ABCDE Diet

ABCDE stands for Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Excercise. It was developed by a swedish doctor Torbjorn Akerfeldt. It is one of the most radical, yet intriguing bodybuilding diet systems I have found. Suprisingly, the main goal of this diet is not high protein , but instead high calories.

The main premise of the ABCDE diet is that you manipulate your body hormone levels through dieting. Just like weight training helps muscle adaption, you use diet to force your body hormones to respond. How is this done? Well, reasearch has been found by Torbjorn Akerfeldt that showed that testosterone, GH, IGF-1, and other hormones important for muscle building, increase rapidly with an influx of calories. This is not something new, I’ve known for a while from reading research before reading the ABCDE diet, that high calories increase your anabolic hormones.

What makes the ABCDE diet different from other bodybuilding diets, is that he only advocates short cycles of bulking, followed by a fat loss phase. He found research that shows the anabolic hormones plateau after 2 weeks then start dropping down again. Therefore, he recommends after 2 weeks, you start on a cutting phase for 2 weeks. Then you go back to bulking, so your body responds once again with a surge of testosterone, GH, etc when you go on a bulk. In essence, you are staying one step ahead of your body, and putting it in confusion, forcing it to adapt hormonally.

Interesting enough, you don’t even need to weight train to experience some muscle gains. A study done on (Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 49.4 (1989) : 608-611) 6 men showed 4 lbs of lean muscle mass gained, with only 2 lbs of fat, when they ate excess calories with no weight training. Of course, muscle gains on this diet would only work well for someone who doesn’t lift weights and is new to the diet. You can’t epect to gain a lot of muscle mass without ever lifting a weight, or people who take steroids wouldn’t lift weights either, since both raise your testosterone levels. Another study published in (J. Nutr. 109.3 (1979) : 363-377) measured differences in net protein utilization in the diet between 15% and 30% over maintenance calories. They found the 30% group used more protein, therefore they were increasing protein synthesis and thefore muscle mass. The point of these study, is that simply eating an excess of calories has an anabolic effect.

Torbjorn Akerfeldt believes that it’s more important you get higher calories than higher protein during the bulking phase. Without an excessive amount of calories, you won’t cause this surge in hormones. You need a lot of protein to help build muscles, but high calories is the most important. Therefore the ABCDE diet doesn’t really focus on counting macronutrient ratios, or clean vs. junk foods. He recommends about a thousand calories above maintenance.

After 2 weeks you then should enter a cutting phase. This is where you lose the excess fat you gained in the first 2 weeks. According to Torbjorn Akerfeldt, the body prefers to hold onto muscle, so you should lose more fat than muscle during this phase. Weight training during the fat loss phase, will help your muscle preservation. Torbjorn recommends restricting calories about a 1000 under maintenance.

It sounds like the ABCDE is a great diet, eat what you want and constantly keep your body from adapting. However, there is a problem I see with this diet. It’s tough to follow It is very hard for someone to go from severe restricting calories to eating an very excess overnight. You have to force feed yourself in the beginning of the bulk diet because your appetite is likely to not handle a thousand calorie increase suddenly. If you go from the bulking phase to the fat loss phase, you are going to drop your calories by a couple thousand. It will be hard to not give into cravings, after being on a massive bulking diet just right before that. It will be tremendously hard to then increase calories by 2000 after the fat loss, in order to eat 1000 calories above maintenance.

I’ve heard hardgainers complain that they usually wind up losing the precious muscle they gained during the fat loss phase of the ABCDE diet. I suppose one could stay longer in the bulking phase (maybe to 3 weeks) and shorten the fat loss phase (maybe to 1 week). Those who gain fat easily, might want to do the opposite and shorten the bulk phase and lengthen the fat loss phase. Another way I suppose you could do things, is increase and decrease calories by smaller amount (like 300-400 above and below maintenance) instead by a 1000, to make the ABCDE diet easier to follow. You could also modify calories based on bodytype and phase. For example, hardgainers eat 1000 calories during bulking, but only restrict calories by 300-400 during dieting). Easygainers with slow metabolism could increase calories by 3 or 400 during bulking and 1000 during diet. I think if you modify the diet a bit for your metabolism and genetics, it will work a lot better than just a 50/50 split between bulking and cutting like with the original ABCDE diet. If your a mesomorph who gains muscle and stays lean naturally, than ABCDE diet is perfect how it is because you don’t need to focus on one phase more than the other.

How often should bodybuilders eat protein meals?

As bodybuilders we always told dogmatically to eat 5-7 protein rich meals spread throughout the day. This leads to some bodybuilders freaking out if they miss a protein meal thinking they are losing muscle mass. Most bodybuilders eat 6 protein meals a day, which I’ll coin here, the “6 meal theory”.

Why do bodybuilders need 6 protein meals a day?

We have been told that the reason we need many protein meals throughout the day is to keep a steady supply in our bloodstream. They believe that if you aren’t having a steady supply, you are shortchanging your muscle building once the levels drop. We are also told that we can only digest about 30 to 50 grams of protein in one meal and therefore we have to spread it out over many meals if you want to get your total daily intake. If you take 100 grams over 3 meals, in theory that would mean a lot of protein doesn’t get absorbed.

There is no substantial evidence that directly supports the 6 protein meal theory, comparing for example, 3 higher protein meals to 6 smaller protein meals spread out. Perhaps in the future, there will be but I couldn’t find any at the moment. Instead of using direct research evidence for the “6 meal theory”, bodybuilders have used research supporting the fact that protein can’t be digested all at once and the belief that bodybuilders require more than a gram of protein per lb of bodyweight for maximum muscle gains. Notice I say “belief”, more on that next.

Some research that is cited commonly for the 6 meal theory argument, points to protein being digested into the 30-50 gram per meal range. Although those studies are a bit weak and have nothing to do with studying bodybuilder’s diets. And what I’m about to say might sound blasphemous to the bodybuilding community, but there is actually little to no research supporting the idea that protein intake over .8 grams / per pound leads to better muscle gains. That is not to say that increasing protein intake isn’t a good idea, it’s just there is no substantial research on it that it helps in building more muscle. I believe if a bodybuilder increased his calories, without increasing the ratio of protein along with it during bulking, he would just get fat from the excess carbs. So at the very least, increasing protein beyond .8 to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight is important for lean muscle gains. And other than for immediately after a workout for 24-36 hours where protein synthesis is hightened, I don’t see any evidence that letting amino acid levels in your blood drop a few times throughout the day, would automatically lead to shortchanging your muscle gains.

To make things confusing, there is another bodybuilding diet theory called Protein Pulse Feeding. This theory believes that sporadic larger protein meals throughout the day, called “pulses”, actually are better than a steady supply of smaller protein meals. I’ve found about 4 studies, one done on rats the others done on women and elderly dealing with this protein feed diet. In 3 of the 4 it showed increases in protein synthesis significantly after the protein pulse feed diets. Perhaps this is because like how your body tends to retain water when it doesn’t get a steady supply throughout the day, you increase protein synthesis to try and compensate for these sproradic protein pulse feeds. With that said, the research was a bit on the short term(the longest was 21 days) and I think could have possibly shown different results, if it continued on. I think as the body adjusted to the new protein diet it may have shown different results. The studies also weren’t done on athletic or bodybuilders, so not exactly the ideal study groups for our purpose. After a grueling weight training workout where protein synthesis is already raised for 24-36 hours, I don’t see how protein pulse feeding could be effective and might even be a detriment to muscle gains.

Which way is right then?

Unfortunately, the more you look into research on different aspects of protein dieting, the more confusing it gets. It doesn’t help that there is few research studies out there and most isn’t done on athletic or bodybuilder types. Fortunately, we don’t really need to sit there and try to figure this all out from research. Bodybuilders have been eating large amounts of protein, broken up into 6 or more meals for decades now. While there may be another way that doesn’t require as much protein or as many meals to get the same muscle building effect, we don’t know. But we do know what works for the pro bodybuilders. Until more research comes out proving otherwise, we should continue to follow the pro bodybuilders in how we structure our diets.