One week ago we wrapped up the NSL competitive season at the Space City Open in Houston. Everyone had a great time, and while the evening show is always more relaxed, the atmosphere among competitors and NSL officials was even more so as the challenges and countless achievements of 2017 were reflected upon and celebrated. Everyone went out to enjoy a good meal with friends, then home to begin the holiday season.
But the aftermath of this contest is like every other for some competitors. It starts with a few celebratory meals, an inevitable weight gain, and the obsession with the mirror each day becomes about lost progress rather than progress being made.
Things like disappointment, unhappiness, and even depression start to replace the satisfaction of making it to the show and looking your best.
In the wake of every show, the validation from everyone in our world subsides and we are often left feeling like Cinderella at midnight with one shoe missing and her carriage turned into a pumpkin.
At this point things can start to spin out of control. Food can become problematic and both bodyweight and body composition begin to change rapidly. With the rapid change in how we look, going to the gym becomes harder, so does socializing, and eventually, so does getting out of bed.
If that’s a familiar experience for you, then you are not alone. It’s a very normal and common problem many athletes face at all levels in physique sports. And because it’s so prevalent, many people have found solutions and are able to turn things around and learn to live healthy after the contest is over.
It helps to understand what has happened
When you decided to compete, you probably talked to a coach to set you up with a nutrition and training plan. You were validated by your coach and the mirror on a regular and frequent basis if you followed the program. As each week passed you felt better and better because you were setting goals, and working hard to achieve them. The validation became constant. It became easier and easier to stick to the plan, and you wanted to do more and more.
The last few weeks before your contest you noticed that strangers were noticing you and everyone was treating you differently. The positive attention from friends, family and from social media followers was constant. Most of all you fell in love with what you saw in the mirror and took every opportunity possible to see and celebrate the results of your hard work.
Then it was contest week, and your entire world revolved around you and your show. It was amazing, and if you didn’t win everything you expected, it was the judge’s fault. You celebrate and are celebrated by everyone that was touched by your experience, and it felt amazing.
Then the contest was over, and life went back to normal.
There was no training program to follow and no nutritional plan. There was no urgency to do the work and no accountability. Most of all the validation slowed down and eventually came to an end.
Everything that got you motivated and kept you going while you prepared for the show, was gone, including consequences for not doing what was best for your body.
You were on top of the world for a time, special, unique, and the world had your back. And now, it’s just another workout and another meal, and another day without all that being in a contest is .
But is it really?
It’s been said that life is what we see it to be. Our perspective. And when our perspective tells us we have lost something really important to us, that is how we will view each day, the people in it, and most damaging, ourselves.
But what if you took an inventory of the positive? What if the experience taught you that you are goal oriented and excel when you set goals for yourself. Perhaps you realize that you enjoy a challenge, that you learned about your body and what it responds best to nutritionally. What if you learned a great deal about training and what works best for you. Then there is the stage experience you learned from, the friends you made. Perhaps you learned how to build a business from your fitness hobby and now have the time to focus more attention on that. What did you learn about relationships, happiness, success, and life in general. What if you understood that your fans will always be your fans, and when you need to be cheered across the finish line they want to be there for you and get more vocal about things but they are always there appreciating you.
Once you evaluate what you have learned through the experience of competing, the solution to succeeding at life off the stage becomes crystal clear.
You need a plan, you need goals, and you need a healthy perspective about your body and the differences you should expect between the competition/off-season training cycles.
You had a nutrition and training plan for your competitive season; you need one for your off-season. The goals will be very different of course, but you need a plan and goals.
Rarely will a contest prep coach provide their athletes with an off-season plan but you can certainly hire them to do that for you. What you do in the off-season will impact what you put on stage just as much or more than what you do in a contest prep cycle.
Have healthy and reasonable expectations. It is impossible to stay in contest shape year round and not suffer some health issues, either physical or mental, at some point. Expect to gain some body fat but put a ceiling on it based on how your body looks and performs, not the scale. It’s best to aim for a healthy and fit look and feel to your body.
If you set a goal to achieve that look you won’t be surprised or concerned when your body starts to fill out. Filling out is the part of the plan so achieving it is just achieving that goal.
Change things up. There is a nearly infinite number of ways you can train your body to be fit, healthy, balanced, agile, flexible, and for you to be in good cardio vascular shape.
Restricting calories or continuing to do steady state cardio after your contest is counter-productive to a healthy and progress-filled off-season.
Restricting calories and frequent steady state cardio will only teach your body to function at those levels and in time stops being an effective way to control body composition.
Hi-intensity training and eating what your body needs each day is the best way to control excess bodyfat in the off-season.
Most important is how you talk to yourself. Perspective again. Look at your body with an encouraging eye rather than a critical one. Enjoy time with friends, food, celebrating and living a full and balanced life. Do things that make you feel happy, positive and vibrant.
Life is to be lived, enjoyed, and in doing so, you will be more content with yourself and life. And in the end, you will be a far better athlete when it’s time to compete in your next contest.