Bodybuilding blues: weight loss easier than weight gain?

Female bodybuilder walking on the stage, in front of other female bodybuilders.
Photo: Yuri Arcurs / Alamy

Getting ready for a bodybuilding competition… I believe everyone would understand that it requires a lot of discipline, motivation, hard work and commitment. A person has to stick to a strict plan for several months – following a meal plan, training plan, cardio protocol, hit a specific amount of steps daily, etc. So yes, getting into the stage condition for sure is not easy. 

But what about the post-competition period? After spending months trying to reach that stage, you have to put all the weight back on… When you see yourself getting less and less lean… when your hunger is quite high constantly… 

As I have competed myself and have found the post-competition period a lot harder than preparing for the competitions, I wanted to talk to other bodybuilders and explore the most common challenges.

Body dysmorphia, guilt, uncertainty and slightly a complicated relationship with food are a few reasons why the post-show period has been challenging for many.  

Georgia, who completed her first bodybuilding prep in September last year, says: “The biggest struggle for me was the lack of control with food.

“I knew the extreme binging was putting my health at risk, but it was hard to manage it. My hunger hormone settled only months after the show day, and only then I finally got out of the vicious cycle of binge eating.”

Rebecca, 41, who recently completed her second bodybuilding season, adds: “After the show, I was allowed the freedom to eat whatever I wanted.

“However, I found it very hard to stop eating. I was binging on pretty much everything, as I did not feel full or satisfied after meals at all. 

“Then I was given a reverse diet plan which I found a lot harder than prep.

“I could not stick to the plan at all for the first two weeks, as I was having really intense cravings. My hormones just felt all over the place.” 

And that is understandable. Getting into stage condition means being very low on body fat, which can create hormonal imbalances.

That’s why no food can feel satisfying enough, hunger can be not settling at all, and not only that. As hormones control everything in our bodies – any imbalances can affect the way a person feels. 

“For me, the hardest thing was body dysmorphia,” says a first-time bodybuilder who wishes to remain anonymous. 

“My body was holding a lot of water, as the food intake increased, so I was just worried that I had gained too much weight too fast.

“And it was hard to see myself gaining weight, as I had spent so long trying to get so lean. So it was about constantly telling myself to just trust the process, the same as I did during my diet phase.” 

Another anonymous female bodybuilder who recently completed her first competition season says that she was just worried about what would people think of her: “I was scared of people seeing I have gained weight and thinking that I have let myself go.”  

Many professional bodybuilders, despite the fact they have competed for years, still admit that post-show period can be difficult. No matter how many times you do it. 

But the main thing is remembering the purpose of weight gain, the same as knowing the purpose of weight loss – the big goal is stepping onto the stage and bringing the best condition.

As bodybuilders, just as we need to know the WHYs of weight loss, we also need to know and acknowledge the WHYs of weight gain.

Firstly, no bodybuilder is lean all year long. It’s neither healthy nor sustainable.

Secondly, most professional bodybuilders would agree that the growth season – often also called ‘improvement season’ – is actually the most important part of the whole bodybuilding journey, as that is when all the muscle mass is built. And for muscle mass to grow – weight gain is necessary. 

IFBB Pro Figure Erin Thompson, in her Instagram post, says: “Different season, different reason. In order for you to make progress, this will require you to get somewhat uncomfortable in the improvement season. Are you willing to commit?”

Therefore, as challenging as it is, as an athlete you just need to do ‘the do’ and embrace each phase of bodybuilding – cut, bulk, reverse, or maintenance.

No success comes easy, and each thing you do has a purpose. It is about enjoying the journey, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself and trying to become better day by day. Improvements require hard work and commitment.