Is there anything better than an anabolic diet?
Over the years, there has been a lot of chatter amongst the general public and the bodybuilding community about the proper way to build up muscle while losing excess body fat.
On one side of the conversation, we have the American Medical Association stating that fat is bad for us and should be kept to a minimum, while on the other, we have leading experts like Dr. Mauri DiPasquale, indicating that high fat, low carbohydrate diets are better for those who are wanting to participate in natural bodybuilding.
The reasoning on Dr. Mauri DiPasquale’s argument is that bodybuilders that favor high carbohydrate diets, often find themselves in trouble when they enter their bulking phase, packing on a tremendous amount of excess weight due to an over-consumption of calories.
When they go to cut down, they end up losing a lot of muscle with the body fat because the body burns through muscle more readily than fat.
When this occurs, you can become irritable and demotivated and cause you to take drastic measures to compensate, especially if you are a bodybuilder that competes in competitions.
One way of getting around this problem is by switching to a high fat, low carbohydrate diet with carb loading, otherwise known as the Anabolic Diet.
In this ultimate guide, we are going to walk you through step by step on everything you need to know about the anabolic diet, from how it works and why, to what type of meals and food you should be eating and buying, to what types of workouts you can do, what the benefits are, and what type of results you can expect.
It’s time to move away from the lies that fat is bad and move into a greater understanding of how you can turn your body into a fat burning machine.
What Is The Anabolic Diet and How Does It Work?
The anabolic diet was introduced into the health and fitness culture by Dr. Mauro DiPasquale back in 1995 after he began to search for an alternative to performance-enhancing drugs.
Although his approach to the diet was new at the time due to the hormonal manipulation and stimulation that was involved with it, the actual consumption of very few carbs and a lot of meat was nothing new and produced a lot of big men back in the 1960s.
Nowadays, you may know this type of diet by another name – ketogenic, but unlike the ketogenic diet which is very restrictive in the carbohydrates consumed, the anabolic diet uses cyclical carb loading to help you gain as much muscle mass as possible while keeping your body fat stores low.
It is useful because it mimics the effects of anabolic steroids, the steroids that bodybuilders use as performance-enhancing drugs, by maximizing the production of testosterone, insulin, and growth hormones.
Here is what you need to know about it!
What Does The Anabolic Diet Look Like?
In its basic form, the anabolic diet calls for a dedicated high fat, high protein, and low carbohydrate diet from Monday through Friday and then a cyclical carb loading period on the weekends.
When we say low carbohydrate, we mean a maximum of thirty grams of carbs daily; to put this in perspective, a banana has about twenty-five grams of carbohydrates.
Now, the diet is going to be roughly about fifty-five to sixty percent of fat, thirty to thirty-five percent protein, and of course no more than thirty grams of carbohydrates during the first five days of the week.
Come the weekend. You spend a thirty-six to forty-eight hour period where you hit the carbohydrates heavily.
This can be done through any of your favorite foods, including beer and pizza.
So, if you are going to be social and want to eat out with friends, it’ll be much easier to do so on the weekends or whenever you choose to have your two days of carb loading.
The diet during the carb loading period should look like thirty-forty percent fat, ten-fifteen percent protein, and forty-five to sixty percent carbohydrates.
Keep in mind though, that these numbers will vary from one individual to another based on your fitness level, lifestyle, and individual body chemistry.
Breaking this down even further, the anabolic diet works on a tri-phasic system that utilizes macro-nutrient manipulation and hormone stimulation.
Each phase works to alter the caloric intake to supposed the intended goal, whether this is maintaining your weight, losing weight, or gaining weight.
The length of each phase can be customized based on your goals and current body size.
The Induction (Maintenance) Phase – Weeks One Through Four
During this phase, you will intake in a specific amount of calories that will maintain your current body mass.
According to Dr. Mauro DiPasquale, this should be your body mass in pounds multiplied by eighteen.
This is done in the first four weeks of taking on the diet as it is supposed to prepare your body for the macro-nutrient manipulation you are about to undergo.
The Bulking Phase – Week Five+
This phase relies on trial and error as the calorie count you will need is dependent on your ideal body weight goal and how quickly you put on mass throughout each week.
To find out how much you need to bulk up by, you take your ideal body weight number and add fifteen percent to it.
This calorie intake will land between twenty and twenty-five calories per pound of desired body mass daily, which works out to about two pounds of mass a week.
If you are gaining more than this, you’ll need to cut back, and if you are gaining less than this, ramp it up!
The bulking phase runs until you reach your desired ideal body mass or you are over ten percent body fat; whichever comes first.
The Cutting Phase – End of Bulk Phase Onward
In this phase, you intake a certain amount of calories to achieve a specific amount of weight loss every week.
This phase runs similar to the maintenance phase with the exception that you are cutting calories of about 500-1000 daily.
You want to aim for a weight loss between one and one and a half pounds per week. If you are anywhere over this, you will end up losing muscle mass.
What Does This Look Like in the Gym?
You are going to find that you will get the best pumps of your life on Mondays because of the amount of glycogen (carbohydrates) and water that is stored in your muscle cells.
As you pump the iron, your muscles will use up these stores of glycogen and water for energy purposes.
As the week goes on, you will experience a rise in fat burning and muscle growth on Tuesdays and on Wednesdays to Fridays, you’ll find that you’ll have less energy due to limited glycogen stores.
However, your body will be exclusively burning fat which will maximize your gains.
The one thing you must keep in mind when carb loading on the weekends is how many calories you are consuming. You do not want to lay down a tremendous amount of excess calories as this is what amounts to fat gain.
To do the anabolic diet properly, you must be aware of your body and how it is reacting to the carb loading.
If you feel yourself becoming puffy and bloated with water, your body is telling you that enough is enough.
For some people, the insulin increase may cause you to experience insane hunger cravings, which is why you sometimes see natural bodybuilders consume 10,000+ calories a day on these days, whereas, others’ appetites won’t be impacted at all.
If you are new to the anabolic diet and are not sure how your body will respond, shoot for the thirty-gram carbohydrate limitation and minimum forty percent fat level in the first few weeks of starting the diet to make the shift easier.
How Does The Anabolic Diet Work on an Internal Level?
The anabolic diet focuses in on increasing insulin levels through carb loading at the appropriate time, to stimulate higher amounts of muscle growth.
The idea here is that when you increase your insulin levels and then work out hard, you drive the amino acids into the muscle cells, increasing the amount of amino acids that get incorporated into the muscle protein.
The difference here between the anabolic diet and insulin and the insulin produced by a high carb diet is that in a high carbohydrate diet, the insulin levels are chronically increased, creating layers of unwanted fat.
The anabolic diet controls and limits when the insulin levels become increased (only on weekends), lowering the chance of putting on unwanted fat.
Now, because insulin works hand in hand with testosterone and your growth hormones, you can maximize your muscle growth throughout the week by utilizing the insulin fall-off.
How does this work?
When your insulin levels drop off, your growth hormones will increase because you are putting your body through stress and increased needs, causing your cells to use up fat rather than sugar for energy and putting your body into a state of increased fat breakdown (lipolysis).
Generally, insulin tends to decrease the secretion of your growth hormones, but because you’ve carb loaded on the weekend, your body sees this as a stressful situation and increases how much growth hormone is secreted (1, 2).
This allows you to get the positive effects of the growth hormone during the week.
What About Muscle Loss Due to Exercise?
There’s this common misconception that as you train, your muscles breakdown and the only way for them to repair is through recovery and an increased intake of fiber.
However, this is not the case, according to Dr. Mauro DiPasquale, who states that the only reason for you to ever lose muscle during exercise is if the “catabolic effect of exercise” overwhelms the protein synthesis that your muscles go through.
Rather than the widely popular belief that muscles breakdown during exercise, they instead try to synthesize the protein within their cells to grow.
But when the ribosomes, ribonucleic acid, and the amino acid pool does not have enough energy for the synthesis process, that is when you get catabolic muscle breakdown from exercise.
The anabolic diet fights against this muscle breakdown by reducing the production of catabolic hormones (mostly cortisone) by increasing how much phosphocreatine is within each muscle cell.
We will cover what foods you should be eating and highlight out a meal plan with this in mind.
What You Should Be Eating for the Anabolic Diet
On the weekdays, your diet should be focused on consuming a lot of high fat and high protein options.
This means focusing in on a lot of red and white meat such as hamburger, pork, steak, venison, fish, chicken, lamb, shrimp, and turkey.
You may also consider adding some canned meats into your diet such as herring, anchovies, and sardines if they are to your liking.
Other than this, all kinds of cheeses are fair game including full fat and non-skimmed options.
Ideally, you want to stay away from cheese spreads since these will have a lot more carbohydrates and sugars to them. Options for cheese include Monterary jack, brie, and gruyere.
You may also want to include whole eggs, butter, oils, and margarine and you can add in sunflower and walnuts as seeds of choice.
If you are going to use any condiments for your food, choose to use vinegar, salt, mayonnaise, and oil.
Regarding your sugar intake, this should be avoided altogether.
However, if you do find yourself getting cravings, you can appease these by using low carb drinks and desserts that use artificial sweeteners but try to stay away from fructose and sorbitol.
You can also use sugar-free jello with carbohydrate free whip cream to help get you to the weekend.
The key here is that once you’ve been on a diet for a more extended period, you will end up not craving things like lasagne and ice cream anymore.
A Sample Anabolic Diet Meal Plan for the Weekdays
- Meal One: for meal one, you could cook up and scramble four whole eggs, grab a handful of walnuts, and make up 4-5 slices of turkey bacon or 1-2 links of turkey sausage. You could also substitute in 1 ounce of cheese instead of the walnuts.
- Meal Two: for meal two, you could cook up a 4-ounce chicken breast, one hard-boiled egg, two cups of romaine lettuce, and toss together with two tablespoons of oil and one tablespoon of vinegar. Or you could do some ground beef with cheese (300 grams), 50 grams of romaine lettuce, and a handful of almonds.
- Meal Three: for meal three, you could cook up two chicken breasts (8 ounces), grab a handful of pistachios, a Greek-style salad with cheese (100 grams) and do up a 100 grams of bacon. Or do up one four-ounce chicken breast with 2 cups of romaine lettuce, and toss it with one tablespoon of flax meal, one tablespoon of oil, and 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar.
- Snacks: a handful of beef jerky, a zero carbohydrate protein bar (150 grams), 500ml whole milk protein shake, or have 6 ounces of one percent cottage cheese with a tablespoon of oil, a tablespoon of flax meal, and a tablespoon of almond butter.
A Sample Anabolic Diet Meal Plan for the Weekends
- Meal One: you could do two bananas and two apples with a bowl of oatmeal and protein powder at 1.5 cups of oatmeal. Or you could do a pancake meal with fresh fruit and an egg white omelet.
- Meal Two: consider doing up pasta with tomato sauce, chicken breast, and some garlic bread. Or, you could do up some Basmati rice (2 cups – cooked) with two chicken breasts (8 ounces) and 50 grams of spinach and 100 grams of broccoli.
- Meal Three: this could consist of whole grain pasta (400 grams – cooked), with lean ground beef or chicken of about 200 grams and pasta sauce with vegetables (300ml).
- Snacks: A bagel with cheese and turkey breast, sweet potato home fries (300 grams), two large bananas, or 2 slices of sprouted grain bread with 50 grams of hummus.
For those wondering if there are set times for consuming your food, there are not. You eat when your body tells you that you are hungry.
This may mean that you eat three meals a day and have snacks strewn throughout or you may need to sit down and eat five to six meals a day without snacks.
Generally, you do not want to go for more than three hours without having some form of food consumption.
The only time where you should limit your food consumption is forty-five minutes to an hour before you train, as you want your body to be focused on the training and not the digestion of food.
Other than this, a lot of bodybuilders will consume the majority of their carbohydrates at the end of the day as this helps them sleep better at night.
Please keep in mind that these are just sample meals and so you can change these around based on what types of food you prefer.
The only thing that you need to do is stick with the weekday and weekend fat, protein, and carbohydrate percentages.
Now that we’ve gone over what your meal plan could look like and when you should eat, let’s go over the positives and benefits you will experience while being on this regimen.
What Are The Perceived Benefits of Being on the Anabolic Diet?
Increased Fat Loss
The high-fat portion of the anabolic diet will push your body to burn more fat as you will be able to use and burn the fat as fuel for energy effectively.
Increased Muscle Gain
You may be able to produce heavier or denser muscle tissue as you will be consuming more calories per gram due to the amount of fat intake you will have.
You Do Not Have to Log Your Food
there is no need to count calories throughout the day as your focus should be on the macro-nutrients you are taking in.
Focus in on how many fats, proteins, and carbohydrates you are consuming and keep foods simple to make it easy on yourself.
Improved Energy Levels
after you get over the first few weeks and your body adjusts to the low carbohydrate portion of the diet, many guys experience an increase in energy levels.
Why? You have more stable insulin levels throughout the week (24).
You will Gain Weight Easily
Due to the number of calories, you will be consuming during the carb loading weekends. You are much more likely to gain weight easier and quicker during the bulking phase of the anabolic diet.
More Testosterone and Growth Hormones
A lot of people on the Anabolic diet find that as they lose weight and body fat, their strength increases.
This is because you are losing far less muscle than what you would if you were training using a high carbohydrate diet.
This makes you feel stronger.
Decreased Mood Swings
Individuals on the anabolic diet have found that they do not suffer from such a broad range of mood swings than when on other diets.
Stabilized Experiences with PMS
Some women tend to experience difficulty with moodiness and irritability during the period right before their menstruation.
Those who have gone on the anabolic diet have noted that these symptoms have become lessened.
You Won’t be Constantly Hungry
Because fat is more satiating than high carbohydrate foods, you won’t feel hungry or starving throughout the day (29).
This is because your body won’t be rocketing between insulin spikes and drops and so your body won’t call for you to eat as often.
What Are the Perceived Downfalls of Being on the Anabolic Diet?
Increased Cholesterol Levels
Make sure to get your blood profile done up to watch the cholesterol levels when you make the switch.
By consuming a lot of saturated fats, you are going to increase your cholesterol levels inevitably, so you want to make sure that they remain at healthy levels (30).
Lower Fiber Intake
Be very wary of how much fiber you are getting.
This can result in high blood pressure and a lack of weight loss.
Lack of Energy
if you are used to the high carbohydrate diet, your body is going to have a hard time at first and may struggle both physically and cognitively.
Keep in mind that it will take several weeks to adapt and you may have lower energy levels until it does change.
Bloating and Acid Indigestion
Eating animal-based proteins and fats are difficult to digest, and so your body will produce a lot more hydrochloric acid to break down the nutrients into digestible forms.
Hard to Gauge How Much to Eat
Because you are using macro-nutrient cycling, it can be tough to know whether you are eating too little or too much unless you log everything you eat.
The diet will only really work if you are in the right calorie range for your goals, so be very careful with what you eat as it can be very easy to bulk too much.
Can Be a Bit Restrictive
because you cannot consume very many carbohydrates during the week, you may find yourself restricted in what you choose to eat when out with coworkers, clients, and family members who are not on a diet.
This can feel extremely restricting as a result.
What Type of Training Should You Be Doing?
Physical training is an essential anabolic agent but is also the most catabolic and thus should be considered carefully.
However, this also increases the production of cortisol as well as the rate at which proteins and muscles breakdown.
Additionally, over-training will stunt the testosterone and growth hormones you just worked to produce, effectively halting any progress (43).
No set workout is tailored explicitly to the anabolic diet, so you are free to train in any way you see fit, but the most effective training takes a short, intense approach lasting no more than thirty-five to forty-five minutes in length.
The best results for bodybuilding, for example, have generally been observed using moderately heavy weights for six to twenty reps and limited rest in between sets.
This appears to result in optimal rises in testosterone and growth hormone levels while minimizing cortisol and protein decomposition.
In short, the most important thing to watch for is whether or not you are over-training as this will be detrimental to your progress.
Experiencing any of these is your cue to dial it down a bit until you are riding the fine line between proper exercise and overdoing it.
But it will be up to you to determine where that line is for you.
What Does This Diet Look like for Women?
In women who are looking to lose weight specifically, this diet is not going to work as it is meant to bulk you up first, help you gain weight, and then cut the excess fat off.
If you are a women bodybuilder, however, and are looking to cut your body fat percentage way down, this will work perfectly fine.
As for the actual meal plan, training, or science behind this diet, this does not change for women at all.
You will use a different number for your starting ideal body weight.
However, the rest of the percentages for fat, protein, and carbohydrate consumption generally stays the same.
Commonly Asked Questions
I Have High Cholesterol, Am I Okay to Do This Diet?
It is highly recommended that if you do go on this diet, that you are aware of your cholesterol levels at all times as the anabolic diet does increase cholesterol levels.
You should consult with your doctor before going on the anabolic diet.
What Type of Results Can You Expect from the Anabolic Diet?
If you are doing the diet correctly and following the required intake of calories for your desired ideal body weight, then you should see an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat.
In the bulking stage, you should be gaining a mass of 1-1.5 pounds per week.
What Is the Difference Between the Ketogenic Diet and the Anabolic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is not cyclical in that it does not have any carb loading associated with it.
It is also more restrictive in the amount of carbohydrates you can ingest, being twenty grams or less for the traditional diet.
What Is Anabolic Fasting?
This is generally the process you go through before starting the anabolic diet, where you eat as close to zero carbohydrates as possible for twelve consecutive days in a row.
After these twelve days are up, you move to five days of no carbs and two days of carbohydrate loading.
Will the Anabolic Diet Affect My Complexion?
Due to the changes in hormones, you may experience some changes to your skin during the initial stages of the diet.
However, once your body gets used to the high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate schedule, it should clear up.
For older individuals, the high fat in the diet may help clear up any skin dryness that you may have from the aging process.
Should I Avoid Certain Fats?
You do not need to restrict any fats in so long as you are consuming marine oils and polyunsaturates.
Doesn’t the Brain Need Carbohydrates to Function?
This is a common misconception.
The brain can use carbohydrates to function but will happily use ketones in their absence. Plenty of which will be available on the anabolic diet.
Should I Choose to Consume Real Butter or Is Margarine Okay?
The choice between this isn’t critical for the diet itself and should be a choice based on personal preference.
It is important to note that butter is high in saturated fats and so it should be consumed sparingly if you are already getting all of your saturated fats from the meats you consume.
Should I Be Taking Supplements with This Diet?
The reason why supplements are recommended for ingestion on the anabolic diet is that they can help increase your growth hormones and your testosterone to their optimal levels.
Beyond this, you can ensure that your body is not working with any mineral or vitamin deficiencies, such as sodium, iron, or magnesium and they can protect you from nutritional pitfalls that may come with heavy training.
Supplements that you can take include Borage Seed Oil or Evening Primrose Oil (1,000mg), Caffeine, Calcium (500-1,000mg before and after a workout), Coenzyme-Q10 (60mg), Omega-3 Fatty Acids (2,000 mg), and Zinc (50-100mg).
You will want to stay away from medium chain triglycerides, bee pollen, ginseng, nicotine, and recreational drug use like alcohol and marijuana.
What Do I Do If I Am over 10% Body Fat upon Starting the Anabolic Diet?
You would skip the bulking phase and start cutting down to your desired body fat percentage.
Once you are under that 10%, you can restart the diet and begin bulking again.
What Do I Do If I Constantly Feel Bloated and Lethargic on Carb Loading Days?
If you are continually feeling lethargic after eating carb-heavy meals on the weekends, try increasing your meal frequency and distribute your carbohydrates across more meals throughout the day.
Also, try to consume the majority of your carbs as your last meal before bed.
Can I Place My Children on This Diet?
It is not recommended that children go on this diet as they are still growing and complex interactions are going on between their sex hormones, growth hormones, insulin levels, and thyroid levels.
Beyond this, children have different supplemental needs, and there is little research on the effect that the anabolic diet can have on children.
This same stance is also attributed to pregnant women as hormonal manipulation may prove complex and costly for herself and her fetus.
Do You Have to Exercise on This Diet?
The point of the anabolic diet is to help individuals retain muscle mass as they lose body fat and exercise is an excellent way to maintain muscle.
In addition to this, exercise increases the use of fatty acids and decreases how much fat gets built up in the body, meaning that you’ll lose weight much faster if you get your exercise game on.
Don’t You Need Glucose from Carbohydrates for Energy?
You do need glucose and glycogen for energy but only when you are on a high carbohydrate diet.
Won’t I Get Fat by Eating Fat?
This is another common misconception that isn’t true at all.
When you consume a high-fat diet, it makes you thinner by breaking down fat at a more efficient rate and decreasing the rate at which fat can build up.
The reason you become fat on a high carbohydrate diet is that glucose gets flooded into the bloodstream and any of it that cannot be stored in your liver or muscles gets turned into fat.
In Summary: The Anabolic Diet Helps You Retain Muscle Mass While Burning Away Fat!
One of the significant issues that a lot of natural bodybuilders and regular individuals have when trying to cut down body fat percentages is all of the muscle that they’ve built up in the gym, disappears with the fat loss.
The anabolic diet combats this type of muscle loss by focusing on increasing one’s insulin levels through carb loading on a 5/2 fasting plan, which has the individual consume five days of less than thirty grams of carbohydrates and two days of carb-heavy meals.
When on this eating regimen, one can increase the amount of muscle growth they have by taking advantage of the body’s three growth producers – testosterone, insulin, and the growth hormone, which place them into a metabolic shift where the body burns fat instead of sugar and carbs as its primary source of energy.