Why the Diet After Your Diet Matters
Once you’ve successfully managed to lose a load of fat, get absolutely ripped and reveal the muscle you worked hard for, it’s important that you keep dieting.
Yes, the diet after your diet really does matter.
Why do I need to diet after my diet?
If you’ve gotten shredded and can very clearly see your abs, you can see striations in your chest muscles and veins in your calves etc. then you’ve either eating for fat loss (dieting) for a very long time, or with a large calorie deficit (or both).
In these scenarios, you’ve had to keep saying no to tempting, delicious food in the name of getting shredded.
Yes, you can eat whatever you want while you’re dieting, but you can’t really fit in that much crap if you’re trying to get REALLY ripped. You’ve got a protein goal to hit and a calorie number to stay below (and it isn’t many). If you care one bit about your health, you’re also trying to hit a fibre goal.
Doing all of that really doesn’t leave room for THAT much delicious food. If you’re anything like me, you say no to temptation because you’d rather save the calories and reach your target faster.
While you’re exercising your iron will power, it’s inevitable you start dreaming about all of the foods you’re going to let yourself enjoy when you finally come off of the diet.
First, you’re going to get a pizza. Then you’re going to follow it up with some ice cream. You might get an Indian takeaway (my personal favourite) the next night. You’ll treat yourself during the mid-afternoon office slump to some lovely grab bags of chocolate treats (sharing size) that you won’t share with anybody.
Why not? You’ve earned it! And you’re going to stay within your calorie goal, right? You’ve worked out how many calories you need for bulking – you’re going to be eating twice as much as you were when you were cutting! Loads of room for some treats!
Slow down there
Before you go off cramming in everything that’s delicious, you need to make sure you really know what your NEW maintenance calories are.
You’ve just spent months and months dieting. You now weigh less. Your new weight requires fewer calories to sustain it than your “bulked up” weight did. At the end of my last cut I weighed 16% less than I did at the beginning! That’s significant!
In addition, you probably don’t move around as much anymore now that you’re eating fewer calories. You won’t even notice this. It’s NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). Basically, we become lazier when we restrict our calories. It’s one of the body’s survival mechanisms. When you have a surplus of calories, NEAT is upregulated slightly. In a deficit, it reduces.
I’m not saying anything sensationalist like you’ve “crashed your metabolism”. I’ve seen that mentioned online a lot, and it’s ridiculous. However, dieting for a long time does mean you require fewer calories than you did before, because you weigh less and you move less.
Here’s What Happens When You Rush Your Bulk
You get fat, quickly.
Here’s my 4 month bulking results from a couple of years ago (where I’m looking very lean but pretty skinny in the first picture!)
Great! I may have gained a pound or 2 of muscle or so in that time, but my scale weight is about 25 pounds heavier!
Don’t go straight to what you think are your “bulking calories”
Your bulking calories may be what you were gaining on at a slow and steady rate last time, but how optimal was your bulk? And was that steady gain on those calories at the start or end of it? If it was towards the end, you won’t need that many calories to slowly gain weight now. You weighed MORE then, you needed to eat more to gain slowly. If you eat that much NOW, you’ll gain weight a lot faster!
Eating more doesn’t mean you gain muscle any faster. Additional calories just mean faster fat gain and the same muscle gain! Building muscle is SLOW!
You need to find your new maintenance calories. If you think you know what they are, I advise going 10% below that number. E.g. If you think your maintenance calories are 3,000, then eat 2,700.
Do this for a few weeks at least and monitor the change in your scale weight. You will still be getting to eat plenty more food than you were before, with room for some “fun” food!
Initially, you will gain back a bit of weight.
You might gain a couple of kilograms quite quickly. This is nothing to worry about. You’re not gaining fat because you crashed your metabolism or anything like that! It’s just water weight you’re gaining back because you’ve very likely increased your carb intake. There’s also more food inside you (gross!)
Once that initial weight gain has happened, weigh yourself every single day and record it somewhere. Write it down, record it in a spreadsheet, or myfitnesspal. We’re not interested in the daily changes, but we are interested in the weekly average.
Every Sunday, take the average weight from the week, and compare it to the average weight of the week before. Weight staying the same on average? Great, you’ve found your maintenance!
Still losing weight on average? Great, now you’re even more shredded than you were when you finished your cut AND you get to eat more food than you thought you could! Increase your calories by 100 – 200 and continue this process until your average weekly weight is staying the same. Once it is staying the same add 10% to the calories you are eating and you should be good to go with your bulk.
It is unlikely that you will have gained weight if you started with a number that was 10% lower than what you thought your maintenance would be. However, if you have, then hopefully it was only a very small gain (I’m talking fractions of a kilogram) – in which case, you’ve found your bulking calories! Carry on like this! If it was a large gain, however, you need to reduce your calories.
Once you’ve got your bulking calories
You need to be really diligent with your tracking of:
- What you’re eating.
- Your weight.
- What you’re lifting in the gym.
It’s even more important to accurately track what you eat when you’re bulking than it is when you’re in a fat loss phase.
When you’re trying to lose fat, you don’t always need to track everything. Sometimes you know that you can eat that extra bite off your kid’s plate, or have a bit of cake that was unplanned but offered to you, without sabotaging any progress. This is because there are times when you know you’re in a big enough surplus that a bit of untracked food isn’t going to bring you out of it – it will just make it a little bit smaller. All this does is slow down the fat loss process slightly. You still make progress, just a tiny bit slower.
Don’t relax your approach to tracking just because you’re bulking
If you do this when you’re trying to gain muscle, you end up with extra calories above what you need.
ALL OF THESE EXTRA CALORIES GO TOWARDS FAT GAIN AND THEY ADD UP EVERY TIME YOU DO IT.
Don’t get lax because you think “doesn’t matter, I’m bulking.”
Say you are hitting your bulking calories of 3,200 kcal each day, but three times a week you add an extra 300 calories or so. This wasn’t planned, but you just couldn’t say no to a slice of pizza you were offered, or a piece of cake at work because it was someone’s birthday. Three times a week means an extra 900 calories per week.
Every time those extra calories add up to 3,500, that’s another pound of fat you’ve gained. At a rate of 900 per week, that’s a pound of fat every month.
Some people add weekly, untracked cheat days to this too. Each one of these could be putting them 1,000 calories higher than they need to be. That’s another pound and a bit per month. Over a six month bulk, that’s 12 pounds or 5 and a half kilograms of fat ON TOP of the fat you would gain in a surplus anyway.
The smart bulker tracks everything and avoids food they can’t track. Six month’s into this person’s bulk, they’re still looking quite lean and able to go for a whole year if they want to. The first person has to call time on their bulk early and begin cutting again. Over a training lifetime the first person spends more time cutting and less time gaining muscle than the second person, and looks much smaller and weaker because of it.
Track your weight and make adjustments
As we’ve covered, your maintenance calories change as your weight changes. If you’re doing everything right then you’ll be gaining weight slowly, so your maintenance calories shouldn’t change too drastically.
Keep weighing yourself and taking weekly averages to ensure you’re still gaining weight at the slow rate you want. If you find you’re not, then it’s time for a small increase in calories.
Remember the key rules of muscle gain
Make sure you’re progressively overloading your muscles.
Track your lifts to ensure you’re always asking your body for one more rep, or the same reps with a tiny increase in weight. Over time, volume MUST be going up.
Sleep at least 7 hours per night, and ensure your small calorie surplus includes protein at 1g per pound of your bodyweight.
Focus the rest of your calories (after protein) on carbs so you can provide your body with energy to fuel progressively harder workouts, fuel to build muscle, and fewer fats that it likes to store!
Enjoy the gains!
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