The anabolic diet was invented in the 1980s by a Canadian sports scientist, medical doctor, and strength athlete Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale. The anabolic diet was the Low Carb Diet, published by Robert Atkins in the 1970s, now known as the Atkins Diet.
Why Anabolic Diet?
The anabolic (anabolic = “building up”) diet promises muscle building with simultaneous fat loss. It pursues the goal of maintaining or increasing the muscle cross-section and at the same time massively burning the stored fat from the body depots. For this reason, it is particularly popular with bodybuilders and fitness athletes.
How the Anabolic Diet Works
The food intake in the anabolic diet consists mainly of proteins and fats. The carbohydrate intake is reduced to such an extent that the body is forced to obtain its energy from its fat reserves and supplied fats instead of using the carbohydrates as an energy supplier. Since the simple sugars in the carbohydrates can be broken down more quickly than fats, food cravings can occur initially, as the body craves carbohydrates as a quick source of energy.
However, the amount of carbohydrates consumed daily should not exceed 20-30 grams per day to ensure the anabolic diet’s effectiveness.
If you do without carbohydrates, the resulting carbohydrate deficiency is accompanied by emptying the energy stores in the liver and muscle cells. As a rule, the carbohydrate stores in an adult’s muscles are limited to 250 to 400 grams (depending on individual muscle mass) and 100 to 150 grams in the liver.
As soon as the carbohydrate stores are exhausted, the body has to get its fat stores’ energy. This can initially lead to a feeling of tiredness. The body first has to adjust to burning fat reserves instead of carbohydrates.
The easiest way to visualize this is to see carbohydrates as flammable paper, while fats can be seen as firewood. Less energy is required to “fire up” paper than ignite a wood piece. It is similar to the burning of carbohydrates, whereby a “flame flame” is created and a large amount of energy is briefly released. The pieces of wood, i.e., the fats, on the other hand, burn slowly and thus continuously release energy.
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After an acclimatization phase of 3-6 days, the body reacts to the changed eating behavior. This goes hand in hand with a change in the provision of energy. The metabolism is put into a permanent fat burning process – the so-called ketosis. The lack of carbohydrates should be compensated for with the increased intake of proteins and fats. This provides the body with the energy it needs to maintain vital body functions and muscle work.
The absorption of fats plays an important role here to signal to the body that it is permanently supplied with sufficient external sources of fat. Only then is he willing to “give up” his fat deposits and burn them? At the same time, high protein consumption is essential,
The fat intake should be around 60%, the protein intake around 35%, and the carbohydrate intake only a maximum of 5% of the amount of energy consumed daily.
Examples of foods with a high fat and protein content as well as a low carbohydrate density are:
beef, pork, fish, mortadella, chicken and turkey breast fillet, corned beef, avocado, Brazil nuts, flaxseed, eggs, cream cheese, almonds, Edam, Gouda, Mozzarella, tofu, pistachios, chanterelles, mushrooms, peanuts, and pine nuts.
The following foods have a generally low calorie and carbohydrate density:
- lamb’s lettuce, lettuce, celery, spinach, eggplant, cucumber, sauerkraut, zucchini, radish, onion, spring onion, asparagus, tomato, raspberry, rhubarb, blackberry, papaya, lime, lemon, and Watermelon.
- This type of nutrition is followed on the anabolic diet for 5-6 days.
- This creates several biological advantages in metabolism, which we will discuss in more detail later.
In the second part of the diet, you change the distribution of nutrients in the food you eat daily to add a lot of carbohydrates to the body (“refeed” phase). This drastic increase in carbohydrate intake triggers an increased release of insulin in the body, and the muscles are supplied with plenty of nutrients.
This causes increased muscle cell volume and promotes the growth processes of the muscles. This metabolic process represents a high-stress load for the body, adjusted to a low carbohydrate intake. It reacts to this with increased growth hormones, which favors an increase in lean body tissue.
This high-carbohydrate diet is only followed for 1 to 2 days to prevent excessive insulin release and the associated fat storage in body tissue. The carbohydrate intake is increased to 45-60%, while the protein intake should be 10-15%, and the fat intake 30-40% of the total daily amount of energy.
Then you switch back to the first part of the diet phase for the next 5-6 days. This change is repeated in the same rhythm. The hormone level is increased in both nutritional phases of the diet, and the metabolism is stimulated. How many days you adhere to the individual diet phases is, of course, up to you.
Care should be taken to find the optimal solution for you, as not every metabolism reacts equally quickly; everyone has different basic requirements and is in a different everyday situation.
However, it is strongly recommended not to follow the carbohydrate-rich diet for more than two days at a time. Short-chain carbohydrates in sweets, sweet drinks, table sugar or white bread should also be avoided. Long-chain carbohydrates, such as those found in rice, potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, and oatmeal, on the other hand, are recommended because they do not cause the insulin level to rise so much. This, in turn, keeps the blood sugar level stable and, at the same time, supplies the body with valuable nutrients.
Benefits of the Anabolic Diet
In addition to the constant burning of fat, the anabolic diet has other advantages than other diets.
Release of Anabolic (anabolic) Hormones
Due to the substantial reduction in carbohydrates and the associated emptying of the carbohydrate stores, the glycogen stores in muscles and the liver are exhausted. As a result, blood sugar levels drop, and catabolic the pancreas produces (degrading) hormones.
Initially, fats and muscle proteins are burned as energy. However, when the body gets used to the low-carbohydrate diet, growth hormones are produced in response to the catabolic hormones, inhibiting muscle breakdown. Because the body (and especially the brain) is dependent on glucose, the growth hormones ensure that the body’s own fats are broken down into glucose (simple sugars) in the liver – this promotes metabolic activity and fat breakdown.
This stabilizes the blood sugar level and stimulates the body’s insulin production. The insulin, in turn, stimulates protein synthesis in the muscles.
The carbohydrate stores are replenished in the following phase. Many carbohydrates stimulate insulin release, but without forming endogenous fat, because after a short time, you switch back to the first phase of the diet, and the carbohydrate intake is significantly reduced.
With the body’s transition to the state of fat burning, the growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin levels of the body are increased and stabilized if there is sufficient fat intake. The organism uses the body’s own and supplied fat directly as an energy supplier, instead of breaking down its muscle tissue to provide energy.
By inhibiting the catabolic metabolic processes, the body’s own muscle tissue’s metabolism is mostly prevented. The increased protein consumption ensures a constant supply of protein.
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Increase the Carbohydrate Stores in the Muscles
By not getting enough carbohydrates in the first phase of the diet, one signals to the body that it has only a few carbohydrates available. He can still maintain vital metabolic processes of his organism and a supply of nutrients to his brain and to ensure his internal organs and his musculoskeletal system; he breaks down fat into glucose to provide energy.
When the second phase of the diet then comes and you have huge amounts of carbohydrates available, the body tries to store as much of it in the muscles as possible to be “prepared” for another period of low carbohydrates. This can increase the glycogen storage in the muscles to over 500 grams, which improves endurance performance.
Stabilization of Blood Sugar Levels
Because short-chain carbohydrates (in the form of sugar) are avoided in the anabolic diet, there is no sharp rise in blood sugar levels even after eating. Most people are familiar with the feeling of tiredness after a large meal. This is accompanied by a rapid rise in blood sugar levels due to high carbohydrate intake. Consequently, the body releases insulin to mobilize the broken down sugar molecules in the carbohydrates and transport them to the cells of the muscles and liver. After that, the blood sugar level drops rapidly again, and you get tired. On the other hand, with the anabolic diet, the body has the opportunity to keep its blood sugar level evenly at an appropriate level. It, therefore, remains constant.
Potential Disadvantages of the Anabolic Diet
The anabolic diet is only recommended for healthy people, as people with diabetes or people with other metabolic diseases may be unable to follow the recommended diet.
Due to the more complex breakdown of fats instead of carbohydrates, increased tiredness and sluggishness can occur, especially in the initial phase.
The increased intake of fats can be associated with digestive problems, as the supplied nutrient density is very high. However, this is usually classified as harmless and typically subsides with ketosis onset (burning of fats for energy production).
Urea is the end product of protein metabolism. This can no longer be used by the human organism and is excreted via the kidneys. Due to an increased intake of protein, the kidneys also have to perform better. If the kidney function is damaged, protein should be consumed with caution to counteract the kidneys’ constant overloading.
The feeling of hunger and the increased hormone level can lead to a bad mood in some people. The anabolic diet requires a high level of discipline and perseverance. Mood swings due to carbohydrate withdrawal can occur, especially at the beginning of the diet or after the “refeed” phase.
One should be aware that mistakes (i.e., increased carbohydrate intake during the first phase) are punished immediately. This results in an increased insulin level, which greatly promotes fat build-up in conjunction with high fat and protein consumption.
The anabolic diet is especially suitable for people who have a relatively slow metabolism. The alternation of the low-carbohydrate and high-carbohydrate phases primarily stimulates the metabolism. Simultaneously, the blood sugar level remains constant, while the lean muscle tissue is mostly preserved, and fat loss can be recorded.
Secondly, the various phases bring variety to the diet and do not make it appear monotonous in the long run. Here, new motivation can be “refueled” in the “refeed” phase.
Give the body a few weeks to get used to it to see how it reacts. The first week tends to be the most challenging phase; once you have survived it, nothing stands in the way of successful dieting.