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As the spring competition season has ended and summer officially has begun, I hear many competitors wonder how to stay in or close to contest shape throughout the summer. No one wants to look good for just one day and then not be able to maintain it throughout the rest of “bathing suit” season. I am reminded of one of my favorite articles by Layne Norton. In the article he not only addresses how to stay lean but also gain lean mass in the “off season”, by a little concept referred to as REVERSE DIETING.
Let’s look at the word DIET. Many think of the word as a bad word, being in a calorie restrictive phase of living. However, the word diet, actually just refers to the actual foods an animal consumes. Think of a giraffe’s diet, it consists of leaves and such. The giraffe is not trying to lose weight; it is just the foods that it eats to survive. Ok, so now hopefully we can retrain our brains to not think of that word as a bad or negative word, our diet is the foods we eat consistently for living. Our diets as competitive athletes goes through phases, “on season” and “off season”, phases I hate so I prefer to use “pre and post season” or “Prep and post season” , think of the word diet to just fall under one of those prefixes.
Now we can move on to talk about what happens to our metabolism in a prolonged phase of calorie restrictive eating, contest or event phase of diet. Your metabolic rate decreases substantially as hormones like T3, leptin, and other regulators of your metabolism tank out. This will happen to some degree no matter how many or what type of refeeds or carb cycling you do during your prep. Therefore, you cannot just go back to eating the way you did before your prep started, which is a recipe for immense quick weight gain. Immediately, post contest you want to begin to restore your metabolism so it can handle off season calories WITHOUT gaining a ton of fat, and you do this through the process of reverse dieting. This involves progressively and slowly adding calories and reducing the amount of cardio you are doing in order to make the transition smooth and effective. In many cases people can actually lose additional body fat because their metabolism is stimulated.
Don’t be over-joyed by all of the benefits, reverse dieting is very challenging! I mean, for real, all you really want to do after 12 weeks of dieting is eat ALL of the things that you have been craving. Right?! Controlling your post contest foods is harder then controlling your contest prep foods. I have only seen a few people that actually want it bad enough that they saw the whole process through. We are looking at another 12 week process with no bikini and stage lights to culminate. Mentally it is a bear! The motivation is to be able to eat more AND stay lean…YAY!
How do we go about this reverse diet? There are ranges to stay within as everyone is different so I will try and be general. For example:
150lb Figure Competitor at the end of a contest prep was eating: 200 grams of protein, 120g carbs and 35g of fat per day. Doing cardio 6 days per week for 30-45 min per session.
1. Start by decreasing protein by 10% (as we are no longer catabolic), increasing carbs by 40-60% (in my personal clients case this tends to be their HIGH day), and fat by 10%. This will take our new starting numbers to: 180g protein, 175g carbs and 38g fat.
2. Reduce cardio by 2 days per week and not more than 25-30 min per session.
3. Eliminate all fat burners and stimulants.
The 1st week there may be a small gain of 2lbs or so and the next week should see a bit of a decrease as the body’s metabolism levels off. As we start to see that happening it means that it is time to start adding. Depending on the level of positive response we will add 20 grams of carbs the next week, to equal 195grams. After this increase, on the following week, if the weight gain was under 1lb, another 10 grams of carbs would be added to total 205g. On still the next week there is likely to be a weight drop that means we can go back to adding 20 grams or if there is still another weight gain we will slow the process to only adding 5 grams of carbs. This will continue for the next 9 weeks as we increase carbs by 5-20g and fats by 0-5grams. Every metabolism is different and the response to the process may differ.
If all goes well at the end of 12 weeks we should have our figure girl eating: 180g protein, 235-415g carbs and 40-95grams of fat and only doing cardio 1-2 days per week. The result ideally would be a fat gain of 5-7lbs and the process of gaining lean mass in high gear. How is that for a bulking season?! With a much improved metabolic capacity to handle off season calories her metabolism additionally is supported to continue to eat higher calories through her next contest prep phase of her diet.
Reverse dieting is very difficult and requires more discipline then prep dieting and a TON of patience but if done correctly you will be rewarded and paid in metabolic benefits. BONUS: Look good in a bikini all year round!!
Quick Note: This picture was taken 3 weeks after my last show of 2014. I implemented reverse dieting and was only 2 lbs heavier than my stage weight in this picture.
NPC Figure Competitor/Team Clinical Sports Labs