If you have been in the game for a while then you’ve most likely experienced a few cycles in which you put on a lot of weight and lost a lot of weight. In the beginning you made some big strength gains and ate everything you could find if it contained protein. After a few months of this you were happy with the general shape your body was beginning to take, but you wanted to get rid of the additional fat you had accumulated.
So you cut, you probably cut 500 calories at first, then any time the scale didn’t move you cut some more. After a couple of months you were relatively defined and could finally see the work you put in. After that? You repeat the cycles, jump the calories back up and get on the gain train, then try to get shredded and see the new muscle under the fat. This is the classic model of a bodybuilder’s macro-cycle.
Bulking & Cutting Is Flawed
It is, however, flawed. Every time someone jumps up by a substantial amount of calories they are creating an environment for growth but to the lifter’s dismay and contrary to their deepest desires, not all of the new mass is muscle. Likewise, when they cut calories to lose fat, hard earned muscle will be sacrificed. The grind is difficult, long, and the same progress must be repeated. Let me say that again, the same progress must be repeated.
For example, someone weighs 200 pounds with 10% body fat (for nice even numbers’ sake) and eats perhaps 2800 calories per day. They spend the next few months shooting up their calories and lifting hard. Now they weigh 220 pounds and are perhaps 16% body fat eating 3500 calories. They have a little under 5 new pounds of muscle and a little over 15 new pounds of fat. They most likely gained a fair deal of strength and are proud of the muscle they made, but it’s time to get rid of the fat, so they spend some time cutting.
Fast forward to a few months later and they are 203 pounds, 8% body fat and had to cut to eating 2300 calories per day. During the cut they lost some of the strength they acquired. After all this time, our bodybuilder has improved, however; the overall improvement is marginal and they are now eating a good deal less calories. As years go by, this pattern will continue.
Gain, Lose, Gain
Will they make hypertrophic gains? Yes. Will they get stronger? Yes. Will they look better? Yes, but mostly when they are cutting. The issue is that the same strength will be acquired, lost, and reacquired again and again. The same total pounds of skeletal muscle will need to be acquired over and over. The same mid-range body fat percentages will be passed over on the way up and down. This is a lot of wasted time and effort. It is inefficient.
Studies have shown that when attempting to lose fat and preserve muscle, slower fat loss will equal more prominent fat loss. In 2011, a study¹ involving elite athletes from the Norwegian Olympic Sports Center compared two groups losing fat at different rates. Both lost about 9 pounds of weight, but the fast rate group did so in 5.5 weeks; the slow rate group took 8.5 weeks. The significance is the composition of the 9 pounds. The fast group lost 7 pounds of body fat, and lost 0.66 pounds of lean muscle. The slow group lost 11 pounds of body fat, and gained 2 pounds of lean muscle. Substantial!
Many have been successful losing fat like this only to be thwarted when they begin to try and “get big” and gain back a lot of the weight in body fat. In the long run, these cycles make the desired physique more difficult to attain diet-wise.
Is Reverse Dieting The Answer?
A solution that many have employed in recent years is called reverse dieting. This technique can be thought of as the reverse to a slow, controlled cut. When one reaches the point where they do not want to drop weight any longer they would most likely want to eat more than they currently are. By increasing macro nutrients incrementally over time, the body is given the chance to adjust much better. We are talking about increasing carbs by 8 grams or less per week, fats by just a few grams. This way, very minimal fat will be gained, and caloric intake will be much easier to manage.
This paves the way for cycles of constant improvement. When you finish cutting, you can maintain or nearly maintain a low body fat percentage and get back to eating a more comfortable amount of food. While calories are on the rise, the body has excess to build muscle with, and won’t be storing too much as fat.
Then, when ready to attempt for a lower body fat again, you would be able to diet down with much more leeway to work with. The difference between starting to cut with 2500 calories, versus starting to cut with 2900 calories will feel substantial, especially in the later stages. In addition to this, you will be closer to your goal because you did not regain so much body fat. This means year after year, you will see improvement rather than a lot of backtracking.
Does the prospect of eating more and staying leaner with less difficulty sound too good to be true? Well, there is no clinical research available at the present time, but many of the top coaches in the business are employing this protocol. Some of these coaches are scientists themselves, and are working towards producing the research to back their methods. What they do have to provide results are their massive clientele with improving physiques year after year.