Analysing Fat Loss, Maintenance and Muscle Gain Diet Phases
Diet phases are commonly misconstrued by the general gym goer, you more than likely will have heard the phrases “bulking” and “cutting” more times than you care to recall, although there is some underlying merit to these terms, just not necessarily in the context in which is has been portrayed by your average “gym bro”. Phases of one’s training can be periodised into blanket term sections such as fat loss or ”cutting”, maintenance or a period of increasing muscle mass, informally known as “bulking”. These phases are key to progression when approached properly and with the correct understanding of how one’s body responds to specific stimulus. It is imperative, before one undertakes certain phases of training, that they have a clear goal and understand what it will entail. More times than often people will float between fat loss and periods of attempting to increase muscle mass, in the end making little to no progress due to a lack of adherence or knowledge.
Fat loss phases-
The goal of this phase is self-explanatory, however the method in which it is executed is entirely subjective to the individual as there are varying dieting approaches (see the diet dilemma blog) in which one can part take to further them towards their goal. The constant among all dietary approaches is the need for caloric deficit, the way in which this is facilitated varies depending on the approach itself.
Another key aspect of this phase is having the knowledge to maintain as much muscle as possible, in which it is necessary to monitor variables such as:
- Rate of weight loss
- Overall ability to recover
In response to a skewed variable there are various actions that can be taken to mitigate muscular atrophy, these include:
- A reduction in calories
- Addition of calories
- Reduction in cardio/ steps
- Increase in steps/ cardio
- Reduction in training volume
- Addition of a de-load phase
- Reduction in training frequency
It is important to understand that through the manipulation of the above variables, this leaves room for training intensity to stay constant. If exceptionally meticulous with a dieting phase, it is possible to lose very little strength if any, although this is exceptionally difficult so one should allow for a slight reduction in overall strength.
Maintenance phases are the most common phase in which one finds themselves in, whether that be intentionally or by mistake. In this phase, the main priority is to ensure that calories are at a maintenance level in accordance with your total expenditure, doing so will ensure optimal muscle retention.
During a maintenance phase it is important to monitor the variables mentioned above as they may prove useful in mitigating any unnecessary stress, whether that be gastrointestinal or systemic muscle stress. If done correctly, it is entirely feasible to be able to progress training during this phase, provided it is done efficiently.
Periods of accruing muscle mass
Seemingly one of the most difficult phases among most athletes is the period in which the goal is to accrue muscle, specifically muscle, not just overall weight.
The difficulty with this phase is being able to mitigate the amount of fat mass gained whilst efficiently increasing muscle mass, and like all dietary approaches, patience is essential. Simply adding excessive amounts of calories will only result in an increase in fat mass. However, using the previously mentioned variables to gauge the body’s needs, only adding calories and increasing load in accordance with performance and recovery capabilities, will prove to be an optimal approach.
A major issue with most individuals during this phase is the inability to eat sufficient amounts, regardless of training intensity, there is no substitute for a caloric surplus when increasing body weight.
The final thing to remember about this period is the fact that you WILL put on some body fat, “lean bulking” is an exceptionally difficult process with a sub-optimal rate of gain. Understanding the necessity for some fat mass is essential in being able to progress, although the amount of fat that is gained should be monitored and controlled.
By Tireoghain O’Neill