It’s a dreaded condition, yet you see it in the gym every day. A petite, good-looking girl walks in and becomes a member. She obviously has done something physical previously, as she’s in decent shape. She catches the bug and decides to train seriously with the goal of eventually doing a physique, figure or bikini competition.
Her hard training and adherence to an athlete’s diet catches the attention of several gym regulars and trainers. She enlists the advice and eventual coaching of one the trainers. Sixteen weeks before the selected contest, the additional cardio and restrictive diet begin. The situation may also include some cutting agents, thyroid medications and/or light anabolics or it may not.
Everything goes according to plan and our hypothetical cutie places in her contest and comes home with a trophy. One month later her ass has ballooned to the dimensions of a midsized car with plenty of junk in the trunk. They become the new norm unless our former bombshell is deep into another contest diet, and each such diet becomes increasingly restrictive and severe. This is what I call “metabolic rebound,” and I have been devoting significant time and attention to its resolution.
First, so my example above doesn’t appear sexist, metabolic rebound is an affliction that affects predominately women, although I have worked with men who were experiencing a version of it. This discussion focuses on the ladies.
To begin with, women’s thyroid glands are at least five times more sensitive to abuse than men’s. Harsh dieting, without the inclusion of certain essential nutrients and carefully constructed “cheat meals” (not food orgies), can downregulate sensitive female thyroids. Indiscriminate use of thyroid medications at too high a dose or for too long a duration and coming off of them improperly will often destroy a woman’s metabolism. If she doesn’t undertake a proper holistic program, it can become permanent. That means eating less, more cardio and bigger jeans sizes.
That brings me to cheat meals. Unless you’re a rare genetic freak, it’s a cheat meal, not a cheat day. You’re supposed to have one when you are deep enough into a diet that you are getting a bit depleted. I’ve known athletes who were 40 pounds overweight and looking for a cheat meal the first week of their diet. That will only slow your progress and undermine the hormonal adaptations that should be occurring in a properly constructed weight-loss plan. The meal should have liberal (but not abusive) amounts of carb, a good amount of natural fat and a protein food that you normally don’t eat when dieting. Add a moderate dessert, and you’re done.
The meal is not supposed to last three hours. I can’t be much more specific because you must take into account your size, training load and metabolic variables when planning the cheat.
Metabolic rebound is the convergence of many factors, all working against those afflicted with it. It is the sum of hormonal dysfunction (the deficiencies and excesses of differing hormones) nutrient deficiencies and imbalances, food intolerances, improper digestive function and—most surprising—intestinal flora. All of those issues are taking place at the same time that the metabolic rebound victim wants to back off from contest levels of cardio and eat a somewhat normal diet. I will briefly address each issue below, but I may devote an article to each in the future.
The hormonal dysfunctions normally observed in female metabolic rebound include an excess of insulin, a lack of insulin sensitivity, low glucagon (caused by the excess insulin), downregulated thyroid hormone and possibly excessive estrogen. Of necessity I have to keep it general here, but it’s a very complex topic with individualized protocols. Suffice it to say that there is a dietary-and-holistic answer to each of these issues that works in virtually every case.
All but the most strategic dieters often develop subclinical deficiencies or imbalances of essential fatty acids and their metabolites, minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. The majority of these help your body keep muscles, synthesize hormones and produce and use energy, which means burn calories. Aggressive supplementation and in-depth dietary analysis can reveal most of what’s going on in this area. If there are still questions, certain blood tests may be informative.
After a restrictive and prolonged diet the body is not prepared to consistently use generous portions of food, carbohydrates in particular. In fact, the body produces far less alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme essential to starch digestion, after a long diet. The result will be bloating and water retention, all part of the metabolic-rebound experience. While I believe in certain digestive enzymes for all athletes I train, I believe that a particular analysis of enzyme sufficiency must take place after a contest diet.
After a few postcontest celebration meals, you should reintroduce healthful carb foods via a slow, methodical increase. Start on the low-moderate side and go up 25 grams per day every 10 days until you feel the undesirable “softening” of your body begin. Back off 25 grams from that last level, and you’ll be on the right track. Fats are somewhat more forgiving than carbs, and protein should be reasonably constant on- or off-season.
While I believe that carb cycling is psudo-science in terms of weight-loss diets for all but the most metabolically gifted athletes, the above technique works quite elegantly in the reintroduction of foods after a contest diet. Don’t get carried away on the higher-carb days. Moderation is key.
I am doing some ground-breaking work on the metabolic effects of intestinal flora—good and bad bacteria. Briefly, there are more than double the number of bacteria cells in your digestive system than the total number of cells contained in the rest of your body. The bacteria have their own individual metabolisms, and there are billions of them. Their metabolisms and production of nutrients have a profound effect on your metabolism. Have the right ones, and it’s like several billion little guys (or gals) running on treadmills. Have the wrong ones, and you’ve got billions of mini people eating ice cream and watching bad reality shows.
I’ll have more on this in the future. In the meantime don’t confuse this with your constipated Aunt Bertha’s probiotic pills.
Editor’s note: Ron Noreman (RonNoreman.com) is a partner at Kamler, Lewis & Noreman LLP (KLNcpas.com), a certified public accounting firm that specializes in tax representation and management of professional athletes, nutritional-supplement companies and weight-training-equipment manufacturers. He has been a competitive `bodybuilder for 35 years and has won numerous titles. He’s also the founder of Alchemy Nutrition and offers contest-prep coaching and holistic-nutrition consultations. His clients include world-renowned athletes in bodybuilding, professional and collegiate baseball, football, hockey, track and field and the combat sports. He has appeared on numerous radio shows and formulated several antioxidant supplements for prominent vitamin companies.