saying “go back to your diet from two weeks ago” is NOT a plan. They should guide you with consistent changes to bring you back safely.
Remember – during prep you lost weight slowly, you should put it back on the same way. Small incremental increases of macros will keep your body working (especially as you keep training!), and help it adjust to the calories.
End rant. Thanks for making it this far 😉