Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Planning for a Successful Off-Season

So much focus is on the prep leading up to the competition ... but what really happens after you step off stage?

One of the most commonly asked questions of competitors is, "What's the first thing you're gonna eat after the competition?" I hate this question. Why? Because I feel it negates the whole experience of standing on stage, competing. The whole point of contest prep is not to deprive and starve yourself; it's to stand on stage and be judged on your physique. So why focus so much on after-show food?

I realize restricted diets take an emotional toll on competitors, and the end of the show signals a reward for all the hard weeks of prep, but it's very important to approach the off-season with a clear, focused diet and training plan. After enjoying the stage time, and indulging your food cravings for a day, it's a good idea to get back on a diet plan within a couple days of the show.

If you indulge your cravings the day after the show, you'll most likely experience quite a bit of discomfort, in the form of cramps, gas, bloat, water retention, and lethargy. Basically, your body is trying to process foods it hasn't had for awhile. Food may sit in your stomach for long periods of time, as your body tries to digest it. During this time, it's important to continue drinking liquids along with the food. Bodybuilders have been hospitalized after a show because their bodies couldn't handle all the junk food they shoveled in their mouths. Their bodies couldn't process the food, and their internal organs began to fail. Scary!

Following a structured off-season plan will allow your body to put on some quality muscle (post-contest is the optimal time for the body to grow more muscle), stabilize the metabolism, and reduce water retention (usually a result of post-show indulgence). Not following a structured diet after the show can result in unwanted weight gain and a slower, metabolic set point ... which will make it more difficult to get lean for the next show. See My Metabolism Story for a cautionary tale of poor off-season planning.

An off-season diet should be very similar to your contest diet, with the addition of some calories and food sources. Once the majority of bloating and water retention has decreased, try adding more food and variety into the diet. For example, I don't include protein powder in a contest diet, but I include it in my off-season diet. In order to grow muscle, you'll need to continue to feed your body and keep your metabolism fast.

MyoFusion by Gaspari Nutrition is a good quality and yummy protein powder

All this information is great ... but what if you have an off-season plan, but are finding it difficult to stick to it? You're not alone! I can't think of one person who hasn't struggled with staying on an off-season diet. Heck, it's tough enough sticking to a contest diet even with the pressure of the stage looming ahead, much less staying on a diet with no show in the near future!

Here are a few tips for staying on track:
  • Allow yourself some treat meals or one treat day a week. This will satisfy any cravings you may have and help you to stay on track the rest of the week.
  • Remind yourself that you're making a "lifestyle change;" it's not just a "diet," which infers short-term.
  • Cook and pack your meals the same as you did during prep. Make all your meals for the week and package them up so you can easily grab them from the fridge.
  • Set a goal to take pictures each week, just as you did with progress pictures during prep.
  • Chew sugar-free gum when you have a food craving.
For more tips and information about staying on track after a show, see Avoiding the Post-Contest Feeding Frenzy.

What gum addiction??

The off-season is a fun time, but having some semblance of structure can help you maintain a healthy physique year-round.


  1. Great article! I definitely struggled with post comp dieting and I didn't have a plan either. Big mistake. After the contest prep was over I didn't know what to do with my diet so I ate what I wanted when I wanted. I am now working with a nutritionist and feel relieved that I'll have professional help with this seasons contest prep and most importantly dieting afterwards.

  2. Glad to hear you're back on track and have a solid plan. When do you start your next prep and which show are you planning to do?

  3. Hi! I just wanted to let you know I've been keeping up with your blog. I am very inspired by you and thank you for writing so honestly and openly. I have decided to do my first competition this year, ever. I have three kids and am getting in pretty decent shape. I've always been a runner but have just recently added weights and am LOVING it. I needed a goal to push me even further. Get rid of this baby gut and tone up! So, thank you for helping me with all of your advice and tips. Anything else you want to shoot my way, please feel free!!

  4. Thanks for reading, Lisa! Which show are you going to do and are you working with a trainer/coach? Best of luck with your prep! :)

  5. I'm going to do the Battle of the Swords in Pittsburgh Oct 2nd. Fitness Model. So, I really don't have a lot of time to prepare and I'm freaking out a bit! I'm in pretty good shape but I still have a long ways to go. I need to lose about 12% body fat still. I am meeting with a personal trainer Monday. SO nervous!! Thank you!

  6. Hi Kari, I have just found your blog, as a friend follows it and said I should read it! I wish I had known about it sooner... thank you sooo much for blogging so honestly about all comp things. I have just finished competing and your blogs about post comps are such a big help. Good luck with your next big show I'm sure your bod will start dropping and doing what its told. Have a good weekend. Shannon :)