The million dollar question that we get all the time as coaches is “how do I know when I have reverse dieted long enough?” Reverse dieting and time away from a caloric deficit is essential for building muscle mass and maintaining a body composition you feel comfortable in all year long. How you spend your time away from a diet, can also be a major factor in how successful your next fat loss phase or contest prep is! In this article, we are going to go over what to look for when asking yourself whether or not you are ready to end your reverse diet/maintenance phase before beginning a fat loss phase. In part 2 of this article series, we’ll go over when to know you are ready to begin a fat loss phase or contest prep.
How Do You Know You Are Ready to Finish a Reverse Diet?
The first factor you should ask yourself when considering the end of your reverse diet is time. Did you spend enough time away from your last diet, and give your body enough time to recover from the physiological detriments that may come with an extremely low calorie diet often seen in physique competitors? Are you someone who is a perpetual yo-yo dieter and always find yourself starting a diet every few weeks but can never stick with it? For both the physique athlete and gen pop question, giving your body enough time to adapt to a higher intake is crucial for fat loss success. Adaptive thermogenesis is defined as the regulated production of heat in response to environmental changes in temperature and diet, resulting in metabolic inefficiency. When you reduce your calories, your metabolism adapts to that lower intake by “slowing down,” or essentially requiring less calories to sustain your current body weight. However, the opposite is true for when you eat more. The more calories someone eats, the higher their metabolic rate is. Therefore, the goal of the reverse diet is to increase metabolic capacity by becoming adapted to a higher intake, along with building muscle mass which will also increase metabolic rate! If you don’t take enough time away from being adapted to a lower intake, or don’t allow yourself enough time to recover from a diet physically, hormonally, and mentally what often happens is the following diet attempt ends up being unsuccessful. If you are already adapted to a lower intake, you will find that you will need to cut calories even lower than the last time to see fat loss results. In the end, calories end up becoming so low that it is not sustainable and dieting attempts becoming more and more frequent.
Before ending your reverse diet, your training should be feeling great. The end of your reverse diet is when you should be at your strongest in both physical strength and training endurance. If you are finding that you are having to drag yourself through to the end of the training session, that is a good sign that you may not be recovering well or eating enough to meet your training needs. If you have not made the strength and hypertrophy progress you wanted to yet, then be patient with yourself and give yourself more time throughout the reverse diet to make those gains before beginning a fat loss phase. Your chances of building muscle in a caloric deficit are close to none, so take advantage of the time in a caloric surplus or maintenance phase!
Relationship With Food
You should be ending your reverse diet confident in your relationship with food, and your abilities to implement more restraint in the upcoming fat loss phase. If you find that you are still struggling with food anxiety, binge eating issues, food focus, etc. that is a good sign that you still have some work to do in the reverse diet or maintenance phase in terms of your relationship with food. Beginning a fat loss phase without addressing these issues will only make them ten times worse!
Relationship With Your Body
Before ending your reverse diet to begin a fat loss phase, be honest with yourself in why exactly you want to stop reverse dieting. We are all for setting goals and challenges for ourselves to become better physically and mentally. However, if you want to end the reverse diet and slash calories because you hate your body, then there needs to be more time spent on improving the relationship you have with your body. Spoiler alert: Being 20lbs lighter or leaner won’t make you any happier. If you hate your body with a little more body fat, you will likely be just as unhappy with it once you are leaner.
Body Composition & Blood Work
An important question to ask yourself before ending your reverse diet should be did you add on the muscle mass you wanted to? As I previously mentioned, once you are dieting you can say goodbye to the time you have to build muscle. Now, I know there are some individuals who are genetically blessed and can add some muscle during the beginning of a diet but unfortunately that is not the case for everyone (read: most people). It is also important to make sure that body fat is in a healthy place. Too little body fat, and your body likely won’t be in a good place hormonally to complete an even more aggressive fat loss phase. Too much body fat, your contest prep will need to be very aggressive and very long. For individuals in this boat, I recommend taking cycles of mini cuts and reverse diets to begin a contest prep at a lower body fat, so you aren’t losing so much at once. The more weight you lose faster, the harder it is to keep it off after! Another thing we like to make sure is in a good spot before ending the reverse diet is blood work. We often look at a full panel of metabolic biomarkers, sex hormones, and thyroid hormones before ending a reverse diet. If these are not in a good place before the diet, it is likely that the diet won’t be successful and cutting calories will only make them worse.
At Team LoCoFit, we love to see clients maintaining their body weight on higher calories for 4-8 weeks at the very least before ending the reverse diet. We also like to see cardio at a lower or moderate amount depending on the client so that we can use the addition of cardio as a tool to increase the caloric deficit. If a client is already adapted to high amounts of cardio, then we can only rely on decreasing food to create the caloric deficit. We also highly recommend that anyone ending their reverse diet to gear up for a fat loss phase spend those last few weeks practicing the habits they will need to put in place during the fat loss phase. These habits might look like prepping food ahead of time, being consistent with supplementation, being more diligent with logging food etc. If you don’t already have those habits in place ahead of time, it will be a rough transition into the fat loss phase.
Our next article will cover the ideal start to a fat loss phase or contest prep after this transition of ending a reverse diet or maintenance phase, so stay tuned for part 2!