What to do After the Diet – Avoid the Post Diet Binge

In the spring of 2006, I began my most successful dieting effort to date, and over the course of 12 weeks I would accomplish the impossible. Beyond the usual insanity accompanying a restricted carbohydrate intake, I was at the same time fighting the symptoms of an undiagnosed case of hypothyroidism that would go undetected until March 2010. I felt like the mashed avocado in my chicken salad–green and a little fuzzy–so let’s just say this diet was a little difficult.

However, my efforts paid off. I finished my diet in a supplement-induced haze that had me shaking so badly I could barely keep my coffee inside its mug. I had cut down to a manorexic 7% body fat, sporting nicely etched abs and 5-mm caliper readings.

On “D-Day,” as I called it, I took my shirt off at a friend’s lakefront party and proceeded to lay waste to an assortment of barbecued goodies. Shortly thereafter, I would move on to the requisite snack fare of the ‘ito’ food group – Cheetos, Tostitos, Doritos – and revel in all its flavored orange wonder.

I woke the next morning famished, and after a few minutes spent admiring my newfound vascularity, I started in on Chinese leftovers. Somewhere around my second helping of General Tso’s chicken, I realized that I had lost all hope of dietary control. I’d been perfect for weeks on end and then, overnight, I had unleashed some gastronomical monstrosity that left me binging for days.

I recovered in the subsequent week through a hasty ‘re-dieting’ effort, but my success was short-lived. The next weekend I was right back at the proverbial cookie jar, setting a pattern that would repeat itself for weeks to come.

I know I’m not the only one who has had this happen: a wildly successful dieting effort unravels after an innocuous dietary diversion. How much potential progress do we sap by not having a plan? Even here, as in war, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, and it’s no easy effort to manage the demands of your body. Make no mistake; you are at war with your body and with food and with your environment at the end of a diet, and you’ll need to muster everything you’ve got to fight the siren’s call of starchy carbohydrates.

But fear not. In the next few thousand words, you’ll learn how to make the leap from the despair of dietary restriction back into the realm of normalcy. After numerous successful client experiences and subsequent dieting forays of my own, I have learned a thing or two about “sticking the diet landing.” Here are six guidelines to help craft your post-diet program. Just keep some wet-naps handy to deal with those orange Cheetos stains.

1. Track your calories to help manage post-diet weight gain.

First, let’s address the myth that dieting is somehow ‘natural.’ It’s not. In fact, it’s perhaps the most unnatural thing we could do from an evolutionary standpoint. We are, after all, talking about self-induced starvation. When calories are suppressed, the body makes no distinction between what’s volitional and what’s incidental. While you’re dreaming of a waxed chest and a bronzed six-pack, your body is making every effort to get food back into you. It doesn’t care that you’re dieting for a Hawaiian vacation, your body cares that you’re starving.

This explains why most people fail at long-term weight loss. Dr. Traci Mann, an associate professor of psychology, published research in 2007 showing that amongst the general population, dieting is a future predictor of weight gain. Mann concluded that “most [dieters] would have been better off not going on the diet at all. Their weight would be pretty much the same, and their bodies would not suffer the wear and tear from losing weight and gaining it all back.”

So how does one avoid becoming another rebound diet statistic? By having a plan. When returning to normal eating, prepare for a drastic increase in your scale weight to the tune of 20 pounds or even more. Just remember, it’s water, not fat, and if you can manage your hunger, your weight will balance out shortly.

Keeping track of calories can help you make heads or tails of what’s water gain and what’s fat gain. If you’re eating 500 calories above what you were eating previously, there’s simply no way you will be gaining that much fat. Keep a food log for the first weeks after your diet target date. Your sanity will thank you and you’ll be less likely to say “screw it” and embark on some self-deprecating binge.

2. Eat more, but not too much more.

Going from a 2000 calorie diet to 4000 calorie diet isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do, in spite of what common bodybuilder canon might say. I know the temptation is there and can be justified if you cruise the internet long enough. You’ll find some contest prep guru encouraging you to down pizzas to optimize the ‘anabolic rebound.’ This works great if you have some drugs to help you along the way, but for us mere mortals it’s best to leave this strategy to the pros

Start slowly by adding an additional 500 daily calories to the diet each week. This will get you to a maintenance intake within a reasonable time frame while giving your body a chance to catch up with the increase in calories. The best way, though by no means the only way, to add calories back in would be to begin by focusing your surplus around your workouts.

The partitioning advantages of workout nutrition are well documented. When discussing his personal growth as a nutritionist and bodybuilder, Men’s Health Weight-Loss Coach and WannaBeBig contributor Alan Aragon, M.S. waxed philosophical on nutrient timing in his 2008 interview with Lyle McDonald. “Basically, I had no nutrient timing,” says Aragon, “I just trained as hard as I could, and ate when it was convenient. Talk about taking one step forward and one step back. If you can remember as recently as ten years ago, it was all about post-workout nutrition. Improvements in size and strength really didn’t exponentiate for me until I grasped the ‘sandwich your training bout with protein and carbs’ concept.”

As one of the foremost authorities on sports nutrition, Aragon further suggests that the energetic demands of the body should be met with proximal nutritional considerations.

In lay terms, you can eat more when you exercise, and you should eat that food as close to the workout bout as practical. Adding in more calories before your workout will help fuel your weight training or cardio sessions. Adding in more calories after your workout will take advantage of the inherent partitioning advantages of exercise and help to spur recovery and refill glycogen while providing a convenient calorie sink so you can enjoy all those treats you’ve foregone for the past months. Furthermore, you’ll end up with more muscle and less body fat than when you started your diet if you take advantage of these nutrient timing principles.

3. Increase your training volume to offset the extra food you’ll be eating.

Most people think training is work that needs to be done in the gym, so they fail to consider all of the metabolic churn they can get by taking care of errands and day-to-day needs. Low-intensity cardio burns more absolute calories than high-intensity for the simple reason that low-intensity cardio can be sustained for a longer duration. Extrapolated out, you can net quite a lot of caloric turnover by just walking around all day.

If you want to get really sexy with your non-exercise activity, try getting up from your chair as often as practical. The unspectacular act of standing up generates a huge spike in metabolism, and if done enough times throughout the day, can be more calorically costly than a 45 minute cardio session. Those of you with metabolic monitors like the BodyBugg or GoWear Fit can verify this unexpected fact for yourselves.

Under dieting conditions, most people unconsciously reduce how much they move in a day. By virtue of being tired, folks are less likely to mill about or twitch off calories. Combined with a suppressed metabolic rate, this tends to make end-stage fat loss particularly difficult. The precisely opposite phenomenon occurs when someone increases calories and comes out of a diet. The person will unconsciously move more.

Be careful though; appetite tends to outpace activity, so this by no means gives you a free pass to eat ad libidum. Elevated cortisol at the end of a diet means you’ll have your hands full trying to manage your hunger. That’s why it’s a good idea to add cardio in if you weren’t doing it already, or to up your cardio if you have been doing it. In particular, relaxing activities like yoga can help curb spikes in appetite through a reduction of cortisol levels.

Epel et al. found that women who secreted more cortisol during and after novel stressors chose to consume more foods high in sugar and fat. It has been long thought that cortisol influences food consumption by binding to receptors in the brain. Therefore, it’s best to avoid cortisol-provoking cardio like HIIT that can make a bad problem worse and to instead focus on relaxing activities that reduce cortisol, like walking, easy cycling, yoga, or pilates.

Is this you the day after you have achieved your diet goal?

4. Cycle off thermogenics and other diet-specific supplements.

If you’ve been using an aggressive fat loss supplement or thermogenic to aid your dieting efforts (or maybe visiting Starbucks multiple times per day), it’s time to start lowering down your doses. Long-term thermogenic use has its downsides.  People who go for years without tapering off their EC stacks increase their susceptibility to a psychotic episode. In a 2000 study by Jacobs et al that reviewed the long-term effects of ephedrine on mental health, he and his team discovered a strong correlation between EC use and psychiatric disturbances and manic-like symptoms. It’s best to keep doses low when using any thermogenic because the costs can rapidly outweigh the benefits.

As with any drug, don’t go cold turkey. It’s best to reduce your intake in a sane manner until you’re down to a non-diet dosing. Excessive stimulant consumption (at least in the short-term) can inhibit the body’s ability to replenish muscle glycogen. Why mess with your body’s want to preferentially store incoming carbs in the muscle by continuing a thermogenic protocol?

5. Don’t go crazy with the free meals and turn them into free days or free weeks.

It’s ridiculous to think that when coming off a diet you’ll be able to go right back to cover model-friendly eating. The human mind is powerful and able to rationalize some astonishing acts of nutritional debauchery, so stay vigilant. You should, however, allow yourself some flexibility in the few days after your diet. You’ve earned it.

What’s more important is what happens in the weeks that follow. It’s easy to take that sense of entitlement at the end of a successful cutting phase too far and find yourself in an “off-season” bulk leading you from 5% to 20% body fat. The best way to prevent such catastrophes is to limit the number of off-diet meals you consume following your splurge.

Let’s define free meals in this context. Free meals are any meals that break your diet either in composition or in caloric load. By planning your nutrition post-diet, you’ll be able to focus your efforts on rebuilding strength and making gains in the gym without waffling between the “should I bulk/should I cut?” questions. Limit the free meals to one or two a week and you should be able to stay right in your target caloric range.

6. Stay accountable by measuring progress.

Keep up with your diligent weigh-ins, caliper sessions, and mirror checks. Avoid the temptation to hop into sweat pants or break out your fat jeans after the diet is over. If you stay accountable during your trip back up to maintenance calories, you’re less likely to throw caution to the wind and in the end, you can reap the benefits of your dieting efforts that merit a leaner and muscular physique.

My favorite method of assessing progress is to have clients pick a pair of skinny jeans or pants that flatter their physique. If they start pushing the seams, then they know they need to rein in the calories or increase activity levels. As simple as it sounds, the act of monitoring body composition through any method is linked to long-term diet success. In a review by Wing and Phelan published in the July 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers found that of those who successfully maintained a weight-loss exceeding 10% of their pre-diet weight for more than a year, all used some form of progress charting.

If it worked for them, it will work for you.


So there you go: six easy to apply tips to help you the next time you’re setting up a diet. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that all the technical know-how can’t replace the experience of actually coming off a diet. Although it is beyond the scope of this article, you should work on setting physique goals in advance. If you know where you want to be one year from now, you can break that long-term goal into multiple short-term goals. That way, when you come off your diet, you can begin your pursuit of lean-mass toward a three-month checkpoint with defined target metrics rather than founder in a post-diet malaise of pizza.

Goals focus the mind, so be sure to set ambitious ones. With defined aspirations, your unconscious self will begin making the necessary changes to get you to that next level.

One final note: this piece is written without knowing what kind of diet you, the reader, might be following. Based on the available research, if you’re male, you can speedily diet yourself into the 12-15% body fat range without affecting hormones too much. However, this article is aimed at the person who is looking to break into the single digits and keep going. The slower you can diet into single digits, the better off you’ll be in the long run. When I say slow, I mean maybe two-pounds-per-month slow.

Crashing off the weight in the lower body fat ranges wreaks havoc with hormone levels and only serves to set up a binge down the road. My most successful diets have barely felt like diets at all. The weight creeps off week after week and I hardly notice the deficit.  I don’t obsess about the end of the diet, nor do I really feel like I am on one – I incorporate refeeds multiple times per week and maneuver into a beach-ready physique without much strain. I get to eat the foods I love on a regular basis, which means I can go out and not become a social pariah.

As crazy as it sounds, body composition isn’t everything, and mental health is just as important as physical health. Keep these principles in mind and you’ll prevent the yo-yo dieting effect that has become so common in our society.

Written by Ryan Zielonka

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – What to do After the Diet discussion thread.

About Ryan Zielonka

Ryan Zielonka is a writer, a researcher, and a public speaker.

Ryan struggled with obesity in his adolescent and teen years and decided in his freshman year of college to exercise with regularity. As a result he lost 16 inches from his waistline and discarded his size 44 jeans for a size 28. Ever since, the world of exercise science and nutritional biochemistry has never ceased to capture his imagination.

Ryan is a regular contributing editor and columnist for Wannabebig and his work has been published in T-Muscle and the Alan Aragon Research Review, and you can find him blogging on anything that strikes his fancy at www.ryanzielonka.com.

Why You Should Be Skipping Breakfast: The Secrets of Intermittent Fasting

From fat to sickeningly anorexic and all points between, Martin Berkhan has occupied all parts of the physique spectrum. Today, he lives and breathes the life of a natural albeit non-competitive bodybuilder, a feat made all the more laudable provided his unrepentant fondness for cheesecake.

He trains only two to three times in a given calendar week, eats all the ‘wrong’ foods, fasts for 16 hours a day, and takes in all of his carbohydrates at night, all at a bodyweight of 195 pounds and 5.5% body fat. Not bad, huh?

Martin’s desire to rid himself of the neuroses that accompanied his pursuit of bodybuilding sparked a revolution in the online fitness community. The public response to his intermittent fasting (also known as IF) experiment proved overwhelming, and it soon became apparent that he wasn’t alone in his struggle against bodybuilding’s nutritional dogma. His experimentation led to the development of the Leangains protocol, and that, folks, made him an internet fitness celebrity.

“Leangains was partly inspired by the Halberg et. al. study that came out just as I started researching intermittent fasting,” he told me, “but the protocol came first.” Like so many of us, prior to IF Martin had adhered to a diet strategy best described as ‘orthorexia-lite,’ euphemized in fitness circles as ‘clean eating.’

So what makes IF so successful, and why has it left such a lasting impact? IF is truly remarkable, a diet method in which the aspiring physique athlete can have his or her cheesecake and eat it too.

The Meal Frequency Fallacy

IF challenges the ubiquitous fitness rule that in order to stay lean, muscular, and healthy, one must eat small, protein-containing meals every two to three hours. I bring this up because to understand why IF works, we need to understand why the ‘eat every two to three hours’ maxim does not work.

Food costs the body energy to process with different foods costing the body different amounts of energy. This cost, known as the thermic effect of food, or TEF, negates roughly 10% of the calories of a mixed diet. That means in order for the body to process and utilize 2,000 calories across a given day, it will burn about 200 calories.

Researchers exploring the topic of meal frequency discovered that the consumption of a given meal raises the body’s metabolic rate for a short period of time. Part of the research community then wondered if human subjects could raise their total daily caloric burn by eating more frequently.

In the tight confines of theory, this sounds swell, but alas, the body’s physiological processes are working along a much lengthier timeline than such theorizing accounts for. What’s missing here is the fact that a given meal’s thermic effect is directly proportional to the size of said meal. In layspeak, a bigger meal merits a bigger thermic effect.

For example, if someone on a 1500 calorie-a-day diet eats three meals, that person will burn 50 calories at each meal for a total of 150 calories burned per day. Now, presume the same person eats six smaller meals for a total of 1500 calories. Each of these meals will burn 25 calories. 25 calories over six meals? 150 calories. Exactly the same as the three meals a day group.

At the end of the day, no measurable difference in fat loss can be had through manipulation of meal frequency.

Such evidence has done nothing to change the minds of the fitness gurus who cling desperately to decades-old, unsubstantiated hypothesizing. It makes sense: when you’re trying to make a buck as a fitness guru, you can’t exactly contradict yourself and your $99 e-product and still remain credible.

It recent years, this bogus reasoning seems to have taken on a life of its own. One of the more creative interpretations of the high meal frequency rule is premised on some armchair theorizing into the negative consequences of a low meal frequency. The argument goes like this: in absence of frequent feedings, the body turns to amino acids for fuel and burns off lean body mass, causing a supposed down-regulation of the metabolism, dubbed ‘starvation mode.’

This starvation mode has been blamed for the downfall of Lehman Brothers in 2008, giving you an idea as to my thoughts regarding its credibility.

Let’s be clear: this reasoning carries with it zero scientific support. Presuming adequate protein, long-term research shows no loss in lean body mass even under strict fasting conditions, so long as calories are kept at a maintenance level. In fact, studies investigating fasting or intermittent fasting show a slight increase in metabolic rate. This probably stems from the additional catecholamine release that accompanies an upregulation of norepinephrine in the brain.

Only now in 2010 is the media (and note it’s the general and not fitness-specific media) beginning to challenge the high meal-frequency dogma. In a piece run by the New York Times, author Anahad O’Connor writes that “as long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well.” The article goes on to cite a 2009 study performed by Cameron, et. al., titled “Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet” that appeared in The British Journal of Nutrition.

Body composition changes are predicated entirely on what they always have been: total daily caloric intake and exercise modality. Eating more begets an increase in weight and eating less yields a decrease, regardless of meal frequency.

So why go so extreme? If meal frequency doesn’t matter, why pursue something as radical as intermittent fasting?

There’s no doubt about it – Martin Berkhan walk’s the walk

From Caloric Restriction to Intermittent Fasting

The use of caloric restriction (or CR) as a means toward life extension continues to grow in popularity. CR provides a host of benefits, including improvements in cognition, respiratory health, and inflammation biomarkers. Researchers have also observed increases in insulin sensitivity in CR subjects, meaning that participants showed improved tolerance and usage of dietary carbohydrates. For an athlete, this is ideal because the better an athlete can tolerate dietary carbohydrates, the more likely he or she is to maintain a leaner, more muscular physique.

The contribution of IF lies in its ability to replicate the bonuses offered with caloric restriction sans the starvation and compromise of athletic prowess. IF studies typically utilize a fasting period of anywhere from 20 to 48 hours and have been shown to provide greater improvement in exototic stress reduction, basal serum glucose levels, and lifespan when compared with CR interventions.

IF has also has promise when it comes to improving biomarkers in obese individuals.  Decreases in oxidative stress and inflammation were observed in intermittent fasting studies that tested asthmatic patients, and IF appears to also enhance the neuroplasticity of the brain, allowing new neuronal connections to form more readily than might otherwise.

The most prescient piece of literature for the bodybuilding enthusiast would have to be the IF study performed by Stote, et. al. titled “A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults.” This was the first study to look at IF from a body composition perspective.

I co-authored a review that looked at this piece of research back in 2007. The study was a breakthrough in the sense that (1) it focused primarily on body composition, and (2) it was the first to control calories between groups. In the article, one study group ate one meal a day while another study group ate three regularly spaced meals a day. Without exercise, the first group lost more bodyweight and body fat and gained more lean muscle tissue than the three-meals–a-day group despite identical caloric intakes.

Crazy, right? Just by dropping meal frequency, one group magically lost body fat and gained muscle. No special pills, no exercise, no diet even…just fewer meals. The study is not without its limitations, but we can’t ignore this research simply because we don’t like it. It effectively adds to a growing body of fasting literature that indicates something is going on biochemically, we’re just not sure what.

IF captured the hearts of a many online bodybuilding community members. Research means nothing if it can’t be applied, and so we turn to a discussion of Martin’s Leangains system and how such research burnished its reputation.

Intermittent Fasting and Bodybuilding

Martin’s Leangains protocol made famous the 16-hour fast/8-hour feed strategy. Its most obvious antecedent would be Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0 and the five-hour refeed protocol found in his book A Guide to Flexible Dieting.

Unlike most other intermittent fasting protocols, Leangains gives the user the ability to eat a full daily allotment of calories. Because a portion of the 16 hours are spent sleeping, many practitioners find the opportunity to skip breakfast a welcome one, leading to greater productivity in the morning hours.

Research indicates there may be some physiological benefit to consuming the majority of one’s daily calories before, during, and immediately after training. In sync with this research, the Leangains protocol has two phases: the fasting phase and the overfeeding phase. According to Martin, Leangains attempts to capitalize on the dramatic fat burning capacity of the 16-hour fasting phase while optimizing the nutrient partitioning effects of the short-term eight-hour overfeeding phase. The first meal comes 16 hours after the last meal on the night prior, so all eating occurs within an approximately eight-hour time frame.

Some explanation of the aforementioned is in order. Nutrient partitioning describes what happens to calories after they find their way into the body. High-intensity activity, especially high-intensity resistance training, puts the body into an optimal nutrient partitioning state. By demanding a lot of the body’s physiological systems, resistance training elevates key hormones and metabolic processes that encourage the body to build lean muscle and lose fat. Partitioning refers to how many of those ingested calories get stored as body fat and how many of those calories go toward replenishing muscle glycogen or building lean muscle tissue.

In the specific context of Leangains, the first meal of the day on a workout day comes right before training, is moderate in size, and provides adequate carbohydrate and protein. The post-workout meal resembles what is known in the bodybuilding as a refeed. Carbohydrates are high, protein is moderate to high, and fat stays relatively low. Including the pre-workout meal, the feeding window lasts for approximately eight hours.

The real beauty of what Martin has done comes not from his expertise, which while substantial, has yet to disseminate universally into the bodybuilding world. Rather, it is his exuberance that by inspiring others to experiment with the protocol on their own has created a community surrounding intermittent fasting that continues to probe the margins of contemporary research.

Dave Gerczak – An Intermittent Fasting transformation (230lbs+ to 162lbs) (see more)

The Community Response

In 2007, Lyle McDonald’s now private message board served as the epicenter for IF experimentation. It was there that Martin outlined an early iteration of the Leangains protocol. JC Deen, a fitness professional and college student (and Wannabebig writer) from Nashville, Tennessee, was one of the first to play with the protocol. He spoke to me recently about his experience with intermittent fasting.

“I’m quite fond of [Martin’s approach] because of the liberty it provides to the rigid and sometimes obsessive physique-conscious folk,” Deen told me.  “While I don’t feel it yields any superior physiological advantages to a regular diet, I do believe it has psychological advantages.”

Skyler Tanner, a fitness professional who approached IF from the perspective of the once perennially underweight kid, first exhibited trepidation when it came to fasting for 16 hours. When you have clawed for every inch of muscle girth in the gym and quaffed a protein shake every two hours to stave off catabolism since time immemorial, the idea of going without food for 16 hours sounds like anabolic suicide.

But after witnessing Martin’s success, Skyler pinched his nose and took the plunge. “Intermittent fasting, as a protocol for athletes, is largely underappreciated,” he says. “No taking Tupperware with you everywhere you go, none of this ‘waking in the middle of the night to feed’ nonsense, being able to eat a large volume of food rather than bird-like portions, especially when increased positive nutrient partitioning is elevated post workout. It can help reduce the OCD tendencies of athletes, where some athletes are kept from getting lean because they have to eat every three hours.”

Matt Perryman, the New Zealand-based owner and operator of Impulse Fitness, has been a stalwart in the fight to disassemble the misguided bodybuilding establishment. IF meshed perfectly with his preferences and attitude. “For someone like me, it’s a huge benefit to not have to carry around meals and worry about eating every two hours, or force myself to eat when I’m just not hungry,” said Perryman. “For lifestyle reasons alone, it’s going to be a good fit for quite a few people. IF is a good way of free-form eating that controls calorie intake even if you don’t plan it out in advance. Limiting myself to an eight-hour window, it’s much harder to overeat, even with junk food.”

Alan Aragon, who co-authored the research review with me on IF in 2007, said the following: “I think [IF is] a great option for those who don’t particularly enjoy grazing or snacking. Those with a tendency to skip meals, or those with a tendency to not get ‘entertained’ by eating every two to three hours do very well on IF. There are individuals whose daily routine does not involve many eating occasions, and for these folks, IF is great.”

Aragon cautions would be adopters to first think critically about the research. “People with glucose control issues – especially those who experience hypoglycemic symptoms – might not fare optimally on the extremes of meal frequency reduction,” says Aragon. “Also, those who need to consume plenty of calories in order to gain weight might find it difficult to achieve this in less than three meals per day. Despite its limitations, one of the major things that IF has done is to validate the importance of going with personal preference when it comes to meal frequency and invalidate the longstanding more-is-better meal frequency dogma.”

I asked Roger Lawson, a Massachusetts-based personal trainer and all around hilarious guy, what he thought of Leangains intermittent fasting. “For starters, I get to eat larger meals that keep my hunger at bay, to the point where I rarely experience the ravenous hunger that causes many dieters to abandon ship and readjust their body composition goals,” said Lawson. “Secondly, it allows me to accomplish more during the day because I’m not stopping to eat all the time.”

No single method will work for all cases, so it’s best to move into something like IF with patience. Without question, IF’s emphasis on fewer, larger meals will provide some much needed mental and physical satiety for those accustomed to grazing on a high meal frequency regime. Many of the individuals quoted above struggled at one time with food-related neuroses and found IF to be a welcome respite from their obsessions.


While current research into IF leaves much to be desired, anecdotal evidence suggests the presence of both positive physiological and psychological adaptations. However effective the protocol may be, it would be wise to train a critical eye toward one’s goals. IF is no panacea. Calories count, and taking something like IF to illogical ends – thinking, for example, that since a 16-hour fast is good, a 36-hour fast must be even better – can do more harm than good. IF changes nothing when it comes to caloric requirements, so don’t start operating under the specious logic that since you’re fasting you can eat to the point of illness and still remain lean.

More research exploring the efficacy of the protocol would be welcome. Current interventions testing more extreme iterations of fasting than what Berkhan articulates rarely incorporate proper training methodology. For example, in a study testing fasting’s contribution to fat loss alongside a standard cardiovascular workout, the researchers made an egregious error by measuring acute biomarkers of fat loss instead of measuring a full 24-hour turnover of fat cells.

The fact that the academic and lay fitness communities are so divided boggles the mind. In this case, the researchers who cared about how much fat was burned during the fasted workout felt that the other 23 hours of the day weren’t worth looking at. These mistakes are inexcusable at this level, and so the community as a whole must approach performance-focused research with greater intellectual vigor and clarity.

I debated including an application segment on intermittent fasting. I’m of the opinion that typical bodybuilding articles do more harm than good in their presentation of diet and exercise modalities. All too often, authors put on airs, asserting that that their system is the one true way toward a great body.

I encourage readers to first monitor their own progress. Keep a food log and aim to consume at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. There are no good or bad foods, and trainees still adhering to misguided notions of clean eating would be best served to jettison them. Certainly some choices will provide greater nutrient density, but in terms of effect on body composition, all choices remain equal.

IF can be adapted to any diet. Martin’s Leangains closely follows the recommendations outlined by Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald in their respective works. Those interested should look into these authors’ writings for more information on setting up a proper diet. Martin’s website, Leangains.com, contains a tremendous amount of information on intermittent fasting, and a simple Google search will pull up a huge number of links.

IF can add to your growing body of knowledge on diet and exercise. Remember that consistency and not novelty paves the road to physique success. It can serve as a particularly effective approach for those who have struggled in the past with more traditional approaches to bodybuilding nutrition. Additionally, former male models have used it to turn themselves into totally jacked bodybuilders.

Written by Ryan Zielonka

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Secrets of Intermittent Fasting discussion thread.

About Ryan Zielonka

Ryan Zielonka is a writer, a researcher, and a public speaker.

Ryan struggled with obesity in his adolescent and teen years and decided in his freshman year of college to exercise with regularity. As a result he lost 16 inches from his waistline and discarded his size 44 jeans for a size 28. Ever since, the world of exercise science and nutritional biochemistry has never ceased to capture his imagination.

Ryan is a regular contributing editor and columnist for Wannabebig and his work has been published in T-Muscle and the Alan Aragon Research Review, and you can find him blogging on anything that strikes his fancy at www.ryanzielonka.com.

Elemental Fat Loss: Six Weeks to Grecian Proportions

Summer is right around the corner, just in time to make you feel guilty about your indulgence in one too many late night pizza runs. If there’s some holiday excess still loitering about your waistline, then worry not: today we’re talking fat loss…rapid fat loss.

I wish everyone could take the long, slow, and steady approach to dieting, but the reality is that even the best of us succumb to long days at the office and long nights at the bar.

Some of these recommendations will run counter to popular magazine rack and online bodybuilding protocols, but that’s okay. Just because juice monsters can lose fat on a high volume training protocol doesn’t mean that you can. I also urge you to avoid the ubiquitous online forum recommendation to combine high-intensity interval training, fat loss complexes, and ketogenic dieting into one program, for reasons I will explain later.

If you are someone who needs to reach a target bodyweight in a very short amount of time, but don’t want to turn into a social pariah or neurotic fitness freak at the same time, well, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive in.

On Having a Plan

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met trainees who start their fat loss programs by “cutting carbs,” “eating clean,” or doing some “metabolic training.” Even worse, I’ve seen all three combined together accompanied by a diet of protein shakes, isolated branched-chain amino acids, and sugared post-workout concoctions. The claim that some supplement is critical to the success of the program means the program itself is suspect and probably not a real program in the first place.

To be successful at fat loss, we need to move beyond trite diet and exercise prescriptions and think about the individual person who will be following whatever protocol is outlined. We all bring to the table different quirks and idiosyncrasies, both psychological and physiological, which make it impossible to design a one-size-fits-all fat loss method.

So what can we do? What does a real fat loss program look like? A real fat loss program takes into account all of the strengths and limitations a given trainee may possess, meaning that at some level, the perfect fat loss program is the one designed by the dieter himself. Even if I were to lay out some hypothetical ‘perfect rapid fat loss program,’ the chances are scant that any given trainee would be able to follow it and succeed. This is why good coaches and nutritionists are in such high demand.

I ask that you come to the realization right now that you will break your diet or training program at some point over the next six weeks. It is not the end of the world and you are not a bad person. Aim for 90% adherence to this plan and don’t worry about the remaining 10%. Be flexible, because no plan survives contact with the enemy, no matter how resolute you may be. By remaining cognizant of this reality, you’re more likely to stop after that first or second cookie, before you turn one dietary transgression into an evening long binge.

Follow Ryan’s 6 week rapid fat loss plan and you’ll have babes like this asking you play volleyball from all angles!

Creating a Diet

By designing a meal plan that caters to your taste buds, you’ll establish a certain level of do-ability that will keep you on track come that fourth, or fifth, or sixth week. Some individuals fall back on eating the same foods day in and day out – this phenomenon explains the success of clean eating, at least until a cheat day – in order to keep calories under control. I prefer that folks include a variety of foods in their diet as each food type imparts its own set of benefits.

Bodybuilding nutritionists like Alan Aragon, M.S., break foods into six categories:

  • protein
  • fruit
  • non-starchy vegetables
  • starches
  • fats
  • dairy

Clearly, room exists for additional subdivision – eggs could be classified as both a protein and a fat – but in general, aiming for a variety of foods from each of the aforementioned categories will take care of both your macro-nutritional and micro-nutritional needs.

Before you begin selecting foods to eat, you’ll first need to figure out your calories. Rather than set an arbitrary daily caloric goal and fill in macronutrients with ratios, I prefer to build up from the macronutrients to a caloric total.

Protein: Set this anywhere from 1.5g/lb to 2.0g/lb of total bodyweight. Protein is the most satiating of macronutrients and protects against muscle loss during drastic caloric cuts. I can’t do the topic justice here, but there are innumerable resources available online that discuss the critical importance of protein in a bodybuilding diet.

Carbohydrates: For our purposes, eat as few as you can get away with. You can consume vegetables in unlimited quantities, and you should strive to get in at least two servings of vegetables a day. Ignore their caloric value as the fiber content more than offsets their negligible caloric load.

One of the big problems that low-calorie diets impose on the dieter is the threat of insufficient micronutrition. Abuse of stimulants like caffeine can leach compounds such as calcium from the body, bringing adverse effects on mental health, physical health, and body composition. Vegetables can make up for such abuses.

Fat:  If you don’t already have a stash, pick up a bottle of fish oil capsules. You’ll want to take anywhere from 6g to 12g of total fish oil per day to meet your daily requirement of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Beyond that, I wouldn’t worry much about adding fat into your diet. You’ll get enough fat from your protein sources, and frankly, fats from oils and nuts tend to add up quite quickly. Ditch added fats in the short-term and get your fats in an ancillary fashion from dairy or oils used in cooking.

Let’s take our generic 170-pound lifter at 13% body fat. He’s walking around with roughly 22 pounds of fat on his frame, leaving him with 148 pounds of lean tissue. Most guys need to drop a few notches into the single digit body fat range to sport abs, so let’s set a goal of 10 pounds of fat loss for this six-week period.

If you want to sport a set of abs like Allen Cress, you’ll need to pay close attention to your diet

Crunching the Numbers

Presuming a slight loss in lean tissue – you’ll always lose some lean mass in the form of water, stored muscle glycogen, and connective tissue – our trainee will end up weighing in at a total bodyweight of 158 pounds. That leaves him with 12 pounds of fatty tissue and about 7.5% body fat.

To prioritize lean muscle retention, he’ll begin by eating 1.5g/lb of current bodyweight in protein, giving us 255g of total protein per day.

With carbohydrates, he’ll limit himself to two pieces of fruit per day and whatever comes along with his vegetables, sauces, and dairy sources. On a given day, he won’t exceed more than 0.5g/lb of current bodyweight in carbohydrate intake, leaving us with 85g of total carbohydrate to play with per day.

Fat is a bit tricky. Depending on cuts of meat, means of preparation, and type of dairy, this value can vary quite a bit. Because the intent here is to minimize calories, our hypothetical trainee won’t be adding any fat beyond his daily quaffing of fish oil.

Under normal dieting circumstances, 0.5g/lb of bodyweight is a good number to shoot for, but since we’re attacking this program with the purpose of rapid fat loss, we’ll drop that number down to 0.3g/lb of bodyweight, or about 51g of fat for our 170-lb lifter.

The 255g of protein nets 1020 calories, 85g of carbohydrate nets 340 calories, and 51g of fat nets 459 calories. This leaves us with a total of 1819 calories per day. Our lifter is going to be training hard, adding in as much low-intensity cardio as he can muster. If he’s exercising 8 to 10 hours per week, he’ll be burning anywhere between 3000 and 3500 calories per day. In calculating these numbers, I’m ignoring the negligible amount of calories that vegetables contribute to the diet, and you should too.

This is our lifter’s baseline diet and the one he’ll follow the majority of the time.  You can go through the same process to design your own individualized fat-loss diet plan. Now let’s talk about making adjustments based on training protocol.

Targeted Carbohydrate Spikes

We outlined the baseline diet above, but now we need to tailor things a bit to support high-intensity weight lifting. The best way to go about this is by incorporating intelligent workout nutrition.

Before and after your workout, you’ll want to consume some combination of protein and carbohydrate. This can come in a variety of forms: a protein shake mixed with milk, oatmeal and eggs, steak and rice, or any other combination of a lean protein source and a starch and/or fruit. Food subtypes do not matter. If I were to quibble, I’d suggest you consume some mix of both slow and fast acting proteins– dairy is great for this purpose – and rely more on starches than fruits or vegetables for your carbohydrate sources here.

As far as amounts are concerned, trainees should aim to consume a total of 0.75g/lb of carbohydrate, split up into before and after exercise allotments. Most people prefer to take in more of their dietary carbohydrates after their workout so they can eat a larger meal. This carbohydrate bolus is an addition to the baseline diet above. Eat your usual meal quantity of protein before and after your workout, but rather than an austere lot of meat and vegetables, you get to include some starches. Depending on your bodyweight, this will contribute an additional 400 to 800 calories to your workout days.

Note, these spikes should not be used to support cardiovascular workouts; this extra should be used only around resistance training workouts. And don’t go trying to add in additional workouts so you can eat more food–the point here is fat loss, not muscle gain, and we need to maintain a sufficient caloric deficit to drive as rapid a rate of fat loss as possible without compromising too much of your sanity or muscle mass.

Now it’s time to address what many of you were hoping for–the free meal. Yes, once per week you get to load up on a reasonable plateful of food without worrying about its specific caloric or macronutrient content. Retain some sanity here. I encourage you to eat this meal out at a restaurant because it’s all too easy to find yourself downing an entire carton of ice cream and then some at home, and turning what was a single meal into a multi-hour binge. This free meal will replace one of your normal meals during the day, and if you can time it so it comes after one of your resistance training workouts, all the better.


I’m a no-frills guy when it comes to supplements. Certainly there’s room here for thermogenic aids or other fat loss products if that’s something you want to invest in. Below I’ve outlined what I consider to be the supplements necessary to promote optimal health. If you want to invest in other products, I have no problems with that, just realize it’s not necessary to do so if you’re on a budget.

Multi-vitamin: Helps protect against micro-nutritional deficiencies. Consider taking twice the dose during phases of aggressive fat loss. (Multi-Plus is a great option here.)

Fish oil: Take six to 12 one gram capsules a day.

Calcium: Increases fat excretion and boosts testosterone. Take 500-750 mg a day.

Vitamin D: I go with the standard 5,000 IUs. Boosts strength and athletic performance.

Creatine: One of the few supplements that actually works. Take 3-5g a day, or roughly a teaspoon’s worth. (Creatine 500 is a superb choice)

Whey/Casein Protein Powder: It’s protein, it’s low-fat, it’s cheap. What’s not to like? It’s also a good source of branched chain amino acids. (Nitrean is a perfect choice as it contains a blend of whey, casein, and egg proteins.)

Caffeine: Boosts fat loss, manages fatigue, contains cardio-protective benefits. Take as needed, or just drink coffee.

L-Tyrosine: Improves mood and is a thyroid hormone precursor. Take 1 – 3g daily.

All of this should give you a good idea of how to set up a diet and supplement regimen.

Don’t try and make it too complicated. Put simply, meal frequency and timing doesn’t matter. What does matter is how many calories you consume per day, consumption of proper amounts of macronutrients, and the variety of food types eaten (Daniel Roberts does a nice job of explaining this here – Nutrient Timing – When Science and Marketing Collide). Beyond that, it’s all a wash.

When it comes to training for fat loss, I have some very specific ideas that may rub you as odd. Trust me on this one, and I think you’ll find that the results speak for themselves.



To retain muscle while dieting, you must train heavy. To train heavy, you have to make some serious effort in the gym. There will be no volume training in this program; I’d much rather someone cut calories or amp up cardio than try to do more work in the weight room. It’s a good idea to keep the purpose of each element in our fat loss program in perspective. The purpose of your diet is to lose fat. The purpose of low intensity cardio is to lose fat and promote recovery. Weight training helps you lose fat only indirectly, so don’t get confused and try to add sets and reps to ‘cut up.’

To train heavy, you have to make some serious effort in the gym.

During a diet, I’m a big fan of a three-day-a-week split. This is a nice compromise between a minimalist strength-only approach, and a more traditional four-times-a-week maintenance or bulking routine. There’s no reason to get sexy with training unless you want to trick yourself into feeling like you’ve progressed more than you have.

One of the most elegant programs I’ve developed was inspired by Matt Perryman, owner of Impulse Fitness, a New Zealand-based consulting practice. The purpose of this workout is not to gain muscle, generate fat loss, or contribute to your fat loss progress. Instead, it exists to mitigate the negative side effects of your diet. For those seeking extreme leanness, stress management is crucial, particularly when pushing your body into dangerously lean territory. This simply can’t be accomplished with the high-stress rigors of demanding, high-intensity workouts.

This workout forms the basis of a training program to which we’ll add low-intensity cardio (which will be described later). It is technically a four-day split across two weeks to allow for more recovery. Here’s the basic template:

Week One

Monday:  Day 1 – Upper Body Heavy

 1. Barbell Bench Press (any variant) – 5×3 – 80-85% 1RM
2. Barbell Row (any variant) – 5×3 – 80-85% 1RM
3. Face Pulls – 4×10 – 60s rest between sets
4. Barbell Curl – 2×6

Wednesday: Day 3 – Lower Body Heavy

1. Deadlift – 5×3 – 80-85% 1RM
2. Any Single Leg Exercise – 4×10 – 60s rest between sets
3. Calf Raises – 3×10 – 60s rest between sets
4. Weighted Ab Exercise – 2×8

Friday: Day 5 – Upper Body Medium
1. Overhead Press – 3×5
2. Weighted Chin-up – 3×5
3. Side Delt Raise – 2×10 – 60s rest between sets
4. Triceps Pressdown  – 2×8

Week Two

Monday: Day 1 – Lower Body Medium

1. Back Squat – 3×5
2. Glute-Ham Raise – 4×10 – 60s rest
3. Calf Raises – 3×10 – 60s rest
4. Weighted Ab Exercise – 2×8

Wednesday: Day 3 – Upper Body Heavy

Thursday: Repeat Day 1

Friday: Day 5 – Lower Body Heavy

Saturday: Repeat Day 3

Prioritize Recovery, Utilize Low-Intensity Cardio

Fat loss gurus think ‘fat loss’ and then think ‘high intensity interval training,’ and begin by prescribing things like sprint sessions with relative abandon. I’ve seen a few mainstream fitness books recommend three-day-a-week sprint interval sessions added to a mix of fat loss complexes. Goodbye fat loss, hello binging and overtraining.

In this program, we won’t waste time trying to get an ‘afterburn’ from complexes or high-intensity cardio – they tend to be myopic approaches to fat loss anyhow – and instead we’ll focus on recovery-promoting low-intensity cardio. Sixty minutes of low-intensity cardio will burn more than 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training for the simple reason that one can maintain lower intensity work for a longer period of time. Plus, it’s relaxing and facilitates recovery by clearing lactic acid and improving glycogen uptake.

In isolation, intervals aren’t a problem, but no one bothers to look at the context in which research studies on the effects of high-intensity interval training have been performed. It’s worth noting that all research on interval training has taken place using subjects who relied upon interval training as their sole form of exercise. As most of you can already guess, rarely are intervals the only form of exercise in a given fat loss program.

Interval training often gets combined with full-body fat loss complexes. Suddenly you have folks hitting legs with serious training intensity and volume three, four, five times a week. You can’t, in this case, have your cake and eat it too. Interval training is great for improving performance, but its impact on fat loss beats out low-intensity forms of exercise only by the narrowest of margins per unit of time invested.

Keeping in mind that our goal is to maintain as much muscle as possible while stimulating maximal fat loss, this plan begins with 45 minutes of low-intensity cardiovascular six days per week. Walking on an incline, easy biking, anything that’s going to facilitate extra caloric burn fits the bill. You’re in a massive deficit as it is, and trying to garner extra fat loss through more intensive exercise is plain dumb.

As the diet progresses, if you aren’t losing the expected two pounds per week, you can slowly up the duration of the cardiovascular work. Begin by increasing total cardio up to six 60-minute sessions per week. Again, this does not need to be done on a treadmill. Many people have daily routines that naturally tend toward this sort of aerobic activity. If you’re one of those lucky people, there’s no need to tack on additional low-intensity cardio.

I’d hesitate to prescribe more exercise than this. Your body will be in a huge caloric deficit and won’t be able to tolerate much more activity unless you’re willing to invest in some pharmaceuticals. As such, I’d urge you to be realistic about how much fat loss you can accomplish. Sure, we could cut calories more, but with a deficit approaching 50% of maintenance calories, the fat loss you desire may just take more time.


To help you get started, I’ve created a bulleted list to use for reference as you embark on this program. Refer to this if you need to refresh yourself on the information contained within this article but are short on time.

  • Don’t be haphazard in planning your training or nutrition. Even though you’ll need to exhibit flexibility during the program, if you know where you’re headed, you’ll be able to make adjustments on the fly and stay on the path to progress. Aim for 90% adherence to your given meal plan. This way, if you to break your diet, it won’t turn into an evening-long abusive binge of your body and your psyche.
  • Be realistic about how quickly you’ll be able to lose fat. Moderate deficit diets can net up to 1.5lb of fat loss per week. Given the caloric deficit in our plan, you can expect up to 2lb of fat loss or perhaps more per week. Fatter individuals may lose weight quicker, while those who are already lean may find weight loss comes more slowly.
  • Set protein at 1.5g/lb of starting body weight. Set fat at 0.3g/lb of starting body weight. Set carbohydrate levels as low as you can tolerate. For most folks, this means a ton of vegetables and a few pieces of fruit per day. As long as in you’re in the neighborhood of 0.5g/lb, you’ll be fine. Take six to 12 grams of fish oil per day.
  • Eat a total of 0.75g/lb of starting bodyweight split into before and after your workout. Eat a typical meal’s worth of protein during these meals. Incorporate these carbohydrate spikes only around resistance training workouts. Have one free meal per week. Make this a plateful of your favorite stuff, and don’t worry much about the macronutrient composition. Try to get a variety of foods from all six food groups: protein, fat, dairy, non-starchy vegetables, starches, and fruit.
  • Keep supplements simple. Add a basic allotment of the following: multi-vitamin, fish oil, calcium, vitamin D, creatine, whey/casein protein blend, caffeine, and l-tyrosine. Additional fat loss supplementation is just gravy.
  • Follow a low-volume, high intensity, low to moderate frequency training program. The one listed above may just fit the bill.


It’s my hope this program casts a new light on rapid fat loss for readers both new and old. What works doesn’t always have to be overly complex, nor does it have to be generic and overly simple. There are innumerable approaches to fat loss that work, and searching for the best fat loss program is an exercise in futility.

I prefer to work within the constraints and the preferences of my clients, a process which often involves a realistic assessment of a given person’s psychology and physiology. I’ve tried to address those concerns as broadly as possible while providing the most effective fat loss methodology I can muster, leaving room for individuals to adapt the program to their needs.

Now stop reading, and get started!

Written by Ryan Zielonka

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Elemental Fat Loss: Six Weeks to Grecian Proportions discussion thread.

About Ryan Zielonka

Ryan Zielonka is a writer, a researcher, and a public speaker.

Ryan struggled with obesity in his adolescent and teen years and decided in his freshman year of college to exercise with regularity. As a result he lost 16 inches from his waistline and discarded his size 44 jeans for a size 28. Ever since, the world of exercise science and nutritional biochemistry has never ceased to capture his imagination.

Ryan is a regular contributing editor and columnist for Wannabebig and his work has been published in T-Muscle and the Alan Aragon Research Review, and you can find him blogging on anything that strikes his fancy at www.ryanzielonka.com.