Losing body fat is simple, at least in theory:
All you have to do is make sure you’re in a calorie deficit, which is required to lose fat, and that you’re strength training in order to build, or at least preserve your muscle mass as your fat comes of.
Seems easy right?
But, when moving beyond theory and actually doing it, suddenly it becomes a lot more challenging.
In this post I’m going to shine some light on one of the most effective strategies that’ll make fat loss feel downright easy. Not only that, it’ll also help you stay lean easier once you get there as well.
The strategy which will help you achieve this is called “Diet Periodization”
What is Diet Periodization?
Diet periodization simply means taking periods of time throughout your cutting phase where you’re doing something differently to more easily and effectively reach your desired outcome, being fat loss.
When it comes to cutting body fat, diet periodization means doing two things:
- Changing your rate of fat loss over time accordingly to your body fat percentage
- Implementing so called diet breaks if/when needed
By doing these things correctly, your cutting phase will feel a lot easier and you’ll have far less trouble staying lean once you get there as well.
Now, the main purpose of using diet periodization is to help with something called “diet fatigue”.
Diet fatigue is hands down the greatest enemy to fat loss. Once you get too fatigued, your body and mind will start working against you, which forces you to use willpower in order to continue getting results.
And, no matter how much we like to see ourselves as masters of willpower. Unfortunately we will give in to out natural impulses sooner or later, and fall of the waggon.
Now, don’t get me wrong here:
When you’re dieting to lose body fat, eventually you will experience some sort of fatigue, there’s no way around that. This happens simply because you’re taking away the biggest aspect of recovery in order to lose fat, which is calories.
But there are ways to effectively mitigate how much fatigue that you build up, and this is exactly what diet periodization is designed to do.
I’ve long been at the belief that you should make your journey towards a lean and muscular physique as easy and enjoyable as possible. In fact, as cliché at it might sound, getting the physique should add value to your life and not the other way around.
And in order to get the physique without giving up on living a normal life in the process, you must make sure that both mental and physical diet fatigue are reduced as much as possible, so that you’re not putting your nose to the grindstone just to return back to your previous body fat percentage once you’re done.
Avoiding this can only be done by planning ahead. So, let’s look at how we can do that:
How to Set Up Diet Periodization Correctly
The main purpose of diet periodization is to slow down your calorie deficit in the most effective and enjoyable way possible as you’re getting leaner and leaner. This will lead to better recovery throughout your cutting phase, which in turn keeps diet fatigue from getting too high.
No other strategy, be it intermittent fasting, flexible dieting or eating the perfect macro balance, will have such pronounced effects on making fat loss feel as easy as the strategy of diet periodization do.
Okay cool, so how do you set it up?
Set Up Your Calorie Deficit Based on Your Body Fat Percentage
The first thing you should do is to set up your calorie deficit based on your body fat percentage. I discussed how to do this completely in this post.
But, in short the first step is to find out your estimated body fat percentage, which you can do by looking at this picture:
And/or by using the Iron Built Fitness Body Fat Percentage Calculator.
Best would be to combine these two by looking both at the images and using the calculator. Don’t try to be 100 % accurate (because no one will be), and it’s not important. What’s important is that you’re in the correct ball park.
Once you’ve guesstimated your body fat percentage, then take a look at this chart:
|Body Fat %||Fat Loss/Week|
|~1.1 kg (2.5 lbs)
~0.9 kg (2 lbs)
0.45-0.7 kg (1-1.5 lbs)
0.45-0.6 kg (1-1.3 lbs)
0.35-0.45 kg (0.75-1 lbs)
0.2-0.35 kg (0.45-0.75 lbs)
~0.2 kg (0.45 lbs)
As you can see, the leaner you get, the slower your rate of fat loss should be each week. This is to avoid diet fatigue, muscle loss, strength training plateaus, hormonal imbalances, mood swings and a bunch of other negative side effects.
So, what you want to do in order to get the best results possible, is to plan ahead how you’re going to reduce your calorie deficit throughout your fat loss journey.
By doing this you’re being proactive, which means that you’re not reacting to things like diet fatigue, muscle loss, strength plateaus, mood swings etc. as they happen. No, you’re the one in control over your diet, drastically reducing the risk that these things will take place at all.
The analogy I like to make is the one of changing oil in your car. You don’t change the oil once your car has already broken down, right? No you service it and change the oil proactively so that it won’t break down later. Ideally you should view your body the same way.
Okay so with that said, here are the two ways with which you can use diet periodization to linearly reduce your calorie deficit overtime:
- Diet Breaks
Let’s look at these one by one:
Why You Should Use Refeeds
You’ve probably heard about refeeds or “cheat days” before, right?
To refresh your memory, refeed days are planned days where you eat at calorie balance or slightly above in order to get a break from cutting. I recommend maintenance calories on refeed days so that you’re not gaining unnecessary fat when you’re not supposed to.
Now, before looking at why refeeds works and how to set them up to make the diet A LOT more easy and enjoyable, I quickly want to cover the notion of “having a cheat day”.
When people say cheat day, it can easily be misunderstood that this is a day where you can cheat hard by eating all the junk that you want. But this is the wrong way to look at it.
In order for the refeed to be effective and healthy it should follow the 80/20 rule of flexible dieting, covered in this guide. This is where 80 % of your diet should be made up of wholesome nutrient dense foods while the remaining 20 % could come from “junk” foods. Now, since you’re going to eat at maintenance on this/these day(s) you will have more room to include some junk foods if you want, simply because 20 % of more calories are more food.
Okay, so with that cleared out, let’s look at why refeeds are so powerful:
Research has shown that one refeed day per week is not enough time to provide much positive effects on physical diet fatigue. But it is enough time for it to be positive on mental diet fatigue.
This was found when one group of researchers sent out a computer based survey to a group of subjects with the following question:
-What would you enjoy most; 7 days of straight dieting on 1500 calories per day, or 6 days on 1300 calories with 1 day at 2700 calories on the last day of the week?
Note: These two options will result in the same weekly calorie intake by the way, which is more important than daily caloric intake.
Nearly all subjects choosed the second option, simply because they believed 1500 and 1300 calories to be equally sucky, but that one day at maintenance, where they could indulge in more food seemed like a very enjoyable break and tradeoff.
Okay, so one day of refeed per week is supported to be beneficial for psychological enjoyment when cutting, and will reduce mental fatigue a bit. However, it doesn’t seem to be that beneficial for physical adaptations like metabolic slowdown, glycogen replenishment and hormonal status etc. I.e. physical fatigue.
But, here’s where it gets interesting:
It’s been shown that longer consecutive day refeeds between 2-3 days seems to be able to reverse some of the physiological adaptations to the diet as well.
Where one study by Dirlewanger et al found that 3 days of refeeding at maintenance reversed metabolic slowdown by increasing TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This effect seemed to start already at day 2 of the 3 day refeed as well.
Furthermore, in another study by Olson et al they found that by having at least 2 refeed days in a row they could reverse much of the hormonal imbalances caused by being in a prolonged calorie deficit. For males this is usually a worse testosterone to cortisol ratio, and by having at least 2 consecutive days of refeed each week this ratio will be better, which will lead to improved performance and allow for better well-being, while preserving more muscle mass.
As you can see, stacking refeeds on top of each other as you’re getting leaner overtime is a great way to effectively slow down your fat loss, while simultaneously providing you with positive psychological and physiological benefits that’ll make your fat loss easier.
So, let’s look at the best way to implement this:
How to Set Up Refeeds to Slow Down Your Rate of Fat Loss Overtime
What follows is the step by step system to reduce your calorie deficit overtime as you get leaner using refeeds, which will make fat loss feel as effortless as possible:
Step 1 – Set up the amount of refeeds per week accordingly to your body fat percentage.
In this table you’ll see the optimal number of refeeds that I’ve found through trial and error work best at the specific body fat percentage ranges.
|Body Fat %||Number of Refeeds/Week|
Again, here’s the calculator you can use to estimate your body fat percentage.
Step 2 – Recount your calorie deficit to fit your low days and maintenance days.
Okay, so example time:
Let’s say that Tom starts at ~18 body fat and are eating at a calorie intake that will have him lose 0.7 kg of fat per week. Based on Tom’s body weight and daily activity this intake would be 2350 calories per day.
You can find out how to set up your calorie intake here.
Now, since Tom will start with 1 refeed day, he needs to figure out how many calories he should eat on his 6 low days and 1 maintenance day.
He does this by first counting his daily calorie intake into his weekly calorie intake:
2350 x 7 = 16464 calories per week.
Next he needs to subtract his weekly total with 1 maintenance day (refeed). Tom’s maintenance are 3050 calories:
16464 – 3050 = 13414 calories
Finally, he divides these remaining calories with his remaining 6 days:
13414 / 6 = 2235 calories
Tom should eat 2235 calories on his low days and 3050 calories on his maintenance day.
This way he will still lose 0.7 kg of fat per week, while getting the psychological benefits of having 1 refeed day per week.
Step 3 – As you get leaner reduce your calorie deficit simply by taking one more refeed day accordingly to your “new” body fat percentage.
Okay, so after 4 weeks, Tom reaches 15 % body fat. If he were to continue losing 0.7 kg of fat per week, he would be at a much higher risk of getting high levels of diet fatigue, caused by losing body weight to fast at a lower body fat percentage. Tom needs to reduce his calorie deficit.
Now, instead of reducing his calorie deficit by eating less on all of his days, Tom’s smart and wants the positive benefits on metabolism, glycogen replenishment and hormonal balance. Tom gets all of this simply by adding another refeed day at maintenance next to his already existing refeed.
As you might have realized is that Tom just reduced his calorie deficit, while he also simultaneously reversed a lot of the negative physical effects caused by the diet, all while he get 2 whole days in a row to enjoy more food, awesome right? All Tom have to do now is repeat this process each time he’s getting into a new “body fat percent bracket”.
This is the power of diet periodization through refeeds. In fact, it’s the most powerful strategy of all.
Because it will reduce your calorie deficit slowly over time until you’re at a point where you’re close to maintenance calories while also being lean at the same time, which means that staying lean will be very easy once you get there.
Okay, so refeeds was the first part of diet periodization that’ll make fat loss easier, let’s look at the second part, which is diet breaks:
Why You Should Use Diet Breaks
Diet breaks are, as opposed to refeeds, when you take a longer time off from dieting, typically one week or more.
The concept of diet breaks isn’t that important for people going from a fat or “normal” body fat percentage (15-20%+) to a lean body fat percentage (10-12%)
No, it’s more important for bodybuilders and physique athletes that go far below their natural set-point, which would be below 7-8% body fat.
With that said though, diet breaks can still be useful in some situations for people “just” looking to reach 10 % body fat as well. If you for some reason trains a lot, do tons of cardio, or if you have a stressful lifestyle, then diet breaks will likely be beneficial for you, and here’s why:
As I’ve mentioned a lot in this post so far, if you want to avoid diet fatigue you must make sure that you’re recovering throughout your fat loss phase. And if you’re training a lot, doing tons of cardio, or are very stressed daily, then you will put a lot of additional external stress on your body that further increases your recovery needs.
So, what might eventually happen, even if you have the strategic refeed system outlined above in place, is that you’re no longer able to recover anyway.
When this happen, you might start to feel tired and lethargic which both consciously and subconsciously reduces your daily activity, and you end up with a slowed down TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This is what people refer to when they say “crashed metabolism”.
What typically ends up happen when someone reaches a “crashed metabolism” is that they retain a lot of water from the stress caused by not being recovered. Which makes the scale stand still, or even increase, while they also look worse in the mirror as well, all from increased water retention under the skin. (This is also what can make you look fat one day and skinny the next)
Furthermore, some people loses their sleep quality and quantity, because the increased stress they experience.
Now, if any of these things would happen to you, DON’T reduce calories further!
Reducing calories even further because you feel bad, your scale weight is stuck or because you’re retaining water, is like adding gasoline to the fire.
What you should do is take at least one week of diet break. I know that this sounds contradictory to the goal, but I’ve actually seen people start to lose fat again while they’re in the diet break eating at maintenance calories.
This happens simply because they’re now able to recover, they get enough energy in to support their lifestyle and training again. Then as they come back to the calorie deficit after the break, they lose weight at the correct speed, feeling recovered and are in a great mood ready to crush it again.
Using diet periodization is an extremely powerful way to set up your fat loss phase to easier achieve a ripped physique.
Slowing down your fat loss as you’re getting leaner with the help of structured refeeds is extremely helpful.
And having diet breaks ready as a back up if you’re finding yourself unable to recover, works perfectly as a safety net to always bounce you back into fat loss mode if needed.
Diet periodization is an advanced strategy that works very well. Now, in order to take full advantage of it you first need to learn how to set up your diet correctly. My complete dieting guide covers this in depth, make sure you read it by clicking here!