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Chaos and Pain

  /  tips   /  Thankskilling Throwback Thursday: Permabulking With The ABCDE Diet

Thankskilling Throwback Thursday: Permabulking With The ABCDE Diet

With all of the talk online of “making good food choices” and other assorted anti-gainz nonsense, allow me to remind you of one thing- there is no way you’re going to get hyooge without eating like you were just released from a concentration camp every once in a while.  All of the best lifters, bodybuilders, and wrestlers were notorious for their insane eating habits, and it’s for good reason- you’ve gotta eat big if you want to get big.  With that in mind, give this throwback article a read about how binging when dieting can seriously work to your advantage.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I was a bit of a fan of a guy of whom you’ve likely never heard, Torbjorn Akerfeldt. Akerfeldt is a former bodybuilder and doctor who pioneered a pretty innovative diet in the 1990s called the ABCDE diet, which Bill Phillips jocked like it was the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why? Because based on Akerfeldt’s theories, you can diet hard for two weeks, then blow your diet completely for two weeks, and still get bigger and lose fat.

Did this douche actually get something right?

For obvious reasons, this diet’s been hit with a massive amount of scrutiny, and no longer really gets any press. The science behind it, however, is compelling, and I’m of the opinion that it can be incorporated into one’s diet, however sparingly. How sparingly? I’m of the opinion that if you diet your ass off for a couple of months, this might just be the way to get your body anabolic again, throw on some muscle in a hurry, and get your head right after weeks of deprivation.

Ideally, you end up as lean as Andreas Munzer, though hopefully less dead.

How it works:

This diet’s about as simple as they come- overeat for 2 weeks, then undereat for two weeks, then repeat ad nauseum. According to Akerfeldt, you should end up with a net lean muscle gain and overall fat loss, no matter how crappy your diet during the two weeks. Protein intake is not an issue on this diet, as the only thing you’re tracking on this diet is caloric intake- you want 1000 surplus calories during the overfeeding period and a caloric deficit of the same in the underfeeding period, with no restrictions or recommendations on macronutrients.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Lyle McDonald is at least a mild fan of this diet, as it seems to have similar aims to McDonald’s Guide To Flexible Dieting- i.e. manipulation of thyroid, testosterone, and leptin. A word to the wise, however- I’ve linked the studies associate with this diet, and I’ve yet to read a writeup on the web that’s got the details recounted faithfully, accurately, or in some cases, even remotely correctly. Science seems to support it as well, as one study shows that a 3 week period of overfeeding in a bunch of chicks resulted in an average weight gain of 9.5 lbs, of which about 4 was lean mass. All of the subjects experienced increased testosterone, IGF-1, and insulin, which meant that they were highly anabolic. Unfortunately, they also gained 5 lbs of fat in three weeks. I highly doubt they were particularly psyched about this, but given that most females gain muscle at a far slower rate than men, it’s definitely something for guys to consider. In any event, the next study associated with the ABCDE diet shows that in small samples of men over 12 days, guys who ate more calories gained more muscle than fat, and guys who underate lost more fat than muscle. I frankly found the most interesting finding in this tiny study was that fat oxidation is inversely proportional to carbohydrate intake- i.e., the less carbs you eat, the more fat you burn. As such, it seems Akerfeldt might be making mountains out of molehills. The final study associated with this diet investigated the effect of a caloric and nitrogen surplus on nitrogen retention, though this positive nitrogen balance was not maintained after the diet ended. Thus, my take is that your body adapts to high protein diets by enabling itself to utilize more protein, but to reap the benefits, you’ve got to keep the protein high.

Lacking sufficient protein, House could only squat 315. Tragic.

Why, then, tell you about this diet? Because it’s interesting, for one, and because it could benefit you, for another. Some excerpts from a Bill Phillips interview with Akerfeldt seem to echo my sentiments:

  • “scientific studies have reliably shown that when there is a drastic change in the diet, the body responds very swiftly and efficiently”
  • “Our genes have not evolved much during the last 100,000 years; thus, they are still developed for our hunter/gatherer and, more recently, pastoral ancestors, who, whenever they succeeded in killing an animal, lived on meat for a week or two. At other times, when they had bad luck hunting and a crop failed, they lived on a low-calorie diet. This selective pressure gave man adipose tissue with almost unlimited storage capacity and a very adaptive metabolism to cope with periods of different diets.”

  • during a calorie [or any macronutrient] restricted period, the number and activity of enzymes which govern storage will increase, while the degrading enzymes and those which promote the efficiency or utilization will decrease in activity…. On the other hand, after a period of restriction, the body is now optimized for a forthcoming period of “excess” intake of calories. When this period takes place, the body will store excess calories at a tremendous rate. This applies to carbohydrates [glycogen] and is the basis for “carb loading.” It also applies to fats [triglycerides] and amino acids [proteins]. Sometimes this mechanism is called “super-compensation.”
  • “During the bulking phase of the ABCDE program, several things happen. First of all, fluid, glycogen, and amino acids are loaded into the myocyte [muscle cell]. According to Häussinger’s theory of cellular hydration5,6 and Millward’s “full-bag” theory,9 the cell will actually stretch. This stretching, or as Millward calls it, “bag filling,” occurs rapidly during the bulking phase of this system. Bag enlargement is remodeling of the connective tissue. Remodeling is stimulated during the stretching or eccentric components of exercise and is further enhanced by the incredible pump you’ll get while training during this phase of the diet.”
  • “The macronutrient profile of the diet is not nearly as important as the total-energy intake, but one could logically surmise that consuming a higher protein diet during the bulking phase may stimulate anabolic drive and produce even greater nitrogen retention. If you followed a high-carbohydrate diet during the low-calorie phase, the accompanying increase in fat oxidation would make you put on a lot of fat during the next bulking phase.”

He seems to have surpassed the 2 week mark.

His recommendations for calories in the two phases:

“take your bodyweight times 12 [to approximate maintenance-calorie intake for an individual who’s not extremely active] and add 1,500 calories to this number. For example, a person who weighs 200 lbs, like yourself, would consume about 4,000 calories a day during the bulking phase [200 x 12 = 2,400 + 1,500]. On the low-calorie phase, I would recommend consuming a number of calories equal to your bodyweight times eight. That would be about 1,600 calories for you [200 x 8 = 1,600].”

Periods of feast and famine work well for this dude.

Seems fairly simple, right? Though I might not agree with every bit of his premise, the theory is certainly enticing, especially if you know, for instance, that you’ll be eating your ass off on vacation for two weeks. Should you have such a plan, it might behoove you to undereat for two solid weeks prior to that caloric bonanza to get the most out of it (and look your best while you embark upon a Kobiyashi-style gastronomic catastrophe). The best bit to take away from this diet- experimentation is key. Every bit of information you can pick up will be useful at some point, no matter whether you agree with the author’s premise or not… but screw you if you disagree with me.

Sources:

http://myoblast.wordpress.com/2010/02/02/abcde-anabolic-burst-cycling-of-diet-and-exercise-torbjorn-akerfeldt/

Comments

  • shwa96

    October 6, 2021

    I did this diet for 3 months back in the 90s. It actually worked. I was 2 years into training so my newbie gains were gone. 35 pounds put on in 2 years during freshman and sophomore years of college lifting 6 days a week with my dorm mates because I was literally a 145 pound theater kid when I finished high school. I did ABCDE the summer between sophomore and junior year for the Muscle Media competition trying to win a Corvette. I was supplementing MM protein shakes, creatine, and HMB only. Ate healthy even on the bulking phases (no junk food). Slept 10 hours a night (yay summer break). Worked out 6 days a week. Twice a day on cutting phases. Cardio in the AM. Weights in the PM. Went to the hospital to get official weight and body fat done before and after. Started at 180 pounds, 12% body fat. After 3 months, 185 pounds, 6% body fat. 10.5 pounds of fat lost, 15.5 pounds of lean mass gained (some of which was of course water weight). I was accused multiple times of juicing, which is a strange feeling. When you’re not, it’s both a compliment and an insult at the same time. Anyway, I couldn’t keep it up once I went back to school. Not because it’s that hard of a program to keep, but because there are other fun things to do in college especially when you’re out of the dorms and into your own apartment. And then of course there’s the studying…

    I’ve done it several times since then for cycles of a few months and always see results. It’s actually not hard to stick to, because not only do you not have to deprive yourself, there’s a flow that goes with the cycles. When you finish a cutting phase, you’re looking forward to eating so much, that the first week or so of bulking, you’re in heaven. But the second week, you can’t hack it anymore. All you want to do is stop eating, but there’s an end in sight. All you have to do is get to the next weekend, so you push through, and when that weekend comes, you’re so sick of food, you’re happy to be cutting. For about a week. Weight is coming off, no interest in food whatsoever. And then that second week… all you can think about is eating. But you can’t until the next weekend, so you power through with the end of the tunnel close in sight. You just keep doing that back and forth, and the end result is, you only really feel like you’re dieting for one week a month. Of course you also feel like Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote for one week a month. But the point is, the constant change with the end always near makes it easier to stick to, as well as the fact that, if you’re really craving pizza or ice cream or something, you can have that, just only on one half of the month. However I wouldn’t recommend going overboard on that. While the diet is largely about total calories and how your body has evolved to use hormones to react to feast and famine periods, you still “are what you eat.” Sugar is still catabolic. Protein is still anabolic. It still matters what you eat. While you can eat crap for those two weeks and still see some results, it’s still better to have your diet, training, and sleep dialed in, and then the cycling of total calories just works to boost your hormone response on top of a routine that would already give you gains anyway. This way you just see more gains.

    Anyway, I’m going to be starting again soon. I’m currently dropping pandemic weight and almost to the point where it’s worthwhile to do it. Because there is one drawback and it’s that it’s not good if you’re trying to just lose weight (unless you’ve hit a plateau), or I suppose when you’re trying to gain weight. While your weight will change fairly drastically each phase, it’s pretty much going to hover around the same spot as you just yoyo above and below it. You can adjust the calories up or down if your long term goal is to trend down or trend up, but it’s a recomp program more than anything. When I need to get back to looking decent in a few months, it works, but it’s not the program I’m going to use when I need to drop 30 pounds. At the same time, I’m not sure how well it would work if you were already shredded and trying to grow lean body mass from there. I’m also not sure if it would see diminishing returns over time. I only ever used it to get some quick results when I’d let myself go, and once I got to where I wanted to be, I stopped and enjoyed it. This time, though, I’m going to see how it performs long term (and on someone 40+). I just need to first get down to the weight range I want to be in. Lord knows I don’t want to yoyo with a quarantine belly.

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