Ask The Fitness Jewell: How Do I Stay Shredded After A Contest?

Completing strict contest prep can leave you craving cheat meals and slacking at the gym. Use these tips to turn contest-prep fitness into an everyday fit lifestyle!

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I've been cutting for a contest and I really want to cheat once the event is over, but I don't want to waste all my hard work! What's the best way to deal with post-contest rebound?

First of all, congratulations are in order. Stepping on stage to compete and prepping for a photo shoot are huge accomplishments! I know how thrilled I was the first time I ever stepped on stage—the excitement, the nerves, the acknowledgement of all my hard work paying off. And yet, the next day, I was almost as excited to hit up the nearest Ben and Jerry's for an ice cream brownie sundae. I was so excited, in fact, that I went back later that evening for another one and then polished it off with a plate of sizzling, guacamole-topped fajitas at my favorite Mexican restaurant!

This cheat was great, but the positive feelings didn't last. Fast forward a few days and a number of cookies later, and I felt bloated, looked swollen, and felt void of energy. Oh, the dreaded post-show rebound!

The worst part was that I didn't know what to expect. My coach at the time didn't warn me or any of the other girls on my team about the nasty little side effect of post-show indulgence. It wasn't a pretty sight. Just days after we'd all appeared to be in the best shape of our lives, we were nowhere near the same conditioning, and we were likely all on the verge of falling into sugar comas.

My first show was a learning experience on a multitude of levels, teaching me what to do and—most certainly and importantly—what not to do. I learn from my mistakes. Here are my insider tips on how to best beat the post-show bloat.

1. Enjoy Your Post-Competition Meal

Been eyeing that cheeseburger deluxe for the last month? Craving that taco or cup of froyo? Go for it. Take the time to enjoy whatever meal you've been looking forward to—you've earned it. Just remember to sit down and savor it.

Don't make the mistake of mindlessly stuffing your face with Pop-Tarts or whatever sugar-laden foods people hoard backstage.

Instead, make your indulgent meal count. Make sure there's sound reasoning behind the meal that's going to break your clean-eating streak instead of mindlessly indulging in any and every food you stumble across simply because the show is over and you can.

2. Don't Make It A Food Free-For-All

You go months without eating anything other than your contest meal plan and, within a matter of hours, chow down on a buffet of goodies—slow down there, turbo! While you've just recently reintroduced them into your diet, those foods aren't going anywhere.

Moderation is the key. Slowly adding your favorite foods back into your meal plan is going to help you (and your abs) a lot more than downing everything in sight. Spread out your cheats, and make sure to have them in addition to instead of in lieu of other meals.

You can enjoy another cheat meal the next day; just make sure to keep your other meals full of lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and veggies. Also, stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.

3. Keep Alcohol Intake To A Minimum

Alcohol is the last thing I add back following my show. I rarely drink as it is, and I most certainly don't drink during my contest prep, let alone the night of my competition to "celebrate." Our bodies need real food to refuel, not a trip to Margaritaville. If you're going to drink, make sure to keep it an occasional occurrence.

4. Slowly Reintroduce Cheat Meals Into Your Diet

If you weren't having any cheat meals during your competition prep, make sure to add them back in slowly—1-2 times per week, for example. This way you'll be able to eat your cake and keep your abs, too. It's all about balance and adhering to a meal plan that allows you to eat healthfully—lean proteins, whole grains, veggies, fruits, heart-healthy fats, etc. —the majority of the time, but also to indulge a bit here and there.

Take this approach during contest prep, as well. In fact, up to one week out from my last show, I was having a couple of treat meals a week. Following a more lax plan that allowed me to eat a few of my favorites each week provided me with the incentive to stay on track on harder days. I never once felt restricted or deprived because I knew that as long as I was making progress and as long as I was on the right on track, I could have a meal and dessert of my choice.

As a bonus, I wasn't tempted in the slightest to scarf down every burger, brownie, pizza in sight post-show—a far cry from the experience of my first show.

5. Be Honest With Yourself

Don't let a competition's close be an excuse to fall off the wagon. Have you cut back on your workouts post-show? Many people work out in excess when preparing for a show and, once the contest has come and gone, their workouts take a hit.

Of course you're going to gain some weight if you're not working out at the same intensity or the same duration as before. Combine a decrease in exercise with excessive calories, and what do you get? Weight gain. Keep this in mind before making drastic, post-competition decisions.

6. Make Health And Fitness A Year-Round Lifestyle

My health is important to me every day of the year—not just the weeks counting down to when I'm preparing to step on stage. Live the healthy and fit life all year and you might be shocked to see how contest prep gets easier along the way.

The post-show rebound is a nasty type of yo-yo dieting. We all know that yo-yo dieting wreaks havoc on the body, so why would we continue to stress ourselves out when we can simplify everything by living the fit lifestyle year round?

When you're not constantly battling the weight gain from a post-show rebound, you're more apt to making solid changes and improvements in your physique.

7. Set More Fitness Related Goals

Your fitness competition or photo shoot might be over, but that doesn't mean your training has to lack direction.

A surefire way to get back on track is to set a new goal. It doesn't have to be stepping back on stage again.

Set a goal to sign up for a Spartan Race, enter your first triathlon, or just set some new personal records in the gym. Whatever it is, refocus, set new goals, and go after them.

Bottom line

Do your research on coaches and make sure you work with an experienced coach or trainer who has a healthy, balanced, and sustainable approach to contest prep.

If your meal plan is restrictive or unbearable at any time (no carbs at all, shockingly low amount of calories, or unrealistic or unsafe amounts of exercise), you may set yourself up for a post-show rebound.

Make your contest prep, show, and post-show experience a positive one by taking into account my proven fit tips.

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