For the most part, we’ve always talked about burning fat and building muscle right? But has anyone ever talked to you about how to maintain your physique once you’ve achieved your fat loss goals?
This is a topic of discussion that barely ever comes up. Everyone wants to lose weight, but when they actually achieve that lean physique, they don’t know what to do afterwards.
What are you supposed to do post diet? Can you just go back to your old eating habits? Can you increase your calories to maintenance right away?
It would only seem logical that after you diet you can just go back to your maintenance calories right? WRONG!
This is the biggest mistake most dieters make after they lose weight, and it’s the reason why so many people suffer the oh so dreaded rebound effect. You’ve probably heard before, people losing 20, 30, 50 pounds (10, 15, 25kg) and seemingly out of nowhere they regain it all back again, and then some.
So what do you do to avoid this rebound effect? How do you maintain that body that you worked so hard for? It just seems like you would have to diet for ever if you want to stay lean… Don’t worry, I’ll teach you how!
This is where reverse dieting comes into play. After months of dieting and restricting calories you’ve finally achieved your fat loss goals. Now, its important to note that if you’ve been restricting calories for a prolonged period of time, your metabolism will be depressed.
What does this mean? It means your metabolism has slowed down, this is called metabolic adaptation.
Metabolic adaptations occur during prolonged periods of caloric restriction and also during times of overfeeding. This is due to the fact that your body is trying to adapt to the amount of calories you are ingesting in an effort to achieve homeostasis.
Homeostasis: “It is a process that maintains the stability of the human body's internal environment in response to changes in external conditions”
Simply put, your body will always look for balance, and to find this balance it will look for ways to adapt to its current conditions.
Homeostasis is basically what makes the dieting process such a difficult one to to endure. Because your body doesn’t want you to starve, and restricting calories is in a sense a controlled starvation.
So what does your body do to avoid this starvation?
It slows down your metabolism in an effort to reduce caloric expenditure. Since you’re not feeding your body the calories it needs to function properly, it needs to find a way of burning fewer calories and learn to survive with the amount you’re giving it. This is the reason why we hit plateaus in weight loss, because our body adapts. So to break these plateaus what do we do? We increase physical activity to burn more calories overall, or we reduce our current caloric intake.
If you’ve been through a fat loss phase before you know how much worse dieting gets the further along the road you’re into it. Hunger increases, energy and strength decrease and mood swings become a frequent issue. These are all common side effects of dieting and low body fat levels. This is because hormonally you’re in a downfall; testosterone, growth hormone, leptin (satiety hormone), thyroid (T3) all decrease. While Ghrelin (hunger hormone), Cortisol (stress hormone) increase, etc. Everything in your body starts working against you.
This may seem like a lot of info to take in, but it’s important to understand how your body works and why you can’t stay in a perpetual fat loss mindset. If you want that homeostasis, that healthy balance in your body, you need to eat more food! You can’t restrict calories forever.
You’re probably thinking… Well, yeah, I want to be healthy but I also want to maintain this body that was so hard to achieve.
Well, then you reverse diet and get yourself the hell out of that deficit!
It’s important to note that fat loss is not the goal when reverse dieting. The goal is to recover your metabolic capacity by bringing back up your calories to a healthy amount while at the same time maintaining leanness and minimizing fat gains.
First of all, I’m going to explain reverse dieting for the general population; I’ll talk about competitive bodybuilding in a minute.
For those of you who have come to the end of your fat loss phase, and have achieved a certain degree of leanness and just want to maintain that physique you have or maybe even transition into a lean bulk, you will start to increase your calories over time. This increase in calories will come primarily from carbohydrates and fat. Protein can stay the same, there’s no need to be changing protein or increasing it beyond the normal 1g – 1.3g / lb (2.2g -2.8 / kg). Unless of course you prefer a higher protein intake which is completely fine.
These increases in calories will be done on a weekly basis. The length of the reverse diet can vary from person to person and on the severity of their past diet. I generally recommend a minimum of 4 weeks of reverse dieting. Some may even go up to 12 weeks, but in my opinion this is just way too long, unless during this time you intend to transition into a bulking phase; which by 12 weeks should probably have you a long way into your surplus of calories.
Now let’s talk about how big these increases should be.
There’s been a lot of debate lately about how much you should increase your calories every week. Some say that you should increase as slow as 3 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of fat, which means an increase of 21 calories per week. For me, this is ABSURD! 21 calories won’t make a difference at all; these numbers are so low that they will just be lost in general daily calorie/macro counting. And on top of that, the macros/calories on the nutrition label of a food are just estimations, they are never perfect numbers. So no, don’t make such small increases, this will not help you at all and will only drive you go crazy!
Let me put this in an example:
Let’s say someone is in a deficit on 1,400 calories a day (I’m going to use easy numbers for this), and let’s assume that their maintenance calories are somewhere around 2,000 calories per day. It will take that person around 28 weeks just to come out of that deficit and bring up their calories to maintenance, that’s illogical!
So no, don’t reverse diet so slow.
I generally recommend increases between 80 and 150 calories per week, depending on the person and how long and hard they dieted before. In most cases I recommend a big jump in calories in the first 2 weeks, something around 200 calories per week; but if it scares you to make such a big increase then start with a smaller jump, something around 100 and 150 calories on the first couple of weeks.. For week 3 and further it can vary, sometimes you can push someone’s metabolism and make big increases, and sometimes you’ll have people that their metabolism just doesn’t work as well and you’ll have to make smaller increases.
Now let me give you an example of what a reverse diet should be. And keep in mind these are just numbers I find have worked best for my clients, no macros are written in stone so it’s just a matter of experimenting with yourself and seeing how your body reacts over time.
If you don't know already, here is the caloric content per macro gram (its important to know)
1g Carbs: 4 calories
1g Protein: 4 calories
1g Fat: 9 calories
Again, I’m going to use easy numbers just to help you guys understand without getting into too much unnecessary math.
Let’s say someone just ended their diet with the following calories/macros.
Calories: 1,400 – Macros: Protein 150g / Carbs 87g / Fat 50g
So for week 1 we are going to make a big increase right away and see how things go by adding 30grams of carbs and 9g of fat; this is a total of 201 calories. (30x4=120) + (9x9=81) = 201 Calories
So macros for week 1 are the following:
Calories: 1,601 Macros: Protein 150g / Carbs 117g / Fat 59g
If after week one your weight remains the same, then you can make another big increase.
Honestly, it doesn’t really matter if you choose to add higher carbs or higher fat; it all really comes down to personal preference. The important thing is to increase your calories/macros gradually over time, don’t just end your diet with a binge and start eating anything and everything in sight.
For weeks 3 and further I generally recommend slowing down your increases, anything between 80 to 150 calories is a good number. The reason why the first couple of weeks have bigger increases is because it’s important to get you out of that deficit as fast as possible, but at the same time making sure you don’t rebound.
The goal with reverse dieting is to slowly increase your metabolic capacity while minimizing fat gains. BUT, some weight is expected to be gained, so don’t get scared if the number on the scale slightly increases. You’re more likely to gain muscle mass than actual fat, although some fat will come along. So don’t fear the number on the scale and primarily guide yourself by what you see in the mirror.
If and when your weight starts increasing, then you can stop increasing calories and stick to those numbers until you see your weight level again.
If your goal is to just maintain, then find a set of macros that provide you a good amount of food while at the same time your weight stays the same. If your goal is to transition into a gaining phase, then you can push your macros even further to help you start gaining weight at a decent pace. I generally recommend a gain rate of about 2-3 lb. (1-1.5 kg) per month.
Now for those of you that compete in bodybuilding, bikini, etc. it’s important to understand that you cannot walk around at the level of body fat that you have on stage. You have to let yourself gain some fat post show to restore hormonal imbalances. Your body will always seek survival, and being shredded is not healthy nor is it optimal for survival, so it perceives it as a threat to your life and will do everything possible to restore your wellbeing.
So allow yourself to gain some amount of weight, and fat post show; don’t try to stay shredded year round because it is not healthy. The same protocols stated above apply for you also, at first make a big increase then followed by smaller increases.
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions, leave a comment below!