It’s taken months of painstaking dieting and hard graft in the gym to finally achieve a body transformation to be proud of. Time to celebrate with a bottle of champagne and a well-deserved mouthwatering cheat meal of your choice. You wake up the next morning feeling a justifiable sense of accomplishment and achievement, and not to mention a full stomach for a change. The next obvious question you should ask yourself is, “How do I maintain my progress in a sustainable way?”
Transitioning from intense dieting to a maintenance or further progression phase, can be tricky and a common pitfall for many people. After my first physique show I made the mistake of not having a long term goal. I had achieved my dream body but felt a lack of direction after the competition. Instead of slowly increasing my calories to a more sustainable and bearable amount, I went on a 2 week binge and gained over 8 kilos (of mostly fat) in that short space of time. I had no long term goal and was deprived of my favorite foods for so long that I created a ‘screw it’ attitude.
This was definitely the worst approach to take and most of my hard work went to waste. After learning from these past mistakes, I came up with effective strategies to help transition from a period of dieting into longer term progress.
It’s not feasible to be constantly in a calorie deficit once you have reached your original goal. Your energy levels, motivation, metabolism, and performance in the gym will all eventually suffer. A viable option would be to reverse diet out of a fat loss phase. This is where you slowly taper up your calories on a week by week basis in conjunction with keeping your training levels high – which will enable you to boost your metabolism back up. Your scale weight might increase a bit but you should prevent any future rebound because you’re allowing yourself to gradually eat more.
It is possible to improve your body shape without the need to keep losing weight. You can stay the same weight or even gain a little bit during a body recomposition phase. This is achieved by eating at maintenance (not a deficit) in addition to training hard and progressively. Strength training will help you sculpt your physique without needing to cut your calories too low. If you want firmer glutes and stronger legs then you better get squatting!
Performance related goals are a fun way to stay motivated with your training and new dietary habits. Maybe training for the Spartan Race or a marathon will keep your interest going and also keep you in the shape that you worked so hard to achieve. The plus side of performance goals is that you won’t have to limit your carbohydrate intake as much as before. Pancakes anyone?
The point of getting into shape is to improve your life somehow. Whether it be for your health, sense of well-being, self-confidence, or just to be pain free, there needs be a solid reason for your hard work to be sustainable. For me, staying 7% body fat all year round is not a fun goal to have (for some it might be). I look great shirtless but it’s a pain in my backside being an avid foody when I’m so restricted on my calorie intake. You have to find the right balance that fits your lifestyle. It has to enhance it as opposed to making you get fed up with the constant dieting and hours of cardio. An enjoyable lifestyle is an easily maintainable one. Eating healthy with a decent level of quantity control goes a long way when it’s combined with a few hours of training a week. You can also schedule in a couple of sensible cheat meals a week to keep you sane!
After you effectively learn how to track your calories/macros, it should set you up nicely to be able to intuitively grasp how much you should be eating. The MyFitnessPal app is a great tool to help you understand more about food quantities but it’s not something you have to keep using for the rest of your life if you don’t want to. A well-executed dieting phase is a great starting point to a healthy, fit, and sustainable lifestyle moving forwards for many years to come!
Written by Coach Rishi Haria