Remember last year, after my first figure competition, when I started powerlifting and made it my mission to remain as lean as possible through the offseason?
This year, I chose to do things a little bit differently.
After spending hours and hours and HOURS of my time reading and listening to podcasts while I walked the dog and learned how to do my makeup like an adult, I decided to skip the long, painful, drawn out reverse diet that I had failed at multiple times after last season. My calories remained far too low, and I pretty consistently felt simultaneously hungry and like a failure. Although I topped out my “off season,” at just under 16% body fat (and felt FAT… are you kidding me?), I don’t think that my mindset and body never really had the chance to fully recover from my contest prep. Beyond recovery, it’s highly likely that staying as lean as I did hindered my ability to gain both strength and size. Sure, I pulled my first 300 pounds deadlift, but could I have lifted more with a bit more food and a bit more body fat? I’ll never know.
Armed with the updated information on offseason from Mike Israetel (I’ve probably listened to 3 dozen podcasts on which he’s been the guest- seriously, this guy knows his stuff) and 3DMJ (always putting out quality content on their blog, and they started producing a weekly podcast that has quickly become a favorite of mine, as it is very specific to bodybuilding, and both informative and actionable), I left my third show of the year ready to put on some fat, recover my body and mind, and gain some muscle and strength. If there is one link you click on in this post, if you are a competitor, let it be this one, where 3DMJ discusses the “recovery diet” approach to the post-show period. I had about 30 AHA! moments as I listened to it, and burst into tears twice as I identified with the things they talked about so strongly- seriously this was a game changer for how I approached my offseason.
Immediately following my pro-card winning show, I made some significant changes in my lifestyle.
- I started training for powerlifting, almost immediately. I was so starved for the chase of the numbers, after having been focused solely on my physique for the previous three months, that I needed that mental break from staring at myself in the mirror to gauge success. I needed the objectivity of poundage on the bar to focus on. I chose to use PH3 as my programming leading up to the meet that I signed up for pretty quickly after the show. It was awesome, and a massive success for my strength and mental state.
- I stopped intermittent fasting. While I had had success with this for years, I started to see more updated research on the topic come out, and, following my nerdy “need-to-know-everything” instincts, I reignited my interest and read more on the topic. The thing about science is that there is a constant stream of new, updated information to work with, and everything I was seeing come out in the past year indicated to me that if my primary goal for a period of time was to gain muscle, this was not the appropriate approach for it. Now, this is not to say that IF does not have it’s place. It has been a great tool that I intend to keep in my toolbox, likely to pull out again when it comes to a contest prep diet. It’s great when calories are low and I don’t want to spend all day having 200 calorie
mealssnacks, fixating on food, never feeling satiated, but for a gaining phase, all the evidence points to it being a suboptimal approach. I had a limited time to dedicate to gaining muscle before I would be required to compete again (to keep my pro card, I have to compete within a calendar year), and I wanted to gain as much muscle as possible, fat gain be damned. Having practiced the Leangains method for a number of years, it’s pretty likely I screwed myself out of some pretty significant gains, which makes me suuuuuuuper sad, but all I can do is train my ass off, be smarter moving forward, and keep on pushing forward.
- I’m no longer training fasted, for the above-mentioned reasons. I’ve started organizing my food around my training, getting some carbs and protein in before and after training, so that I am properly fueled for what I’m asking my body to do. Yes, I enjoyed training fasted- it simply felt good, but my interest is in optimizing strength and muscle gain. If all it takes to get a few more reps in a workout, to get a little more quality volume in each week, is to have a snack before I train, I am ready and willing to make this sacrifice. Nutrient timing may be just that last 5%, but if I’m doing everything else as right as I think I am, that 5% might just be enough to make a difference. (A personal favorite of mine pre-training, is Oatmega bars, because they are small, taste like real food, as opposed to a protein bar, and have amazing macros with 7F/21C/14P).
- I started saying “yes.” I spent the last two years constantly agonizing over my diet, choosing restaurants where I could easily track my food, saying no to social gatherings, spending Friday nights at home… and my social life was faltering. Friends faded away, I felt unhappy. So I started saying yes! Yes, I’ll come out for the M3 release tapping at Toronado (and you can find me on Untapped, if you want to see just how many times I said yes to similar events…@BiggestLittlePickle). Yes, we should go get ramen at that place you’ve been eying down the road. Yes, we should celebrate over brunch and bottomless mimosas. Yes, I would like a bite of your churro. Yes, we can take a road trip and I won’t bring my food scale. Yes, I could like an ice cream cone. In the process, I re-learned how to listen to my body. I learned how to step away from my bathroom scale and my food tracking app. I re-learned what it’s like to live life without feeling anxiety over every bite. And that’s been a major game changer. Of course I’m great at recognizing changes in my body, at calculating, but really hearing what my body says- you’re full, you’re hungry, you can eat that without losing your shit… that’s something else far beyond any spreadsheet I could create. I spent my offseason re-learning my body and rebuilding my relationships with friends, and with my husband, and it’s been incredible.
Ultimately, I ended my offseason heavier than I have been in years- 134 pounds, on the day of my semi-annual DEXA scan. The technician was proud to announce to me my “fantastic” body composition of 20.5% body fat… until I told him to look at my previous scan, of 9.6%, at which point he stopped knowing how to words and literally couldn’t say anything useful to me, so he just scrolled through the rest of the report without forming any coherent thoughts. I put on 1.6 pounds of lean mass in just 6 months time.
Yes, I also put on 20 pounds of “weight,” and a much larger proportion of fat, but I GAINED ALMOST TWO POUNDS OF MUSCLE. As a natural female who has been training for a number of years, that’s pretty impressive. The fat will come off, without a doubt, but two pounds of muscle added to my stage weight is pretty significant, and should be enough for visible change in the coming season’s stage body. Ending at 20% body fat isn’t really terrible either. This is right in the range that is considered “athletic,” and I can absolutely say that my gym and platform performance this offseason was the most athletic I’ve felt in years. I do not think I would have gotten my elite powerlifting total had I attempted a slow reverse diet again this year, trying to stay super lean.
But now I’m at the end of this offseason, this strength season, this growing season. I’m bigger, stronger, healthier, happier, and ready to take on the bodybuilding season ahead. As I mentioned, I’ve got to compete this year in order to keep my pro card, but after this season, I only have to compete once every two years. As a natural competitor, taking these extended offseasons is required, in order to make significant changes to your physique, to grow, and so I’ll be taking advantage of that opportunity following this coming season. Looking ahead in 2017, though, I have three shows planned, and perhaps a fourth if one pops up. If I’m going to go through the hassle of prepping, I’m going to get more than just one day out of the struggle. Pro shows are not nearly as common as amateur shows, and are far apart, so I’ll be doing some traveling- perhaps I can meet some new readers as I journey around the country competing?
First up: The WNBF Pro American on June 3, 2017, in Worcester, Massachusetts. As of yesterday, I’m 22 weeks out, and so, so ready to dominate this prep!