Reverse dieting is a term growing in popularity in recent years, but seems to be very ambiguous to many competitors and non-competitors alike. Once contest season or dieting for vacation is over, many resort to jumping right back into their pre-diet eating habits and completely forsake any form of cardio.

Unfortunately, this leads to very quick fat gain and leaves many discouraged and ready to diet off the excess weight once again. This happens all the time, that is- unless dieters incorporate a reverse diet during their transition to growth phases. Knowing why a reverse diet is so important, and how it actually works, is vital for transitioning out of a diet without frustrating excess weight gain. This article is going to explain just why reverse dieting is important for making that happen.


Metabolic Adaption

The biggest factor in reverse dieting needs is that of metabolic adaption- a collection of adaptions occurring in the body to accommodate for increased fat loss, in what could be considered a modern day “starvation” by the body. As calories become chronically low, body fat stores are reduced, and subsequent energy reserves are lowered. It’s the body’s job to help keep us from starving to death by reducing the energy we exert throughout the day, as well as enhance our ability to store fat.

Reduced Basal Metabolic Rate

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is essentially the energy the body expends at rest, without the inclusion of exercise, daily activities such as walking to and from work, or digestion. As fat loss occurs, BMR has been shown to decline as the body works to expend less energy to accommodate for the declines in food intake, as well as the decrease in muscle tissue- an otherwise metabolically active tissue. [1] As BMR declines, the total daily caloric expenditure declines with it, and in turn creates a need for a greater caloric deficit to be created through additional dietary restrictions and/or weekly aerobic exercise intensity and duration.

At the cessation of a dieting phase, the BMR must adapt to increasing energy consumption as greater food intake is introduced. Without incorporating more food gradually, a sudden rise in daily caloric intake essentially overwhelms the depressed BMR, and leads to a greater storage of body fat rather than efficient use of the additional calories.

Reduced Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Another contributing factor to total daily energy expenditure is that of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which in short is the daily activity a person undergoes in their day-to-day life aside from planned exercise, like walking the dog or taking the stairs to work. NEAT is said to make up ~15% of total daily energy expenditure.

Keeping in mind that casual activity tends to decline as a dieting phase progresses is another factor in the importance of a proper reverse diet. Suddenly adding in large amounts of calories without paying attention to the likely reduced NEAT can introduce another source of caloric surplus and additional fat gain.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure Contributors: [2]

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) 70%
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) 15%
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) 10%
Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) 5%


While TEF and EAT will not vary much between growth season and fat loss phases, paying consideration to the changes in BMR and NEAT can help athletes to not only appropriately adjust their intake when dieting; but also make wise decisions during their transitions out of a dieting phase to maintain a better body composition following their efforts to improve ratios of body fat to muscle tissue during the diet. Understanding that our bodies are in fact dealing with suppressed abilities to expend calories after dieting helps to highlight the importance of keeping ourselves in check with our eating habits after finishing a fat loss phase.

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