A few months ago I did four weeks of Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0. In terms of fat lost per unit time, it’s probably the most effective thing I’ve tried, and if my adventures in carb backloading stall out I’ll probably go back to it.
UD2.0 is a weekly carb-cycling diet. You spend roughly four days in a severe caloric deficit, flirting with if not actually bathing in ketosis, and burn fat and glycogen like nobody’s business. After one last workout to fully deplete your glycogen stores and prepare your muscle tissue for an insulin rush, you carb up like a motherfucker over the next 30 hours. After your carb-up, you lift heavy for a couple of days, then finish up a high-volume glycogen-depleting workout and start again.
The premise, briefly, is that you’ll burn through a pound or more of fat in the four-day deficit, and when you carb up your liver and muscle tissue will be so thirsty for glycogen that you won’t store any carbs as fat. The carb-up is intended to normalize your metabolism after a few days of frankly ridiculous dieting, and the subsequent lifting ought to rebuild any muscle you lost during that short diet. If you want more details, go buy Lyle’s ebook, it’s great. (And also a lot more comprehensive than anything I’m likely to write.)
A week in the life
Sunday is the last day of relatively free eating over the weekend. You eat low-carb at more or less maintenance calories, and you lift heavy. For me, this was “pulls” day — snatches, then cleans, then deadlifts. You’re still carbed up, either from the previous Friday or from whatever you were doing before starting UD2.0, so this is no harder than usual. Tell any beer left in your fridge that you love it and switch to whiskey and soda, or maybe just soda.
Monday sucks more than Mondays usually do because you’re at 50% maintenance. Pull out every trick in the book and tell yourself it’s in a good cause. Hit the gym after work and rep out on big movements — front squats, RDLs, dips, and rows for many sets of ten. Gaze longingly at the sushi place across the road as you pull out a protein shake and go home to your can of salmon. Dull the pain with a glass of bourbon IIFYM.
Tuesday and Wednesday are worse than Monday because you don’t even get to lift. Well, you can lift Tuesday if you want, but you probably can’t lift much. Listen to Pantera and tell yourself what a hardcore physical culturist you are. Have an ounce of the hard stuff IIFYM.
Thursday morning you’ll be slavering over the carb-load to come, but before you get there you need to lift. This workout’s lower-rep than Monday’s, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be disappointed with the weight on the bar. Deploy your highest-powered pre-workout and your crunchiest, filthiest metal. Keep at it until you peel yourself off the gym floor and drag your sorry glycogen-depleted carcass over to the tube of Rockets in your gym bag. It’s time for…
The carb-load. At this point, if you’ve done your part in the gym and if you avoid excesses of fructose (and its polymers), you almost certainly cannot eat enough carbs over the next day and a half to gain any fat. Your job, your solemn duty, is to try. At this point you’re probably wrecking forty bucks worth of sushi and feeling like a kid at Christmas —
Dear Santa, for carb-load I want a pound of Rockets and two cans of Pringles and enough maki to choke a horse and then some burritos and… and…
— and there’s nothing wrong with that, that attitude is what you need to carry you through the carb-load. Because when you go to sleep on Thursday night, snug in the swole arms of leptin and anabolism, the magnitude of your chosen task begins to dawn and you realize you’ve barely made a dent in the thousand-odd grams of carbs you need to consume if you want to do this right.
Friday starts early. You get up, you take a shit, and you put water to boil. One pot is for breakfast, which is two packets of cheap-ass ramen. The other pot is for white rice. While the rice cooks you wolf down noodles and MSG and whip up protein to mix with the rice. You pack that shit in Tupperware and mix protein powder with improbable amounts of creatine and waxy maize and get out the door to work. Try to shower in there somewhere.
Your co-workers, who by now are probably used to your ketogenic ways, won’t expect to see you in the kitchen microwaving a bowl of rice with bacon, eggs, and a bunch of Sriracha on top, so they’ll make unfunny jokes which you’ll ignore. Slam that rice and protein, and then mix up a protein shake with so much waxy maize in it that it tastes like drinking a panel of waterlogged chocolate-flavoured drywall. It’s ten-thirty and your endocrine system’s yelling at you to stop eating, but you can’t. Lunch is a sushi run. As soon as you can manage, finish off that rice and protein and the rest of your protein-carb shakes, and work your way grimly through a bag or three of chips from the vending machine. Insulin might be making you groggy — no coffee! Coffee is an appetite suppressant, get your caffeine from tablets. Leave the Coke and its high-fructose corn syrup in the fridge.
Quitting time and you just want to go home and sleep off the massive insulin rush you’ve inflicted upon yourself, but it’s Friday Night, Man, and for a nerd like me that means gaming. Hit the liquor store on the way home for eight tall cans of Guinness — twelve if you have to share — and a couple enormous bags of chips. Your friends aren’t ready for this, they’re expecting a veggie tray or a bag of jerky and maybe a bottle of whiskey. Everything you’ve suffered since Sunday night pays off when you look them deadpan in their wide, startled eyes, gesture to the starchy feast in front of you, and explain “I’m on a diet.” Mix some creatine into your beer just to ice that particular cake. Then roll twenties.
Saturday is maybe a better time for everything to pay off. You’re five to eight pounds heavier than you were on Thursday morning, and more vascular to boot. Your muscles are loaded with water, glycogen, and pure burning hatred of weakness and inadequacy. GO SQUAT. Squats and presses and chins, oh my, all the pure strength work you love for lots of low-rep sets, and you’re stomping around the gym like Duke Nukem when he’s all out of bubblegum. Give both your psyche and your digestive tract a break and eat at maintenance, with plenty of veggies, steak, and India Pale Ale.
Then do it all over again.
UD2.0 is frighteningly efficient at ripping fat off your body. What’s more, between the carb-load, the weekend lifting, and the fact that you’re constantly changing something related to your eating patterns, it’s also somewhere between fun and engrossing. If a safe, effective, dreary targeted ketogenic diet bores you to tears… well, UD2.0 won’t bore you to tears.
One downside is that it’s stressful. Eating low-cal low-carb Monday through most of Thursday sucks. Glycogen depletion workouts on Mondays and glycogen-depleted workouts on Thursdays suck. Even carb loads kind of suck once you get halfway through Friday and realize you still have 500g of fucking carbs to eat before roughly midnight. If the rest of your life isn’t chugging along on a happy stable path, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Another downside is that it requires some fairly specialized workouts. Applying the “athlete variations” from the back of the book help this out a little, but UD2.0 needs you to do glycogen-depletion work at the beginning of the week, tension work right before the carb-up, and strength work over the weekend. Don’t like glycogen depletion workouts? Join the club, we meet Monday nights. At the gym.
But the good news is that UD2.0 is sufficiently effective that, if you’re reasonably lean to begin with (and if you’re not Lyle suggests you try something that’s less of a pain in the ass until you are), you probably won’t need to run it for more than about a month or two.