Beyond the Spotlight: Navigating Post-Competition Blues in Fitness and Bodybuilding
The journey to the peak of fitness or bodybuilding competition is indeed a tough road – characterized by intense training, meticulous dietary plans, and the profound toll it exacts on athletes both physically and mentally. Athletes customarily engage in an 11 to 32-week competition preparation phase. This demanding period calls for a significant reduction in body fat while retaining muscle mass, accomplished through decreased calorie intake concurrent increased aerobic exercise, and resistance training. Following the competition, a recovery period ensues where athletes elevate their energy intake and return their training regimen to baseline. Interestingly, men and women show similar responses to dieting and training (Isola et al., 2023).
The competition's conclusion doesn't signal the end of the challenges. Post-competition blues sometimes referred to as post-competition depression, can have a severe impact on bodybuilders and fitness athletes. As the body and mind adapt to a decrease in intensity and focus post-event, symptoms may manifest emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
Physiologically, an athlete's recovery from competitions may stretch anywhere between 3-5 months or even longer (Isola et al., 2023; Longstrom et al., 2020; Hulmi et al. 2017; Pardue et al. 2017). The recovery duration can vary widely; Halliday et al. (2016) reported that a fitness competitor's menstrual period took a staggering 71 weeks to recover from post-competition absence. In contrast,
It's crucial to understand that recovery time isn't standard across all athletes. Rossow et al. (2013) found both endurance and strength characteristics bounced back two months after competitions, while hormone balance took an additional month to recover. These studies underscore the imperative for bodybuilders and fitness athletes to afford themselves a generous recovery period post-competitions.
During this recovery phase, weight gain could play a crucial role in recuperating from the extreme dieting required for competitions. Interestingly, if body weight does not ascend, it's likely that resting metabolic rate and hormone levels will remain in their impaired state. Similar to the competition diet phase, sporadic fluctuations in weight gain can be observed (Rossow et al. 2013; Halliday et al. 2016).
Contrary to popular belief, the post-competition period isn't particularly conducive to muscle gain. Muscle size tends to revert to the pre-competition diet level, without any remarkable growth rate above the pre-competition diet level (Isola et al., 2023).
Effective coaching can be instrumental in facilitating the post-competition recovery process and helping to alleviate post-competition blues. By setting clear physical, psychological, and social goals, the recovery period can be navigated more effectively and efficiently.
Physical goals might encompass:
- Achieving potential lean mass to pre-diet levels
- Elevating body weight to at least near pre-diet weight (5-10 kg)
- Restoring strength capacity
- Recovering endocrine function
- Resumption of menstrual periods
Psychological goals may include:
- Reinforcing motivation to train
- Setting and following up on goals
- Employing positive self-talk
- Enhancing a sense of ability and empowerment
- Positive visualization about a "softening" body image
It's essential not to overlook social goals as they can offer a critical support network during this period: seeking happiness and well-being from social relationships and investing time in close acquaintances.
In conclusion, recovery from a bodybuilding or fitness competition involves much more than just physical recuperation. It encompasses psychological healing and social reintegration as well. It's important to remember that mental health holds as much significance as physical health. Therefore, if you feel the need for assistance, don't hesitate to seek help. Both your body and mind warrant ample time to recover and rejuvenate following the strenuous journey of competition preparation.
Halliday, T. M., Loenneke, J. P., & Davy, B. M. (2016). Dietary Intake, Body Composition, and Menstrual Cycle Changes during Competition Preparation and Recovery in a Drug-Free Figure Competitor: A Case Study. Nutrients, 8(11), 740.
Halliday, T. M., Loenneke, J. P., & Davy, B. M. (2016). Dietary intake, body composition, and menstrual cycle changes during competition preparation and recovery in a drug-free figure competitor: A case study. Nutrients, 8(11), 740.
Hulmi, J., Isola, V., Suonpää, M., Järvinen, N., Kokkonen, M., Wennerström, A., Nyman, K., Perola, M., Ahtiainen, J.P. & Häkkinen, K. (2017). The effects of intensive weight reduction on body composition and serum hormones in female fitness competitors. Frontiers in physiology, 7, 689.
Isola, V., Hulmi, J. J., Petäjä, P., Helms, E. R., Karppinen, J. E., & Ahtiainen, J. P. (2023). Weight loss induces changes in adaptive thermogenesis in female and male physique athletes. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 48(4), 307-320.
Longstrom, J. M., Colenso-Semple, L. M., Waddell, B. J., Mastrofini, G., Trexler, E. T., & Campbell, B. I. (2020). Physiological, psychological and performance-related changes following physique competition: A case-series. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 5(2), 27.
Rossow, L., Fukuda, D., Fahs, C., Loenneke, J., & Stout, J. (2013). Natural Bodybuilding Competition Preparation and Recovery: A 12-Month Case Study. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 8 (5), 582–592.