You’ve just won a fitness competition. You’ve come off stage, you’re the leanest you’ve ever been, and you’re looking great. But you know that all good things must come to an end, and the rebuilding phase is in sight again.
The phrase ‘reverse dieting’ has been thrown around a lot, especially for that post comp phase, and let us tell you, athletes swear by this method. We wanted to see what all the fuss is about.
When it comes to nutrition, you shouldn't be messing around. Not getting your nutrition right can make or break your fitness goals. To make sure you get the right information, we recruited Victoria Matkovic from Thrive Nutrition to guide us through what it means to reverse diet and how it can benefit your goals.
What is reverse dieting?
Like the name suggests, reverse dieting is the opposite of dieting. Just like you slowly increase the weights on your barbell, reverse dieting means gradually increasing your calorie intake over time in an effort to improve your metabolism.
We often hear competitive bodybuilders reverse diet for a few weeks after a strict competition shred. As you can imagine, their digestive system is out of whack from dramatically dropping their calories. As a way to restore their metabolism, get back to performing well in the gym and focus on gaining muscle again, reverse dieting can be quite useful.
Why should we reverse diet?
Our body’s adaptive response is a two-way street. By increasing our calories gradually, we can increase our metabolism. When coming off that comp prep, it’s a gentle way to start introducing large food portions after eating strict amounts. The slow increase of calories aims to combat instant binging, and prevent higher levels of weight gain.
By increasing our daily calorie intake, it results in increasing our BMR. Like we said before, consuming more calories improves our energy levels and therefore directly links to improved performance in the gym and muscle gains.
Benefits for metabolism
When we shred, the reduction in daily calorie intake also results in a decrease in our basal metabolic rate (BMR). What is BMR you ask? It’s defined as the amount of energy we need to live at rest, and function as a human.
When dieting and consuming fewer calories, we’re reducing our energy levels. This is where our performance in the gym may decline and therefore we might not be able to smash the PB’s like we once used to. We also begin to talk slower, move slower and fidget less, causing a reduction of our non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). You know how it is. When you’re dieting and everything starts moving in slow motion. The brain fog starts to set in, and all you can think about is a piece of cake. Lastly, some bodily functions slow down as well such as digestion.
All of these factors are an adaptive response to consuming lower calories and therefore reducing our metabolism. Rather than going straight into eating an enormous amount of calories, this approach allows you gain weight without rapidly gaining fat, while also giving your metabolism the opportunity to improve gradually with a higher intake of calories. Plus it means you get to eat more, and really, who doesn’t want that?
How would someone reverse diet?
Reverse dieting involves gradually adding calories every week or fortnight. In saying this, reverse dieting is individual for everyone and Victoria recommends working with a qualified professional to make sure that what you’re consuming is the adequate amount for your body, needs, and goals. If you’re wanting to get back on the gains train, you’ll more than likely need more calories.
But a rough guide would be adding around 200-400 calories every two weeks or so. However, the amount of calories to add and time period between the addition of calories is dependent on your overall goal and how your body responds. Make sure to keep an eye on the changes that your body goes through, so you can adapt your food and calories as necessary.
Pros and cons
As we stated before, the biggest benefit of reverse dieting is improved metabolism, increased performance in the gym that then leads to an increase in muscle mass. The only gains we want here are muscle gains.
The biggest con of reverse dieting is that you will gain weight. Extra calories means extra weight. There is no set amount of weight that an individual will gain while reverse dieting, as it is different for everyone. But to avoid dramatic weight gain, ensuring that your reverse dieting is done properly will decrease your chances.
How can it affect your training?
Reverse dieting is highly beneficial for your training, as having sufficient calories results in greater energy expenditure in the gym to perform to the best of your ability. Once that competition or shred is over, it’s time to start building again, and the only way to do that is with increased calories.
Having sufficient calorie intake is also vital for muscle building, as our bodies require adequate carbohydrates and protein intake to assist with the repair of muscle fibres post-exercise. This means that it can be a positive thing for your training, giving you the necessary energy to build your body again. It means more energy, stronger sessions, and smashing those PB’s.
Reverse dieting is not something that should be taken lightly. It is recommended to work with a qualified health professional to ensure that the reverse diet is performed properly and safely.
If you need gear while you’re getting ready for your next comp prep, we’ve got you covered. Ladies, squat in style with our Seamless Staples range! For the guys who take their lifting seriously, we’ve got Camo Stringers for days!