The diet maintenance phase is important because it establishes a new set point for body weight and body composition. 8 weeks, in my opinion, is the minimum time frame to substantially lower body fat levels. This means that 8 weeks is the earliest we want to start thinking about ending the diet and starting the maintenance phase.
What Is A Set Point?
The set point theory of body weight, basically says that your body has a specific weight that it prefers and within reason it will work to maintain. Basically your body adapts to the amount of food you put in it. This is important because in order to maintain your new body composition we have to change your bodies set point. Spoiler alert, like most things this process is relatively simple, but not necessarily easy. If done correctly your new body weight will be much more likely to stick around.
The goal of the last 2-4 weeks of the challenge should be to eliminate caloric deficit and instead get your body to accept this new body weight. If you can do this you can return to dieting later if you feel like you want to be leaner or lighter. If you feel like you want more muscle you can go on a mass phase that will be far more likely to add muscle rather than fat to your frame.
Here Is How It Works
Bump your calories by 10%-20%. The lighter and leaner you were before you started the more you can bump your calories by. The farther into the phases you were the more you can bump your calories by. An easy rule of thumb is 5% for each phase so if you were on phase 3 you would bump your calories by 15%. If you were on phase 3 or 4 when you can get about 1/2 your calories from Fat and the other half from Carbs. If you were on phase 1 or 2 you should basically all your extra calories from fat. Maintain this new caloric content for 1 week. Expect body weight to jump by 1-3% as you start to replenish glycogen stores and store more water. Some though likely not all of the bump in weight should disappear after a few weeks.
Adjust your new caloric target based on body weight changes. Higher weight in the first two to three weigh ins after you bump your calories is expected but it really should constitute no more than 1-3% of body weight ( 5% for a larger individual ) and it should not keep going up after those first few weigh ins. If it does cut out 25-50% of the extra calories you added taking most of them from Fat. If you body weight continues to go down ( luck you ) add 5-10% more calories each week until it stops adding equal amounts carbohydrate and fat.
Maintain this new caloric and macro nutrient target for 4 weeks before relaxing into a true maintenance phase or restarting a strict diet. It is important that you stay strict during this phase because it continues to ingrain the habits you have been working on this whole time.
Relax, but keep an eye on things. If you followed my advice from earlier you started to track what you eat in an app called my fitness pal( or a similar food tracking app) if you did then by the end of this process you will know exactly how many calories, carbs, fat and protein to eat each day to maintain your weight. Think of this a guide and write those numbers down. Then go about living your life using the habits and routines we have created during the challenge. Check your weight once a week and keep an eye on yourself in the mirror. If things start to go the wrong way pull up my fitness pal and track your food for a couple of weeks until you level out again and are sitting right back at the weight you ended the challenge at. In this way you can maintain your weight without having to live in a restricted state year around.
Step 5 (optional)
Pick the diet back up when you are ready. Many of you may not be at your goal weight just yet, and thats ok you should still consider starting to find your maintenance calories a strict maintenance phase makes future diets more effective and also give you a mental break that is much needed at this point. After the minimum maintenance period if you feel ready you can jump back into the diet. Or if you prefer even start a mass phase to add some muscle to your frame. The important part of this step is that you make the conscious decision to be 100% strict again for a specific period of time and make as much progress as you can before entering into a new maintenance phase.
Additional Tips For Maintenance
Focus on increasing/maintaining increased activity
Many of you have been working out like mad(wo)men during the challenge getting 9-12 sessions in each week. This is amazing and in large part responsible for the success you have experienced. If you end that immediately after the challenge you will likely find it hard to maintain your new body weight. While you do not have to work out as intensely or even as much to maintain your new body weight continuing to stay active outside of the gym is going to be important in maintaining new body weight. There are many options here including some of the extra programs posted in Wodify, or even repeating the one you chose at the start of the challenge. If you want help on choosing the appropriate level of activity you can aways come and ask me there are some very simple steps you can take to make sure you have enough activity to maintain your new weight. ( if your goal is to increase your competitiveness in CrossFit competitions you should definitely come talk to me as none of these programs are really meant to service that need )
Focus on template foods
These foods should always make up the bulk of your calories, they provide a ton of micro nutrients support healthy blood profiles and in general are more filling than non template foods. Do not turn your maintenance mode into a free for all as you will likely not enjoy the results. Eating off template ( assuming calories and macros are controlled ) as much as once or even twice a week is probably ok but that is an absolute max for most people.
By Mike White