How To Use Reverse Dieting (And When To Stop)

Reverse dieting has become a popular phrase in the online bodybuilding and sports performance world recently. As more and more athletes suffer metabolic damage from a combination of crash diets, competing, stress and aging, the concept of slowly coming out of a strict dieting period to avoid weight gain and to reset a metabolism is popular.

Simply put, to reverse diet you slowly raise your calories after a strict diet in order to have some normalcy in your day but without gaining all of your weight back.

Why do I need to reverse diet in the first place?

For starters, let’s look at what happens in metabolic damage and the consequences of a long term restrictive diet that many bodybuilding, figure, fitness and bikini athletes use.

Resting metabolic rate is an important factor that can’t be ignored. The number of calories you burn every day while you’re doing nothing is dependent on your body composition, weight, sex and age. Generally, the more lean muscle tissue you have, the more metabolically efficient you’ll be.

We also have our active and non exercise induced calorie burning periods. We’re doing a kettlebell workouts, a crossfit running workout, an air or assault bike workout or a bodyweight weight vest workout. Then maybe we’re doing yard work or we have a physically demanding job. We’re burning calories here too.

Next we focus on the thermic effect of foods. That is, how many calories we actually burn from the foods we eat.

Lastly we have the actual calories we consume from food. We process less calories from minimally processed foods and more calories from the more processed foods.

All of these factors then influence our sex hormones and gut bacteria, ie our metabolism.

When To Start Reverse Dieting.

You’ve just come off of a time period where you were training maybe twice per day and eating very little food that continually got minimized as you got closer to your competition date.

Here’s what’s typically going on in your body.

You’re burning very little calories because you’re not eating any.
The thermic effect of foods went down because you’re not burning many calories.
You can’t burn as many calories because you weigh less.
Your activity levels are higher but your cortisol is high because something needs to support all of that activity.

The goal of reverse dieting is to slowly transition out of this phase. Because if you just start eating normal again, like you did before your show, you’ll regain weight. You’ve been operating on a reduced caloric intake for a while now so your body doesn’t need much to sustain itself yet your brain is wired to want more. Your metabolism is slower due to metabolic adaptation, it got used to less.

How To Reverse Diet

Understand that you may see some fat gain when you start to reverse diet. We’re restocking muscle glycogen stores and with that comes a little water weight.

Your mindset needs to be that this is a slow process in order to make you a better version of how you used to be.

I want you to give your best estimate at your current caloric and macronutrient levels. For those athletes who have been tracking their macros and know exactly how much their eating, this will be a breeze.

Its not a big increase per day. Anything along the lines of 100 to 200 calories per day for a week isn’t going to be drastic difference but it will start the process.

When To Stop Reverse Dieting?

Ask yourself a series of questions to determine your progress or lack there of.

Are your hungry? What are your current hunger levels? At the start of a reverse diet, you’re obviously going to be hungry but as you go on, a few weeks into the diet, you’ll notice less hunger.

What is your training energy like? Are you starting to get more pumps in the gym again? If not then you’ll need a few more weeks raising your calories by 100-200 calories per week.

Are you happy with how much you’re eating? If you’re still hungry just remind yourself that you’ll be increasing your calories soon.

After the initial first week or two, are you happy with your weight gain? Have you noticed small increases or did you gain a bunch of weight? If you gained a noticeable amount of weight then you likely over estimated your caloric need

What are your goals going forward these next 3 or 6 months?

Only you know your true goals. Are you going to step back on stage in less than three months? Well then you might need to get more aggressive with your reverse dieting in order to dieting back down (though I don’t recommend that).

Is your goal to take the next 6 months and build muscle then start peeling off body fat? Well keep slowly raising calories.

Are you a performance or crossfit athlete who just wants to gain some muscle without the added body fat? Slowly increase your calories by 100 per day and if still hungry, an additional 100 on your hardest training days.

You stop reverse dieting when you establish your goals and have started gaining noticeable weight after a month while objectively being satisfied with how much food you’re eating daily.

Ultimately, reverse dieting is another tool in the box that can help you recover from a hard dieting phase or be used as a smarter way to stay leaner year round.