After about 19 weeks of prep this summer I started to imagine all of the food I was going to be able to eat when my competition was over. In preparation, I went out and bought like 11 chocolate bars and delicious tasting protein bars (yes, that was my idea of “junk food”). I was practically salivating cashing out at Zehrs just thinking
about all these chocolate bars .. Not to mention the dozens of rice cakes I had purchased, peanut butter, almond butter, buff bake, honey, jam, even getting my hands on a birthday cake flavoured protein blend was a glamorous thought for me (protein pancakes are bae). So, en route to provincials, I had packed up all my treats alongside my bikini and heels and the meals I needed until show time… with plans for pizza, peanut butter stuffed pretzels, fruit, champagne, two
breakfasts the next day, and god knows what else .. literally anything actually…
I had so much garbage packed up and planned to eat my coach was almost worried about how much I was going to indulge by the time I got off that stage. I can remember getting text messages from her telling me to be careful, encouraging my fellow competitor to keep an eye on me because I was gonna snap with all the sugary goodness available to consume, the same teammate who had been texting for like two weeks prior reminding me almost daily that I didn’t need to eat EVERYTHING the night of/day after show.
So, night of show, I eat some strawberries and some grapes, most of a medium pan pizza from Dominos (duh), many peanut butter stuff pretzels, and some rice cakes and peanut butter of course, and maybe one or two chocolate bars. You might be reading this thinking, holy shit that’s a lot, or you might be thinking that’s not too bad for a post show meal. Frankly I’m not really sure if I think it was a little or a lot, but all I know is it was painful making my stomach hold that much food.
After Sunday though, what happens? Shows over, don’t need to be lean anymore, no more shows for a year or so, summers over, bulking season, let’s dig in, right? Wrong.
The following was the first couple sentences my coach, Jodi Boam, put in her email to me with my offseason nutrition plan.
“This is your first official offseason…. and trust me its not easy!! Its mentally diffcult to stick to a nutrition plan when you dont “HAVE” to .. but please keep in mind you still have goals and do NOT want to rebound”
There are a few things that are important about this email that assisted me in successfully dieting out of my shows
- Most importantly, I had a coach who was right on top of me, ready to support me. Sadly, there are a lot of really crappy coaches in the industry who leave their clients after their show and these competitors are often left with no idea how to control themselves, causing them to rebound (mind you, this can happen even with the right support system)
- Telling me straight up that it wasn’t going to be easy. A very common misconception among new competitors and people who don’t compete, is that prep is the hard part. WRONG! Offseason vs. prep – prep is “easy”
- Reminding me that I have GOALS. If there was one thing Jodi needed to say to me to mentally prepare myself for offseason, it was this
Let me also say that there are plenty of people out there who “embrace the rebound”, guys and girls, and to them, I guess the quick and large amount of weight gained is no big deal, but for me that is not the case. Some people also start out with really great intentions of following their reverse diet, and within a couple weeks, things fall of the track.
Some of you might not understand the concept of reverse dieting too, so let me explain. Reverse dieting is the process of increasing food intake and decreasing cardio activity in a slow and gradual process so as to allow your metabolism to adjust to the increased caloric input with minimal weight gain. When you’ve depleted yourself for a competition with weeks of dieting, the second you start eating as you please without considering calories, your body holds on to EVERYTHING! Your body has been essentially starvation mode for who knows how long, and when you feed yourself with all these extra calories, your body holds on to it because it doesn’t know when it’s going to get that energy again. When you increase slowly though, your metabolism has a chance to adapt and make use of the increased calories, as opposed to just simply storing them as fat supplies.
So the main point of this post, I guess, was to address how I combat the desire to just eat whatever I want when I’m no longer in competition prep, and technically I’m “allowed”.
I’ll start by saying it really begins, for me at least, with this concept of knowing I have goals. I have massive goals… short and long term. My coach knows this, she supports them, and she has full faith in me. So, right off the bat, I’ve got an excellent support system who I know I can rely on should I need it (and often I do). Additionally, there’s just the fact that I don’t want to let myself go. I don’t want to look in the mirror and feel uncomfortable with how much weight I’ve gained; I want to like the image I see reflected back at me, I want to feel comfortable, and I want to know I did my best. For me, eating as I pleased and not following a diet after a show, would not be doing my best – it would be being lazy, not being accountable and exhibiting no self-control. I’ll just add a disclaimer here that if you rebound, it doesn’t mean you’re going to hate your body, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting, this is simply MY opinion.
So, back to it … I also find it very stressful to have the option to eat anything and everything I want. Now, I guess some of you might interpret that as a poor relationship with food, but that’s not how I perceive it. Basically, in the day following a show, I literally feel overwhelmed with all the options I have for eating, and in reality I don’t actually want to eat any of it. Remember those eleven chocolate bars? Yeah, I got off that stage and didn’t want anything to do with them. The truth is, I get sick of the sweetness, and I don’t enjoy putting garbage into my body. Partly, yes, because I do feel bad about eating poor choices because I know I am smarter than to feed my body empty calories, but also, during pump ups you get that sugar and by the time I’ve had a couple rice cakes with jam and some Reeces pb cups, I’ve really fulfilled my cravings.
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Now, I also know this isn’t purely just about eating shitty candy and chocolate all the time. What about going out for an actual meal say with friends or family? What about when I’m on campus for 8 hours, why don’t I just go buy something from the University Centre? Well, I guess I don’t really have a good answer, and it’s certainly not going to be applicable to everyone. Offseason or prep, I follow my meal plan. I don’t mind coming to school with 3 or 4 meals packed for the day, I don’t mind eating the same thing everyday or every couple days, I don’t mind eating cold chicken and rice, I don’t mind eating from my containers while my friends eat something else. None of that bothers me. And that’s really the difference I guess. For some people, this is NOT okay. This would take away happiness, it would be inconvenient, they would get sick of the food, they would feel restricted, etc. etc. And reading about how I do it and how I manage it, is NOT going to suddenly make it easy for you to follow the same lifestyle. One of the most common reasons for diets to fail is because they are simply not sustainable. Following a meal plan day in and day out, is sustainable for me, at least at this point in my life. I love to eat, I’m not a robot, I obviously get cravings, but it all goes back to this point that I have goals. I eat for fuel. I put nutrients into my body that are going to provide me with suitable energy for my workouts and help me recover, so I can go back the next day and grind. So for me, the benefit of reaching my goals vs. the benefit of eating chocolate when I feel like it, just doesn’t outweigh it for me. Now, hold that though, what about IIFYM??? Yeah, some people work really well with IIFYM, and some people really can fit chocolate or ice cream into their daily food intake and they probably love it, but I’m simply not interested in eating stuff like that all the time.
How am I not a robot then? How am I not ripping out my hair with cravings and yelling and crying because I’ve ate chicken and rice everyday, 6 times a day, for 365 days .. Well first of all because I haven’t. People also have this misconception that bodybuilding means you eat plain, boring, tasteless food, everyday, and that’s also not the case. I love my food. My coach accommodates my likes and dislikes, there’s variety in my plan, I don’t eat the same meal more than once a day (though I might in prep), but really the only thing that matters is that I like what I’m eating.
So back to cravings though, how do I manage that? Well, every week I go out and have what I call a “cheat meal”. This is an untracked meal, where I will literally eat as I please. Some people are not able to utilize these meals because it can lead to binging, which granted, coming out of a show, I definitely might binge a tiny bit the first couple weeks (ONLY during cheats), but I do NOT have a binge eating disorder and this subsides relatively quickly. I go for my cheat following a workout so that my body is using the extra calories for recovery, and also because mentally, I feel like I’ve earned it if I go out and bust my ass in a workout, as opposed to just sitting at home and then eating a pizza. I’ll eat as dirty as I want, and I’ll eat till I’m full and then I’ll call it a day. Typically for me that’s a medium pizza, probably a ceaser salad, and some form of dessert… usually which turns into just rice cakes and peanut butter because that’s what makes me happy. Utilizing cheat meals is where I find BALANCE in my life. I don’t feel stressed about cravings during the week, because I know I can eat what I want when it’s my cheat day and that puts my mind at ease. When I was coming out of my London show in November I liked to utilize these days to kinda not track my meals at all to give my brain a bit of a break, because yes, there are days when it feels like a lot to follow a meal plan all the time (I told you I’m human). But even then, I still ate the same things… I would just maybe add some cheese to my egg whites.. or maybe I would eat some peanut butter with my oats (God save me!)… It never turned into something where I would just blow my whole day. My macros would never have been really that far off if I cared enough to track them, but the point is, I found my balance that way and that’s where I find sustainability.
What about family? Holidays? Well, over Christmas I went home, I ate largely untracked for about 3 or 4 days, and I did find it stressful in advance to think about how much more difficult it is to follow my plan when I’m home and have less control over when and what I eat. But when I was with my brothers and his kids, I did just let myself eat what I wanted. And guess what, that did NOT amount to endless binging, in fact, I think I only gained maybe 1 pound going home for those days (AKA negligible)… But what was important from this experience, was that my workouts felt AWFUL afterwards. For the first few workouts after I got back, my strength was challenged, my energy in my workouts was minimal… Take away message for me was what I had ate while home had not been nutrient dense and was not the type of fuel my body was used to and thriving on. It was actually a relief to get back to Guelph and start eating on track again, but it was good for me to have that break, and I can appreciate that and not feel like I blew all my progress by enjoying time with my family (or not be able to even enjoy that time because I was worrying about it).
This was a long read, so I’ll just finish by saying what works for me is not necessarily going to work for you. There is no “right” way to eat, whether it’s offseason, prep, or if you just lift cause you like to, or if you don’t even lift for that matter. The way I live and the way I eat is not for everyone, but it is for me. It works for me; it makes me happy, it keeps me motivated, it keeps me accountable, and it gives me the results I want. I’m a natural athlete and nutrition is of MAJOR importance to my ability to grow in my offseason. So just because I eat this way, doesn’t mean you should. If you think this would cause you anxiety, if you would get sick of the foods, if it would not fit into your daily life, then forget it, don’t even bother. Find what works for you, and do that. At the end of the day, whatever you’re doing should be making you happy and it shouldn’t feel hard. If it does, let’s take a look at it and figure out what might be more appropriate for YOU. So, if it comes down to spending time with your friends or your family, and you really need that donut, just eat the donut. Find your balance. Eating should never be a source of stress or anxiety in your life. Developing healthy relationships with food is imperative, which is exactly why I would NEVER suggest everyone should eat the way I do, because for a lot of people this really would foster negative relationships and I can completely appreciate that.
Do what’s best for you. Do your research, ask questions, experiment, but most importantly, love what you eat and love how it makes you feel.
My name is Stefanie, I’m 21 years old and I’m currently finishing up my Bachelor of Applied Science degree. I’m completely fitness obsessed, your average female “meathead”. I compete as a natural figure competitor on Team Kaboam and you can bet I am downright in love with the sport of bodybuilding. I am new to the industry, but you can trust I am just getting started.
In my first year of competing I placed 2nd at the Henderson Thorne Natural Classic, 6th at Natural Provincials, and 1st, as well as the Overall Figure title, at the Open London Championships.
Almost everyday I establish a new goal for myself, I’ve got bottomless determination and commitment to get me where I’m going. Generally speaking, you can find me in the gym, meal prepping, or somewhere in a Starbucks (or other cafe) with a large dark roast coffee along side.
This is just the beginning for me, so follow me as I continue my journey with bodybuilding and continue building my own empire.
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