Metabolic Burnout-Addressing a Dangerous Issue

Last year I was prompted to do a 5-part article on the Bodysport Forum about a condition I referred to as Metabolic Burnout. Basically, it addressed the difficulty that an increasing number of competitors were experiencing maintaining a healthy post-contest weight. There seemed to be a direct correlation between how “extreme” their preparation was, how long they were in prep mode, and their subsequent ability to either maintain a healthy weight or diet down again for their next competition.
We have seen this happen for quite some time but never to the extent of the last 2-3 years. The response from the piece was such that it confirmed that the problem may be even greater than we believed and still growing. For those reasons we felt it important to run the piece on the main site. I have also interspersed correspondence I have received from real competitors who are dealing with this problem. In the original article I created a composite character I called “Susy” who represented what many women have been going through. Since then we have been contacted by quite a few real life “Susy’s” who wished they had this type of information available to them before.

It is not my intention to criticize or place blame on any one person or hold responsible any individual. I simply want to offer this information with the hope that it may help some people avoid an increasingly serious problem and show support to those who are already living through it.

Kevin Myles – Bodysport Director (Click here for my FREE video based info course on Metabolic Burnout)

Subject Letter 1:
Hi Kevin,
I was forwarded an article you wrote about metabolic burnout from my friend.
My husband & I thought we were reading my diary…I am Susy! I can’t believe that you were able to capture the essence of what so many of us figure girls go through. It was very well written…thank you for shedding some light on what I thought only I was dealing with.

I’m slowly trying to get my metabolism working again but it is a long, hard road.
I worked with a very well known Pro as my coach for 2 years and no matter how much I complained to her that my body wasn’t responding she just kept upping my cardio & cutting my carbs. At one point I lived on fish & greens for weeks on end! I ended up looking worse at North Americans last year than I did at my first show & I was doing three times the amount of work! I’ve since retired from competing. Anyhow, I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way….

Subject Letter 2:
Hi Kevin,
I saw your post about the competitor who did too much cardio, no carbs, and low calories. I honestly thought you were talking about me!! That is exactly what my trainer has me doing. 2 hours of cardio a day. Burning ~1100 calories and only taking in ~1100 calories. I just competed in the ***** and I did horribly!! I know this was only my second show, but it was an ego burst from getting 3rd in my first show last fall. I am pretty upset about it all. I realize that there is no magic formula that is all encompassing. I need to find the right nutrition plan for me. My pre-contest diet for the last 4 weeks had been the same, every day. I hate it. I gained more muscle in my shoulders and legs, but I wasn’t getting any definition or dropping weight. It is:
meal 1: 6 egg whites, 1/2 c oatmealmeal 2: 4 ounces chicken, 1 cup asparagusmeal 3: 4 ounces chicken, 1/2 cup asparagusmeal 4: same as 31 gal H209 Taraxatone6 Tetrazenemultivitaminvit cB6 complexL-carnitine liquid 1/2 Tbsp

My trainer had me water deplete before my show, along with the Super Dieter’s Tea every night except last night before show. The day of the show, I had no definition, my abs ran away, my legs had no definition, I felt weak, and I felt like I was holding water. I had 24 ounces water on Friday and none on Saturday. What is so damn frustrating is, during show, I sugar loaded with the girls backstage (unbeknownst to my trainer), after the show, I went home ate 1/2 of a pizza, and drank water. The next morning, I had abs and vascularity!
I have tried to tell my trainer his plan is not working for me, but he says to stick with it and try harder. Argg!….

Metabolic Burnout-Part One
Metabolic Burnout is a term I started using to describe what I’ve seen happen to an increasing number of competitors over the last couple of years. Basically it refers to them getting to a state where their body just doesn’t want to respond anymore to the type of contest prep that had seemed to be working for them in the past. It’s pretty much a self-induced condition that I believe can be avoided and reversed if people understand what’s going on and modify their approach.

In all the years I’ve been involved the fitness industry I’ve known quite a few competitors and seen pretty much every type of contest prep imaginable. Unfortunately I’ve seen a surprising number of people get left by the wayside in the sense that the body or physique they wind up with doesn’t reflect the time and effort they put in. In many cases by looking at them now you would never guess that they ever competed or were once in top shape. Obviously there can be a number of reasons for this related to their individual lives but what I’m concerned with are the ones who may have caused their bodies to wind up this way by the extremeness of their behavior.

I am sure that most of us are familiar with the term “rebound” as it applies to someone who goes on a really strict diet to lose weight rapidly. After that diet period is over the person often re-gains all of the lost weight and then some when they go back to their previous eating habits (or even improved eating habits). The initial diet was so restrictive that it caused their metabolism to slow down significantly and they were basically doomed to failure from the onset. This type of situation can also be true for competitors who take too radical of an approach in terms of caloric restriction and over training (specifically excessive cardio). After a few cycles of losing and gaining it gets increasingly difficult for the body to respond and can even get to the point where it just doesn’t want to change. This is what I call Metabolic Burnout and I am seeing it more often.

I think that we sometimes forget that our bodies really don’t want to look like the ones we see in the magazines. Since it prioritizes survival above all things having minimal bodyfat stores while building muscle to a greater than normal degree is just the opposite of what it wants to do. Our body sees fat as stored energy and therefore is always trying to stock the fridge, so to speak, whenever it can. And since muscle cost energy, it’s like leaving all the lights in the house on as far as our body is concerned so that’s also something it wants to regulate. Through our training and the way we eat we are trying to send our body the message that we need this extra muscle and that we want to use and not store extra energy. But we have to learn how to do this properly and always remember to work with our body, coaxing it in the direction we want it to go. Too often we do things to try to force it and ultimately it fights back harder and show’s us that it is really in charge.

There are a number of competitors I know or know of who are spending the greater part of the year holding what for them is an excessive amount of body weight and are having an increasingly difficult time getting lean again. I know of several who took the entire last year off simply because they could not get in shape again no matter how hard they tried. The other factor in this is that they felt so burnt out on training and dieting, they simply did not feel motivated to try very hard. They had lost a lot of the passion and enthusiasm that was once theirs. For someone to get to this point it is usually preceded by a very similar cycle of behavior. A typical situation is as follows in Part Two.


Metabolic Burnout-Part 2
A competitor named Susy decides she is going to do a show. She has 14 weeks to get ready and she feels confident she can do pretty well if she is in great shape. She’s done a couple of shows before and although she has placed OK, she didn’t feel like she peaked quite right and showed her best look. She’s been training very hard over the past six months and feels she is ready to make a statement with her physique and have a breakout year. This first show will set the table for even bigger shows later in the season. If all goes as planned she will be battling for a pro card before years end.

She starts her prep and it’s on from day one. She’s doing 5 days of weight training and six days of cardio, 45 minutes to an hour each session. Twice a week she is doing a morning 45 minute session as well, plus on weekends she does sprints and plyometric training. Other than the one cheat meal she gives herself she has significantly reduced her calories and cleaned up her diet to include only about 10-12 total items. She starts losing weight and everyone is commenting on the changes. She has never been more focused and dedicated in her life and really feels that she is living her dream of being a physique competitor.

After about six weeks the weight loss is starting to slow down. This is a little concerning because Susy feels she still isn’t losing the bodyfat as fast as she would like. “Time to step up her game,” she decides. Now each cardio session is at least an hour, usually the toughest cardio she can do-the good ole rotating stair climber. She also adds another morning session which brings her up to 5 double sessions a week. She’s still doing sprints and plyo’s but doesn’t really count that as cardio, especially since she is noticing that her speed and power both seem to be waning a bit. But hey, gotta do it because she doesn’t feel her lower body is getting tight the way she needs it to and that was her biggest problem at her last show.

Susy drops more weight over the next couple of weeks and is starting to see the finish line. Her energy is low, her appetite is non-existent, she is sick of chicken breast and tilapia and she just told her boyfriend to take a hike until he learns to be more supportive. She’s still worried about her legs as they are not as lean as her upper body which has gotten smaller due to a loss of some muscle but her arms were getting too big anyway so it’s all good. She would love to do more cardio but just doesn’t have the time with work. Those damn fatburners don’t seem to be doing anything so she decides to cut her calories a bit more. She’s been at 1200 for the last few weeks so 1000 it is and an extra cup of coffee will keep her energy high enough to train. She’s up to six days of weight training because she doesn’t want to lose any more muscle yet she keeps getting weaker. Everyone says she looks great but she can’t see it yet and is getting a bit annoyed. She’s hungry, tired, grouchy, gassy, and if she catches that bald-headed dude with the tattoos staring at her butt one more time she not going to be responsible for what comes out of her mouth!

Two days before the show and this is the leanest she has ever been. All her hard work has paid off and she really feels proud of how she was able to stick it out. She thought she would have a bit more muscle than this but her friend tells her she will look bigger onstage anyway so not to worry. Her legs still don’t look tight, what’s wrong with them? Are they holding water, they look smaller, are they flat? She asked 6 different trainers and got 5 different answers. She had her suit adjusted and it looks beautiful. She has a hair and nails appointment later that day and will start tanning that night. She’s really been working on her posing and feels a lot more comfortable with it than before. She keeps forgetting to smile as she can’t concentrate very well and doesn’t feel in the mood, but she knows she will remember onstage. All of her friends and family will be there including her boyfriend who has been so supportive. She can’t wait to get the show over and go out for pizza and chocolate ice cream.

It’s 3 days after the show and Susy is back in the gym. She had planned to take a week off but really didn’t know what to do with herself. She can’t believe how much she has eaten over the past few days and though she actually looked better yesterday she feels fat now and that it’s starting to show. The judges gave her second place but everyone she knows told her she should have won. The girl who beat her didn’t have as much muscle as her and wasn’t as lean as her. What were these judges looking for anyway? There was another show in 4 weeks and though she hadn’t really planned on doing it that girl was going to be there and she knew she could take her. Can’t let there be any doubt if they meet up at the Nationals later in the year. Susy is really focused now and ready to pull out all stops. Those few days off really made a difference. She was back down to 1000 calories a day and thinking about going to 900 just to get rid of that last little bit. She’s cut back on the weights to just five days a week and this would give her the time to put in a 3rd cardio session on that day. Now it was really on!

3 months later and Susy is 8 weeks from doing her first National show. She had kicked that girls butt at the second show and 3 weeks later won another show for good measure. She gave herself a week off to rest and celebrate and then it was back to the gym. At first she had a hard time getting into the swing of things. She had cut her cardio back to only once a day, had reduced her weight training and brought her calories up to about 1500-1600. She was having a few too many cheat meals for awhile but cut that out once it started to show on the scale.
For the last 4 weeks she had been back on her previous program only nothing seemed to be happening. She was still gaining weight even after she cut back on the junk food which she always seemed to be craving. Why couldn’t she seem to get it going? The thought of dieting again made her feel sick but she knew she had no choice if she wanted to be ready on time. She’s back to doing 2 hours of cardio a day on 1000 calories and her body just doesn’t seem to care. Now what? “This is what makes a champion!” she decided and resolved to now do 75 minute in the morning and 75 in the evening for 5 days a week. On day six and seven she would give herself a break with only an hour, doing weights also on that sixth day but taking the rest of day seven off.

4 weeks later and Susy is lost. Her body is tired, her muscles are flat and soft, she hasn’t lost any weight in 3 weeks and stopped having her period a month ago. She’s frustrated that she keeps getting sick and is starting not to care as she feels that she is looking worse now than earlier in the year. People are telling her that she needs a break and is pushing to hard but how can she possibly take a break and still be ready on time when she can’t even make progress working like this? She knows that if she can be her best she could win this show. But her body seems like it has stopped working the right way and she doesn’t know what to do.

It’s 5 months later, 4 months after Susy didn’t place at the Nationals. She took a couple weeks off from the gym, went back for a week then took two more off. She just can’t seem to get going the way she wants and has no motivation. Her diet is horrible as she can’t bring herself to eat clean for more than a day or two at a time. Her weight is 25 pounds over her contest weight, 10 pounds more than when she started before her first show of the year and it still seems to be rising. She hates lifting because she feels like it’s just making her bigger and she hates doing cardio because it just bores her now. In fact, she hates going to the gym because she feels self-conscious that people are looking and her and comparing her to how she used to be. She doesn’t know how she got this way as she really didn’t eat THAT much! She’s been back and forth to the doctor getting her thyroid checked out. She wants to compete again and still feels she has what it takes but can’t imagine going through that kind of schedule again and keeping her sanity. Susy is a bit unsure what to do with herself now. Does she have to go on a contest diet just to get back to her normal weight? Will she have to do an hour of cardio a day in the off-season just so her clothes fit? She hears other girls talking about doing shows and sounding so excited. She remembers when she used to be excited. She remembers when this used to be fun.


Subject Letter 3:
My first Figure competition was in June of ’07 and I had hired one of the best trainers (or so I heard) here in ****. I was doing (cardio) what I thought was the norm for figure athletes prepping for a contest 15 weeks out. {At the time I was about 135lbs, about 21lbs over contest wt} He had me starting at two 30′ sessions the first week and each week I had to increase my time by 5 mins to each session. By the time I got to 3 weeks out, I had been doing an hour of cardio twice a day. Not only did I lose muscle, but my appetite by this time was ravenous. I really struggled getting thru the last 3 weeks, not to mention the last 3 weeks he pretty much burnt me and I had to prep the last few weeks on my own. Anyway, I ended up doing pretty well, I took 1st place in my class and in the Overall. But what happened next was not a pretty sight. I ended up gaining a good 20lbs over my normal weight. I lost all motivation to get into the gym and didn’t have the discipline I had once had to eat healthy like I had before. As a matter of fact I ended up craving junk foods that I normally never craved. I got to the point where I was more ashamed to get into the gym and see everyone who had recently been complimenting me about how good I was looking, because I felt like I was a complete failure. (Kevin, I did read your thread on Metabolic Burnout- I thought you had written that story about me?).

Anyway, I’ve worked out all of my life since the age of 14. I knew that this had to be a phase I was going thru. I really wanted to do another competition that Dec. But there was no way! I couldn’t seem to get my mind and body back into the groove? Needless to say, I ended up waiting a whole year and a half before hitting the stage again. I competed in the Orange County Classic this past April, then prepped for the SW Naturals here in **** in June. This time I played it smart. I actually prepped for these shows on my own. I increased my carbs a bit and my protein intake, but again I was doing the same amount of cardio… this time after a good 6 months of contest dieting and cardio 2x day throughout the 6 months, I ended up falling off once again after the June 2009 Contest. Okay, so this is where I need your advice. I’m 14 wks out and have 35lbs to lose. Please tell me the smart way not to rebound again???


Metabolic Burnout-Part 3
First of all I must comment that I know or have known quite a few “Susy’s” and the story has had a number of different endings. I know several “Susy’s” who have given up all hope of ever competing again and have settled into a lifestyle away from fitness. The damage they did to their metabolisms is only part of the equation. Mentally and emotionally they can’t seem to get their heads back in the game of living a fitness lifestyle (let alone getting back on stage) because to them the approach is so “all or nothing” that they don’t see or believe it can be done any other way and therefore have (at least to this point) given up and stopped trying. Training to them means 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week and they simply can’t bring themselves to travel that road again. They are all a good 40-plus pounds from where they would probably like to be weight wise (and I’m being diplomatic).

I have even known a few male “Susy’s”. Two who did bodybuilding competitions, and one who did the old EAS Body for Life Challenge. They all looked great at their show or on the target date only to gain back considerably more than they had lost. It was a general lack of knowledge and the same extreme approach that let them down in the end.

The most common version of Susy I know are the ones who reach contest shape through incredible work ethic and dedication which has them looking great for 2-4 weeks and then the rest of the year they are 20-30 pounds over their contest weight. Every time they try to compete it gets harder to bring their weight down and takes longer than before. Some of them have re-devoted themselves to doing things a different and better way and are in the process of getting themselves back to where they want to be. There is a learning curve involved as old habits die hard but they are moving in the right direction and slowly changing their approach.

Finally, there are the “Susy’s” who have completely figured it out and no longer have issues with rebounding and severe weight swings. They are working with their bodies and achieving their goals of being the best they can possibly be. They are fit and healthy and look good all year round. Getting ready for a photo shoot or competition only involves reasonable changes that they have no problem making and they always remain in control of their appearance. This is what we want for our “Susy”. In order to “fix” Susy we must first understand how and why she wound up with problems.

One of the biggest mistakes a competitor can make is trying to progress too fast. For some reason we tend to think that everything must happen right now, all-at-once, as soon as we decide we want it. What we forget is that our body simply does not work this way and never will. Our body is geared towards survival and in times of severe caloric restriction and/or energy expenditure it will fight to maintain its fat stores and eliminate excess energy loss. By trying to progress faster that what your body considers to be an acceptable rate of change you will in many cases trigger it to become even more resistive to change and further slow the pace of fat loss. Your body has no idea you are purposely trying to create this radical fat loss so it goes into survival mode and starts fighting to hold on to the fat it considers so essential.The cardio that was intended to be fat burning is now muscle wasting and causing the resting metabolism to slow.

The first sign of a slowing metabolism isn’t necessarily fatal to all progress and can be worked around with the right approach. What happens in the case of a Susy is that the contest prep intensity is so far beyond the body’s ability to properly adapt that it triggers it to resist. Think about it, at a time when the metabolism is slowing due to a prolonged period of too few calories and too much exercise (cardio), we choose to take in even less calories and do even more exercise. This costs us more muscle and pushes us even deeper into survival mode, further slowing progress. So of course our response is to crank it up even more, which makes everything worse, which makes us crank it up even more, etc, etc. Ultimately through this process short terms goals can be reached but at the end of the cycle you are left with a sluggish metabolism and a body that will absolutely store anything and everything it possibly can and burn as few calories as it can get away with. The longer the body was subjected to these extremes the longer it can take to normalize.

So how do we avoid becoming like Susy or fix these problems if we already have them?


Subject Letter 4:
I am off-season after doing several comps, coming in lean for most apart from the last one where I was on 3 sessions of 45 min. cardio a day, 7 days a week and could not lose fat.
Anyway, I put on more weight than normal off-season and have 10 weeks until I diet again. My trainer says I’m too fat, I’m 8-9 kg (17-20 pounds) off contest weight and I have been doing 2×40 minute cadio sessions, 7 days a week on minimum carbs for weeks now…in my off-season, and my weight is still the same.
It’s getting me down to the point of giving up. I’m so fed up with training this hard and not seeing any results! I now doubt my ability to get lean the next time I diet. My body is not responding. If I ease back I’m scared I’ll gain more. I will have a cheat once, max twice, but the rest is clean.

I feel I can’t have anything other than diet food, I’m so scared of carbs! I feel it’s always all or nothing, and I’m not allowed to ease back.
Thank you for the advice and I know it makes sense, I think it’s a loyalty thing with my trainer who has many amateur and pro girls working with them. They have always got me very lean before (7% contest). I know I have to change something, I guess I’m scared of not trying hard enough, or putting on more weight.
I have mentioned to my trainer how I feel, they just seem to up my training and make out I have no choice as I must get my bodyfat down. They say my body is resisting because it’s tired but it will get past it if I keep working hard. My body fat is around 15-16% and usually I sit around 11-12% off-season.
I may contact you for some help as I can’t go on much longer like this! Thank you so much for your advice I really appreciate it.


Metabolic Burnout-Part 4
The first step in fixing Susy is complete physical rest. Her body has been pushed so hard for so long that it is exhausted and can’t respond properly. A full week off is the absolute minimum she should have but I would strongly recommend taking two. Eating during this time period should be clean but not restrictive. The goal is to get the body healthy again by resting it and providing it with the proper nourishment. Continuing to restrict calories because she is worried about gaining weight will only serve to keep her in survival mode. You are trying to send a message to your body that it is OK and does not need to be concerned with survival. Creating that environment involves eliminating the stress associated with training and providing the body with enough quality calories so that it no longer feels the need to overcompensate by trying to store everything it is given and keep everything it has. This total rest period could indeed be longer but it is important that the eating during this period remains relatively clean. If there is still a feeling of exhaustion after two weeks as well as a lack of enthusiasm about getting back to the gym it would be a good idea to have a full medical check-up before starting up again.

The next step is to enter Training Phase One. The goal here is to start to turn the metabolism back on with a minimal amount of low intensity training. Susy should do no more than 2-3 weight workouts a week of approximately 30 minutes with no more than three 15-minute sessions of low-intensity cardio (walking on the treadmill with little or no elevation). The resistance workouts should be total body training with one exercise per bodypart, done for 3-4 sets of 10-15 moderate reps. This is not training to failure, high-intensity, or Heavy Duty style training. It is not about bringing up weak points and balancing the physique. The goal is to start to wake-up the metabolism and continue to get healthy. The training should be very non-taxing and enjoyable. We have to get Susy to like the feeling of working out again and not have it be a negative experience. Eating should remain non calorie restrictive, clean and healthy. Lean protein sources, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, health fats and oils, and adequate amounts of fluids should be the standard. This period can last for weeks or months depending on what Susy’s body tells her. She should start to gain back some muscle that was lost during contest dieting and her metabolism should start to improve. A good indicator of this is her appetite and energy levels should start to increase a bit. Susy will hopefully begin feeling a little more positive but she is not quite out of the woods yet.

The next phase, Training Phase Two may be the most critical phase of all in that it can either accelerate Susy’s progress and return to normality or push her back into a place where progress and recovery are non-existent. The cardio amount should not increase. This is tough for people to understand but very important. The goal is to get your body to respond and progress on less and less cardio. By continuing to do more this goal will never be reached. The pace of the treadmill walking can increase slightly (still walking) and the elevation can go up into the 4-6 range but always remember that we are trying to get the body to re-learn and ultimately respond to a minimum amount of work. Coax your body, don’t force it.

As Susy’s energy starts to return and she doesn’t see the scale moving the way she would like (or at all) there will be a great temptation to crank everything up and make it happen. This is when she must discipline herself to stay patient. She must think of it as if she is running a long distance race, say a half-marathon. She started off at an all-out sprint only to wind up exhausted and doubled over a few hundred feet into the race. Slowly she catches her breath and starts to feel like she will live. She starts walking and feels her energy return. She realizes that her body is now capable of more so she is ready to start running again and get back in the race. Should she start sprinting again? Of course not. She has to run at a pace that she can physically maintain for the duration of the race. Too often fitness enthusiasts go as hard and as fast as they can drive themselves until their bodies simply can’t keep up with them. Susy has to learn how to pace her training so that she can go the distance and be strong at the end. No matter what she looked like before or how hard Susy was able to push herself her body will still only respond so fast and at this point that may be even slower than it was initially capable of. Once Susy gains back some of the muscle she lost from her contest diet, and once her body re-learns how to process an adequate amount of calories again, she will be on the right path. How long will this take? As long as Susy’s body says it should take! She should wait until her bodyweight starts to plateau. Once Susy’s body is no longer re-gaining muscle and no longer increasing its fat stores (which is why she needs to be eating clean foods as opposed to anything and everything) it will be a good sign that she is capable of increasing her energy output without triggering a relapse. Susy is ready to enter Phase Three training.

Training Phase Three is a completely interactive phase of training in which Susy should make minimum, gradual changes in response to her body’s needs. She should change no more than one variable at a time and allow her body one-two weeks to give her feedback from how that particular change did or did not affect her and the pursuit of her goals. For example, Susy may increase the length of her 3 cardio sessions by 5 minutes each. After two weeks, she may increase the intensity of her weight training. Two weeks later, she may add a 4th day of cardio. Following this, she may add another day of weight training. What Susy must be careful to remember is that the goal of these changes is to get the body to respond and then to keep it responding. If she starts making progress after one change and her body gets leaner and she loses a couple of pounds, she shouldn’t automatically make another change. Susy should stay with those minimal adjustments for as long as she is progressing. Once the progress stops, then she can make another change. The goal is not to get up to a set number of cardio sessions or a set number of weight workouts. It is not to reach max intensity as quickly as possible. The goal is to get the body to respond and adapt properly to the needed amount of training as opposed to the maximum amount of training. To illustrate, if Susy were a college student and could get straight A’s by studying an hour a day, 4 days a week, why would she ever want to start studying 4 hours a day, 6 days a week? In our case we are trying to teach Susy who’s been studying 3-4 hours a night how to get the same or better grades and only study 1-2 hours. It all comes down to Susy listening to her body and allowing it to progress at its own rate.

As Susy progresses through Phase Three training she will find herself rediscovering her fitness journey. Ideally she will reach a point where she is back to her old self physically and looking towards the future. What Susy needs to always remember is that there is a limit as to how much of any type of training is beneficial. There is a limit to how often you can train each bodypart, how many total sets you can do, how long your cardio sessions can be, how many cardio sessions you can have, how many calories under your caloric equilibrium you can stay, how hard you can push yourself without enough rest, and how much overall demand you can make on your body before it starts to cause everything you do to become less and less effective. If pushed too hard for too long, the body will again say “That’s it, I’m not going to work right for you anymore!” Phase Three is where limits are discovered and when reached they should be respected and the body allowed to recharge. Phase Three is where Susy should be most of the time and when it is mastered, Phase Four can be accomplished.

Training Phase Four is for achieving a physical peak. This is where contest prep training happens. There should be a designated time limit attached to Phase Four training. As Susy enters Phase Four she should know that she will not be in contest prep mode indefinitely and that once she has achieved a peak it will not be maintained forever (or else it wouldn’t be a peak). Phase Four training is the sprint to the finish line. The trick is you have to be close enough to the finish line in order to reach it with that final sprint. It’s not about jumping to a completely off-the-scale level of intensity that exceeds the limits that were hopefully discovered in Phase Three. It’s about working close to but within those limits of training and nutrition for a set period of time in order to achieve the maximum results and effect. Once Susy has reached her peak she should taper her training and nutrition and assess her body’s needs before moving forward to her next goal.


Subject Letter 5:
...I find myself about 8 weeks from Jr USAs with about 15 pounds to lose, at 5’3″ 127 with a goal contest weight of around 110. I did put on about 5 pounds of muscle this winter, so this number may be skewed a bit. My bodyfat is sitting somewhere around 19%…
I am one of those “puffy” competitors that walks around with 6-10 pounds of water at any given time (very frustrating to not be able to see the progress you are making! ) This may be hormonal due to training or elevated cortisol levels according to some of the information on this post. Nevertheless, I know my trainer’s solution will be more cardio and less food!

I am already down to about 1100 calories a day, one complex carb per day, at least 90 minutes of cardio per day, resistance training three times per week, and surprise surprise., I didn’t lose a pound this week. In fact my weight is up 2 pounds! This stresses me out even more, worrying that there is no way I can be ready in 8 weeks and no way I’ll be able to keep this up potentially through mid-November. I feel as if I’ve already hit the basement and I need some help!
I’ve had to bump my calories up significantly as well. I added 1-2 more complex carbs per day and increased my healthy fats. Lo and behold, I feel much better, and everything is finally getting “tighter”, including my stubborn legs. I am not sure if I have lost weight, as I am terrified to get on the scale, but everything looks much better, and that is what it’s all about in this sport, right?
Months later:…I think I have found a formula that is working for me! Since I’ve added back in the carbs and fat, now I will actually have something to take away as I get closer to the show! I will continue to manipulate my calories week by week and gradually increase my cardio. At this point I really don’t understand where my coach is coming from. According to their plan, they would have me on about 1100 calories right now and zero carbs other than vegetables! There is NO WAY I can maintain that type of diet through November and expect to get lean! We are going to be having a big talk in the next few weeks.

The metabolic damage article really hit home with me. I have experienced just about everything that the people in the studies went through. Over the past few years my diets have become more and more extreme and I have felt worse and worse, and I certainly have not become any leaner from it! Particularly last summer when I was preparing for nationals, I felt awful. I think I had every blood test known to man trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Knowing what I know now, I honestly think I was just overtrained and starving! When it was over I felt even worse, re-gained 15 pounds in the course of 2 months, and now here I am trying to peel it all back off. I am determined not to make the same mistakes again.
Thank you for your help and suggestions.


Metabolic Burnout-Part 5: The Conclusion
A friend of mine told me about a “Susy” who is getting ready for a show. Her former trainer won’t work with her anymore and she is having problems staying on her diet for more than a day or two at a time. She is up to doing 3 hours of cardio a day now trying to get her body to respond…

A client of mine has a “Susy” friend who used to compete in fitness about 5 years ago. She sustained a lot of minor injuries pushing herself so hard back then as all of her training and dieting were extreme. She’s placed second and third a couple of times in competition and when she asked the head judge why she didn’t do better he told her she “was fat”. Of course this just made her turn up the heat even more until her body said enough one day. She is about 50 pounds heavier now than she was then and avoids the gym altogether because she is disillusioned and burned out on fitness. Plus, she is embarrassed to have any of her old friends see her…

There is a national level Susy I know who is a dedicated as anyone. When she gets ready for a show nothing else matters and she forces her body to get in shape no matter how much cardio or how few calories it requires. After the show she slips back into her 25-30 pound heavier body and remains there for the next year to year-and-a-half until she can psych herself up to do it all over again…..

The set of circumstances that creates “Suzy’s” has been repeated countless times. Ironically those circumstances are born from a number of positive things like dedication, drive, disciple, sacrifice, determination, and ambition. These are all traits that help create success in numerous fields, and having some degree of most of them is an absolute necessity if someone is to become the best they can possibly be. But there must also remain an understanding of what is possible and what is not. There must be an understanding of just how the body works and what it is and isn’t capable of. There must be patience, planning, priorities, and balance to temper the enthusiasm so that the big picture and the ultimate goal does not get lost along the way and left un-reached.

The fact of the matter is that our bodies can only change so fast. We can only build muscle so fast, only lose fat so fast, only have so much energy, can only train effectively for so long, can only recover so fast and can only push ourselves so hard. Our body is amazing in that it adapts to new demands made upon it and constantly gets better at meeting those demands. But if we try to push it too far beyond its capabilities for too long it loses its ability to adapt and starts resisting the very changes we endeavor to make because it knows that too much change too soon throws off a delicate system of balances and can be harmful.

Susy’s initial problem stemmed from trying to lose bodyfat too fast and that process resulted in a cycle of behavior that created even greater problems for her. You can avoid ever becoming a Susy (or going back to being her again) simply by giving yourself the proper amount of time necessary to prepare for a show or event. Not only does this involve picking the show date with care but also practicing a fitness lifestyle to such a degree that you remain close enough to your target weight that you are always in control. If for some reason obstacles do arise and the timing doesn’t seem to be working out as you had hoped try not to forget the big picture and don’t sacrifice your long term future for a shot a short term success. Being a little off at one show with a metabolism that still works properly sets you up nicely for a number of subsequent shows. Compromising your body’s ability to respond by forcing it to peak via extreme practices may get you a bigger trophy one day, only to leave you unable to match that feat for some time to come. Better to skip the show altogether and get yourself back on track than to start down a road that leads to even greater future problems. Success in the fitness industry is more likely to come for you if you are known for always being in good shape than as someone who looked good once or twice but can’t seem to get it back together.

As the fitness industry continues to move forward more and more women will be looking for information and motivation about how to improve themselves and become fit, healthy and attractive. They will be looking at the women onstage as role models and people to emulate. A number of opportunities could present themselves for the women who attained their physical goals in a way that is safe, healthy, and can be incorporated by others. Continue to learn everything you can about how your body works and how it responds to training and proper nutrition practices. Remain as patient as you are dedicated in the pursuit of your goals as both are equally important. And understand that there is more at stake than having a great physique or simply winning a title, trophy, or pro card. Achieve your physical goals in a way that still leaves you healthy, positive, energetic and enthusiastic about what you do and you will find that what you get out of it will be well worth the effort and hard work you put in.


Subject Letter 6:
I read your forum posts on metabolic burnout and without being a doctor I can pretty much bank on the fact that I fit your SUSY to the T.
I work with **** and have for the past few years. In **** I competed in 4 nationals shows and then this year 5, just placing (top five) at Nationals. I have done pretty well but what I have done to get there is probably not good or right.

I have been doing in the neighborhood of 2 hours of cardio a day to try to get my big thighs and booty down. My body has always been super carb sensitive but for the past 3 weeks I got 1/4 c oats at breakfast and that is it for starch. This is pretty much the norm for me for the past couple of years. I can tell you that my diet has pretty much looked like this for the past…. oh 6-8 months give or take more or less oats in the AM:
Meal 1 – 5 egg whites, 1/4 cup oats (1/3 or 1/2 when further out)Meal 2 – 4 egg whites, 1 cup veggiesMeal 3 – Salad w/ cucumber, tomato, and lean meat (4 oz), occasional 4 oz sw pot but not for the past 3-4 monthsMeal 4 – Protein shake, 1 tsp pbMeal 5 – same as lunch, no starch, or egg white with veggiesMeal 6 – Protein shake (bedtime), 10 nuts
I do not get cheat meals, but do overdo it on pb and/or nuts sometimes. My biggest vice is diet coke, but I do get in at least a gallon of H2o per day.

As far as training goes, I have done A LOT of cardio for a very long time. As far as contest prep, I usually start with at least an hour of steady state cardio (running, stepmill, treadmill) and like I said before, I was doing 2 – 2.5 hrs of cardio 7 days a week for at least the past 4-5 weeks out from Nationals, and this pretty much was the norm (2 hrs) before each show this year. I incorporated track work to try to bring my legs down, as I have always carried a lot of mass in my lower half :(I lift 5 days per week – focusing on shoulders and back but just when I get them to grow for a show, I lose them from all the cardio! Such a balancing act.

My competition weight is usually right around 132. My off-season weight STRUGGLES to stay close to 140, but usually creeps up to about 145. I have not weighed since the show, but I did eat freely for 2 days and my legs look and are acting like a sponge as you said.
I am desperately trying to avoid this rebound and unhealthy cycle. I would love to be within 5 lbs of my show weight and not have to feel like a prisoner!
2 Months later…Okay… Again.. trying not to FREAK OUT but I was 153 today on my scale. Whew… that is 20 lbs.. water or not, when will it stop.. for the love of GOD!!! I do know I am very bloated, but this seems ridiculous! I was even wondering if I was having some kind of an gluten intolerance just bc I had gone without for so long….Anyway, lmk if there is anything we can do or if you anticipate this level or even drop coming anytime soon 🙂 My diet has been on track this week, so that panics me even more.

Thanks for checking in. I am F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-E-D! I feel like I have been doing everything RIGHT and my weight is still going up. It had leveled and now it is @ 170 OMG I cannot even believe I just typed that….
WAITING for things to turn around in a hurry. I can’t take this fat feeling much longer…


A Final Word:
By Dr. Sandi Stuart (IFBB Fitness Pro)

“People forget that figure is still a relatively new ‘sport’. We are just now starting to see and realize the cumulative effects of overly restrictive/’kamikaze’ preps. Add to that, the increase in communication with online magazines/forums/facebook/twitter, and there is much more information accessible to competitors. I hope girls do realize there IS another way and listen to their bodies. Offseason weight gain isn’t just an undisciplined competitor eating hand-to-mouth; it’s the inevitable consequence………’s the elastic band snapping back forcefully after being stretched to maximum capacity.

I find that it’s a very difficult mindset to change. People are curious about my diet/training when they hear I do things very differently from the standard ‘if I’m not losing weight, I get more cardio and less food every week’. They ask tons of questions, but walk away assuming I’m some sort of genetic freak who is incredibly blessed in the metabolism department. They think my style of contest prep would never work for them. They are curious, but they aren’t really willing to try something new. And, when metabolic damage rears its ugly head? They don’t want to do what it takes to actually fix the problem; rather, they want to get the weight off as fast as possible so they can compete, compete, compete.

Compounding the physiological/hormonal issues of metabolic damage are the PSYCHOLOGICAL issues it creates. Take a girl who looks like she stepped off the pages of a fitness magazine, and all of a sudden, she doesn’t look like she’s ever stepped into a gym. That’s devastating, and often a set-up for binge-eating out of depression, which only makes things worse. More weight gain, increasingly poor self-image, a non-responsive metabolism, and the cycle continues.

I have seen some girls come out the other side. Most of them stopped competing altogether, but there are a few I know of who DO still compete.”

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