Reverse Dieting or Post Competition Recovery?

This is my first article for the site and I am certainly no expert or have any formal education with regards to nutrition, however I wanted to write about this topic since I just finished my contest season and currently just starting my offseason, so I wanted to share my observations and opinion on how best to do this. Perhaps you have a different take or perspective and if so I encourage you to comment so that we can all discuss and learn how to become better bodybuilders.

Reverse dieting is the big buzz word of late when it comes to transitioning from contest prep to offseason. First let me say I am a big believer in not going hog-wild and gaining a bunch of weight after contest season. That said I think some people are taking reverse dieting to extremes and I honestly don’t see the point? Instead I think people should focus on post contest recovery.

Post contest recovery involves focusing on getting hormone levels back into normal ranges and is the primary goal. Along with this you want to get yourself back to feeling “normal” from a physiological and psychological perspective. Yes you also want to increase your metabolic rate but that should be a secondary goal not the primary. Seeing people who are still at stage weight two months post show and eating huge amounts of food is great but they still have suppressed hormone levels due to still being at 3-4% body fat. It’s like we went from one extreme of bulking and putting on huge amounts of weight in a short period of time to now not putting on any weight months later.

Body fat levels need to go from 3-4% back up to 6-8% in order to start the process of restoring hormone levels. This will need to happen no matter what, so my question is why delay it? To me it makes more sense to add 8 to 10 lbs of body weight in 2 to 4 weeks’ time which should see you hit the 6-8% body fat range and the bottom end of your body’s set point. Once there focus on maintaining weight while your metabolism recovers, this is the time to reverse diet until you’re eating the same or even more calories than you did prior to starting your prep. By doing this you allow your body to return to a more optimal hormonal balance while recovering your metabolism at the same time. This to me is a much more moderate and practical approach to take post contest season.

7 Responses

  • Hey Dean,

    You are so right. Thank you for this. I finished my prep/contest season in a really bad place in terms of my energy levels, food focus, libido…the list goes on. Although I looked my best, I felt like crap. Two weeks into my reverse diet I was still at stage weight, and still feeling like crap. On Memorial Day weekend (3 weeks after), I was still having trouble with simple tasks, still obsessed with food, with only a minimal increase in performance and enthusiasm in the gym. Friends asked why, and I barely had an answer at that point. I said “to raise my metabolism and make sure I don’t gain a disproportionate amount of fat”, but really I was starting to doubt it myself. I was lean, eating a little more, but I still felt like garbage.

    After a few refeeds and raising my calories at a slightly faster pace than my initial reverse had called for, I am much much happier and healthier.

    I have “found/hit” my maintenance caloric needs and I am maintaining 10lbs over my prep low on nearly 1,000 calories more per day and zero cardio. I am smoother, but that is a small price to pay for the benefits. Enthusiasm and performance are back on the rise, libido is BACK, and even my food focus isn’t quite as intense.

    I hope we can get a discussion brewing here about this topic. I have lots to say, but let’s start there!


    • Thanks for responding Chris, glad you are starting to feel better. You certainly back up the point I am trying to make and mirrors my own experience as far as feeling much better once adding a bit of body fat back, so I appreciate you sharing.

      It’s been 2 weeks since I ended my contest season and I am up 8 lbs and I feel much better. Food craving are way down, energy levels up, sleeping better, killing it in the gym and getting back to my old self. Still not there all the way but on the right path. This will be a good weight to maintain now while my metabolism recovers.

      Yes I am not as ripped as I was but a guy today at the gym was like wow dude just have to say you look amazing do you compete? Felt good for sure and my goal is to look muscular the entire off season and not get “fat”. Once my metabolism recovers I will be slowly adding LBM and keeping fat gain to a minimum so I can have a long period of time to grow without having to stop and diet and I will be in a much better spot when it come time to start contest prep when the time comes. 🙂

      • Hey Guys,

        Really enjoying this topic although not too sure I can add anything of value as I have never competed or dieted down that low!

        From where I am standing I would say it must be imperative that you get back to as near normal regarding BF% that is ideal for you to operate without feeling flat all the time, ASAP.
        Also to get you hormone balance and metabolism working as best you can. As surely it’s only when you’re at this stage can you feel your best and start to stress your body and your CNS with building more serious muscle.

        I know this may be repeating your sentiments but it makes sense to get your body back to as near normal ASAP.
        The condition you end up in when on prep for a show is not a condition you can maintain for any real length of time as it’s not something your body wants or can deal with easy. Probably explains why it so hard to fool your body to get there and why you feel so bad when there!

        I think the biggest challenge is yet to come. As maintaining a good LBM, over time, whilst building muscle and not getting suckered in to putting on too much fat trying to gain muscle will require dedication to the diet again and possibly throw up some new dilemmas. Like plateaus with body weight, weight loss, too much fat gain, and plateaus with strength and energy. Not bad problems to face when you’re looking good at about 8-10% BF and a decent size!

        By the way, do either of you have any thoughts on insulin spikes and crashing and falling asleep after a meal. This happens to me often and I’ve tried all sorts of solutions from eating less fast digesting carbs to eating more carbs and even very low carbs!
        But I don’t think carbs is the real villain here as the protein can give the same affect so I have read. This happens most often in the afternoon after lunch and in the evening after dinner. I think meal size and calorific value (and possibly fats) may be more the problem here but I would welcome your thoughts. I train early in the morning and now make sure that I eat some protein and carbs before my workout and a good amount of protein and carbs after. I have also upped my carb intake in general and tried to keep a really tight check on my fats which seems to have given so much more energy and I’m convinced has got my hormone levels in a better balance.

        Welcome your thoughts.

        Cheers, Graham.

      • Hi Dean,

        You seem to be doing ok to get over the first hurdle of getting your weight/BF/metabolism back to near normal which must leave you with a really good feeling ready for the next challenge.

        How will you gauge how much to gain without gaining too much fat?
        I would guess it will be a combination of pictures at predetermined intervals, weight on the scale, BF levels and increases in strength. Whilst always making only small adjustments to calories and macros. A bit like the reverse of dieting for prep, a very long prep in reverse!
        The difficult bit will be patience and growing slowly whilst trying to stay focused and motivated especially if you hit plateaus or sustain injuries.

        I don’t think you will have any real problems with this because you always prepare well and have good people working with you. It will certainly be exciting times ahead, using science backed training and nutrition initiatives and ideas!

        As for my problems of crashing and feeling tired after eating. The problem is not as frequent now that I seem to have a better balance with my macro nutrient intake and am probably eating more calories. But after getting to a good (for me) BF level where I have some good definition I am in the same boat as you going forward by trying to gain more size whilst staying lean.


  • Thanks Graham, you are correct in that post contest season is the most difficult time, even more so than the dieting phase to get lean. When your in contest prep you had a goal to focus on and a reason to be that diligent in your diet. Once contest season is wrapped up there is no longer that looming goal of a show to keep you on track so there is far less motivation. To add to this as you increase your calories it actually increases hunger and makes you want to eat more. So the combination of increased hunger and less reason to stay on track often leads people to binge and add 20 to 30 lbs of weight in a very short period of time.

    What I have found so far is that now that I have had the discipline to get up to 190 lbs (adding 9 pounds over 2 weeks) those food cravings and binge feelings have decreased so I am very thankful for that. As you said the key now will be to continue to track food intake and continue to add lean body mass but I think the worse is behind me. Ultimately that’s the challenge for anyone wanting to maintain a lower body fat level and athletic muscular look year round.

    As for your energy fluctuations I have experience them as well but I am not sure its tied to food at all, at least in my case. I eat the same thing for my meals everyday but will have days were I am fine in the afternoon and other days were I am really fighting sleep. Since the food intake and composition is the same in both situations I don’t think its insulin in my case. I do know insulin can cause drowsiness as can eating a large meal. How much quality sleep you had the night before may be a cause as well. I wish I had an answer for you, if you do figure it out let me know. 🙂

  • Genuinely loved this thread guys.

    I am currently 15 days post pulling out from my show at 4 weeks out

    I pulled out at:
    – 1950 calories x 4
    – 1600 calories x 2 ( Rest Days)
    – 4200 calories (Weekly Refeed)
    Average intake 2171 calories / day
    – 1200 calories of MISS per week
    – 10000 steps on training days ( 5 days )
    – 15000 steps on rest days ( 2 days )

    The reason I pulled out was due to not being muscularly ready in my opinion with my goal being taking the overall and winning the show

    I am now eating 2800 calories per day and am up about 1kg 15 days later and that is with an increase of carbs from 150 -> 350 per day so glycogen and water is going to play a part in bodyweight increase as well as appearing more smoother

    I do miss looking as diced and striated everywhere but am absolutely loving being able to train more and more

    BF% is around 6 at the moment and the goal is to build calories for 12 weeks to allow for my hormones to return to normal levels and then do a brief 3 week mini-cut to drop some fluff and then transition into a lean bulk]

    My plan for the transition from the mini-cut to lean bulk is to just go back to pre mini cut intake due to the period of time of the mini cut not being long enough to have enough down regulation of certain systems

    Let me know your thoughts 🙂

    • Hey Tom,

      Appreciate your comment and it sounds like you have a good plan in place. Was this your first time dieting for a show? Where you working with a coach?

      My only thoughts are that for the most part people should avoid going back to any kind of a dieting phase to quickly especially if your metabolism has not fully recovered. Once you get to the lower end of your bodies set point or to a body fat level you are okay with then the goal should be to just chill at that weight. Remember its your body’s fat levels that determine your hormone levels in natural bodybuilders. Once you get to that point then you should be able to transition straight into a lean gaining phase.

      An example of a lean gaining phase is to try and hold your body weight and just train. Despite trying to hold your weight you will slowly add a few pounds. The weight should be mostly muscle with a bit of fat. Adding muscle once you are past the beginner stage is a fairly slow process. Eating 100 calories a day over maintenance will not cause the scale to move much if at all but will allow you to add the same amount of muscle then if you were eating in a 500 calories a day surplus. The only difference in the two calorie surpluses is how much additional fat you will add not the amount of muscle.

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