If you’ve ever dieted for a bodybuilding contest—or for an extended period just to reduce bodyfat—then you know what you want to do right after that: nothing but eat all the decadent foods that you’ve been avoiding for the past couple of months.
Sure, that’s one way to follow-up a restricted diet, but it can turn into a disaster, resulting in startling bodyfat gains. A better strategy is to use this time to gain impressive heaps of muscle by taking advantage of the body’s rebound effect.
The best gains of an entire year often come in the first few weeks after a cutting phase, making that period of time ideal for growth. In fact, you can easily gain five, six or even 10 pounds of real muscle mass in just six short weeks. Here are seven steps you can use to transition from a diet straight into six weeks of pure anabolism.
1. Understand your body’s overcompensation mechanisms.
The lucky bodybuilder has a fantastic metabolism that allows him to get ripped to the bone yet retain valuable muscle mass during a precontest diet. For many, getting ready for a contest is an exercise in modified starving. Some bodybuilders have to cut back on nearly everything—fat, carbohydrates and total calories—while pumping up the time spent on cardio to facilitate bodyfat burn.
The truth is that the entire dieting process is hard on the body and often throws it into a chronic catabolic state where it loses some muscle or, at best, struggles to maintain muscle mass. The upside is that when the potentially catabolic process is alleviated, the body overcompensates, reverses gears and rebounds into a very strong anabolic state.
2. Ramp up your intake of carbs and quality fats.
When dieting, you are always restricting something. Consuming fewer carbs and less fat results in less energy. That can trigger muscle loss, but it also sets in motion anabolic signals that can prime the body for major growth when you end the diet—as long as there are sufficient amounts of carbs and fats in your revamped nutrition program. After dieting, the body can’t wait to get growing, as long as you reintroduce the right amounts of these nutrients.
In addition, hormones and enzymes help get the growth ball rolling. When you diet, testosterone levels can fall. When you start to eat again, they quickly bounce back. Rising testosterone levels, coupled with an increase in food intake, result in quick and substantial gains in muscle mass.
Furthermore, while muscle reserves of stored carbs (glycogen) decline during a dieting phase, glycogen-storing enzymes that potentially pack away a lot of carbs are working overtime. When you finish your diet and start to eat more quality foods, your body swells with massive glycogen stores, which directly impacts growth.
3. Follow the “150 rule” of carbohydrate intake. No two bodybuilders have the same metabolism.
That’s one reason competitors diet on different amounts of carbohydrates. Some eat a very low-carb diet to get cut up, while others eat a modified low-carb diet. Neither case warrants pounding down carbs after a competition and expecting to grow without getting fat. Be choosy and take a smart approach. For the bodybuilders I work with, I have found that adding 150 grams (g) of carbs a day seems to work best. If you dieted on 170 g of carbs a day, you can expect to grow without gaining bodyfat by taking in a total of 320 g of carbs daily for the first three weeks after your diet phase. If you ate 300 g daily while dieting, go to 450 g a day. The best sources are slow-burning carbs such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, brown rice and yams with meals, and simple carbs or sugars before and after your workouts.
4. Adjust your carbs in the fourth week after your dieting phase.
The body is an interesting machine. As you feed it after a dieting phase, your metabolism actually rises. As it does, you should continue to add more carbohydrates to compensate for the increase. If you do not add more carbs by the fourth week, your body may stall and fail to continue to achieve additional muscle gains due to a lack of energy coming in to support your rising metabolism. Therefore, from weeks four to six, add another 100-125 g of carbs a day to your diet. If you were eating 320 g at the completion of the third week, you could go to 420-445 a day; if you were eating 450 g a day, go to 550-575.
5. Don’t cut yourself short on fats.
I’ll be the first to say that an extremely low-fat diet remains an excellent and proven way to rip up for competition or for the beach. Extreme low-fat dieting gets rid of the main macronutrient that is most likely to interfere with the shedding of bodyfat—dietary fat—and it allows you to keep your carbs somewhat higher during a cutting phase. The big downside of very low-fat diets is that they can also cause a drop in testosterone, growth hormone (GH) and insulinlike growth factor-I (IGF-I).
But, guess what? When you go back to eating the right kinds of fat in the few weeks after dieting, it helps support testosterone, GH and IGF-I levels, and, as mentioned in step 2, rising testosterone levels have a strong effect on adding quality mass. Increase your dietary fat in the first three weeks by 40-50 g a day and add another 10-15 g daily in weeks four through six. Ideal sources of fat include a mix of the following: saturated fats, found in lean beef and full-fat dairy products; omega fats, from salmon and fish oil supplements; and monounsaturated fats, found in avocados olives, nuts and olive oil.
6 Know your protein quotient.
You have to pound protein to grow, right? That is not necessarily the case in the first few weeks after a diet. Getting your body to overcompensate and grow is really a matter of increasing energy. You do this by consuming more carbs and dietary fat, and, of course, by cutting out cardio during this period of time. That said, how much protein do you need?
In the first six weeks after a diet or contest, a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day is more then enough, and even a little less is fine. Why? Efficiency. When you increase calories by adding carbs and fat, you lessen the need for higher protein intake. The added fuel from carbs and fat makes the body extremely efficient at packing protein away in muscles. A higher carb and fat intake also lessens the need for the additional protein commonly consumed during a dieting phase. Rising testosterone and GH levels further support the body’s ability to uptake and use protein without waste, another reason protein needs are not as great as many think during a postdiet period.
7. Change up your training.
Of course, how you train can also impact growth. Generally, during a diet, in addition to performing cardio, bodybuilders tend to train with high volume and high intensity. When you come off your calorie restriction, you should also change up your workouts. For best results, take a week or two off from training to let your body recover. Then, get back into it with low reps and heavy weights. This will help you boost your gains in strength and muscle mass.
Bodybuilders often squander the period after a contest or diet in their eagerness to stop worrying about their food intake, instead taking the respite as a chance to binge on whatever they feel like eating. A far better strategy is to view these six weeks as an ideal time for growth: by increasing calories from quality carbs and fats, you can take advantage of this narrow but potent anabolic window of opportunity to make solid gains