Reverse Dieting – Who needs it and how to
In this post:
- Dieting ourselves fat.
- What is reverse dieting?
- Why is reverse dieting important?
- Who needs to reverse diet?
- How to reverse diet.
Also check out:
- Competition Guide Articles
Dieting Ourselves Fat
Typical scenario after a bodybuilding contest for many competitors; diet down super lean, hit the stage and then celebrate by eating like a pig for 3 or more days and gain 20+ pounds very quickly. I have seen it time and time again. Women cut for a bikini or figure contest, do well and then for the next 2 weeks eat everything and anything gaining back more weight than when they had even started training for a competition.
This also holds true for those that diet on a low calorie diet for longer periods of time and then go back to pre diet calories once they reach their weight loss goals.
Can these people turn around and diet that fat back off? NO. Why you ask… well, the metabolism has slowed and adapted over time to the caloric deficit created through cutting calories, lifting and cardio. You need to give the metabolism time to reach normal levels again. This, BTW, is how america diets itself fat- yo-yo, yo-yo, yo-yo.
We diet down, our metabolism adapts. We do back to eating higher calories and gain back that weight plus some. Then we try and diet again, slowing the metabolism further making it harder to lose weight so we diet harder, slowing the metabolism even more. We then go back to eating higher calories gaining back weight and then some. And the cycle continues.
You are fighting your body’s survival mechanisms to lose fat. But, it’s not healthy or necessary to take in lower calories forever! That would be super sucky. So, you can reverse diet those cals back up while keeping that hot bod.
What is a reverse diet?
Reverse dieting, simply put, is a transition period from a caloric deficit into caloric maintenance or surplus. The goal is to maintain a leaner physique, make gains and eat more. It’s a transition where you add calories and decrease cardio.
Why is reverse dieting important?
- Re-establish a healthy metabolism after a long term caloric deficit.
- Accurately determine what your maintenance intake is.
- Eat more food. Along with that comes the hormonal and performance benefits.
- Non- competitor dieting: maintain your goal weight
- Contest prep dieting- get back to a normal body fat level and ramp up metabolism through the off season making cutting just as, if not more effective the next time around.
Who needs to reverse diet?
- Anyone that has been on a low calorie diet (woman: 1,000-1200 cals or men: 1,200-1600 cals, Ref. 1) or a very low calorie diet (less than 1,000 cals) for long periods of time. A very low calorie diet is not recommended for individuals other than an obese person under medical supervision. A calorie deficit can be created by cardio, strength training and eating less.
- Anyone who has been dieting and their weight has plateaued. A plateau is technically when your weight has stalled for 3 or more weeks. Please note that you may be gaining muscle and leaning out depending on your program and several other factors (see more here: Build Muscle While Losing Fat : Fallacy or Fact? ). So compare pics every 4 weeks and track body composition and try not to get too hung up on the scale.
- If your caloric deficit exceed 300-500 calories below maintenance, you need to diet slower and reverse back up a bit. See IIFYM.com calculator for BMR, maintenance calories and the correct calorie deficit for you.
Many bodybuilding competitors (if they can stick with it), will reverse diet after their contest (this includes bikini, figure, and physique woman) or, if a competitor has reached their desired leanness weeks before a contest, they will reverse into a show.
How to do reverse diet
Reverse dieting, in my opinion- which I am pretty sure is shared by the majority of people who have done this, is harder than cutting into a show. Getting into the gym is easy, keeping yourself from eating the extra cals your not supposed to feels like this:
…but after a contest, when you don’t have that show hanging over your head where you will be in a very tiny competition suit on stage in front of a zillion people, well, what is stopping you from eating that giant ass scoop of ice cream?
and before you know it, you’re like
If you dieted slowly on no more than a 300-500 calorie restriction losing no more than 1 pound per week keeping a 1x per week cheat meal in, your metabolism will most likely be in good shape. Regardless, reverse dieting is optimal to staying leaner.
A reverse will vary from person to person and from coach to coach. Here are the basics:
For bodybuilders, after a contest, eating a fun meal that night totally deserved! The day after your contest just relax and eat until you are full but, you don’t want to go bananas and eat until your are overly full all day long. Now, this is easier said than done, I know. It is hard to not eat everything “just because you can” which can be common as you have been restricted for months and eating like a pig is a mental and physical break.
Decreasing the deficit. You have to remember you create a caloric deficit from cutting calories and adding cardio. You must reverse both and take them into account. Here are some general guidelines but it is very individual and you will need to monitor carefully.
It is a wise idea to get back on a plan Monday after your contest with some added carbs. Depending on how long you had to cut or how deep you needed to, add back about 20-30 grams of carbs to your program for the week.
Decrease cardio by increments like 10-15 minutes for 3 steady state sessions or cut out 2-5 intervals from your HIIT sessions. Preferably cut cardio first from the steady state cardio.
Keep in your cheat meals/ reefed meals if you can. This may vary from person to person depending on how aggressive you had to diet into a show. The metabolism will not be ramped up enough to handle a giant cheat meal and may need a structured reefed.
Note that you are not worried about where your calories were before prep. You are focusing on where your metabolism is at now, tracking that weekly and making adjustments.
If your weight has come up a lot from week 1, stay on week 1’s diet plan or just decrease cardio a small increment for a few sessions.
If your weight hasn’t come up much, then for week 2, add food or decrease cardio, or a little of both.
Try adding some carbs (10-30g) or fat (5-10g per day that week). Some can add both but usually not. You may also be able to take out a small amount of cardio such as 10 min of cardio for 2 – 3 sessions, preferably from steady state sessions first.
Keep in those cheat or reefed meals each week if you can. Again, a free for all meal until you are comfortably full (1 meal, not all day) or a structured reefed will depend on how your body handles the reverse.
The above plan will go on week by week, monitoring weight, taking out cardio and adding back carbs or fat. You can reverse is many way by alternating decreasing cardio one week, adding cals the next or doing both in one week. Protein can stay the same but can also be manipulated.
Note that there are 4 calories per gram of carb, 4 calories per gram of protein and 9 calories per gram of fat.
After a several weeks to a few months, adding calories may slow even more where you will only change your plan every 2 – 4 weeks. Tracking your weight, body composition and take progress pics. This will dictate how your reverse goes, at what rate and when it will end.
Staying within 10 pounds of your stage weight is a good goal, 20 at the very most. Don’t expect to be stage lean as your hormones will remain suppressed. This is not healthy.
It is a good idea to keep cardio to a minimum in the off season. Your body will respond better to it during your next cut phase. One to three short HIIT sessions of maybe 4 intervals each in a weeks time for example are enough.
Alternating HIIT Protocal
So what if I told you that you could burn fat, increase calories and keep steady state cardio to nothing?
This particular method I am about to tell you about is MONEY in the off season. I use this on clients prior to a prep most of the time and on clients that need to lose fat and gain muscle for everyday fitness goals.
Far too often I get emails from women that want to lose fat and build muscle but they are only eating 1200 or 1300 or even 1500 calories, strength training and many doing a bunch of steady state cardio like running or elliptical each week.
How can you beat that!!??
Depending on where you currently are, you may not want to just jump into this program right away. You may need to reverse steady state cardio out first and make sure you are in shape enough to handle 3 HIIT intervals for 6-7 days in a row.
The alternating HIIT program works is this: essentially, you would do 3 HIIT intervals (20-30 seconds hard, 60-90 seconds rest 3x) everyday for 6-7 days. Lift as you usually would. Then for the next 7 days, you do no cardio but keep lifting as usual. On the HIIT weeks you can add calories and keep eating those calories through the non HIIT weeks. Some of my clients I do have a few steady state sessions on the non-HIIT weeks while in transition too. My coach and mentor John Gorman came up with this idea and did an informal study with 30 of his clients.
When I reverse diet clients in the off season before prep, my clients will end up going into a show doing no cardio, lean as hell eating just as much calories as we started with. We cut in-between of course I have to reverse them into a show as their prep went so well.
A few prime examples:
This is a small sample of how reverse dieting with the alternating HIIT protocol has set my clients up for a very successful prep and post show reverse. Everyone is very individual and may have to be in a greater deficit than my clients above into a show even though they followed the protocol off season but your prep will be much better off for it!! For those in a healthy body fat range in their off season following this protocol, I have seen 100% success for an incredibly awesome prep with lower cardio and more calories to get super lean.
Here are some video’s on weight plateau’s and reverse dieting:
- The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/very-low-calorie-diets/Pages/very-low-calorie-diets.aspx