I just finished my first ever on purpose maintenance/ slight surplus phase. I started back in November and this was the first time in my life I have not been in weight loss mode and was purposefully trying to make the scale go up. My goal was to gain strength and muscle which meant I needed to be eating more and be in a calorie surplus to optimize muscle hypertrophy. This was more challenging for me than I anticipated. Here’s what I learned:
Eating in a calorie surplus when you’ve always been in a deficit mindset is difficult. I had to actively remind myself to eat more food and to not counteract higher calorie meals I ate. Ultimately I wasn’t very successful. I stayed within a few pounds of my starting weight over the course of 4 months and wasn’t able to consistently gain weight. I gained muscle but not as optimally as if I had been in an actual surplus. Turns out this round was more of a maintenance phase and I’m prepared to track more diligently and eat more my next surplus attempt.
The scale became unimportant to me. I used to weigh myself first thing every single morning. During the past 4 months I found myself forgetting to weigh myself on multiple occasions. I was so unconcerned with what the scale would say regardless of what I had eaten or drank the previous day and it felt liberating. This is also where I learned I could allow myself to eat “treats” on a more regular basis than I had been and my progress wouldn’t be ruined. I have more flexibility with my diet than I realized and don’t have to be as rigid with myself as I thought.
I had more energy for my workouts. I was able to lift heavier week over week because I was properly fueling my body to do so. My strength gains were much quicker than they had been in the past when I was training in a deficit. I felt strong in the gym and was never overly hungry.
It was a great mental reset. Being in weight loss mode constantly is exhausting. It can be restrictive and lead to a lot of food guilt if you go off rails. Purposefully trying to move the scale up was a nice break from this. I ate when I was hungry, didn’t think twice about eating something I was craving and didn’t beat myself up if I took more than 1 rest day a week. Deficits are crucial if you’re trying to lose weight but don’t need to be your constant state.
I remembered why I eat the kinds of foods I do. I eat primarily whole, nutrient dense foods with some more processed foods mixed in. I found myself at times eating more processed(typically higher in calorie) foods than I normally would because I wasn’t restricting myself on calorie intake. When I did this it impacted my mood and energy levels and I just didn’t feel myself. I was reminded that I eat the foods I do because of how they make me feel rather than because of their low calorie count.
Calorie deficits & surpluses are tools
to use to help you hit your fitness goals. Both should be done purposefully for periods of time of no less than 4 weeks. In between periods of deficit and surplus you should be in maintenance to give yourself both a mental and physical break. Though my first shot at a surplus wasn’t overly successful I now have the tools and knowledge I need to successfully complete my next one. I feel more comfortable with increasing my food intake and have seen first hand what the benefits of doing so has on my training.