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 again.

There are a few scenarios that take place here –

Scenario #1 – The exhausted competitor has convinced him/or herself that after their contest is over they will take a week or more off training, perform no cardio, and eat at free willanything they desire.

This scenario will leave you lethargic, unmotivated, and oftentimes depressed. By the time you decide to ‘regroup’ it has been well past that initial “week off” plan, and has left you in a poor position. Body fat has accumulated and deposited in your stubborn “sweet spots,” and water has flooded your extracellular subcutaneous space (beneath your skin).

Scenario #2 – The overzealous competitor is more amped up about eating pure junk food than he/she is about training hard, and eating diligently to make improvements for the next contest. The good news is they do plan on training while foraging exuberant amounts of non-conducive to muscle growth, anti-nutritious foods all day.  The problem is – they will sternly regret this unhealthy act of gluttony as they experience chronic high blood pressure, lethargy, muscle cramps, and edema so severe their ankles blend into their knees!

Scenario #3 - The wise competitor understands the downfalls of the 2 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 what actions to take immediately post-contest. Remember, you have been strictly embedded into a nutritional program for over 20 weeks that has taken your body fat percentage to abnormally low levels! Your body’s checks and balances are skewed, hormones are 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 is severely decreased from calorie restriction, and depleted fat cells. Carbohydrates have the greatest impact on regulating leptin levels -- fat & protein, not so much.

These two polar-opposite hormones will be your weapons post contest time

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 180 grams of carbohydrates to 1000 grams the first week!

Instead, you will increase your previous 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 with your dogged discipline when overcoming these ghrelin induced cravings.

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 blood stream. Whereas “de novo lipogenesis” (the process of converting glucose into triglycerides) is a rather complicated phenomenon when it pertains to a heavily muscled athlete expending adequate energy.

Proteins need to remain around the same amounts as your last phase of your competition diet to ensure satiety and hunger isn’t overwhelming (stave off ghrelin). As you increase carbohydrates gradually over 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. Remember, “gains” as in muscle gains do not equal superfluous amounts of glycogen and subcutaneous water retention. These so-called “gains” will hinder your training by debilitating lower back pumps, and chronic headaches. These symptoms will make squats, deadlifts, bent over rows etc... Off limits and ruin amazing muscle stimulation.

Gradually bringing body weight up -- allowing you to train intensely and function optimally will facilitate anabolism in a much healthier way than Scenarios 1&2.

As far as hormonal assistance is concerned – reverting to a therapeutic Testosterone Replacement dosage of 200 mg per week is one route to take. Another route is a complete Post Cycle Therapy, in which you employ HCG, Clomid, and Aromasin to attempt to signal your hypothalamus to rekindle testosterone production.

The “TRT” approach will keep you leaner and fuller, but if preserving fertility is a major concern to you, then a full “PCT” could be the way to go.

Make sure to do a full blood panel around 6-8 weeks post contest after on TRT or PCT to ensure kidneys, liver, hematology, C-RP, CK, etc.… are all within range before embarking on your off-season journey.

I hope this article resonates with people, especially the newcomers that tend to run into major health issues during this extremely fragile time period.

References:

The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review.’

Department of Endocrinology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Obes Rev. 2007 Jan;8(1):21-34.

Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects.

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Nov;24(11):1413-8.

De novo lipogenesis in humans: metabolic and regulatory aspects.

Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of California at Berkeley, 94270-3104, USA.

Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 Apr;53 Suppl 1:S53-65.