How to Maintain Performance in a Calorie Deficit

Maintaining a high level of performance during your workouts while in a calorie deficit can be tough. Use these tips to make it a bit easier for yourself.

Performance is easily sustained when caloric intake is plentiful. When food intake is high, the body has a surplus of energy available to resynthesize ATP and maintain muscle glycogen stores for intense training sessions.

Under these conditions there is no excuse for mediocre intensity, and every workout should be performed maximally.

However, during periods of calorie restriction, maximizing performance becomes far more complex as the body has less of what it needs to meet the demands placed on it.

Here are some tips and strategies you can use to keep your performance peaked while in an energy deficit.

1. Time Meals Strategically

Supporting strong athletic performance on limited calories requires intelligent meal and nutrient timing. Energy restriction is synonymous with the stringent management of carbohydrates, the most readily available energy source the human body can use, particularly during exercise.

Related: "What's the Best Way to Preserve Muscle Mass When Dieting?"

Supercharging performance in the gym starts with timing your complex carbohydrates optimally, by consuming them in your pre-workout meal. Providing the muscles with glycogen before rigorous training guarantees there is sufficient fuel available when it is most beneficial.

Bench Pressing in a Deficit

When in a caloric deficit, the likelihood of experiencing depleted muscle glycogen levels are exponentially higher, causing subpar performance. Topping up energy in the muscle prior to exercise helps mitigate this problem.

Failing to recover post-workout also carries ramifications for performance. During periods of restricted energy supply, muscles will naturally take longer to recover. If recovery isn't adequately facilitated after training, performance will suffer the following day because the body isn't properly healed. This can create a downward cycle until the body receives what it needs.

The first point of recovery after putting the body through an intense training session is to consume a rapid digesting whey protein, infused with digestive enzymes to encourage faster nutrient assimilation at a time where this is essential. Beyond this, it would be beneficial to consume additional glutamine, BCAAs, creatine HCl, and betaine for their recovery enhancing properties.

2. Supplement to Perform

If consuming the correct nutrients before training can be regarded as gasoline for your engine, taking the right supplements pre-workout, especially when on limited calories, is the flame needed to light the fire! During times of energy restriction, performance is best developed by addressing the fundamental processes which allow muscles to thrive.

Taking a pre-workout that includes Creatine HCl, organic green bean caffeine, and taurine can help ignite mental performance via enhanced ATP regeneration along with heightened cognition.

Beta-alanine also offers good support in buffering fatigue by sustaining muscle carnosine levels under times of stress, such as training. L-citrulline is another noteworthy component given its natural powers to stimulate the flow of oxygen-rich blood to working muscles, providing them with the energy to work harder for longer.

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3. Train Smart

The training approach used during a calorie restriction will largely dictate how feasible it is to sustain peak performance levels. High volume training with limited rest periods may be a less productive choice under these circumstances as energy reserves will quickly run dry.

Where performance is a priority, and calorie intake is modest, it would be advisable to focus on quality over quantity, especially in terms of the number of working sets performed. Lower volume training with generous rest periods will allow for improved energy preservation and ATP turnover, meaning each working set can be performed with a higher level of output.

Related: Full M&S Database of Fat Loss Workouts

This approach allows for peak muscle stimulation which is a fundamental factor in retaining performance levels.

However, it’s important to note that sometimes using higher volume training while dieting remains appropriate, depending on the athlete’s final goal. If used, it will require more emphasis to be placed on recovery outside the gym and proper supplementation.

4. Hyper-hydrate

Hydration is the cornerstone of basic health as well as optimal performance. In every context, adequate hydration is unequivocally essential. In fact, without it many internal biological processes rapidly decline.

Even with slight dehydration, stroke volume quickly plummets, compromising blood distribution throughout the body. This is especially detrimental during intense exercise when a quick supply of oxygen is essential for performance. When dehydrated, the body is less able to fight back against agents such as lactic acid and hydrogen ions, allowing them to easily hinder your performance.

High Intensity Workouts during Calorie Deficit

To satisfy hydration needs, you should consume half a gallon of fluid within the first hour of waking to "hyper-hydrate" your system. Be mindful that for the previous 6-8 hours, the body has gone without fluid, therefore, overcompensating for this is vital. For the remainder of the day, continue to consume plenty of water, especially around training.

You can enhance hydration by adding electrolytes to your water. Using a natural electrolyte powder containing potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus will take your hydration above and beyond that of basic water.

5. Sleep Well

When energy intake is restricted, sleep becomes even more vital for your performance. Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep is a factor which must be emphasized as anabolic hormones can peak during this window, enhancing your recovery.

Central nervous system recovery also occurs during periods of deep sleep. This system is the neurological network used to drive performance in the gym. In the absence of healthy and consistent sleep patterns, performance often suffers, particularly when combined with an energy restricted diet.

For the best night's rest, eliminate any stimulants within 6 hours of bed, black out the bedroom entirely, and avoid any EMF or blue light exposure which stimulates the mind and interrupts melatonin levels – the hormone responsible for sleep.

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Summary

Sustaining peak performance while consuming limited calories is always going to involve the successful balance of a spectrum of variables, knowing what to prioritize throughout the day, and helping the body to continually prime itself for high output without copious amounts of energy.

During these phases, there is less room for error, which is why precision in programming, nutrition, and supplementation becomes more pivotal than ever.

Don’t overlook these seemingly simple factors during your next dieting phase as they can help you keep your performance high when it matters most.