I was reading some articles on Tnation.com and stumbled upon this article Research Approved Carb Cycling, written by Mike Roussell. Mike Roussell is definitely one of the names I trust in the health industry, so I gave it a read and I must admit I was both surprised and intrigued by the results.
The article started out with a view of popular carb cycling diets. Carbs (specifically glucose from starches) influence the metabolism the most, especially in the short term. They also secrete insulin which greatly helps with muscle gain. But since insulin diminishes fat burning, carbs must be limited on days when you want to lose body fat. (along with a reduction of total calories) This is where carb cycling diets where created. Some days limit carbs to lose fat and others raise carbs to build muscle. I honestly don’t think you need to cycle carbs in order to achieve results, especially if your main goal is to build muscle, but with losing fat optimally this article may have changed my opinion.
This is a summary of the article. They compared three diets: one balanced Mediterranean at 1500 calories for 7 days a week, one balanced Mediterranean diet that ate 5 normal days (maintenance calories) and 2 low calorie diet days (half of maintenance), and the third was a straight ketogenic diet (no carbs) for 7 days a week. The RESULTS were 5 lbs lost in the first group, 9 lbs lost in the group that only dieted TWO DAYS PER WEEK and 9 lbs lost in the Keto diet.
In other words, you can get the same (actually better) results by only restricting carbs and calories two days a week vs dieting 7 days a week. At first this made no sense to me, because simple logic says the other groups took in less calories, so they should have dropped more weight. But dieting has a lot of metabolic problems associated with it. Lyle McDonald states in this article Calorie Partitioning Part 2, that as little as 3-4 days after starting a diet, metabolism slows down, hormones decrease, thyroid is slowed, mood and motivation get terrible, leptin is decreased and continuing further with a calorie deficit will likely backfire.
Basically the metabolic processes that go down on calorie restriction diets are all things you want on your side to lose fat optimally and keep it off. Lyle McDonald even states in the article that the way to sidestep these inevitable problems is to use a cyclical diet. So it makes sense that maintaining a normal amount of food for 5 days a week keeps you metabolism elevated and avoids the metabolic slow down. Then on two random days per week in between your maintenance level of calories eat two very low calorie days in order to shed fat. That way the low calorie days are very effective in shedding body fat, metabolism is maintained and long term results are achieved.
It would be interesting to see what happened in the long term to the weight of the people on the chronic 7 day low calorie restriction diets. I guarantee they GAINED IT ALL BACK, while the group that didn’t suffer by only dieting two days a week kept it off in the long term.
Here is a quick example of how to set it up:
- Weight 170 lbs
- Normal Days – (170×13= 2200 calories) 5 days a week (multiply bodyweight by 13 to find maintenance calories)
- Balanced macronutrients – 40/30/30 diet Carbs/Protein/Fat
- Diet Days -Half of maintenance at 1100 calories (2 low days)
- Macronutrients – Protein high, the rest don’t matter much
A few tips to use on the low calorie day:
- Do the low calorie day on a busy day at work. DONT do it on a day your sitting around the house or you will obsess about food the whole day.
- Eat volumetric sources of food such as egg whites, chicken (low fat and low calorie protein sources) and tons of fibrous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage and lettuce), even low calorie soups are good. Coffee is also a natural appetite suppressant. (Its actually quite easy to eat a lot and feel full, but not take in a lot of calories by using these sources of food)
- Don’t be afraid to go real low on the low calorie days, because since your eating normal the other 5 days, all of those negative metabolic adaptations are not going to effect you.
Bottom Line: Dieting two days a week is probably more effective then dieting 7 days a weeks, especially for long periods of time. Simply repeat this pattern of 5 normal days and 2 low days until desired weight loss is achieved. No suffering, no yo-yo rebound, no metabolic slowdown, just effective fat loss.