The rebound—you’ve probably heard this term tossed around before, sometimes with a sense of awe, sometimes with a sense of dread. If you are new to competing, you are probably wondering what it is and why some people hate it while others love it. The post contest rebound is what happens to your body in the weeks immediately following a bodybuilding competition.
What Is the Rebound?
Leading up to a contest, you have worked hard to drop every visible ounce of fat by starving your body and spending hours climbing away on the stair stepper. Show day arrives—you look great and you are on top of the world— then the moment is over. Prep is finished and you have a choice: do you get back on a structured diet plan or do you immediately indulge in guilty pleasures by eating whatever you want? The only cardio you’re doing at this point is the walk to the fridge. But as we will see, you should keep up the cardio and you shouldn’t eat the entire kitchen right away if you want to make the rebound work foryou rather than against you.
The Bad Rebound
This is where many competitors make a mistake. After a show, they have no plan. Going from weeks or months of pure structure and discipline to nothing at all can make the first few weeks after a contest turn into a complete disaster. Many fall into a post show depression from lack of structure. If you decide to eat everything in sight and completely drop your training, the result will be startling in a bad way. We’re talking swollen ankles, extreme water retention, bloating, and an alarming amount of fat gain. You can avoid this by having a plan and a new goal in place before you finish your contest.
The Good Rebound
Instead, you can approach the post contest period with a plan of attack and turn the rebound into an opportunity for growth. It is not uncommon for disciplined athletes to gain anywhere from 4-8 lb of real muscle mass in 8-10 weeks. The key is to transition your nutrition and training from contest to 8-10 weeks of anabolism. But in order to do this you must protect yourself while training during the first few weeks after the contest when your body is the most fragile. Additionally, appetite will be sky high and constant no matter how much you feed it. It is not real. It is a false appetite. It leads you to think you need extra food when you do not. You have to ignore it.
Explaining the Growth Spurt
When you’ve been dieting for months, you have less energy overall. Being in a constant state of restriction, whether it’s fewer carbs or fewer fats, can trigger fat loss but in some cases muscle loss as well. It “primes” your body to be like a sponge. Insulin sensitivity rises and the body becomes very efficient at absorbing and utilizing nutrients. The body goes from a catabolic state in prep to more of an anabolic state post show. This anabolic environment can be used to gain fat fast or muscle depending on post show strategy. A good diet and intense training with moderate volume can lead to a nice growth spurt. The key is to feed your body the proper amounts of carbs and fats so you don’t “spill over” into the fat cells. This is very easy to do post show so you must be careful. One other thing to keep in mind is that your hormones change when you come out of a long diet. During deprivation, insulin falls and cortisol rises. When you begin to eat a surplus again, these levels quickly reverse. Insulin sensitivity increases and your body absorbs carbs, sodium, and water at a greater than normal rate. Couple this with the right amount of food and you have the perfect environment for growth. This reverse in hormones results in heightened response to glycogen storing, which gives the muscles that really full, round look. You can put this glycogen to good use by adjusting your training accordingly.
Training During the Rebound
I recommend higher reps, low to moderate sets, and moderate rest periods during the rebound phase. You can take advantage of all that extra glycogen by working in the 3-4 sets and 12-15 rep range, sometimes going as high as 20 reps (especially for legs). Keep in mind that your body is still very fragile from months of hard dieting—now is not the time to start trying to set records on your lifts. Stay away from heavy lifting for a few weeks and progressively go heavier in time. If you do not, you will likely get injured. The pumps will be insane and all the food you are eating will be properly utilized. Keep the rest periods to around 60-90 seconds.
Example Back Workout
Narrow Grip Pulldowns 3×15
Wide Grip Cable Rows 3×15
T-Bar Rows 3×15
Bentover Rows 3×15
Nutrition During the Rebound
No two athletes are the same, but in general you can’t just start pounding carbs and junk food after a competition and expect to grow without gaining a bunch of unwanted body fat. You must be discerning and you need to use a smart approach. If you dieted on 200 grams of carbs a day, then you can expect to grow without gaining body fat by adding another 100-150 grams to your daily intake for the first few weeks, meaning you’d be around 300-350 grams per day. If you were dieting on 100 grams, try 250 grams to start. It is all a progression. Add over time as your body metabolism ramps back up.
What About Protein?
You do not have to shovel protein in your mouth to gain muscle right after a contest. Remember, your body is in overcompensation mode. Energy is best provided by increasing your carbs and, eventually, your dietary fat. In the 8-10 week period after a contest, 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is more than enough.
Reduce it by about 25-35% the first week and maintain that. If you are having a tough time growing and are still exhausted from prep, reduce the cardio again by 25%. If you are gaining a lot of weight very quickly, keep the cardio in at least 50% of what you were doing during prep. Some people like to take cardio out completely, but I prefer to keep some of it in for cardiovascular health, appetite, and endurance. Gaining 10-30 lb post show can be hard on the body so stopping cardio is ill advised. The rebound can either be the best of times or, if you are not careful, it can be the worst of times. You can either completely ruin months of hard work by becoming a bloated mess or you can stay disciplined and make more muscle gains post show than you normally could in 6 months. The choice is yours.