Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet & Exercise (ABCDE)

January 8th, 2008 by Paul Johnson

This diet is a very interesting concept I have known for a while, but doesn’t get the attention it deserves by bodybuilders. The diet was developed by swedish bodybuilder and doctor Torbjorn Akerfeldt based on some research he found. Unlike traditional bodybuilding bulking diets centered mainly around protein, this diet looks at total calories instead.

Anabolic Burst Cycling is actually a simple concept, it's hormone manipulation through calorie cycling. Simply eat an excess calories for 2 weeks, then for 2 weeks diet. You continually do this over and over. With each cycle, you should have a positive net lean muscle gain and fat loss. Protein intake or eating clean also isn't as important as total calorie intake. In other words a dirty bulk is ok, just as long as you get a calorie excess.

Why does Anabolic burst cycling work?

One study Akerfeldt cites to support his diet is published in (Am J Clin Nutr. 1996 Sep;64(3):259-66). I decided to take a look at the study. It was done for 3 weeks on men and women volunteers. They increased their calorie intake and it was observed that they had an increase in testosterone, IGF-1, and insulin. There were no changes in T4 or cortisol or adrenaline. There was an average of 4.3 kilograms of weight gained, with 46% of it being muscle. Note that these subjects did not weight train, yet still gained over 4 lbs of lean mass.

You may be wondering how muscle is gained and fat lost, from doing this diet. The answer is really all in hormone level manipulation. When you eat an excess of calories, your testosterone levels, growth hormone, IGF-1, insulin, all the anabolic hormones go crazy. During this time you can eat a lot of extra calories and gain a lot of muscle with less worry of fat, because the anabolic hormone spike helps build muscle. This anabolic hormone spike starts to taper off over time as the body adapts, which is why you only do it for 2 weeks.

Another study that Akerfeldt uses to help support him was published in (Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 49.4 (1989) : 608-611). Looking at the study, it was done on 6 men who ate a excess in calories. They measured their fat and protein oxidation, but they also observed over 4lbs of muscle gained with only 2 lbs of fat gained. This study is even more substantial, since without weight training, they gained muscle 2:1 ratio.

Why does Akerfeldt seem to think getting excess calories is the most important? Well he cites this study published in J. Nutr. 109.3 (1979) : 363-377. This study is also done on 6 men over 10 days. These subjects were all given equal amounts of protein(1.2 grams/kg), but they were seperated into 3 groups; maintenance, 15% above maintenance, and 30% above maintenance. When increased and lowered, they found a correlation between the total intake of calories and Biological value and net protein utilization of the dietary protein.

The bulking phase also increases your metabolism (by increasing thyroid hormones) and leptin levels. This will make it easier to lose fat immediately after the bulking phase. Once again, you can only do the fat loss phase for 2 weeks before your body starts adapting to the fat loss phase hormonally. The whole point of the diet is to manipulate hormones in such a way to keep the body guessing, that is favorable for bodybuilders.

Torbjorn Akerfeldt is also a firm believer in the muscle fascia stretching theory and believes it could be beneficial during the bulking phase. You can read more about it in a previous article of ours: Muscle fascia stretching

So we don't need to workout to see muscle gains?

If you never lifted a weight in your life you could probably gain a few lbs of muscle from this diet, like some did in the studies. But a serious bodybuilder is not going to gain significant muscle with this diet long term, without the help of weight training.

Who is this ABCDE program for?

The program is for everyone, but I have read other hardgainers complain that the diet phase was too catabolic and they lost their hard earned muscle. That just means to me, that bodybuilders with a fast metabolism, should probably do a shorter fat loss phase, like 5 days to one week. One other problem about this diet, is that it is very hard to do. It is hard to adapt to eating a massive amount of calories, and then trying to diet soon after. Trying to yoyo back between each phase is probably the major reason why this diet has never become popular among bodybuilders.

  1. Alan on February 26th, 2008

    I’m trying it myself at the moment, having started with a cut first.

    Tip: I’ve discovered that as you’d expect you need a lot of fiber on the low calorie bit – but also discovered that bran flakes just don’t cut it! You need something better. Also bran flakes are NOT the slow-burning carb they are often claimed to be, the stuff spikes insulin at an incredible rate, faster than white bread or potatos. It’s low of “GI” scale because blood sugar is tasted after 20 mins or so. With branflakes, the sugar has already gone!

    So if doing this get a proper fiber supplement. NOT branflakes!


  2. Rowland on July 17th, 2008

    Hi, I am new to this site. I have been using the ABCDE for years. And I like to make a few comments. I have gotten ok results. To all the would be ABCDE body builders, First of all, everyone (the non body builders) around you will think you are crazy for doing this. But I am very used to the bulking and dieting schedule. One thing I found very useful is to do creatine at the same time. I mean I need to do a fresh load with each of the bulking phase. I don’t have the 2week on and 2week diet. I changed it to 1week bulk and 2 week off. I am trying to get lean now. At the start of bulking, I start the creatine loading, meaning 15-20g a day, after 5 days, I then take 5g a day. And on second week of dieting, I stop creatine all together. And I stop all weight lifting.

    I schedule my bulk week to coincide with the holidays, especially thanks giving. And xmas. I get comment like, hey, how can you eat like that and not be fat. They just didn’t see me during the diet phase. Initially when I use ABCDE, I wasn’t too successful because I wasn’t dieting hard enough. I mean at the end of 2 weeks of dieting, you should feel lazy. For example, if you need to get to the store, a little voice in the back of your head will tell you, “hey, I am weak, man. Maybe tomorrow.” You are being so weak, it is affecting you mentally. And my hand and feet will feel cold. I could be wearing long sleeve shirt on a hot day and not sweating. Or I felt I need to work out just to warm myself up. I could be doing the rowing machine and not sweating at all. On the bulk days, I can just barely move and I will be sweating And from experience. I do not do any weight training at the second week of dieting. Maybe a little abs. if you can get any kind of pump at start of second week of dieting, you are not dieting hard enough. Period. Don’t even worry about reducing protein intake during dieting. I get 1 meal of good quality protein. I didn’t feel I lose muscle mass. And during bulking, I can see my bp shoot up to 135/90 and at end of dieting, it will be like 115/70. A good 20 point difference. And my close friend and relative will ask me if I am gaining or losing when we go out to eat. During bulking, there sure won’t be any left overs. I felt like I am putting on a show eating all the hi cal food.
    And on the bulk/ weight lifting week, my muscle get very sored, much like the first time ever you work out, you are sore for days. When I was lifting weight and was not on ABCDE, I don’t get too sored.

    There it is. Hope more people can benefit from my 2 cents.

  3. admin on July 19th, 2008

    Thanks for your input Rowland. That was very interesting.

  4. Stevo on October 20th, 2008

    Hey everyone

    I would just like to talk about my results on the ABCDE. I read about it a few years ago and decided to give it a go.

    I did 4 x two week cycles (2 cuts and 2 bulks) and at the end of it I went from 192lb at 16% bodyfat, to 199lb at 13% bodyfat. I had gained 10lb of LBM and lost 3lb of fat. I was absolutely stoked!! This is by far and away the best results I have ever had, much better than normal 10 week bulks and cuts I have done in the past.

    If I had have continued for another 8 weeks I’m certain I would have reached a single figure bodyfat percentage.

    In regards to my training, during the bulk I did two full-body routines each week, one exercise per bodypart for 2 sets to failure and during the cut I did the same routine but I super-setted everything and did 3 sets of 12 sub-failure as well as 30 minutes cardio 4 x week.

    Initially I was scared about losing lots of muscle during the cut by only doing light “pump” workouts (as Torbjorn recommends) but I only lost small amounts, which I gained back immediately during the bulking phase.

    I would definitely recommend it to people to try, but they must experiment as to how many calories they use and how long each cycle will go for.



  5. Steve A on January 21st, 2009

    I’ve tried my share of “diets” or “mealplans” either to bulk or diet over the last 15 years and ABCDE was by far the most beneficial for me.

    After doing it for 2 1/2 months, I gained strength, REALLY gained a faster metabolism but most of all at relatively the same weight I looked much tighter and harder. I would gain about 7 lbs within 1st few days of bulk then loose it first few days of diet but after every 4 wk period I was a little stronger and a little leaner.

    After the 2 1/2 months I went into a store that coincidentally had a local long-time amateur bodybuilder as the store owner and even though he never met me before he quickly took a second glance and said “man your lean” yet I was wearing a buttoned-up dress shirt and I was stronger than ever before. I started the system at about 14% BF.

    Best results I ever had.
    My list includes;
    Cybergenics Bodybuilding kit
    Bill Phillips 12 week challenge/Body For Life
    Simply For Life

  6. Stevo on January 28th, 2009

    Hey Steve A

    Great stuff! Good to hear of someone else who successfully used the ABCDE.

    The thing I liked the most about it was that the cuts and bulks are only 2 week cycles. It’s very hard to keep them going for 8-12 weeks at a time as in traditional cutting/bulking.

    I also made excellent strength gains right throughout. Did you train differently during your cutting phase at all?



  7. Harold on March 27th, 2009

    I’m decided to start the ABCDEF Program but have some doubts:

    – my body fat is at 22%, I look thin (165lbs) but have a lot of fat in my midsection – Should I start with the bulking fase?

    – how about cardio? Should I do it even during the bulk fase?


  8. Stevo on April 16th, 2009

    Personally Harold, I would cut first. When I started I was 16% bf and needed to lean out, so do the cutting phase first.


  9. Hormone For Bodybuilders on May 22nd, 2009

    Thanks for sharing your views harold.

  10. Bernardo Pereira on August 3rd, 2009

    I’m ectomorph from Brazil and love this diet, I jump from 77,400kg for 84,800kg in six weeks with a hipocaloric fase of 8 days and a hipercaloric fase of 13 days. And no growths in body fat, steel low!

  11. Natural MedCare on October 25th, 2009

    When I read your blog it got me wondering.I would like to try this diet too.Thanks for sharing your good experience.

  12. Andre Reeves on February 15th, 2010

    Anyone with any real education into the human metabolism and the various effects that the three different macro-nutrients have on the release of hormones such as insulin and glucagon cannot take this diet seriously. Ask diabetics if “a calorie is a calorie.” Hocus…, Pocus.

  13. george on May 3rd, 2010

    If Harold, or anyone else, is still around, I would say that the amount of cardio you do on this plan depends on your shape.

    If you are a traditional hardgainer you will probably want to keep the cardio to one or two sessions a week, any more and you will end up being smaller than when you started, that’s been my experience with people I have trained. They also find that two weeks can be a little too long, after all the goal is to burn the fat you put on during the bulking phase, and reset the metabolism so you can gain muscle again. Once you have done this with the cutting phase, you can start bulking again. Some people find that they can get the cutting done in a week or even 5 days, not me though.

    I’m the other shape, one that puts on fat and muscle pretty easily. So I have to blast out the cardio, 4 or more sessions a week, high intensity, as long as possible. And I always have to do my full two weeks of cutting, anything less and my body just isnt ready to build optimally.

    I hope this helps some of you.

  14. george on May 6th, 2010

    Here’s my 2c;

    Ive been using the ABCDE system (modified to make it right for me) and have been getting great results. I have also used it with a number of clients over the years, to great effect.

    My biggest lessons have been to make the cycles right for each person. Tailoring the diet and training so it fits their unique profile. Also, when getting the diet right, I believe that we only need to get a bit above normal maintenance levels, and that ALL of this extra food should be clean, full of micronutrients and not an all out attack with calories.

    Two factors to look for that Ive found are:

    1, are you a hardgainer or a fat gainer?
    2, do you know what food makes you tick?

    Get these two right and you are most of the way there. Which I guess is true for the majority of the game…

    Hope this helps.

  15. Matt on December 29th, 2010

    I am thinking about trying it. I weigh 177 lbs and am extremely lean and veiny. I have lifted weights for many years and have trouble gaining weight. It sounds like I may need to keep the cutting phase down to 5 days. What should my calorie intake be during each phase?

  16. how to build your body on January 5th, 2011

    thax for this info on this diet the anobolic burst
    ive been training for years i am 42now stil enjoy keeping fit but this diet routine will suit because of my job thax i will post bk in future….

  17. Derek on January 5th, 2011

    I guess some diets work for almost anybody, but no diet/exercise plan works for everybody. I was always a hard gainer, so for me dropping the calories too low isn’t an option! Oh well, maybe it’s worth a try…

  18. adil on January 19th, 2011

    hi ive recently heard about this and was woundering to give ti a shot.
    im 20 and currently weigh 159lbs i eat around 3200cals to put weight on, i was woundering if you could help me come about with a plan ?