Updated: May 16, 2019
You embark on your first 20 week contest prep diet. You are ten years into your fitness journey, and are finally ready to mark the industry with your Greek God-like presence. You dial in your prep. Like a madman, you obliterate every single workout, crushing rep after rep after rep, with no intention of letting up. Like a mathematician, you eat with formulaic accuracy, nailing your variable daily macro nutrient intake with precision. You are motivated, you are consistent, and you are knowledgeable, and you alter your training and nutrition based on your results to peak the day of your show. Your efforts are both intense and efficient, and its result is astonishing. You confidently step on stage and annihilate the competition. The judges, the audience, and the other competitors stare at you in amazement. You have done it. You are victorious.
So what now? Either one of two things will happen. You will either jump “off the deep end” and dive head first into a “bulk”, eat anything and everything in sight, and regain all of the fat that you lost during your prep and then some, or, you will reverse diet, taper your cardio, and minimize the amount of fat that you regain. The choice is yours.
Post diet weight regain is a huge problem in today’s society. When you “diet”, you lose muscle. Since muscle is metabolically active, it requires a constant flow of energy to function. Both internal energy stores (i.e. body fat, muscle and liver glycogen, etc.) and external energy sources (food) provide your body with fuel. When you lose muscle, your body requires less fuel to perform the same tasks. …and less “required” energy ( a.k.a. a slower metabolism) increases your fat storing potential. Extra fuel that you do not need to power exercise, replenish energy stores, or grow, is stored internally in adipose tissue as “potential energy”.
The Issue: It takes time for you to regain the muscle that you lost while dieting and“restore” your metabolism to its former glory. Consequently, it is extremely easy to eat the world and pack on an obscene amount of body fat in a short period of time. You see, when you diet for a prolonged period of time, your body cues you to eat. To make matter worse, you deprive yourself from eating foods that you love and burn out. These two ingredients are a recipe for disaster and cause you to binge without care for its negative implications. In just a couple of months, you end up heavier than you were before you started your diet, and with less muscle mass and a slower metabolism. You are unhappy with the way you look, and the cycle repeats itself until your metabolism is fried. Sound familiar? If so, then I have your solution.
The Solution: Reverse dieting. When you diet, you slowly and methodically reduce your caloric intake over time. You watch your progress measures and decrease your caloric intake when you stall. When you “reverse” diet, you do the exact opposite. You watch your progress measures and increase your caloric intake when need be.
The following sections overview reverse dieting and its misconceptions, and provide practical guidelines for structuring a reverse diet.
Reverse Dieting Misconceptions
Misconception: You are not supposed to gain weight during a properly planned reverse diet.
Truth: It is difficult to maintain or lose weight while reverse dieting. To not gain weight, you must increase your caloric intake at a snails pace, stick to your plan every single day without deviating, and/or be genetically gifted.You do not want to "maintain" or lose weight while reverse dieting. Think about it. When you diet for a prolonged period of time, you lose muscle mass. It is inevitable. If you have not gained weight during your reverse diet, then you probably have not regained the hard earned muscle that you lost during your prep or dieting period either.Alter your mindset. Be realistic. Through a properly planned reverse diet, you should increase your metabolic rate, minimize excessive weight regain, and improve your relationship with food. Let's be real... Dieting is tough and can hinder your relationship with food. It happens. But starting a reverse diet with unrealistic expectations will only exacerbate that problem, and you will end up obsessing over your daily macronutrient goals just as much as you did during your dieting phase. That is not healthy. Enjoy the process, and embrace the extra body weight. It will not kill you.
Planning a Reverse Diet
The Big Picture: Like training, there is no right or wrong way to reverse diet. Different reverse dieting methods produce different outcomes. If you increase your caloric intake more quickly, then expect to regain fat, muscle, strength, and recover your metabolic rate more rapidly. Contrarily, if you increase your caloric intake more slowly, then expect the exact opposite.
Consider these points:
Reverse dieting is dieting, there is no way around it. The last thing that most people want to do post show is to continue dieting. If you fall into this category, then consider increasing your caloric intake more quickly.For those of you who compete regularly, your time is precious. A longer reverse dieting period will reduce the amount of time that you have to make improvements in your “offseason”. If you fall into this category, then consider increasing your caloric intake more quickly.