When I say dieting in the title, I mean extended periods of low calories – i.e. the typical 12-24 week diet, or even perma-diet for some.

 

A hypocaloric state is catabolic, meaning tissues are broken down from both fat and muscle. This is not necessarily a bad thing. When you’re catabolic you break down both lipids and proteins, i.e. both fat AND muscle in varying amounts. See this study – large calorie deficits associated with drop in testosterone, creating a catabolic hormonal environment, worse mood, and more risk of muscle and strength loss. The trick when dieting is to oxidise as much fat as possible while oxidising as little protein as possible.


So how do we do this?

When you cycle periods of overfeeding and underfeeding, you’re creating waves of anabolism (where you gain some muscle and some fat) and catabolism (where you lose some muscle and fat). Despite this, if the total calorie balance at the end of the week is a deficit, there is a net fat loss effect, while avoiding the negative effects outlined above.

 

Underfeeding phase

By taking certain anti-catabolic measures you can spare as much muscle tissue as possible while burning as much fat as possible during the underfeeding phase:

– Sufficient protein intake: 2g per kg bodyweight
– Heavy resistance training 3-4x/week
– Skipping breakfast
Fasted walking
– Keeping carbs low on rest days
– After training, eating your carbs at night
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) to promote ketone production and spare muscle tissue

^ Sound familiar? :P 

 

Overfeeding phase

By taking the same measures you can also gain as much muscle tissue as possible while generating as little fat tissue as possible.

– A high carb, low fat refeed after training (up to 4-5g carbs per kg bodyweight)
– Moderate volume training
Sleeping a minimum of 7.5 hours per night
– Staying well hydrated (Don’t overlook this one. Cellular dehydration is very catabolic)

Fortunately, by following those guidelines, we don’t have to gain 50:50 muscle:fat all the time like some people would have you believe (not mentioning any names here), where you bulk for years while getting fat as hell, then cut for 6 months and lose half of your hard earned muscle. Instead, do this correctly and the net effect can mean you actually gain muscle while losing fat as the weeks go by.

 

What if I just want to lose fat at all costs?

Fine, but underfeeding for extended periods causes a drop in BMR. So you’ll have to eat less and less as the weeks go on. Additionally, testosterone and other growth factors drop off, which is associated with depression and lethargy.

Also – fasting allows you to confine your eating window to a shorter period, reducing your meal frequency. This has the benefit of allowing the fasted state to remain uninterrupted for longer:

Source: Weightology

Berkhan is passionate about meal frequency, and points out that a lower meal frequency is better from a neurobiological, blood sugar control, appetite and metabolic perspective. There is an increased thermogenic response from lower meal frequency, and a metabolic decrease in the long term from high meal frequency (nibbling). So let’s put this 6-meals-a-day idea to rest. It’s inconvenient, and at the very least the evidence shows no benefit.

 

Why periodic overfeeds are better:

The underfeed followed by an overfeed sensitises your body to insulin, and revs up the metabolism. If you cut calories quickly enough while your body is in that state, metabolism stays elevated while there are no calories available to feed it. The body turns to fat stores for fuel. Better still, if you fast, the growth hormone release will bump metabolism up even further while sparing muscle tissue. Growth hormone is one of the most powerful lipolytic yet muscle sparing hormones in the body.

From Kiefer’s Carb Nite book:

Kiefer notes how insulin must be elevated for at least 6 hours to upregulate leptin. (Diagram from Carb Nite Book)

Appetite and metabolism are tightly regulated by ghrelin and leptin, hunger and fullness hormones. Overfeeding causes a delayed rise in leptin and a concomitant increase in metabolism and fat loss. Fortunately it’s a lagging hormone, so leptin will stay elevated for longer than your overfeed period, and stay elevated for around 4 days (varies according to individual).

Hence while you’re fasting immediately after an overfeed, BMR and fat loss will be through the roof. Additionally, fasting allows fat mobilisation to continue without being mediated by leptin. By continuing to cycle overfeeds and underfeeds over the week as we’ve described, leptin will be elevated frequently enough to keep metabolism high.

To take it to the extreme, it would be far superior to eat like this:

Monday: 1500kcal,

Tuesday: 2800kcal

Wednesday: Fast

Thursday: 3500kcal

Friday: 1500kcal

Etc.

 

Than this:

Monday: 1800kcal

Tuesday: 1800kcal

Wednesday: 1800kcal

Thursday: 1800kcal

Friday: 1800kcal
etc.

 

Even though the average calories are the same. The above is an extreme example, but which do you think you’d enjoy more? Constant deprivation or periodic feasts? Worse still would be eating 1000kcal per day for months on end, chronically underfed, fatigued, pissed off and plummeting your metabolism. This is why we advise periodic 24 hour or even alternate day fasting, which makes dieting a lot more tolerable.

What if I don’t want to fast for that long?

Leangains-style intermittent fasting of a 16-hour fast followed by an 8-hour eating window would be ideal in this case. Cycle your calories and your carbs throughout the week and receive the same benefits.

Putting it all together:

We’ve done that for you by using these principles in the Propane Protocol and personalised schedules for our Platinum clients.


Conclusion

Extreme, extended diets, despite making you feel deprived and awful, actually cause a reduction in metabolic rate and make fat loss more difficult. So it’s actually optimal to cycle periods of overfeeding and underfeeding (and/or fasting) to gain muscle and lose fat. This is ideal for pure fat loss even if you’re not interested in gaining as much muscle as possible. You’ll be getting the best of both worlds:

• High growth hormone output from the fast, sparing muscle tissue

• No drop in testosterone levels that you would normally get from extended dieting

• No more tiny portions of broccoli and muesli, when you eat, you eat big.

• Ramped up metabolic rate from the overfeeding periods, lasting well into the fast.

The Next Step

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8 responses to “Why Your Last Diet Failed: The Biggest Problem With Traditional Dieting

  1. @Yusef: Nice article guys.

    @All the Propane Fitness editors: Thank you so much, you’re putting out there a lot of valuable (and free) information for everybody.

    Simple advice backed by science and no bullshit. Putting all this information together makes a nice system, with a high level of customization.

  2. Javier said:
    @Yusef: Nice article guys.

    @All the Propane Fitness editors: Thank you so much, you’re putting out there a lot of valuable (and free) information for everybody.

    Simple advice backed by science and no bullshit. Putting all this information together makes a nice system, with a high level of customization.

    Thanks Javier, that’s really good to hear. I certainly hope people can benefit from the articles – while we have a protocol that doesn’t require any thought to implement, the attitude of learning + self-experimentation certainly needs to be encouraged, and we hope to provide a resource that accommodates that.

  3. I remember reading that a one day refeed would increase leptin but only for a day or two. So I’m surprised Kiefer says you can raise it for 3-4 days just from insulin being elevated for 6 hours.

    Lyle McDonald recommends a 2.5 day refeed in “Ultimate Diet 2.0” as he says this is how long you’ll need to properly restore leptin and metabolism to normal levels.

  4. I remember reading that a one day refeed would increase leptin but only for a day or two. So I’m surprised Kiefer says you can raise it for 3-4 days just from insulin being elevated for 6 hours.

    I’ve heard varying opinions on leptin, and had to conclude that it’s more complex than I had thought. Both Kiefer and Lyle have said that in extreme restriction or when getting very lean sometimes 2 full days of refeeding is required to affect leptin sufficiently. I’d say for the average Joe who shouldn’t be eating a crazy deficit, refeeding on training days should be enough, but the rules will change with contest prep.

  5. With regards to refeeds and leptin, has anyone read Joel Marion’s stuff? His Cheat Your Way Thin really introduced me to the existence of that particular hormone.
    Anyway, thanks for the latest article, guys. I will never have the discipline to do an ADF as laid out here, but I fast for varying lengths of time. I thought I’d share my current diet as I’ve managed to maintain a pretty lean composition while gaining strength.
    Since I’m bulking the CBL way, I’m doing a looser version of it:
    Monday, Wednesday, Friday (training days):
    A.M. cardio for 30min per session: LISS twice per week; sprints once per week. FASTED.
    7PM: lifting
    Calories: 2200-2500kcal
    Saturday: Soccer matchday
    P.M. Depending on how much I play, I may include some technique work after the game
    Calories: Same as above
    Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday: Rest Day
    Calories: 2000-2200kcal
    Macros:
    Protein: 150g
    Carbs: 200-250g (50g before training, the rest after)
    Fat: the rest
    This is a constant every day
    I’m still up-regulating my calories to find out where my maintenance is. Anyone have any suggestions on how I can go about calculating it and how much weight I should be expecting to gain per week as a beginner without compromising my performance on the pitch or gain too much fat? I expect that as a beginner, if my weight is staying the same (it is) but my strength on the big 4 lifts are going up, I should be in some serious recomposition mode, which is kind of strange as I’m not carb-cycling at all. In fact, you can see that my carb intake is pretty high. I’m increasing calories slowly week upon week and am currently at 63.6kg, which should be an indicator that I still have quite a long way to go.

    “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

    — Bruce Lee

  6. I think ADF really shines either when your schedule is restricted and you have to just eat a lot of crap on feeding days, OR you have everything dialled in and can train every day, with the goal of a slow recomp. But for many the payoff doesn’t warrant the cost unless you enjoy the freed up time of fasting.

    Clem, glad you’re increasing your calories, seems like everythings moving in the right direction.

    Anyone have any suggestions on how I can go about calculating it and how much weight I should be expecting to gain per week as a beginner without compromising my performance on the pitch or gain too much fat?

    YES – don’t aim for weight gain on the scale, just keep calories high enough that your strength is going up and you’re not noticeably getting fatter. I made the mistake of trying to force muscle gain in the past by going for 1-2lb/week, very silly

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