The big question I've been getting is, "Are you miserable?"
When people hear that you're doing "the low-carb thing", they freak. They think it's a death sentence--a punishing course of dry, bland foods lacking any sweetness or flavor. And I guess I'd have that impression too if I were doing a traditional low-carb diet. But that's the beauty of carb cycling. Just when I'm about to cave in to the boredom and step over my own mother for a pizza, I get to carb up again.
Mentally, it's been an easy rotation to adjust to. On the very-low carb days, I eat one or two pieces of fruit in the morning, and/or some oatmeal, or drink a shake. I like the Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer. The rest of the day it's protein, veggies, and healthy fats. On the moderate carb days, I'll do the same for breakfast and typically have another piece of fruit or a sweet potato for lunch. The sweet potato/yam has been a friend to bodybuilders forever. It's a starchy carb, but for reasons no one seems to fully understand, it doesn't cause blood sugar spikes and fat gain. Some guys will eat seven or eight of these things a day as their only carb source, and they stay ripped year round.
On my high-carb Saturdays, I'm eating oatmeal, fruit, and sweet potatoes until I hit 300 grams. So really, it's not that bad. I can't say I've felt deprived or light-headed or hungry at any point so far. If I had to give the average person (presuming he/she does some resistance training) advice on how to eat to control body fat and build muscle, it would be to follow this basic strategy.
As I mentioned yesterday, protein is important for muscle maintenance and growth. Old-school muscleheads say you need 1 to 2 grams of protein per pound of your body weight a day, especially when dieting. The ADA recommends something like 0.6 to 0.8 grams. Most trainers and nutritionists I know split the difference and say to eat 1 gram per pound. That's what I've been doing. The physique pictures I've shot along the way, and my post-shower posedowns in the mirror indicate that I haven't lost much if any muscle size, plus my lifts keep increasing, so I don't see any reason to change my dosage.
As for my protein sources, there are no surprises here: skinless chicken breasts, tuna, eggs, salmon, whey protein powder, Vega, and nuts.
If you're cutting out carbs and have to eat a certain amount of protein, it makes sense that you should be able to go to town on your fat consumption, assuming it doesn't jack your total calories for the day up over your limit. Quite honestly, life on this kind of diet would be unbearable if you couldn't, so thank God for that. Consider then, what this means.
You can eat peanut butter, mayonnaise, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados. I've been on a guacamole kick lately, mashing up two avocados with a fork and adding some lime juice and sea salt. You can embellish with other ingredients from there but that's a great, quick side dish to go with some grilled chicken or fish. I also can't say enough about almond butter. I've come to look forward to measuring out a couple tablespoons every night. It's my "dessert", and it's pretty damn satisfying.
I've replaced a lot of my carbs with fat, and I feel it works fine as an energy food. I've been eating nuts, adding olive oil to salads, and preparing tuna fish with Vegenaise, a fantastic mayo substitute that uses grapeseed oil, a healthy polyunsaturated fat. Could I eat regular mayo? As I mentioned above, yes. In small amounts. But I feel like when you've only got 12 weeks to get in shape, you shouldn't leave anything to chance and just keep the menu as "clean" as possible.
This might be a good time to mention what's on my censored list.
Fat is ok. Unsaturated fat. I've gotten as many as 170 grams on a low-carb day with no apparent ill effects. But saturated fat is risky business on a diet. For one thing, we all know that too much is bad for the heart and circulatory system. But there is a powerful amount of anecdotal evidence that it leads to more body fat, especially in the presence of starchy carbs. I've even heard reports that it interferes with the brain's ability to register fullness--and that's a problem you really can't deal with when on a diet. One notable exception to my avoidance of saturated fat is coconut oil. The fat here is indeed saturated, but it's made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), and these have been shown to digest easily and are burned for energy. Brendan Brazier, author of The Thrive Diet, and the man behind the Vega supplement line, is a big believer in coconut oil, and he doesn't carry an ounce of body fat.
It should go without saying that I'm not eating any junk food. Sure, we've done stories in the magazine about how pizza and beer can have health benefits, but no one not named Gomer or Cletus could really believe these are acceptable diet foods. Could I get away with a burger once a week or a shot of Patron on a Saturday night? Probably. But I decided when I started this thing that I was only going to eat foods that brought me closer to my goal, not ones that could hold me back from it. I'm in the zone and I haven't cheated once, and I don't really feel the need to.
If someone put a platter of nachos in front of me and convinced me I could eat them without consequences, I'd enjoy them like a condemned man does his last cigarette before the firing squad. I'd eat the plate and the table underneath it (and, in fact, this is my plan to break the fast when the program ends next month). But for now, it's not really on my mind.
For the record, I lost three to five pounds per week for the first six weeks (eating 3,000 calories). The weight loss stopped last week, so I reduced the calories to 2,500, and that's yielded another five-pound loss. I've taken my waistline down three to five inches as well (I'll have to check in my journal what I started at, but I'm down to 37 inches now).
Total weight loss: 25 pounds.