Today, we revisit the use of dieting breaks to further support fat loss and peak performance.
Unsurprisingly, progressive fat loss phases are associated with a number of compromises. For the athlete, these are often expressed in their physical performance, recoverability, cognition, mood and food focus.
It’s previously been reported that intermittently increasing food intake to calorie maintenance for one week does not further enhance fat loss or muscle mass retention.
However, interjecting continuous calorie deficits with one-week periods at energy balance (maintenance) can offer improvements in physical and mental performance.
Peos et al (2021) recruited 26 trained individuals to undergo 4 x 3-week blocks of dieting interspersed with 3 x 1 week dieting breaks. I.e. 3 weeks on, 1 week off. Each participant was set calorie targets to lose 0.7% body mass per week.
Performance tests were carried out one week apart: Before the final diet break and immediately after the final diet break. Therefore, any performance differences seen would be attributed to eating a greater amount of calories.
During the diet break, participants ate at calorie maintenance where the additional calories consumed were from carbohydrates only. This approach would favour glycogen replenishment and allow the participants to re-test under high(er) carbohydrate availability.
Unsurprisingly, lower body endurance capacity improved with glycogen replenishment. However maximal strength tests and upper body endurance did not. Perhaps due to the type of test and level of depletion in the upper body muscles.
The 1-week diet break also saw a significant decrease in food focus, desire to eat and alertness. Interestingly, previous research has shown that the increased psychological stress of hunger can negatively impact physical performance, attention and mood.
Therefore, it is suggested that 1-week diet breaks aren’t used to accelerate losses in fat mass. They are intended to be used during harder training or competition weeks were physical and mental acuity is of a greater importance.
I.e. to temporary reverse the negative effects of energy restriction whilst performance goals take precedence.
Lastly, the participants also found a greater level of satisfaction. Anecdotally and empirically, this can support dieting compliance, adherence and ultimately, long term fat loss success.
Diet breaks are a tool in the toolbox. Athletes don’t need to use them, but they have a significant impact during the latter phases of a dieting block where the cost of getting lean starts to become too high.
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