Reverse dieting is a post-prep strategy to combat any metabolic damage that may occur during the prep AND to ensure fat gain isn't packed on at an expedient rate. This is an important concept and needs to be taken seriously, but unfortunately most competitors don’t give much thought to this. This is more of a pressing issue for women than it is for men, probably due to the contrasting differences in how hormones are affected.
From what I’ve seen, the individuals who remain drug free typically don’t become as metabolically damaged; however, it’ll still take its toll on a natural competitor too, especially in extremely low carbohydrate situations while calories are relatively low (much of this depends on the person and the duration, though). In most cases during the prep, each competitor will reduce their calories little by little to ensure fat loss continues, this places them in a sustained energy deficit for the entire prep. This reduction in caloric intake should be gradual of course; nonetheless, lowering body fat levels in conjunction with lowered calories will place the metabolism in a stressful situation. Keep in mind, at the same time you’ll be threatening the body by exercising hard, which is also a stressor. Meal refeeds are a good way to recharge the metabolism, and you may by fine if you do this frequently enough. But the reality is, if calories continue to drop then your metabolism will become more efficient through your prep, which means it’s not going to be working at an optimal level. Therefore, the possibility that it‘ll become damaged is present.
Implementing a reverse diet will aid in two things:
1 - Reverse any metabolic damage.
2 - Help not gain the typical “post-prep weight”.
By slowly increasing calories over time, you’ll help reverse the damages done to the metabolism (if any incurred), as well as stave off a drastic gain in weight. If you don’t follow a reverse diet method of some kind, you’ll more than likely pack on a lot of weight following the show, but remember this is also dictated by genetics, so this is not always true. As already stated, this seems to be an issue more for the females than the men. I’ve seen women go from their stage physique of 120 lbs. in a lean condition to 140 lbs. of extreme water retention and additional fat gain in a very short time period. This, of course, happens to those who binge day after day following the show. Be cautious of this.
Application of reverse dieting
Following the show that night and on Sunday, it’ll be fine to eat and drink whatever you’d like, and actually I recommend it. Relax and take a little break from all the crazy shit you just put your body through. However, on Monday, I advise you to get on a reverse diet protocol of some kind. Remember, if you plan on continuing to compete or want to stay in relatively good condition, it’s important you don’t continue to binge and let everything go to waste. The idea is to add calories back into the diet little-by-little, making sure fat and water doesn’t accumulate drastically. It’s really as simple as that. As you increase calories you should gauge three things very closely:
1 - Weight gain
2 - Hunger levels
3 - Fat gain (visual)
Weight gain will occur initially for various reasons like added glycogen storage, water content, etc., but the weight will eventually level off. Over time, hunger levels will increase and you’ll be able to increase calories more and more while your weight stagnates. For example, after a prep, I may place a female competitor at 1300 calories for the first week. If she’s hungry going into the second week I’ll place her at 1400 calories. If she reports to me that she isn’t hungry through that week, I’ll maintain calories at that set point until she gets hungry again. At that time I simply increase calories by another 100, so then she’ll be at 1500. The hunger indication is probably the most important variable here. In terms of fat gain, I continue the hunger indication process until the competitor begins to gain fat. However, it’s important to mention that in the first few weeks I’ve had some competitors lose fat. Subsequently, it levels off and they maintain their body fat levels. This has the same effect as a meal refeed (e.g., normalizing hormones which will help restore the metabolism). The difference is that in reverse dieting, the calories consumed are not as high and they steadily increase over a period of time. Be very aware of your food regimen when you come off your diet. It’s just as important as your prep for the reasons already explained. Remember, the two reasons to implement this is to restore your metabolism (if need be) and to ensure you don’t gain all the fat you worked so hard to get rid of at the start of your prep.