In my article Alternative Dieting I presented the problems with the modern contest diet approach. These problems include hormonal and nervous system issues. The alternative diet approach avoids most diet related problems such as fat rebound and overtraining, by incorporating short intense diet cycles with periods of maintenance eating. The structure arrived at was four weeks on diet two weeks off. The major issue for most with this system is the length of time to get show ready. For most people this would take up to six months. I will now present an approach that should allow you to get contest ready in the traditional 12 to 16 weeks and avoid some, if not most, of the associated problems.
Now let's again look at the traditional diet approach. For 12 to 16 weeks you continue to reduce caloric and nutrition intakes, increase cardio and weight training and end up overtrained and hormonal screwed up. Most will also start the diet with a huge caloric deficit, a ton of cardio and train five days a week. That pace is increased until you end up eating one egg and one carrot per day and train six to seven days a week for 60-90 min and do up to two hours of cardio per day. No wonder the body is shot by the time you get done with your prep.
Why does this happen? Your body is regulated by the hypothalamus, a part of your brain. The hypothalamus will always attempt to regulate your body fat. The body, after all, has been conditioned by more than 100 million years of evolution to hold onto fat. A bodybuilder physique may look good but in evolutionary terms is destined to go extinct. Muscle requires more calories to maintain then fat, and the more muscle you have the more calories you need. Muscle also has poor energy conversion compared to fat so the more fat you have the better off you will be on a deserted island with little food. So the hypothalamus will use leptin, thyroid and other hormones to regulate this. Cut calories too long and the hypothalamus will slow the metabolism. Fat loss slows and we cut more calories causing the hypothalamus to correct for the cut and slow metabolism more and so goes the cycle. So by the time we get off the diet, you’re screwed, at least from a metabolic standpoint.
We also do a ton of cardio and increase the intensity, duration and frequency. Let's look at that issue for a moment. You know that muscle gains are limited by recovery. Recovery is both muscular and neurological. The muscle may be recovered in 24-72 hours but the nervous system may take four to six days to recover from a workout. Now this is in a perfect world with no caloric deficit. The nervous system is more receptive to caloric deficits and when on low calories that recovery time may increase by 20% or more. So you cut calories and train harder! But how does that work when we already covered the problems of recovery? The answer is it does not work. That is why you end up totally overtrained post contest. Some people need up to six months just to return to the baseline again. And we add to this problem by constantly upping cardio and weight training.
Now let's look at the caloric part of the diet. Fat people need fewer calories to maintain muscle then those with less body fat. Let's look at two individuals, one who is greater then 40% body fat but with 180 pounds of muscle and weighs in at around 400 pounds. The other is 10% body fat with the same 180 pounds of muscle but weighs in at around 220. The person at 400 pounds would need around 5000 calories to maintain that weight. The person at 220 would need around 3200 calories. Now if we cut the 400-pound man to 2000 calories that would be more than a 60% deficit. That man could lose pure fat and little muscle for an extended period. Now we go to the 220-pound person and cut his maintenance by more than 60% and we get around 1400. How long could he maintain 180 pounds of muscle on 1400 calories? So the bottom line is the fatter we are the more calories we can cut. But what do we do? As we get leaner, we cut more calories!
Activity is the same as calories. Take that 400 pound man and have him walk for 20 minutes, three times a week and he will lose fat. Take the 220 pound man and have him do the same and his body will not notice that he even got out of bed. Fat people have a greater caloric expenditure just living then muscular people do. Another factor is muscular people can get lean adding cardio on maintenance diets. I have a friend who diets down by continually increasing cardio as the contest approaches. He is naturally lean and trains hard, but his diet is not all that good. Coco Puffs for breakfast is normal. His calories meet the demands of his weight training. He takes in enough protein and just does cardio to lose 10-15 pounds of fat pre-contest. His calories never change, so he can tolerate 5-6 HITT sessions of 30-60 min a week. He sometimes does two sessions a day, with no recovery problems. Why? His calories meet his muscle needs and he stays recovered and uses activity to lose fat. So a person with less body fat can do more cardio.
Now you may be thinking that is what dieting bodybuilders do, increase cardio, so they are right! Wrong! They increase cardio as calories drop more and more, so again, no recovery. How often have you heard someone complain about losing their leg sweep and a ton of size on one or more body parts? That is because the high cardio on low calories stripped off the muscle! Well it's far more complex than that, and that's not exactly accurate - but the cause and effect is correct. Too much cardio on too little calories causes muscle loss.
Now on to reverse pyramid dieting. If we can reduce calories more when we are fat, and need less activity to lose fat, then why not start the diet with the greatest caloric defect and lowest activity? Then over the course of the diet, as we lose fat, we can increase activity. Every 5-10 pounds of fat we lose we can increase activity, either weight training frequency or cardio, and increase calories. The increased caloric intake will help off set the metabolic slowdown and address leptin and thyroid issues. The increased activity will compensate for the caloric increase and we continue to be in a deficit but we preserve muscle as we go because we increase calories. Basically, you start the contest approach as the 400 pound fat guy and end it as the 220 pound muscular guy.
Now let's see how this plan would work. Our example will be a bodybuilder, male - age 35, who has 16 weeks to diet and has 35 pounds of fat to lose. With 16 weeks we can break the diet into five cycles of three weeks each and have a week to use as a peak week or to extend a phase if necessary. Our bodybuilder has been doing no off-season cardio and weight training four days per week for 80-90 minutes a session. His caloric intake has been 4200 per day, not all clean, and his current body weight to 200 pounds. His last contest weight was 156 and he hopes to hit the stage at 160.
Phase one have the most restrictive calories, but have the lowest activity factor. We will start with a whopping deficit of 60%, or around 1600 calories. Protein will be set at 1.5 to 1.6 grams per pound and the rest will be trace carbs and some essential fats like fish oil. Activity will be weight training three times a week rotating upper and lower body workouts. One exercise per body part for 3-5 sets of 7-10 reps. Cardio at this phase is none. Perhaps a nice walk a few times a week, but at a 60% caloric deficit everything needs to go toward muscle recovery. There will be a refeed every four days as a last meal of the day and that will consist of 300-400 grams of complex carbs and perhaps 20-30 grams of fats. Oats and natural peanut butter would work here.
After three weeks our bodybuilder lost 15 pounds of fat and is almost half way there, but metabolic issues have started. At this point an increase of 300 calories per day is in order so daily caloric intake is now up to 1900. Cardio is now started, and 90 minutes of moderate cardio a week is good. No HITT cardio at this point. It's still too demanding. For weight training, we can move to four days a week on an upper/lower split and add a few more sets or another exercise. The calories should come from mostly fats except for 10-20 grams of simple carbs sipped through a workout so we can maintain our power in the gym. Refeeds move to every three days but cut back to 200-300 grams of complex carbs and 20 grams of fat. The changes off set the metabolic imbalance and over the next three weeks another 7 pounds are lost.
Fat loss over six weeks now sits at 22 pounds with no muscle loss so onto phase three. The next phase will see another increase of around 200 calories per day. Daily intakes will now be at around 2100 and the increase will come mostly from complex carbs. Those carbs will be targeted to pre and post-workout and post HITT cardio. Weight training will remain at four days but we add two HITT sessions of 30 minutes and increase moderate cardio to 120 minutes a week. You can also add a isolation exercise to our workouts for 10-12 reps. After three weeks we are down another 6 pounds and looking quite lean! There has been no associated muscle loss so far.
Now with four weeks left our bodybuilder is 28 pounds leaner and showing few problems metabolically. The next three weeks will be the most dramatic as each pound lost will show far more detail on the physique. Again calories are increased by 150-300 so daily intakes are at 2250-2400. The increases are all complex carbs and you will be adding the increase first thing in the AM and in the first meal post-workout. On non workout days you only add 150 calories to the AM meal making this a carb cycled approach. There are no refeeds. Weight training is now five days a week and there will be three HITT sessions of 40 minutes. You can add more volume to the workout but keep the duration to less then 60 minutes a day. Moderate cardio is now a whopping 240 minutes a day, or 40 minutes six times a week. Over this phase the metabolism is hitting on all cylinders and fat loss is 6 pounds and at a week out our bodybuilder is sitting at 34 pounds of fat lost, no muscle loss and 164 pounds in contest condition at a week out.
Now peek weeks are individual and I will not even touch upon the variables, but our bodybuilder could end up on the stage between 164 and 168 based on protocol. This means he exceeded his goal of 161 and had an easier time the last three weeks then the first. But the best thing is post-contest his caloric deficit is so minor that fat rebound will be far less of a problem. Also the increased food will not create the huge desire for crap foods most post contest bodybuilders have so again fat rebound will be less. His hormonal profile will be better so he can go right back to a solid muscle gaining program and no worry all that fat gain.
This is the theory of the reverse pyramid diet. I don’t have anything to go by at this point other then logic, but I am about to start a run for myself. With improved fat loss and muscle preservation, I am actually looking foreword to the diet. After all the greatest deficit or hardest part of the diet is at the start, when willpower is at its peak. If you would like more information on this or any approach contact me through my website at www.peakedphysique.com.