Nutrition

What Is Reverse Dieting? | Increase Metabolism & Gain Muscle

So you lost 30 pounds. But this time you want to maintain that progress rather than watch the scale yo-yo again. You may have heard of reverse dieting…

In this guide you can find:

What Is Reverse Dieting?

Reverse dieting is increasing calories until maintenance calories are reached. This method is a fantastic way of building your metabolism in the “off-season while still enjoying some foods that may have previously been considered “cheat foods”. This is a really great way of having a balanced diet without any extreme restrictions which may help you to avoid binge eating and frustrating cravings.

Reverse dieting involves assigning a certain amount of macros including protein, carbohydrates and fat into a certain ratio to help you reach your goals.

Whether you’re finishing your annual cut, getting off stage from a bodybuilding contest or finishing a fat loss goal, many people struggle with what to do next. Body fat rebounds are commonplace and can have catastrophic physiological and psychological effects. Getting to the end of a fat loss journey only to rebound back quickly can be soul destroying as well as causing potential metabolic damage.

A general dieter can be left in a worse place than when they first started and physique competitors can be pushed to quit rather than face another mammoth contest prep. Each time these people diet down they often need to restrict calories further, leaving them with the potential for further metabolic problems.

There is an easy answer...reverse dieting; a protocol championed by physique and nutrition experts but relatively unknown to many.

healthy diet

Who Is Reverse Dieting for?

The short answer is anyone who has been at a caloric deficit for any period of time – the difficulty is convincing people to take this approach.

If someone has been at a deficit for a long time, suggesting they need to eat more can be a daunting thought. A seasoned bodybuilder/fitness model who has used the traditional cut and bulk phases will be reluctant to change.

Irrespective of why you decided to get lean, this simple approach will allow anyone to increase their caloric intake whilst putting on little to no fat. In many cases, people will find they actually continue to lose weight in the initial stages.

If your goal is muscle mass as soon as possible then a reverse diet isn’t for you, calculating a modest calorie surplus or going to maintenance then adding a surplus is for you. If you’re in no rush to grow but want to prolong condition (potentially improve) a reverse diet could be for you.

How Does Reverse Dieting Work?

Reverse dieting utilises a typical ‘count your macros’ approach whereby you take the carbohydrates, fats and protein in your current eating plan and look to increase them gradually.

As food goes up, we get closer to the level of maintenance calories (to maintaining body weight) which means anything below is still a calorie deficit.

Example:

Your diet finishes with 2000 calories.

Your maintenance (for example) is 2500 calories.

That’s 500 calories added over time in which fat loss could still occur.

Humans are very good at being efficient and when we are at a caloric deficit for a period of time our bodies adapt.

Often, the body will opt to slow its metabolic rate. Reverse dieting essentially helps to re-ignite your metabolism after reducing calories dramatically and dieting down for a fitness competition, for example.

reverse dieting

Benefits of Reverse Dieting

  • Less stress
  • Adherence may improve (more food)
  • Energy may improve (increased NEAT/training and cardio intensity)
  • Recovery improves (increased training performance)
  • Increased diet flexibility (adds diet longevity)

How Many Calories to Add?

If your goal is the point 2 and adherence aren’t too much of an issue then be cautious, women should be more so than men. An extra 80-200 calories added at a time (to your daily calorie goal) are common figures for males (from experience), women leaning towards the lower range, with carbohydrate increases being the priority.

 Example:

  • Week 1:2100
  • Week 2:2200
  • Week 3:2300
  • Week 4:2400
  • Week 5:2500 (Maintenance?)

As the food adds up, you’re closer to maintenance and thus weight loss will be slower.

8 Reverse Dieting Tips

#1        Plan & Track Your Macros | Eating Plans, Food Diaries & Apps

Before you work out your macros, you will need to have a starting point. Keeping a food diary for a week and, ensuring you are totally honest with it, it will give you an idea of exactly how many calories you consume and the typical macronutrient composition of your day-to-day’s food.

If you know this, you will be able to adjust your macros accordingly to make progress. A food diary will also help you to develop an awareness of portion sizes and the nutritional value of foods.

  • Be careful when reading labels that the portion size you have matches the nutritional information you are accounting for with that food as labels can be misleading with portion sizes.
  • Consider an app to make tracking your macros easier.

#2        Add Calories in Slowly

Slow and steady is the key to adding in calories with a reverse diet. If you add them in too fast you may cause excess unnecessary fat gain!

Monitor your weight. If you gain weight, consider allowing it to stabilise before you add in extra food.

  • This method will allow you to build muscle and stay in a healthy weight range without going to extremes.
  • By not gaining fat excessively in your offseason, it will be a lot easier to get shredded when it is time to diet down for a competition.

peaches yoghurt and granola

#3        Eat Healthy Foods as a Majority

Many people have a misconception that reverse dieting is all about the pop tarts and ice-cream. Although there is more leeway for treats, the majority of flexible dieters recognise that they need to nourish their bodies with healthy foods too, although this is not advertised as much on social media!

Health is the priority and the majority of your food choices should support your goals. However, there is the flexibility to build in some treats once they fit your macros.

  • The more macros you have, the more reverse you will have with selecting those treats.
  • By allowing some indulgences, you will be less likely to binge eat or suffer from cravings the way you might if you excluded certain foods from your diet altogether.

#4        Increase Your Daily Macro Allowance

Using the macro-nutrient numbers from your current eating plan, initially aim to have your protein at around 1 gram per pound (g/lb) of bodyweight; high protein is both good for satiety and retaining lean muscle mass. If coming from a peak week, refer back to your final cutting plan.

Next, look to increase carbs by 10g and fats by 1g in the first week to assess tolerance. If you’ve been on a low carb plan, try to get the majority of the carbs from fibrous vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus and kale as they are both nutritious and filling.

#5        Increase Percentage of Fats

If there was no body fat increase in the first week, look to increase carbs by 5% per week. Fats should move up incrementally by 1g per week providing there has been no body fat gain. Those who have been on a low-fat and higher-carb diet may wish to hold the carbs and increase fat by a greater percentage, depending on tolerance.

If the first week saw a body fat gain hold there for another week. If you have been at a deficit for a long time this initial phase may be slow but be try to be patient and trust the process!

#6        Introduce Low GI carbs if Needed

At the end of each week assess your progress; if you’ve had no body fat gain, increase by the same numbers again. It’s not uncommon to notice increases in lean muscle mass so don’t rely purely on the scales. Many people often notice a much ‘fuller’ look with the increase in carbs. This is because the glycogen stores in the muscles have increased.

As you increase the carb intake, low GI foods will give you the most bang for your buck in the early stages, however as the numbers increase you can introduce more carb types.

low gi carb breakfast

#7        Reverse Dieting & Exercise

Keep your cardio to a minimum in the off-season as this means that you can increase it as a necessity when you decide it is time to diet down.

Cardio is a great tool for fat loss so save it as much as possible for when you are dieting so that you can add it when necessary, rather than constantly reducing your macros to achieve extra fat loss.

#8        Seek Advice If You Need It

Consider hiring a coach with experience in reverse dieting if you feel you need some extra help. A good coach will offer you accountability and support if you are new to the world of flexible dieting.

It can be quite difficult mentally to even believe that certain foods can be enjoyed on a daily basis while still reaching your goals when they are consumed in moderation.

A coach may offer you reassurances if you need them and also make the necessary adjustments to your macros to help you reach your goals as quickly as possible in a healthy way.

Reverse Dieting: Moving Forward

Now it is simply a case of repeating the process each week until you reach a point where either you maintain your weight or your body fat increases.

If your body fat gain is greater than 1% in a week, consider holding your macros at this point for another week to allow your body to catch up and see if fat loss recommences or body fat is maintained – you can then continue to increase your macros again.

If after a couple of weeks this doesn’t happen, consider taking your numbers back a week to try and assess your true maintenance intake (maintenance is when your body fat levels don’t up or down). Then it is decision time, you can either stay and look to make slow lean gains or push past this point using the same method to make larger gains but with the addition of some body fat.

The numbers by which you can increase are merely a guide and can be tailored to the individual. Again, observing the effect the increases have on your physique will help you find your own ‘sweet spot’. For example, in the first week, the longer you have been at a deficit then the longer the process as a whole may take.

Other Post Diet Options:

  1. Recovery diet – Straight into a calorie surplus and accept potential weight gain due to maintenance inaccuracy
  2. Go to maintenance calories and add a surplus from there
  3. Binge…. regain all your body weight and accept you just wasted your time dieting (don’t do this one).

Reverse dieting is simply a tool to prolong your calorie deficit, a solution during a long-term diet and a potential post diet plan. healthy pie

Experiment with Recipes

Reverse dieting allows the freedom to experiment with lots of different foods and recipes.

You can also adapt popular recipes to suit your macros. For example, in baking you can:

  • Replace sugar with sweeteners.
  • Add stewed apple instead of fat in certain recipes.

There are lots of healthy recipes out there that will feel like a treat but also contribute to your goals at the same time. By exploring all of these options you won’t feel deprived or guilty for going off your nutrition plan!

Take Home Message

Reverse dieting does require patience and discipline to a certain extent, but incorporating this method into your diet can really show you how far your body can be pushed!

For bodybuilders: you might not have to consider a whole new wardrobe for the off-season. Increasing how much you eat with this tried and tested protocol means dieting down in the future can be done at a much higher caloric intake. This will make it much less painful and much easier to stick to.

It does require a degree of self-regulation to be truly successful, but using this method you can really see how far you can push your body! Many people often surprise themselves how much they can really eat without putting on body fat. This leaves them happy and with an eating plan that is not only healthy but can be adhered to in the long term.

If you’ve been one of those people to have always considered yourself to have a slow metabolism, reverse dieting may change your life!

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye has a MSc in Sport Physiology and Nutrition, and puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. She enjoys a pun, and in her spare time loves dog walking and eating out.


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