December 30, 2009 posted by


During this cycle of training I’ll be experimenting with something called the ABCDE diet. The only additions will be that I won’t be trying to gain mass, only some targeted muscle gains along with fat loss, and it will be vegetarian. For those of you interested in mass, Bryan Carney at Beachbody will be our guinea pig in that arena.

The diet was conceptualized over a decade ago by Torbjorn Akerfeldt, who tested it on himself while studying medicine in Sweden. The acronym stands for anabolic burst cycling of diet and exercise. It’s basically a periodizational diet plan that’s a bit of a hybrid of the two dietary strategies that I use to get results with clients: structured periodization (like the P90X diet plan) and zig-zag dieting (short periods of alternate low and high cal days, using for either gaining or losing).

My diet plans work. I had decades of anecdotal testing prior to Beachbody, followed by our message board community, “the largest test group ever assembled”. I didn’t invent my diet strategies, but have tweaked them over the years. I almost always get success but there are still a few gray areas. Akerfeldt’s theories could fill in these gaps.

In essence, his plan is a giant zig zag platform; two week cycles of both undereating and overeating. He claims this helps you gain mass without the common mass achiever’s side effect of associated fat gain that must be lost later. Whether or not this plan works as well as he states is still up for debate. After all, it hasn’t become a best seller and isn’t widely practiced.

What intrigues me are a couple of points of science that seem to be the missing link in my observations.

Basically, our genes control the expression of enzymes. These enzymes control every aspect of our metabolisms, including the activation of different pathways and the rate at which chemical reactions take place in our bodies. [Outside biochemical system enzymes are often referred to as catalysts.] Evolution has given our genes the ability to control the production of these enzymes as well as their activity level. Due to this fact, the body will be able to adapt to different food intakes as well as become prepared or “primed” for a future, sudden change in the diet.

This explains why periodizational dieting works (something that I knew from experience but didn’t have the science figured out.) And Akerfeldt has taken it a step further by noting that, in the same way we adapt to exercise, our bodies adapt to dietary change—specifically in about two weeks time. So by altering how you eat every two weeks you can, if done correctly, improve the efficiency of how your muscles cells utilize nutrients.

While Akerfeldt is interested in mass this theory should be applicable for anything you’d like to do when it comes to re-designing your body because a body in an adaptive phase is far more open to suggested changes. Since he is targeting mass, he combines the diet with something called “bag theory”:

The “bag theory” is not mine–it was developed by a scientist named D.J. Millward, a well-known researcher who has extensively studied the muscle-building process. His immense knowledge and research could help a lot of bodybuilders. Basically, Millward has observed three things: 1) the almost unlimited extent to which increased food intake can promote protein deposition during “catch-up growth” in malnourished patients, 2) both active and passive stretch will mediate anabolic and anti-catabolic influences, and 3) the cessation of normal muscle growth coincides with the cessation of bone growth.

There are “connective sheets” surrounding the individual muscle fiber [endomysium], bundles of muscle cells [perimysium], and the entire muscle [epimysium]. These sheets can be thought of as a series of “bags” acting to conduct the contractile force generated by actin and myosin in muscle fibers to the bone by the tendon.

Again, this has a practical application beyond mass. It’s essentially helps you get more nutrients inside of your muscle cells. Sure, that means growth, but it also means performance. In theory, this should enable you to truly spot train, or sports train, because you can choose to stretch areas where you’d like more muscular efficiency.

The vegetarian angle is simply to test my own theories about anabolic dieting and meat.

That’s enough for today. There will be plenty more in the New Year.


  • woah steve. You blew me away! As many times as I read this article, its very interesting. Basically Cycling or Food Confusion can improve our health and performance. hmm… interesting name "food confusion".

  • Funny, I just got a note from someone else calling this "stomach confusion". It is, but so is the current 90x diet plan. That one, however, is linear and geared for one course of action. This could potentially be more versatile.

  • I would actually be interested in trying this out. I get tired of the X diet so I mix it up with the insanity one.

  • Ok….. I read the article on muscle media. I thought you were training for power endurance (long term) instead of muscle gain? (the marathon?)This is extremely interesting. I might try this diet in my bulking phase.

  • I am not trying for muscle gain, per se, because I can't afford any weight gain. So I'm looking at some muscle/fat trade off, and perhaps muscle/muscle trade off–larger in some places and smaller in others. All for sports advantage, not looks. That's why I have Bryan checking the straight gainer approach. Should work for anything, at least from the way I see it.

  • Me and Z90x were arguing in the chat about this diet for hours. The argument was about the long term side affects of this diet. Like if someone is on this diet for years and on how it would affect teenagers, since we have different hormones and metabolisms as adults. Might not work on us and plus is it worth the risk? any side affects you know of?

  • Steve,I am starting P90x classic on Monday Jan 25th. I have done 1 round of doubles, 1 round of classic and 2 hybrids between One on One's, Insanity Xplus and the X. I have seen great results and love what I am doing. My only complaint is that I am getting pretty skinny and I would like to bulk without putting on much fat… right now I am about 13%… started in the low 20's. What do you think of doing this diet with 3weeks overfeeding and one week dieting to follow the program? I just think it would be easier to cut the calories in recovery week? Would this be too much overfeeding and not enough diet?

  • Hassan, we discussed that in the chat. Regi, in your situation I think it makes sense to try it given weight gain is your priority. You aren't maximizing his time windows but those are never open and closed in any physioligical process, they slide. Give it a shot and let me know how it's working. If you are gaining more fat than you like you can always move to the 2 and 2 schedule, which I think will cut you up quickly. Since I don't want to gain weight I'm playing with the schedule too. Started on the restricted plan for a week. Now eating more and am finding it hard just to eat a lot (and I'm not eating a ton). Anyway, it's way to early to judge so I'll keep going and report later.

  • Thanks Steve… I will keep you posted!

  • Steve -I'm most interested in this. I checked out the link from your blog and then did some more reading about it. The one caution I found was the article apparently mangled his original suggestion of 14 day cycles, and that was done by the editor/publisher. That aside, I'm very interested in how your and Bryans experience went with this. I completed two rounds of p90x and about to embark on round three. I didn't get great results on the second round (as I did on the first), so I would like to play with the diet. I of course am looking for the magical "Lose body fat but build muscle" diet.Would love an update,Chris

  • I have been trying this system out for a while now, and have used it succcessfully with loads of clients. I have been writing a blog about my experiences at if anyone is still interested.So far, the key thing to get right is the diet part; eating clean when both dieting and bulking is the only way to avoid gaining excess fat. Think anabolic, just above maintenance and you will be most of the way there. After all, it's the contrast in calories that gives the body the signal, so as long as you are hitting the right targets in calories, and doing it with clean food, you will make this work.Hope this helps, George

  • amazing… I can't stop reading your blog, there is huge amount of interesting information… I'll go to take my favorite tea and will return to your website. Btw, I recommend to everybody this tea helps to concentrate and gives me power. You can use this code YAB426 for discount.Thanks for the wonderful website!

  • ive done p90x since it came out ive been testing alot of diets latly for mass (tkd ckd ud2.0 60/20/20 55/25/20 35/35/30) ive noticed best performance with high fats..and least amount of fat gain with the ketomass gainers… simalar effects with high carbs but more fat gain witch leads to longer cutting ugh..i am very interested in this abcde diet and the different macroratios i could play around with i get bored so i will try them all hopefully i will be able to stay with this long term…… ready to start since i bought tonys bring it and the one on one vol3 series also do rock climbing and powerlifting appart from p90x

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