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Old 02-16-2013, 03:38 PM   #1
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High fat vs High protein/low fat ?

This is a spin off from another thread asking about the best way to "crash diet"....

I'm wondering... why is it that body builders who want to lose fat go on a low carb, high protein, but LOW FAT diet? Even if they arent crash dieting, they tend to eat pretty low fat. Where as, on other low carb programs, its encouraged to eat a HIGH fat to lose weight?

Would I be better off actually cutting out fat and eating protein if I want ot lose some vanity pounds?

It seems like these people have every incentive to do things the most effective way.... I mean the professionals basically get paid on whether they succeed and win. I dont think they come with any real "agenda" in promoting a special diet. They just want results.
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Old 02-16-2013, 03:42 PM   #2
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I think I would skip low fat if I were you.

Not all body builders eat low fat. Many eat higher fat, lower carbs.

Most do not eat what they would consider high protein. They consider it to be adequate for their needs.

Unless you are going to workout like a bodybuilder I would not suggest eating like one.
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Old 02-16-2013, 03:45 PM   #3
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I am pretty sure it is to cut calories and lose body fat in order to get "cut" for competition. The high protein spares most (but not all) of the muscle gains leading up to an event. Also, the LC reduces water weight. Some are close to renal failure dehydration on the day of competition. Even body builders only do this before a competition as it is not sustainable.
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Old 02-16-2013, 05:15 PM   #4
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Just to throw in my two cents, I think eating higher fat is better for people that have struggled with their weight issues long term (especially for people, like me, that have been obese). The extra fat satiates hunger and translates into actually eating less food overall while feeling satisfied with their options.

A bodybuilder may not have the same food related issue (i.e. overeating, compulsive eating, yo-yo dieting, binging, etc.) so they can follow a low fat (less filling) nutrition plan with a different frame of mind.
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Old 02-16-2013, 06:29 PM   #5
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I am not a body builder but high fat never worked for me. I prefer to get enough protein, tons of vegetables, and then round out my menu with fat (around 1200 calories).

Fat just has too many calories for me, and it doesn't fill me up. I can eat a chicken breast with a big salad with evoo for 400 calories and be full for a long time, but if I had a 700 calorie coffee like some people do with butter, hwc, coconut oil, etc I would be hungry right after so that would not be 700 calories well spent.

I think since they are watching their calories and need to most importantly get enough protein, lots of fat doesn't fit into their menus.

I eat full fat things but watch my portions of them.
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Old 02-16-2013, 08:17 PM   #6
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Strawberry, if you just want to lose a few pounds you are better off cutting carbs and keeping fats. As mentioned, bodybuilding cuts for competition are for temporary results - not for sustainable results.

Even when I did low fat, high protein bodybuilding nutrition in the past, the creator of the program had me supplement with six servings of EFAs AND six servings (tablespoons) of virgin coconut oil per day. Figuring all that healthy fat in to my low fat nutrition plan made it a high fat plan nutritionally speaking. I don't know of any reputable bodybuilding plan that suggests low fat with no healthy fats.
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Old 02-17-2013, 09:44 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Strawberry View Post
This is a spin off from another thread asking about the best way to "crash diet"....

I'm wondering... why is it that body builders who want to lose fat go on a low carb, high protein, but LOW FAT diet? Even if they arent crash dieting, they tend to eat pretty low fat. Where as, on other low carb programs, its encouraged to eat a HIGH fat to lose weight?

Would I be better off actually cutting out fat and eating protein if I want ot lose some vanity pounds?

It seems like these people have every incentive to do things the most effective way.... I mean the professionals basically get paid on whether they succeed and win. I dont think they come with any real "agenda" in promoting a special diet. They just want results.
The bodybuilding "protein-sparing modified fast" (PSMF) is an extremely targeted, specialized approach that is only used for very specific reasons -- it isn't a "typical" bodybuilding fat loss approach. The PSMF is basically a "fast" -- eliminating dietary fuel sources to the body in order to force the body to burn it's stored fat when there's essentially NO dietary fuel intake to burn. It's only used in desperate situations, when the bodybuilder has way too much bodyfat too close to competition.

The PSMF contains a calculated amount of protein in order to spare lean body mass (0.8g-2.0g of protein per pound of lean body mass (LBM), with a variance based on starting bodyfat percentage and the muscle maintenance needs for bodybuilders who are weight training). Bodybuilders who start a PSMF aren't keto-adapted, so their primary fuel source is glucose. If they don't take in any fuel at all, the body will break down muscle tissue and convert it to glucose in order to feed the body and brain. And because they are working out with weights, they also need to make sure that the body has enough dietary protein to support muscle synthesis and repair. Pre-contest bodybuilders don't want to lose muscle tissue, so the PSMF feeds the body just enough protein to "spare" muscle tissue.
Lyle McDonald says, "By providing protein intake, the liver was now using dietary protein instead of body protein to make glucose, sparing the loss of LBM that had been occurring. This approach was called a protein sparing modified fast or PSMF. ... Basically the goal was to find out what combination of nutrients would allow the least number of calories to be consumed while allowing the maximum rate of fat/weight loss."
The PSMF is a specialized, last-chance-saloon approach to fat cutting. A "cyclical ketogenic diet" (CKD) is a more *standard* bodybuilding "cutting" diet, and CKDs are not typically low in fat.

Because bodybuilders start dieting with very low levels of bodyfat, they face fat-burning problems that people with average to obese levels of bodyfat don't face -- when the body has less than 10% bodyfat, the human body makes hormonal and metabolic adjustments that work to *protect* the body's remaining fat stores. Thyroid hormone levels, leptin, dopamine, and the entire sympathetic nervous system rapidly and dramatically down-regulate, which lowers the body's energy needs. Hormones like "neuropeptide Y" and "corticotropin-releasing hormone" rapidly and dramatically rise and limit fat release. Receptors in the brain and body tissues re-adjust the levels of, literally, hundreds of different substances in the body in order to preserve the low amounts of remaining bodyfat.

Dieters with higher starting levels of bodyfat don't down-regulate these systems as *rapidly* as bodybuilders, for a lot of reasons (although they do eventually down-regulate). It just takes longer to down-regulate in a high-bodyfat environment -- partly because higher amounts of bodyfat contain a larger number of adrenergic receptors, which stimulate fatty acid release from fat cells. Partly because large amounts of bodyfat contain/release hormones that continue to send signals to the brain and sympathetic nervous system, while lower levels of those hormones in circulation, such as the levels found in bodybuilders that have less than 10% bodyfat, provoke a systemic reaction against starvation. And there are many more reasons why a larger amount of bodyfat creates an environment that can more readily release and burn stored bodyfat.

Because it's more difficult to release and burn bodyfat in extremely-low bodyfat environments, bodybuilding cutting diets don't *typically* reduce calories more than 10-20% below "maintenance" calorie levels. Reducing calories more than 10-20% has been found -- through bodybuilding practice and experimentation and clinical research -- to dramatically increase systemic metabolic down-regulation. So most *standard* bodybuilding fat cutting diets contain a fairly high amount of calories -- big guys with lots of muscle mass have high "maintenance" calories, wherein many guys maintain at 6,000 or more calories per day.

CKD "cutting" diets cut dietary carbohydrates to ketogenic levels, to lower insulin levels and promote fat release. They also cut dietary protein intake, to support the body's glucose needs and sustain muscle maintenance, without giving the body "excess" protein fuel to burn through "gluconeogenesis" and promote insulin increases in response to more systemic glucose. However, they don't want to cut calories too low, in order to avoid metabolic down-regulation. So the rest of the large amount of necessary daily calories have to come from fat.
Dan Duchaine -- one of the most influential bodybuilding nutrition "gurus" of the twentieth century -- developed the BodyOpus diet, which became the model for modern bodybuilding "cutting" CKDs. Duchaine said, "The worst kinds of foods make BodyOpus fly -- bacon, sausage, fried pork skins, hard cheese and whole eggs." Fat calories are often quite high on CKDs because calories have to stay relatively high and fat is the "safest" source of calories for this particular "cutting" environment.
Some contemporary bodybuilders don't eat (much) saturated fat, though -- like red meat and egg yolks and butter -- because they believe it's more *difficult* to cut stored saturated fat from the body when bodyfat levels fall below 10%. I have NO IDEA if there's any truth to that! But some guys *swear* that when they bulk up (building muscle and adding bodyfat) to get back to "normal" after competitions that they have found, through experience by eating mostly monounsaturated fats and essential fatty acids during bulking, that it becomes *easier* to cut for the next competition. Some bodybuilding nutrition coaches specifically advise their clients to avoid saturated fats, and they claim that they can physically *feel* a difference in fatty areas of the body when their clients have been eating less saturated fat. Supposedly, more saturated fat makes stored bodyfat *feel* firmer than monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat.

I'm not saying this is true -- it sounds kind of like bodybuilding "voodoo" to me! I know a lot of bodybuilders and I have found that, as a group, they can be very *superstitious* about nutrition. I'm just saying that, if you look at some bodybuilding diets, there's a reason you'll see a lot of what appears to be a "healthy-fat" approach to nutrition.

They also tend to eat low-fat diets during maintenance and bulking cycles because they're eating more carbohydrates than they typically eat during "cutting" cycles, which means higher levels of insulin, which means the body is hormonally geared to "store" nutrients in the body. Bodybuilders want to direct nutrients into muscle tissue, not into fat storage, so they eat in a way that is designed to pump insulin into muscle cell synthesis rather than fat cell storage. So they eat a lot of protein and much lower amounts of fat.
Bodybuilding nutrition "guru" Dan Duchaine said, "Many athletes eat too much protein. Your diet should contain 25 to 30 percent protein; more is not necessary nor productive. People tend to consume more protein while dieting because they believe that more protein will prevent muscle loss. This only works in ultra-low-calorie, near-starvation diets in which protein is too low in the first place. Most excess protein intake is scavenged by the liver for gluconeogenic amino acids, and the rest is turned into (saturated) fat. This is not an economical way of getting saturated fats."
Duchaine trained champions. He was incredibly successful at his job because his nutrition and training approaches worked extremely well. Even though he's been dead for almost 20 years, his work still influences contemporary bodybuilding nutrition and training -- BUT not even Dan Duchaine could get bodybuilders to stop loading up on protein! As a group, bodybuilders tend to believe that high-protein/low-fat/"good"-carbs is the best "anabolic" (muscle building) recipe. Elite coaches *try* to promote other approaches (with more moderate protein intake) but it's difficult to convince bodybuilders that "eating protein" isn't the same thing as "feeding muscle." So a lot of what you see actual bodybuilders eat -- especially bodybuilders that are not at "champion" level -- isn't necessarily the most effective nutritional approach.

I totally agree with you and I deeply appreciate the books that I've read that are specifically geared towards bodybuilders because they don't have the *agenda* that I find in most diet books, in my opinion. Bodybuilding nutrition *is* about results because it absolutely has to be about results -- it's an extremely competitive field and success (in building muscle size and cutting bodyfat) is the only thing that counts.

But I have also learned, by living with bodybuilders for most of my life, that a lot of what they actually do is based on their *intuition* about nutrition and training. For example, no matter HOW MANY HUNDREDS OF STUDIES show that working to "failure" is not more effective than doing the same number of reps at lower weight, they will still work to failure because it *feels* more anabolic. So it's hard to use bodybuilders as a model for what an *average* person should do -- partly because their hormonal and metabolic environment is so dramatically different from *normal*, and partly because a lot of bodybuilding approaches are based on what *feels* effective rather than what has been proven to be effective.
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Old 02-17-2013, 10:20 AM   #8
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With a little luck, trillex will step in - she knows a ton about weightlifting science. (Can you edit the thread title to put something about bodybuilding in it? That might make it more likely she'll see it.)
I don't want to be the know-it-all, weird-details person of the forum! I just have a lot of bodybuilding *helpers* who are constantly giving me advice. They do know a lot about how the human body works (along with a bizarre storehouse of details about lab mice), which I find really interesting even if it's not necessarily that helpful to the average dieter.

I want to share the information, because I think it's fascinating. And sometimes relevant to low-carb dieting. But I don't want to mislead anybody into thinking that "because bodybuilders do it" then it must be "better" or at least "more effective" than other approaches. A lot of their choices are based on having highly abnormal metabolic environments.
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Old 02-17-2013, 10:51 AM   #9
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Trilex, I want to sincerely thank you for typing out all that information. That was EXTREMTLY helpful to understand exactly what body builders are doing. (and yes, I find it very interesting too... I'm in the medical field, so I appreciate hearing the explanation of hormones, etc) And I think you probably ARE more expert than you realize!

I think I will look into the cyclic ketogenic diet more.... I'm actually a little happier about that one because I looked online at meal plans for the PSMF diet, and MAN its harsh! I can stick to just about anything, but I defintely would not be enjoying it much.

I'm already "thin", at 112 lbs... but my muscles have definitely shrunk from lack of exercise (job related reasons) and its like the same amount of muscle loss has been replaced wiht fat. So I'm going to try to start doing some weights and ab work (just found Jilian Michaels on you tube!). My stomach is ridiculous, you can see the lines of the rectus on the sides because I am thin, but I have the WEAKEST abs. I can tell the muscle itself is really thin too.. At risk of using a phrase body builders HATE to hear, I want to be more "toned"... I think what I really want is to build some more muscle, while losing the extra fat I didnt used to have.

Last edited by Strawberry; 02-17-2013 at 10:58 AM..
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:06 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Trillex View Post
I don't want to be the know-it-all, weird-details person of the forum! I just have a lot of bodybuilding *helpers* who are constantly giving me advice. They do know a lot about how the human body works (along with a bizarre storehouse of details about lab mice), which I find really interesting even if it's not necessarily that helpful to the average dieter.

I want to share the information, because I think it's fascinating. And sometimes relevant to low-carb dieting. But I don't want to mislead anybody into thinking that "because bodybuilders do it" then it must be "better" or at least "more effective" than other approaches. A lot of their choices are based on having highly abnormal metabolic environments.
@Trillex. Just so I understand, body builders would not be fat adapted if they are following a CKD right? Because they are still eating a large amount of carbs once a week. I was under the impression that you need go VLC for several weeks in order to become keto-adapted. Is this correct?
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:55 AM   #11
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The fact is that low fat diets are inherently unhealthy.
I dunno if you can really say this. There are a huge number of research studies done with patients who have had heart attacks or who had severe blockages in their coronaries that have reversed the disease by following a low fat diet.

An example would be the Ornish diet - very low in fat, about 10% fat, but based around whole foods - no refined carbs, just veggies, fruits, some beans, a little bit of whole grains (REAL whole grains). I think he allows some fish, but no red meat. Egg whites yes, whole eggs no, etc. There is no low fat sugary yogurt, fat free corn syrup salad dressing, or low fat pizza on his plan. I'm not saying its the best plan, and I wound find it hard to enjoy or stick with, but it DOES include a lot of very healthy foods and his patients have dramatically turned around their health in the research studies.

as an example
Atkins dinner: 8 oz ribeye steak, broccoli with large pat of butter, salad with ranch and bacon
Ornish dinner: 3 oz salmon, lentils, sauteed spinach with only 1/2 tsp oil just to get the pan lubed, and green salad with drizzle of balsamic vinegar only.

To me, both those dinners are pretty darn healthy. But one is very high in fats, low in carbs, and one is much higher in carbs and low in fats.
Now, there are plenty of studies showing Atkins does wonders for cholesterol, etc too... so I'm not here to promote the Ornish plan.. But if someone can turn around their health following a plan like that, I think its a good idea for that particular person! There have even been a few studies showing that genetically, some people do better with low fat vs low carb.

Last edited by Strawberry; 02-17-2013 at 12:02 PM..
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Old 02-17-2013, 12:13 PM   #12
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I think diet is personal and its based on a lot of things. There are people that are Fruitarian, and swear by a "fruit only" diet. It isn't my cup of tea, but the advocates say they have never felt healthier and had more energy. A diet like that is basically all carbs.
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Old 02-17-2013, 12:28 PM   #13
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Trilex, I want to sincerely thank you for typing out all that information. That was EXTREMTLY helpful to understand exactly what body builders are doing. (and yes, I find it very interesting too... I'm in the medical field, so I appreciate hearing the explanation of hormones, etc) And I think you probably ARE more expert than you realize!

I think I will look into the cyclic ketogenic diet more.... I'm actually a little happier about that one because I looked online at meal plans for the PSMF diet, and MAN its harsh! I can stick to just about anything, but I defintely would not be enjoying it much.

I'm already "thin", at 112 lbs... but my muscles have definitely shrunk from lack of exercise (job related reasons) and its like the same amount of muscle loss has been replaced wiht fat. So I'm going to try to start doing some weights and ab work (just found Jilian Michaels on you tube!). My stomach is ridiculous, you can see the lines of the rectus on the sides because I am thin, but I have the WEAKEST abs. I can tell the muscle itself is really thin too.. At risk of using a phrase body builders HATE to hear, I want to be more "toned"... I think what I really want is to build some more muscle, while losing the extra fat I didnt used to have.
Since you want to want to both build muscle and lose a relatively low amount of extra fat, maybe a CKD will be your best approach because your primary goal isn't really maximum fat loss. There's a lot of super interesting theory and experimentation behind the hormonally anabolic nature of re-feeds during ketogenic bodybuilding diets. At their most basic level, fat *loss* diets are about inducing the body to break down tissues and cycling changes the environment to promote tissue building.

A poster called Gladee88er started a thread in the "Muscle Matters" forum for carb cycling. He's dieted down to a lower bodyfat level and has recently been successfully cycling while weight training. Maybe he would be a good person to talk with!

Cycling Carbs Discussion Thread
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Old 02-17-2013, 12:48 PM   #14
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@Trillex. Just so I understand, body builders would not be fat adapted if they are following a CKD right? Because they are still eating a large amount of carbs once a week. I was under the impression that you need go VLC for several weeks in order to become keto-adapted. Is this correct?
As far as I know, keto-adaptation isn't currently a *thing* in bodybuilding culture. Re-feeds should/would/do keep bodybuilders from becoming keto-adapted during a CKD or TKD "cutting" cycle, because they don't spend enough time at a very low carb level to become keto-adapted. Plus, the fat cutting ketogenic diet is only one of many different diet approaches that bodybuilders use throughout the year, and most of the time they would be eating a fairly high level of both carbs and protein.

It's kind of confusing, though. One of the top experts on keto-adaptation, Jeff Volek, is a bodybuilder. But I'm not sure that he actually gets or stays keto-adapted. In addition to co-writing a sports performance book on keto-adaptation, he has also co-written multiple books on carb cycling. Volek has consistently researched and written about the ways that controlling carbohydrate intake can be beneficial to strength athletes, but I'm not really sure where he stands with regard to keto-adaptation specifically for bodybuilders.

Bodybuilders may be different from other strength athletes -- maybe? -- because their primary goal is aesthetic, to *show" muscle development and separation and striation and vascularity and all of that, and not necessarily to get stronger or have greater lifting endurance. Maybe powerlifters would experience more of an advantage by being fueled by fat than bodybuilders, for example, because the aim of their sport is greater lifting volume, which is not necessarily the case with bodybuilders.

I don't know every bodybuilder in the world, but I am close friends with a few dozen and related to a dozen more, and I've met hundreds of them while supporting friends and family at competitions. And every bodybuilder I've ever met does some type of ketogenic diet to cut fat but I've never yet met one who uses keto-adaptation as a strategy. I'm sure, because of Volek, that there must be some keto-adapted bodybuilders out there. As far as I can tell, though, it isn't widespread enough for me to have met any.
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Old 02-17-2013, 01:02 PM   #15
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Thanks again for all your help, Trilex.... I'm going over to the link now.


Btw, if that is you in the avatar... you are really beautiful!

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Old 02-17-2013, 01:59 PM   #16
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I developed gall bladder issues following a low fat diet. I've never had problems since following a high fat diet. And I've been doing this for years. My lipid profile was horrid following a strict low fat diet and perfect now that I follow a high fat diet. I do not eat processed foods. My fat comes from dairy, animal and coconut oil. Occasionally olive oil and peanut oil. I also indulge in olives and avocados. Low fat diets were really devastating to my health. Plus they were miserable because I was always hungry and felt terrible. My hat is off to anyone who finds a low fat diet healthy and helpful to them. I'm so thankful low fat didn't work for me. I'm thrilled that I can eat a high fat diet, feel great, and achieve and maintain my weight and health goals. I spent years starving myself and weighing and measuring every morsel of food I put in my mouth just to not gain. Today I have delicious choices and NEVER have to feel hungry. My high fat low carb diet rocks!
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