Bodybuilding is a method of weight lifting that focuses on shaping the body through sculpting and building specific muscle groups. Lifts are prioritized based on aesthetics, not necessarily strength or function (although strength is increased during the process). Bodybuilding is also a competitive sport.
In order to prepare for a bodybuilding competition, competitors must lose a great deal of body fat while maintaining as much muscle mass as possible. Women who are competitive compete on show day at somewhere between 6-12% body fat, and men between 2-8% body fat. These are extremely low numbers and are not intended to be sustained beyond a few weeks in preparation for the show.
Caloric deficits must be established to lose body fat. This is accomplished by lowering caloric intake and increasing energy expenditure via strength and cardiovascular training. Competitors typically follow a very strict diet during this time, usually based on higher amounts of protein and lower amounts of carbohydrates to increase fat oxidation. Some competitors even skip meals or neglect entire macronutrient groups and/or food groups to prepare for shows.
Once competitors complete the event, getting back to life as usual can be difficult. They become accustomed to eating a very regimented diet and looking at themselves with body fat percentages that are considered just enough to sustain life. For these reasons, bodybuilding competitors are at an increased risk of developing eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Competitors are often given several tools to help them compete successfully, but very few to help them with off-season eating and mindset shifting.
That’s why you need to ask this question to any coach you are considering – is there a plan for when I’m done with the show? The coach’s answer should be a resounding “YES, OF COURSE.” In fact, that is something your potential coach should bring up without you even asking! If you take a look at their list of services and you don’t see something like, “reverse diet plan” or “off-season plan” then beware! That person may just be interested in getting you ripped, posting your stage pictures for their own marketing purposes, and leaving you to figure out how NOT to rebound on your own after the show is over.
Word to the wise – bodybuilding is an expensive hobby…be sure to choose your coach wisely!