Your metabolism is not a great multitasker. This is especially true when it comes to building muscle and burning fat. It is not very good at doing both at the same time. In the past (and this is still a popular way of doing it), physique athletes and others looking to develop lean muscular physiques, bulked up first by eating a ton of calories and muscle building carbs……and protein combined with heavy high volume weight training. They then leaned out by doing the reverse – avoiding carbs and lowering calories. The smart ones trained heavy and kept their protein up to spare muscle losses. But this is a very difficult task for all but the very anabolically gifted.
Overtime, the futility of this approach was too much for many. Fat loss and body change works best with efficient solutions that adapt to the individual. To address the individual nature of fitness and fat loss and circumvent the metabolic resistant to multitasking, dieting cycles were developed.
Cycling of carbs, cycling of calories, “refeeds”, and weekly cycles were all devised to get around the cumbersome practice of blowing up like a water balloon only to then have to starve the body while trying to maintain muscle mass.
Perhaps the most popular book, at least the one that introduced me to the concept, was Dan Duchene’s book called the Bodyopus. Later this book was updated by Lyle McDonald in his book the Ultimate Diet 2.0.
I believe clinical experience and results should guide fat loss and body change advice, while science refines it. If you read research long enough you will soon find out that the stuff that works today, is the stuff they will be studying and “proving” 10 years from now. This is why science should always be used to confirm clinical practice not define it. This protocol works amazingly in clinical practice.
To burn fat you need a caloric deficit along with a hormonally primed metabolism. People argue which comes first, the calories or the hormones? I am on the side of the hormones. A hormonally balanced diet almost always leads to a caloric deficit and this caloric deficit has the advantage of being individualized for the person rather than generated off of a standard one size fits all formula. Coming at it the other way, by taking a calorie first approach, comes back to bite you in the end because it induces insatiable compensatory reactions and primes the metabolism to gain more fat later. (It’s called the yo-yo effect for a reason.)
To build muscle you need a caloric EXCESS and a hormonally primed metabolism for muscle growth. Again, taking a purely mathematical approach to this is not the smartest way to do this. Having worked from both sides of the equation, a focus on only calories in my younger and less educated years, and then a more hormonal approach as I became more educated over the last 10 or so years, taught me a few things. I can say from experience the hormonal approach delivers far better results in a more individualized way.
So, how can you create a caloric deficit and hormonal approach for fat loss and at the same time generate a hormonal and caloric approach for muscle gain? You can’t!! Unless you cycle the diet. This is the genius of Dan Duchene, Lyle McDonald, and all the guys who figured this out before and since. Check out Lyle Mcdonald’s book.
Overview of the cycle
In this “metabolic multitasking” protocol we use part of the week as a catabolic or burning phase and part of the week as an anabolic building phase. The best way to burn fat is to force the body to burn fat instead of sugar. So, the beginning of the week (Monday) begins with a day of glycogen depletion.
The week then progresses (Tuesday-Thursday) with a move to a Paleolithic style diet, which involves free and unlimited access to lean protein sources & fibrous veggies. Starchy carbs are avoided at this stage. The week then ends with a higher carb, higher protein, higher calorie diet more in line with the standard American way of eating. Starchy carbs are emphasized and even simple and refined carbs can be used.
This diet cycle is combined with a supplement regime and exercise program that aids fat loss during the “fat burning phase” and accentuates muscle growth during the “muscle building phase”.
Here is how this cycle breakdown:
Monday (Glycogen Depletion):
Diet: A modified fast. Since going without food completely will lead to both glycogen depletion AND muscle loss we employ our “metabolic fasting beverage”. This beverage includes 5 to 10g BCAA powder, 1 tablespoon greens powder, 1 tablespoon reds powder, 1-2 teaspoons fiber and water. This beverage is taken 3 to 6 times during the day.
What does it do? BCAA, besides its caloric value, is used due to its ability to signal mTOR in the muscle tissue and brain. mTOR in the muscle is a powerful inhibitor of muscle breakdown. mTOR in the brain shuts down hunger (learn about BCAA Science). The greens and reds powder keeps the body alkaline, which again has been shown to suppress muscle breakdown (read about alkaline diet and muscle mass). The fiber further suppresses hunger through gut signaling molecules. (i.e. keeps ghrelin low, and elevates GLP-1 and PYY). All these mechanisms work to trick the body into using its stored sugar and fat rather than muscle. And keeps hunger, cravings and energy in check.
This day is rounded off by eating calorie negative solid foods. These are foods rich in fiber and water that contain negligible calories. These include celery, cucumbers, lettuce and mixed greens, and you can eat as much as you like. Their aplicability is mainly for psychological reasons and hunger control through bulk in the GI tract. Unsweet green tea, coffee, and especially cocoa powder in water for craving control, are used as well. Learn about why we use cocoa.
Exercise: Active rest day. Walk as much as possible.
Tuesday- Thursday (Burning Phase):
Diet: A strict Paleolithic diet. With the body in a somewhat depleted state, the diet now shifts to unlimited whole food protein sources as well as protein powders. It also shifts to unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables and less sweet fruits. Dairy, sweet fruits, and all starchy foods are avoided. BCAA supplements are still recommended at this stage to force the body to tap fat stores exclusively.
Exercise: Metabolic conditioning. The exercise sessions during this phase are fast paced, full-body, weight-based cardio, interval training and sprint training. If you have ever done these workouts in a glycogen-depleted state, you know they are brutal. BCAA supplements again show their benefit here. They are easily converted into glutamine and alanine and therefore stabilize energy during the workouts. They allow for adequate exercise intensity and increase fat oxidation over fasted exercise or fed exercise.
Diet: Normal diet. This phase involves unlimited access to food. Here you are essentially eating what you want and eating normally. We are assuming you will not be gorging on pizza, burgers and beer, although one or two such meals are not going to kill you in this phase. All starchy carbs are added back in along with fat and protein. The idea is to overeat and carb load. The depletion week will have the added bonus of supersaturating your muscles with glycogen. When this is combined with the heavy high volume resistance training the body gets anabolic quickly.
Exercise: to assure all those calories get partitioned into lean mass the exercise moves to exclusively resistance training.
Friday is lower body: 5 sets of 10 squats, 5 sets of 10 leg press, 5 sets of 10 leg curls, 5 sets of 10 leg extensions, 5 sets of 10 heavy lunges. All using a 10 rep max taking 2 to 3 minutes between sets.
Saturday is upper body: 5 sets of 10 bench, 5 sets of 10 row, 5 sets of 10 military press, 5 Sets of 10 barbell curl, 5 sets of 10 skull crushers. All using a 10 rep max taking 2 to 3 minutes between sets.
Sunday is off. Rest, recover, and eat. Nice leisure walk is optional.
The cycle is then repeated in the same way the next week.
We have found this protocol to be devastatingly effective to circumventing the natural inhibition of the body to multitasking. This is not an ME original protocol. We have refined and adjusted the protocol with the use of BCAA, a glycogen depletion day, use of cocoa and the metabolic conditioning workouts.