How to Reverse Diet and Avoid Rapid Weight Gain
How to Reverse Diet (and Avoid Rapid Weight Gain)
"Reverse dieting" refers to a strategic increase in calorie intake (and elimination of cardiovascular exercise) after an extended period of weight loss. It is, quite literally, the inverse of "normal dieting" (i.e. eating fewer calories to lose weight). But why should someone reverse diet after spending so much time and effort getting into peak physical condition?
Enter John Doe—an aspiring bodybuilder who just competed in his first bodybuilding contest. He's shredded to the core and loves how he looks; it's the leanest he's ever been. Yet, each minute that passes is more stressful than the last—he's afraid he will experience rapid weight regain if he starts to increase his calorie intake.
He wonders, "Where do I go from here? To reach this condition, I toiled through countless cardio sessions and months of a strict low-calorie diet." For many competitors and gym-goers alike, reaching peak leanness can be a bit anticlimactic—all that work losing weight and reducing body fat for a brief moment under the spotlights or a photo shoot.
That's not to say that getting into your best physical shape is not fulfilling. There are plenty of positive and rewarding emotions that can arise from the journey of being as lean and muscular as possible.
But once you reach that point, your body more or less hates you for not eating more calories. As great as it is to look shredded and vascular, most people are just not going to function well being extremely lean year-round. Hence, a reverse diet is necessary to help "reset" resting metabolic rate and undo metabolic adaptation caused by extensive low-caloric intake.
What Is Reverse Dieting?
The primary goal of reverse dieting is slowly and consistently adding body weight (mainly muscle) while increasing calorie intake.
Essentially, you're reversing the "damage" incurred to your metabolism by getting lean. Naturally, you'll need to taper back cardio, rest more, gradually eat more calories, and focus on resistance training.
Sounds pretty awesome, right? Frankly, it is once you get your mind out of "cutting mode" and into "being strong and healthy mode."
In terms of energetic demands, your body works quite a bit harder to maintain muscle tissue in comparison to fat tissue; thus, by building more muscle, you effectively ramp up your base metabolic rate.
Ever notice how there are "brick swolehouses" at the gym who seemingly never do cardio and eat like a racehorse? All that muscle tissue makes it harder to overeat; their metabolisms work "overtime" even when they're lounging on the couch.
Be aware that reverse dieting is a slow process and needs to be exact to ensure the weight gain is primarily muscle and not excessive fat tissue. You will inevitably gain some fat in the process, but reverse dieting is no excuse to get fat just for the sake of it. With that in mind, let's take a look at how to reverse diet and its purpose.
Why Reverse Dieting Is Necessary
Naturally, we must ask ourselves, "What is healthy?" Is it looking a certain way or feeling a certain way? It can be tough to define health since it's a relative term; in the biological/Darwinian sense, "health" is described as an organism's ability to survive and is synonymous with "fitness."
An organism must adapt its body to its environment if it wishes to improve its health. Thus, health is a contextual term.
In the medical world, health is often measured by assessing vital signs and anthropometrics, notably body fat percentage, oxygen uptake, mineral and vitamin balance, blood pressure, resting heart rate, inflammatory markers, endocrine function, and others.
Now, are those the only ways of determining whether you're healthy? Not at all, but they're pretty strong indicators of deciding if your lifestyle is sustainable...or if it's taking years off your life.
Lo and behold, if you're extraordinarily lean (as in, leaner than your body wants to be), then many markers of health and wellbeing can fall out of whack. Most people's bodies would like a decent amount of fat on them for survival purposes.
If you're very lean, your body is basically fighting to regain some body fat; this isn't a bad thing, though, and that's where reverse dieting comes into play.
How to Reverse Diet and Minimize Fat Gain
While there is no optimal cookie-cutter, reverse-diet template, there are some general guidelines to follow after coming off a restrictive diet. For starters, it's essential that you have an idea of how many calories you've been eating per day (on average) over the past few weeks. This will give you a baseline calorie intake to build upon throughout your reverse diet.
Next, you'll want to add about 10% to your daily calorie intake and make that your new goal for 1-2 weeks. Most of the "additional" calories should come from carbohydrates and lean protein, particularly if you were following a low-carb diet to lose weight.
As an example, if you were averaging a daily caloric intake of 1,800 calories during the last few weeks of your weight-loss diet, then your reverse diet should start at around 2,000 calories per day.
Now, the "hard" part: Reducing cardio frequency and duration. Odds are, you were doing quite a bit of cardiovascular exercise to lose fat. That needs to stop if you want to build lean muscle mass and increase metabolism. Start by decreasing cardio duration per session by about 30-50% (e.g. instead of 60 minutes per workout do 30 minutes).
As the reverse diet progresses, reduce the frequency of cardio workouts until you're only doing 2-4 low-impact sessions weekly. Eventually, you should be spending the majority of your time exercising by lifting weights.
Just like you would when cutting, you'll want to monitor your weight/body composition every few weeks; the difference is that you'll periodically increase calorie intake in small increments, rather than reducing calorie intake. If you feel like you're gaining weight too quickly, simply taper back a bit and don't panic.
Over time, you'll be eating significantly more food and doing much less cardio while maintaining your body weight/building muscle.
The Reverse Diet Mindset
Unfortunately, mental roadblocks can hinder people when they start a reverse diet. For one, most people hate gaining even a particle of body fat, especially after working tirelessly to rid their bodies of almost all fatty tissue.
If your mind stays set on being as lean as possible, reverse dieting won't be an efficient process. You'll never give your body the nourishment and rest it craves if you're continually worried about gaining weight.
So, here are five key things to keep in mind when you begin a reverse diet:
1. Keep the Long Term in Mind
Improving your body composition is not a short-term endeavor; you need to think two, three, and four years ahead of where you are currently.
If you are constantly following low-calorie diets, you'll significantly reduce your metabolic rate and have difficulty losing weight; in turn, you hinder your potential to get lean, let alone build muscle without gaining excess fat tissue.
Therefore, the higher your base metabolic rate, the more efficiently you will be able to improve your body composition. Thus, it's crucial to build your metabolism back to a healthy state by reverse dieting before you start to cut down again.
2. Being Healthy Is What Matters
Something to remember is that beauty is only skin deep; it is rather conceited and vain to believe that the "sexier" or "more ripped" someone is, the healthier they are.
As touched on in this article, many of the fitness models and bodybuilders you see in magazines and on the Internet are far from being healthy, not to mention they often abuse performance-enhancing drugs.
Nevertheless, read on to the next point as there is good news for those of you who want to look great and be healthy.
3. You Don't Have to Be "Shredded" to Look and Feel Great
Most bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts assume that not having a ripped six-pack at all times means they're "unhealthy" or "out of shape." Such silly apprehensions go against what we've already said in this article.
Make no mistake—you can be very lean and healthy simultaneously. Many people successfully build and maintain muscle while staying around 10-12% or 15-18% body fat for males and females, respectively, which is undoubtedly lean. Others might even be able to comfortably hover around body fat levels lower than those ranges, depending on genetics and lifestyle factors.
However, some people may naturally gravitate towards a slightly higher body fat level during a reverse diet, and that's okay. Remember that gaining weight (while minimizing fat gain) after a lengthy low-calorie diet is simply part of the process of restoring your metabolic rate.
4. Nourish Yourself for Performance
Food is medicine—what and how much you eat ultimately determines how you feel and perform. Hence, reverse dieting requires you to acknowledge that food is your fuel, and your body is running near empty after an extended period of weight loss.
To start building some lean body mass, you'll need to increase calorie intake and strive for continual progress in the gym (e.g. getting stronger); if you're not nourishing yourself properly, then odds are you won't make much progress. Weight gain isn't the enemy; stalling in the gym is.
5. There's Always a "Next Time" to Get Lean and Lose Weight
You've been lean before, so what makes you think you won't be able to do it again? Especially when you ever get the desire to prep for a competition or photo shoot.
Just because you gain a little body fat during a reverse diet doesn’t mean you can’t lose it down the road.
Jumping back into "fat loss" mode can be challenging at the beginning; we all know that. However, supplementing with a scientifically-dosed thermogenic fat burner like PhysiqueSeries Fat Burner can help kick yourself into gear.
Chronic Low-Calorie Intake Is Not the Answer
The main thing to really take home from this article is that reverse dieting is a necessary process after competing or getting very lean on a low-calorie diet. Once you achieve a certain level of leanness, your body will burn fewer calories at rest, making it near-impossible to stay that lean without sacrificing precious lean body mass (and mental sanity).
Reverse dieting is essential for helping you stay healthy after dramatic weight loss. Plus, who doesn't want to eat more, build muscle, perform better, and not have to worry about constantly being hungry?
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