Can You Build Muscle On A Reverse Diet? Yes, Here’s Why & How

Reverse dieting involves gradually increasing calories, which can help us transition from a diet to a bulk without gaining too much fat and increasing our potential to build muscle.

Can you build muscle while reverse dieting? Yes, we can build muscle while reverse dieting because there will be additional calories available to put towards muscle growth.  However, we won’t have as many calories to put towards muscle growth as we would while in a bulking phase. Therefore, the muscle gain on a reverse diet will be minimal.

To maximize muscle growth while reverse dieting we need to ensure that we’re utilizing the additional calories that we’re consuming and putting it towards muscle growth rather than wasting the extra calories.

After reading this article you’ll learn:

  • If it’s possible to build muscle while reverse dieting
  • How much muscle you could expect to gain while reverse dieting
  • How to maximize muscle gain while reverse dieting
  • How to transition to bulking after reverse dieting

Is It Possible To Gain Muscle While Reverse Dieting?

It is possible to gain muscle while reverse dieting because we will be increasing our food intake which means that our body will have additional resources to put towards muscle growth.

The gradual increase in calories will also be beneficial to our pursuit of muscle growth because the additional intake will provide us with more energy to put towards training and recovery.

Muscle growth is not possible unless we’re training hard enough to provide our muscles with enough stimulus to adapt. Our muscles won’t change if they don’t have to, so we need to make sure that we’re challenging them enough for them to need to adapt. Being lazy in the gym, even though you’re eating extra calories, won’t lead to growth.

Additionally, we need to ensure that we’re giving ourselves time to recover following our workouts and eating enough protein and carbs to replenish energy stores and encourage muscle repair.

That being said, the potential for muscle growth is likely less while reverse dieting than it would be while bulking. 

Brenda Peralta, Registered Dietician, explains this is because: 

When we’re reverse dieting we are slowly coming out of a deficit and our body needs to replenish its energy stores that have possibly been depleted for a while so it will take time before we’re able to put these increased calories to use for training and recovery.

Brenda Peralta

By the time we’re bulking, our metabolism is already functioning at a normal rate and our sole focus for the additional intake is to put towards training and recovery.

How Much Muscle Can You Gain While Reverse Dieting?

How much muscle can you gain while reverse dieting?

Our potential for muscle gain depends on our food intake but it also depends on our training experience in the gym. If we are more experienced with strength training then it will be harder to build muscle than if we are a beginner.

In 4 weeks we could expect to gain, at most, the following amount of muscle while reverse dieting based on our training experience.

  • Beginner (<2 years): up to 1.5lbs to 2.5lbs (men) or 0.65lb to 1lb (women) per month

  • Intermediate (2-5 years): up to 0.75lb to 1.25lbs (men) or 0.33lb to 0.5lb (women) per month

  • Advanced (5+ years): up to 0.3lb to 0.6lb (men) or 0.1lb to 0.25lb (women) per month

These are the maximum amount of muscle that we could expect as this data reflects the muscle gain potential of those who are bulking, but when we’re reverse dieting it is more challenging to build muscle.

You can read more in my article on Reverse Diet Weight Gain: How Much Can You Expect?

Benefits of Gradual Gains While Reverse Dieting

Gradual gains refer to going through the progression from dieting, to reverse dieting, to bulking. This progression is important because it allows our body to adjust to the increase in calories over time, which increases the likelihood that the additional calories will be put to use for building muscles rather than just being stored as fat.

If we were to jump straight from a diet where we’ve been eating in a calorie deficit (fewer calories than our body needs) straight to a bulk where we need to eat in a calorie surplus (more calories than our body needs), we would put on more weight than we want.

At that point, our body wouldn’t be burning calories at a fast enough rate to keep up with the drastic increase in calories and therefore fat gain could occur more readily.

If we take the gradual gain approach and go through distinct phases of dieting, reverse dieting and then bulking, we will look better, feel better, and perform better because we will be giving our body the time it needs to adapt.

Related Article: Can You Build Muscle Without Vegetables? (What Science Says)

How To Maximize Muscle Gain On A Reverse Diet

how to maximize muscle gain on a reverse diet

To maximize muscle gain when we’re reverse dieting we need to:

  • Eat 1g/lb of Protein
  • Continue To Strength Train
  • Prioritize Recovery
  • Avoid Excessive Cardio When Possible

1. Eat 1g/lb of Protein

Eating enough protein is important to maximize muscle gain when reverse dieting because protein is required to repair the muscle damage that occurs while working out and promotes additional muscle growth.

If we don’t consume enough protein, then it is unlikely that we will build additional muscle mass because we won’t have the building blocks in place to do so.

I recommend eating at least 1 gram per pound of protein to increase muscle gain potential. Increasing protein intake up to 1g/lb should be the priority when increasing calories, before increasing carbs and fats.

2. Continue To Strength Train

To maximize muscle gain while reverse dieting we should continue to strength train to provide our muscles with a stimulus that will prompt them to stick around and perhaps build additional muscle.

If we didn’t strength train while we were dieting, then we shouldn’t jump right into it when we start our reverse diet. Instead, we should take some time to allow our body to adjust to the increase in calories before throwing exercise into the mix.

However, if we engaged in strength training while dieting then we can continue to do so while reverse dieting because our body is used to expending that amount of energy and therefore it won’t throw off our ability to judge how many calories to add in while reverse dieting.

To learn more about how to exercise while reverse dieting, check out my other article Reverse Dieting Without Exercise: Is It Okay?

3. Prioritize Recovery

In addition to consuming enough protein and continuing to strength train, we also need to prioritize recovery to maximize muscle gain while reverse dieting.

Although we are increasing our calories, we will still have fewer calories available to put towards muscle repair and energy replenishment following a workout. 

Therefore, we need to ensure that we’re prioritizing recovery so that we have enough energy to put towards these processes and allow our body time to recover between workouts to avoid injury.

We can prioritize recovery by implementing rest days in our workout program and keeping activities outside of our workouts very low-intensity.

4. Avoid Excessive Cardio When Possible

To maximize muscle gain while reverse dieting we should avoid excessive amounts of cardio because cardio burns calories at a faster rate and when we’re reverse dieting and trying to build muscle, we need these extra calories available.

If we were doing a significant amount of cardio while we were dieting, we will have to keep up this regime when we start reverse dieting, at least initially. This is because our body is used to burning a certain number of calories, so we need to account for this when we start reverse dieting.

We wouldn’t want to stop all cardio when we start reverse dieting because it would encourage more fat storage than we are probably okay with. But, as we progress with our reverse diet we can slowly start to cut back on some cardio so that we’re gradually increasing the number of calories available to us and avoiding excessive fat gain.

If we weren’t implementing cardio sessions while dieting, then I wouldn’t recommend adding them in while reverse dieting until much later in the process so that we can put the additional calories we will be taking in for muscle gain.

Transitioning From Reverse Diet To Bulking: 3 Steps

Transitioning from reverse diet to bulking 3 steps

Step 1: Aim To Maintain Body Weight For 2 Weeks

To transition from a reverse diet to a bulk we should start by taking 2 weeks following the reverse diet to just maintain our current body weight and give our body time to adjust to this new baseline of calories.

Step 2: Begin Bulk By Deciding How Aggressive You Want To Be

After the 2 weeks of maintenance, we can start to make adjustments to our intake to begin bulking. Before starting our bulk we also need to decide how aggressive we would like to be with our increases based on our fat gain tolerance and overall goals.

If we want to remain as lean as possible while bulking then we should take a slow and steady approach with smaller increases in calories (ex: 100 calorie increase).

If we are okay with some fat gain and want to encourage more muscle growth by providing our body with more calories for greater potential for muscle gain, then we would take a more moderate approach to our caloric increases (ex: 200 calorie increase).

If we want to put on mass as fast as possible and we aren’t concerned about gaining fat along with muscle, then we will take a more aggressive approach with larger increases in calories (ex: 300 calorie increase).

Step 3: Continue To Train Hard

When we make the transition to bulking we should also be focused on our workouts because we will need to make sure that we’re continuing to challenge ourselves in the gym to encourage muscle growth. Our muscles won’t adapt unless we give them a reason to, and then let them recover so that they can grow.

To learn more about the differences between reverse dieting and bulking, check out my other article Is Reverse Dieting The Same As Bulking? No, Here’s Why.

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

Final Thoughts

It is possible to build muscle while reverse dieting as long as we’re eating enough protein, recovering well, and not overdoing the cardio component. The reverse diet will set us up for continued muscle gain (with minimal fat gain) by gradually transitioning from a reverse diet to a bulk.

Other 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.