Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet & Exercise (ABCDE)

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.

Protein Pulse Feeding

Bodybuilders have always eaten protein over multiple meals throughout the day. They do this in order to get a steady supply of protein, so their muscles can grow and they don’t become catabolic.  Protein pulse feeding is a recent theory, that slaps that notion in the face. The idea came from bodybuilders when research a few years ago, suggested that large infrequent doses of protein, was better for muscle growth.

Protein pulse feed studies:

A study published in (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 69, No. 6, 1202-1208, June 1999) was done on 15 elderly women for 15 days. One group had protein spread over 4 meals, the other 80% at noon. The protein for both diets was 1.7 grams per kg of lean mass. Results showed protein synthesis and nitrogen retention better in the pulse group.

However this followup study by researchers (Journal of Nutrition. 2000;130:1700-1704) showed different results on younger women. The average mean age was 26 with 1.7 grams per kg of lean mass. They found no improvement in nitrogen retention or protein synthesis resulting from pulse feeding.

Another study by the researchers (Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 278: E902-E909, 2000;) showed young and older women were in a beneficial state for protein retention, one day after the study had stopped.

This same study group even did a study later on rats (The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 132:1002-1008, 2002). The study was done on older rats, all starting with 10 days of adaption diet. Then half were switched to a pulse diet for 21 days. Results showed increase in protein synthesis and complimented the previous human studies.

Is protein pulse feed better for muscle growth?

The evidence from the studies all done by the same researchers, suggest protein pulse feeding is more beneficial for muscle growth, than spreading it out. However, these studies are done on untrained individuals and are done for a short time. They would be more convincing if they were for 2 months. If the studies were done for a few more weeks, the body might learn to respond to a radical change in protein consumption. I suspect that the reason why pulse feeding is beneficial initially in the first few weeks, is because the body is putting itself in “protein starvation mode”. It doesn’t know when the next dose of protein is coming, so it is not releasing it. I would think that over enough time (just a theory of mine), this benefit would wear off and probably even go in the opposite direction.

Another important point is these studies aren’t done on bodybuilders (or even athletic people). I imagine that when you consider protein synthesis increases for 24-36 hours after a workout, that protein pulse feeding diet would probably not be effective diet under these conditions.
Hopefully there will be more studies on this issue in the future, so we can get a clearer answer. I think most bodybuilders would love to know they only had to consume protein in 2 or 3 meals instead of 5-7, but I highly doubt at this point this diet will work as good as a regular bulking diet.

For additional reading, here are some previous articles of ours:

How much protein can we digest in one meal?
High protein diet effects on muscle and fat loss

High protein diet effects on muscle gains and fat loss

For years textbooks and “experts” have said that athletes and bodybuilders do not need more than the recommended daily allowance of protein ( 0.6-0.9 grams of protein per pound of weight for very active athletes). Many even suggest, that it may be toxic or unhealthy, to have a high protein diet similiar to what bodybuilders eat. Bodybuilders for decades have taken large amounts of protein, well beyond these recommendations.

Why bodybuilders eat high protein diets:

Bodybuilders during bulking phases, take extra amounts of calories beyond maintenance(daily calorie requirements). This in turn allows them to gain weight, with the goal of it mostly being muscle. Bodybuilders do this because gaining muscle without extra calories is very difficult because if you don’t gain weight, losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously can only happen to a certain extent. There is only 3 macronutrients you can choose from in a diet; protein, carbs, or fat. If you ate the recommended daily allowance of protein on a calorie surplus, you would be eating mostly carbs and fat. This would leave you bloated, fat, insulin tolerant, and unhealthy. If you are trying to build mainly muscle, then it would make sense that a large amount of your calories should be protein, the building blocks of muscles.

Protein also doesn’t convert to glucose as easy(and therefore stimulate insulin as much), so it is a much “cleaner” way to bulk when trying to get excess calories. If you had a balance of protein (say 30%) of your calories, instead of about 15% on a lower protein diet, your weight gains will be leaner. Protein also helps aid fat loss and muscle preservation during dieting.

The government and many experts, don’t take into account that bodybuilders are not trying to maintain themselves like the average joe. Bodybuilders require more protein and calories because they are breaking the muscle down and then trying to gain more muscle(or maintain large amounts of it). During dieting they are not trying to simply lose weight like the average couch potato, but instead only fat, while trying to maintain their hard earned muscle.

Studies supporting high protein diets:

While there is research supporting that extra protein intake is needed for athletes and bodybuilders, there is little supporting very high protein intake(well past 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight) will give even better muscle growth.

The only one I could find that is commonly cited at many other places is published in Nutr. Metabolism 12:259-274, done on 10 polish powerlifters. They found that even when they more than doubled their protein intake past the recommended daily allowance, half of them were still in negative nitrogen balance. In other words, half were still losing muscle because they weren’t getting adequate protein even at that amount.

One study done by Dr. Lemon and published in Nutrition Reviews,” (54:S169-175, 1996), showed strength athletes needed about 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to maintain nitrogen positive balance(sign of muscle growth).

Dr. Lemon also has suggested previously that:

"Several types of evidence indicate that exercise causes substantial changes in protein metabolism. In fact, recent data suggests that the protein recommended dietary allowance might actually be 100% higher for individuals who exercise on a regular basis. Optimal intakes, although unknown, may be even higher, especially for individuals attempting to increase muscle mass and strength."
Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” (19:5, S179-S190,1986)

This is an important quote because it’s an admission that they really don’t know the optimum protein intake for muscle growth. So if they don’t know the answer, who does? Pro-bodybuilders of course have the answer. I’ll take the advice of pro-bodybuilding mass monsters like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler, who have built themselves up to almost 300 lbs ripped, through very high protein dieting. There has never been a professional bodybuilder that didn’t get to that without a very high amount of protein in their diet. I think part of the reasons why there is lack of studies on very high doses of protein, is probably because researchers aren’t interested in the more extreme protein diets that are well above 1 gm / lb bodyweight.

There is also many studies showing higher protein diets helped fat loss during dieting. One study by Dr. Donald Layman at the university of illinois, had women on high carb low protein diets and high protein low carb diets. Both groups did resistance training for 11 weeks. The high protein dieters lost 22 lbs but only one pound of muscle. The high carb dieters lost only 15 lbs , but also lost 2 lbs of muscle(one more lb than the other group). This study shows that not only did the high protein diet do better at muscle preservation, but it also helped aid fat loss.

Dr. Layman is a well known research, who has done a lot of research over the years on protein intake and fat loss effects. Here is a quote from him on his feelings of high protein diets during dieting:

Evidence is accumulating that diets with reduced carbohydrates and increased levels of high quality protein are effective for weight loss. These diets appear to provide a metabolic advantage during restricted energy intake that targets increased loss of body fat while reducing loss of lean tissue and stabilizing regulations of blood glucose. We have proposed that the branched-chain amino acid leucine is a key to the metabolic advantage of a higher protein diet because of its unique roles in regulation of muscle protein synthesis, insulin signaling and glucose re-cycling via alanine. These metabolic actions of leucine require plasma and intracellular concentrations to increase above minimum levels maintained by current dietary guidelines and dietary practices in the U.S. Initial findings support use of dietary at levels above 1.5 g/kg during weight loss. Further, our research suggests that increased use of high quality protein at breakfast maybe important for the metabolic advantage of a higher protein diet.

Source: J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6 Suppl):631S-636S

Layman is recommending above 1.5 grams per kilogram, which is above 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight. For a 200 lb overweight individual, that is 140 grams of protein. Notice he is recommending amounts significantly higher than the average recommended dosages. He doesn’t say either, what an optimum amount of protein intake is for fat loss. Many studies have also found that older people require a higher protein intake too.

When is it too much protein in a bodybuilder diet?

What we see from the trend in the protein studies out there, is that there is definite benefits to higher protein intakes. The problem lies in the failure for science to have the answer on how much protein is the optimum intake for the most muscle growth or fat loss. So science doesn’t have the answer yet, but bodybuilders have done well on very high protein diets, so the answer for now is with them I believe.

Bodybuilders often recommend around 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Some advocate much higher. Eventually increasing your protein will hit the point it’s unhealthy and overkill. In body physiology, everything works on the “law of diminishing returns”. As you increase your protein diet, eventually the gains will start diminishing per unit of increase. For example, increasing from 1.5 grams to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight is likely to not have the same muscle growth effect as increasing 1 gram to 1.5 grams. Pro-bodybuilders are at the top because they are willing to take massive amounts of protein, even if it only results in a few percent improvement in muscle gains, than if they had done half.

Too much protein is the point where the cons outweighs any negligible gains in muscle growth. Like with everything else we ingest, having too much protein could be unhealthy and very inconvenient. Protein does cause extra stress on the kidneys and liver. Drinking a lot of water helps ease the stress brought by digestion and elimination of protein in the liver and kidneys. Many health experts believe that high protein diets pose no health risk provided you drink plenty of water, the amount is not too excessive, and you have no kidney or liver disease. The answer to a near optimum amount for muscle gains, yet still also being a healthy amount for the kidneys and liver, is probably somewhere in around the 1.5 grams per pound mark.

Which is Healthier High Carb or Low Carb Diet?

Nutritionist and bodybuilders often claim low carbhigh protein dieting is unhealthy. They use the argument that low carb diets are unhealthy because they make you rely on consuming many unhealthy fatty foods. I believe that as long as you eat lean meat sources(such as chicken and fish) and other healthy food souces, that it will be healthier than a traditional higher carb diet commonly used among bodybuilders.

Research on High Carb Diet vs Low Carb Diet:

One study done for the North American Association for The Study of Obesity Conference compared high carbohydrate diet to a low carb high protein diet(Atkins diet). After 12 weeks those on the Atkin’s diet lost more weight than the other group. This is expected as low carbs also cause you to lose weight. However, there were many healthy results seen by those on the atkins diet. Atkins dieters reduced blood triglycerides by 19%, while the high carb group only lowered it by 2.3%. HDL was increased by 9.8% in atkins dieters, but lowered 1.3% in other group. Atkins dieters had a increase of LDL and cholesterol while it lowered on the other group.

What does this all mean? Both diets give mixed results overall. We don’t know what those dieters were eating on the Atkins diet. but we do know that Atkins is not discriminatory against high saturated fat sources. If one is to make sure to choose only healtheir sources of meats and foods for their fat sources, than low carb dieting might actually be healthier than a higher carb dieting.

Most Important Diet Factor: Carbohydrate or Calorie Restriction?

With the growing popularity of low carb dieting, one has to wonder if simply dropping carbs is really behind weight loss? Most bodybuilders and scientist believe it is common sense, that it all comes down to calories. If you simply eat more than you burn off you have to gain the weight. What does science on the issue say?

A study a few years ago by a group of researchers in Canada, compared groups of people on various calorie levels and carbohydrate ratios. The results found that calorie restriction was the most important factor in weight loss. No surprise there, something all of us bodybuilders knew all along. The research is based on “weight loss” however, but weight loss and fat loss are highly correlated anyways, so the study serves it’s purpose.

Bodybuilding Diet on Vacation

Whether you decide to workout or not while on vacation, many bodybuilders feel the need to at least stay up with their diet. Relying on restaraunts to get all your protein needs, is expensive and a hassle or even out of reach.

Foods bodybuilders should bring on vacation:

1) Protein bars. Even though they are expensive, there will be times you will be away from your hotel/cabin and a protein bar would be perfect.

2) Weight gainers. Great for your breakfast meal.

3) Protein powders is good for your night time meal
before bed.

4) Gallons of water. Put a few gallon water jugs in your car trunk before you leave for vacation.

CKD (Cyclic Keto Diet)

Unlike the traditional Keto diet made for sedentary individuals, CKD is a Keto diet designed for active people, such as bodybuilders.

What is the CKD diet?

CKD stands for Cyclic Keto Diet. Once a week, you will load up your muscle glycogen through carb refeed days. This will help your body to have the energy and glycogen stores, to handle a excercise regimen during the week.

CKD Diet Guide:

One day a week you will pick a high carbohydrate day. If you have a weekday weight training split, then you will start your carb day beginning on friday, after your last workout. During this 24 hour phase you should have 10-12 grams of carbs per kilogram of lean mass. The carb loading phase will end about 24 hours later on saturday night. This will allow your muscle glycogen stores to refill (load). The rest of the week you will maintain very low carbohydrates in your diet.

On this carb loading day you can have cheat meals. Don’t go completely overboard, but feel free to have that dessert you been craving all week. You should continue to lift heavy and not fall into the high rep myth for fat loss. The rest of the week, you will be very low carb days following the traditional keto diet.

TKD (Targeted Keto Diet)

TKD is a special form of the keto diet built around excercise workouts.

What is the TKD diet?

In the traditional keto diet, it is based around keeping carbohydrates low everyday. Excercise days are not considered because the regular keto diet is not targeted to active people, such as bodybuilders. TKD differentiates itself, in that you will have a carb load before and after your workouts.

TKD Diet Guide:

Before and after your workout you will load up on a high carb meal. This will allow you the energy and recovery to finish an intense workout, while getting the benefits of a low carb diet. You should have around .3 -.4 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight for each of the carb loading meals. You may have to adjust this slightly outside this range based on genetics, preferences, and your current goal.

The days you don’t lift weights will be low carb days, following the traditional keto diet. Do not use your pre-workout meal as a cheat meal opportunity, as you may overeat making your weight training workout difficult. Continue to lift heavy weights in the medium rep range on this diet.

Atkins Diet & Bodybuilding

Atkins is a popular low carbohydrate diet among the mainstream, But how good of a fat loss diet is it for bodybuilders? Atkins is a high protein high fat and high protein low carb diet created by Dr. Atkins. Instead of having a lot of carbohydrates in the diet, you will be replacing most of them with fat and protein.

Is Atkins Diet healthy?

Due to the higher intake of fat, many are concerned about the health effects of the Atkins diet. According to research replacing carbs with fat actually causes lowering of triglycerides, HDL (good cholesterol) to go up, and dampening the harmful effects of LDL(bad cholesterol) through increasing it’s size. In other words, the lower carbs reduce the negative effects of saturated fat in the diet. This does not mean that you should eat a lot of saturated fats, it just means the effects are reduced by a low carb diet.

Another concern is the high protein. Many are concerned about their kidneys. If you drink plenty of water and have no kidney ailments or pre-disposition, the diet is healthy.

With the lack of carbohydrates, some wonder if the body will have enough energy. The body, including the brain, over a couple weeks will slowly adjust it’s metabolism to get most of it’s glucose from protein and fat instead of carbohydrates. This process is called ketone metabolism. The body is highly adaptable and will quickly learn to efficiently metabolize high protein diet.

Atkins a good idea for bodybuilders?

Yes. Atkin’s is actually very similiar to the Keto diet which is commonly used by bodybuilders.

Hardgainer Bulking Diet

Hardgainer is just a bodybuilding terminology for Ectomorph. Ectomorphs have various genetic differences, but the underlining commonality is they all are “skinny” and have a tough time gaining weight. Hardgainers have the hardest time during their bulking phases to get muscle packed on. Without gaining weight, it is impossible to get significant muscle gain. Getting adequate protein is even more important with hardgainers because of their fast metabolism that wants to burn up their hard earned muscle.

How many calories should hardgainers eat while bulking?

Every hardgainer has a slightly different metabolism depending on their age and genetics. The younger the person, the more likely their metabolism is higher. Larger people will also generally have more calorie needs than smaller.

A good starting base for experiment is to eat 20 times your bodyweight in overall calories a day. The nutrient profile should be 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% fat sources(mainly good fats).

I’m not gaining muscle, why?

Except for some newbies in the beginning, most need to eat a surplus of calories in order to gain muscle. If you aren’t gaining muscle(and some fat along with it) then up your calories slightly. If after a few weeks, you put on too much fat, then your calorie amount is too high and should be recalculated to something lower.

On workout days you should have an extra 3 to 400 calories to replace the energy burned on your workout. Measuring your calories carefully and sticking to it each day, is crucial to find out what works for your body. It is important you are extra strict in the first few weeks to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.


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