Working toward an ambitious fitness goal, such as a contest, photoshoot, or a serious transformation, isn't easy. You spend weeks or months planning out your meals and workouts, and carefully time your peak week so you're dialed in for a single event. But then, in a moment, the peak is over. So, now what?
I myself have been the queen of letting that post-show lull rock my world. Not long after feeling like I was in my best shape, I found myself 20 pounds heavier and not on top of my gym goals, nutrition, or time prioritization.
The struggle is real, but getting back on the "real life" track doesn't have to feel overwhelming! Restructure your frame of mind by implementing some of these tools that have worked for myself and other physique competitors.1. Reclaim Your "You" Time
Every person who has ever prepared for a show or shoot can attest that they take up pretty much all of your time. Your life is completely dictated by when it's time to eat, what you eat, training, and sleeping. When it's over, you feel lost. Post-competition blues are one of the most common struggles people in the fitness industry face, and it's normal for people to not know what to do with themselves.
- Keep a training schedule, but scale it back: You don't need to be doing two-a-day training like you did during show prep. Your cardio sessions don't have to be quite as long. Keep a training schedule, but don't destroy yourself doing it. Keep your workouts to 45-60 minutes, and don't leap into a really demanding split. Your body needs a break!
- Don't feel guilty about taking time off: You don't need to be in the gym six days a week. Being there only there 3-5 times a week is enough to let your body recover while still maintaining a kick-ass physique. And if you miss a day, don't beat yourself up over it.
- Allow more wiggle room in your diet: It's not the end of the world if you have 30-50 grams of added carbs in the form of fruit or even the occasional ice cream. So you gain a little extra water weight. So what? So you gain a little extra (gasp!) body fat. So what? Having some fruit or a glass of wine will not make or break anything. Use this time to enjoy life, and to reintroduce yourself to your friends and loved ones!
- Change up your routine: Step away from your contest-prep recipes and splits entirely. Find new recipes, and get creative in the kitchen. Get a new training program, or try a new class. Little things can make a big difference!
The enviable, stage-ready results that come with competition diets are a double-edged sword. Sure, you look great for the competition, but it can also make you think that "peak shape" must become your norm. If you're struggling with your body image—which is normal—don't be afraid to reach out for help from people who have also been there.
- Talk to former competitors and fitness-industry veterans: Trust me when I say that this is a battle everyone has fought. There's nothing wrong with you, and by asking for advice, you can get some amazing tips and tricks regarding mindset.
- Practice non-physical self-development: It's very easy to suddenly slip into the mindset that your physique reigns supreme above all. It doesn't! What actually counts in life is your character, beliefs, attitude, and purpose. If this is triggering anything for you, find positive podcasts, blogs, and books to keep your frame of mind in check. Embrace new personal and psychological challenges, not just physical ones.
- Be gentle with yourself: Athletes regularly treat themselves to massages, stretching, sauna time, and other techniques to help recover after a hard training session. Yet they do almost nothing to help themselves with the emotional components during and after a show prep. During this crucial time, why not be more loving and gentle with yourself?
- Practice positive self-talk: Try to stop any internal negativity the instant you see it. Remember: Your body fat percentage doesn't determine your worth.
Competition diets are meant to help you bring your best physique to the table. They're not meant to last for months on end. You can only consume so much food from Tupperware containers before you start feeling a little twitchy. The next time you feel guilty about what's going down the hatch, remind yourself that not every meal has to prepare you for the stage.
- Don't try to live out of a cooler all the time: It's not feasible, nor is it enjoyable. You're perfectly capable of going to a restaurant and ordering something that won't make you sick with guilt. You also can't expect to carry around prepped food every waking moment of your life. Show preps are not a realistic way of living. Leave some room for convenience, joy, and sanity!
- Ease back into "real life" slowly: If you've been living a dairy-free, sugar-free, low-carb, or low-fat lifestyle for a while now, ease back in slowly. Doing a cannonball into a gallon of chocolate ice cream may make you feel sick in more ways than one, but having a weekly "sundae night" with your kids won't.
- Rediscover social eating: You can't possibly expect yourself to eat precise amounts of fish, steak, and chicken every day. You can't! Yes, protein is wonderful. But so is creating memories by sharing a table and a menu with friends and loved ones.
As funny as it may seem, much of our culture's joy and bonding centers around food and good company. As important as your prep was, this time is equally important. The more joy you allow yourself to feel now, the better prepared you will be for whatever comes next—be it a healthy life or another ambitious physical goal. Enjoy yourself!