Coming off my stint of shows a couple weeks ago, I knew I needed a better off-season nutrition plan than last year. In 2013, I was given suggestions on how to “reverse diet” out of the shows and slowly bring my bodyweight back up in a way that would minimize fat gain. Well, as a newbie to physique sports, I blew it.

I went back to eating like a powerlifter (which for me isn’t all that unhealthy, just more overall food and less focus on timing), dropped all cardio immediately after the show, and went right back to lower volume, higher intensity strength work. Great for strength gains, not so great on the physique.

My plan this year was to do it better, cleaner, and still enjoy outings and delicious foods with my family. I called upon several nutrition experts to get their thoughts on how strict, how laid-back and how slowly to come off show dieting and still enjoy a social life (without carrying a cooler everywhere.) Here are my questions and there answers, complete for you to use in your own diet planning.

plastic containers with food

I typically don’t eat like a bodybuilder year round (strict timing, strict macros). Do you still recommend eating the same number of meals as in-season? Can eating frequency be reduced?

Shelby Starnes: Well, I do eat like a bodybuilder year round. I eat 6-7 meals per day all the time. Pretty strict since I want to continue making gains.

Julia: Well, Mr. Fancypants, you just live on the wild side, don’t you?

Skip Hill: I believe in still eating with a similar structure in the off season as you do for a prep. Yes, there is always room for loosening up in the off season but the looser you get, the less control you have over variables and the main objective in the off season is to gain more muscle with limited increase in body fat. So, the tighter the plan, the better the results.

Agent X: When considering what diet to follow, I always think it is best to find a diet you know you can stick to and what's best to fit your lifestyle. Otherwise, you are likely to miss meals or get bored and give up. Most of my clients have had good success with eating four to five meals per day in the offseason, depending on body fat levels eating. This means they eat a meal every three to five hours.

I always give as many carbohydrates as the client can handle without adding more than one pound per month, or two pounds max. I also like to keep protein around 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. It’s hard to give a better answers because no client is the same and it's a little trial and error. However, four meals works fine for most in the off-season.

Julia: That’s what happened to me last year. I felt bored with the foods and being overly strict was stressful at times. I think that’s why I gave up on reverse dieting.

If we are busy doing family stuff and I miss a meal, what's the best plan of action? Should I add the missed meal to the next meal? Split it up over the next two meals? Scratch it altogether?

Shelby Starnes: I would probably split it over the next couple meals.

Skip Hill: Rule number one: don't miss a meal. But if you do have to miss one, eat your next meal. If you are still hungry, add some or all of the missed meal to that meal.

Agent X: I always recommend carrying some whey, then you can just add some water and drink that instead. It’s convenient and easy. If you needed carbohydrates at that meal then simply split it up over the next meals. Just once won't make a massive difference, but the problem is when it becomes a habit.

Table setting

In a post-contest plan are you more concerned with getting in the target macros on a daily/weekly basis? Or hitting the meals exactly?

Shelby Starnes: Personally, hitting everything exactly — same for my clients.  We are trying to win.

Skip Hill: I can say that high-structure is the best protocol, so meals should be well-planned in the off-season just as they are during prep. You will usually have more calories in the off-season but the meals should still be highly structured to fit your goals.

Agent X: More concerned with getting back into an off-season diet plan. Getting macros is important.

Do you recommend increasing carbs, fat or protein post-contest? Why?

Shelby Starnes: Usually a bit of everything but mostly carbs to support training, growth, and metabolism. Carbs do a better job of all that than fats or protein.  

Skip Hill: Yes.

Agent X: I always try and increase carbohydrates slowly because, in most cases, we have been on a fairly low-carbohydrate diet for a long time. Re-introducing carbs really helps the body recuperate, gives the athlete some energy to once again function normally, speeds up the metabolism, and eventually leads to some added muscle mass.

I also lower protein as the carbohydrates increase and increase fats. I prefer to give the body a break from so much protein pre-competition and some added fats helps retain muscle as the protein reduces. I have personally had great success doing this. I think we overdo protein intake over the year so reducing it really gives the body a break. Then, once you reintroduce higher protein intake, it gives the body some more growth at a later date.

What are your top 2-3 tips on maintaining some flexibility in eating, socializing and enjoying different foods post-contest?

Skip Hill: Diet should be highly structured. But if you are going to be social, combine those social situations with refeeds, cheat meals, etc. Cheat meals should still be nutritional, i.e. instead of a half tub of ice cream and a pound of chocolate, a steak and heavy salad meal would be better. Or have sushi, or even a quality burger (as opposed to fast food burgers).

Agent X: Most places do meats. Just ask them to not marinate it, or choose something a little more plain. But still meats. Avoid fried stuff and stick to ordering potatoes and other cleaner foods.

social elitefts S4 pizza team ladewski hill starnes 081414

In devising a post-contest nutrition plan, what are the top 2-3 things you recommend? Increase calories weekly? Increase carbs? Reduce training intensity? Change cardio?

Shelby Starnes: Increase calories based on metabolism and response, mainly via carbs but a little of all macros. You can slowly reduce cardio in most situations. It's all very individual though.

Skip Hill: Step down cardio incrementally, step up calories incrementally, and reduce training frequency if needed.

Agent X: Reduce training gradually to give yourself a mental and physical break. I normally reduce cardio over a month period, still keeping some in. Training volume is reduced also probably to half the volume and carbohydrates are increased anywhere from 30 grams to 50 grams per week, depending on the person.

Julia: Wow. Some really great advice here guys. Understanding that many of the details are very individual, this still provides some great insight into a good off-season plan. Thank you for your time and your responses.

So, how am I doing just two weeks post-contest? Really well, actually. I walk our bulldog for about 40 minutes four to five mornings a week, which has allowed me to gradually reduce the intensity of the cardio I was doing, but not completely eliminate it. I’ve gradually increased calories each week, some via carbs and some via fats. In the last two weeks I’ve also been able to plan some refeeds based on social outings. One week post show, we spent the afternoon taste testing delicious foods at the Taste of Chicago. Then the following week we were at an amusement park and managed a good burger, fries and a grilled chicken sandwich. I feel good about still being able to enjoy off-plan foods and strategic refeedings, but then being able to stick to the plan the other six days a week.

My weight is up about 2.5-3 pounds from my stage weight. I would say I’m right on track for having a successful post-season plan.

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