It Came from the '90s: The Anabolic Diet
It Came from the ‘90s:
The Anabolic Diet
Today, I sat down at my computer to write the second-part in my Denis Du Breuil “rules of bulk-building” when something I was writing (about the benefits of carbohydrates) made me think—for some odd reason—about Mauro Di Pasquale’s “anabolic diet”, a diet I had great success with in the mid ‘90s. One of my training partners had even better success with it—I remember it vividly because it was the first time that I witnessed someone get bigger while staying very lean. (These days, bodybuilders tend to know better. But back then, the over-riding philosophy was that you bulked up as big as possible in the off-season—gaining a combination of fat, water, and muscle—and then got really lean starting 12 to 16 weeks out from a competition—or the summer, if you didn’t compete. Of course, “over-riding philosophy” didn’t mean that everyone did it—there were some bodybuilders sounding the trumpet against such bulking strategies, the staff of the old MM2K magazine being a prime example.)
Then I thought about something else. The most popular post on this blog the past year—by far—was/is my rambling semi-essay on “Big Beyond Belief, HIT, Phil Hernon, and Other Things that Came from the ‘90s.”
The ‘90s were the heyday—for me—of bodybuilding. I liked the training that was popular during those years, I enjoyed many of the bodybuilders—back when all the guys competing for the Mr. Olympia or the NPC Nationals didn’t look as if they were simply pumped-up clones of one another—and I spent the vast amount of the decade trying to put on as much muscle mass as was humanly possible on my frame. (In the late ‘90s, strength and power became my “thing”, but I’ll save the specifics of that for another time.)
And so, I thought if my Big Beyond Belief post was so popular, maybe I should do a series of posts entitled “It Came from the ‘90s!” And why not start with the “anabolic diet”, since it’s what’s currently on my mind.
“Pork Chop Diet” Beginnings
Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale, the creator of the Anabolic Diet, wrote a monthly column for MuscleMag International all throughout the ‘90s. (I think he began writing the column in the ‘80s, but I may be wrong.) It was entitled “The Doctor’s Corner”, and it had a plethora of good information that mainly dealt with overcoming injuries or dealing with minor pains of one sort or another, although it occasionally had information about steroid abuse effects—gyno, anyone?—or answered questions about various supplements from a medical point-of-view. But I didn’t first read about the Anabolic Diet through MuscleMag but rather through an article that appeared in the September, 1992 issue of Iron Man magazine. Greg Zulak wrote the article, and it wasn’t entitled “The Anabolic Diet” but, rather, its title was “The Pork Chop Diet”. (Sometime within the next year or two, Dipasquale must have decided that the Pork Chop Diet wasn’t the best diet-name—it started appearing in bodybuilding publications with the name it’s had ever-since.)
These days, low-carbohydrate diets don’t even cause people to bat an eyelash—with all of the crap like Paleo, Atkins, and South Beach that have been around for some years. At the time, however, reading the article was quite a shock for me. Everyone that I trained with, everyone that I knew, and all of the articles I had been reading for years told me that I needed to eat a high carbohydrate, moderate protein, low fat diet if I wanted to pack on the muscle mass and stay lean at the same time. Now, don’t get me wrong, the book Super Squats taught me that it was a great idea to drink a gallon of milk per day if I wanted to grow massive, and quite a few articles from Zulak over the years before I read his pork chop-touting had espoused diets with plenty of fat in order to help build muscle, but no one was saying that an extremely high fat, high protein, low carb diet was great for getting shredded.
Of course, eventually I realized that Dipasquale wasn’t really coming up with anything new. Vince Gironda, the “Iron Guru”, had touted high-fat, high-protein diets for many, many years. In the 1950s, Gironda got so ripped for bodybuilding competitions that he actually had points deducted by the judges for being too-damn lean. And Gironda got that way by eating little other than whole eggs, steak, butter, and whole cream. His favorite “protein shake”, in fact, was nothing but a dozen raw eggs and several cups of whole cream blended until smooth.
Nonetheless, the “Pork Chop Diet” was a revolution to me in 1992.
Here’s how Zulak described the diet in the ’92 article: “For five days (say, Monday through Friday) you follow a high-fat, high-protein, high-calorie diet, including less than 50 grams of carbs a day. Then on the weekend, you have two days of high-carb, high-protein, low-fat eating. Dipasquale said that a 200-pound man should probably be eating 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day. Because so many high-fat foods are also high in protein, this includes about 350 to 400 grams of protein.”
My Experiment with the Anabolic Diet
The original Pork Chop Diet article fascinated me, but I never gave it a test-drive until a few years later (’94 or ’95, I think). By this time, it had re-invented itself as the Anabolic Diet, since it was supposedly capable of packing on mass, while staying lean, unlike anything else. (It had also made a bit of a name for itself since Dispaquale was the resident doctor for the soon-to-be-defunct World Bodybuilding Federation headed by Vince McMahon. The good doctor thought that the Anabolic Diet would be an excellent choice for the bodybuilders in the WBF, since the federation had issued a strict drug-testing policy. It didn’t go over so well—to say the least—but that’s for another time and another story. Maybe I’ll decide to do an “It Came from the ‘90s WBF special” at some point.)
My training partner, Dusty, and I both experimented with it in stretches of 6 to 8 weeks. Monday through Friday we would eat all we could possibly muster of steak, eggs, whole cream, butter, bacon, ham, sour cream, cheese of any sort, hamburger meat, sausages of all kinds, and, yes, even pork chops. On top of this, we would often “swig” shots of vegetable oil throughout the day to make sure we were consuming the requisite number of calories. And on the weekends, we basically ate whatever-the-heck we felt like eating, as long as we kept the carbs high and the fat relatively low. This even included things such as donuts, ice cream, and beer—we loved beer; I still do.
Did it work? Yeah, I stayed lean, while gaining a few pounds of muscle. For Dusty it worked even better. His abs began to really show, he looked hard as a rock, and I think he gained 10 to 15 pounds of mass—probably a little water, but mainly it was hypertrophy.
But I didn’t continue to do it. I always felt the best while eating a good amount of carbohydrates when trying to gain muscle mass, and this is still the way I feel to this day—I eat vegan for at least half of the year, for God’s sake. But it did work, while I think that diets such as Atkins, Paleo, and South Beach will very decidedly not work, and may even be dangerous, in the long haul.
Fast Forward to 2015
When it comes to building muscle, gaining strength, and staying lean, I would stay away from low-carb diets. Depending on your body-type, a traditional bodybuilding diet of 60% carbs, 30% protein, and 10% fat may be good, or it could be that you function on more of a 40-30-30 ratio of either carbs, fat, protein, or fat, carbs, protein.
But, if I’m honest with myself, then I have to admit that a lot of people would do very well on the Anabolic Diet. It also wouldn’t cause metabolic damage, a real problem on Paleo, South Beach, or other similar crap. (If you doubt me, read this article from Scott Abel. It’s rather enlightening.)
The Anabolic Diet still works because, unlike Atkins, et al, its focus is not low carb, but, rather, it’s high fat. (Read that sentence at least two more times to let it sink in.)
Atkins, Paleo, and the others emphasize low carb, relatively high amounts of protein, and only a moderate amount of fat. These diets will work for a couple of weeks, but then—even if the fat loss doesn’t completely plateau—the diet has the potential to really screw up one’s metabolism. However, when a lot of fat is consumed—70% or more—the dieter’s metabolism stays healthy, and the fat loss is more continuous.
A couple of months ago, Scott Abel wrote an article about real low-carb dieting for his own blog. It was based on the diet of his business partner, and bodybuilding competitor, Kevin Weiss. Here are some excerpts from that article:
World Powerlifting Champ Kevin Weiss and I get together at least once per week for coffee.
At our last get together I could tell Kevin had dropped a couple lbs.
“Back on the high-fat diet” I asked him.
“Yep”, he said.
You see Kevin is just several weeks out from the next World Championships and he wants to make weight for a lighter weight class. And when dieting, Kevin—who is a natural “meat tooth” (in contrast to my “sweet tooth”)—always opts for the extremely high-fat diet approach.
Now with Kevin, I would never ask “So, you back to low carbs diet?”
That would be like an insult to him. Kevin is an astute student of the game. He knows that the term “low carb diet” has no relevance to what he is doing: it’s the extremely high fat diet that is more descriptive of his approach.
And this is the mistake 99% of people out there make. Over coffee, Kevin explained to me why he gave up trying to help people with this diet: “Scott, they just won’t take their fats high enough to make it work long-term.”
Right on top of it as always!
Weight-Loss Competition Diet
Kevin needs to drop some weight but still be able to perform at his best. And if you buy into industry nonsense you would think that since Kevin is a powerlifter his emphasis would be on getting in enough protein.
His emphasis is in getting in a high enough amount of fat.
In fact, the protein macro ratio of his weight-loss competition diet, is just over 12%! That’s right! 12% Protein!!! Read on. This is what the “low carbs diet approach” was supposed to be all along – AN EXTREMELY, EXTREMELY HIGH FAT DIET. So I got Kevin to scribble down his meals for that day for me, but I’ll only show you two. I had a great laugh out loud moment: Check this “weight-loss diet” out:
Breakfast: 3 whole eggs
4 slices bacon
4 tablespoons sour cream
2 slices cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup heavy cream
Lunch: 2 cups spinach
3 oz. regular ground beef
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice cheddar cheese
Meal Alternative: Sometimes he’ll have this meal option:
2 teaspoons coconut oil
4 ounces prime rib
3 whole eggs
1 cup spinach
½ cup feta cheese
½ cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons sour cream
OK, so you get the picture: the true essence of a low-carbs approach that can actually work and not negatively impact metabolism is that it is EXTREMELY high in fat.
Kevin and I then discussed how many ladies we know who whine about being “carb resistant” would ever eat a diet high enough in fat to be metabolically constructive.
After reading that, I thought more about why my training partner had such good success with the Anabolic Diet in the ‘90s. And why it would still work for anyone today.