The Complete Guide to Reverse Dieting: What it Is and How it Works

So you just spent your summer cutting, losing weight and burning all the body fat you have. Well, beach season is slowly coming to a bitter end and it will soon be time to get back into the gym, train heavy and start putting on some mass.

With a plethora of terrible foods available in our local supermarkets, it can be very easy to start eating unhealthy food again. Trust me, this is not the way to go.

Here’s the thing, whenever you stop cutting or finish a bodybuilding show your body is at a very low-fat percentage. Your body is dehydrated and your hormones are all over the place.

Most people experience huge mood swings – even depression after they go through a serious cut.

Reverse dieting after bodybuilding competition or cutting

Simply eating food to your heart’s content may seem like the right choice – I mean, your body is obviously hungry, right?

Yes and no. In the case of long-term success as a bodybuilder or strength athlete you must always remember that your goal is to avoid catabolic loss – that is, the loss of muscle mass.

Didn’t know that cutting could make you catabolic? Well, for most people, a carbohydrate-restricted diet, like those of traditional bodybuilding can actually result in a major loss in muscle tissue – especially when not completed correctly.

Where am I going with this?

You want to eat the comfort foods, right? Most comfort foods are loaded with sugar and fat – which is terrible for your muscles.

This is where reverse dieting comes into play.

Instead of being glutinous and eating whatever food you so choose, you need to consider the same method you used to lose weight – but in reverse.

Confused? No stress, we’re going to explain the in’s and out’s of the reverse diet and why it might just be your best shot at putting on some serious mass and muscle development after a long cut or competition prep.

What’s a Reverse Dieting?

Remember when you were cutting for a competition? You would have likely gone through numerous steps in order to condition your body for strength and definition, but the first step is to restrict your calories.

Most people will do use 15-25% caloric restriction. That is, you ate around 15-25% fewer calories than your body required in order to maintain weight.

Many people will also have started to slowly wean their body off carbohydrates and fat, eating more protein-rich foods and other foods that contain high amounts of amino acids.

This is all in an effort to slowly lose weight without losing muscle. If you would have cut your diet in half from the first day your body would have gone into some form of starvation mode.

The same concept applies when you are trying to put on weight. It makes very little sense to blindly consume an excess of calories without any structure.

After a competition or a summer full of cutting you should take a slow and methodical approach to your nutrition and dietary intake. This means consuming foods that are rich in micronutrients, amino acids and foods that contain plenty of complex carbohydrates and lean protein sources.

Reverse dieting is the practice of progressively increasing your calories to put on sustainable weight and minimal fat.

Why should you try a Reverse Diet?

This is a very valid question. Let’s pretend you had a really successful cutting phase. Let’s assume you worked hard and ate the food you were supposed to. Now, let’s assume you value your gains.

Would it make sense for you to start eating whatever you want, or jump to a massive caloric consumption?

This is like throwing away your entire season of hard work.

If you value your strength it always makes sense to take the most analytical approach to your diet and nutrition.

In the same way that you wouldn’t start blindly eating tubs of ice cream just because it’s calories, you should probably be conscious of slowly increasing your calories after a cutting phase.

We can get into all the nitty gritty details of hormone control like testosterone and leptin, but when it comes to reverse dieting, the most important reason you would want to utilize it is to ensure balance and sustainability in your program – after all, you’re in this for the long haul.

Benefits of Reverse Dieting

Ever had terrible food cravings during your cut? Have you ever wanted to just snack down on a massive bag of salty chips? Not to worry, we’ve been there – but a lot of times this is the result of your hunger hormones – ghrelin and leptin, trying to signal you to eat some food.

The body has numerous ways to ensure your survival, and one of them is by making you feel hungry, tired, even moody to try and help you eat good food – for energy.

Throughout your cut, you would have taught your body to handle these cravings. You would have made some big leaps forward in the way you eat and the way you portion. As a result, your hormones and gut micro bacteria have a memory of how much you eat, what exactly you’re eating and when it’s time to eat.

The biggest benefit of reverse dieting is to ensure that you do not mess with these hormones. You’ve worked hard to take the weight off and ensure that your body has everything it needs to thrive.

Use reverse dieting to ensure your body is primed and ready for strength and high-intensity training without putting a major damper on your personal hormone regulation.

Reverse Dieting VS Traditional Bulking

Huge difference here guys. When it comes to putting on progressive strength – especially after a competition, reverse dieting is for you.

In most cases, traditional bulking is not really completed after a competition. In my opinion, you should give your body around 6 weeks to recover from a competition before you start bulking or doing any serious training.

During this 6 week period (give or take based on your physiology) you should do your best to utilize basic principles of reverse dieting. In this way, you give your body sufficient time to handle the surplus of calories without damaging your body or messing with your hormones.

How To Reverse Diet

Reverse dieting is actually quite simple if you remember the purpose and goal you have.

Here are the most effective ways to reverse diet:

1. 10% Increase in Calories

Way too many people start their diet off with a huge surplus of calories. In my opinion, going for a modest 10% increase every 2 weeks will be sufficient enough to get you back to your normal surplus for bulking in about 5-6 weeks.

2. Limit processed Foods

There are very few benefits to eating processed or fast-foods. In fact, if you are serious about these long-term goals you really shouldn’t be eating this type of calorie anyway. Be sure to acquire the bulk of your calories from whole-foods like vegetables, lean meat/fish, beans, nuts and grains.

3. No Dirty Bulking

Just because soda has calories does not mean you should count it towards your daily intake. Whenever you start a reverse diet you should always emphasize the cleanest foods possible.

4. Use Moderate Rep Ranges with Higher Weights

Once your body starts to get an increase in calories again you will need to start increasing the intensity of your training – this will help to ensure your body is aware that food is fuel, and it is not to be stored (at least not in excess).

When it comes to your training you should start to implement higher weights. Not only will this help to develop more muscle mass, but it will help to teach your body to soak in more nutrients into the muscle.

5. Moderate your Body Fat

You need to keep a clear check on your body fat percentage. If you notice that you are putting on weight – especially if it’s fat then dial back on your calories and be sure to stay hydrated.

6. Don’t Stress on Macros

We can get into the many technical aspects of macros but when it comes to reverse dieting your best bet is to stay consistent on the same diet you would use for strength. This is generally a 50/30/20 (carbs, protein, fat).

7. Hire a Coach

The most effective way to ensure you successful is to hire a qualified professional. Whether that be a dietitian or nutritionist – do your research and find someone qualified in your area to help you understand which calories you should be ingesting and at what time. 

Bottom Line: Does Reverse Dieting Work

Let me start this off by saying that anything you do with a conscious effort will work. If you are persistent and intelligent in your approach to health and wellness you can lose weight, gain weight, build muscle – and everything in between.

Reverse dieting is the simple idea of progressively increasing your caloric intake in an effort to stabilize your conditioning and muscle development until you reach a peaking point. When you reach this peaking point (around 5-6 weeks) you should take care to enter into a clean bulk or a traditional strength program.

In this way, you will ensure you can best accomplish long-term strength and power – without putting damage on your internal systems or having an unsuccessful goal.

Extra Information: Diving Deeper Into Dieting

Metabolic Adaptations From Dieting

Dieting is not just what you see on the scale – there are numerous systems at work within your body. When we look at dieting we must recognize the metabolic adaptations that occur.

What exactly do I mean by adaptations?

There is an old hypothesis that the human genes have adapted, even evolved to favour weight gain – or caloric storing. This is done in an effort of survival.

Understanding there are multiple seasons during the year and many times where there is more food available, the body has adapted to storing food when necessary – sometimes even depending on temperature, and expending energy – specific energy, when a new source of food is available.

When you diet, you reverse this gene adaption. You teach your body not to store nutrient. Either through an increase in exercise or a limitation of calories your body increases its caloric deficit.

This has major effects on the bodies internal regulators (hormones) and your metabolism. In many cases, serious cutting – like those required for bodybuilding shows can actually damage testosterone levels and put long-standing influx on hunger hormones.

This may sound a little doom and gloom, but If you are smart about the way you diet – either through traditional fasting diets or reverse diets you can utilize these gene adaptations to your advantage without causing long-term damage.