Competing can either be a very motivating or humbling experience. This all depends on how you placed, how you enjoyed the journey of the contest preparation, and many other factors. After my first show, I wanted to literally get right back on my diet and try to compete again as soon as possible – eager to improve on my conditioning and see a better version of myself. For most people, once you first compete, you’re bit with the competitive bug, or itch, and you almost HAVE to compete again.
The article focuses not so much on competing again, but how soon you should return to the gym, intense training, supplementation, and yes – even competing, once you’ve competed in a bodybuilding competition. The reasoning for if you should take time off, how much time you should take off, etc is something that you may need to sit down and analyze based on your contest preparation experience, the contest itself, and many other factors.
First Factor: Depletion
It’s commonly stated that during the actual competition, or right before/after, a bodybuilder is usually at his or her most unhealthy stage. This is usually true due to a common combination of extremely low bodyfat, stress and anxiety (which may be accompanied by adrenal fatigue and other health problems), severe dehydration in some cases which may lead to severe electrolyte imbalances based on how you manage your show schedule/post show plans, etc. I would recommend, just to be safe, regardless as to if you came in “off”, are not as depleted, did or did not cut water, that you at least take a few days off from the gym or any strenuous exercise. A few days will not set you back, and the recovery is much needed, especially if you are not used to competing, get extremely stressed out over competing.
Taking at least a few days off is ESPECIALLY recommended if you severely deplete water. Be careful not to binge post show. The severe changes in electrolyte imbalances due to water/salt manipulation, in combination with sky-rocketing blood pressure from post show binging have had bodybuilders dropping like flies. In fact, it seems most common for a competitive bodybuilder to die immediately post show, so like stated earlier – a few days of taking it easy will do you much more harm than good. It simply isn’t worth dying over!
Now, a few days doesn’t mean destroy months of hard dieting and progress by staying out of the gym for weeks, eating nothing but donuts and pizza. You WILL get that itch again to compete or at least get back into respectable shape, so try your best to reverse diet. Basically, gradually increase your calories the opposite way that you did to prepare to the show. Just as (well, as you should have) slowly decreased the calories to preserve as much muscle mass as possible when dieting, slowly increasing the calories will help prevent too much body fat accumulation.
Take Advantage of Being Extremely Anabolic
A few days/up to a week off the gym without too heavy of a binge should be adequate, but now that you’ve filled your glycogen stores back to full, take advantage of now being in an extremely anabolic environment! You will (or should) notice better sleep due to being able to eat above maintenance (at least I did), much more energy due to a huge increase in carbohydrates, and should experience better nutrient partitioning effects due to your body’s rebound from dieting heavily. Take a few days off, recover, relax, but after that…hit it hard!
Be sure to be cautious about extended supplementation use. Generally, supplements such as Whey Protein, Multivitamins, etc are approved – and actually encouraged – for extended use of time. Be careful, however, for supplements that are extremely high in caffeine, or if you’re competing with advanced anabolic agents such as anabolic steroids, research chemicals that can have potentially negative effects on the heart, thyroid, and other organs such as clenbuterol, thyroid hormones, etc – whether little impact or a great impact – as these may present not only side effects that diminish your health, but also lose their effectiveness if kept in for too long. Pay attention, even to natural supplements, for effects of tolerances and whether or not cycling off certain supplements, drugs, etc can be advantageous or not. Most likely, being in a caloric surplus, alleviating stress and anxieties, etc should be more than enough to put you in such an anabolic, muscle-building window that coming off, tapering, or cycling these SHOULDN’T matter too much, unless of course you have extremely poor genetics/work ethic, or you’ve generally built your physique as being a product of a science experiment.