You've reached the end of your cut. There are plenty of reasons why someone might want to be in a dieting phase for a period of time. Perhaps your bulk was going a little too far and you needed to take your foot off the peddle for a few weeks, maybe you had a photo shoot or holiday that you wanted to achieve a certain look for, maybe it was a contest prep. Regardless, we can't stay in a calorie deficit indefinitely. Assuming that you are active, dieting does not put your body in a prime spot to make progress. Most people find that they get slower, tire easier and strength takes a hit in the final stages.
You should always have an exit plan for your diet. This avoids the binge mindset. The leaner you are at the end of your diet, the more important this is! For example, assuming that you were 'stage lean', post bodybuilding prep a body is particularly susceptible to holding onto fat. Your body can actually create new fat cells in this state, in addition the fat cells that shrunk during the diet filling back out. This is not only going to make your next diet harder, but is incredibly dangerous for the vital organs to be accruing stubborn fat around them. Other side effects of rapid, uncontrolled refeeding include; GI issues, distension, physiological issues and hunger up-regulating to extreme levels, feeding into the cycle even more.
Dieting affects the hormones that signal hunger and satiety, ghrelin and leptin. While this is more applicable to physique athletes and those engaging in extreme weight cutting, both of which are at risk of developing a whole host of hormonal imbalances, it is scientifically shown that increased ghrelin and decreased leptin will literally prevent you from feeling 'full'. Thereby, preparing mentally for an offseason transition is everything.
What to do
Immediately increase calories. The specific amount will depend on how lean you got and how you feel. For example, a male natural bodybuilder suffering from extreme low energy and hormonal imbalances should get straight into a small surplus to regain some essential weight, before moving into something closely resembling the next option. This is known as the recovery diet.
A woman who lost a few pounds to have some definition for their holiday and is happy to prolong the look, will want to reverse diet. This involves moving up to what you estimate your new maintenance calories to be (keep in mind that the reduction in body mass means that your BMR is now less than it was when you were heavier). From there, add around 50-100 calories a week from mostly carbs and some fat, or reduce cardio, and track weight for a controlled building phase. Most individuals record actually looking better as they engage in this process due to muscle glycogen stores filling and inflammation in the body decreasing. This is known as the reverse diet.
As you settle into eating your offseason calories and hormones go back to baseline (this is, again, very individual, but I would recommend following a structured plan for at least a month or two) you may be in a place to move over to a more intuitive style of eating, if preferred.
A quick note on training- do not cut it out after a diet! Go for lower weight, higher reps if needed, but ideally do not change your routine too much. It is important to keep sessions in to utilise the extra carbohydrates and make use of the post diet 'rebound' phase, during which most people are able to make significantly more gains than, say, at a maintenance phase.
Woman finishes a diet at 1500 calories. Her maintainance calories pre-diet were 2000, which have now decreased to 1800.
Her calories are immediately increased to 1800, protein is set at around 1g/lb (if protein has been extremely high during the diet for muscle retention and satiety purposes, replace those calories with carbohydrate). If after a week, weight has remained stagnant, decreased, or individual is happy to continue gaining, add 100 cal, with priority placed on carbohydrates around training.
Disclaimer: this is a very general example. Listen to your own biofeedback and your coach!
A high quality protein supplement is a staple year round. Gaspari Nutrition Precision Protein is a 100% hydrolysed whey isolate with added enzymes for easy digestion and fast uptake.
A good probiotic is a good idea to intake as volume of food increases and you potentially add some different foods to your diet that you haven't had in some time. We would recommend the CNP Probiotic.
There is a phenomenon of athletes coming out of extreme diets and becoming ill. This may be down to the stress on the body coming to a head. An immune support can help prevent this.
By Savannah Westerby