Hevy Coach

Log In

Reverse Diet: Meaning, Examples, and Benefits

What is a Reverse Diet?

A reverse diet involves gradually increasing calories over several weeks following a weight loss phase. The goal is to slowly reverse the metabolic adaptation, increase the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), and improve hormonal health while limiting fat regain. The approach has been popular among bodybuilders looking to recover after contest preparation.

Example of Reverse Diet

Suppose someone has finished a weight loss phase on 1,800 calories, roughly 500 calories below maintenance level. Instead of immediately jumping to 2,300 calories, the person does so gradually. For instance:

  • Week 1 – 1,900 calories
  • Week 2 – 2,000 calories
  • Week 3 – 2,100 calories
  • Week 4 – 2,200 calories
  • Week 5 – 2,350 calories
  • Week 6 – 2,500 calories

At some point, people reach and surpass their maintenance calories, resulting in weight and body fat gain. This is not necessarily bad, particularly after contest preparation, as it helps improve hormonal health and well-being. 

Here are some findings from a 12-month case study by Rossow et al. on a natural bodybuilder:

  • The subject was a 26-27-year-old natural bodybuilder, six months before and after the competition
  • Body fat went from 14.8% to 4.5% in 6 months
  • Blood pressure dropped from 132/69 to 104/56
  • Strength decreased during the contest prep
  • Testosterone declined from 9.22 to 2.27 ng/mL during the prep

Following the contest prep, body fat returned to 14.6%, testosterone rose to 9.91 ng/mL, blood pressure increased to 116/64, and mood disturbances returned to normal.

Do Your Clients Need to Reverse Diet?

At first glance, reverse dieting seems like the right way to go, as it helps improve metabolic and hormonal health while controlling body fat regain. 

The problem is that this process unnecessarily slows the return to normal, which is particularly noticeable after extreme fat loss, such as to get stage-ready for bodybuilding.

For instance, instead of immediately increasing calories to maintenance (which, by definition, will not result in fat regain), trainees gradually bump their food intake over several weeks and continue to be in a deficit that keeps them from recovering. 

Not gaining body fat means leptin levels continue to be suppressed, hunger remains high, and BMR is low to conserve energy.

Fortunately, there is an alternative that works far better: a recovery diet. 

The premise is to immediately raise calories to maintenance (or a slight surplus), replenish lost glycogen, gain some body fat, and kickstart the diet recovery more quickly. Rather than staying in a deficit after a harsh fat loss period, people can return to normal, feel better, and enjoy more productive training.

This concept was introduced by Dr. Eric Helms, a well-known expert in the fitness industry, a natural bodybuilder, and part of the 3D Muscle Journey team.


1. How long should a reverse diet last?

Reverse diets generally last anywhere from four to eight weeks. Anything longer is typically not a good idea, as it unnecessarily hinders the post-diet recovery period.

2. Should a reverse diet cause weight gain?

A reverse diet will inevitably lead to scale weight gain, even if just in the form of extra glycogen and water. Most people, especially competitive bodybuilders, should strive to regain body fat soon after dieting to reverse some of the unfavorable physiological changes.

3. What are some signs that a reverse diet works?

Eating more calories without gaining noticeable amounts of weight, seeing mood improvements, and becoming less food-obsessed are promising signs that the reverse diet has been productive.

Try Hevy Coach

Easy to use personal trainer software with an amazing client experience.

Related Terms in Nutrition Category