Does the anabolic diet work?

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The Diet

The anabolic diet is a carb-cycling diet that’s aimed primarily at bodybuilders and strength and power athletes. It involves cycling between periods of low and high carbohydrate intake with the aim of generating optimum conditions for building muscle and burning body fat.

The Claim

The diet’s creator and author of The Anabolic Solution, Dr Mauro di Pasquale, says that by cycling your intake of fat, protein and carbs, you’ll boost your body’s levels of anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, while increasing its use of stored fat as energy. This means you can use the diet to bulk up by building lean muscle or to reduce body fat while maintaining existing muscle mass, depending on how much food you eat. It aims to be a safe and natural way of eating building muscle instead of using drugs.

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The Method

The diet begins with a low-carb phase that lasts between six and 12 days, during which your body adapts to using fat as its primary fuel source. It takes your body about 4 weeks to adapt to the diet. This means you keep your limited supplies of muscle glycogen in reserve for when you really need them – during training. After the low-carb phase the diet proper begins, and this involves ‘cycling’ five to six low-carb, high-fat, high-protein days each week with one or two days of eating mostly carbs.

The Reality

The initial low-carb adaptation phase – where you’re purposely running down your stored carb supply – is very tough physically, and my concentration and energy levels really suffered. But once my body had switched to using fat as its primary food source, I felt great and full of energy.

My food choices during the week were fairly meat-heavy, and I was free to eat fatty foods such as cheese and butter, so I never felt too restricted or hungry. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Di Pasquale condoned a degree of drinking and partying during the ‘high-carb’ weekend days – most booze and junk food is carbohydrate-heavy, after all – which made it a lot easier to maintain a decent social life and helped me to stay strict and motivated during the week.

The Result

The amount of weight I was lifting in training didn’t increase spectacularly over the month, but it didn’t drop during the low-carb days either. However, I did notice a dip in cardio performance during the week as my body ran out of glycogen.

I saw small but significant improvements in body composition, gaining half a kilogram of muscle and dropping a kilogram of body fat. My cholesterol profile improved too – all while eating cheese, bacon and pancakes!

The Verdict

Vegetarians and people who do a lot of cardio training or team sports will struggle on the low-carb days, but if you’re primarily focused on weightlifting or bodybuilding and you’re happy eating plenty of meat and fish, this diet could produce excellent results – provided you can deal with the initial adaptation phase.

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Former columnist

Drew Price is a nutritionist and a former columnist for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. He is the author of the The DODO Diet. He holds a masters degree in nutrition science from Western Sydney University, and holds certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. In 2022, he is a doctoral researcher at Reading University.