Thoughts on post-competition blues

Lately I have been hearing a lot about “post-competition blues” (Tosca just had a blog post about it) which is basically like mini depression that a lot of competitors face after a competition. Olympians and lots of other high performance athletes go through this after they attain a goal. It happens because the process for these things is so long and gruelling, but the actual result or competition is short and over quickly. Then what?

You have been living a life full of structure, limiting yourself, depriving yourself, pushing yourself hard and harder all in the name of this one goal… and then it’s gone!

Here is what happens to a lot of fitness competitors I have been reading about:

  1. They have a serious binge after the competition that usually consists of fast food, chips, chocolate and candy.
  2. They continue to eat unhealthy for days sometimes weeks because they feel they deserve it.
  3. They gain a lot of weight very quickly (a lot is water) and get upset that they lost the body they worked so hard for so quickly.
  4. They stop going to the gym for a few days/weeks all while eating poorly when introducing higher calories could mean great muscular gains, instead they get out of shape and lose muscle
  5. They have nothing to push towards and either vow not to do a competition again OR they immediately sign up for a new competition to try to get that motivation back.

None of these responses are mentally or physically healthy and there are good ways to deal with this. But I am a little worried about how this will happen with me. I decided I need a plan and a new goal to keep myself in check after the competition.

No I am not immediately entering a new fitness competition, at least not right away. I always have a few vague goals, but I think I need a few solid ones to keep me in line. So here it goes:

  • Increase my strength to above where it was pre-competition diet within 3 months
    • 205 lb deadlift
    • 175 lbs squat
    • 115 lb bench press
    • 20 dips
  • Keep my weight under 140 lbs (or approx. Within 7 lbs of my competition weight) consistently
  • Allow myself 2 weeks of “free-er” diet that includes alcohol and grains, but no gluten and no eating beyond full, my post competition meal will be Indian food and ice cream and I will not binge!
  • Look into paleo and consider the Whole30 challenge

None of these goals really have an end date, but they will at least keep me accountable and I will at least be able to let you all know how I do with the eating post contest.

This is what I dream of!

I am really excited about ice cream, and Indian food is great because it’s rice based (gluten free) but salty and fatty, which makes me feel indulgent without giving me a huge tummy ache.

I’m also really excited about my strength goals because after depleting your body and pushing it so hard it is primed to gain muscle if you push yourself. All of a sudden you are actually providing it with enough calories to build muscle and not just spare it. I want to add a little bit of muscle so the next time around I will look even better. You will also be able to make huge strength gains because you are properly fueling your body.

I do not want to turn my body into a waste bin just because I don’t have a goal… so I won’t! But I also recognize that I am currently at an unsustainable body fat % and that it is OK to gain weight after a competition, it is even healthy to gain as long as it’s not straight sugar and fat.

I plan to dial back my training to 3-5 times per week with an emphasis on heavy lifting and to allow myself to cheat with wine and chocolate and ice cream every so often (like 1 – 2 times per week) but I will keep this up… it is a lifestyle, not a diet!

Goals are great. They keep you motivated, but they can also lead to disappointment or confusion when you have finished with them, so if you take one thing from this post today, make this a lifestyle change. It took me 2 years of progressive little changes to be able to diet this strictly without feeling super deprived.

I started out working out 2-3 days per week with very little cardio and lots of strength and slowly increased that to 4, then 5 times per week, so the jump to 6 times or even multiple workout a day didn’t seem the jarring.

I also started by just making simple swaps with my food. I still bought my lunch most days 2 years ago, but I would bring healthy snack like fruit and nuts and only buy lunch, not a bag of mini eggs for a snack. My lunches were jimmy the greek salads and pita wraps, then slowly I transitioned to making lunch a couple days a week, and doubling up what I had make for dinner. Then I started prepping big batched of food and keeping staples like chicken breast and cut up veggies in the fridge. So when competition diet rolled around all I had to do was change what went in the Tupperware and cut grains out. I didn’t go from eating 3 meals a day, buying lunch and eating chocolate every day to a competition diet.

If you jump in too drastically (which I know is oh so tempting to do) you will have great results very quickly! You will start making progress, but you will feel like you are deprived and “poor me, I can’t have sugar!” and then you will cheat, and you will stop that progress and you will not make a lasting change. I have had to sneak up on this whole thing by making one little change at a time. Not everyone is like me, but I think it’s more common than we think. So take it slow and try not to look at this as a negative! Love yourself!

Also, almost entirely unrelated to all this – I have stayed the same weight for 2 weeks now, which is super weird at this point in competition prep, but I look a lot leaner – so don’t pay atention to the scale… they lie!!!

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on post-competition blues

  1. hahaha i went through this this summer after winning gold at the world club crew dragonboat championships with my team. Spent a week in Thailand after binge eating and drinking, and then the month of august binge eating and drinking cus I just felt physically and mentally drained… took all of September to recoup and now I’m back on winter training…

    • It’s so funny how I’ve never really seen it discussed, it’s always all about the planning and preparation and the big day, but all of a sudden I am hearing a lot about the aftermath. I like that people are finally talking about it and wwe can hopefully help each other find better ways of dealing! Glad to hear you are back on track!

      • It’s pretty tough to overcome. I had to opt out of the national team fit tests in September just because I was not mentally/physically ready to peak twice in such a short amount of time. I’m feeling really good now though… Just finishing up a hypertrophy phase… will start strength in two weeks… and then the Smolov squat program in another month and a half’s time 🙂

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