| By Anita Kus-Roberts |
I was at a show recently watching competitor after competitor parade around, proud of their hard-earned physiques. How motivating it was for me to watch, in my off-season “puffy” phase. As each competitor did their catwalk and showed off, an announcer would read tidbits and quotes from their entry forms.
“Competitor 108 says, ‘There is no off-season!’”
Slowly, I lowered my piece of carrot cake and almost spat out the delicious mouthful of yumminess that I don’t deny myself during my off-season. Are you kidding me? Let there be no question that there is an off-season. And it is incredibly important. The off-season is a crucial break that all athletes need, no matter how experienced they are. And physique competitors are no exception. This is the most valuable part of any athlete’s training and it needs the same attention paid to it as a contest prep gets.
Let there be no question that there is an off-season. And it is incredibly important.
I’ve noticed that when fresh competitors step off that stage, they face many disconnects that they aren’t prepared for. The biggest challenge among them is known as “post-competition blues. Let me break this down for you, especially if you’re prepping for your first show.
As competitors, we’re hyper focused on our goals. For 12 weeks straight, we put our lives on hold to train, eat, cook and sleep according to a precise plan. Everything you do during the months leading up to a show is governed with clockwork rigidity. But within a week after the show, a horrible feeling of being lost sets in. There’s suddenly no pressure to chase the final goal. When you have been dead set on something for an extended period of time, it’s very hard to let go of that framework and feeling of safety that a meal plan and training regimen can give you. To quote the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” You suddenly have the freedom to do whatever you want, but you’re overwhelmed with stepping outside the strict rules of competition preparation. For a first time competitor, this can be confusing and overwhelming. But know you are not alone!
Then there’s the adrenal situation. Your adrenal glands have been working overtime as you dial in your body for the stage. They balance your blood sugar levels, and they’re responsible for releasing hormones like cortisol that kick in when you’re under stress. Adrenal fatigue occurs after a lengthy period of stress—both physical and mental. So after a competition you need to recalibrate your system in order to prevent adrenal fatigue or worse, create a domino effect on the failing of the rest of your hormones (once one hormone becomes imbalanced, it is very common for the other hormones to begin to falter). A post-competition regimen is integral to restoring your adrenal system. You’ll want to avoid the depression that can hang over you for months on end.
No one wants to hear it, but it’s not healthy to look the same way as you did on show day 365 days a year.
Whenever I prep a new client for a show, I warn them far in advance of the tendency to obsess over keeping their competition body. No one wants to hear it, but it’s not healthy to look the same way as you did on show day 365 days a year. It’s unrealistic, and it leads to obsession and panic. In some cases it can even lead to an eating disorder.
It has been said that bodybuilding (and its relative categories) is the unhealthiest “healthy” sport. Even though you’re exercising and eating well, it is not possible to maintain the look you presented on stage for any extended period of time. Your adrenals will not be able to sustain the workload. Plus, lighting, tanning, water depletion, make up and special last week meal plans all contribute to that fine-tuned physique. So if you have to shift away from the safety net of a show-prep blueprint, how can you avoid the post-competition blues?
I recommend working with your trainer to bring you back to a state of “normalcy.” You’ll still have structured meal plans and workouts—they just won’t be as intense as your competition prep, so you can give your system a rest. For example, if you were doing cardio every day, you may be prescribed only three 45 minute workouts. Carbs and fats will slowly be reintroduced to the diet and there will most likely be a cheat meal every week. Being a smart competitor, you would have received feedback at the competition from the judges on what you need to improve on. You will discuss feedback with your trainer to come up with a game plan to work on your weaker body parts.
Being a smart competitor, you would have received feedback at the competition from the judges on what you need to improve on.
I’d also recommend that you try a new hobby or learn something new. Every off-season I’ve had, I’ve experimented with different sports. My last off-season included joining a flag-football team. Sure, I can’t catch or throw the ball to save my life, but it opened new doors for me. I met new friends, stayed active, and even won an award after the season was over. Round out your interests and character! There’s nothing more boring than hearing the same stories about training. And if you are like me, you will add another trophy to your shelf that may become your favorite!
And then there are your family and friends. Make sure you make time for them when you’re done. After you’ve focused on no one but yourself for 12 weeks, I guarantee they miss the “old” you. They also miss doing the normal things with you that you had to cut out during your prep. It’s time to make some visits, eat some of Babcia’s perogies without guilt, and have a late night on the town with your best friends. I know people who have missed out on trips, funerals, marriages and other celebrations in life due to competing. These are other people’s special moments, and you need to make a point of celebrating them. Competing isn’t about the end result (the trophy); it’s about the journey you take to get to the stage. It’s about building strength, both physically and mentally. You’ll learn some things about your self that you didn’t know before you started competing. If all you care about is the end result and the physical aspects, you’re in the wrong sport.
Competing isn’t about the end result; it’s about the journey you take to get to the stage.
Anita Kus-Roberts is a trainer, figure competitor and fitness model who uses her extensive competition experience to transform the physiques and lives of her clients. As a performance nutrition expert, she brings to the table an equally extensive knowledge of nutrients, ingredients and their effects on various body types.
After 15 years studying ballet and contemporary dance and competing in track and field, Anita entered her first figure competition and fell in love with the sport. Since winning her first trophy, she’s gone on to compete in several national- and international-level competitions, and she’s appeared in numerous magazine spreads for publications like Oxygen and Inside Fitness.
Anita is driven by a dedication to expand her knowledge by keeping up to date with the latest research on training techniques and nutrition. Her unique approach to training involves understanding the specific needs and goals of each individual and finding the most effective path to reach them.