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Stress Strategies for Shreds

As well as managing the training over a long period during a fat loss phase, a reduced calorie intake required to lose body fat, also has an impact on recovery and other functions of the body, which can make dieting a stressor itself.

As a result, it can be difficult to use a linear approach whereby calories simply continue to drop over time.

Instead, a smarter approach can be to use a periodised dietary system, utilising higher and lower calorie periods. This can help to reduce the negative side effects associated with a prolonged deficit, to put you in control, rather than simply dieting to a point of fatigue.

A long term deficit can have an effect on 2 systems:

  1. Psychological - this is potentially the most significant factor. Long periods of dieting can come with feelings of tiredness, fatigue and hunger. Short-term breaks from dieting can provide temporary mental respite from those factors, and help to continue the process of dieting with increased adherence.

  2. Physiological - the reduced calorie intake can affect energy required for NEAT (daily movement), as well as training performance. Periods of higher calories can assist in providing more energy, and refilling glycogen stores, to keep daily activity high to continue the calorie burning process, as well as improve training performance to improve muscle retention.

Depending on the length of the diet, the deadline, and the size of the deficit, there are 2 main strategies to periodise calorie intake and to begin reversing some of the effects of dieting:

Diet Break:

A diet break is simply a a planned period used as a break from dieting to reverse some of the negative effects of a prolonged diet.


  • Most effective with diets of 3 months+, and no deadline being affected as a result.

How long?

  • 1-3 weeks


  • Can be used every 8 weeks or so of dieting. However this can be flexible and based on the aforementioned factors e.g. length of diet, size of deficit, deadline, etc.

  • This can be pre-planned every X amount of weeks, or auto regulated based on measurable factors or subjective feeling.


  • Calories up to maintenance - ~+500kcal via predominantly carbs and potentially fats.

  • Reduced cardio ~50%.

What will happen to my weight?

- May gain slightly due to glycogen replenishment and food volume.

- May restart or increase fat loss due to reduction in stress (water weight loss) + increase in NEAT + training performance.

- May maintain weight - but improve performance and mindset


  • Mental break

  • Increased glycogen (potentially help training performance and muscle retention)

  • Potentially begin to reverse some physiological effects of diet


Refeeds are short-periods of time taking off dieting to reverse some of the (predominantly psychological) effects of dieting.


  • Can be effective for any length of diet.

How long?

  • 1-3 days

  • 2-3 day preferable as amount of calories increase in 1 day will be impossible to reach same as 2-3 days or a week+ (as in diet break) due to digestion and processing of nutrients.


  • As frequently as required

  • Frequency of refeeds dependant on leanness, size of deficit, deadline, etc.

  • May be required more frequently deeper into diet to prevent negative consequences of diet

  • May be best used if needing higher calories for certain sessions/days/etc. e.g. more calories on weekends.


  • Additional calories via carbs e.g. 4-6 days of diet, followed by diet break at maintenance calories for 1-3 days via carb increase.


  • Potential positives rely on both length of refeed AND magnitude of calorie increases hence potentially less effective than diet break

  • Mental break

  • Increased glycogen (potentially help training performance and muscle retention)

However, relatively short term in comparison to diet break therefore minimal physiological/hormonal adaptation effects compared to multi days (diet break).

In addition, all of these strategies do not necessarily need to be mutually exclusive, for example you may use refeeds at one point in the diet for shorter breaks, in particular for psychological breaks, as well as diet breaks when needing a longer break to reverse some negative effects of the diet.

Both of these can also be coupled with deloads in training volume, for example the combination of a diet break during a deload will help to reduce fatigue and stress, while having a temporary break from the diet and utilise the additional nutrients for recovery, rather than predominantly expended on training.


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