Trim Down AND Get Stronger with IER
Dieting down is a real challenge in strength sports. Your performance is closely related to your recovery, which is closely related to your diet.
It pays to be leaner, but it is also a challenging process. You don’t want to be drained during training, but a cut can really challenge your recovery.
Today we’re going to discuss Intermittent Energy Restriction (IER) and how it could work for you. Whatever your goals, it’s a pretty solid system for keeping strength and performance up while allowing you to trim down.
Regular Dieting Isn’t Usually Optimal
The normal approach to dieting is continuous energy restriction: you reduce your calorie intake every day to keep weight going down. It’s time-tested and it’s a pretty obvious use of the simple calories in – calories out idea.
It works, but it’s not optimal. The problem is that consistent calorie deficit is a concern for the metabolism in some ways. The evidence isn’t clear on whether you have significant metabolic adaptation, but it’s possible.
What we do know is that prolonged calorie deficits do tend to be a real problem for muscle mass, strength, and general athletic performance. These factors respond poorly to prolonged under-eating, which is a problem if you’re trying to keep strength up and bodyfat down.
This state of under-fed training is a problem for the strength enthusiast because it means worse sessions consistently for a whole dieting block. This fluctuates, but it’s easy to see why you’d be concerned.
Intermittent Energy Restriction: What Is It?
Intermittent Energy Restriction (IER) is a system that has peaks and troughs with dieting. It’s a calorie restricted diet, but not all at once: it varies between deficit and surplus days to provide a chance for re-feeding and prevent persistent calorie restriction, along with the associated struggles.
The structure of a week on IER is pretty simple: you’d have a prolonged period of calorie deficit, somewhere in the 3-6 day region, followed by a re-feed day. This structure results in NET weight loss, but doesn’t leave you at a consistent calorie surplus.
A 1- or 2-day a week refeed period also allows you to load up for heavier sessions and ensure that you’re properly prepared for training. This can be a great choice if you’ve set up specific heavy day(s), since you can ensure better performance when it’s most important.
The point is to keep your dieting days relatively stark at a higher calorie deficit than on a CER diet, because your refeed days should be above maintenance. This can help mitigate some of the worst of the performance drop-offs you’d see with a continuous diet.
How to IER for beginners
So, how do you do IER for the first time? It sounds like a big complicated thing, but it’s pretty simple. Here’s our QuickStart guide to a good IER diet for strength and muscle.
Don’t Ignore the Basics: Calories and Macros on IER
While the schedule of the diet changes somewhat, the basic principles are the same as you’d find in any other diet.
The calorie intake still needs to fall in the right range every week. The only difference is that you need ot look at weekly averages rather than daily averages. While you might think “I need to eat 500 calories below maintenance” on a normal diet, IER says “I’m going to add up to 3000 calories under my weekly maintenance”.
This is great because your body actually works on a long-term system rather than concerning itself with the day-to-day. Aim for a 2500-3500 calorie deficit per week, as this works out to just under 1lb of weight loss per week, and is in-line with the evidence on how to lose fat and build muscle at the same time.;
The macros themselves should also get some of your attention:
Protein: getting the right amount of protein is complex and depends on your personal situation. Either way, it’s a matter of keeping protein intake high to ensure you’re not losing muscle mass during your cut. Here’s some guidance on what kind of intake you need:
Carbs: you should be looking at 4-6g of carbohydrates per kilo of bodyweight. Go closer to 4 on the deficit days, and way up to 6g per kilo on re-feed days. Carbs are important for recovery/performance.
Fats: focus on the quality of fats, as the quantity is secondary. Use what you have left over from protein/carbs – but focus on polyunsaturated fats.
A Beginner’s IER Diet Schedule
The basic idea is to take a relatively sharp calorie deficit for a few days to set yourself up and ensure you continue to lose weight. This is a simple process, but it’s also a short enough period of time to avoid even the risk of metabolic adaptation.
It’s a way of producing systematic energy deficit, but for short enough periods of time that you’re not experiencing prolonged exposure to catabolic influences. Here’s a quick example of how you’d structure an IER diet over a repeating 4-day block:
Day 1-3: 750 calorie deficit
Day 4: 500 calorie surplus
The result is that, over 4 days, you’ve produced 1750 calorie deficit, which is roughly half a pound of bodyfat. This is enough to lose around 1lb every 8 days, which is a quality pace to your diet.
This kind of break-down produces an easy system that gives you a chance to adapt on the fly. It doesn’t have to be a 4-day block, and you can play with the schedule depending on your training.
Remember: re-feed isn’t a chance to act like an idiot. It’s a scheduled window for a specific nutritional goal. Eat good quality foods first and foremost, and make sure you’re not ignoring your micronutrients.
The way you train interacts closely with your diet. They have to be designed thoughtfully to play well together. CER is a fine approach for most people, but if you’re training for optimal results then you need to take a closer look.
IER is an interesting choice and it’s one of the better ways of syncing up your diet with your training schedule and ensuring that you’re fuelled when you need to be. A diet is a tool for your goals and IER could well be the right choice for your performance.
If you’ve got any questions or want to see anything discussed in detail, drop us a comment! Equally, if you tried this and found it useful, we’d love to hear that, too.