Sometimes even after doing everything right, many people tend to reach a training plateau. You start struggling to put on muscle and lose weight, even though you are still eating right and training hard. While trying to gain muscle mass and lose weight, we all tend to try many different diets – be it high carbs, high protein, low fat, but they all seem to work for some time and then you again reach a plateau. What if we tell you that there is a diet that promises to help you shed those remaining pounds and also help you gain muscle? The anabolic diet, created by Dr. Mauro DiPasquale, promises to deliver just that. Understanding the basics of the anabolic diet will help you determine whether this is the correct diet option for you or not?
What is an Anabolic Diet?
The anabolic diet is a diet based on consuming low-carbohydrates and alternating between high-carb and low-carb days. The anabolic diet was developed especially for individuals who want to not only lose weight but at the same also gain as much as muscle mass as possible. The creator of the diet, Dr. DiPasquale, named this as anabolic diet since he believed that the process of carbohydrate cycling is just the same as the effects of taking anabolic steroids.
The anabolic diet boosts changes in weight loss, total level of testosterone in the body, as well as strength levels. The diet follows a 5 + 2-day cycles during which five days one has to consume low carbohydrates, high protein, and high fat. The following two days will consist of moderate protein, very low fat, and high carbohydrate. During low carbohydrate days, the diet allows for consuming less than 30 grams.
How Does The Anabolic Diet Work?
The diet works similar to the functioning of anabolic steroids, hence the name. According to Dr. DiPasquale, when you alternate your carbohydrate intake, it allows the body to burn more fat. When the body starts using fat as its primary fuel, it allows you to preserve your muscle mass to a greater level.
Any typical diet plan consists of all the three macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates. However, for athletes, bodybuilders, and weightlifters, a diet consisting of all three macronutrients needs to be modified so that they can lose weight, but at the same time maintain muscle gain. The biggest benefit of an anabolic diet is that there is no restriction on calorie intake.
The diet is based on the fact that the body requires a certain number of calories for maintaining muscle mass. Thereby, when you reduce the calorie intake, it causes a loss of body tissue. However, as per the anabolic diet, it works on altering the body’s metabolism to start favoring fat. This not only allows you to have a normal calorie intake, but you will also see a decrease in the percentage of body fat.
Phases of the Anabolic Diet
When you begin the anabolic diet, you will understand that the diet follows certain phases. At each phase, the caloric intake is altered in order to better support your goal of maintaining or losing/gaining weight. The macronutrients that the diet is made up of will remain proportional to the calorie content of the diet. Each phase of the diet is customized based on your goals and your current level of body fat.
Let’s take a look at what a typical cycle of anabolic diet looks like.
Induction or Maintenance Phase (Lasts for Week 1 to 4) – Known as the maintenance or induction phase, weeks 1 to 4 of the diet focuses on getting your body used to the macronutrient manipulation that the anabolic diet is based on. According to Dr. DiPasquale, the maintenance calorie intake should be your body mass (in pounds) multiplied by 18.
Bulk Phase (length is customized and varies for person to person) – The bulk phase of the anabolic diet is different from the first maintenance phase and requires adjusting during a couple of weeks so that the calorie content can be established. As per Dr. DiPasquale, for calculating your starting calorie intake during this phase you need to use your ideal body weight (also in pounds) and then add 15 percent to that weight. For example, if the trainee has an ideal body weight of 180 pounds, then he/she should need to add 15 percent to this number to reach approximately 207 pounds. The duration of this phase varies from person to person and lasts till the estimated calorie intake has been achieved. The estimated calorie intake should be around 20 to 25 calories per pound of your desired body weight every day. If you notice that you are gaining more than 2 pounds of body mass every week, then this should be an indication for reducing your calories. On the other hand, if you find that you are not gaining much weight, then you should increase your calorie intake. The bulk phase ideally lasts till you have achieved your desired body mass + 15 percent, or tell you to get over at least 10 percent body fat.
Cutting Phase (duration again varies from person to person) – The last phase is known as the cutting phase and is quite similar to the maintenance phase. However, in this phase, there will be a slight decrease in calories so that you can achieve the required weight loss every week. According to the guidelines of the diet, a calorie drop of 500 to 1000 per day should be sufficient. At the same time, a weight loss of more than 2 pounds per week is considered to be too much. In order to determine what your daily calorie intake should be during the cutting phase, you need to multiply your body mass by 18, and then subtract around 500-1000 calories from the number. The duration of this phase lasts till you have reached your desired body fat percentage.
As you can see, each phase of the anabolic diet has a different calorie intake level, depending on what goals you set. However, the macronutrient proportions remain, more or less, unchanged.
Overall, the foundation of the anabolic diet is nutrient cycling. You take low-carbs during the week and alternate with high-carbs during the weekends. Alternating between high and low carbohydrates prevents your body from going back to burning carbohydrates for generating fuel. During the high carbohydrate days, your body is also able to replenish the fuel lost during the week through your vigorous exercise regime.
Understanding the Macronutrient Cycling
As we have discussed above, each phase of the diet has different calorie intake specifications, while the macronutrient proportions of the diet remain unchanged during all three phases. The diet has been effectively divided into two timeframes – one is the low-carbohydrate intake on weekdays and the second is the high-carbohydrate intake during the weekends. Let us understand how each timeframe works.
Weekdays with Low-Carbs: The weekdays focus on substantially restricting your carbohydrate intake. You should be having no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates per day and the primary calorie intake should come from protein and fat only. The breakdown should ideally be 60-65 percent of fat and 30-35 percent of protein and may 5-10 percent from carbohydrates.
Weekends with High-Carbs: Once you have completed a low-carb intake during the five days of the week, the weekend is focused on replenishing the carbohydrate stores of the body. During the weekend, your diet should focus on getting at least 60-80 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 10-20 percent from proteins, and the same percentage from fats.
Are There Any Risks Associated with the Anabolic Diet?
This diet should only be undertaken for a certain period of time. You should decide the timeframe during which you will follow the anabolic diet. For example, the anabolic diet would be ideal for a weightlifter or a bodybuilder who is getting ready for a competition.
The diet boosts your lean body tissue and decreases the fat stores on your body. However, in no way does this imply that the diet is healthy. One of the biggest drawbacks to the anabolic diet is that there is a total lack of fiber as well as micronutrients from fruits, legumes, and vegetables. Even though the weekend allows you to consume high levels of carbohydrates, there are still no legumes, no fruits, and very few vegetables consumed during the weekdays.
This clear imbalance causes a sharp reduction in the consumption of antioxidants, which are essential for fighting oxidative stress that is created by exercise. Since this diet also lacks fiber, it can also lead to chronic constipation and also promote the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria.
Some studies done on animals have also shown that a high-fat, ketogenic diet like the anabolic diet does not allow insulin to function properly. Insulin is important for the body because when you want to metabolize carbohydrates, no matter how small the intake of carbs is during the week, you still need insulin. Also, following a regular high fat diet may also cause insulin resistance, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.
Bear in mind that during the week, the diet recommends that you consume 60-65 percent of calories from fat. This is why following the anabolic diet for even a short period of time can cause the body’s insulin function to go haywire. Once you stop the diet and lower your fat intake, your insulin function will again go back to its normal state.
Role of Fat in the Anabolic Diet
Apart from carbohydrates, fats also have a major role to play in an anabolic diet. Dietary fat has a big role to play in regulating the production of testosterone and androgen in the body. Dr. DiPasquale firmly believed that saturated fats were crucial to the process of hormone production in the body. This is why during the week, he suggested that followers of the anabolic diet have a high intake of the following:
- Whole eggs
- Full-fat dairy products such as cream, butter, and cheese
- Fatty cuts of red meat
- Nuts and nut spreads
However, the drawback to this philosophy is that saturated fats are known to significantly increase the levels of triglyceride and cholesterol, increasing your risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Now that you know about what all is involved in the anabolic diet, it is up to you to decide whether you can follow the high-carb and low-carb cycle. There is no doubt that the anabolic diet is highly beneficial for individuals who want to achieve maximum fitness gains. However, the diet is not recommended for competitive athletes who have a higher requirement of carbohydrates. The diet is ideal for bodybuilders and weightlifters, but that too only for a limited period of time. Anabolic diet is also not for people who are only looking to lose weight.
The diet program is highly limited in nutrient consumption and also highly restrictive. This is why it is advised that the diet is only followed for a short period of time to reach a certain goal.
Di Pasquale, M.G., 1995. The anabolic diet. Optimum Training Systems.