With the growth in popularity of physique competitions, the bikini division especially, there has been much discussion of reverse dieting and the necessary nutrition and training protocol in order to avoid the dreaded “post-competition rebound” after a bikini competition or bodybuilding show. The increase in awareness of the potential for metabolic damage and negative physical repercussions after the show has been instrumental in educating competitors on the proper methods of dieting post-competition; however, with the focus on the physical, most forget to consider the potential for equally as serious mental repercussions after their competition.
After spending months on a structured training and nutrition regiment, focused so consistently on the goal of stepping on stage, many competitors don’t take the time to consider what their life will be like after the competition. Once the goal of stepping on stage has been reached and prep is “over” there are a myriad of potential mental and psychological affects that if not prepared for or dealt with immediately can be damaging. As a competitor as well as coach, I’ve seen all ends of the spectrum, but unfortunately it’s rare for competitors to discuss the potential of the negative post-contest “mental” rebound, as they are embarrassed or feel weak. This is in no means meant to scare off new or potential competitors, but I do think it’s something important to consider when weighing the decision of whether competing is for you, as I truly believe it’s not for everyone.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, there’s no better way to take the wind of out your sales than to compare your successes to those of someone else and when entering into a sport that’s subjectively judge based on appearance this is something you are likely to do daily. For some I believe this comparison can be positive and motivating, I myself find that when comparing my physique and progress to that of other competitors it often acts as “fuel to my fire,” but for many this is not the case. With an endless sea of “selfies” and “progress pics” available on social media it can become extremely difficult to avoid the constant comparison game, often leading competitors to anxiety and potential self-image issues as they compare themselves to others.
"We are own worst critics”, something everyone says, but in my experience this self-criticism couldn’t be more exaggerated than in the mind of a physique competitor; a double whammy on the psyche, as not only does the time spent painstakingly comparing your physique to others increase during your preparation for the stage, but as it does your ability to assess your physique and progress objectively declines, a recipe for disaster. The lack of ability to objectively assess your physique is one of the most important reasons athlete’s enlist the aid of a coach for contest prep, a trained eye and reassuring objective judge to assess progress. As a self-coached athlete for my first three years of competition, I am in the minority, but even I know that maintaining and objective eye is a constant challenge and have fallen victim to its effects in the past. It’s a constant challenge for most to maintain realistic expectations of their physique and truly see the progress they are making as they move towards a show. The negatives are often amplified and the positives are often diluted in competitor’s self-assessments, which can quickly and easily take away from the enjoyment of the entire contest prep experience and lead to an overall negative view of the journey to the competitive stage.
A reoccurring theme I find most competitors experience after a show is that despite all positive reasons to compete and achieve the best shape of their lives, that almost all athletes continue to experience body-dissatisfaction on some level, regardless of their final look or placing. After achieving an extreme level of physical fitness and for most competitors, achieving the best shape they’ve ever been in the “stage look” becomes the new baseline and mental image of their best body. The problem with this is that for most athletes this look is not sustainable for the long-term, often leading to negative emotions and increased insecurity as they allow themselves to return to a healthy body-fat level and a more balanced lifestyle. Another aspect of this dissatisfaction is the constant desire for more. I often say that in order to be successful in this sport you have to accept never being satisfied as it will never be enough, what was once lean to you now isn’t lean enough and what was once big to you isn’t big enough as your “normal” has changed, creating a constant fight to do more and be “better.”
The reason I list some of these common mental post-show effects, is to encourage those considering competition, or new to competition, to self-assess their mental state going into contest prep- as well as to monitor it as their contest prep progresses. The tunnel vision that is contest prep often leads athletes to forget about the importance of mental health and balance, with the focus so purely on the physical side of training. As well, I believe it’s extremely important to consider why you’ve chosen to compete in the first place and judge whether you will be content with the achievements you make along the way to becoming YOUR best self. I believe that the experience of contest prep and achieving the goal of stepping on stage should be one of self-betterment and it pains me to hear competitors struggling with image issues and even depression after a contest as a result of some of the common negative thoughts listed above. Think about what’s right for you!
When done properly and with proper guidance in nutrition and training, as well as with the emotional and mental aspects of contest prep, I believe that reaching the stage and succeeding in achieving such an exponential goal is a huge personal victory for any athlete. The lessons learned about perseverance and commitment, as well as the lessons learned about ones-self during the trials and tribulations of contest prep are something that can’t be replaced. For those who have had a potentially negative emotional post-contest experience, are struggling with the process of contest prep, or are considering preparing for a show I encourage you to reach out for help as necessary. Coaches, competitors, and health professionals are great resources to take advantage of and trust me, if you’re feeling a certain way during or post-prep, they’ve been there, seen it, done it, dealt with it!