For many athletes and fitness competitors, the excitement of goal setting, and the anticipation that comes with competing are no surprise. However, the depression-like funk a.k.a “post-comp blues”, that occurs after it’s all over can be unexpected. Unhealthy eating practices tend to go hand in hand with a lowered mood after competing, and extreme dieting and behaviours such as binge eating are a common cause for the post-comp shade of blue.
So what’s going on?
Put simply, if we suddenly remove the goal of competing and replace our trophies with food rewards such as fat and sugar, our pituitary gland and brain release endorphins – the “feel good” chemicals and distribute them throughout the nervous system. Some people describe the feeling of endorphins being released in response to food rewards as being like a “high”. These endorphins have an even more powerful effect on your mood in a depleted state (post-competition), as the hungrier you are, the greater the sense of euphoria you will experience. Once this reaction has started, it becomes difficult to stop as there will be more significant fluctuations in mood that relate directly to what you eat, and intense cravings for junk food will become very difficult to resist. There are significant ramifications that come with binge eating that include causing damage to your endocrine system and slowing your metabolism. This commonly occurs in competitors who are in a very lean state, as their insulin levels tend to sit quite low so when they consume a high amount of refined carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fat, there will be a sudden spike in the insulin secreted by the pancreas. This increase in insulin can cause their metabolism to slow down and leads to greater fat storage long term.
What does that mean for you?
You need to be careful and monitor your portion size of calorie-rich foods while in a delicate post-contest state to control the release of endorphins. It is also best to get back on a flexible and clean eating plan as soon as possible to avoid sinking into a depressive state and a cycle of binge eating that is difficult to get out of.
Additionally and not surprisingly, the quality of the food you eat will impact your post-comp body composition and mental health. Aim to eat nutritious foods, as they will go a long way toward achieving sustainable health.
Studies have shown that people who eat a diet high in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes and unsaturated fats (like olive oil) are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than people who eat less of these foods.
There are also some key nutrients that are essential to supporting your mindset and metabolism post competition which include; Omega 3 (crucial to brain health and reduce inflammation and risk of heart disease), B group vitamins (regulate neurotransmitters, immune function, and amino acids) and vitamin D (necessary for optimal brain functioning, and cholesterol synthesis). I also recommend that if you suspect that your mental health is being affected by extreme dieting or competitive fitness sports, that you consult with your competition coach, accredited nutritionist and GP to ensure that you can holistically support both your mental and physical health.
Say hi to Keiarna Kerr:
Keiarna is an Australian nutritionist based in Brisbane, QLD. With an emphasis on building healthy relationships with food, she combines science with holistic nutritional medicine to promote both physical and mental wellbeing.
She has a deep passion for helping clients who suffer from mental health through nutritional medicine. She also loves to create recipes that promote physical radiance through supporting skin and hair health.
Keiarna conducts her nutritional consultations in person and via skype. Contact her via email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her Insta: @keiarnakerr