Bodybuilding recovery into Powerlifting: Weight Gain, Creatine and Amenorreah

Where I’m at now:  Transition away from bodybuilding was end of May, started officially training for powerlifting end of June.

  • Currently training for my first powerlifting meet in December
    • Totals: Deadlift 285  Squat 185 Bench 115
  • Weight between 148-153 depending on the day (normal for me used to be 138ish for ten years.  Bodybuilding was 134 + more muscle mass)
  • Mood: Pretty fucking happy, I feel powerful, motivated, excited, like I’m at the beginning of a new and amazing journey
  • Energy: All the energy!
  • Food obsession: still struggling, but much better
  • Wine: Enjoying it
  • Neuroticism: bout the same
  • Feel a bit heavy and slow
  • Still working on recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA)
  • I eat a lot of avocados

What is different:
The biggest difference is my energy and motivation level.  That is something that I really struggled with during prep.  I have focus throughout the whole day, energy for training, for walking, for reading, for chores..jk..   I eat a shit ton of food and I’m highly aware of it. My training is less volume, higher intensity.  Much more weight on the bar than before, and less focus on secondary lifts.  I feel excited on a daily basis to be training for powerlifting and towards a Strong First Kettlebell Instructor cert in September.  Training is usually the best part of my day.  My podcasting has shifted to focus on powerlifting and strength training programming, in addition to the regular things I like to listen to on nutrition and mindset and anything by Tim Ferriss.   I’m testing out a higher fat diet with whole milk, avocado and lots of eggs.

The Aftermath:
I’ll try to keep this brief because there is soooo much to say, and worthy of an entirely separate entry.  Post quitting the bodybuilding comp, I gained 15lb in about a week and a half and it was extremely uncomfortable to say the least.  I lost my mind and couldn’t stop eating.  Long story short, the rebound was rough. And it’s not like I didn’t know what I was supposed to do to recover, I just couldn’t execute.  I would lay in bed and re-watch “The Recovery Diet” by 3DMJ, and reassure myself that it was ok that I was eating so much,  and that I just needed to gain some more body fat and that would stop the cravings.  This was kind of true, but I think I could have done some damage control and there are many things I would change if I did this over again.   I watched the numbers go up rapidly.. 140, 145…. OMG.. 148.. 152.  Fuck.   As Coach Brad from 3DMJ  said in response to my check in video.. ‘I see you’ve been slaying some food Cassie’. LOL After about a month of ridiculous amounts of bingeing, I got it down to about 1-2x a week where I would eat 3000+ calories a day. And even as recently as a week and a half ago, the longest I had gone was 2 days without eating some kind of treat. Finally, it reaches a point where you just get sick of your shit. So I’m currently on a no treat or added sugar plan for the rest of the month that I adhere to 95% of the time – and have been doing this for two weeks.  Not a long time in the scheme of things, but considering that I hadn’t been able to go more than 48 hours before.. I feel like a success.

Halfway through prep

What the weight gain feels like
When I wrote about prep previously, I observed how people would complement my physique, and that being odd for me.  Because I didn’t feel like my body was at the weight or the look that I felt the best at or aspire to, both for training or with my appearance.  But I have far surpassed what I felt like was ideal for me.  And even for training, that has been a mixed bag.  It’s a tug of war between raw strength and being able to do body weight exercises like pull-ups versus bench press.  I’m back down to 3 pull-ups from 8, and that kind of sucks.   I’m not sure if other people have figured this out and if one necessarily compromises the other, but it has for me.  And actually I’m not even sure being at this weight makes me a better powerlifter, but I do know that trying to diet right now and lose ten pounds is not ideal for muscle-building, and that even though I don’t need to be gaining tons of weight in a gaining phase, I do need to be in a caloric surplus.  Sometimes I find myself thinking, well.. maybe I’m still newbie enough that I can restrict calories and gain muscle at the same time.   Maybe I can. But can I? Is it worth the risk? I’ll restrict for a few days, then decide that no, that’s not the right solution. I’m being stupid. I also feel pretty heavy right now.  I don’t think my body knows how to handle itself at this weight.  I’ve never in my life weighed this much and its uncomfortable both mentally and physically.  My clothes don’t fit.  My hips hurt.  I can’t jump on one leg very well as part of my morning mobility routine.  I’ve been torn as to whether to buy new clothes or not.  Am I going to stay this weight?  I literally ripped my shorts at the gym squatting because my clothes are too small.  That is more amusing to me

than mortifying, but still.  What the hell.  I’m an overall larger person than I used to be, and I feel out of proportion and awkward.  However, despite these challenges, I’m enjoying the amount of energy I have, both for training, for life, and to feel relatively normal and not to feel anxiety during social outings.

I started taking creatine, which also causes weight gain due to water retention and feeling very bloated.  Maybe its my imagination, but it seems like I can literally feel the blood pulsing through my veins and my skin is tingly.  Maybe I was also slipped in some crack with the creatine.  I’m not certain.   Take home point.  Creatine causes water weight gain and bloating, thus making me even heavier than what I was already uncomfortable with.  I’ve experimented with briefly going off it, then back on, and while that’s not enough to clear out my system, I notice pretty drastic weight fluctuations over the course of even just a few days while keeping macronutrients even, –  about 3-4 pounds.  Sometimes I have to look at myself in the mirror and ask.. are you an athlete or not! Take your damn creatine.

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA)
Another topic worthy of an entirely separate post, is my recovery of  hypothalamic amenorrhea, (secondary amenorreah) which is loss of the menstrual cycle (amenorrhea) in a woman who previously had normal cycles.  I knew that this was a normal and probably an inevitable part of prep.  The situation I am in now is in no way because I was naive or was misinformed.  I did think it would be easier to recover, but this was a conscious choice I made when I decided to compete in bodybuilding.  Are all our choices healthy? No.  But as long as you are aware of them, I think that is the most important thing.  The reasons this is problematic is it can impact bone density, and low estrogen in general may have health consequences unknown.  There is a lot a I still don’t know, and that researchers don’t yet know.  I’ve been listening to podcasts, book reading, I even joined a support group (more so out of curiosity than needing true support)  based off of the book “No Period Now What“.  The advice given is that your body needs to recover from stress and the All In approach includes:

1) Reduce mental stress
2) No exercise
3) No restrictive eating
4) more than 2500 calories a day
5) high fat, high glycemic index carbs, and processed food.

It is a misunderstanding that only athletes get HA.  It is a combination of factors – usually in connection with weight loss of over 10 lb, restricted caloric intake, emotional stress,  exercise stress, and genetics.  So some women in the same exact same situation of exercise intensity and calorie restriction may not get HA while others do.  Some women’s bodies are more sensitive to different things.  Even some women who are anorexic and have dangerously low body fat levels and severe caloric restriction still get their menstrual cycles.  There really is no set point on what causes it, but a combination of the multiple factors outlined above put you at higher risk.  Recovery is described like a furnace..it may take more weight gain and calories and eating unhealthy foods  initially to get it going, but once its back on, then you can go back to normal.   I’m currently not doing an All In approach. I’m curious to see if I can do it through weight gain, some dietary modifications, and stress reduction alone.  I’m eating high fat foods (full fat milk and soy milk contain more estrogen), but not eating a ton of ice-cream and cookies.   I can’t fathom not exercising right now.  Thinking about that makes me sad. For the nutrition part, this is what has been kind of mind fuck for me this last month.  I was trying to get a handle on my sugar habits and addictive food behaviors acquired through prep, and then I would read in this book about HA recovery and the need to eat sugar and fat and processed food.  For your hormonal health!  That even though it’s the opposite of what a long term healthy version of you needs, its healthy for now, and only temporary.  And so I would. I’d eat tons of iceream and pie and I would instantly feel terrible.  It impacts my training because I get major sugar crashes, or I’m too full to exercise well, or I emotionally feel bad that I ate so much and watch my pull-ups continue to decline.  Which increased sharply my anxiety and stress levels.  Which seems like the biggest contributor of all the 5 categories.  So instead I’m focusing on recovering from HA by being happy and training. And continuing to work on reducing obsessive food habits developed during prep and not eating as many cookies.

I signed up to be part of a clinical trial for Cedars Sinai Hospital to test the effect of HA on heart health.  I will get my results soon, so TBD on that.   I’m excited to be a part of this, and to not only go through testing with a doctor that specializes in women’s health and HA, but I’m glad that I can contribute to furthering science and knowledge on this complicated process.

What helps me stay the course with bulking and creatine:

  • Focus on the bigger picture and the goals – I remind myself of my longer term goals and that if strength really is my priority, then it makes it pretty clear what actions I need to take right now and to eat and do the things that optimize my gainz.  Up until relatively recently, – about 8 months ago, I trained without a plan, and was chronically under eating protein,  like 30g of protein a day, on a good day. I was probably under eating calories too, although not intentionally.  I haven’t even owned a scale for most of my adult life.  But I never have gone through a gaining phase before, and this is all very new to me.  Thus, I feel like I have a lot of untapped potential for muscle building and strength gains due to not having trained or eaten properly for it.  What’s the point in spending endless hours on technique videos and so much effort on training, if I don’t complement that with the right nutrition strategy? Makes feeling weight conscious seem kinda silly when I put it in perspective of the far more important goals.
  • Being inspired by other women on instagram and social media.  Social media can be a tool to bring people down or up, but I have found it incredibly inspiring to see what other women are doing in the strength world and to listen and read about their journeys.  Some of my favorites are Amber Abweh   (pictured on the right) Meg SquatsNeghar Fonooni,  Jen Sinkler, among many many others.  Entering into powerlifting ironically has felt much less intimidating for me than nearly every other sport I have done.  In large part because of how accessible it seems because of all the women out there crushing it, and being awesome.  Not all my women inspirations are powerlifters, but what I look for to feel motivated are women who are doing cool things with their training, and give a positive message. Having those images in my brain everyday normalizes it for me that I too can do this, and looking forward one day conquering a 400lb deadlift. rawr!
  • Uncomfortableness is a feeling that I can handle –  life isn’t about eliminating uncomfortable feelings.  I can feel these things, acknowledge it, and still go on with my day.  I try to identify the deeper meaning when I do feel self-conscious.  Like that I sometimes feel I won’t be taken seriously as a personal trainer if I don’t look the part.  Which could very easily be true to some potential clients.  But is that true? Or is that me making stuff up of what other people might think and exaggerating the potential effect.  Probably the latter.  At the end of the day my goal has always been to pursue excellence as a trainer, and it would be a shallow victory look the stereotypical part with no skills.  I aspire to be skillful, knowledgeable, strong, and a great coach, all of which are independent on what I happen to look like at a given moment.
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About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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