Jumpstart your metabolism with the following eating plan:
Ripped. Cutting up. Shredding. All different labels to describe the bodybuilder’s ultimate goal – to send unwanted body-fat packing while keeping your hard-earned muscle mass right where it is. Though the often-prescribed method of eating fewer calories each day while burning additional calories via exercise is certainly the foundation upon which a six-pack is based, many of us soon discover that approach eventually fails.
Plateaus, those stubborn roadblocks in which body-fat seems to cling to your frame no matter how hard you exercise or how meticulously you count calories, prevent many of us from achieving low levels of body-fat. Worse, plateaus are often so frustrating that they lead to unhealthy last-ditch efforts, including very low-carb diets or massive amounts of cardio combined with increasingly low calorific intake. A better solution is to follow a rotational diet that, unlike chronic dieting, helps create a calorific deficit while keeping your metabolism humming.
STARVING YOURSELF IS A BIG MISTAKE
Most diet strategies are based on a calorie-deficit approach: you eat less fuel then the body requires each day, which creates an energy deficit, and the body responds by calling upon body-fat as fuel. Yet adopting a severely low-calorie diet in hopes of a quick fix only sets you up for failure.
Starving yourself drains your energy and you can’t work out, so you can’t change the way you look. Drastic calorie reduction leads to a slowdown in the metabolic rate – the total amount of calories burned in a day – and a slow metabolism is the death wish for anyone seeking a hard body.
Research has indicated that the thyroid gland, the source of thyroid hormones that ultimately help determine your metabolic rate, reacts quickly to starvation diets. That is, when you eat too few calories, your body decreases its thyroid hormone output, which decreases your metabolic rate. Other detrimental effects of starving include an increase in fat-storing enzymes in the body. One enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) acts as sort of a gatekeeper, allowing fatty acids to flow in and out of fat cells. While mild reductions in calories cause a decrease in LPL activity, giving fatty acids the freedom to flow out of fat cells, overly aggressive calorie cuts actually increase LPL activity. In concert with decreased levels of thyroid hormone, this causes the body to cling to stored body-fat.
While severe calorific reductions seem to throw a dietary monkey wrench into the fat-loss equation, calorie surpluses or overeating exerts another puzzling effect. Not only does body-fat increase, but overeating may cause a mild increase in thyroid levels and an increase in anabolic hormones that help support muscle mass such as growth hormone, testosterone and IGF-1.
A BETTER WAY TO ENJOY YOUR DIET
The rotational approach to getting ripped employs both dieting and eating phases. The first requires a reduction in calories by decreasing your daily carbohydrate intake by 50% for 2-4 days. Since extended periods of dieting can slow the metabolism, a single “eating” day in which you boost your carb intake 50% higher than normal can sidestep any potential slowdown. For example, an individual currently eating 400 grams of carb daily would reduce his daily intake to 200 grams for 2-4 days. Next, he’d rotate into the eating phase and increase his carbs to 600 grams for a single day. This provides a mental break from dieting, decreases the magnitude of metabolic slowdown, and may boost testosterone, growth hormone and IGF levels enough to help maintain metabolic-boosting muscle. After the single high-carbohydrate day, he’d return to the dieting phase.
Taking in more carbohydrate in the eating phase can quickly reverse the catabolic environment and muscle loss associated with many diets by increasing insulin levels and resaturating the muscles with their primary source of training fuel – stored muscle glycogen. With chronic dieting and a lower carbohydrate intake, in contrast, glycogen stores drop and insulin levels remain consistently low. While a lower calorific intake, modified insulin output and lower glycogen stores are factors that influence fat loss, the three can also cause you to slip into a catabolic state in which the body burns up protein from muscle tissue for fuel. You walk a very fine line between progress and plateau.
Carbohydrates prevent your body from using other sources of energy, including the branched-chain amino acid called leucine, which is very important in the whole protein balance of muscle tissue. If you were to chronically underconsume carbohydrates, your body would end up using more leucine as fuel, leading to muscle loss. The eating phase of this rotational strategy, however, requires a large influx of carbs, causing an insulin surge that quickly reverses short-term protein (muscle) breakdown. This, in turn, allows you to hold the maximum amount of muscle before re-entering the diet phase.
Some individuals hope to keep their metabolic-friendly muscle while dieting by overaggregating the need for dietary protein. I know a lot of people who increase their protein while eating fewer carbs in hopes of preventing muscle loss. But you can’t reduce your carbs in half and increase your protein dramatically; that would negate the calorie reduction created by eating fewer carbs. Cutting your carbs in half for a few days while keeping your protein steady would help you get leaner, and a day of high carbs would give you the added fuel to get through the low-carb days.