October 19, 2010 posted by

The Shake Zag Diet

At the Beachbody Leadership conference this past weekend I got a lot of questions about the Shakeology cleanse as well as a lot of “how can I figure out how many calories I need?” Here is the answer to both: a version of the Shakeology Cleanse that you can do as often as you want and in almost any situation without risk of any performance loss.

Straight Dope followers have heard it’s my new preferred weight loss (or gain) plan. It’s not really new but just perfected (thanks to Shakeology) and is the easiest way to figure out how many calories you should be eating for performance. It’s a simple diet to follow and can be done in any situation, whether you’re sedentary or training like a White Buddhist Nun (sorry, inside joke—“your nuns into leather, Dante?”).

It’s essentially a combination of three things I’ve done in the past: the egg diet, the zig zag diet, and the Shakeology Cleanse, mainly focusing on the latter two. Here’s how it works.

It follows the principles of zig zagging: low calories two or three (sometimes four) days per week and normal calories on the others. Reverse this is you want to gain weight or suspect you’re not eating enough. The days can be consecutive or back and forth but I find that stringing them together works best.

For me, when trying to lose weight, dieting early in the week and eating what I want later and on the weekends works best, which is especially true because my weekends tend to be very active to the point where overeating is virtually impossible. This means that I get three days of zig (low cals), two days of zag (high cal), followed by two days of what works out to be zagging with a ton of exercise so that it’s still undereating.

When you zig zag your body tells you what it needs, what’s working and what isn’t, and fairly quickly you’ll know both the number of calories you should be eating for optimum performance and even how the macronutrients of those calories should be structured. By adding the Shakeology cleanse component you’ll pinpoint these things even quicker.

Zig days consist of eggs for breakfast, usually three for me with some added veggies. This is my only homage to the egg diet, which was an old school high protein diet where you eat an absurd amount of eggs. I find eggs in the AM is a good way to boost your metabolism, especially if they are not eaten with many carbs. The rest of the day consists of Shakeology. Sometimes plain and sometimes with fruit (berries, banana, whatever) and some chia seeds. An average day has one plain and one more robust shake. Dinner is a salad or veggie dish. Starches are off but I do allow legumes, quinoa (a veggie). Dinner is modest , but not small, so that the daily calorie totals are low. This varies but should be over 1000 for sure. I generally go 1200 – 1500.

I get a lot of caffeine questions and in this scenario it’s totally fine: coffee or tea. I drop caffeine when I’m cleansing because of its heightened effects when you aren’t eating much food. But this is a lifestyle and caffeine is good for exercise and coffee and tea and quite healthy if they don’t have junk added to them. I also allow wine and or beer with dinner, though I try and stick with wine because it fits the theme better. I drink plenty of water and don’t alter my supplement plan. Again, it’s a lifestyle and not a cleanse.

Zag days aren’t extravagant. I just eat normal, which generally means bread, cereal, rice etc will come back on. Portions might get bigger, but things are similar. I eat a lot of salad, veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds. I don’t eat much meat of any kind. Most days I drink Shakeology and if it’s more convenient I’ll sometimes drink it twice. I eat for what I’m doing and this varies massively over the year. If it’s a easy day, which say includes an hour or so of training, I might only eat 2500 cals or so. If it’s a big day out I might eat 5 or 6 thousand calories. On average I’d say I’m in the 3000 ballpark on a work day that includes a couple hours of training and an easier hour or so dog hike.

I do this until I’m at the weight that I desire. While it can be done indefinitely you’ll probably grow bored of it in time. I do a version of it somewhat regularly just to get a check on where I’m at and how I’m functioning. There never seems to be a wrong time (except any holiday where culinary experience it vital) to follow this plan.

Of course when you do this it should be set up for you personally. Caloric calculators are always wrong. All they provide you with is a ballpark figure: a starting place. No matter what you will need take this figure and tweak it because almost any two people, even who are physiologically identical, will have different metabolisms. And even compared to yourself you need to consistently alter and tweak because your metabolism changes throughout your life, depending on many factors.

When zig zagging you’ll want to pay close attention to what you are eating. My casual attitude comes with years of experience. Your body will tell you, in time, what is working and what isn’t. Performance is your gauge. When you’re killing your workouts you’ll know you’ve got it dialed. Body composition change will then, by extension, be forced to follow.

pics: shakes and coffee, the cornerstone of any comeback.


  • Great information! I also like eggs for the am it just keeps me full longer then a carb like cereal.

  • Saw the following review of this product to help monitor calorie usage last week. Looks like an interesting way to help remove some of the guess work from calorie consumption. Any thoughts?

  • Those things can be fun but they aren't accurate. If you read the small print you'll see it's can vary up to 30%, and if you eat 30% more or less calories than you should be eating life will not go well. We actually had a good laugh at this because Bodybugg wanted to be a part of a "scientific" test group with us. Our attorney saw the 30% and was, like, "are you kidding?!!"

  • Thanks Steve, this helps very much and is explained simply and clearly. I guess listening to your body is key here. It quite amazing how it will tell you exactly what it needs rather than trying to follow some regimented written diet.

  • great information Steve and I've recently become a fan of this idea of cycling calories and love that I can do it with Shakeology and the foods I love.Joy

  • Listening, yes, but we're also forcing the issue. What I try and do with diet is to promote situations where your body will give you clear signals when it needs change. Once you LEARN to listen it's generally telling you the right things.

  • Steve, First of all great blog! I've been trying the diet for the last two weeks and have only dropped 3lbs from my high point from the p90 program. I'm training for a big bouldering trip in early december and want to drop at least 10 lbs more. Do you recommend adding some cardio? I'm currently on a power cycle with some yoga and core on off days. Mike

  • Mike, yes absolutely. Try 30m to a couple of hours of EASY cardio 3-5 times per week, preferably in the morning prior to eating. Keep everything else the same and you should drop weight quickly. Dec, huh? Must be Hueco. Have a fantastic trip!

  • Yes! I'll be in Hueco! Thanks for the advice and constant motivation. Going to drop that weight! I should've figured cardio was the answer. I want to lose the weight in 13 days and then have a month to get used to the new weight before the big trip!

  • re: Mike – why not train like normal at your current weight and drop the weight you want to lose 2 weeks before you leave for your trip? Just an idea.

  • I so want to try something that will give me quick energy in the morning like 10 minutes before my workout aside from juice or banana. I was thinking maybe chugging coffee, good or bad plan? Taste wise it's gross. P.S- Still eating a lot of food like 10-15 minutes before bed and glycogen stores are full, but sometimes even those stores run out easily when doing heavy compound lifts.

  • Steve, I'm wondering where you got that 30% number re: Bodybugg? I have a GoWear Fit (same device/makers but not affiliated with 24 hr fitness) and their site is citing >10% difference: no non-lab setting calorie measurement is going to be 100% accurate. But I find this much more accurate than heart rate monitors and it gives me feedback and accountability that helps a lot. In the first 50 days of Power 90 using Shakeology and this device I lost 17 pounds. Would I have lost this much without it? Maybe, though I think I would have been massively over estimating my calorie burn.

  • Yeah, they don't advertise it. Our legal team got it from Bodybugg themselves when we were considering using it to get some scientific data. Chances are that it's closer than that in most cases. And if you monitor yourself with some reason these things can be effective. In my testing I've found that once I know how I'm responding I can guess and be in the ballpark too. That's not meant to be discouraging; just clinical. You can gain a lot of knowledge about yourself using one of these devices.

  • Steve,First of all, best fitness blog period. Checking your blog is like going to look under the tree Christmas morning.I think Shakeology is a fantastic product, but I'm having trouble trying to decide when to work it into my day. Quick background:Due to scheduling I have to workout at 7 a.m. Mon-Fri. I also sneak in a workout on Sat and play on Sunday. I'm usually up 60-90 minutes prior to morning workouts. I'm one of those super skinny guys (6'3" 175 pounds) and I can eat like crazy, and usually do. Not really looking to do any beefin' per se, I just want to be stronger, faster, etc.What I'm trying to decide is when to take Shakeology, vitamins and whether or not it makes sense to take some other kind of protein shake as well. Right now I'm snacking prior to workout and doing Shakeology after my workouts just because I haven't had time to figure anything else out (just got back to the states a couple weeks ago). At lunch I'll take a multi vitamin, couple of fish oils, and Calcium/Magnesium, once again just from lack of knowing when it would be best to take them.I'm totally open to suggestions. I just want the best recovery I can get so I can hit it hard every morning. I just wrapped up a four month P90X/Insanity Hybrid workout and I’m now doing some Crossfit for a few months.Any help or advice would be much appreciated. Keep blogging!

  • Clint,Thanks. How do you feel during your workouts? That is generally the best indicator of nutrient timing. If you feel energized you're probably doing okay. Performance is always the gauge of diet.Insane, Hmm, well coffee fits that bill and there are a ton of pre-workout formulations on the market that are 'stronger'. Since you are just looking for a mental boost coffee is probably enough, and you probably don't need a lot of it.I love hearing that you eat before bed and still exhaust your glycogen. Oh, to be young! Actually, that does make a case for some kind of pre-workout drink that has some calories. It would not hurt to experiment.

  • What you think about the Primal Blueprint or Paleo.

  • Of all the "fad" diets in history it's probably one of the best. I don't buy all of the "science" they use to justify why grains are bad as much of it is used out of context or is just plain misinterpreted but the foods they recommend to eat are generally very healthy. So I'm pro Paleo with the caveat that if something on their no-no lists appeals to you go ahead and give it a shot, especially when it comes to athletics. In fact, the weak point of these diets is their athletic fueling strategies that condones almost any low-brow sugar concoctions and discredits some tried and true and modern strategies that I (and many other athletes) have found superior.

  • Hi, Steve! Great Blog! I do have a question about listening to your body though. When I try to eat every few hours, I feel as though I am force feeding myself, even if I only eat a tiny amount at each sitting. I don't eat much and can be completely fine with just having shakeology 2x a day without eating at all. My mom complains that I don't eat enough, but I'm not hungry!! Should I listen to my body and maybe only have a salad at lunch with nothing else all day, or should I force feed myself?

  • Hi, Steve! Great Blog! I do have a question about listening to your body though. When I try to eat every few hours, I feel as though I am force feeding myself, even if I only eat a tiny amount at each sitting. I don't eat much and can be completely fine with just having shakeology 2x a day without eating at all. My mom complains that I don't eat enough, but I'm not hungry!! Should I listen to my body and maybe only have a salad at lunch with nothing else all day, or should I force feed myself?

  • Hi Steve great blog, I do have a question about caffeine in Chocolate Shakeology specifically. The Chocolate bag no longer says caffeine free. If there are trace amounts of caffeine, what is the number and is cocoa powder the source?

  • I'd have to confirm with Bill that there is ANY but if there is it's a trace amount. I heard yesterday (10/25/11) that we use a water extraction process to decaffeinate the natural caffeine sources so not sure why it's no longer on the label.

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