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Post Show Support: Off Season vs In Season

Originally Posted: Dec 11, 2014
Updated: 27 March 2018

I received this text from a client the other day.  She was not competing, however, had in the past, and was surprised at how quickly a post show body can change.   She was very happy to see how she can maintain her off-season shape relatively close to her in-season shape with a few minor adjustments in nutrition and training. 

I have to comment about in-season vs off-season bodies.  It bothers me to no end, to see girls post show suffering in a body, they no longer recognize.   There is a better way to do show prep, and the post show that follows.  I have to preface this article to mention there are times, when you need to gain body fat, i.e. gaining muscle, however, during the post show period, the return to normal calories should be monitored. 

The quality of the coach depends not only on
how good the client looks onstage,
how they look in the off-season.

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but after 19 years competing, paired with 10 years of teaching high school kids, and 10 years training individuals in the gym, I might know a thing or two about fat loss, show prep, and stepping onstage.  

I mean who wants to work that hard, and get in AMAZING shape only, to have that ‘look’ for a few weeks (or days).   A few days/week of unlimited eating, paired with a depressed metabolism, can pack on the pounds quiet quickly.  Your post show body looks nothing like the ripped piece of art that stepped on stage.  Trainers/Coaches should prepare you for the prep period, as well, include or offer coaching upon completing the show.

You never know you need it, until you need it.

The numbers of girls competing since the addition of figure in 2003, bikini in 2009 and other ‘model’ divisions have exploded exponentially.  There is no limit to competing, and many federations offer so many shows you could compete every weekend of the year. 

When I prep a client for a show, I let them know that around 3-4 weeks out, that THIS body is not their real body. They should not get used to it.  It could have been in the past, and perhaps even now, however, the look is much more lean (conditioned), and muscular than just the fitness model look of the early 2000s.  

Competitors should NOT try to maintain this ‘stage shape’ when they are not in prep mode. AKA ‘off season’.  

The physique at 3-4 weeks out is what you can maintain in the off-season with a good balance of eating well (with goals in mind), and having those ‘treats’ when you want to.  You CAN be looking good without breaking the calorie bank.

Getting down to show levels of body fat, and the shape required to take the stage so that it looks ‘normal’ onstage requires a look that comes off  ‘skinny’ in person.   Some girls love the way they look when they get–>THERE (magical place with rainbows, and fluffy unicorns), but for most it is not maintainable.  I say ‘for most’ as there are girls who by their genetic makeup, and body type, and metabolism, diet adherence, and training, report that they can eat whatever they want and not feel deprived. I would refer to this as a model shape but a NOT step on stage/physique competition physique.

I educate my clients (and warn them) that after 📸THE SHOW🎥 you may feel like you want to eat everything in sight. Like any normal human when you go off your diet for a number of days, train less frequently/intensely, do less cardio/activity – you will gain weight.  You may look invincible, but your mortal.  Just like with weight loss, it is not quick; and weight gain is no different. It slowly creeps up on you.

After the show, give yourself a day or two to eat freely, but then you HAVE to get back on a modified post contest diet.   Some like to use the trendy word “reverse dieting“.   Where calories are raised slowly, and methodically post show.  If you completely let loose, eat whatever, junk food, you want to put in your mouth, you will feel very bloated when eating this way.  The only solution? Stop eating so much, get back to training, some cardio to help the body process calories, and get on a normal balanced diet.   

As an online trainer, and coach, I show my clients what a normal balanced diet is first, before they compete.   It gives them an indication of what the expectation is for the competitive process.  The consistency of just a normal diet.  Some decide very quickly that it is not for them. And you know what? That is ok.  If they choose to compete, balance before unbalance of the prep period, equips the client with the ability to revise their relationship with food, and recognize regular healthy eating, come the post show period.

I have found that competitors, jump too quickly into prep, and frequently during the contest prep phase you loose sight of what normal is.    However, even with the best intentions, a post show plan in place, for the client-following the plan can be HARD. Goals have now shifted, and you have to re-establish why you are training and eating well.

Support and guidance during the post show phase is critical.

Competitors are also making it harder to lose the weight the next time by gaining a bunch of extra weight. I know it could be due to other factors than simply overeating. The length of your prep, type of prep and how severe, especially during the last 6-8 weeks, are contributing factors to weight gain quickly in the post comp period.  

Eating uncontrollably and then having an off season body you are embarrassed by (like do not want to go to the gym or out in public), feel sick (or throwing up) or cannot get back to a state of balance, does not seem like a positive way to end your competition experience. Sure competing makes you look good, but sometimes you don’t feel that great.  The last week weeks, if you are pushing the body hard, can be quite difficult.  After a show you will feel like you want to eat everything as now you have more food options. You need to realize that this feeling is just temporary, and you do have to manage it/ignore it a bit until you body fat comes back up to acceptable levels.  

(And if your coach still has you dieting on the same amount of calories post show this is a RED FLAG, as calories should come up post show, slightly, but they should come UP)

If you do decide to compete, here is my advice:

  1. Find a good prep coach – See here.
  2. Leave lots of time to get ready for the show. Better to have more time, than not enough.  Metabolic damage or a depresed metabolism, is real, and it can happen even after one show.  
  3. If you are in bikini or model divisions it should not be THAT hard to get into shape.  Parts of the prep can be difficult, however, overall you should have energy, and be able to train. 
  4. You should have a plan to exit the contest phase, so that you can get back to NORMAL.  You never know you need it, until you need it. 
  5. A fitness model shape is maintainable in the off-season, however, a stage ready physique is generally not recommended.

If you are a former competitor, perhaps have a show coming up with no post show support in place, or your coach has abandoned you, and any of what I am saying is resonating with you, feel free to drop me a line in the contact form below, and perhaps my online coaching would be a good fit for you.


Allison Ethier is an personal online trainer and coach. She trains clients at Excellence Fitness Facility in Quebec, Canada. With over 19 years of physique competitive experience in fitness (the one with the routine), she specializes in fat loss, muscle gain, and finding balance with it all.

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