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A question of strength Depression after the competition

Eine Frage der Kraft  Depressionen nach dem Wettkampf

Depression after the competition

Q: I recently took part in a bodybuilding competition. But even though I'm eating more now and have taken a week off, I feel depressed. Yes, I used steroids to prepare for the competition, if that matters. What's going on here?

A: There could be several things at play here and it's probably a combination of them - I'll go into detail on those things below. But at first glance, I think neurotransmitter issues could be a factor here. The two primary neurotransmitters involved in depression are dopamine and serotonin.


Dopamine release is intensely stimulated by the competitive mindset that comes with race preparation. When you enter this "zone", dopamine is released in bursts. This dopamine release is also what allows you to think long term - the thing that gives you the ability to forgo rewards now or work/suffer to win in the future.

Throughout your race preparation, you've probably been neurologically supported by intense stimulation of dopaminergic receptors. Once the competition is over, this dopamine release is gone or at least much lower. And a lack of dopamine stimulation will give you depression-like symptoms, especially if you have previously had high dopamine levels for a long period of time.


Many steroids have dopaminergic activity. Dianabol and testosterone belong to this group. So if you have used steroids during your competition preparation, then this has probably led to a desensitization of your dopaminergic receptors - they have become so accustomed to enormous stimulation that they no longer respond to normal dopamine levels.

Depression in steroid users is being reported more and more frequently. It is a real phenomenon that occurs when you stop using steroids. And this reaction can hit you very quickly as it is not psychological (you see yourself losing muscle mass) but neurological (a lack of dopaminergic stimulation/dopaminergic resistance).

I am certainly not an advocate of steroids, but in the case of competitive bodybuilders, it may make sense to wait a few weeks after the competition before stopping. You're already going to experience a post-competition slump anyway and there's no need to exacerbate it with the chemical withdrawal symptoms of stopping steroids.

And contrary to what some experts say, it can make sense to reduce the dosage gradually. From a hormonal point of view, a gradual dose reduction is not really effective, but when it comes to preventing depression, a gradual dose reduction can help to gradually reduce dopaminergic stimulation to avoid a slump. You could start the gradual dose reduction immediately after the competition and allow 4 weeks for complete withdrawal.


The other neurological problem is a potential drop in serotonin levels. The most commonly prescribed medications for depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which increase serotonin levels. Although serotonin is not the main cause of depression, it plays an important role in feeling good.

A lack of serotonin will increase anxiety and pain and reduce quality of life. These effects will make it harder for you to sleep and harder for you to cope with stress and other lifestyle changes (adjustment problems).

Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. It is important to know that tyrosine (another amino acid that the body uses to make dopamine) and tryptophan compete for absorption and transportation. If your carbohydrate intake is low, the body favors tyrosine over tryptophan, which leads to a drop in serotonin levels.

So if you've been dieting for 12 to 16 weeks, chances are your serotonin levels are low, which will also contribute to your symptoms of depression - primarily via an increase in anxiety.


A final neurotransmitter problem is related to the adrenergic (adrenaline) receptors. This will be a particular problem if you have been using excessive amounts of stimulants or fat burners. For example, if you have used clenbuterol, then you will have desensitized your adrenergic receptors.

Clenbuterol stays in contact with the receptors for far too long and makes them resistant. This is why clenbuterol stops working after 7 to 10 days and you either need to increase the dose or use an on-off regimen.

However, if you have used clenbuterol for more than a few weeks and stop it after your competition, then you will have desensitized adrenergic receptors which will make you lethargic, unmotivated and depressed. Why? Because your receptors will no longer respond to your natural adrenaline/noradrenaline production.


And then there's the simple psychological reason for depression: You no longer have a goal. For 12 to 16 weeks, your whole life has revolved around the competition. And now you no longer have this and feel lost.

It's as if your driving force has been taken away from you. In addition to this, you were used to seeing how you looked better every day - and now you are getting worse every day (at least in your mind). Even if you still look great to everyone else, you are missing the thrill of daily improvement.

A lot of people make the mistake of taking a week off training after a competition. Training stimulates the release of dopamine and adrenaline and would help you to have a softer landing. You could give yourself 1 to 2 days off training and then go back to the gym and do what you enjoy. For 1 to 2 weeks after the competition, it doesn't matter what you do in the gym as long as you're having fun.

I would also look for a new, completely different goal. Why not a strength phase that allows you to simulate powerlifting competition preparation? This is just an example. Anything that gives you back the competitive spirit will help.

Other ways to combat post-competition depression

I would also recommend the following feel-good stack, which unlike steroids is completely legal and healthy:

  • A combination of Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Acetyl-L-Tyrosine, Choline, DMAE and L-Theanine will help you increase your dopamine levels and Rhodiola will extend the duration of dopamine effects by increasing its recycling and reuse. This stack should be taken in the morning on an empty stomach.
  • Magnesium in smaller doses (about 500 mg three times a day) to restore adrenergic sensitivity.
  • A sleep formula with 5-HTP, GABA and theanine to increase both GABA and serotonin levels, which will reduce anxiety and allow you to sleep better and feel better.

Training nutrition and low carbohydrate diets

Q: I prefer a low-carb diet to avoid getting fat. Do I really need carbs around my training window to maximize my muscle gain?

A: I was like you for a long time. I ate a strict low-carb diet for 6 years and gained very little muscle mass during that time. Like many formerly fat people, I had developed a carbohydrate phobia.

However, the science is clear. Carbohydrates don't make you fat - excessive amounts of carbohydrates do. There is a difference here. The fact is that we are used to seeing the average person eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates on a daily basis. And since it's the norm for the average person to be overweight, it's easy for us to belittle everything in their diet.

However, you should keep in mind that most people get fat from carbohydrates because they eat too much of poorly satiating foods and can't control themselves once they start eating. However, if you eat the right amount of carbohydrates, they won't make you fat.

From keto to carbs

One of my coaches was a hardcore keto advocate. He complained that his fat loss had stalled and he never felt any real muscle fullness - even when he increased his calorie intake. He also hadn't gained any muscle over the last year.

I explained the science of carbohydrates to him and was able to convince him to include carbohydrates in his diet during the training window, while abstaining from carbohydrates for the rest of the day (to ease the psychological shock). When I saw him a week later, I hardly recognized him - he looked fuller, harder, leaner and was in a much better mood.

A week later he decided to add some carbohydrates to his diet in the evenings. Then his girlfriend even started asking him if he would use steroids.

The mental aspect and the muscle math

The consumption of carbohydrates is blocked by a mental barrier for many of us, which is especially true for those who have found it difficult to get slim and have finally achieved this by reducing carbohydrates. But it doesn't have to be that way.

As long as your muscle glycogen stores are not almost full, the carbohydrates you eat will not be stored in the form of fat, but in the form of glycogen. Only when your glycogen stores are full will your body start to convert carbohydrates into fatty acids.

However, most people eat too many carbohydrates and most people do not exercise much. An average man can store 300 to 400 grams of carbohydrates in his muscles.

If you lead a sedentary life, you will consume 100 to 150 grams of these carbohydrates per day. If such a person eats 500 grams of carbohydrates per day, it will not take long for the carbohydrate stores in the muscles to fill up. Even at 300 grams per day, they will be full in less than a week.

However, if you train hard, you will consume a lot of muscle glycogen. Instead of the normal 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrates, you may consume 300 grams per day. So if you eat less than 300 grams of carbohydrates per day, they will not be converted into fat.

So how could 40 to 60 grams of carbohydrates around your training window make you fatter? In your condition this is impossible. Even if you go low carb, it probably won't even kick you out of ketosis. But it will make your training more productive. Having more energy will help you push yourself harder, you'll have a better pump and you'll be able to recover faster. You will also reduce your cortisol production, which will allow you to build more muscle.

Carbohydrates will not bring your fat loss to a standstill

If you're a carbohydrate-averse person, you might say, "Yeah, but what I'm really after is getting leaner."

Well, adding carbs to your diet can actually help you get leaner? How? First of all, by helping you train harder, which results in better fat loss. In addition, carbohydrates reduce your cortisol levels so that you can increase your metabolic rate.

Your metabolic rate is influenced by the levels of the thyroid hormone T3. Your body does not produce T3 directly, but must convert T4 to T3 to do so. This conversion can be inhibited by a chronic increase in cortisol levels. If your body produces too much cortisol, this can reduce your metabolic rate in the long term. However, carbohydrates consumed around your training window will reduce the amount of cortisol you release during your training session.

The bottom line is that carbohydrates consumed around your training window will not make you fat. If you control your macronutrients, you can slightly reduce your fat intake to compensate for the extra 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates. Reduce your daily fat intake by about 15 to 20 grams, but even that may not be necessary. By consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates from the right source, your muscles will get harder, you'll recover faster after training, you'll do better workouts and you'll feel amazing.

Gains without squats

Q: Barbell squats never felt right to me. I know every weight training coach says they are a foundation of training, but I never really progressed or even injured myself instead. Yes, I sought out really good trainers and was trained by them. Am I handicapping myself by not doing squats? I mainly want more muscular legs.

A: There is no such thing as mandatory exercises unless you are competing in weight training competitions. There is no doubt that squats are an excellent exercise. Squats belong to the category of major multi-joint exercises that should form the basis of a training program.

Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, rowing and pull-ups are your basic exercises that have stood the test of time. Unless you are suffering from an injury, you can't go wrong with using them...however, they are not a necessity for building a great body.

The key movement patterns that should all be used in an exercise program are as follows:

  1. Squat movement pattern
  2. Hip hinge movement pattern
  3. Horizontal push
  4. Horizontal pull
  5. Vertical push
  6. Vertical pull

However, this does not mean that you have to train classic squats. It just means that you should train the squat movement pattern, which includes a number of variations. Here are some of them:

  • Front squats
  • Lumberjack squats (lumberjack squats)
  • Goblet squats
  • Box squats
  • Dumbbell squats
  • Zercher squats

People with relatively long legs compared to their torso - and especially those with short shins relative to their femurs - will often struggle to get anything out of classic squats when it comes to leg muscle growth. For these people, however, front squats - especially when performed with elevated heels - or Zercher squats can be a solid option.

Can you achieve good thigh muscle mass without some form of free weight squats? Most definitely. Bulgarian split squats and Hackenschmidt squats will work well if you're solely interested in leg muscle growth.

However, I still believe that you should train the squat movement pattern with a variation that suits your type and then finish the training session with split squats and Hackenschmidt squats.


By Christian Thibaudeau

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