First of all, thanks for reading... :)
Your cut is finished and now you want to be able to eat way more food, without getting fat again, right?
With reverse dieting, you can do just that. It is a nutrition strategy that many bodybuilders and athletes are using nowadays.
When done right, reverse dieting is a method that raises your metabolism by slowly and strategically increasing daily food intake.
When the cutting phase ends and bulk season starts some athletes will gorge on all the food they want, and by doing so they add a lot of fat, fast. On TikTok and Instagram I am already seeing the memes about “bulk season starts” and I think that is a terrible thing, especially for beginners and young boys and girls trying to gain size. Because extreme cutting and bulking will result in bad diet habits and a very unhealthy relationship with food. I will tell more about this later on…
If you are a smart athlete you want to slowly reverse diet after your cut by strategically and incrementally increase your food portions.
You really need to understand the fundamentals. When you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. When you eat less calories than you burn, you lose weight. If the same number of calories go in and out, your weight stays the same. The energy balance equation is simple, but many factors affect energy in and energy out.
Calories in are affected by food choices, sleep, appetite, microbiome, digestion and calories absorbed, psychological factors like stress levels. Calories out are affected by rest metabolism, sleep, hormones, exercise, activity level, metabolizing food, etc.
These factors go way beyond food and exercise. Factors people often overlook.
During your cut when you eat less, your body instinctively starts preparing for times of scarcity in several ways. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) declines. That’s the amount of energy you need to live when at rest. This reduces energy out. Being active becomes more difficult because you have less available energy. So you’re likely train less intense and move less in general, resulting in less calories burned through activity. You also expend less energy through exercise because, as your body gets smaller, it doesn’t require as much fuel and your metabolism also adapts. This also reduces the number of calories you burn through movement, resulting in less energy out. Digestion slows down, so your body can absorb as many nutrients as possible. This increases energy in.
If you increase your calories gradually, your body will adapt in the other direction. BMR rises, resulting in more energy out. Workout capacity increases thanks to more available energy, increasing energy out. Daily activity increases for the same reason, resulting in more energy out. Digestion returns to normal, so your GI tract is no longer trying to absorb every single calorie, decreasing energy in.
Basically, after cutting you need to reverse the steps you took to get shredded. Gradually reduce cardio to baseline and focus more on strength training, and every few days you add one food item back in, that you removed from your diet. You also need to slowly reduce the amount of fat burning aids and appetite suppressants, because dropping them all at once is not a very smart move. Over time, doing things like this will allow your metabolism to adjust upward. If you make adjustments to quickly, fat mass accumulates. Slow and steady wins here. Increasing calories slowly while increasing workout intensity slowly is a solid strategy for muscle growth.
Eventually, you will hit a calorie intake that makes you feel energized. You are performing well in the gym, gaining some muscle, all with minimal fat gain. This doesn’t mean zero fat gain, your body will always push some of these extra calories to your fat storage that you’ve depleted, but that isn’t a bad thing because being really lean or shredded year round isn’t even healthy and optimal for muscle growth.
You need to have a healthy bodyfat percentage to gain the maximum amount of muscle possible. Low bodyfat will result in not enough energy to train hard and recover properly. It will also result in bad lifts, because fat also acts as a physical cushion and stabilizer while weightlifting. High bodyfat will result in more insulin resistance and suboptimal carbohydrate metabolism, higher blood pressure, etc.
So get to a healthy bodyfat percentage for you, and work further from there.
Weight loss is very, very difficult to maintain, a lot of people end up regaining more than what they lost. When you reduce calories and your body size shrinks, your metabolism eventually adapts and slows down. That means you must gradually cut even more and more calories to keep the fat loss going.
By the time someone reaches their goal, the amount of calories they can eat to maintain their weight doesn’t translate to a lot of food. It feels incredibly difficult to stick to. Eventually, they start increasing their calorie intake too fast and the number on the scale starts to rise like crazy.
So after a few weeks or months they diet down again. If you do this, you are not a bodybuilder but a yo-yo dieter. Saying that you are bulking and cutting is just a weak excuse, to go on a “I-see-food-I-eat-it” diet for a few months. I’ve seen it happen many, many times. I also used to do it this way. It really has massive impact on your mental health, because you went from a shredded gymrat to a fat sloth in matter of weeks. You will feel terrible, believe me. Social media is also really pushing the cut-bulk culture way too hard. Many boys and girls think they need massive amounts of food to gain some size and need to be extreme strict after that in order to lose fat. But that’s not the case at all.
People are ruining their relationship with food with all the extreme bulking and cutting. Because after an extreme bulk with a massive calorie surplus, you will need to do an extreme cut, that requires a lot of effort and restriction, and after extreme restriction, you are going to feast once the diet is over, and… fat regained. You need to break the cycle, by taking a slow and steady approach for once. We want everything fast nowadays, fast results, fast gains, but the things that gives us fast gains aren’t sustainable.
After a proper “gaining phase” with minimal fat gain, you can get shredded way easier. Just a little bit of tweaking the diet and adjusting training accordingly. If you are getting to fat too fast in your gaining phase, you really need to lower the calories in. It is also an option to do a mini-cut every once in a while, but for most people, things like mini-cuts are far too complicated.
So always -no excuses- after your cut, please just slowly add the right number of calories over time. You’ll be more likely to maintain most of the fat loss long-term. You will look great during your gaining phase, with some ab definition. If your abs fully disappear, you are eating way too much and you should not even think about bulking up.
Because telling people that they are fat is not very nice, I am going to say it differently: “If you don’t have some visible ab lines, you are having some excessive adipose tissue.”
So basically, you are having too much fat mass when there are no visible ab lines on your belly at all. Most people are overweight and have no abs, and that’s a fact. In your gaining phase, you should aim to maintain some visible ab lines. No shreds, but some leanness.
On average, for men, it is best to stay between 12-18% BF if gaining muscle is the goal. For women, on average, 22-28% BF if gaining muscle is the goal. So you better cut correctly so you have some room for fat gains and reverse diet as your supposed to.
If someone’s been dieting for a long time and is ready to maintain their current level of body fat, reverse dieting can help increase maintenance calories, resulting in a more sustainable way of eating long-term.
The time you need to reverse diet is almost proportional to the amount of time you’ve spent dieting. So if you restrict calories very hard for 12 weeks, you may need to give your metabolism 8-12 weeks to adjust.
In order to do it effectively, you need to be willing to: Eat roughly the same amount of food each day, measure your food intake and adjust your physical activity accordingly. Weigh yourself daily or weekly. Measure your waist, hips, and other body areas. Make progress pictures. Track your workout performance. Track energy levels. Track hunger and cravings. Track digestive issues. And hire a good coach. That makes your entire fitness journey way easier for you ;)