For the last few years, I have experimented with almost any diet you can think of. From paleo to intermittent fasting, I’ve tried them all. Below are my findings and suggestions. The way I view things, there are only three goals I can have when dieting: gaining muscle mass, maintaining body composition, and losing fat.
From my experience, you cannot gain muscle mass while cutting, but you can maintain muscle mass while cutting and stay at a stable level of fat while packing on mass. Please keep that in mind when reviewing these diets. If you’re training properly, all of these diets should have a place in your arsenal at some point.
The Slow Carb Diet
Popularized by Tim Ferriss, this diet is extremely simple. Each meal should consist of one protein source, one or more servings of vegetables, and a serving of legumes. The idea is to limit your intake of carbohydrates to sources with a low glycemic index (beans) in order to keep insulin levels stable throughout the day.
This diet is one of my favorites for maintenance and clean bulking because of its east. You can hit up any Chipotle or mexican joint and get a massive meal for ~$8 that aligns with your macros. It can also be used for cutting by slowly tapering off the servings of legumes per day.
With lean protein and fiber from the vegetables and legumes, your hunger is often kept in check. The foods you eat while on Slow Carb can also be really affordable and convenient. Head to the store and stock up on black beans, eggs, refried beans, spinach, and ground beef and you’re pretty much set for the week.
This diet also calls for a cheat day once a week where you can go crazy, pounding beers and eating donuts until you puke.
Good for: people just starting to diet, maintenance, bulking, fat loss (if you’re > 15% BF)
Bad for: losing the last few pounds of fat
CarbNite or Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
CarbNite (Cyclical Ketogenic) Diet is a diet that revolves around ultra-low levels of carbohydrates (<50 grams) on a daily basis with a cheat night incorporated once per week. By eliminating carbs from your diet, your body transitions from burning glucose as fuel to ketones. Ketones are produced by breaking down fat from food sources and your fat stores on your body.
This diet works wonders due to the fact that your body literally turns into a fat burning machine. Low carb diets are easily the best for cutting weight while sparing muscle; they’re what bodybuilders use to get in peak shape weeks before shows.
On this diet, you completely cut out any direct carbohydrate sources and focus largely on eating tons of fat with protein around 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight. Then, one night per week (preferably after a workout), you go hard as a mofo on sweets, potatoes, tortillas, you name it, all to reset your metabolism and catalyze muscle growth.
This diet will get you shredded in 8-10 weeks IF you follow it to a tee. Unlike the Slow Carb diet though, if you happen to cheat on this diet even in the slightest, your progress will be stalled fairly substantially.
Good for: rapid fat loss
Bad for: bulking
Carb Back Loading
Carb back loading is the perfect diet to follow after a cycle on CarbNite. Carb backloading is essentially the CarbNite diet, but way more fun. Instead of limiting yourself to one cheat night per week, you now can go crazy each night after an intense workout. The idea is that, with your improved insulin sensitivity, your body is in better shape to convert these excess calories into producing muscle, not storing fat.
On days you don’t hit the gym and in the mornings, you follow an ultra-low carb diet, similar to CarbNite. Though you may be tempted to eat entire pizzas or boxes of cookies at first, you’ll come to realize that the best postworkout meals are easily digestible carbs (rice, bread, potatoes, etc) with lean protein sources. Still, have a little fun with it at first though.
Good for: bulking
Bad for: cutting
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
While IF isn’t a diet in itself, it has garnered a significant amount of attention in recent years within the fitness community. IF lacks scientific results to back up any direct benefits however, there are significant conveniences it affords.
By definition, IF is a process in which you limit the time you eat each day into a window of anywhere from 8-4 hours. For instance, if you were doing a 16 hour IF, you likely only be able to eat from 2p - 10p. There would be absolutely no snacking before or after that window.
For me, IF was the single best way to measure my calorie intake and ensure I didn’t overeat. IF is also one of the most convenient ways for me to eat. Each day I would eat a massive lunch and dinner with small snacks and almost a gallon of water between them. Additionally, I felt extremely focused during my fasting state, as my insulin levels were steady and low.
Good for: everything
The above diets and techniques are what I have used to get into the best shape of my life over the last 3 years. Any combination of these will help you lose fat and gain muscle, if applied properly.
My advice for beginners: Slow Carb (4 weeks normal, 4 weeks IF) > CarbNite w/ IF (if cutting) or Carb BL (if bulking) (8 weeks) > The opposite of the previous (8 weeks)
My next post will detail the best lifting techniques coupled with each of these diets.