Reverse Dieting & Cardio: 4 Rules To Follow

Reverse dieting is a process of increasing your calories over time to help speed up your metabolism, but cardio can halt this process if the number of calories you’re burning is greater than the number of calories you’re taking in.

There are 4 rules to follow for reverse dieting cardio:

  1. Avoid increasing cardio sessions
  2. Don’t alter your cardio regime early on
  3. Decrease cardio gradually
  4. Avoid changing cardio & calories at the same time

It’s important to ensure that the amount of cardio you’re doing isn’t ruining your reverse dieting efforts, so you need to understand how cardio could support or delay your reverse diet.

After reading this article, you’ll learn:

  • If you should include cardio when reverse dieting
  • What the impacts of cardio are on reverse dieting
  • How much cardio to do while reverse dieting
  • How to know if you’re doing the right amount of cardio for your reverse diet

Should You Do Cardio When Reverse Dieting?

You should do cardio when reverse dieting if you were doing cardio while you were dieting. This is because the amount of cardio you were doing is being accounted for when you’re considering your current body weight and caloric intake.

If you were to stop doing cardio altogether once you started reverse dieting, you wouldn’t have an accurate starting point for your caloric intake, and it would be more difficult to determine what caloric increase would be appropriate moving forward.

For example, if you were consuming 1600 calories at the end of your fat loss diet and you were doing cardio three times per week for 45 minutes, the calories you were burning during this activity would have contributed to your calorie deficit.

If you were to stop engaging in your cardio activities while continuing to eat 1600 calories, you would already be in a calorie surplus. You wouldn’t be burning as many calories as you were previously, and you wouldn’t know exactly how much to increase your calories by to successfully reverse diet.

Additionally, if you were to stop your activity and increase your calories beyond 1600, you would be increasing your caloric intake much more than you’d want to when reverse dieting since the goal is typically to stay lean and not gain excess fat mass.

On the other hand, if you didn’t engage in regular cardio activities while dieting, it is best not to start engaging them when you’re reverse dieting, especially at the beginning of a reverse diet.

The reason for this is the same — it is best not to make it harder to determine how many calories your body needs to reverse diet.

Key Takeaway: It is best not to adjust your cardio until there is a better understanding of how many calories you need to reverse diet and how your body is responding to these increases. Later on in the reverse diet is when your cardio would be reduced gradually.

Related Article: Reverse Dieting Without Exercise: Is It Okay?

What Are the Impacts of Doing Too Much Cardio During a Reverse Diet?

Doing too much cardio during a reverse diet is detrimental because the goal of reverse dieting is to consume more calories than you were previously to speed your metabolism back up in the future. But with cardio, you’re burning off these calories.

If you’re continuing to burn off all of these additional calories that you need to add in, the reverse dieting effort will be a waste of time. 

You’re more likely to burn off these calories and delay the reverse diet if you’re increasing your cardio beyond what you were doing while dieting.

There is no benefit to increasing your cardio while reverse dieting, so it should be avoided at all costs. If you’re gaining more weight than you are comfortable gaining while reverse dieting, you’ll want to stop increasing your caloric intake rather than increase your cardio.

If you’re finding yourself trying to do more cardio while reverse dieting, I would suggest you reflect on whether you’re really committed to the reverse dieting process.

I discuss ways you can know when it’s time to end your reverse diet in When Should I Stop Reverse Dieting? (5 Signs).

How Much Cardio You Do Will Depend On 3 Things

how much cardio you do will depend on 3 things

The amount of cardio that you do when reverse dieting will depend on:

  • How much cardio you’ve been doing
  • How far along you are in the reverse diet
  • How much non-exercise activity you’re doing

1. How Much Cardio You’ve Been Doing

The amount of cardio you were doing before you started reverse dieting is the number one predictor of how much you should be doing during your reverse diet.

If you were doing three 30-minute sessions a week of low-intensity cardio, you should continue with the same routine until at least four weeks into the reverse diet. 

By that time, you should have a better understanding of how your body is responding to the increase in calories and how many calories it takes to progress comfortably in your reverse diet.

If you weren’t engaging in cardio before reverse dieting, ideally you wouldn’t start engaging in cardio until you’re done reverse dieting.

2. How Far Along You Are in the Reverse Diet

How far along you are in the reverse diet will also determine how much cardio you should be doing. Over time, you will have a better understanding of how many calories you can alter while still progressing as desired.

If you’re more than four weeks into your reverse diet, you will probably start reducing the amount of cardio that you’ve been doing. If you’re less than four weeks into your reverse diet, it’s best to keep up with your cardio regime.

If you’re four weeks into your reverse diet, you may decide that instead of increasing your calories again, you’re going to reduce the amount of time spent doing cardio (cutting 30 minutes out of your current routine) or reduce the frequency that you’re engaging in cardio (cutting one session per week from your current routine).

3. How Much Non-Exercise Activity You’re Doing

The amount of non-exercise activity (housework, fidgeting, steps per day) you do each day will also impact the amount of cardio you should be doing during a reverse diet. This will likely change as the reverse diet progresses.

When you’re dieting, your non-exercise activity will naturally decrease because your body will try to preserve energy for bodily functions. 

As you reverse diet and begin eating more calories, your body will recognize that more food is coming in and stop trying so hard to preserve energy. Therefore, it would be natural for your non-exercise activity to increase.

If you’re burning more calories through non-exercise activity, you may have to adjust your caloric intake or exercise activity to account for this increased caloric expenditure.

Reverse Dieting Cardio: 4 Rules To Follow

Reverse dieting cardio 4 rules to follow

1. Avoid Increasing Cardio Sessions

Increasing your cardio sessions beyond what you’ve already been doing before you started reverse dieting will only be counterproductive. Therefore, it is best to avoid increasing your cardio sessions while reverse dieting at all costs.

Increasing your cardio will have opposing effects to what you’re trying to achieve through reverse dieting. If you’re burning off the additional calories that you’re taking in, your metabolism will not increase.

If your metabolism is not speeding up, you will not be able to consume more calories without gaining weight and your hunger hormones will not regulate themselves.

2. Don’t Alter Your Cardio Regime Early On

It is best not to alter your cardio regime early on in the reverse diet. When you first start the process, it is unclear how the increased calories will impact your body weight and your metabolism.

If you were to adjust your cardio early on in the reverse diet, it would be difficult to determine how much the changes are related to the change in cardio or the change in intake.

It’s best to keep your cardio the same until you know how the change in caloric intake is affecting your body weight and metabolism.

3. Decrease Cardio Gradually

When you do start to decrease your cardio, you need to do it gradually. This will ensure that you’re not changing your caloric expenditure so much that it causes you to gain more weight than you’re comfortable gaining.

As with anything reverse dieting-related, it’s best to adjust gradually and wait to see how the change takes effect before continuing to adjust.

4. Avoid Changing Cardio & Calories At The Same Time

Lastly, you should avoid changing your cardio and calories at the same time and instead alternate when these are being adjusted.

The reason for this is that they both change the number of calories coming in, and changing both would change your intake too much in one week. We don’t want to change too much at once because it will increase the potential for fat gain while reverse dieting.

Additionally, both cardio and caloric intake will likely change your calorie needs by different calorie increments. For the sake of being able to tell what change had what outcome, it’s best to keep them separate.

How To Know If You’re Doing the Right Amount of Cardio

You’ll know if you’re doing the right amount of cardo if you’re progressing in your reverse diet without gaining more body fat than is to be expected based on your fat gain tolerance.

A reverse diet that is progressing well should result in a decrease in cardio over time. But similar to the gradual increase in calories, the decrease in activity should also be gradual.

If you’re continuing to lose weight or you’re gaining more weight than desired each time you increase your calories, you’re likely not doing the right amount of cardio to support your reverse dieting efforts.

When in doubt about where your reverse diet is going wrong, keep your cardio the same to control for that variable. If you can keep your cardio the same and only adjust your caloric intake, it will be easier to determine where you’re going wrong with the reverse diet and how to fix it.

Have a FeastGood Nutrition Coach help you get results faster than trying to stick it out alone

Final Thoughts

Reverse dieting can be a straightforward process. But when cardio is not accounted for, it can make reverse dieting more confusing because you won’t know how much those calories are affecting your outcome.

Additional Reverse Dieting Resources


About The Author

Amanda Parker
Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath.  She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.