Should Training Change when Dieting?

There is a huge common misconception that, as our diet changes, so should our training. Here we will argue the case that you should, in fact, keep your training as similar to your offseason programme as possible.

Debunking the myths surrounding training while dieting

Myth: Light weight, higher reps will burn more calories. While it is true that doing sets of 20+ rather than sets of 5-12 may burn more calories, this is not significant enough to warrant the change, when considering the downsides of doing so. At best, you probably only burn a couple of hundred calories in an hour of resistance training... despite what your fitness tracker might tell you. The purpose of your weights training in a diet should be muscle retention at the very least, if not growth- not burning calories. That is what cardio is for!

As far as muscle retention is concerned, you will put yourself in the best position to conserve as much muscle mass as possible by at least maintaining strength, if not increasing it, while consuming sufficient protein. You may also want to experiment with EAAs intra-workout and during cardio- especially for any fasted sessions.

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Pre-workout can be introduced when sessions become especially challenging. By avoiding pre-workouts in the offseason and early into a diet, to keep tolerance low, stimulants can become an excellent tool to have at your disposal! Cellucor C4 Ripped contains no carbs or sugar and has added ingredients to assist weight management.

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Alterations which you may want to make

In the latter stages of an extreme diet, you may find that your joints do not feel as healthy as before and have a general feeling of being more fragile with a heavily loaded barbell on your back. At this point, it would be sensible in phase out some free weight movements and replace them with movements that require less stabilisation, from a safety and injury prevention standpoint. It is down to the athlete to make the call when or if this is necessary. Some appropriate swaps might be:

  • Back squat - hack squat
  • DB chest press - Hammer Strength chest press
  • Barbell bench - smith machine bench


Method of cardio chosen should also be given some thought. We want to choose something which balances burning as many calories as possible and allowing us to recover, to not take away from training performance. On one end of the spectrum, we have step counting. While this is incredibly low stress, later in a diet it may be take too much time to accrue a substantial calorie burn. At the other end, we have something like treadmill sprints. While this is an excellent way to get HR up and burn lots of calories in a very short time, it can lead to DOMS which will detract from leg days. Something like moderate intensity steady state cardio on the stairmaster or incline treadmill suits most individuals well.


Take home

While some movement patterns might be safer than others to prioritise towards the end of your diet, the actual intensity and effort put into sessions should not change. It really is a case of 'use it or lose it' when it comes to maintaining muscle in a diet!

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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