It’s time to return to T-Nation and their diet-obsessed ‘Chief Content Officer’ Chris Shugart. After making a mess of several studies on protein, he how turned his eyes to a ridiculous “10-day diet” for ‘weight-lifting women.’
The article opens with a summary of the study and why it might not be a great idea, which he for once is correct about.
“Want to lose 3 pounds of fat in only ten days? There’s a diet and training plan for that. It’s even science-based.
But what if that same plan caused you to lose some muscle while impairing your thyroid function and metabolism? Still worth it? Probably not. Muscle loss paired with fat loss, accompanied by a drop-kick to the metabolism, usually leads to a smaller but flabbier body. And you’ll regain the fat anyway.”
Exactly, and this is the problem with ALL restrictive diets, although the negative effects can be mitigated to a small degree with “refeeding days” or “cheat days” as they call it in the bodybuilding- and fitness industry.
While “experts” and “coaches” believe this downregulation of hormones, especially thyroid hormone, to be an effect of a lowered energy intake, it’s actually the result of not getting enough essential nutrients from the limited food intake, as in animal fats, minerals, vitamins, and sometimes protein. Your body is fully capable of using stored fat as energy if it gets all the nutrients it needs to keep all bodily processes running at peak efficiency, and these processes need a lot of saturated fats, cholesterol, minerals, vitamins and amino acids, as in protein. If anything is lacking, the processes that are in need of that nutrient for that chemical reaction will be hampered, slowed down, or even shut down in worst cases (as when experiencing extreme starvation.)
And this is the reason why I no longer recommend any kind of restrictive diet for losing body fat, but instead rely on eating highly nutritious food to keep your organs and tissues saturated with nutrients and then use short bursts of fasting to “burn” the fat and let the body rest and heal. Remember, fasting is protective as hormones upregulate during the first couple of days. And not only do you use a lot of body fat to fuel your body during a fast, your body also recycle damaged and unhealthy cells, making everything work better. It’s a win-win. I covered this in several articles, so let’s continue on to this “study.”
The 10-Day Study
“Researchers recruited 30 weight-lifting women with a body fat percentage of 24% and divided them into two groups:
Group 1 – Optimal Calories
Based on the energy availability formula, this group consumed 2400 calories per day (50 kcals/kg FFM). This means they ate enough to maintain body weight and fuel their workouts. Their daily macro breakdown looked something like this:
Protein: 100 grams
Carbs: 310 grams
Fat: 80 grams
Group 2 – Low Calories
This group consumed 1350 calories per day (25 kcals/kg FFM) – a big 45% caloric deficit. Their daily macro breakdown looked like this:
Protein: 100 grams
Carbs: 145 grams
Fat: 40 grams
Both groups were supplied with food and put on a supervised weight training program: two upper and two lower-body days. They also did cardio on two of those days: one day of intense intervals and one easier, longer session. They took one off-day per 5-day cycle and went through the whole shebang twice.
The women underwent a lot of blood tests, DEXA scans, tests of resting metabolic rate, and muscle protein synthesis testing”
Imagine that, finding 30 weight-lifting women, and all of them with identical 24% of body fat. Not very likely, but not that important either. What is important is to understand what is actually going on here.
First off, group 1 should simply had been called “sufficient nutrients” and group 2 “restricted nutrients,” as in deficient – because that what it really is.
Now, both groups were fed carbohydrates, which is contraindicated to the human species-appropriate diet, still, the 80 grams of fat in group 1 should be sufficient for a woman for a short period of time, at least if some of it was of animal origin. However, a measly 40 grams as seen in group 2 really spells disaster, especially if some of it was from plant-based oils like olive oil and avocado (both extremely toxic and useless, but still popular among clueless dieticians and fitness people.)
Keep in mind that the only source of bioavailable nutrients for humans are found in the animal kingdom, as in meat, organ meats, and the produce of animals such as eggs. As for meat, the fattier the more nutrient-dense. And considering that most of mankind has been dumbed-down and conditioned into using plant-based foods and oils, the restricted diet of group 2 was without a doubt extremely low on essential nutrients. It was the equivalent of starvation.
The results after ten days
“Group 1 – Optimal Calories
Muscle Protein Synthesis: Increased. This indicates trending muscle gains.
Body Composition: Muscle mass increased by about 1 pound. Body fat decreased by just over 1 pound.
Resting Metabolic Rate: Slightly boosted (by 14 calories).
Thyroid Hormone: No change.”
Yep, group 1 got sufficient nutrients to sustain the workload they were put under, at least for the 10 days this “study” lasted.
“Group 2 – Low Calories
Muscle Protein Synthesis: Decreased. This indicates trending muscle loss.
Body Composition: Muscle mass decreased by about 1 pound. Body fat decreased by 3 pounds.
Resting Metabolic Rate: Impaired (by 65 calories).
Thyroid Hormone: Significantly decreased.”
Shugart somewhat correctly commented this with, “Remember, all of this happened in just ten days. Extend this plan over a few months and the low-calorie group would be in a world of metabolic trouble. The optimal calorie group, however, would be hotter.”
Again, it has nothing to do with imaginary “calories,” it has everything to do with bioavailable nutrients. Group 1 consumed just enough to sustain and achieve some minor changes, which is usually the case for most people who are into weight-lifting as they actually tend to eat some meat, the occasional egg and use protein powders that actually are a kind of ‘dried milk’ and quite rich in some key-minerals.
However, as their diets are, in general, extremely shitty, once they restrict them to lose body fat, they no longer get enough nutrients, and they develop nutrient deficiencies, or more likely, they aggravate the deficiencies they already have; and that is why group 2 crashed and burned after only a measly 10 days!
Heck, being animal-based, I can easily fast for 21 days or longer without any negative effects – and that is because all my tissues are saturated with nutrients that will last me a long while.
As you probably know, I worked more than 20 years within that industry and I was often contacted by women who had been on diets very similar to these put in their hands by clueless coaches. These ‘competition diets,’ extremely low in nutrients, especially animal fats, literally destroyed their metabolism and hormone profile. Within weeks after their competition, if they even made it that far (many had given up during their contest preparation as their bodies stopped to respond,) they ballooned up with water retention and fat gain, looking way worse than they did before they even began the diet. Also, as they tried on their own to lose some of the weight, it only got worse. It could take months, up to a half a year or even longer, to get them back on track and for them to be healthy again. So, following idiotic diets like these for months is no joke. It’s similar to veganism as it wreaks havoc upon the body, and sometime that damage is irreversible.
With that said, Shugart flipped the coin and asked if this could be improved.
Can This Plan Be Improved?
“A 10-day diet is appealing. Could we fix the problems and make it work? Well, if you’re determined to try it, here’s what T Nation contributor Bill Campbell, PhD., recommends:
Keep the strict 45% caloric deficit and training program.
Make it a 9-day diet. Diet for 4 days, then return to maintenance calories on the 5th day (a refeed, not a cheat day). Then, diet again for 4 days. Dr. Campbell says this will prevent muscle loss. This is basically like the plan outlined in my Non-Linear Diet for Lifters article.
Increase protein intake to 1 gram per pound of body weight. Reduce fats and carbs to make room for it. I recommend MD Protein because it contains micellar casein, which stimulates metabolic rate while being anticatabolic.”
Well, this is similar to what I did in the past, during the 90’s and early 2000’s and even when I started to experiment with fasting around 2006.
However, never reduce fats to make room for protein! Animal fats are crucial. Instead remove carbohydrates. Actually, you should not consume carbohydrates to begin with, as they are totally unnecessary and toxic.
Now, going back in time, when I started coaching, my clients had 2 days a week of full healthy eating, or a refeed day every 4 to 5 days, focusing on meat and animal fats, as my diets were ‘ketogenic’ in nature. Only the bigger bodybuilders had a few days with carbs before and during their workouts – usually on days when training prioritized muscle groups to get a ‘insulin boost’ and maximize protein synthesis.
Then, around 2006 and forward, I introduced one day of fasting with two days of “refeed” and the remaining 4 days were restricted ‘diet’ days. In some cases, we had two days of fasting, and kept a rotational schedule stretched over 8 days or more.
While that worked really well, it’s a lot to keep track of and quite cumbersome to follow. A better approach is to eat just above ‘maintenance,’ focusing solely on nutrient-dense animal foods, and then either fast two days a week, or have four to five days with very restrictive eating, focusing on protein and some animal fats, preferable some egg yolks for hormonal support.
Remember, if you go with a traditional restrictive approach, as in eating less several days a week, then there is absolutely no room for any kind of plant-based food, as they are totally void of bioavailable nutrients and also full of toxins which will stress your body.
And, of course, Shugart and Campbell had to plug their protein powder as usual. No need for that if you consume real food, as in our species-specific, species-appropriate way of eating, which means a lot of meat (and thus fully bioavailable protein.)
Now, as a note to women, you need to understand that you are more sensitive to starvation than men are, as you are constructed for bringing new life into this world — while men are made to be providers and thus can take more abuse, sacrificing their well-being for the survival of the tribe. That is simple biology.
That is why it’s so common with women failing traditional restricted diets, and why many women develop hormonal problems after doing intermittent fasting or a stupid OMAD (one-meal-a-day) for extended periods of time.
If you as a woman want to lose body fat, you need to make sure that you are fully nourished, that you eat at least 2 to 3 meals a day, and then you can use fasting, which is protective, to lose body fat – or, if you prefer, have 4 or 5 very restrictive days of eating a week. The key is to regularly feed your body with high-quality animal foods, especially animal fats! This is crucial, or you will eventually fail and end up with a shut-down thyroid and your hormones totally out of whack.