If you have been involved in competitive bodybuilding for any length of time, I am sure you have witnessed what many refer to as “the post-contest rebound.” You may have witnessed someone go from a granite-hard, shrink-wrapped, work of art to a puffy, doughy, and water-retentive catastrophe!
It’s all too common for competitors of any level to fall into this dilemma time after time. There are a few scenarios that take place here.
The exhausted competitor has convinced him or herself that after the contest is over, he or she will take a week or more of from training, perform no cardio, and eat at free will—anything he or she desires.
This scenario will leave you lethargic, unmotivated, and often depressed. By the time you decide to “regroup,” it will be well past that initial “week-of ” plan and will leave you in a poor position. Body fat will have accumulated and deposited in your stubborn “sweet spots” and water ﬂooded your extracellular subcutaneous space (beneath your skin).
The overzealous competitor is more amped up about eating pure junk food than he/she is about training hard or eating diligently to make improvements for the next contest.
The good news is that he/she does plan on training while foraging for exuberant amounts of food all day that is not conducive to muscle growth or nutritious. The problem is, he/she will sternly regret this unhealthy act of gluttony as he/she experiences chronic high blood pressure, lethargy, muscle cramps, and edema so severe his/her ankles blend into the person’s knees!
The wise competitor understands the pitfalls of the two scenarios above and the ramiﬁcations that coincide.
Now let me explain to you what Scenario 3 is all about: As you close in on the ﬁnal contest of your season, you should have meticulously mapped out a game plan of actions to take immediately post-contest. Remember, you have been strictly embedded in a nutritional program for more than 20 weeks that has taken your body-fat percentage to “abnormal” levels! Your body’s checks and balances are skewed, hormones have shifted, and these matters need to be considered.
Ghrelin is a gastrointestinal hormone that is heightened to extreme levels when calories are deprived and body-fat levels are dissipated. Your hunger signal is soaring, and this devious little gut hormone can make or break you come post-contest.
Leptin is an appetite-suppressing hormone found in fat cells that is severely decreased from calorie restriction and depleted fat cells. Carbohydrates have the greatest impact on regulating leptin levels—fat and protein, not so much.
Post-contest time, these two polar-opposite hormones will be your weapons.
Once the contest is ﬁnished, you will need to be extremely cautious about ramping up calories too high, too quickly. Since you are low in body-fat reserves, your ability to efficiently process carbohydrates is magniﬁed. Less insulin is needed from your pancreas to push glucose into cells.
Being sensitive to insulin is great, but that doesn’t mean you should go from 180g of carbohydrates to 1,000g the ﬁrst week!
Instead, you will increase the carbohydrate allotment you are accustomed to by 100%. So, if you had been eating 180g of carbs in the ﬁnal stages of your preparation, you will now eat 360g. The increase in carbohydrates will increase leptin levels and slightly simmer down ghrelin production. Hunger will still be taunting you regardless of the increase in carbs, but you will be rewarded for your dogged discipline when overcoming these ghrelin-induced cravings. As the weeks progress, you will slowly ramp up carbohydrates little by little—around 25g per week until you reach your optimal level.
After several months, an annoying phenomenon called homeostasis happens. Your body fat will be at higher levels, and leptin, ghrelin, and thyroid hormones will be stable. This is the time I will recommend some dietary manipulations—whether it is carb cycling or performing a “mini diet.”
Dietary fats should be controlled tightly and be restricted to what is naturally occurring in animal protein sources, with the exception of essential fatty-acid supplementation. Adipocytes are primed and ready to store when excess dietary fats are ﬂoating around in the bloodstream. Whereas “de novo lipogenesis” (the process of converting glucose into triglycerides) is a rather complicated process when it pertains to a heavily muscled athlete expending adequate energy.
Proteins need to remain around the same amounts as the last phase of your competition diet to ensure satiety and that hunger isn’t overwhelming (to stave of ghrelin). As you increase carbohydrates gradually during the several weeks post-contest, you will then lower protein intake. Higher carbohydrates will not necessitate high protein—as in “pre-contest amounts.”
Following this simplistic and disciplined procedure come post-contest will allow you to make the leanest muscle gains possible.
Gradually bringing body weight up will facilitate anabolism in a much healthier way than Scenarios 1 and 2. So instead of planning out all the junk food you anticipate annihilating post-contest, plan your post-contest transition into a stellar off-season to make the leanest muscle gains possible.