What to Do After a Cutting Phase? Guide on Reverse Dieting

For many the goal of a cut is to get as lean as possible by burning excess body fat and hopefully showing the result of your hard work in the gym in the form of muscle mass. For some you might just want to lose body fat in order to maintain a lean physique year round. 

Regardless of what your motivation is to cut in the first place this is surprisingly not the most difficult part (though a cut can of course be challenging), the most difficult part is then what do you do after the cut?

When you are laser focused on the goal of burning body fat and getting down to a certain body fat percentage then motivation is high and there is a finish line in sight, once this goal is reached however then many people end up thinking what is next.  

What to do after a cutting phase? There are two options after a cutting phase, you can either start a bulking phase to build muscle or go into a maintenance phase whereby you maintain your current physique and body fat level. A maintenance phase is best for those looking for a balanced lifestyle and a lean physique.

When you finish a cutting phase you will be left with the option to reverse diet, this is a term coined in the bodybuilding world and involves reversing your calorie intake to get back to either a maintenance level or long term surplus after a deficit. 

The thing to be careful of however is that your body will be hypersensitive to calories after a cut and many will put on significant amounts of body fat afterwards which is known as rebound dieting. In this article I’ll cover the best methods for preventing a rebound diet as well as your best options following a cutting phase. 

How Long Does a Cutting Phase Last

Before wondering what to do after a cutting phase you will need to get your timeline in order and work out how long your cutting phase will last. 

This can be decided in a number of ways and it will depend on the individual goals and lifestyle, a cutting phase can last until a certain date (a planned holiday for example), until a certain scale weight or until a certain body fat percentage is reached. 

Whichever approach you are taking the important thing to know is when you are going to end a cut. 

When to End a Cut

For the majority of people I would recommend that you end a cut based upon reaching a certain body fat percentage level. There are a few reasons that I have for this and they all pretty much come down to the ability to monitor and track progress and results. 

If for example you end a cut on a specific date but are still 15% body fat then as soon as you increase calories this will start to be stored as body fat again and you’ll never receive the benefits that come with lower body fat levels. 

You also want to use a body fat percentage goal in order to compare it with industry standards. What I mean by this is that anything under 10% body fat and you are getting to levels that are incredibly lean to the point of bodybuilding or fitness photo shoot standards. 

This is an incredibly difficult goal to reach and will not be achievable by many based on lifestyle and motivational factors. A body fat percentage of 10%-12% is what many would consider to be lean, in shape and very much attainable. 

You will have visible abs at this body fat level and it’s also something that could be maintained year round. 

Anything over 12% is not really an efficient cut, it sounds harsh but many can naturally maintain this with no specific dieting or training. Therefore If you are not sure when you should end a cut then aim for ending a cut once you get to 10% body fat.

What to Do After a Cutting Phase

We will use the example of a 10% body fat level as your end goal from a cut and use this to work out what to do after a cutting phase. 

At this body fat percentage you are faced with two options and these will depend entirely on your goal. The first is whether you want to pursue maximum muscle growth to build your physique, if this is you then your next stage should be to bulk. 

Bulking is something that I cover extensively on this site (I’m all about bulking and building muscle) and therefore if this is something you want to look into in more detail i recommend checking out these articles to get you started:

Bulking for beginners
Lean bulk vs bulk and cut cycles

The next option that you will have and the main focus of this article is to work up to maintenance, this means that you’ll maintain weight and body fat percentage for an extended period of time essentially setting a new lifestyle baseline. 

The reason I want to focus on maintenance is because after a cutting phase you should slowly work up to maintenance in order to reduce the rebound dieting effect. This should even be the case for those that want to bulk up. 

Transition From Cutting to Maintenance

Transitioning from cutting to maintenance will be a lot harder for some that it will for others and this will all come down to how difficult of a cutting phase you had to endure. For those that started a cut at a high body fat percentage and a low level of muscle mass it likely would have been very difficult. 

If you were an active gym goer with a decent level of muscle mass then you likely already have certain habits and knowledge when it comes to dieting that could be transferred over to cutting in a caloric deficit.

For those without those habits already in place then cutting will likely seem like hard work and will take a toll on you both mentally and physically (I’m really putting a negative spin on cutting here!). 

A thing that many overlook about a cut is that you need to build habits and systems in order to adhere to the plan and stay on track, it’s not as simple as consuming three bowls of soup per day or whatever the latest low calorie dieting trend is at the minute. 

Therefore my point is that when you finish a cut the temptation for many after being restricted from calorie and food choices is often to then fall off the wagon and start consuming high calorie foods with no regard to energy balance or the habits that you’ve just built up.

It’s therefore crucial that when coming off of a cutting phase that you work your way up to your maintenance calorie requirements slowly. To work out what your new maintenance calorie requirements will be you can check out the bulking for beginners link that I put in earlier. 

Rather than jumping into anything drastic you need to be aware that after a cutting phase and a prolonged period of time in a caloric deficit that your body will be hypersensitive to calories, therefore you want to slowly build up again in increments of around 100kcal to test out your sensitivity without too much exposure to gaining excess fat.

If by contrast you slam in 1000kcals extra each day after a cut then who knows how you are going to respond to that, chances are it will be storing the majority as body fat!

How to Maintain Your Weight After Cutting

Without trying to repeat myself, the main way to maintain your weight after cutting is to take a very cautious approach to reintroducing calories, particularly if it involves any form of surplus. You first need to decide at what weight you are comfortable maintaining long term. 

** A good place to check out a full reverse dieting guide in detail is 3DMJ

If your calorie intake is currently too low to manage then you might have to accept a slightly higher body fat percentage in order order to adhere to the plan. As mentioned earlier though, as long as you are under 12% body fat then for most this will be a relatively lean and maintainable body fat percentage.

Tracking daily steps, training hard in the gym and maintaining an active lifestyle in general are great ways to maintain weight after a cut (a cut should be just as much about forming habits and routines as it is about losing body fat), the key difficulty that you will be faced with is what to eat after a cut. 

Eating at Maintenance After a Cut

During a cut cravings and appetite will be at all time highs, a restriction of calories is just as much mental will power as it is physically coping on a caloric deficit. Therefore during this time many will crave ‘cheat meals’ and food items that they are generally restricted to on a cut. 

As soon as the cut is finished then this leaves the door open for all hell to break loose with your diet. This is really the most crucial time to be patient in your approach and not go on an eating binge, as mentioned this will lead to rebound dieting and putting the fat on twice as quickly as what it took to burn off in the first place. 

To build yourself up to maintenance calories after a cut you still need to follow a form of diet plan and ensure that your weekly caloric intake is at maintenance. There is of course some flexibility in your diet now and slightly upping your calories one day can be offset by decreasing them the next. 

The real trick to eating at maintenance after a cut is to balance your calorie intake over the course of a week in order to maintain weight. There isn’t a magic food plan or workout routine that will make the process easier, it really is about manipulating calories over the course of a week. 

This balanced approach to dieting will allow some flexibility for a weekend occasion or midweek treat as long as you counteract this with a day or two in a deficit to balance it out. 

Therefore there isn’t any key thing for ways to eat at maintenance after a cut, the best way to approach it is to balance your intake and expenditure day by day and track it on a weekly basis. This is the simplest way to maintain a lean physique year round without punishing yourself in the process!

What Next

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