Reverse Dieting – How to Correctly Eat After a Cutting Diet
Editor’s note: This article by John Gorman originally appeared on Machine Muscle.
Writing this article is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I see competitor after competitor blow up and gain way too much fat directly after a show. As a matter of fact, I’ve been there myself a few times and know exactly what it feels like firsthand.
The good news is that there is a way to stay very lean in the off-season, yet grow and put a good amount of muscle on. It’s called reverse dieting.
MTS CEO Marc Lobliner discusses how to reverse diet until you hit your maintenance level.
What is Reverse Dieting?
Reverse dieting is simply adding calories back into your diet while pulling back on the amount of cardio required to get into contest shape. Sound easy?
Then why is it so hard to do?
Honestly, it’s because after being at a caloric deficit for so long, not only is your body screaming, “feed me!”, your brain is screaming the same thing.
Don’t fear though, I am going to give you a full system to use. Even though each person is different and there may need to be some altering of this plan, I’ll lay out. It will get you pretty close if you stick to it like glue.
What we usually see when someone finishes a show (or cutting diet) is they go out and have a nice cheat meal with family and friends, which is fine. I actually encourage it. Then Sunday comes and there’s breakfast and a few more meals off the plan, which is fine as well.
The problem people run into is they actually go WAY off the deep end and eat way past being comfortably full. They also continue this eating into the week after the show. Once you fill the muscles up after a few big meals, you will quickly start to spill over into the fat cell.
I have seen people (myself included) put on 20 lbs in the week after the show, never to get it off. Most have a metabolism that is slowed down from dieting and it cannot process that amount of calories quickly enough, so it stores a lot of the calories as fat at an alarming rate. Not fun.
How Reverse Dieting Works
This is why reverse dieting works and works well. It’s important because it will:
- Restore a slowed metabolism.
- Fill the muscles back out and start to repair lost muscle from dieting making for a much more appealing physique.
- Keep you lean in the off-season so you don’t have to diet so long and hard next time.
It’s the situation all competitors should strive to be in: leaner in off-season (within 20lbs of stage weight), metabolism fired up on higher calories to support the next prep and a nice off-season of lean growth.
How to Reverse Diet After a Cutting Diet
Here’s the nitty-gritty on what to add. First thing to do after you show is this: go out, have a nice meal that night and maybe breakfast and a meal on Sunday. On Monday add carbs to your diet (I recommend 20 carbs for men, about 10 carbs for women at first) and start doing your cardio again, but pull your cardio back 10 minutes on all sessions.
At the end of the first week, I would introduce either a cheat meal OR a refeed. This will not only give you some sanity, but you should be re-depleted again for the most part which allows you to store carbs in the muscles without much fear of spilling into the fat cells.
I recommend putting your two weakest body parts around the cheat meal or refeed. For example, if you are weak in the chest and legs, on a Sunday train your chest, then start refeeding PWO. On Monday, train your legs but get back on the clean eating train.
This will help bring up your weaker body parts all off-season long and make a big difference in them when you step on stage next time at your show. I recommend sticking to either one nice cheat meal a week in offseason or two refeed meals back-to-back on refeed day (much better than a cheat).
Week 2 rolls around and I advise adding in again, carbs will be the key here and also pulling cardio back. Sometimes if a competitor is real low fat I will have them do 5 grams of fat a week, if needed.
This process goes on and on each week as cardio is eventually pulled back to about 20 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week and left in the off-season to help keep you lean and also help stimulate appetite.
There is a way to stay very lean in the off-season, yet grow and put a good amount of muscle on. It’s called reverse dieting.
Here is an example I will give of a competitor I recently helped reverse diet:
- Week 1 – Added 20 carbs, cardio pulled from 30 mins 2x a day to 20 mins 2x a day.
- Week 2 – Added 20 carbs, cardio moved to 30 mins once a day.
- Week 3 – Added 15 carbs and 5 fats, cardio moved to 20 mins once a day.
- Week 4 – Added 20 carbs, cardio moved to 20 mins 6 days a week.
- Week 5 – Added 15 carbs, 5 fats, cardio moved to 20 mins 5 days a week.
- Week 6 – Added 15 carbs, cardio moved to 20 mins 4 days a week (where it currently stays).
- Week 7 – Added 15 carbs, 5 fats.
- Week 8 – Added 15 carbs.
We got his carbs up from 200 a day to 335 and he still has abs. His fats went from 45 a day up to 55. His protein remained the same, about 220 grams a day.
So new macros are 220 protein, 335 carbs and 55 fats, up from 2085 calories to 2715 calories a day plus a refeed day where he’s hitting about 5000 calories.
Note: for women, I would simply add in 10 carbs or 2.5-5 grams of fat weekly and watch the mirror as you go while pulling cardio back.
Reverse Dieting and Special Circumstances
There are a few special situations, such as reversing out of a ketogenic diet so let’s tackle that. For keto dieting I would:
- Make sure the refeed is added in the same as above if it wasn’t already in.
- Start adding carbs, but start doing it around the workout.
I like to first do this:
- Pre-workout meal (used to be protein and fats) sub out the fats for carbs. So if you had 15 fats for this meal that’s 135 calories, so use the same amount of carbs, which would be about 35 carbs or 140 calories. Keep protein the same.
- For the post-workout meal, do the same as above. This will be the first change for week 1 post show, along with pulling cardio back.
Week 2 I would add in intra-workout carbs in the form of dextrose, 20 carbs for guys 10 carbs for women. I would keep adding here until you get about 20-40 carbs intra-workout. Then as the weeks go by start adding in carbs to the existing diet.
At some point depending on how high the fat is in the diet, you may have to add in carbs to a protein/fat meal, but also pull back on fats a bit. You don’t want a diet to get high in fat and carbs.
That doesn’t seem to work for most people. If you were keto dieting, I’d hope that you are not someone with a fast metabolism anyway because keto is a death wish for these type of athletes. So long story short, you won’t need higher fats and carbs, you’ll want to sub in carbs as you go, but also pull back slightly on fats depending on the situation.
When this is done correctly, it will get your metabolism humming in addition to setting up your next prep and making it much easier. Everyone should strive to stay within 20 lbs of their stage weight, but also with a metabolism accustomed to a good amount of calories. As a general rule of thumb, 14x body weight or higher is ideal for a calorie level for off-season while not going below 10x body weight during dieting is another rule of thumb (except of course in special situations).
As you get deeper into off-season after usually 8-12 weeks of reverse dieting, you will have to slow the rate you add calories and really watch the mirror. For most people deep into off-season I will add calories every 3 weeks or so if their weight doesn’t go up.
Looking Lean, Filling Out
One last thing on reverse dieting is that you can actually use this approach during prep. If you are ready early for your show and are lean enough, you can do this exact protocol and actually fill out and look much better. It’s what most of us as prep coaches strive for.
Another thing you can do is use this protocol if you have stalled out your metabolism. This will get it firing again and will usually help get fat loss occurring again from the food, helping boost the metabolism of the competitor.
I hope this insight into reverse dieting has shed some light on how useful it is and how the top level athletes in our sport and prep coaches like to approach a prep. The way you look at your next show will be determined in how you come off the diet of your last show.
Remember that and you’ll have a much different look next time you hit the stage.