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Pack On Mass And Shed The Fat: A Guide To Muscle Building And Fat Loss Diets

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A guide to popular muscle building and fat loss eating and diet approaches, including a look at frequent feeding, Paleo, Keto and more!

Pack on mass and shed the fat.

Muscle building and fat loss require a well thought out eating approach. You can train hard in the gym, but if you aren't eating properly, it will be hard to pack on muscle mass. The same goes for fat loss; all the cardio and crunches in the world won't help you get ripped and get that six pack if your diet is working against you.

This article will attempt to explain popular muscle building and fat loss diet and eating approaches. You will also find advice on meal preparation and meal timing, and practical tips that will work for even the busiest of lifestyles.

Please understand that just because an eating approach is listed in this article doesn't mean it's right for your goals. If you have further questions, please visit the Muscle & Strength forum. Each specific approach to eating will be referred to as a diet in this article. Consider the word diet to mean an eating lifestyle, and not necessarily a fat loss program. Many of the diets that follow are used for building muscle, and will will not result in fat loss.

Quick jump to the sub-sections on this page:

  1. Finding Your Daily Calorie Maintenance Level - DCML
  2. Conventional Frequent Feeding Approach
  3. Healthy Eating Tips
  4. Sample Quick And Easy Meals
  5. Nonconventional Diet Approaches
  6. Sample Carb Cycling - Zig-Zag Approaches

Finding Your Daily Calorie Maintenance Level - DCML

For most diets, you must have some idea of the amount of calories you can eat each day without gaining or losing weight. This is known as your daily caloric maintenance level, or DCML.

How To Determine Your DCML

There are two ways to determine your daily calorie maintenance level, or DCML.

  1. Calculator - You can use a calculator, which takes into account several factors including age, height, weight, sex and activity level, and suggests how many calories you should be eating each day to maintain your current weight. Once such popular formula is the BMR calculator, which can be found here.
  2. Trial and Error - One semi-accurate way to determine your DCML is to keep a food log for the next 2-4 weeks. Detail every calorie you eat per day, and find your daily average. Weigh yourself first thing in the morning at the start and end of this period. For each extra pound you gained, you have eaten 3500 too many calories. For each pound you lost, you have eaten 3500 too few calories. Total up any calories from weight loss or weight gain, and divide them by the number of days you kept a log. This will provide you with an average number of calories you under ate or overate. If you overate, subtract this number from your average to find your DCML. If you under ate, add this number to your average to find your DCML.

To maximize resulrs learn what you are putting into your body.

Trial And Error Example

Let's say you logged your food intake for 30 days, and found that you gained an extra 3 pounds while eating an average of 3000 calories per day. Multiple this 3 pound gain by 3500 calories, to find the total amount of calories you overate.

  • 3 pounds x 3500 calories = 10,500 calories that you overate.

Next, divide this amount by the number of days in your logging period, in this case 30 days. this will provide you with an average amount of daily calories that you overate.

  • 10,500 extra calories divided by 30 days = 350 extra calories per day.

What does this mean? If you cut back your daily calorie intake by 350 calories per day, you wouldn't have gained weight. You ate 3000 calories per day and gained 3 pounds. If you would have eaten 2650 calories per day, theoretically your weight would have stayed the same.

DCML And Your Goals

Understanding your DCML will not guarantee muscle building or fat loss. You must still be willing to experiment and make adjustments to maximize each of the following diets. Use the DCML as a guideline, and keep daily logs of calories eaten and body composition changes. To achieve your goals, you must become a student of your own body. There are no shortcuts to success.

Conventional Frequent Feeding Diet Approach

The most common eating approach in the fitness realm is the frequent feeding diet. As a child, you were taught that 3 meals per day is the best way to eat. The frequent feedings approach advises you to eat smaller meals that include protein, generally every 2.5 to 3 hours. This often equates 5 to 7 meals per day.

While eating frequent meals seems counterintuitive, meaning that on the surface it might appear that frequent meals will lead to fat gain, this is not necessarily the case. Keep in mind that over the last 40 years, most of the best physiques in the world have followed the frequent feeding diet approach.

Frequent feeding doesn't involve eating 5-7 large meals per day. Daily food intake is based upon your goals, and factors in your metabolism. If your goal is to gain muscle, you will eat a little bit more than normal, and divide this amount of calories up over the course of your daily meals. If you are looking to cut fat and get ripped, you will eat a little less than normal, and divide these calories up over the course of your daily meals.

Eating often doesn't make you fat.Frequent Feeding Breakdown

  • Goals - Can be used for muscle building or fat loss, depending on calorie intake.
  • Meals - Eat every 2.5 to 3 hours.
  • Protein - Make sure you eat protein with every meal. It is recommended that for both muscle building and fat loss, men eat about 30 grams of protein per meal. If you eat 6 to 7 meals per day, you could drop your protein intake to 25 grams of protein per meal. Women need fewer calories per day to maintain their weight, and carry around fewer pounds of muscle mass, so they will not require as much daily protein. On the average, a woman should eat about 20 grams of protein per meal.
  • Meal Timing - Eat a bigger portion of your daily calories first thing in the morning (breakfast), and post-workout (lunch or dinner).
  • Complex Carbs - Try to eat a healthy complex carb source with each of your 3 major meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Quality complex carb foods include, but are not limited to: oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes.
  • Healthy Fats - Most frequent feeding diets recommend that 20 to 30% of your daily calories come from fats. There will be trace amounts of fats in meats and fish. You may also intake fats from eggs, dairy products, almonds (and other nuts and seeds), avocados, olive oil, and natural peanut butter.

Frequent Feeding Diet Approach Made Simple

Many of us lead busy lifestyles which can make preparing and squeezing in extra meals very difficult. The following template simplifies this eating approach. Please note that the times used in this template are for example purposes only. For major meals, focus on proper portion sizes.

During breakfast, you will want 1/3rd of your plate filled with a protein food (eggs, cheese, etc.), 1/3rd of your plate should be a quality complex carb source such as oatmeal or a whole wheat bagel, and 1/3rd of your plate fruit. You may also add in breakfast appropriate veggies, such as onions, fresh salsa or spinach - which all go well with an omelet.

For lunch and dinner, fill 1/3rd of your plate with a protein food (beef, chicken, fish, etc.), 1/3rd of your plate with a quality complex carb (sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, etc.), and 1/3rd of your plate with veggies.

  • 7 AM - Breakfast
  • 9:30 AM - Snack
  • Noon - Lunch
  • 2:30 PM - Snack
  • 5 PM - Dinner
  • 7:30 PM - Snack

Breakfast Foods. The following is a list of possible breakfast food choices:

  • Proteins - Eggs, cheese, milk, cottage cheese, turkey bacon, turkey breakfast sausage, Greek yogurt. You may also eat chicken, fish, beef, etc.
  • Quality Complex Carbs - Oatmeal, whole wheat bagel, whole grain cereal.
  • Fruit - Banana, apple, orange, etc.

Lunch and Dinner Foods. The following is a list of possible lunch and dinner food choices:

  • Proteins - Chicken, fish, beef, pork, turkey, eggs, milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, etc.
  • Quality Complex Carbs - Brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, multi grain bread and tortillas (wraps), etc.
  • Veggies - Spinach, broccoli, onions, carrots, egg plant, cucumbers, asparagus, tomatoes (technically a fruit), Brussels sprouts, squash, bell peppers, etc.

Snack Foods. The following is a list of possible healthy snacks:

  • Proteins - Protein bars, casein protein shake, milk, string cheese, Greek yogurt, beef jerky, cottage cheese, canned tuna, canned salmon, canned chicken.
  • Fruit and/or Nuts - A piece of your favorite fruit, and/or a handful of almonds, walnuts, or pecans.

Frequent feeding does not involve eating 5-7 LARGE meals.

Healthy Eating Tips

The following tips are meant to help make the frequent feeding approach more convenient.

  • K.I.S.S. Breakfast - For breakfast, keep it simple stupid. Make a list of 3 to 5 breakfast meal choices that are convenient for you to make, and that require very little prep time.
  • Prepare Weekly Lunch Meals On Sunday - Far too often lunch can be a disaster. If you don't prepare a meal, odds are you will head to the vending machine or local fast food restaurant, or worse than that, eat nothing. Take 30 minutes on Sunday to prepare 5 lunch meals for the week. Simple and fast recipes are provided in the next section.
  • Muscle Gain - If you are trying to gain muscle or weight, eat slightly larger portions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you have a fast metabolism, drink whole milk with your meals, and add in a handful or two of almonds during your snacks.
  • Fat Loss - If you are having a hard time losing weight, shrink your portion sizes slightly, or cut the amount of complex carbs you eat with each meal in half. Don't remove protein foods or veggies from your diet. You may also swap out bananas, oranges and apples with lower calories fruits like strawberries and blueberries.
  • Convenient Snacks - Snacks don't have to be fancy. Consider a shaker with a scoop of protein powder and a piece of fruit, or a protein bar and a piece of fruit. String cheese and almonds are also very portable and convenient.
  • Spice It Up - Avoid bland meals. Salsa and hot sauce can be added to virtually any protein or complex carb, from chicken breasts to quinoa. Also, don't shy away from the addition of garlic, onions, pepper, and seasoning salt. Your meals do not have to be boring!
  • Tired Of Rice - Tired of rice? Try quinoa. Quinoa is a super grain that is virtually tasteless. It mixes well with most protein foods, and is incredibly easy to cook. A cup of quinoa with 1/2 cup of salsa is an incredibly tasty and healthy way to eat your complex carbs and veggies.
  • Cheat Window - Allow yourself a cheat window for 1 hour each week. During this time, eat whatever you'd like. Cheat windows are great for stimulating your metabolism during a cut, and can be a nice mental break from the same old same old when bulking. Cheat windows also allow you to attend family gatherings or special events and socialize without feeling guilty.
  • Tired of rice? Try quinoa.It's All About You - Don't follow the eating plan of someone else just because they look good. As long as they are sensible and healthy, eat the foods you prefer.
  • Watch Your Beef - Ground beef is labelled with fat content. Some ground beef is 93/7, which is very lean and perfect while trying to lose fat. Standard ground beef, or hamburger, is 27 to 30% fat, and is far less expensive. This makes it perfect for muscle building or weight gaining diets.
  • Tilapia For The Win - Dislike seafood? Try tilapia. Tilapia is not a fishy tasting fish. It is inexpensive and found in most grocery stores.
  • Go To The Can - Stock up on canned tuna and chicken. Canned meats are very convenient when you are busy and have no time to cook.
  • Have a Back Up Plan - Keep quick and convenient food choices in your home in case of emergencies. Design some fast go to meals and get creative! A can of chicken, a half can of black beans, and a cup of salsa can be combined in under 2 minutes for a fast, healthy and filling meal.

Sample Quick And Easy Meals

The meals found in this section are quick and easy to make. They focus on ingredients that are tasty, and easy to find. The lunch/dinner meals can be prepared in about one hour on a Sunday afternoon. The breakfast meals should take less then 10 minutes to prepare. Also included are easy snack meals.

Quick And Easy Breakfast Meals

  • Meal 1 - Oatmeal, banana and protein powder. While you are heating your oatmeal or water, slice a banana. Add the sliced banana and a scoop of protein powder to your oatmeal, and mix.
  • Meal 2 - Whole wheat bagel with natural peanut butter, large glass of milk and a piece of fruit.
  • Meal 3 - Whole grain cereal with milk and a scoop of protein powder, blueberries and a glass of orange juice.
  • Meal 4 - 3 egg omelet with spinach and cheese and a glass of cranberry juice. Purchase frozen, chopped spinach. Place a 1/2 cup spinach in a frying pan with 1/2 cup cheddar or pepper jack cheese.
  • Meal 5 - Chicken and egg burrito. Place 2 eggs in a frying pan, add in desired amount of canned chicken, cheese and green chiles. Scramble eggs, and place in 1-2 whole wheat tortillas. Top with salsa.
  • Meal 6 - Lumberjack breakfast - pancakes and sausage. On Sunday, spend an hour preparing 5-10 whole wheat pancakes, and some turkey bacon and/or sausage. Reheat for breakfast during the week. Top pancakes with natural apple sauce, and chase with a large glass of milk.
  • Meal 7 - Blender breakfast. Place 2 scoops of protein powder in a blender. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup oats, 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter, ice and water. Blend, fill your shaker and go!

Quick And Easy Lunch & Dinner Meals. These meals can be prepared on a Sunday in one hour or less, and will make 5 total meals.

  • Meal 1 - Salsa chicken quinoa. Add 2 cups uncooked quinoa to 4 cups water. Boil and reduce heat until very little water remains. Pull off the stove and let quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Add 2 large cans of cooked chicken, and 2 cups salsa. Mix, and place in 5 Tupperware containers.
  • Meal 2 - Tuna and pasta. Boil your favorite healthy pasta. Drain, and add 4-5 cans of tuna in water. Next, add in low fat mayo, cheddar cheese and black pepper to taste, and one can of peas. Place in 5 Tupperware containers.
  • Meal 3 - Beef and potatoes. Cube 5 large potatoes or sweet potatoes. Lightly toss in olive oil and your favorite seasoning. Place on baking pan, and cook until tender. While potatoes are cooking, place 1-2 pounds of ground beef (or turkey) in a skillet, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook. Combine cubed potatoes and ground beef and place into 5 Tupperware bowls. Don't forget to season - add in salsa, sour cream or low cal gravy.
  • Meal 4 - Salmon burger and rice. Combine three 7.5 ounce cans of salmon in a mixing bowl with 5 egg whites. Form into patties, and cook in a frying pan (using non-stick spray). Please on a whole wheat bun, and top with onions. At the same time you start cooking your salmon burgers, cook 2-3 packages of boxed, flavored wild/brown rice mix. Add 2-3 cups frozen broccoli into rice as it cooks. Place both the salmon burger and rice into separate Tupperware containers.
  • Meal 5 - Peanut butter and banana sandwich. Spread natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread. Add banana slices, and cover with a second piece of bread forming a sandwich. Place sandwiches into sandwich bags. Eat along side a protein shake (or milk), and a container of Greek yogurt.

You can also easily add some canned veggies, or make a quick and healthy salad to being along with each of these meals.

Don't forget to add some veggies or a salad.

Quick And Easy Snacks

The following snacks are pack and go, meaning they require very little preparation. Remember, snacks exist primarily to help you reach your daily protein intake goals. A snack without protein is a wasted snack. Protein is vital for muscle repair and rebuilding, and helps to fend off muscle loss while cutting fat.

  • Snack 1 - String cheese and a banana. Each piece of string cheese has approximately 6-7 grams of protein, and only 60 to 70 calories (low fat string cheese is often 60 calories).
  • Snack 2 - Protein bars, or meal replacements. Keep a stash of protein bars at work, in your car, or in your gym bag or purse. You never know when life will interrupt, and force you to eat on the go.
  • Snack 3 - Greek yogurt and almonds. Toss in your cooler, and go! One container of Greek yogurt contains 15 grams of protein, and one ounce of almonds contains 6 grams of protein.
  • Snack 4 - Call this snack the convenience store special. Grad a pack of beef jerky, and chase it with a can of fresh fruit or tomato juice.
  • Snack 5 - Cottage cheese and strawberries or blueberries. 4 ounces of cottage cheese has 13 grams of protein and only 111 calories. Combine 8 ounces of cottage cheese with a handful of strawberries or blueberries, and you have a high protein and low calorie snack.

Nonconventional Diet Approaches

The following diet approaches are considered nonconventional. The term nonconventional is not used to imply ineffective, or that these eating approaches are fads. Each of these approaches have been embraced and used successfully by members of the fitness and body recomposition community. It is highly recommended that you do further research before trying any of these approaches. Many of them are intended to be used as lifestyles, and not temporary solutions.

The pros and cons for each approach are listed, along with other pertinent information. If you have further questions, please consult the Muscle & Strength forum.

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet focuses on the consumption of foods that were prevalent prior to the first agricultural revolution - the Neolithic Revolution. It was during this time (approx. 10,000 years ago) that man moved from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to a settlement-based agricultural lifestyle. The Paleo Diet emphasizes that for most of human history, man did not consume foods such as refined sugars and grains and high glycemic carbohydrates.

  • Food Intake - Food intake is generally limited to lean meats, fruits, seafood, nuts and vegetables.
  • Calorie Restrictions - None.
  • Best Used By - The Paleo Diet can be used for muscle building or fat loss. Some individuals have claimed that they were able to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
  • Meal Frequency - The Paleo Diet does not advocate a meal frequency. A Paleo lifestyle can be combined with a frequent feeding approach to help you achieve your muscle building and/or fat loss goals.
  • Paleo Diet Pros - The Paleo Diet separates you from many harmful foods, including refined sugars and grains. For most individuals, it is very difficult to overeat on the Paleo Diet. Paleo eating can often feel more natural, because you can eat when you are hungry without feelings of guilt.
  • Paleo Diet Cons - Eating in a Paleo manner can be expensive. In addition, some individuals will find it easier to retain muscle mass with the addition of grain-based carbs. Paleo Diet followers often talk about the negative impact of grain-based carbs in health. This is a hotly contested point, with a fair share of evidence backing both sides of the debate.

The Warrior Diet battles fat.The Warrior Diet

The Warrior Diet involves eating only one major meal per day, and consuming the bulk of your food during a dinner window that lasts up until 2 hours before bedtime. The idea behind the Warrior Diet is that during the day, while fasting, your survival mechanisms will kick in and you will burn fat. During this period, you will also feel more alert and less sluggish, as your body is said to be in a heightened, animal on the prowl searching for a kill type state.

  • Food Intake - The Warrior Diet does not restrict carbs, protein or fats. You basically eat what you want during the evening, as long as it's healthy. During the day, or underfeeding window, you eat little to no food. You are allowed very minor low-glycemic fruits, such as strawberries and blueberries, or a small handful of nuts, or a small portion of a protein food. The large evening meal begins with a salad, progresses to veggies (broccoli, etc.), and then moves on to the main course of protein and carbs. The Warrior Diet often follows a 2 day cycle, one day high protein, the second day high carbs.
  • Calorie Restrictions - None.
  • Best Used By - The Warrior Diet is a very effective weight loss approach, and works very well for individuals that are heavy evening eaters.
  • Meal Frequency - One large nightly meal, stopping two hours before bed. You generally eat until you start to feel very thirsty.
  • Warrior Diet Pros - Nightly meals are very satisfying. You can lose weight fast while eating a large amount of healthy food. One of the hidden benefits of the Warrior Diet is that you feel very good during the day - you will rarely feel tired and sluggish.
  • Warrior Diet Cons - The Warrior Diet is not best suited for muscle building and/or weight gain. Some muscle loss may occur. In addition, during the first few days on the Warrior Diet, you may experience headaches and/or fatigue.

Ketogenic Diet (Keto Run)

The Ketogenic Diet is generally considered a fat loss approach that is run anywhere to 2 weeks to several months. The goal of a Keto Diet is to get your body into ketosis, at which point your body stops using carbs for fuel, and begins burning body fat. The Keto Diet focuses on very low daily carbohydrates, in most cases a maximum of 30-50 grams per day. There are two popular variations of the Keto Diet - the TKD or the CKD. The TKD (Targeted Keto Diet) allows you to eat carbs the night before, and following your workouts. The CKD (Cyclical Keto Diet) allows for 30-50 grams of carbs per day, and then a "carb up" phase one to two days per week where you carb load, and eat very little fat.

  • Food Intake - 5-6 days per week you eat only proteins and fats, keeping carbs under 30 to 50 grams per day. 1-2 days per week (12-18 hours, and in some cases 12 to 36 hours), 40 to 120 grams of carbs are eaten with each meal. Protein intake remains high during this period, but fats are minimized.
  • Calorie Restrictions - Eat no fewer then 500 calories below maintenance levels (DCML).
  • Best Used By - The Keto Diet can result in a loss of 2-3 pounds of fat per week. It is best used when trying to get "ripped."
  • Meal Frequency - If muscle size or definition are a goal, stick with a frequent feeding meal plan.
  • Keto Diet Pros - A very effective fat loss method. You will feel full and satisfied, and generally have better energy than on most low carb diets.
  • Keto Diet Cons - The first week or two of a Keto Diet can be difficult. Side effects may include fatigue and/or a feeling of fogginess.

Carb Cycling, or Zig-Zag Eating

Carb cycling, also called zig-zag dieting, is a method of eating that focuses on day to day calorie fluctuations to help minimize fat gains while bulking, and to help maximize muscle retention and the stalling of your metabolism while cutting fat. While many zig-zag approaches focus only only on calorie intake, because protein and fat consumption remains fairly consistent on a daily basis, a zig-zag diet will have you primarily cycling carbs.

There are numerous variations of carb cycling and zig-zag eating. Most carb cycling approaches focus on low, moderate and high carb days, while some zig-zag approaches have you eating more for 2 week periods, followed by lower calorie (carb) intake for 2 weeks.

  • Food Intake - Most carb cycling diets are structured based on your DCML. If the goal is weight loss, on the average you will eat fewer daily calories. If the goal is weight and/or muscle gain, on the average you will eat more daily calories. For example, if your DCML is 3000 and you are trying to gain weight, you may aim for an average of 3300 calories per day. This may include cycling between low days of 2700 calories, and high days of 3900 calories to achieve the 3300 calorie average.
  • Calorie Restrictions. Calories are based on goals, which include fat loss, muscle/weight gain, or body weight maintenance.
  • Best Used By - Because this is a very flexible eating approach that allows for "overeating days", it can be used by just about anyone with any goal.
  • Meal Frequency - If muscle size or definition are a goal, stick with a frequent feeding meal plan.
  • Carb Cycling Pros - You have "high calorie" days each week, which can help battle cravings and dieting monotony. Carb cycling can also stave off metabolism adjustment, allowing you to diet longer. When bulking, carb cycling helps to battle excessive fat gain.
  • Carb Cycling Cons - High calorie days can be difficult for individuals who find it hard to eat enough.

Want to be ripped with a six pack? Try a Keto Diet.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting and the Warrior Diet are very similar in nature. Intermittent Fasting calls for a 16 hour fasting window in which you eat nothing. During the 8 hours of "feasting", you consume your daily calories. This can include a pre-workout meal, and generally focuses on a very large post-workout meal.

  • Food Intake - Intermittent Fasting does not focus on calorie or macronutrient intake (carbs/protein/fat). Obviously, it is prudent that you focus on clean, healthy eating, and a quality balance of carbs, proteins and fats.
  • Calorie Restrictions - Calories can be adjusted to suit specific goals.
  • Best Used By - While Intermittent Fasting is considered an excellent way to reduce bodyfat, it can also be used by individuals seeking to gain muscle as well. Intermittent fasting is a solid option for anyone trying to get back in shape, lose weight and regain their health.
  • Meal Frequency - You eat nothing (fasting) during a 16 hour period, and feast of healthy, clean foods during an 8 hour period (feast).
  • Intermittent Fasting Pros - You get to eat like a king for 8 hours per day, which can make the Intermittent Fasting lifestyle more satisfying. Like the Warrior Diet, it is normal to feel awake and aware during the fasting period.
  • Intermittent Fasting Cons - It can be difficult for hardgainers with a fast metabolism to gain muscle using this approach. Some individuals may experience muscle loss while using Intermittent Fasting. Also, during the first several days on this diet, you may experience fatigue and/or headaches.

Sample Carb Cycling - Zig Zag Approaches

There are nearly an endless amount of ways to calorie/carb cycle. The following examples are provided for both fat loss and muscle gain. Please keep in mind that though these examples focus on a certain number of calories above or below your DCML, this does not always indicate that effective or consistent results will follow. It is up to you to monitor your weight, and make small calorie changes as needed.

Low, Moderate, High Cycle For Fat Loss

In the following example, our male athlete has a DCML of 3000 calories. He is wishing to lose weight slowly while maintaining as much muscle as possible, and decides to try eating an average of 2700 daily calories over the next month. Protein intake will remain consistent, and based upon the principles detailed in the frequent feeding section above. Fat intake will remain at a steady 20-30 of daily calories (in this example we use 30%). The remain amount of calories would be eaten as carbs. The low, moderate and high cycle would look something like this:

  • Monday - 2100 calories (Low). 200 grams of protein, 70 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 167.5 grams of carbs.
  • Tuesday - 2700 calories (Moderate). 200 grams of protein, 90 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 272.5 grams of carbs.
  • Wednesday - 3300 calories (High). 200 grams of protein, 100 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 400 grams of carbs.
  • Thursday - 2100 calories (Low). 200 grams of protein, 70 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 167.5 grams of carbs.
  • Friday - 2700 calories (Moderate). 200 grams of protein, 90 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 272.5 grams of carbs.
  • Saturday - 3300 calories (High). 200 grams of protein, 100 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 400 grams of carbs.
  • Sunday - 2700 calories (Moderate). 200 grams of protein, 90 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 272.5 grams of carbs.

Low, Moderate, High Cycle For Muscle/Weight Gain (Bulking)

Using the same athlete and a DCML of 3000 calories, we will now structure a zig-zag bulk. Over the course of the next month, our athlete has decided that he will consume an average of 3300 calories per day. Unlike his cutting approach, our athlete wants to have only one very large "high" day per week. He adjusts his calories appropriately, and his weekly diet comes out to:

  • Monday - 3500 calories (Moderate). 200 grams of protein, 117 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 412.5 grams of carbs.
  • Tuesday - 2900 calories (Low). 200 grams of protein, 99 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 307.5 grams of carbs.
  • Wednesday - 3500 calories (Moderate). 200 grams of protein, 117 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 412.5 grams of carbs.
  • Thursday - 2900 calories (Low). 200 grams of protein, 99 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 307.5 grams of carbs.
  • Friday - 3500 calories (Moderate). 200 grams of protein, 117 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 412.5 grams of carbs.
  • Saturday - 3900 calories (High). 200 grams of protein, 130 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 482.5 grams of carbs.
  • Sunday - 2900 calories (Low). 200 grams of protein, 99 grams of fat (roughly 30% of calories), and 307.5 grams of carbs.

Note

There is some research indicating that 2 week cycles of bulking and cutting will help to maximize muscle gain while minimizing fat loss. This approach may best be suited for intermediate lifters who are looking to gain muscle, and are past their "beginner gains" stage.

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  • About The Author
    Steve is a powerlifter who has also spent 20 years training in bodybuilding. He is a national level competitor training for an all-time over 50 raw world record.
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Comments (61)

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Samuli
Posted Mon, 10/04/2010 - 09:28

Nice article! lots of useful information!

I think of trying Keto diet, sounds perfect to me.

Could you tell me what kind of workout i should be doing when Keto dieting?

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Steve
Posted Tue, 10/05/2010 - 09:15

Hi Samuli,

You want to stick with a muscle building approach. You have to continue to push yourself in the gym to encourage your body to maintain muscle mass.

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Samuli
Posted Wed, 10/06/2010 - 11:29

I hace previously used the "Power Muscle Burn" Workout when bulking. Could I use this same program when Keto dieting?

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Steve
Posted Wed, 10/06/2010 - 14:04

Hi Samuli,

Absolutely.

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JAlbers
Posted Mon, 10/04/2010 - 23:14

A Very Well written article. I enjoy the fact you don't just bash the diets. Too many people focus on the bad effects and dont realize, the fact is these diets work, when done correctly and with exercise.
Now if only people realize without exercise their not going to see the results they want. People might start losing some weight.

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gsr805
Posted Tue, 10/05/2010 - 01:36

thanks you, this will help me.

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Josia
Posted Tue, 10/05/2010 - 02:47

Can you please advice on best suppliment(s) that can help me to shed belly fat and gain lean muscles? I do medium weight lifts at home and I need to build few muscle, not body-builder muscles but just lean muscles that enable me not to be shy putting on vest and swimmwears.

I live in Namibia.

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Steve
Posted Tue, 10/05/2010 - 09:17
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Daniel
Posted Tue, 10/05/2010 - 22:25

Another very helpful article, Steve. The "Sample Quick and Easy Meals" section is exactly what I need. It's a great guideline for how I'm gonna be adjusting my next meal plan.

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Alex
Posted Wed, 10/06/2010 - 18:05

I'm gonna be re-reading this all night, I still can't get my head around it.

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FD
Posted Fri, 10/15/2010 - 13:44

Hi Steve

I'm guy from Kuwait 30 years old, Height 180 cm, Weight 110 kg.

I would get bigger and mass gaining muscles and someone gave me this

Food systems and I want to advice me about it if it's ok or not.

Meal 1:

4 whole eggs + cheese + 4 whole wheat bagel + Peanut butter + little nuts + apple + Pear
After: Glutamine + 1 pack of animal pak

Meal 2 before workout:

• 2 hours: 2 cups of serious mass protein shake.
• 30 min: Nano x9.

Meal 4 after workout immediately:

• 2 cups of serious mass protein shake.
• Glutamine.

Meal 5 Wait one hour and eat:

• 2 breast chicken OR Fish + Brown rice + green salad.

Meal 6:

• 2 cups of whey protein shake + little nuts.

Meal 7:

• 2 breast chicken OR Fish + Brown rice + green salad.

Meal 8:

• 2 yogurt + apple + pear + little nuts.

Meal 9: (Before bed time)

• Casein proteins shake.

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Steve
Posted Fri, 10/15/2010 - 15:19

Hi FD,

That looks solid. Just make sure to watch the scale, and if you don't gain weight you may need to eat a bit more.

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Richard
Posted Fri, 10/29/2010 - 14:14

I am working on meal plan and trying figure out the figures for each meal i know it on average 1- 1.5 grams of protein per lbs. and about 2 grams of carbs per lbs. and to tweak the program from there to match gain or loss depending on what i want but is that considered per meal or per day?

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Steve
Posted Tue, 11/02/2010 - 10:49

Hi Richard,

This article on meal timing might help:

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/meal-timing-set-your-watch-to-...

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Rob
Posted Wed, 11/03/2010 - 10:19

I used the daily intake calculator and it said I need 1,542 calories each day so in order to cut I need to subtract 500 calories from that? it seems really low. Thanks

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Steve
Posted Wed, 11/03/2010 - 11:24

Hi Rob,

1500 is way too low. What is your current height, weight and age?

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Rob
Posted Wed, 11/03/2010 - 21:43

I'm 5'8" 150 lbs Thanks for the help.

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Steve
Posted Thu, 11/04/2010 - 13:57

Hi Rob,

I would start a cutting diet around 2200 calories per day. In general you want to lose no more than 2 pounds a month is muscle mass retention is a major goal. If you are losing weight faster than that, add 200 calories per day and try again.

Also, the first week you may lose a bit more weight than normal, so don't worry if your weight loss number is big during week 1.

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Rob
Posted Wed, 11/03/2010 - 21:44

Sorry forgot my age is 25

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Kunal
Posted Wed, 11/03/2010 - 11:55

Hey,
I'm vegetarian, and all the meat replacement things take ages to cook. Can help me out??
Thanks

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Steve
Posted Wed, 11/03/2010 - 19:31

Hi Kunul,

I know very little about the vegetarian lifestyle. I recommend asking your question on the forum. You will receive some great answers.

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/forum/

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Jolan
Posted Thu, 11/04/2010 - 03:17

Hey Steve I got a few questions that I want to ask you so I'll keep them brief.

1) The time to eat is just an example so if I wake up at 9 then I start off the breakfast with
* 9 AM - Breakfast
* 11:30 AM - Snack
* Noon(1-1:30) - Lunch
* 3:30 PM - Snack
* 7 PM - Dinner
* 8:30-9 PM - Snack
Or do I just keep them relatively on a timed basis as long as I consume 3 meals with 2-3 snack with 1 snack in between the meal?

2)The work out plan that you have set is just one of the ones you published like the "4 Day Power Muscle Burn Workout Split" or another one.

3)Supplements to take-The main supplements that can greatly improve progress is a Pre-Workout to help strength like a N.O.(N.O. Vapor)for working out, a whey protein like Syntha-6, and also a cassein protein? Do you recommend any supplements to help me out? I am starting this Diet plan Monday so I am gathering everything I need, and going over workout plans to see if they can run smooth with the diet. I will weigh myself in to gather up weight, body fat, and other info. I am think I am 174, 6'1... but never checked my body fat yet..

Thanks for everything, believe me I am a frequent followers of your work out plans and articles. I won't just ask you something and disappear, I'll always stand behind you.

Thanks Steve.

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Steve
Posted Thu, 11/04/2010 - 13:44

Hi Jolan,

1) That looks good. There is no need to worry about hitting everything exactly. As long as you are in the ballpark, it's a solid plan.
2) I don't understand the question.
3) Casein is a good choice. Casein is good in between meals and before bed. Whey protein is good first thing in the morning and post-workout. I would also recommend a quality multi-vitamin, fish oil and creatine once you are on a roll and making regular gains.

Best of luck!

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Jolan
Posted Thu, 11/04/2010 - 17:33

The question you don't understand is that I am asking what Workout plan do you think can greatly assist me in getting everything worked out on, I mentioned the 4 Day Power Burn Muscle workout that you have written but also want to know what other workout plans you might recommend.

I am mainly trying to greatly increase my strength, cut unneeded fat since I know there's fat that is needed to benefit the body, gain defintion in my body with muscle growth. I know you have written a lot of workout plans but I having a problem on picking one that I can use with this diet plan.

Thanks for the first response.

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Steve
Posted Fri, 11/05/2010 - 10:57

Hi Jolan,

If strength is a primary goal, the power muscle burn is a great plan, as is this workout:

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/steves-density-and-strength-4-...

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Alex
Posted Sun, 11/07/2010 - 07:36

I'm looking at the keto diet, I was just curious as to what foods I should be eating exactly.
Am I literally only eating meat or am i still eating, legumes, dairy, fruit etc avoiding complex carbs?

Cheers steve

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Steve
Posted Sun, 11/07/2010 - 11:10

Hi Alex,

The keto diet only allows 30-50 grams of carbs, which is a maximum of 120-160 calories from carbs. In general these carbs should be trace amounts found in protein and fatty foods, such as eggs, etc.

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Jon
Posted Mon, 11/08/2010 - 19:59

Hi Steve,
I am looking to do the keto diet and was wondering if I should be drinking whey protein after my workout? Also what are some suggestions on what I should be eating for breakfast, lunch, dinner?
Thanks

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Steve
Posted Tue, 11/09/2010 - 08:13

Hi Jon,

You can drink whey post-workout.

As for foods:

Steak
Veal
Pork
Bacon
Ham
Lamb
Chicken
Turkey
Fish
Eggs
All Cheese (except Cottage)

Low carb veggies

Pine-Nuts
Walnuts
Pumpkin Seed
Sunflower Seed
Almonds

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Matt Jackson
Posted Mon, 11/15/2010 - 07:32

Hi Steve,

I started lifting last year but only got very serious about it 3 months ago. (I used to lift about 10 years ago). I'm 34 years old, 5'11", 184 lbs., 17% body fat (though that's measured using a scale). Right now I'm doing this workout:

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/dougs-4-day-split-workout.html

I follow it religiously and always work out as intensely as possible, pushing for progressive resistance. I've been eating 3,300 calories (clean) a day for the past two weeks, looking to add lean muscle and cut fat later. I have two questions:

1) Should I even be bulking, since according to my BMI I'm overweight? I'm a medium frame, and I definitely have some fat to lose, but I'm relatively solid and in good shape. I'd like to put on some more muscle, just about 5 lbs. or so. From what I've read, it's better to put on muscle first, then burn fat while maintaining that muscle. Is this the approach I should be taking? Or should I cut my body fat down first and then try to add muscle?

2) I was thinking about doing what you mentioned at the end of this article, following a bulking diet for 2 weeks, then a cutting diet for 2 weeks. Would I need to change my workout routine for the cutting phase, or should I stick with the muscle building routine above?

Thanks in advance!
Matt

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Steve
Posted Mon, 11/15/2010 - 13:32

Hi Matt,

1) I don't consider 17% bodyfat very high. Right now you're only about 15 pounds from being in very good condition, with abs, etc. You certainly could do a 2 month cut if you want to drop 10-15 pounds, but overall I think it would be better with your goals to add the muscle, then cut fat.
2) Use the same workout while cutting. If you don't push yourself while cutting you give your body incentive to give up muscle mass. You could use any muscle building routine, really...

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Matt
Posted Wed, 11/17/2010 - 12:53

Hi Steve,

Thanks a lot for the response. So does that mean that even if I were doing a 2-month cut after gaining the muscle I want, I should always use a muscle building routine, never a fat loss routine?
Also, should I always be aiming ultimately for around 170lbs, or can I go for a higher weight as long as it's muscle and my bodyfat is low?

Thanks!
Matt

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Steve
Posted Wed, 11/17/2010 - 19:07

Hi Matt,

Stick with a muscle building routine. You don't want to change things up dramatically.

As far as weight, I would say 165 to 170 would be perfect. Maybe a little lower depending on how accurate the bodyfat percentage was.

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Matt
Posted Thu, 11/25/2010 - 13:10

Thanks Steve, I really appreciate the help! My only concern would be that if I'm at 165 or 170 I might be too skinny! Isn't it possible to weigh more than your recommended weight and still be healthy if you've gained muscle? If I need to go from 184 to 170, aren't I shooting myself in the foot by gaining 5-10lbs. of muscle (my goal) and reaching up to 190-195lbs.? Would I then just have to focus on losing 20lbs. of fat and maintaining the muscle I gained?
Sorry for so many questions. I hope this made sense! Thanks again for your advice.

Matt

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Steve
Posted Fri, 11/26/2010 - 14:44

It is possible to weight more than your recommended weight and be healthy. Most serious lifters do. The only reason I recommended a cut was because it sounded like you wanted to lose some fat.

165 top 170 isn't too thin at all. Most bodybuilders compete in that range and are very muscular.

I am generally always for adding muscle first before cutting, but I never try to push my personal goals on others.

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Ben
Posted Thu, 12/02/2010 - 07:17

hi steve
when doing the zig zag diet when gaining mass does it matter when your high calorie or food intake days are? On your off days of training do u have to eat a higher amount of calories?

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Steve
Posted Thu, 12/02/2010 - 10:16

Hi Ben,

It is best to make sure you maximize your post-workout nutrition. If that's in line, you could still have a "low" day on a training day - you will simply have to make the proper adjustments. Having higher days on training days can make things easier, but you don't need to work a zig-zag like this.

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jason d
Posted Sat, 01/08/2011 - 01:59

(this goes to anyone for help) ive been trying to cut and tone ive been working out hard for the last few months go to the gym at about 5 and dont leave till like 8 i do my lifting and than about an hour of constent cardio with a hoody on my eating is pretty good except i dont really eat breakfest alot cuz how ive been sleeping but im not really seeing any results any ideas? not the diet links like an actual idea?

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Steve
Posted Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:42

Hi Jason,

You're not eating properly, and most likely not focusing on progression of weight. This combination will allow you to maximize muscle while cutting fat. You want to focus on two things to maximize results:

1) Pushing yourself in the gym. Using good form, always push yourself on every set. When you can perform the recommended number of reps for a set, add weight.

2) Eating to maximize muscle retention while cutting fat. Here are two articles that can help:

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

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

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Debu
Posted Wed, 02/16/2011 - 04:43

Hi,

I am on a 4 days splitt.Monday tuesdays thursday and friday are my training days. I want to try the carb cycling approach for 2 weeks cycle bulking and 2 weeks cycle cutting. So my question is on the bulking cycle which days should be my moderatae, low and high days and on cutting cycle which days should be my moderate, low and high days?

Thanks.

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Steve
Posted Thu, 02/17/2011 - 13:07

Hi Debu,

I would try something like this:

M - Moderate
TU - High
W - Low
TH - Moderate
F - Moderate
Sa - Low
Su - High

You could drop one of the moderate days if need be. Just make sure your daily calorie average is set up properly.

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Bassel
Posted Mon, 03/14/2011 - 21:01

Lol i printed out this article
As always u come with best tips
Thanks Steve

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Diego
Posted Thu, 04/28/2011 - 01:18

Hi Steve,

Great article, however can you give examples or list a meal plan for a day being on the Keto Diet. Thank you!

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Yaphet
Posted Thu, 04/12/2012 - 22:55

Hi Steve,
Loved the article!! Would you recommend "Carb-cycling" for a long-distance endurance athlete? (I typically run 5K and 10K races, but now that it is track season, mostly 1600m or 3200m). The track meets are usually on a Saturday, so should I also gradually adjust my diet as the race/meet day gets closer?
Thanks for the informative article!

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Bopper
Posted Tue, 05/15/2012 - 00:13

I am doing the dukan diet I'm 24 and started 2 weeks ago, I've gone from 14st13lb to 14st and now I'm thinking of trying to build muscle is this diet compatible with muscle gain??

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Chris
Posted Sat, 05/19/2012 - 19:37

Dealing with the carb cycling, I'm curious how much cardio is involved in this?

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Steve
Posted Wed, 05/23/2012 - 14:27

With a precise diet I would use 3-4 sessions of 20-30 minutes per week.

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Najib
Posted Tue, 07/03/2012 - 05:57

my stomach got no muscle only fat, my chest is not like the rock. how can i loose all this flabby;s?

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HolyChristensen
Posted Sat, 09/29/2012 - 17:39

I workout in the mornings before school, should I eat breakfast on a normal 4-6 meal per day plan before I go and after I lift or just after?

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Jeremy
Posted Tue, 10/23/2012 - 02:48

Great article, Steve. I have had some challenges with my weight since college. I use to be really active with sports and weight training. Now just the career. I went from nearly 280 to 247 in less than two months, mainly on the warrior diet. Accompanied by intense workouts. However, it wasn't a mirror image of the warrior diet. I only took in about 100 carbs and 1000 calories a day to start. Probably not healthy.

Now I seem to have platueaed and I have been trying different strategies to start back up the weight loss (rigorous cardio). I think part of my problem is that I am also trying to gain muscle mass. I have been progressing well in that aspect but still not losing enough weight loss. Any ideas what I can do to start the weight loss again? I don't have to pick or choose between muscle mass and weight loss, do I?

Any help would be appreciated.

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