I’ve been working out pretty regularly since the beginning of 2007, and stopped doing stupid crap in the gym in August of that year. Since then I’ve gotten a lot bigger. It’s hard to gauge how much fat I’ve put on, comparing my peak weight with my starting weight, but I think I managed to end up with about the same body fat percentage, just forty pounds or so heavier (I managed to go from ~185 lbs. being mostly sedentary to a peak of about 225 lbs.). The entire time I had underestimated my body fat percentage, which is not unusual.
A while back I let my hubris get in the way and have given myself chronic patellar tendinitis. Since that point in time, I haven’t been able to squat, and deadlifting is questionable. I think I have finally figured out how to rehab it properly, but it still causes enough problems that my squatting is severally limited. Not being able to do the most important lift, I’ve been using the opportunity to diet down a bit, in hopes of figuring out what my body composition actually is, getting to body fat level that is more conducive to bulking (i.e., I think I’ll be able to add more muscle and less body fat if I start with a lower body fat percentage), and of course to look better.
Up until Thanksgiving, I had managed to shave 25 lbs. or so off at my lowest, but had stalled a little and was getting annoyed with 1-2 lbs. loss a week. So, I decided I’d give Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Diet a shot and see if I could knock off the last bit of weight I wanted to lose. I started at the beginning of this week, weighing in at a post-Thanksgiving 206 lbs. or so. I really didn’t gorge on much food, but I did eat a lot of carbs, so that six or seven pounds was probably mostly water weight from my previous low-carb 199 lbs. To the diet details…
Disclaimer: The following is based on my circumstances, and may not apply to yours. If you are under 15% or over 25% body fat, you should check out the book. If you are not training, you will not need as much protein, but I am not sure what the proper amount is, so you should read the books. The recommended length of time for the diet will change based on your category. Those specifics will also be found in the books. Now onward…
RFL is, essentially, a crash diet. There are different parameters for different body fat ranges, but based on some probably inaccurate estimates, I fall in the 15%-25% range. The basic outline (second hand, I can’t bear the thought of giving money to Lyle) for this is:
- Eat only lean meats and low carb vegetables (no bacon ).
- 1.25 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.
- Minimal carbs (5 grams per meal is an example, probably want to keep it under 30 grams per day, except perhaps workout days, and insoluble fiber doesn’t count towards this).
- 10-30 grams of carbs allowed before a workout.
- One carb-up period a week.
- One cheat meal a week.
- Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc and Potassium supplements (you can get calcium, magnesium and zinc combo pills)
- Fish Oil
- Optional: Fiber Supplement
- Optional: Protein Powder
- Optional: EC(A) Stack
- Training will vary from individual to individual, but the standard starting recommendation are the main compound lifts done at lower volume. See below for a better explanation.
- Cardio: none, other than light walking.
The basic goal of the Rapid Fat Loss Diet is to lose as much fat as possible, while maintaining as much strength and muscle mass as possible. That is done by minimizing calories, but making sure that you get plenty of protein, which helps with the latter part. So it works out that almost all of your calories come from protein. The thing that separates this diet from a normal low-carb diet is that it also minimizes fat. Carb levels are low enough that you should be able to maintain ketosis throughout the diet.
In my case, my goal is to eat approximately 200 grams of protein a day. I’m tracking my protein intake daily, but just keeping a loose eye on my carbs and fat, since I am picking foods that are naturally almost devoid of those, like chicken breast and lean cuts of pork. You do need to be careful with veggie choices since many actually do have carbs. In addition, if you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to eat a lot of veggies to compensate for otherwise only eating meat. And I don’t care for vegetables at all, so that should tell you something.
Again, lean meats are the key component. Chicken breast and pork tenderloin are the ones I have started with. Some beef cuts should be fine, hanger steak being one I just looked up. Extra lean ground beef (96/4) might work as well, with about five grams of fat for a three ounce serving. But that’s pushing it if you plan on eating a pound of it. Chicken breast should be the staple, and the others can be eaten in smaller quantities as needed to keep you from going crazy. I just found this page, which is pretty damned handy. Canned tuna is also a wonderful thing, and if you like tuna that much, could be the staple of your diet.
Eat whatever carbs you want before the work out, since you’re eating few enough that it won’t make a huge difference. My buddy Carlos said he drank a can of soda prior to working out. I’d probably recommend something better than that, but it’s fairly de minimis, so you shouldn’t fret over it too much. The carb-up period is basically a five hour window or so where you can eat carbs. There’s no reason to overdo it, but if you’re craving carbs, go to town (within reason, I don’t know what the specific guidelines are). Same things apply as always, you’re better off eating good carbs rather than drinking a two liter of Coke. Sweet potatoes, whole grains, rice (whatever rice is considered the best for you…brown?), etc. are probably optimal. The best timing for the carb-up window would be something that works best for your workout schedule. So, for example, if you’re working out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a five hour period on Wednesday before you workout is probably the best. It should also not coincide with your cheat meal, since that kills some of the benefit of getting to eat more of what you want. I would spread them out evenly. I would also skip the carb up the first week. I’m not sure what Lyle says about it, but it usually takes about a week to get into ketosis, and doing a carb up during the first week might slow the process down. Since this is designed to be short term, I’d rather get into ketosis as rapidly as possible.
The cheat meal is exactly what everyone thinks it is. That being said, it is a MEAL, not THREE MEALS ROLLED INTO ONE. Don’t go on a three binge and call it a meal. Sure, eat a large meal, but don’t be an idiot. Just to be specific, the cheat meal means you can eat carbs and fat. It is not an excuse to skimp on protein, unless you already plan on hitting your protein target for the day without the cheat meal. I am thinking Texas Roadhouse for my first cheat meal, with a sirloin, sweet potato, and some rice. And eight of their cinnamon butter rolls. This is the time to eat what you’ve been craving for the whole week (again, within reason). Eating a gallon of ice cream and calling it your cheat meal is NOT within reason. Because of the restrictions on this diet, having a normal life is difficult. Utilize your cheat meal to try to compensate for that as much as you can, e.g., go out to dinner with your significant other or a group of friends on a Saturday night.
The micronutrient supplements (vitamins and minerals) are fairly self-explanatory. This is what I use (see bottom of post for prices):
- Optimum Nutrition Opti-men multi-vitamin
- Now Calcium-Magnesium Caplets
- Now Potassium Tablets
- Ascenta NutraSea Fish Oil
I particularly like Calcium/Magnesium pills, and have been known to take about three times the RDA before going to bed. For the most part, if you’re working out hard and on a diet like this, you should be fine taking more than the RDA. You can Google around to see recommended dosages. Also note that the Cal-Mag pills linked include zinc and vitamin D. Fish oil can vary in strength, but there is a lot of information out there about what’s best. The fish oil I use is expensive, but has almost no fishy flavor at all, and taking a teaspoon of the liquid is easier than taking a bunch of pills.
Fiber supplementation is obvious. Some people will need it, some won’t. Protein powder should not be something you use often. It is just one of those things that if you find yourself short on protein at the end of the day, it’s an easy way to get some more. My favorites are the Optimum Nutrition products, particularly this whey and casein (they have a special on a combination of the two with the Opti-men vitamins). There will always be a debate about whether whey or casein is better. I don’t think it really matters, but I usually stick with casein, or a mix of both. Also, protein powder mixed with water sucks. But if you have access to low carb milk (HEB here in Texas has some), you can use that prior to working out and be fine. Other times, you’re stuck with water. Also, stick to the normal whey and casein. The “faster acting” stuff that costs quite a bit more usually isn’t really worth it, since the increased absorption rate is overplayed a bit much. I’m not sure what Lyle’s position is on them, but you could also probably add in an amino acid supplement, like ON Amino Energy, as long as you factor in the caffeine it contains. The ON stuff is the only kind I’ve tried that doesn’t murder my stomach, but I’m unusual in my sensitivity to something that’s in this type of stuff. Most people don’t have that issue. You can also go with straight BCAAs (or in combination with a more complex amino supplement). The powdered BCAAs are easier to deal with than the pill form, because the dosage is usually five to ten grams, and that usually requires five to ten pills.
If you are unfamiliar with it, the ECA stack is ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin. It seems most people drop the aspirin portion and stick to an EC stack. There is a lot of info out there on this stuff, so I’ll just provide the basics. The ephedrine dosage is ~25 mg, and you can get it from pseudo-OTC asthma medication and bronchodilators, such as Bronkaid and Primatene Tablets (available behind the counter at most pharmacies, but no prescription required). There are two types of ephedrine, ephedrine sulfate and ephedrine HCL (which is the difference between the two examples I provided). The differences appear to be minor, and they should both perform just as well as the other. If you happen to try both, and feel one works better, then use that. Note that ephedrine is usually paired with guaifenesin, which helps break up mucus, but this is nothing to be worried about. Also note that pseudo-ephedrine is not the same as regular ephedrine, particularly in this context.
As stated above, the starting dose would be one pill, which is around 25 mg of ephedrine. The starting caffeine dose is 200 mg. If you are unfamiliar with your response to these items taken together like this, you should start with one dose of each in the morning and try that for a few days. If taken two late, they can both impact your sleep. If they don’t bother you significantly, you can add a second EC dose a few hours later, and potentially a third after getting used to two (three is probably the max you should take in one day). The main concerns are making sure it has minimal impact on your ability to sleep and making sure you don’t overdo it, since they are stimulants and everyone responds differently to them. Your body may become a bit resistant, so if you aren’t feeling the effects quite as much, you might consider adding another dose. I do not know what the aspirin dose would be if you wanted to leave it in there. Google it if you’re curious.
As I said before, training should involve the major lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press). The goal is not to increase the amount you can lift, it is to try to maintain the lifts as much as possible. Some people will be able to keep adding weights to their lifts for some time, but most people will have trouble even maintaining the weight, depending on how long they stay on the diet.
What I would recommend doing is starting with your normal program, and reduce the volume by at least 30%. For example, if you are doing a program like Starting Strength, in which you are squatting three times a week for three sets of five reps, drop it down to two days a week by dropping the middle workout (M/W/F -> M/F). If you stall again, I would then drop from three sets of five down to one set of five, but keep the weight the same. You could attempt to increase the weight, but this might be very risky from an overtraining standpoint. Simply maintaining the same bar weight should be a great accomplishment in and of itself, so this is not the time to try to push your limits.
Another way you could do it is just find your five rep max at the beginning of the program, and try to maintain that by only doing that two times a week. If your squat was the first to stall, you might consider resetting all your lifts. There is some debate about the best protocol, but it will be dependent on the individual. The best thing to do is experiment. Some people might do just fine with the lower volume, while some might be able to maintain higher volume. In general though, I would recommend erring on the side of caution. Since you’ll be eating very, very little food (probably 30% or less of your maintenance amount), your recovery ability is going to suffer dramatically. This will mean that you could fall victim to overtraining much easier, and it will also be much more difficult to dig yourself out of the hole, so you must be extra conservative. A stall that might be fixed just by deloading 20% and then working your way back up on a normal diet probably won’t be sufficient on this kind of diet. And the longer you stay in the hole, the harder it is to get out of.
Disclaimer #2: this is my first time training while on this diet, and I have never coached anyone else while on it, so all of the advice is supposition. If I were on something like Starting Strength, I would probably just drop straight to doing my five rep max twice a week. But I can’t tell you what would work best for YOU, so you’ll just have to experiment.
Cardio? Luckily no (for those of us who hate cardio), other than walking. The weight training will be sufficient to get most, if not all of the benefits cardio would give, and then some. If you’re intent on doing something, or want a little extra boost, you can try 30-45 minutes of walking. I would probably only do it 3-5 times a week, and keep the pace slow enough to keep your heart rate under 130 BPM. I would also recommend doing it while completely fasted, prior to your first meal of the day. In theory, this should maximize the amount of body fat burned. I’ve never seen conclusive evidence about whether it works or not, but there are enough people that focus intently on body fat (bodybuilders) that swear by it to give it a shot. One thing you absolutely should not do is some form of intense interval training, specifically something like HIIT. The goal of this diet is to use your DIET to create the caloric deficit, not exercise. Trying to use both is a recipe for disaster.
Some suggestions to make meals more palpable:
- Condiments are your friend (the ones that fit the diet, at least). Mustard, soy sauce, some hot sauce. Things like ketchup and mayo don’t fly. Something like teriyaki sauce might work in very small amounts.
- Mix up the veggies and the meats to keep it “fresh”.
- Chicken and veggie stir fry is a great idea on this, just make sure you use the right veggies.
- If you can, make a bunch and keep the leftovers in the fridge. It’s difficult to find meals that are really quick and simple when they’re this restricted.
- Deli sliced meats. Lean ham and turkey in particular are good. Just eat it straight out of the package, no prep needed. Definitely check the nutritional info to make sure there’s no added sugar and whatnot.
- Some beef jerky works, in moderation.
- Watch out for turkey! For some reason, people are convinced that all turkey is lean. That is utterly ridiculous, so don’t fall for that. White meat turkey is usually fine, but you should avoid just about all ground turkey, which is ground with fat. If you notice, ground turkey is labelled the same as beef many times, and 96/4 ground turkey has just as much fat content as 96/4 ground beef.
- You don’t have to eat a bunch of tiny meals spread throughout the day. In fact, because you’re eating so little, I would recommend against it. In fact, I am trying the LeanGains.com approach of eating all of my food in an eight hour window, fasting the remaining sixteen hours. Because the amount of food is so little, I may try shrinking it to a seven hour window. But eating fewer, larger meals in the shorter than typical time span will probably be very beneficial when it comes to satiety, compared to pecking at meat throughout the day.
This diet is tough. It’s very little food and it’s hard to mix it up. I started on Monday, and my weigh-in Thursday morning was 200 lbs., but a portion of that is water weight. If you do it right, you should be able to lose 5-10 lbs. a week and maintain most of your muscle/strength. It may not be a wise idea to stay on the diet for much longer than four to six weeks, but you should refer to Lyle’s book for specifics on duration.
One of the advantages of this diet is that it is strict, so be aware that it’s based on principals that require adherence. If you cheat, you are highly likely to screw it up and not get nearly the results you could have, and it won’t be that much less painful. If this happens to you, don’t blame the program, blame yourself. The main key points are sticking with the correct amount of protein, and keeping your carb levels as low as possible.
My goal is to get rid of fifteen or twenty pounds of fat over a month. My schedule is fairly uncertain over the next few weeks, so I may only get three weeks done before Christmas. I’ll post an update when I’m done and discuss what I learned.
It should also be noted that while Lyle is a ridiculously annoying douche, his books contain a lot of great info. The main reason I have not purchased any is because I was already familiar with most of the concepts prior to finding his site, and I have supplemented that knowledge in other ways. But for someone with little understanding of physiology or simply little understanding of how the processes involved in the human metabolism work, including the function of the various macronutrients, the books are a great source of information, and highly recommended. I’m a firm believer in understanding the underlying processes of things like dieting or weight training, so I would highly recommend actually reading the book instead of just following this outline if you don’t have the background knowledge.
If you have any input, questions, or corrections, please feel free to contact me. And yes, if you use the links to bodybuilding.com and then purchase something, I might make a commission off it, which would be awesome for a poor student like me. I’ll put the discount links they offer at the bottom of this post, but you should probably use the individual product links above, and just enter the coupon code as it says in the link. (I don’t know if posting the coupon code by itself is a violation of their TOS, so I’m putting the full links just in case.)
Finally, muito obrigado to Carlos for his help!