The recovery diet post-contest restores fat mass and reverses the negative physiological and psychological adaptations that may have occurred during the calorie restriction phase, such as reduced resting metabolic rate, muscle mass loss, hormonal imbalances (i.e., reduced testosterone, leptin, cortisol, estrogen, etc.), and reduced performance
CAN REVERSE DIETING FIX METABOLISM DAMAGE? FACT OR FICTION SUMMARY
- The review found that insulin and cortisol were the fastest hormones to be recovered (i.e., 4-6 weeks) after reverse dieting.
- Hormones such as ghrelin, leptin, thyroid, and anabolic hormones such as testosterone and estrogen took many months to recover. On average, testosterone responses took 4-6 weeks to recover.
- Participants who did not see an increase in calories post-diet either experienced RMR suppression or no significant change.
- Reverse dieters tended to lower amounts of muscle mass gained.
- Slowly raising calories results in a slower restoration of metabolic rate.
- The authors recommend that calories return to maintenance as quickly as possible after a diet.
THE THEORY ON HOW TO FIX A DAMAGED METABOLISM AFTER DIETING
During the contest preparation phase of a physique/bodybuilding show, competitors gradually reduce calories and increase protein while manipulating carbohydrates and fats to achieve the characteristic lean body composition of physique athletes. Reverse dieting is the concept that one gradually increases calories after a calorie deficit to minimize fat gain post-contest.
Many fitness competitors go on post-feeding binges after a calorie deficit, leading to increases in fat gain. Gaining excess fat can make future competitions much harder due to more rigorous dieting to lose unwanted body fat. The goal of a physique competitor should be to gain fat at a reasonable rate but not too much fat too quickly.
HOW TO FIX A DAMAGED METABOLISM AFTER DIETING
Immediately post-contest, it’s not uncommon for competitors to binge eat high-calorie foods, creating a high-calorie surplus with potential gains in fat and bodyweight overshooting. The research suggests that gaining weight too quickly with a caloric surplus can cause increases in body fat beyond baseline values.
Gaining body fat appears necessary for restoring the athlete’s hormonal balance and metabolic function. However, rapid changes in body composition post-contest can affect competitors physiologically and psychologically due to unwanted increases in fat mass].
If you have ever been to a bodybuilding show, it’s quite stunning to see how much food competitors can consume after months of strict dieting. Reverse dieting gradually increases calories post-dieting to increase metabolic rate but, more importantly, minimizes the large increases in fat gain that occur.
The recovery diet post-contest restores fat mass and reverses the negative physiological and psychological adaptations that may have occurred during the calorie restriction phase, such as reduced resting metabolic rate, muscle mass loss, hormonal imbalances (i.e., reduced testosterone, leptin, cortisol, estrogen, etc.), and reduced performance. .
REVERSE DIETING REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
A new review of the literature examined the existing literature on post-diet refeed strategies and suggested that prolonged reverse dieting may not be the best strategy. The review comprised 12 observational studies in which the physique competitors either increased weight quickly or followed a strategy, such as reverse dieting, to increase calories slowly. The review examined body composition, energy expenditure, hormones, and dietary changes related to post-diet recovery.
Researchers followed 70 physique competitors aged between 20 to 50 years across 12 studies during their post-diet recovery period. The duration of the post-contest feeding strategies varied from four days to a year and a half after the contest.
The review revealed that insulin and cortisol recovered the fastest, typically within 4-6 weeks. In contrast, hormones such as ghrelin, leptin, thyroid, and anabolic hormones such as testosterone and estrogen took many months to recover. On average, testosterone responses took 4-6 weeks to recover. One study in the review found it took 6 months for testosterone to return to normal. A previous study found a full recovery of baseline testosterone levels which occurred with bodyfat recovery from dieting.
Ghrelin and thyroid hormones also took 6 months to recover to baseline levels. Leptin returned to baseline levels within 4-6 months. Additionally, a previous study discovered a correlation between post-diet increases in body fat and rises in both leptin levels and metabolic rate.
Reverse Dieting Study Results
This suggests that reverse dieting may not be a sound strategy, in which a competitor slowly increases calories over time to avoid adding body fat. The literature suggests that adding body fat is needed for metabolic rate and hormones to recover from an intense caloric deficit. Binge eating is commonly observed post-competition, with large increases in carbohydrates and fats consumed, resulting in fat gain and increases in metabolic rate.
One notable study had competitors follow a slow increase in calories post-contest in line with a typical reverse dieting protocol and found that minimal weight gain occurred post-diet . Furthermore, lower amounts of muscle mass were gained with minimal changes in the restoration of metabolic rate.
Studies investigating metabolic rate reported that for athletes for 2 to 6 months post-competition, 13 out of 15 participants experienced an increase in metabolic rate corresponding to increased caloric intake, achieving pre-contest preparation baseline measures. Participants who did not see an increase during this time either experienced RMR suppression or no significant change was suspected due to exercise-induced amenorrhea.
Another study found that a slow reverse dieting protocol took 5 months for pre-body composition changes to return to normal. The author stated the importance of increasing calories to maintenance levels immediately post-competition to increase energy and fat mass.
RETURN TO MAINTENANCE CALORIES AFTER A DIET
The reviewers recommended returning calories to maintenance levels, not binge eating, and putting on excess body fat. For example, competitors who increased their body weight by 1% per week for nine weeks had recovered their baseline body fat but also increased their lean mass and metabolic rates to the point that was higher than their prior competition.
Interestingly, grip strength and anaerobic power still had not recovered despite the positive changes in body composition.
A study by Trexler et al. found that metabolic rate increased 5.3% above baseline predictive values within 6 weeks post-contest, which correlated with a 90% increase in energy intake. This occurred with an increase in body fat and high-protein intake.
The author recommended that food intake after a competition be ad libitum (i.e., no restrictions) followed by a more structured approach to bringing calories back to maintenance levels.
Prolonged ad libitum eating beyond one to two weeks should be considered individually based on the athlete’s phycological and physiological needs. The author concluded the reviews with the following recommendation post-competition:
(1) a structured gradual increase in dietary intake aimed at reaching maintenance energy levels;
(2) an acute ad libitum increase in dietary intake immediately post-contest to facilitate continued dietary adherence, followed by a structured gradual increase in intake toward maintenance energy levels; or
(3) an immediate return to maintenance dietary intake.
Based on the available evidence, it is recommended that any of these strategies be implemented alongside a high protein intake and strategically managing training type and load.
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