Having trouble adding muscle mass without adding tons of excess body fat? Try this unique eating strategy.
A few years back, a magazine I used to work for published something called the ABCDE, or Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise, program (hey, I had nothing to do with the name). The premise was fairly simple:
Eat your lungs out for two weeks, devouring anything and everything you could get your hands on – doughnuts, cake batter, small pets, children, anything was fair game. Supposedly, this would elicit a whole host of hormonal cascades that would lead to additional muscle mass. Then, after your two-week hogfest was over, you'd go on a fairly severe diet for another two weeks. Supposedly, this would enable you to jettison some of the lard that you picked up the previous two weeks while retaining some or all of the muscle.
A better name for this diet might have been the Arthur Murray diet:
Two steps forward, one step back.
Two steps forward, one step back.
Cha cha cha.
It had one big drawback, though. It didn't really work. People picked up additional muscle mass, but they also got fatter – way fatter.
Problems with the ABCDE diet
The original article listed dozens of references. You'd think that the gods themselves had been consulted in devising the program. Unfortunately, very few of the studies were applicable to bodybuilders. The cornerstone study3 definitely showed a correlation between high calorie intake (1200-1600 calories over maintenance) in the female test subjects and increased testosterone and IGF-1 levels – along with increases in lean body mass – but no one knows if these results would carry over to men or whether the increases in LBM were muscle or just glycogen and water.
Almost all of the other studies cited in support of the main premise had similar problems. Either they didn't incorporate weight training, or they didn't distinguish between actual muscle mass increases and increases in glycogen and water. Still, much of the "evidence" presented by the original author, at least, made the diet an interesting concept. I think, however, that he made a few mistakes in developing the program.
The developer of the program recommended a calorie intake of eight calories per pound for the two-week dieting phase. This works out to be about 1600 calories for a 200-pound bodybuilder. Unfortunately, a 200-pound bodybuilder has a maintenance level of about anywhere from 2500 calories to about 3000 calories per day. In my opinion, that's way too big of a drop in calories. Once you exceed a 900 to 1000 calories a day deficit, your body goes into a metabolic slowdown, which might very well cause it to put on fat at an alarming rate during the subsequent overload phase.
Likewise, the loading phase required the athlete to determine his daily caloric intake by taking his bodyweight, multiplying it by twelve, and then adding another 1500 calories to the number. For our hypothetical 200-pound bodybuilder, this equals 3900 calories a day, or anywhere from 900 to 1300 surplus calories a day. In my opinion, ingesting this high of a caloric overload for a two-week period would result in putting on way too much fat – so much fat that it would be almost impossible to lose it during the subsequent underfeeding period.
The net result of several two-week underloading and overloading phases would, no doubt, be a more muscular bodybuilder, but the vast majority of that newfound muscle would be obscured by fat.
ABCDE program, the next generation
In coming up with this program, I encountered a lot of the same problems that the originator of the original no doubt had. There were no directly applicable studies, but there were scores of studies that gave tantalizing clues. Likewise, I've experimented with the program myself, as have some of my colleagues, and after making innumerable adjustments, I think that it works.
However, I won't know for sure until I have a large test group. That test group, hopefully, is made up of you, Testosterone readers.
I'll start by giving you the lowdown of the program. Afterwards, I'll give you my rationale.
Instead of two-week underfeeding and overfeeding periods, the revised ABCDE diet – otherwise know as the Delta 1250 program – involves short five-day diet and exercise periods. You'll start with a five-day underfeeding program. Simply take your bodyweight and multiply it by 12-14 calories, depending on whether you have what you consider a slow, moderate, or fast metabolism. For instance, if you have a slow metabolism and you weigh 200 pounds, multiply 200 by twelve to get 2400. That's your maintenance level. Now, during the diet phase, you'll subtract 500 calories from that to get 1900. That's how many calories you're going to ingest daily for the duration of your diet phase. Simple, huh?
Now, after the five-day underfeeding phase is up, you need to start the five-day overfeeding phase. Remember your maintenance level of calories which, in your example case, was 2400 calories? We're going to add 750 calories to that and get 3150 calories. That's how many calories you're going to ingest daily during the five-day bulking phase.
Therefore, if you look at one full, ten-day cycle with its five days of 500-calorie deficits and five days of 750-calorie excesses, you'll have ingested a total of 1250 surplus calories, or a "delta" of 1250.
Sure, that's not a lot of excess calories, but we're trying to put on muscle in a logical, scientific, and realistic way. I estimate, based on real-life experiences, that most bodybuilders should be able to add about 1.5 to 2 pounds of solid muscle a month using this program (for at least two or three consecutive months...hey, no program works forever).
Although the caloric "delta" isn't great enough by itself to explain 1.5 to 2 pounds of additional muscle in a relatively short period, the hormonal changes facilitated by this rapid-fire manipulation of dietary intake might very well be.
Rationale behind the Delta 1250 program
One of the studies alluded to in the original ABCDE program was a real eye-opener. The subjects in this particular study ingested 1200 to 1600 extra calories a day for 21 days, and blood tests showed progressive increases in testosterone and IGF-1.3 Again, this study involved women and not weight lifting, but I feel confident that overfeeding does, indeed, elicit a hormonal environment favorable to muscle growth.
Likewise, periods of overfeeding have a positive effect on nitrogen balance (which indicates protein retention). Furthermore, overfeeding results in loading fluid, glycogen, and amino acids into the muscle cell. And, if you believe in the theory known as cell volumization (Haussinger), this condition itself creates an anabolic environment within the cell.2
This sudden inclusion of a higher-than-normal amount of calories also causes an increased turnover rate of enzymes that play a part in overall growth. In other words, enzymes gear up production so that they become efficient at protein storage. If, however, this hypercaloric intake continues for too long, the body shifts metabolic gears and becomes efficient at disposing proteins.
Overfeeding also seems to have an effect on thyroid hormones.1,4 We've all experienced that feeling of warmth or increased energy expenditure when we have a large meal. Plasma noradrenaline rises. Thermogenesis kicks in. The body accelerates conversion of T4 to T3, causing an increase in metabolism and a subsequent increase in body temperature, thus converting fuel into heat instead of storing it.
Okay, so we've managed to hopefully elevate anabolic hormones like testosterone and IGF-1 by overfeeding. We've also managed to "volumize" cells, thereby creating an anabolic environment. We've created a positive nitrogen balance in general, and we've elevated enzyme levels, in addition to making them more efficient at protein storage. And lastly, we've maximized production of the thyroid hormone T3. If everything's working right, we're busy producing muscle while putting on very little fat.
However, the body soon adjusts to this short period of hypercaloric intake. Enzymes become more efficient at disposing proteins instead of storing them. Endocrine feedback mechanism kicks in so that T levels start to balance out. Insulin levels start to rise so that fat loss is impossible. And the conversion of T4 to the more metabolically active T3 slows until our big meals have little or no thermogenic effect.
In short, we start to put on fat preferentially over muscle, regardless of how much we're exercising.
However, if we switch gears before that happens and cut down on calories, we're able to take advantage of the favorable hormonal conditions. Given that T3 is still high, cutting calories will enable us to burn lots of fat. Our T levels are presumably still high, as are IGF-1 levels, and that will prevent muscle loss when we start to dip below maintenance levels.
But, before all of these favorable hormonal conditions begin to adapt once more to the new calorie intake, we again switch into a hypercalorie phase.
See? Pretty simple. However, by now, you're probably asking about what kind of training you should be doing to take advantage of the alternating caloric cycles. Read on.
Delta 1250 training
There are two training program associated with the Delta 1250 program. One should be used during the five-day diet phase, and one should be used during the five-day overfeeding phase.
The five-day diet workout is based on Charles Poliquin's German Body Comp workout. It's designed to burn fat. Most of us at Testosterone don't believe too much in doing traditional aerobics since they interfere with strength gains, so we rely on the aforementioned Body Comp workout.
The entire program can be capsulized in one sentence:
Keep your rep ranges high and your rest intervals short.
If you ask Charles about it, he'll tell you that there's an inverse relationship between lactate and growth hormone. In other words, if you elevate your lactate levels by doing lots of work in a short amount of time, you'll cause your pituitary gland to spew GH like a lawn sprinkler. This GH will, in turn, cause an overall decrease in fat mass. He cites researchers like Romanian exercise scientist Hala Rambie and American exercise expert William Kramer. Both conducted experiments that showed that a dramatic increase in GH production occurred with sets of ten as opposed to sets of five. Furthermore, rest periods of 30-60 seconds were superior in this regard to longer rest periods.
I'm not entirely sure that the GH elevation is responsible for all of the fat loss but, nevertheless, the program ties in rather nicely with the Delta 1250 program.
In reality, the program is actually somewhat aerobic, only this aerobic program won't burn up any muscle tissue. In fact, most people who undertake it actually put on muscle. Why? Well, just like any new program, it exposes your muscles and nervous system to new stimuli, and hypertrophy is the result. You may not actually gain any weight, but you'll undoubtedly improve your fat to lean body mass ratio.
The program is simple. You can easily devise your own Body Comp programs by keeping a few principles in mind:
- Superset all exercises. For instance, do a set of a lower body exercise and follow it up with an upper body exercise.
- Keep rep ranges, in general, at 8-12 (although you may want to do some sets of 15-20).
- Rest only 30-60 seconds between sets. If your first movement in an upper body/lower body superset is squats, you might want to rest for 60 seconds before attempting your second movement. However, if your first exercise is a fairly "easy" exercise like leg extensions, you might only wait for 30 seconds before doing the second part of the superset.
- Do a different Body Comp workout each day, doing three or four workouts a week.
- Work larger muscle groups, such as quads, back, and chest, earlier in the workout.
- Try to keep a balance between all body parts so that none are neglected.
I've included three such sample workouts at the end of this article. Remember, though, that these aren't the exact workouts which appear in Charles' program. I've modified them. For instance, Charles believes in taking a little more rest after working some of the larger body parts. After doing a set of back squats, he might suggest resting up to 120 seconds. I tried it that way and it didn't work very well for me, so I cut the rest periods in half.
Simply do Workout 1 on the first day of your hypocaloric phase. Do Workout 2 on the second day. Take a day off on the third day. On the fourth day, do Workout 3. Take the fifth day off, and start the hypercaloric phase and the hypercaloric phase training on the sixth day.
Since you're going to be eating a higher amount of calories, you'll need to adjust the training accordingly. We've found that German Volume Training (GVT) fits the bill perfectly. The program is designed to expose motor units to an extensive volume of repeated efforts, and the body adapts to the extraordinary stress through hypertrophy.
Here, in a nutshell, are the rules of GVT training:
- Do ten sets of ten with the same exercise for a certain exercise. You need to start with a weight that you can do 20 reps to failure. In most cases, this represents 60% of your 1RM (one repetition maximum) load.
- Rest intervals should be 60 seconds between exercises.
- Tempo should be about 402 (that's four seconds to lower the weight, a zero-second pause, followed by two seconds to raise the weight).
- You only need to do one exercise per body part. In other words, do ten sets of bench press for ten reps each for chest.
- Once you're able to do ten sets of ten with a given weight, increase the weight by four to five percent.
There are sample workouts at the end of this article, but in essence you'll do the first routine on Day 1 of your hypercaloric phase, the second routine on Day 2, followed by an off day, the third routine on Day 4, followed by an off day. Then, on Day 6, you'll go back to the undercalorie phase and the German Body Comp program.
A synopsis of the whole program
Okay, it's really quite simple. Here, in step-by-step format, is what you need to do:
- Weigh yourself.
- Determine if you have a low, medium, or high metabolism. If you always feel warm and find yourself fidgeting all of the time, chances are that you have a high metabolism. If you gain fat weight easily, and often feel sluggish, then you probably have a low metabolism. And, if you fall somewhere in the middle, alternating between periods of high energy and low energy, you probably have a medium metabolism.
- If your metabolism is low, remember the number 12. If it's medium, remember the number 13. If it's high, remember the number 14.
- Take this number and multiply it by your bodyweight. That's the amount of calories you need to take in each day to maintain your weight.
- Subtract 500 calories from that number.
- For five days, eat a reduced number of calories while doing the German Body Comp program.
- After five days, add 750 calories to your maintenance calorie level.
- For five days, eat an increased number of calories while doing the German Volume Training program.
Here's a simple chart to help you visualize your schedule:
Reduced Calorie Phase
- Day 1: Workout 1 of the German Body Comp program
- Day 2: Workout 2 of the German Body Comp program
- Day 3: No training (a short aerobic session is optional)
- Day 4: Workout 3 of the German Body Comp program
- Day 5: No training (a short aerobic session is optional)
Increased Calorie Phase
- Day 6: Workout 1 of the German Volume Training program
- Day 7: Workout 2 of the German Volume Training program
- Day 8: No training, no aerobics
- Day 9: Workout 3 of the German Volume Training program
- Day 10: No training, no aerobics
Now, begin the cycle over again. Do the program for at least a month before trying to determine its efficacy.
Let me conclude by saying that this is a theoretical program. I've done my best to put together something that I feel makes sense. I've been using it, as have my friends and colleagues, and it's working quite well. However, all of you are, if you'll forgive me, my lab wabbits. If you decide that this is something you want to try, then I'd consider you my bud forever if you'd let me know how it's working for you. Then, I can use the info to further fine-tune the program and share it with other readers. Remember, we're all in this together!
Question and answers concerning the Delta 1250 program
How long should I continue to do the program?
I'd recommend that you do the program four times (40 days). After that, it'll probably lose its efficacy. You can only trick the body so long.
What kinds of foods should I eat during the program?
Try to get some protein, carbs, and fats in every meal. Use the general eating guidelines espoused in this and most other high-tech training and bodybuilding magazines. During the high-calorie phase, you might want to do whatever is necessary to make sure that you get the additional calories. If it means eating some ice cream, don't sweat it. However, whatever you do, make sure that you get at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
How often should I eat during the program?
Make sure that you eat at least six meals a day, regardless of whether you're on the overeating phase or the undereating phase.
What kinds of supplements should I take during the program?
This program can be completed successfully without using any supplements. However, meal replacements such as Metablolic Drive® will make the task a whole lot easier. Furthermore, you might want to use something like Brain Candy® to get you through the German Body Comp workouts (grueling!). You might also want to ingest five to six grams of creatine a day. If you're using something like creatine or any andro products, continue to use them as you would normally.
German Body Comp program
Tempo refers to how fast you should do the movement. The first number means how many seconds you should take to do the eccentric, or lowering, part of the movement. The second number means how long you should pause between the eccentric and the concentric portion of the lift. And the third number, of course, refers to how fast you should lift or raise the weight.
|A1||Lying leg curls||3||15-20||201||45 sec.|
|Pull the toes in toward your body as you raise the weight and extend them away from the body as you lower the weight.|
|A2||Seated cable rows to neck||3||15-20||211||30 sec.|
|B1||Seated leg curls||3||8-10||402||30 sec.|
|B2||Incline dumbbell presses with rotation||3||10-12||301||30 sec.|
|Use 45-degree incline. Start with palms facing each other pronate hands while pressing the dumbbells.|
|C1||Hamstring leg presses||3||15-20||201||45 sec.|
|Place feet high on platform.|
|C2||Seated incline curls||3||8-10||301||30 sec.|
|Use a 45-degree angle and keep wrists cocked back.|
|D1||Dumbbell shrugs||3||10-12||201||30 sec.|
|D2||Swiss ball crunches||3||8-10||202||30 sec.|
|A1||Front split squats||3||10-12||303||30 sec.|
|Keep the front foot elevated (elevate the forward foot 5-8 inches and turn the lead foot slightly outward).|
|A2||Close-parallel grip pulldowns to chest||3||10-12||221||30 sec.|
|B1||Good mornings||3||8-10||402||45 sec.|
|B2||Flat dumbbell presses||3||10-12||221||30 sec.|
|C1||Seated calf raises||3||15-20||101||30 sec.|
|C2||California skull crushers||3||10-12||201||30 sec.|
|D1||Upright rows||3||10-12||201||30 sec.|
|D2||Leg lifts off a bench||3||8-10||201||30 sec.|
|A1||Back squats||3||15-20||201||60 sec.|
|A2||Bent-over rows||3||10-12||212||60 sec.|
|Pull the barbell to the sternum and pause briefly. Keep a slight curve in the back.|
|B1||Straight-leg deadlifts||3||10-12||501||30 sec.|
|Despite the name, keep a slight bend in the knees.|
|B2||Wide-grip sternum lat pulldowns||3||10-12||321||30 sec.|
|C1||Dumbbell lunges||3||10-12||20X||45 sec.|
|Turn the foot slightly out and push off explosively.|
|C2||Standing close-grip barbell curls||3||10-12||401||30 sec.|
|D1||Decline dumbbell triceps extensions||3||10-12||201||30 sec.|
|D2||Leg lifts off a bench or Swiss ball||3||8-10||201||30 sec.|
German Volume Training program
Do one set of A1. Then, rest for 90 seconds before doing a set of A2. Rest for 90 seconds before doing the second set of A1. Continue in this manner until you've done all twenty sets. The "B" exercises represent supplementary work. If you were to do ten sets of ten for each of them, they'd have to wheel you away.
Day 1 – Legs and abs
|A1||Back squats||10||10||402||90 sec.|
|A2||Lying leg curls||10||10||402||90 sec.|
|B1||Incline sit-ups||3||15-20||202||60 sec.|
|B2||Seated calf raises||3||8-10||202||60 sec.|
Day 2 – Arms and shoulders
|A1||Parallel bar dips||10||10||402||90 sec.|
|A2||Incline curls||10||10||402||90 sec.|
|B1||Bent-over dumbbell lateral raises||3||10-12||20X||60 sec.|
|B2||Seated dumbbell lateral raises||3||10-12||20X||60 sec.|
Day 3 – Off
Day 4 – Chest and back
|A1||Decline dumbbell presses||10||10||402||90 sec.|
|Keep the palms facing each other.|
|Keep the palms facing away from you.|
|B1||Incline dumbbell flyes||3||10-12||302||60 sec.|
|B2||One-arm dumbbell rows||3||10-12||302||60 sec.|
Day 5 – Off
A Slacker's Guide to Determining Caloric Intake
Okay, I'll admit that it may be a pain to figure out how many calories are in each crumb that crosses your lips. Therefore, I'm going to offer an alternative way to manipulate your calorie intake without counting calories. It might not be as effective as the other, "weigh your food and calculate its calorie content" method, but it'll at least get some of you more lazy types involved in the program.
I'm willing to bet that the majority of you are pretty much in caloric stasis; that is, your weight may fluctuate a little over the course of a week or two, but it otherwise stays pretty much the same. With that in mind, and without doing any math, we're going to assume that what you're currently eating is what it takes to maintain your current weight. Your basal metabolic rate is being fulfilled by what you eat each day.
Fine. However, to do this program, you need to alternate between periods of high-calorie intake and low-calorie intake. How in the wide, wide, world of thighs do you do that? On the hyper caloric days, eat what you normally do over the course of six meals, but in addition, ingest a high-calorie protein drink consisting of the following:
- 1 serving Metabloic Drive® Protein
- 16 ounces skim milk
- 1 tablespoon flax-seed oil
- 1 handful chopped fruit
This single drink will add roughly 700 calories to your daily intake.
Now, on the hypocaloric or low-calorie days, eat what you normally do, but simply skip one entire meal. Instead of eating six times a day, you're going to eat five times a day – and don't try to add extra portions to your other meals to make up for the difference, because I'll be watching you, you pudknocker.
- Danforth, et al, Dietary Induced Alterations in Thyroid Hormone Metabolism During Overnutrition, Journal of Clin. Invest, Volume 64, November 1979, 1336-1347.
- Finn, et al, Progressive Cellular Dehydration and Proteolysis in Critically Ill Patients, The Lancet, Volume 347, March 9, 1996.
- Forbes, et al, Hormonal Response to Overfeeding, Am J Clin Nutr, 1989:49:608-11.
- Gelfand, et al, Effect of Nutrient Composition on the Metabolic Response to Very Low Calorie Diets: Learning More and More About Less and Less, Diabetes, Metabolism Review, Volume 5, No. 1, 17-30 (1989).