You are here

The Zig Zag Diet Approach

Average: 3.5 (22 votes)
3.5 5 22
Stagger your alories and help your body lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. A zig zag diet approach is a proven and effective way to avoid ruts.

Zig Zag DietYou can’t lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.

The belief that you can’t cut fat and gain muscle is a popular one. Many try, but many fail. They cut calories, hit they weights, and perform hour after hour of cardio. They lose weight, but can’t seem to gain any muscle.

So what now? We’ve all heard stories about natural bodybuilders who have lost weight and gained muscle. Is there a dieting secret, or are these lifters just genetic freaks?

Let’s not pull any punches. Genetic freaks exist. They can often eat fewer calories, and still pack on muscle mass. We all secretly envy them, but that last thing we should do is mimic their approach to dieting.

If you want to lose fat and gain muscle, you have to get creative.

Calories In

If you want to lose fat, you have to limit what you eat. This isn’t rocket science, nor should it come as a shock.

To know how many calories it requires to lose weight, we must first understand how many calories it requires to maintain our weight. This is called caloric maintenance level. You may need to spend several weeks or months getting to know your body before you can determine your caloric maintenance level.

You can also save yourself the time, and perform a generic calculation. This calculation will require an accurate knowledge of what your lean body mass (LBM) is. Your LBM is your total weight less the amount of fat you are carrying on your body.

LBM = Total Weight – Fat

To figure out how much fat you are carrying, you must determine your body fat percentage. Do NOT use a body fat scale to calculate your body fat percentage – they are highly inaccurate. The best way to measure body fat percentage is by purchasing a skin fold caliper. A skin fold caliper runs less then $25.

Let’s say you weigh 200 pounds, and 25% of that is body fat. This would mean that you are carrying around 50 pounds of fat, and have a LBM of 150 pounds. To estimate your daily caloric maintenance level, multiply your LBM by a factor of 20.

Caloric Maintenance Level = LBM * 20

At 150 pounds LBM, to maintain your current weight, you would need to eat 3,000 calories per day. Again, this is a quick and dirty estimation. You may have a high metabolism, and require an additional 1,000 daily calories to maintain your weight. Consider the calculated number a starting point that may need to be adjusted up or down.

To lose fat, our lifter would need to eat less then 3,000 calories each day. Multiply your LBM by a factor of 16. This is how many calories you would need to eat each day to lose fat.

Fat Loss Calories = LBM * 16

Again, this is simply an estimation. If you can’t lose weight using these calculations, drop the number by 200 calories and try again for several weeks. And if you are gaining weight, subtract 500 calories from this total.

So, the lifter in our example needs to eat 2,400 (150 LBM * 16) calories per day to lose weight.

The Problem with Stagnant Diets

The Problem

At this point, knowing what it takes to lose weight, most people make a critical mistake…they limit themselves to exactly 2,400 calories each and every day. Their diet rarely changes. They are able to lose weight, but find it hard to gain muscle and/or strength.

So what’s the problem? Simple. There is no caloric fluctuation from day to day. The body will slowly, but consistently adapt to the same daily diet. As a result, your metabolism will adapt as well, and it will become much harder to lose fat.

Understand, you can still lose fat using this method. Plenty of individuals have. Just because your metabolism adapts doesn’t mean that fat loss stops. Far from it! What it does mean is this: you will have a hard time gaining any muscle at all because the body is in a locked down state, and wants to conserve it’s energy for vital more functions. Adding more muscle will not be considered a top priority for the body during this time.

The Solution

Fear not. There is a solution, and it’s a simple and logical one. The solution is to zig-zag your daily caloric intake.

Here’s how it works. If you require 2,400 daily calories to lose weight, eat 2,400 calories on days you don’t train, and eat 300 to 500 calories above maintenance levels on days you do train.

Let’s use the example of our 200 pound lifter again. He requires an average of 2,400 calories per day to lose fat. Let’s also say that he trains 3 days a week, full body style. Here is his weekly zig-zag diet plan:

  • 3400 calories - Monday. Workout day
  • 2400 calories - Tuesday. OFF day
  • 3400 calories - Wednesday. Workout day
  • 2400 calories - Thursday. OFF day
  • 3400 calories - Friday. Workout day
  • 2400 calories - Saturday. OFF day
  • 2400 calories - Sunday. OFF day

On workout days, our lifter is eating 400 more calories per day. This caloric fluctuation will assist the body is losing fat, while maintaining, or gaining muscle.

On the average, the bodybuilder in our example is eating below his maintenance level, which will allow for slow, gradual fat loss. Because he is spiking calories on workout days, it will prevent his metabolism from stalling, and allow him the potential to gain muscle.

Zig Zag Diet

No diet plan is perfect. And gaining muscle while losing fat is an extremely difficult thing to do. On a conventional diet, it is nearly impossible for the average natural bodybuilder to add muscle.

The zig zag diet is a more effective approach to cutting fat. Like all diets, you must first learn your body before the diet will truly work for you.

On workout days, you are eating 1,000 or more extra calories. Add at least half of these calories to your post-workout meal. You can divide the rest up among your other daily feedings.

Related Articles View all Nutrition Articles

  • Share This Article
  • Rate & Share
    Average: 3.5 (22 votes)
  • About The Author
    Ian Coleman has written over 150 articles on muscle building and fat loss, and is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable muscle building trainers on the planet.
Related Supplements View all Top Supplements
Platinum 100% Fish Oil

Ultra-Pure Filtered Fish Oil With Key Omega-3's!*

0
No votes yet
Best BCAA

Revolutionary Peptide Linked Branch Chained Aminos!*

5
Average: 5 (3 votes)

Comments (29)

Add a comment

No Profile Pic
Dmall
Posted Sun, 04/25/2010 - 19:36

how much calories would you suggest for a 6'0 192lb endo and would you recommend lowering carbs?

  • 23
  • 30
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Mon, 04/26/2010 - 07:39

What's your age, and do you have any idea how mainy calories you maintain weight on?

  • 29
  • 22
No Profile Pic
Shane
Posted Wed, 08/18/2010 - 09:48

Hey Steve. I just got done reading this little article and was thinking about trying this since I'm struggling to lose weight. I could use some help. I am currently 5'9 255 pounds and I'm 18 years old. I'm trying to drop down to 200 pounds. I looked up my bmr and it said 2,473 calories are required daily. So lets say on my workout days should I consume 3,000 calories, then consume 2,000 on the days I rest?
I'm doing fullbody workouts by the way. Also could you link me a article for a basic diet for losing weight? I really hate to ask, but I can't find a good one. :P

  • 22
  • 22
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Thu, 08/19/2010 - 09:46

Hi Shane,

I have a few articles that can help you structure meals.

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/your-go-to-guide-for-cutting-f...

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-to-create-a-bodybuilding-...

Ignore that BMR. That aren't always accurate for folks outside of the norm. I would guess you need to eat about 2300 to 2500 calories per day to lose weight. I recommend eating 3 whole food meals, and adding in some protein shakes in between meals to help get enough daily protein.

You want to lose about 2 pounds per week, so if a 2300 to 2500 average isn't working, you can tweak it a little lower if needed.

  • 22
  • 25
No Profile Pic
ken
Posted Sun, 08/22/2010 - 23:53

Hey im a 6'1 16 year old, i weigh 240 pounds and have been working out for some months. that would sounds impressive if it werent for some of that being fat. not sure of fat %. I want to get down to 210 lbs, while building muscle and having the quickest possible recovery. What kind of diet would u suggest?

  • 18
  • 31
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Tue, 08/24/2010 - 11:20

Hi Ken,

I think the zig zag approach would be a great way for you to reach your goals. Keep pushing yourself hard in the weight room while trying to drop the fat, as this will help you to main muscle while losing weight.

If the zig zag approach doesn't appeal to you, here is another article that might help:

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/your-go-to-guide-for-cutting-f...

  • 23
  • 24
No Profile Pic
Des
Posted Wed, 09/01/2010 - 04:02

Hi steve,
While my primary goals are to lose fat and gain muscle; i would say losing fat and toning would probably just edge out the other desire. im looking to try this zig zag approach. what workout regime would you recommend? and would you recommend full body or split? and how much cardio should i incorporate?

thanks in advance.

  • 28
  • 21
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Thu, 09/02/2010 - 15:05

Hi Des,

I would recommend starting with this workout:

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/3day-beginners-workout.html

After a couple months, you should try a full body approach to see if it is to your liking.

For cardio I would perform it 3-4 times per week, either after lifting, first thing in the morning, or on off training days.

This approach would help you work towards your goals. I would liek to suggest a calorie range. Are you male or female?

  • 23
  • 19
No Profile Pic
Des
Posted Fri, 09/03/2010 - 04:52

Hi steve,
really appreciate your reply, thanks for that. Im male, 88kg, and around 5 foot 10inches.

ive been training for around 4 months now with a full body routine and light cardio (twice a week) and ive seen some improvement, but i would like to take it to the next level! As such, ive just taken the conscious decision to try this zig zag diet and change my routine. Ive looked at the routine you just posted and i quite like it but is it not better to hit each muscle twice a week? i was thinking of trying out a comination of full body and split routine; i.e. 2 day split on monday and tuesday with a full body workout on, say, friday with cardio in between(since i have limited time to hit the gym). And for cardio, are specific circuit training with light dumbells ok (60 seconds each station for example)? or are they too strenuous for my muscles to recover from a workout the day before?
sorry for all the questions, look forward to your response.
Regards,
Des

  • 17
  • 13
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Tue, 09/07/2010 - 10:03

Hi Des,

Is it better to work body parts twice a week? It can be. Either way, the weekly volume should be the same. If you perform 10 sets for chest once a week, then you could perform 5 sets twice a week...same weekly volume. Doing too much weekly volume can be counterproductive, and is a mistake far too many lifters make. It's better to start slow, master the basics, and then build. Heavy volume isn't generally needed if the proper effort is being made on every set.

As far as calories, I would start with an average of 3200 per day. Watch the scale, and make necessary adjustments.

  • 22
  • 21
No Profile Pic
Patrick
Posted Sat, 10/02/2010 - 23:42

Steve,
I'm 5'10" and 187lbs. My body fat is right about 20%. I'd like to try and get it down to about 12%. If my math is right, on workout days, I'd eat about 3,500 calories and on nonworkout days I'd eat about 2,400. My biggest worry is that if I follow this diet, I'll lose some strength or at the very least stop getting stronger. Is there any need to worry about that?
Also, would I be aiming for the 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight rule?
And should I be counting grams of fat and carbs or just worry about the calories?
And finally, I plan on doing this the Density and Strength 4 day split. Is that alright?

  • 22
  • 14
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Thu, 10/07/2010 - 09:21

Hi Patrick,

Losing strength shouldn't be an issue until you start to get to that "six pack" look. As far as protein, I like to keep it simple. My advice is 30 to 40 grams every 2.5 to 3 hours. This covers the needs of most natural athletes. You don't have to count fat and carbs, but I would suggest at least monitoring fat so you are taking in 20-30% of your calories from fat. this isn't hard to achieve unless you are eating only chicken breasts and green veggies. With your proteins and fats in place, carb consumption falls naturally into place.

The density and strength is a solid choice.

  • 17
  • 16
No Profile Pic
CoopDawg
Posted Wed, 11/03/2010 - 16:55

steve would this be a good choice for when i start my cut

  • 14
  • 13
No Profile Pic
Kevin
Posted Mon, 02/14/2011 - 00:23

Hi Steve, I'm 5'11 and weigh 145lbs at 10% bodyfat I want to go up to about 160 and then be at about 8% body fat. Should I go on the zig zag bulking moderate or the aggressive plan and then go on the zig zag cutting?

  • 18
  • 13
No Profile Pic
mike
Posted Wed, 03/02/2011 - 23:25

would you recomend this diet for me? i am 150 lbs with 12 % body fat and i am a 17. i am a wrestler for next season my goal is to drop 20 lbs of fat so i can stay at the same weight class before my season starts

  • 12
  • 18
No Profile Pic
Ramil
Posted Mon, 06/06/2011 - 04:02

hey brother, im 6'1 and 16 years old and weigh 215 pounds. How many calories would you suggest my body needs on non work out days? And how many would i need on a work out day? please help me out if possible.

  • 17
  • 14
No Profile Pic
Tonya
Posted Thu, 07/21/2011 - 15:29

Hi!

I am a 28 year old female and I'm about 5'8 and 123 pounds. I've been a "health nut" since high school (eating fresh veggies and fruits, lean protein, nonfat dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats [MUFAs]. I work out six days a week with cardio (usually rebounding on a ReboundAIR or using an elliptical) and strength straining (free weights and elastic bands).

I'm happy with my current weight and feel healthy and toned. BUT, anytime I eat even SLIGHTLY above my normal caloric intake (at a special occasion, etc.), I immediately gain weight and it takes at least two weeks to get it back off (which shows that it's not just the extra food in my system for a day). I am concerned that my metabolism may have slowed and I am interested in trying the zig zag diet. However, although I keep myself well-toned, since I'm not a bodybuilder, I'm not sure what calorie range to start with? I currently eat 1600 calories per day, with four meals every four hours.

I used to eat about 1700 a day and ate every 3 hours, six meals a day, BUT then a family member died and I fell out of my healthy habits for about a month and put on some weight. A friend loaned me the book "The Flat Belly Diet" and so that is what I have been using currently (hence the 1600 calories, 4 meals a day). I love the healthy fats I get to enjoy with this diet/lifestyle...but I don't know if eating every 4 hours and only 4 meals a day at 1600 calories has slowed my metabolism? I know that before when I ate six meals a day I never had a problem with gaining weight if I went out to eat once in a blue moon.

I'm sorry for the wordy post! I guess to put it simply: I would like to build extra muscle tone, but don't want to gain fat by increading my calories too much too fast. What zigzag "range" do you suggest? Thanks for any and all suggestions!

  • 14
  • 12
No Profile Pic
Tonya
Posted Thu, 07/21/2011 - 15:30

Hi!

I am a 28 year old female and I'm about 5'8 and 123 pounds. I've been a "health nut" since high school (eating fresh veggies and fruits, lean protein, nonfat dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats [MUFAs]. I work out six days a week with cardio (usually rebounding on a ReboundAIR or using an elliptical) and strength straining (free weights and elastic bands).

I'm happy with my current weight and feel healthy and toned. BUT, anytime I eat even SLIGHTLY above my normal caloric intake (at a special occasion, etc.), I immediately gain weight and it takes at least two weeks to get it back off (which shows that it's not just the extra food in my system for a day). I am concerned that my metabolism may have slowed and I am interested in trying the zig zag diet. However, although I keep myself well-toned, since I'm not a bodybuilder, I'm not sure what calorie range to start with? I currently eat 1600 calories per day, with four meals every four hours.

I used to eat about 1700 a day and ate every 3 hours, six meals a day, BUT then a family member died and I fell out of my healthy habits for about a month and put on some weight. A friend loaned me the book "The Flat Belly Diet" and so that is what I have been using currently (hence the 1600 calories, 4 meals a day). I love the healthy fats I get to enjoy with this diet/lifestyle...but I don't know if eating every 4 hours and only 4 meals a day at 1600 calories has slowed my metabolism? I know that before when I ate six meals a day I never had a problem with gaining weight if I went out to eat once in a blue moon.

I'm sorry for the wordy post! I guess to put it simply: I would like to build extra muscle tone, but don't want to gain fat by increading my calories too much too fast. What zigzag "range" do you suggest? Thanks for any and all suggestions!

  • 11
  • 18
No Profile Pic
Anon
Posted Fri, 09/09/2011 - 14:46

Hey there..
I'm 16, 5"7 and weigh around 200 pounds !! My BMR is 1764.7
So what exactly should I be doing to lose the weight? Please help.
I wanna lose like 66 pounds in 2 months? Is that possible and healthy?
I'm desperate, I'll accept any advice.
Thanks.

  • 17
  • 11
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Fri, 09/30/2011 - 10:24

Hi Anon,

In reality your BMR is probably not that low. My advice is to focus on eating healthy and clean foods instead of trying to diet.

  • 12
  • 20
No Profile Pic
valentin
Posted Wed, 12/21/2011 - 08:31

what if you work out 5 times a week how can you do this diet ?

  • 15
  • 14
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Wed, 12/21/2011 - 10:20

Find the average calories you need per day on your eating plan and dial those down a bit on off days and up a bit on training days, keeping the daily average in check.

  • 19
  • 17
No Profile Pic
Stephen
Posted Wed, 12/21/2011 - 20:07

Hey Steve,

I wanted get you thoughts on a few things. I am Personal Trainer and quite often I am advising clients on eating habits ( toal calories on and off of work out days) as well as teaking total Macronutrients for the right percentages for their goals. Here are my questions:

We have different body types out there,and other predisposed genetics as well as AGE, that plays a HUGE roll in what a person is actually burning in a Basal/Reting state. Therefore to be able to accurately calulate BMR we cant just turn to BMR calcs and structures such as yours (x 20 then x 16 approach) We have to concider Endomorph a person that naturally conserves their calories- (a predisposition to gaing fat and not muscle)therefore having a much lower BMR than an Ectomorph which burns loads of cals very quickly and is a hard gainer for eighter fat or muscle no matter how much he/she eats at the same height and weight and age as the Endomorph. Then you have the Mesomorph which seemingly burns what ever he eats calorie wise ideally and converts protein perfectly for the building of muscle. That ALL being said.. This "Eat this many cals and not that many cals" approach in general terms, is a POKE and HOPE approach. Necessitating alot of tweaking.

My final Theasis: 1st figure what genetics youre dealing with, body type and structure,activity level etc.. how many calories has or hasnt worked for gaining or losing ( if known) and then use that as a starting point.

Your thoughts?

Stephen

  • 12
  • 11
Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Fri, 12/23/2011 - 09:57

"This "Eat this many cals and not that many cals" approach in general terms, is a POKE and HOPE approach. Necessitating alot of tweaking. "

A lot of this relies on knowing the lifter and how they react to calorie intake. When I am personally dealing with someone I use a zeroing process very much like what you do. In many times for articles we present numbers for reference, but not as generalized guidelines for everyone.

  • 16
  • 11
No Profile Pic
Stephen
Posted Fri, 12/23/2011 - 18:02

That's what I figured. And, I am impressed at the generalized guidelines you've laid out. They are probably more correct than not and then if not, I bet they're close enough that just some tweaking is all that would be needed to get the numbers correct to see muscle gains while fat is being simultaneously lost. Bravo on your article. I like the zig Zag approach and it has worked for my clients as well as for myself!!

Sincerley,

Stephen

  • 15
  • 13
No Profile Pic
Shane
Posted Fri, 04/13/2012 - 15:41

Would this work on a 3/4 split? For instance, I lift Friday-Monday and cardio Tuesday-Thursday. My maintenance calories are 3100. I was thinking 2500 calories for the 3 days of cardio Tuesday-Thursday and 3500 calories for the 4 days of lifting Friday-Monday.

  • 13
  • 22
No Profile Pic
Ben
Posted Mon, 06/18/2012 - 16:22

I'm a strange phenomenon, I'm 5'8 145lbs but yet I have 16% BF! I currently strength train 3 Full body workouts a week, and I want to know, could this kind of thing help me get down to that gorgeous 8-10% or should I look for something else. Help?

  • 16
  • 13
No Profile Pic
david
Posted Fri, 01/04/2013 - 11:38

hi how many calories do i need to burn fat im.5,7 and 11 stone i train weights and cardio 5 days a week any feed back please???

  • 8
  • 17
No Profile Pic
jj
Posted Mon, 05/05/2014 - 09:53

on average he is not eating below maintenance weight

  • 2
  • 4

Add new comment