Getting Leaner, More Muscular, and Stronger on 1200 calories a day and No Carbs!
Note: This is not and was not meant to be a scientific article. It is informative, but it is a reference of my experience eating a low calorie diet with high micronutrient density. The main point is to get you to question what you know as “truth,” and not to get you to follow this diet.
I‘m no pro bodybuilder. I wouldn’t even consider myself a top level amateur. What I am is an average guy who likes to lift weights and build muscle, much like many of you who read this. My advantage is that I’ve put the time and effort into research and application, and I have had the privilege of advising many top athletes in the industry. Despite having worked with many of the finest muscular specimens on the planet, my heart still lies with my people: the average joe’s who love lifting and building muscle.
It is because of my passion for helping all of us become more than average that I’ve used myself as a guinea pig for many experiments. I’ve done intermittent fasting, carb night solution, flexible dieting, many versions of the bro 6 to 8 meal a day plan, paleo, and even vegan diets to see how they work and how they affect my body. Recently, I’ve backed off of my own experimentation to move toward a diet that has made my body work way more efficiently to deal with my own health concerns: ulcerative colitis and total body chronic inflammation.
I first came across this diet by accident. I was following the 8 meal a day plan for mass building and my colitis flared up badly. I could hardly get through the day without losing my bowels by accident and I was running to the toilet between 20 and 40 times a day with bloody diarrhea. I needed a drastic change, so I reduced my meal intake to two meals a day. These were not large meals, but they were packed with micronutrients from lightly steamed vegetables, organ meats like liver, and contained copious amounts of fat from mct and coconut oil and the meats. Here’s a synopsis of what that diet looked like:
Morning: 4 whole eggs cooked in MCT oil, 2 cups green vegetables, 3 slices of bacon
Snack: 1/3 cup coconut milk, ImSoAlpha Superfood, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 scoop vegetarian or whey protein powder.
Dinner: 6 oz grass fed beef or beef liver cooked in coconut oil, 2 cups green vegetables
Supplements: Vitamin D 4000 iu/day, Vitamin C 1000mg/day, Magnesium – 400 mg/day, ImSoAlpha Omega 3 Fish Oil 2000 mg/day
Given everything I thought I knew at the time, I immediately expected to shrivel up into a skinny fat stick figure, but that did not happen. I did notice that I was getting leaner, but I also noticed something else. My bodyweight was not going down. Additionally, my lifts started going up in the gym, my skin looked better, and I was sleeping better. Best of all, my colitis flare up went away and I was using the bathroom normally and regularly. After a couple of months of doing this, my body looked the best it ever had in my opinion. I didn’t lose muscle. Rather, I actually gained muscle and my bodyweight rose while I maintained my leanness.
This was baffling to me. My caloric intake was less than 1500 calories at the time. My protein intake was between 80 and 100 grams daily, and my starchy carb intake was almost non existent.. I was getting around 60% of my calories from fats! Yet, everything I’d read throughout my career, including some of my own writings, told me this was impossible. Because of this, my next step was to keep all of this a secret and not tell anyone. Why? Because the people in this industry love a good witch hunt. If something breaks the norm of what we know and hold dear, we attack it. I gave hints here and there on social media, but I never actually had the balls to tell anyone what I was actually doing.
Lately, my my give a damn has gone down a lot so I decided to write about it. The main question you probably have is, how could this work? Well, the fact of the matter is that this diet is definitely not for everyone. If you’re doing well on your diet, there’s probably no need to change it. I’m not telling you about this to sell anything to you. The reason why I’m telling you this is to slaughter a few sacred lambs. Lets get to business. There are three reasons why this diet worked for me:
1. The quality of calories does count.
As someone with an autoimmune disorder, my body is very sensitive to inflammation. My body reacts to it by overproducing antibodies that attack the lining of my large intestine. When I am going through a flare up, my body doesn’t process nutrition like it should. As such, any diet that minimizes total body chronic inflammation is going to improve my ability to process nutrition. Focusing on eating fewer calories with higher micro nutrient density helped me to reduce my levels of inflammation, allowing my body to run more efficiently.
You may not have an autoimmune disease, but you still need to worry about total body chronic inflammation for a number of reasons. The biggest concern for your gains is that high levels of total body chronic inflammation will consistently raise your cortisol levels. This is the hormone that directs your body to catabolize tissues for energy and to store fat during times of high stress. The longer term concerns are that consistently high levels of total body chronic inflammation can lead to disease like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
How do you combat inflammation? Well, one of the major causes of inflammation is having too much insulin. Insulin is the hormone that transports nutrients to their destinations in your body: your muscles, your liver, or your fat cells. If too much insulin is released too often, your cells become desensitized and you develop insulin resistance, which leads to high degrees of inflammation and is a precursor to diabetes. This can be caused by eating a high calorie diet with too many carbohydrates. Does that mean you have to be as extreme as I was and limit your caloric intake to 1200 calories? Not at all. Does that mean you need to remove carbs all together? Absolutely not. All you need to do is be sensible about your carb and calorie intake. On days when your activity level is higher, eat more carbs. On days when it is lower, eat less or don’t eat them at all. This will make you more efficient at processing and using the carbs you do eat so that they are stored as muscle energy and not as fat.
2. Eating Fats Helps
People often talk about carb phobia these days, but I notice a much greater phobia of fats. Most of the diets I run across are high in carbs, high in protein, and low in fat – especially saturated fat. Fat actually has many anti-inflammatory properties and consuming it can actually help you burn fat. This is particularly true if you eat medium chain triglycerides, which are found in coconut oil and its derivative, MCT oil. These fatty acids, unlike other fats. move quickly into the blood stream, giving the body a ready supply of energy. When the body has a supply of energy from fat, it burns excess fat. I credit MCT oil with keeping me energized for my workouts while also keeping me lean. Additionally, fats are precursors to hormones like testosterone, which will definitely help you with making those gains! Now, does this mean that you should go out and start eating sticks of butter? No son. It means that you should definitely get more than just 10 to 20% of your calories from fat if you want to change your body composition for the better. If you’re stuck, try lowering your carb intake and raising your fat intake as an experiment.
3. The Idea that you Have to Eat 1 to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is a lie
Here’s a big secret for you. You don’t need to eat 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to gain muscle. You don’t even need to eat 1. Actually, studies have found that eating beyond 0.82 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is pretty much wasteful (Phillips and Van Loon 2011). Why was I able to gain muscle on a low calorie, low carbohydrate diet with moderate levels of protein? Because my body didn’t need that much protein! Your body needs protein of course, but overfilling yourself with protein can lead to issues with guy health, increased inflammation, and fats can make you fat just as much as carbs can if you overeat them. Eat a sensible amount of protein.
Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38