Anabolic Diet Basics: Build Muscle and Lose Fat

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on May 12, 2016Written by Alexandra Caspero on May 12, 2016
anabolic diet

A diet that promises to turn your body into a fat-burning machine may sound like the perfect plan, but are the claims too good to be true? The anabolic diet, created by Dr. Mauro DiPasquale, guarantees just that.

The anabolic diet is a low-carbohydrate diet based on alternating low-carb and high-carb days. As a physician and competitive power lifter, Dr. DiPasquale developed the anabolic diet for those wanting to gain as much muscle mass as possible while keeping body fat stores very low. He named his plan the anabolic diet because he believed that carbohydrate cycling could mimic the effects of anabolic steroids.

How does the anabolic diet work?

According to Dr. DiPasquale, alternating carbohydrate intake allows you to burn more fat as fuel. This allows you to preserve as much muscle mass as possible.

In a typical diet, all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat, are used. For athletes, weightlifters, and bodybuilders, this natural process causes concern when they want to lose weight yet preserve muscle gains. The benefit of the anabolic diet is that it’s not calorie restrictive.

The body needs calories to maintain muscle mass, so any decrease in caloric intake could cause a loss of lean body tissue. Instead, the plan promises to alter metabolism to favor fat, allowing you to eat a normal amount of calories while still seeing a reduction in body fat percentage.

The plan

The anabolic diet is delivered in phases. Each one is designed for either maintenance, gain, or weight loss goals.

The maintenance/induction phase is suggested for weeks one to four with caloric intake levels of 18 times your body weight in pounds. It’s designed to allow your body to become accustomed to the low-carb intake at the beginning of the diet and is used as a maintenance level throughout.

The bulk phase then follows the induction phase, with the primary goal of achieving a desired bulk weight. There isn’t a set length of time for this phase, as followers are encouraged to stay on until the weight gain is achieved. To determine your ideal bulk weight, Dr. DiPasquale suggests using your ideal body weight in pounds, then adding 15 percent. As the cutting phase follows the bulk phase, going above your ideal body weight is thought to make subsequent fat loss easier.

Lastly, the cutting phase is essentially a low-carb weight loss plan, with recommendations to cut 500 to 1,000 calories from the maintenance phase. This phase should be run until you achieve a desired body fat percentage, preferably less than 10 percent.

While each of the phases has different caloric intake levels based on goals, the macronutrient proportions are relatively unchanged.

The anabolic diet is based on nutrient cycling: low-carb during the week and high-carb on the weekends. Alternating low and high carbohydrate days prevents the body from returning to burning mainly carbs for fuel. The higher carbohydrate days also allow the body to replenish fuel lost during vigorous exercise.

Weekday/weekend phase

For the weekday phase, the focus should be on limiting carbohydrate intake to no more than 30 grams per day with caloric intake coming primarily from fat and protein. Ideally, the breakdown should be 60 to 65 percent fat, 30 to 35 percent protein, and 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates.

After five days of low-carb intake, the weekend phase is designed to replenish carbohydrate stores in the body. Of weekend calories, 60 to 80 percent should come from carbohydrates, with 10 to 20 percent from fat and 10 to 20 percent from protein.

Risks of the anabolic diet

The anabolic diet should only be followed for a set period of time. It might work for a bodybuilder or weightlifter preparing for a competition.

While the diet may increase lean body tissue while decreasing body fat stores, it doesn’t mean the diet is healthy. The primary drawback to the anabolic diet is the lack of fiber and micronutrients, primarily from minimal vegetable, fruit, and legume intake. While the weekend phase does allow for high carbohydrate intake, few vegetables, no legumes, and zero fruits are recommended for the weekday phase.

This imbalance will result in a decreased intake of antioxidants, essential for combating oxidative stress created by exercise. Because the diet also lacks fiber, it can lead to an overgrowth of unhealthy gut bacteria and chronic constipation.

According to some animal studies, insulin doesn’t work as well on high-fat, ketogenic diets like this one. In order to metabolize carbohydrates, even the small amounts in the weekday phase, you need insulin. Chronic high-fat diets can lead to insulin resistance, which can increase risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

With the recommended 60 to 65 percent calorie from fat intake, even a moderate amount of time spent on the anabolic diet could lead to insufficient insulin function. As the amount of fat intake is decreased, insulin function will return to its normal state.

How much fat do you need on the anabolic diet?

Dietary fat, especially a high intake of saturated fat, is known to positively regulate testosterone and androgen production. The extent of these changes is fairly small, but Dr. DiPasquale is firm on his stance that saturated fats are essential for optimal hormone production.

On weekdays, he suggests a high intake of:

  • fatty cuts of red meat
  • whole eggs
  • full-fat diary products like cheese, cream, and butter
  • oils
  • nuts
  • nut spreads

Compared to mono- and polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This increases cardiovascular risk.

Sample weekday meal plan

eggs, chicken breast, peanut butter, sausage, and cheese

Calories: 2300

Fats: 60-65 percent

Protein: 30-35 percent

Carbohydrates: 5-10 percent

Meal 1: breakfast

3 whole eggs

1 oz. cheddar cheese

1 tbsp. oil

2 turkey sausage links

Whisk together the eggs and cheese. Cook in 1 tablespoon of oil and serve with 2 cooked turkey sausage links.

nutrition information: 511 calories/43.5 g fat/28.7 g protein/1.4 g carbs

Meal 2: snack

6 oz. 1 percent cottage cheese

1 tbsp. almond butter

1 tbsp. flaxmeal

1 tbsp. oil

Serve cottage cheese with almond butter, flax meal, and oil mixed in.

nutrition information: 410 calories/28.4 g fat/28.3 g protein/11.5 g carbs

Meal 3: lunch

4 oz. cooked chicken breast

1 hard-boiled egg

2 cups romaine lettuce

2 tbsp. oil

1 tbsp. vinegar

Serve cooked chicken breast and egg on top of romaine lettuce. Toss with oil and vinegar.

nutrition information: 508 calories/35.8 g fat/42.5 g protein/3.8 g carbs

Meal 4: snack

4 oz. ground beef

1 oz. cheddar cheese

2 tbsp. peanut butter

Cook the ground beef with cheddar cheese. Serve with peanut butter as a side.

nutrition information: 513 calories/32.6 g fat/49.5 g protein/6.7 g carbs

Meal 5: dinner

4 oz. cooked chicken breast

2 cups romaine lettuce

1 tbsp. flax meal

1 tbsp. oil

1/2 tbsp. vinegar

Whisk together the flax meal, oil, and vinegar. Toss with romaine lettuce and serve with chicken breast.

nutrition information: 352 calories/20.4 g fat/38.5 g protein/5.4 g carbs

Next steps

While the anabolic diet is beneficial for those seeking maximum fitness gains, it’s not recommended for competitive athletes with higher carbohydrate needs. It’s also not ideal for individuals looking solely for weight loss.

As the program is highly restrictive and limited in nutrients, it should only be used for a short period of time in order to reach a specific goal. For general weight loss, nutrient-dense diets combined with exercise are a more sustainable, healthier option.

CMS Id: 103668