“Your presentation of the Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise (ABCDE) System, for me, has been the most result-producing program and the most valuable concept I’ve ever come across in any bodybuilding publication. I have followed your recommendations exactly as presented, and after struggling for 2 years to add muscle size to my 5’9″, 164-lb frame, with high-intensity training, and every conceivable protein supplement, this hardgainer went up to 175 lbs during the first complete cycle and up to 184 with the second cycle (a 20-lb increase in just 2 months!). This program is incredible!” Tim Morrison, Oak Park, IL
“As a passionate (and somewhat frustrated) bodybuilder, I was thrilled to read your recent articles entitled ‘Get Ready to Grow, Big Time.’ I think these are the best nutrition articles I’ve read in any bodybuilding magazine ever! I was thrilled, partly because it made so much bottom-line nutritional sense. Also, I was excited because this was something I could try without investing a lot of money in supplements or trying to hook up with some Mexican steroid connection. I’ve been on the program for only two weeks, but I’ve already gained ten pounds, and I’m psyched!”Keith Rivera, Philadelphia, PA
“I’m very impressed with the two articles on the Anabolic Burst Cycling System. This Swedish scientist is a genius! I think it is great that bodybuilding has people like that and that Muscle Media is seeking out these experts and teaching us how to build our bodies naturally. I’ve been on the program for one month and have already gained more new size and strength than I had in the past year!”Jud Dickenson, Oklahoma City, OK
“I read about Torbjorn Akerfeldt’s ABCDE Program, and it makes perfect scientific sense. As I write this letter, I’ve just completed my first 2-week anabolic phase, followed by 14 days of strict dieting. I can’t believe how much different I look; neither can my friends!”Dave Cazares, Houston, TX
“After reading your articles about this Anabolic Burst Cycling System, I decided to give it a try. Let me tell you, this system is no joke! I increased the strength in my pressing exercises by 15-30 lbs in just a few weeks. The bulking phase of the ABCDE left me with a huge increase in energy, too. And, I still have abs, even though I have been eating everything I can get my hands on. I plan to start the dieting phase Monday.”Mike Pestilli, email@example.com
oy, when I asked for feedback from people who’ve tried the Anabolic Burst Cycling System, I never imagined my office would be flooded with faxes, letters, and e-mail
messages from bodybuilders, from literally around the world, who decided to take the Anabolic Burst Cycling System plunge. The feedback I just shared with you is just a small sample of the input–the vast majority of which has been overwhelmingly positive.
Along with all that exciting feedback, I’ve also received a lot of questions from people who are either experimenting with Torbjorn Akerfeldt’s Anabolic Burst Cycling System or are getting ready to start the program. Thus, in this, Part III of our “Get Ready to Grow, Big Time” superfeature series, I decided to take these questions to Torbjorn Akerfeldt and get you the answers you need to make this program work for you.
First, A Quick Review…
If you haven’t read Parts I and II of the “Get Ready to Grow, Big Time” superfeatures, I would strongly encourage you to do so–otherwise the information in this article is not going to be as helpful as it could be. The information in these articles is contained in my brand-new Sports Supplement Review. If you don’t already have a copy, you can find out how to order one by flipping to page 42. (The book is free–it costs only $3 for postage and handling.) Also, both of these articles can be pulled up on our Muscle Media home page at http://www.mm2k.com (Link to Part1) (Link to Part 2). Alternatively, back issues are available by calling 1-800-297-9776. You’ll need the March (#58) and May (#59) 1997 issues.
Here’s a crash course on what the Anabolic Burst Cycling System is all about: it’s a new bodybuilding concept developed by a Swedish researcher and bodybuilder named Torbjorn Akerfeldt. He has developed a theory (which is based on some very compelling scientific evidence) that when bodybuilders overfeed (eat a high-calorie diet) for two weeks and weight train very intensely and then go on a low-calorie diet for two weeks, accompanied by moderately intense weight-training and aerobic exercise, bodybuilders may be able to pack on new muscle size and strength at a phenomenal rate.
In previous articles, Torbjorn explained the scientific rationale behind this exciting, new program. A principle component of his theory is that scientific studies have shown that short-term overfeeding causes a dramatic increase–a burst–of the anabolic hormones insulin, IGF-1, and testosterone.15 What it comes down to is that if you’ve been consuming a maintenance-calorie diet (not bulking up or cutting) and you go on a high-calorie program, your body will store a lot of those excess calories as muscle mass.15,21 But, if the high-calorie diet is continued beyond approximately two weeks, Akerfeldt theorizes that your body will become much more efficient at storing this excess energy (calories) as fat. He sent the chart on page 82 to show how overfeeding for more than about 14 days leads to a greater increase in fat mass. To be honest, I don’t really understand the chart, but Torbjorn was certain some of our more scientifically inclined readers would. Suffice it to say, Torbjorn didn’t just wake up one day and think, “Let’s eat a lot for two weeks and then eat less for two weeks.” He has literally spent years developing this theory.
Torbjorn has also discovered that two weeks of strict dieting, following an overfeeding period, allows you to quickly shed any excess bodyfat you accumulate during the high-calorie phase; thus, you avoid the problems bodybuilders have always experienced in the past while bulking up, which is that we end up gaining as much or more fat as muscle during the bulking phase. For the drug-free bodybuilder, this is even more of a problem because when we go on a long period of dieting, not only is it torturous but we also end up losing most, if not all, of the muscle we’ve gained.
Anyway, the new system Torbjorn Akerfeldt developed is called the Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise (ABCDE), and by all accounts, the system flat-out works, if you follow it correctly.
In Part II of this article, I told you about the exact nutrition, exercise, and supplementation plan I used for taking the program for a “test drive.” At the end of this article, I’ll tell you how the Anabolic Burst Cycling Program is working for me. But first, let’s tackle some of the most frequently asked questions about Anabolic Burst Cycling, so we can all learn more about this exciting, new bodybuilding discovery and how to apply it with the utmost accuracy and precision.
Bill Phillips: One of the challenges some people are having with the program is that they just can’t keep their appetites up. They’re having a hard time consuming a high-calorie diet for two weeks straight. What’s the solution?
Torbjorn Akerfeldt: Fortunately, this is not a widespread problem. Most bodybuilders love to eat, and the two-week anabolic phase allows them to have a few meals here and there that might usually be considered “off limits” for bodybuilders. Provided the base nutritional program is rich with quality protein, carbs, and unsaturated fat, you can have some of your favorite foods like hamburgers, some pizza, lots of pasta, etc. [By the way, you should never eat high-glycemic carbs and saturated fat together.] For a lot of bodybuilders, the two-week overfeeding phase is a welcomed feast. However, for those who are having difficulty consuming a high-calorie diet every day for 14 days in a row–which is vitally important!–I would suggest they try to drink more calories. For example, making protein drinks with milk will allow you to take in a lot of calories that are easily digested. One of the problems I think some people run into is their systems haven’t digested one meal by the time their schedule says they should be eating the next. This really hurts the appetite.
Here’s one strategy you might want to try–let’s say your diet calls for you to consume 4,500 calories a day for 14 days during the bulking-up phase; try to make sure you have 6 different meals each day, and each meal contains around 600-900 calories. Don’t make the mistake of pigging out too much and putting down 1,500 calories all at one time. Overloading the digestive system like this does not allow for optimal nutrient absorption and digestion.
One thing that works really well is to have three or four regular food meals, consisting of chicken, pasta, and vegetables, and then for the next meal, which you should have approximately three and a half hours later, you might have a meal-replacement drink, like Myoplex Plus mixed with milk–if you tolerate milk products, of course. [Bill does; I don’t.] Then, a few hours later, you might have another regular-food meal.
Remember, you don’t have to have a lot of money to try the Anabolic Burst Cycling System–the main ingredient for the success of this system is simply food. Supplements can help out–especially ones that improve your nutrition program and help increase your calories, but most of what you need to succeed on this system can be found at the grocery store.
BP: A number of Muscle Media readers have told me they have very low energy levels during the dieting phase. Is there anything they can do to make this low-calorie phase “less painful”?
TA: Unfortunately, as anyone who has dieted–which includes virtually every bodybuilder–has discovered, it’s just not easy. Our bodies do not want to lose fat; that’s not what we were made for. Our bodies were designed to store fat to help us survive periods of famine. When we restrict calories, we are fighting literally tens of thousands of years of evolution. It’s difficult; however, the great thing about my program is the diet is only two weeks long. Most bodybuilders I know, when they’re trying to get cut up for a photo shoot or contest, have to literally starve themselves for two, three, even four months. On the ABCDE Program, one of the things that really helps “compliance” is that you know you have to crack down and diet really hard for only a short period of time.
Usually the reason people have really low energy on the dieting phase is because their blood sugar levels are dropping; they feel weak and irritated. This can be avoided if you keep your insulin levels stable, and one of the best ways to do that is by having a protein drink when you feel a drop in blood sugar. Under hypocaloric [low-calorie] conditions, there is no risk the protein drink will convert to fat [de novo lipogenesis], instead it will be used to create glucose [gluconeogenesis], thus increasing blood sugar. I suggest consuming five or six meals a day during the dieting phase–they just have to be smaller meals.
Some people use appetite suppressants, like Redux and fen/phen, but I don’t recommend those. I think the best thing you can do is eat small, high-nutrition meals throughout the day, and whenever you do start feeling weak, make sure you have a snack of some kind, like a vegetable or even a chicken breast. It’s also important to consume a lot of fiber during both the bulking and cutting phases.
BP: Some readers have heard overfeeding will lead to an increase in fat cell number. Is that true?
TA: To answer this question, I need to get into some rather complicated science, but please bear with me since this is really the essence of my overfeeding theory. First, we have to realize that during weight gain, there’s an initial increase in fat cell volume until a “critical” point is reached, and thereafter recruitment of new cells occurs,5 also known as “adipocyte hyperplasia.” This is something we must avoid; otherwise, we’ll “blow up” more easily when we start the second bulking cycle.
The ABCDE Program is designed to avoid this hyperplasia through a number of measurements. The most important one being the precise determination of the length of the overfeeding cycle, as well as the number of excess calories. In addition to this, there are methods to avoid reaching this “critical” point. I’ll discuss those in future articles. One important factor in this regard is insulin insensitivity, which we must realize is a very selective property. During overfeeding, it will first affect the fat cell20,22 [adipocyte], which is a positive thing since it will force energy substrates [glucose, fatty acids, and, indirectly, amino acids] into the muscle cell instead of the fat cell.16 This is called nutrient repartitioning and is what bodybuilding is really all about. Eventually, insulin sensitivity of the muscle cell drops,20 which leads to decreased inflow of nutrients to the muscle and hence inhibits muscle growth. To compensate, the body will make more insulin and more glucose transporters16 [GLUT-4] in fat cells and voilà–the number of fat cells increases.16 I have exemplified this in the chart which appears below.
The important thing is not that you understand every detail. The important thing is that you realize the importance of limiting the length of overfeeding and why the traditional bulking periods of several months are so counterproductive. Other important factors in this regard are intramuscular fat, regional fat distribution factors, prostaglandin J2, TNF-alpha, and cortisol, but as I mentioned, how one could affect these factors is out of the scope of this interview and will be discussed in the future. So the answer to your question is NO, additional fat cells don’t form as long as you follow my guidelines.
BP: You recommend doing aerobic exercise first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. A number of Muscle Media readers have pointed out that aerobic exercise burns the exact same amount of calories no matter when you do it. They want to know if they can do aerobics, during the dieting phase, in the afternoon, after their weight-training exercise.
TA: It is true that if you do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, reaching a pulse rate of 120 beats per minute after a 12-hour fast, it probably burns the same amount of calories as when you do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, at an equal intensity, in the afternoon or evening, before or after a weight-training workout. The issue here is not how many calories you burn but where the energy comes from to fuel that exercise session. Remember, on the dieting phase, we’ve got to lose fat, and we’ve got to lose it fast! We need to do everything we can to get our bodies’ fat stores to “mobilize” or burn up. We are much more interested in burning fat than carbohydrates or, even worse, amino acids–all of these substrates can fuel aerobic exercise.
The fact is that during resistance training, your testosterone peaks after 20 minutes, and then testosterone is dropping while cortisol increases.11 This leads to a less-than-optimal testosterone to cortisol ratio and is a very important reason to perform short but intense weight-training sessions. In contrast, during the early morning, cortisol rises, but testosterone is also peaking; thus, the ratio does not change significantly. Furthermore, you could become slightly dehydrated by conducting aerobic exercise after weight training, which could also trigger catabolism. What you need after your weight-training session is rest, carbohydrates, protein, and water.
BP: A number of readers, who are looking to bulk up, asked if they should skip the aerobics altogether. What do you think?
TA: During the past few years, there has been a trend in bodybuilding to omit aerobic exercise. I guess it’s partially because there have been some studies showing that resistance training alone is quite effective for burning fat.32 This, as you just mentioned, has led a lot of bodybuilders to think they should skip “cardio” and instead do more of what we do best–lift weights. I don’t think this is a good idea, even though it will work for a small percentage of metabolically gifted individuals.
A natural bodybuilder just can’t handle more than four or five hours of intense weight training per week, but we need more exercise than this to burn fat on the cutting phase of my program.
Some people fear that if they do aerobics at all, they’ll lose muscle mass. This is not the case. Recent studies [using a sophisticated procedure called “stable isotopes”] have revealed that, “Although aerobic exercise may stimulate muscle breakdown, this does not result in a significant depletion of muscle mass because muscle protein synthesis is stimulated in recovery.” In this particular study, they experimented with aerobic exercise that was moderately intense [40% of VO2max, which corresponds to a heart rate of around 120 beats per minute].8 Also remember that one study with aerobic exercise during dieting indicated an increase in lean body mass.38 And yet another recent trial showed that combining a low-calorie diet with the combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise was the most efficient method of burning bodyfat.24
In spite of this evidence, I don’t recommend aerobic work the way many bodybuilders perform it, which is in what I call a “fed state” or after you’ve recently eaten. For example, I don’t recommend doing aerobic exercise at 6:00 at night if you had a meal at 3:00, 4:00, or 5:00. It will take you 30 minutes just to burn the calories from one snack or small meal. My time is more valuable than this, and I suspect yours is as well.
Going back to the last question, I want to emphasize again that the best way to maximize the benefits of aerobic exercise is to do it in the morning, after an overnight fast–after not eating for at least ten hours. Some time ago, at our metabolic lab here in Sweden, we found that subjects burned around three times more fat in the morning [after an overnight fast] during aerobic exercise compared to afternoon exercise in a fed state. We presented this information at the 1996 FASEB conference.
Even more interesting was the finding that the proportion of protein being burned decreased rather than increased during early morning exercise. In other words, at a heart rate of about 120 beats per minute, you will not experience muscle catabolism, even though you are fasting. Actually, we discovered that over a 24-hour period, a positive nitrogen balance of around 5-9%, depending on protein intake, was measured with something called “leucine isotopes,” which is one way we try to trace how much protein is being built up or broken down in your body in response to exercise.
Here’s one more tip: drink a liter of water on an empty stomach in the morning, about five minutes before your cardio. This will make your blood “hypo-osmolaric” which helps push fluids into muscle, where they may act to prevent protein breakdown according to Häussinger’s theory on cellular hydration, which states that, “Protein loss is triggered and maintained by reduced cell volume, secondary to loss of intracellular water.”19
The bottom line is, the best way to maximize the results from aerobic exercise during a fat-loss cycle is to do it first thing in the morning. Even if your primary goal with using the Anabolic Burst Cycling System is to bulk up, you have got to keep your system “primed” with each cutting cycle, and part of that is doing aerobic exercise. Thus, even if you just want to get big and strong, do your cardio!
BP: Readers have asked if there are any supplements they can take in the morning, before exercise, that might boost fat loss. Are there?
TA: There is something you can do that helps; in fact, I’ve discovered something very powerful which helps you increase the amount of fat burned during aerobic exercise, as well as increasing the release of adrenaline, which helps psyche you up a bit–especially early in the morning! This stuff also helps prevent the exercise-induced decrease in intramuscular potassium, which also plays an important role in keeping water inside the cell. This compound even helps spare glycogen. When you are running out of glycogen, there is a signal to start the breakdown of muscle protein and convert it to glucose. This process is called “gluconeogenesis.” Glycogen will also assist in keeping water inside the cell, which, as we’ve already discussed, is very important.
Fortunately, the compound I’m talking about is readily available, legal, affordable, and has no serious side effects. It’s called caffeine. Yes, regular ole caffeine. Not only does it do all the stuff I already mentioned,2,10,13,23,30 studies show caffeine helps increase performance, too. For example, in one study caffeine users were able to bicycle for 96 minutes until exhaustion, instead of 75 with a placebo, and gluconeogenesis decreased by 55%.30 What this means is that the muscle was using just half as much glycogen when caffeine was present–intramuscular triglycerides were used; thus, less water left the cell. In another similar study, but with competitive cyclists, caffeine users exercised for 90 minutes until they gave up, compared to 75 minutes for non-caffeine users. And what is even more interesting is that the caffeine group burned 1.31 grams of fat per minute, compared with .75 in the placebo group.10 That’s almost twice as much! Yet another study showed that exercising subjects who were using caffeine were able to work for 79 minutes versus 49 minutes [placebo group] until exhaustion.18 Caffeine also increases resting metabolic rate by up to 15%.1,3
All of these studies were using dosages producing urinary concentrations below the level accepted by the International Olympic Committee [12 mcg/ml].29
Now keep this in mind: the optimal effect from caffeine is when the glycogen deposits are low33–for example, after an overnight fast–and when the user is not tolerant or used to caffeine use.14 Thus, you should definitely cycle caffeine. Taking caffeine all the time not only lowers its effects but could also induce insulin resistance,26 which is something we must avoid.
I try to use caffeine only on the mornings I do aerobic exercise, which, during the dieting phase of my Anabolic Burst Cycling Program, is 3 or 4 mornings a week, for 30-45 minutes per session. I drink one liter of water five minutes prior to exercise. I also take in a couple hundred milligrams of caffeine as soon as I get up. Optimally, I like to take this caffeine at least 30-45 minutes before I start my cardio.
BP: What if someone eats lunch at noon and then does aerobic exercise at 6:00 p.m.? Is this enough of a fast to get the full benefits of aerobic exercise?
TA: I’m afraid this would not work out very well. You see, the “starvation time” must be longer than six hours before you encounter a significant increase in fat burning. The ideal time of fasting for optimal fat loss is around 10-12 hours, depending on the amount of glycogen you have stored at the onset of the fast.
It’s also not a good idea to go six hours during the day without eating. As I described already, during the anabolic phase you will not get maximum results unless you eat often throughout the day. And during the dieting phase, fasting during the day will likely produce low energy levels, making it difficult to exercise at all.
It’s a lot easier to fast during the nighttime–our bodies were obviously built for this. Some researchers now believe that one of the most important functions of this “hot” fat-burning hormone called “leptin” that you hear about in the news is that it inhibits hunger during the night hours.28 I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but it’s actually pretty easy to go from 8:00 at night to 8:00 in the morning without eating. Think about why this is. There’s got to be some type of physiological mechanism that makes this possible. Leptin could have something to do with this. Think about how difficult it would be to go from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night without eating–it would be literally painful.
BP: What should people eat after they work out?
TA: On the anabolic phase, after you conduct your intense weight-training sessions, you should try to consume a high amount of carbohydrates and protein. One recent study showed that consuming a post-workout supplement, which contained carbohydrates and whey protein, speeds recovery time, helps minimize the exercise-induced elevation in the catabolic hormone cortisol, and enhances protein synthesis.37 My feeling is that after a very intense weight-training session during the anabolic phase of this program, you should try to consume up to 1,000 calories within 2 hours. This could make a huge difference in how much muscle size and strength you gain.
During the dieting phase, after aerobic exercise, you may be able to burn fat at an accelerated rate for up to two and a half hours if you can continue to fast or avoid food. I call it “riding the wave of lipolysis.” But, this may not be much of a factor. Thus, if you feel like eating after you do your morning cardio, have a serving of protein and carbohydrates–nothing special–just an ordinary dieting bodybuilder breakfast, like egg whites and dry toast, would work just fine.
After you do your weight-training exercise on the dieting phase, I suggest consuming a protein and carbohydrate supplement, like a meal-replacement powder or a protein drink; it should just be a smaller portion than you would have during the bulking phase.
BP: Some bodybuilders have asked how to use steroids during the Anabolic Burst Cycling System. What is your response?
TA: In Parts I and II of this series of articles, I mentioned that the entire theory of inducing a “burst” of anabolic hormones while you are overfeeding is based on having a normal metabolism and hormonal environment. It is a well-known fact that taking anabolic steroids causes your body to shut down the natural production of a number of hormones, including testosterone.6,7,36 There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that a steroid user, or a bodybuilder who’s just coming off a steroid cycle, is going to get this dramatic increase in anabolic hormones, like a natural bodybuilder would. This program was not designed for anabolic steroid users–it’s a concept I developed which I believe allows bodybuilders who are not using drugs to gain considerable size and strength by taking advantage of the body’s natural response to certain “nutritional stimuli.”
The truth is, bodybuilders who use mega-doses of steroids don’t need to be sophisticated with their training and nutrition to get big. It’s somewhat ironic that some of the people who have the greatest level of knowledge about muscle building are not the biggest bodybuilders. I’m not saying all steroid users are ignorant about bodybuilding, but there’s no doubt there are some huge bodybuilders who have no idea how they got that way.
The people who have been most successful on the Anabolic Burst Cycling Program are natural weight trainers or those who have been off steroids for at least a year. I am convinced it’s important to have the endocrine system running smoothly to take full advantage of this system.
BP: Some readers have asked if it would help them lose fat faster if they took Cytomel [a synthetic T3 thyroid medication] during the dieting phase.
TA: Some competitive bodybuilders use thyroid drugs to help them lose fat faster. On the Anabolic Burst Cycling Program, this is a huge mistake. You see, it is well known that T3 thyroid up-regulates fat-producing enzymes, especially one called “malic enzyme.”12 Of course, this is not noticeable during the time you are on the thyroid medication, but when you stop taking it, without a doubt, you’ll notice an increase in fat. If you took Cytomel during the dieting phase and stopped taking it before the overeating phase, you would probably gain a lot more fat during the bulking days, because your body’s enzymes would be much more efficient at converting the excess calories to fat. Remember, the idea with ABCDE is that you should trick the body, not vice versa.
BP: Stretching is another thing many readers have asked about. I understand it’s important to stretch your muscles really hard after you’ve pumped them up, especially during the second week of the bulking phase, but why not stretch during the dieting phase? Even though the muscle cell is not hydrated to the maximum, wouldn’t stretching still help?
TA: As we discussed in the last article, I believe the science and empirical data offers compelling evidence that stretching a muscle after it is pumped helps expand the compartment that constricts muscle fibers. I compared this tight connective tissue that holds muscles together [the endomysium and paramysium] to a girdle–it will literally prevent the muscle from expanding if that compartment is not stretched. This is why some bodybuilders who get really big on steroids or by overfeeding are able to get really big, really fast again after taking time off from lifting. Some people call this “muscle memory,” but actually it’s that the compartment around the muscle tissue has already been stretched out before.
During this week of stretching, you are also supposed to concentrate on heavy eccentric movements. This makes it necessary to have a training partner during this time–both in regards to stretching and to weight training. You should thank me for not telling you to perform this kind of stretching all year round. But, I don’t refrain from telling you that because I’m kind; I do it for science which has shown that the fusion of satellite cells to the muscle fiber–which is one of the main reasons we perform this stretching–peaks after about five to seven days of stretching, at least in laboratory animals.34 It is reasonable to think that the muscle needs a couple of weeks off before this can happen again. Another benefit of this kind of stretching is that it increases local IGF-1 release up to 12-fold.17
Now, the stretching I’m talking about is not the type you might have done in high school before football practice. I’m talking about brutal, extreme stretching. Just the thought of this sometimes makes me cringe–it is extremely painful and unpleasant, unless you are a masochist. Why anyone would want to do this any more than one week a month is beyond my imagination.
Now, if you simply want to stretch out before you exercise or do some light stretching afterwards, that’s fine, but the only time you need to do these brutal stretches, which I’ll tell you all about in an upcoming Muscle Media article and my book, is when they’ll do the most good, which is the second week of the bulking phase.
BP: A couple dozen bodybuilders have asked me if they should use an essential-fatty-acid supplement, like flax-seed oil, on the ABCDE Program. What do you think?
TA: I believe essential-fatty-acid supplements are a good idea for bodybuilders. Flaxseed oil, which is a rich source of interesting substrates, including alpha-linolenic acid and soluble fiber mucilage, has some potentially beneficial effects. For example, it has been shown that alpha-linolenic acid may divert triglycerides from fat to muscle tissue,27 which as we discussed in Part II of this series, is a good thing. Mucilage, on the other hand, will slow down absorption of carbohydrates.31
As I explained before, you must avoid saturated fats as much as possible, while increasing the amount of unsaturated ones–using flaxseed oil is one good way of doing this. Barry Sears–the man behind the Zone Diet–concludes that flaxseed oil is bad for you since it is a precursor to “bad” eicosanoids. Well, since these so-called bad eicosanoids [such as PGE2] are necessary for testosterone production, I don’t think we should take this statement seriously; therefore, I recommend using between one and three tablespoons of flaxseed oil a day during the low-calorie/dieting phase.
BP: Here’s yet another frequently asked question–is there any way to use your theories of calorie cycling for fat loss?
TA: The concept of calorie cycling can indeed be applied to fat loss, but this is another subject altogether. In a nutshell, the prolonged adherence to any one nutritional program, be it a high-protein diet, a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-calorie diet, etc., will cause your body to adjust–to adapt and modify the way it responds. Through a relatively rapid adaptation process, your body will downgrade or upgrade certain enzymes in an effort to stay the same. I’m sure you’ve heard of “homeostasis,” which is the incredible ability of the human body to adapt to all different types of environmental stimuli, including: weight-training exercise, aerobics, supplements, drugs, nutrition, etc. Homeostasis is a good thing because it allows us to survive, but it can get in the way of our goals to change our bodies. As bodybuilders, we want to bulk up and gain muscle size and strength, which is not exactly what the body wants to do. Other people desire to lose a significant amount of bodyfat, which is also something our systems resist. I believe the secret to success is constantly tricking the body. There’s no question the concept of going on an extended low-calorie diet in an effort to lose bodyfat is a futile effort. Calorie cycling for fat loss will work. I’ll go into this in great detail in my upcoming book, and if there’s enough reader interest, we’ll do an entire feature article about this in an upcoming issue of Muscle Media.
BP: Some women have asked if the ABCDE Program will work for them, or is it just for men?
TA: Most of the theories that the ABCDE Program is based on will also benefit women who aspire to build more muscular, stronger bodies. There is one small exception though, and that concerns the anabolic phase. There seems to be a trend, in overfeeding studies, that men respond with a more favorable lean body mass to fat mass ratio. I have seen this in real life as well. I don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it is another phenomenon of the selective pressure of evolution–it could very well be that the metabolic system of men was forced to become more effective at storing excess energy as muscle tissue, while in women, excess energy was more preferentially stored as fat, which is, of course, the most effective energy storage site. Perhaps the men needed muscle strength to hunt and fight, while women needed more fat tissue to ensure their survival during periods of famine, during pregnancy, and to care for their children. This mechanism is probably mediated by the sex hormones estrogen and androgens, and the effects of these hormones on something called “lipoprotein lipase,” which is the most important enzyme in partitioning energy substrates to different tissues.
However, overfeeding studies have shown that women do experience an increase in anabolic hormones when they consume an excess number of calories.15 Keeping all this in mind, what I suggest is that women who want to gain more muscle size and strength overfeed for 2 weeks and then diet for 2 weeks, yet the 1 major modification should be that their overfeeding stage contain only 25% more calories than maintenance. For example, if a woman burns approximately 1,800 calories a day, I would suggest that she consume only 400-500 extra calories during her anabolic phase, and she should restrict calories by approximately 25% below maintenance during her dieting phase. Thus, for example, a woman whose basal metabolic rate is 1,800 calories per day should consume around 2,200-2,300 calories a day during the anabolic phase and around 1,300 calories during the dieting phase. I think this would produce favorable results.
BP: Readers have also asked why the dieting phase is only two weeks. Why isn’t it longer?
TA: I want to keep the dieting phase–or as I call it, the “anti-catabolic/lipolytic phase”–as short as possible. This is mainly due to three reasons. First, I want to initiate the overfeeding phase again as soon as possible to get back into the anabolic state. If one can start up the anabolic phase once every month and each cycle has, on average, resulted in a 2-lb quality muscle gain, we are talking about 24 lbs of new muscle tissue in a year. That’s a lot for a person with a few years of weight training under his/her belt. Second, the temptation to start cheating is much less when you know that within a limited period of time you can start eating “obscene” amounts of food again. Third, every hypocaloric diet will eventually lead to a loss of muscle mass unless you are on anabolic/androgenic steroids. Trust me, before this happens, you want to be back in the anabolic phase again.
Another reason to perform many cycles with short durations is that for every cycle you carry out, you will gain new experiences, especially if you record your weight, fat, and lean body mass. This experience can then be incorporated into your next cycle by doing the necessary changes. This way, you will also have the perfect setup for a competition with yourself. You will feel an urge to do better on every new cycle. This drive to excel is really the bottom line in successful bodybuilding!
BP: There have also been a number of queries about the “micro-cycling theories” you talked briefly about in the past two articles. What’s this about?
TA: My concept of micro-cycling is actually a sub-theory of the ABCDE Program. Not only do I recommend changing your calorie intake and exercise program every two weeks, I also think manipulating things like your protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake every three days, within the structure of the high- and low-calorie cycles, may allow you to get even better results faster. This is something I definitely can’t get into in this article because I couldn’t offer enough information, and it would just turn out to be confusing. And, with all of this feedback coming in, my theory on micro-cycling continues to evolve.
I really appreciate all of the people who are sending in their feedback. This “anecdotal” or real-world information is helping me refine my theories. This is something I can’t do simply sitting in a lab at the university.
My ABCDE book is in the works, although it will not be ready for several months. In this book, I will explain all the intricacies of this program, including micro-cycling. For now, if you want to give the ABCDE Program a try, simply focus on all the recommendations I have made in Parts I, II, and III of this article series. As you become more and more confident that you can change your body and be successful in this endeavor, you, in turn, will get even greater results!
More to Come…
Interviewing Torbjorn Akerfeldt is always fascinating–he has so much quality bodybuilding information to share. Thus, even though we’ve never had a four-part article in Muscle Media, this superfeature will continue in the next issue.
Remember, if you give this program a try, please keep track of how it works for you, and send me your feedback. In Part IV of this superfeature series, we’ll explore Torbjorn’s fascinating theories on protein and supplement cycling.
How the Anabolic Burst Cycling System Is Working for Me
In the last issue of Muscle Media, I outlined my version of the Anabolic Burst Cycling System–the exact program I planned to take for a “test drive.” I’ve included my basic overall nutrition and training program and game plan here again, so you can see my approach.
I started out by establishing a “baseline.” I consumed 2,500-2,800 calories a day for a week, just to make sure I was starting from the right point.
I then started my high-calorie phase on a Monday, with a big breakfast. In the midmorning, I had a high-protein supplement shake, a cheeseburger for lunch, another protein drink in the midafternoon, a post-workout carbohydrate and protein drink, followed by a hearty dinner, and a snack before I went to bed. I also used the supplements Phosphagen HP, Vitamin C, and Myoplex Plus Deluxe. At the end of the day, I didn’t feel anything special–just full. The second day, I continued to eat big–having a protein drink or a nutritious, good-sized meal every few hours.
Throughout the week, I tried very hard to follow the program I designed (the one in the chart on the next page). Probably the worst mistake I made is a couple of times I ate too much at once. For example, one time for dinner, my brother and I both ate an entire large pizza each while we watched a Colorado Avalanche hockey game at his place. I even felt full the next morning–it was hard to eat breakfast because my gut was so distended! (I felt like putting on the smallest posing trunks I could find, having my photo taken, and sending it in to Flex magazine. I think I might have been cover material.)
(Tip: If you’re going to try this program, eat pretty big meals often, but don’t gorge yourself. After each meal, you shouldn’t feel like you just had a Thanksgiving feast. You should just feel full, not stuffed. Follow me?)
The fourth day of my overfeeding cycle, I started to “bulge” (not just in my gut). I put on a pair of jeans that I often wear, and it felt like I was putting casts on my thighs. (My legs were bulking up–big time!) And, as you would suspect, when I trained I got mega-pumped; in fact, I would get a pump faster (after my warm-up sets I was already starting to get tight), and I would hold a pump longer–three hours after I got done working out, my muscles still felt full. It was cool!
After the first week, I hit the scale-I had gone from 197.5 to 202 lbs. I kept in touch with Torbjorn throughout this week and sent him my dietary records. He told me everything was on track and to simply do it again the next week, which I did.
I’ve got to admit, though, the second week I was actually starting to get tired of food. Those big meals that sounded so good the first week didn’t have much appeal at all. Instead of having a big lunch, I’d often have a Myoplex Plus with skim milk, and then about an hour later, I’d have a 12-oz glass of skim milk with chocolate Designer Protein in it. Knowing the importance of maintaining a constant overfeeding pattern, I made sure I consumed more than 4,000 calories every day. There were a few days when I ate over 5,000 calories but not one day where I went under 4,000. As I mentioned, there were a couple days I made myself sick eating too much of the wrong thing at the wrong time, but I would say 11 out of the 14 days I did exactly what I set out to do, which was to consume nutrient-rich, relatively high-calorie meals throughout the day. (There were a few times when I even got up in the middle of the night and had a protein drink. I think this is something that really helps my recovery, and it gives me a head start on the next day’s calorie intake.)
By the end of the second week, there was no question that I was “bulked up.” You could see it in my face, my neck, and the way my clothes fit. My strength on the squat and bench press was noticeably improved. Typically, I can knock out 6 or 8 reps with 295 lbs on the bench press, almost any day. However, on my last chest workout on the bulking phase, I decided to “rep out” with 295–I got 13 solid, clean reps. (The last time I’d seen my body change this much in two weeks and felt so strong was when I first started taking creatine a couple years ago.)
The second week of my bulking phase, I gained another 3 lbs, which took me up to 205 lbs–a 7.5-lb increase, all total. I would imagine that a good portion of this weight was enhanced cellular hydration from the extra glycogen, creatine, and other nutrients I was storing, but as Torbjorn’s theory goes, a few pounds of this weight are actually new muscle tissue. And, I could tell by my “smothered abs” that a couple pounds were fat, but that’s to be expected.
Unfortunately, now I knew I had to hit the dieting phase. You see, if you continue the bulking phase for more than two weeks, you start putting on fat, fast. Studies show the burst of anabolic hormones you get from overfeeding peaks after 12-14 days.15 Thus, you need to diet for two weeks to lose what fat you gained during the bulking phase and to “reprime” your anabolic hormones, so they shoot up when you start overeating again. Follow me? Good.
Now the Tough Part
When I started the cutting phase, it was actually kind of a relief. I had been dreading the diet since I first designed my program. I hate dieting. (Who doesn’t?!) Anyway, on my first low-calorie day, I started off the morning with a glass of water, some caffeine, ephedrine, and aspirin, and I hit a 30-minute, relatively low-intensity ride on the stationary bike I have at home. Then I showered and took off for work. I ended up waiting about an hour before I ate–I had a serving of Myoplex Plus when I got to work, and let me tell you, I was starving! Throughout this entire day, I had hunger pangs. That was the hardest thing to deal with on that day. I didn’t really get light-headed or have low energy because I kept snacking on stuff throughout the day. I’d have an apple and some yogurt, a chicken breast and vegetables, a protein drink; I tried to eat something every few hours. There’s no question that it’s a big shock for your body to go from being stuffed all the time to eating very light. I think my stomach got stretched out or something on the bulking phase because it was roaring for food all day. Fortunately, by the third day of my diet, my stomach figured out it wasn’t going to be getting any pizza, hamburgers, or big meals of any kind for a while, and it settled down.
Throughout the rest of my dieting period, I got a little hungry, but when I did, I’d just have something light to eat. (Tip: If you try this program and you’re hungry or you feel light-headed like your blood sugar might be dropping, just eat something. It’s not a contest to see how much you can punish yourself–the goal is to just eat fewer calories than you burn off–to try to lose the fat you gained during the bulking phase.)
I switched from Phosphagen HP to BetaGen (a supplement that contains HMB and creatine) during the dieting phase.
Unfortunately, the fourth day of my dieting program, I got a little carried away with some Wheaties at about midnight–I think I ate half the box and drank half a gallon of skim milk while I sat in my kitchen, in the dark, watching the always totally lame Conan O’Brien Show. So, I blew it that night. But instead of getting all bent out of shape about it, I just tried to be even more disciplined the next day.
Throughout the dieting phase, I did aerobic exercise four mornings a week. I just sat there and pedaled my stationary bike or used the Stairmaster while I watched Good Morning, America. I hate aerobics. They always feel like a waste of time. I’d much rather be at work or lifting weights, but because Torbjorn believes “cardio” is so important, I did it.
After seven days of dieting, there was no question my body was going through another transformation. My face was going back to normal, my neck didn’t look as much like a tree trunk, and I could see the striations coming back out on my legs–striations I had before I started the bulking phase but which were pretty much “masked” after 14 days of high-calorie feeding.
I was surprised at how well I maintained my strength during the first week of dieting; in fact, I felt powerful, but the second week of dieting left me feeling pretty fragile.
On or about day 11, I blew my diet again–this time at a company brunch. (I seem to have a problem with overfeeding in a social atmosphere. Get me around a group of people eating and for some reason I think calories don’t count if everybody’s consuming them.) After three plates of waffles, a big cheese-smothered omelet, and a cinnamon roll, I felt guilty. I pretty much consumed an entire day’s worth of calories in one 15-minute binge. After blowing my diet at that brunch, I actually didn’t eat again until 8:00 that night when I had a protein drink and a cup of cottage cheese. (Tip: That is a stupid thing to do.) I think I pretty much salvaged my calorie intake that day, but I get an “F” for meal patterning.
Fortunately, on 10 of my 14 dieting days I consumed less than 1,800 calories, which was my goal. On 3 days, I probably consumed right around 2,200 calories, and 1 day I went over 3,000.
I weight trained only three days a week during the dieting phase. I did my chest, shoulders, back, biceps, and triceps (just a few sets of ten reps for each body part), all in one workout. I’d take a day off and then do a pretty light leg workout, consisting mostly of leg extensions and leg curls. (My back can’t handle heavy squatting all the time, so I was kind of saving my “vertebral stamina” for my serious leg workouts during the anabolic/bulking phase.) I also trained calves and abs on my leg day. My weight-training workouts lasted only about 45 minutes to an hour.
At the end of two weeks of dieting, I hit the scale again. I weighed 199.5 lbs, but what’s really interesting is that my bodyfat dropped from 7.8-7.1% during the whole cycle–the 28-day period. So, I actually gained muscle and lost fat. And, looking in the mirror, I could see it. I had greater vascularity, my abs were more cut, my legs were more striated than they’d been in a long time, but to be honest, I felt “flat.” However, that didn’t last long. Today is the third day of my second bulking cycle, and I swear to God I feel like I’m loading up on Dianabol. Over the past three days, I’ve gained five pounds, and it ain’t fat!
Two mornings ago, I started pigging out again, and I’m guessing I inadvertently created a “carbohydrate-loading” effect. You see, when I was dieting, I kept my carbohydrates very low. For me to lose fat, I gotta stay the hell away from carbs. On my dieting phase, I tried to eat a lot of vegetables, chicken breasts, and salad. About the only carbs I had most days came from my Myoplex Plus shakes and yogurt. My carbohydrate intake was below 100 grams per day. And on the last few days of my diet, I really “tightened the rope” hoping to burn an extra pound of fat before I had my body composition measured again; I took the carbohydrate intake down to below 50 grams a day. Then, when I started bulking up the other morning, the first thing I did was pound down four bowls of frosted Cheerios, with sugar, and I chugged a quart of skim milk! (Them was the best damn Cheerios I ever did have! The milk rocked, too!) My muscles soaked up those carbs fast. By noon that day, I already felt “tighter.”
Torbjorn told me that the second overfeeding cycle could be even more productive than the first. Now I know what he was talking about! (What steroid user could honestly say that his second cycle [if he used the same dose] was more successful than the first one?)
During my workout last night, I felt even bigger and stronger and got more pumped than I did on my last workout during the bulking phase. It’s obvious that something dramatic is happening.
I’ve already got several friends started on this program. One of them, whom I work out with often here at our EAS/Muscle Media corporate gym, is Scott Blankenship, who is in charge of security. On his first bulking phase, he put on 9 solid pounds! He went from 207 to 216 lbs, and his max bench press during that 2-week period alone went from 290 to 315 lbs. The guy had never bench pressed more than 300 lbs in his life, and I personally spotted him when he slammed 315 up like the weight was made out of Styrofoam. On his dieting phase, he ended up losing only four pounds. So, on his first 28-day cycle, he put on 5 solid pounds! He and I are on the same bulking schedule, and he’s gaining size again like crazy, too.
The Bottom Line
As far as I’m concerned, the Anabolic Burst Cycling Program works–big time. At least it did for my first cycle, and the way my second bulking cycle started off, I’m even more convinced there’s something to this. I don’t know how many cycles you can do back to back and continue to make gains. This is something that even my feedback doesn’t give me a feel for yet because this program is so new.
If you’re looking for something new and exciting to spruce up your bodybuilding program, give the Anabolic Burst Cycling Program a try. If you follow the training and nutrition program, which is really not that complicated–even if you mess up a few times like I did, as long as you’re “on” most of the time, you can get there. You don’t have to do it with absolute perfection–just try to follow the program the best you can. My guess is that once you try it, you’ll become a big believer in Anabolic Burst Cycling. But, if you never try it, you’ll never know how much new muscle size and strength it can help you build. Simply reading about the ABCDE Program will not make you a better bodybuilder, believe me! So, get involved–give it a try!
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– Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise Part I:
– Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise Part II:
– Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise Part III:
– Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet and Exercise Part IV :