Welcome back to a little article review. This time we’re going back to T-Nation and an article from Chris Shugart, their ‘chief content officer.’ The article is called ‘The Non-Linear Diet for Lifters’ and is a take on the semi-recent study of ‘Intermittent Energy Restriction’ by Bill I. Campbell et al. from 2020.
Chris begins his article by setting the stage by claiming that losing weight is easy, as it’s ‘basic calorie math’ and willpower.
Well, calories are a measurement of heat production and has nothing to do with physiology. Perhaps he meant ‘energy restriction,’ and yes, that is needed for our body to actually tap into our energy reserves, as in our body fat. However, willpower is only needed if your diet sucks and make you miserable. If you follow our species-appropriate, species-specific diet of only consuming animal-based foods, as the carnivores we are, you will always be content as it is nutritional deficiencies from a lacking diet that make you hungry and give you cravings, as well as make you tired and lethargic. We covered this many times on this website.
So, that is not exactly an encouraging start, talking about willpower as in the fact that you need to be miserable and in pain, when you actually can thrive on a sensible ‘diet plan.’
Then he goes on with stating that those interested in body composition, as in ‘lifters,’ want to preserve all their muscle mass and only lose body fat while maintaining their metabolic rate and performance. Fair enough, that should be a no-brainer. And that statement takes us to the cited study.
The study involved already somewhat lean resistance trained (as in ‘lifters’) individuals and their response to an intermittent energy restricted diet in comparison to a continuous energy restricted diet. In other words, one group followed a typical continuous diet where the reduced their energy intake by 25% daily for seven weeks straight. The other group reduced their energy intake by a larger 35%, but only for five days a week and they went back to a ‘energy maintenance’ intake on Saturdays and Sundays. Both groups thus reduced their energy intake by a total of 25% per week, as the ‘refeed’ or ‘maintenance’ group dieted “harder” on weekdays (35% reduction compared to the 25% in the other group.) Both groups did resistance training four times a week and low-to-moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise twice per week.
Does this sound familiar? Yes, the second ‘refeed’ group is pretty much how everyone within the bodybuilding- and fitness-community has dieted since the dawn of time. Actually, when I coached before discovering the extreme power of fasting in 2008, I had clients do 35 to 40% energy restrictions five times a week with a maintenance refeed twice on separate days, like Tuesday and Saturday. After that, I simply switched to two days of about 30 hours of complete fasting and five days of maintenance, which was even more powerful, and allowed for actually increasing muscle mass while losing body fat at an incredible speed. Not to mention the health benefits of fasting and allowing cell receptors to become more responsive. For more on this, please read my fasting fat loss article here: ‘Fat Loss Made Simple – Forget About Calories and Cardio.’
Now, let’s see what Chris Shugart takes from this and why something the community has done forever is suddenly something ‘revolutionary.’
“While both groups lost fat, the weekend refeeders lost a bit more, preserved their fat-free mass (muscle), and better maintained their resting metabolic rate. In other words, the non-linear plan prevented catabolism and helped keep their metabolisms chugging along.
This is huge because previous studies on non-overweight athletes show that losing muscle – muscle protein breakdown – can occur even with a 10-day diet of 20% calorie restriction.”
Chris tells us that this is huge.
What? Has he been totally unaware of bodybuilding and fitness his entire life, although he writes for such a ‘magazine?’ You do not need a study to understand this simple concept. The refeeding strategy has been a staple used with bodybuilders since it emerged as a sport. I never met another coach who did not use it. To be fair, most only use 1 to 1,5 days of refeeding, as in Friday evening to Saturday night. But the difference is negligible, so this is not something new.
And yes, you should never go on a ‘continuous’ diet, as that is simply a fancy word for starvation. I explained that in the article I linked above.
Chris then makes three bullet points, and these are:
“The two-day uptick in calories could have blunted the catabolic environment for muscle. Maybe it’s not a good idea to stay in a caloric deficit for longer than five days in a row?”
Five days is not a magical number. The point is that if you reduce your energy intake you are simply mimicking starvation and your body will adapt to make you better at surviving it. Once you eat more, your body sees the ‘danger’ as averted and any adaptations are halted and reverted, such as the lowering of your metabolic rate and the increase of energy producing hormones such as cortisol.
“The two-day carb refeed may have resulted in more glycogen stored in the muscles. That could’ve led to less fatigue and more effort during training.”
Using carbohydrates to refeed is idiotic, as it is toxic and put an enormous stress on the body. Your body will keep glycogen stores full by glyconeogenesis, which is our natural way to produce the exact amount of glycogen we need for any situation. For more on carbohydrates, please read my article here: ‘Carbohydrates are NOT our body’s preferred fuel.’
Then he continues with the third and final bullet point:
“The additional weekend carbs could have caused insulin secretion, which suppresses acute muscle protein breakdown.”
Insulin is secreted because blood glucose is rising and high blood glucose is both damaging to our arteries, our organs, and is ultimately lethal. So, when you consume carbohydrates, your body must do everything it can to dispose of that glucose or you will die. So, yes, muscle protein breakdown is halted as glucose takes priority. There is no need to extract energy from proteins when there is an abundance of toxic glucose. It must be used as energy and stored as body fat or you will die.
That is not a good strategy to avoid muscle breakdown. The same effect is achieved by simply eating more, especially fat and protein. Protein is muscle sparing and stimulate protein synthesis, and animal fats promote hormone production, especially testosterone. And this is also why it’s so superior to eat animal-based at ‘maintenance’ or just above and then fast 2 or 3 days a week to shed fat at lightning speed.
Then Chris concludes that the ‘non-linear’ way of eating with refeeds looks like the better choice. Yeah, again, we’ve done that since bodybuilding became a thing. Get a clue.
He also lists a few points of a “simplified strategy” as in lifting weights when dieting, to never go low-protein, and to use “calorie cycling,” as in refeed days.
Or you could do it a better, more effective, and easier way, as I described in the first article I linked above.
And if you need more help and want to learn everything about the best possible and most healthy approach, I’m available for coaching and consulting. You can read more here: