I’m not going to sugar coat this – I geeked out hardcore when this article about intermittent dieting came out.  I have not seen a single paper so directed at something most of us strength athletes NEED to know…

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO LOSE BODY FAT AND RETAIN STRENGTH?!  

The authors examined:

  • the traditional caloric deficit as we are most familiar with – continuous energy restriction (CER) where you maintain a caloric deficit until you have reached your goal weight,
  • and compared it to a new line of thinking based on emerging research of an intermittent energy restriction (IER) where you alternate between 2 weeks of caloric deficit and 2 weeks of caloric balance (ie, maintenance).  

 

“Thus, the purpose of this review is to discuss the existing body of literature on IER, outline its potential as an alternative weight loss strategy (i.e. Intermittent Dieting) for athletes, and set a platform for future investigation in athletes. This review will also utilize the available evidence to develop theoretical recommendations for athletes considering IER.”

Based on their review of literature, the authors concluded that:

    • Moderate rates of fat loss are best to minimize loss of muscle and performance decline
      • The rate which they found appropriate was 0.5-1.0% of body weight loss per week.
        • Note: Personally, I still feel this is a bit high for a strength athlete in a heavy training cycle.  I prefer 0.4% of body mass loss per week, at least during CER.
    • 2 weeks of moderate dieting alternating with 2 week of caloric maintenance may offset the shift in the hormonal changes that occur during caloric deficits which promote reductions in overall energy expenditure and an increased drive to eat and threatens the retention of muscle mass.
    • High protein intake: a range of protein intake from 2.3–3.1 g/kg of Fat Free Mass (FFM) may be more appropriate for athletes undergoing ER with concurrent resistance exercise to attenuate loss of muscle, increase satiety and increase the thermic effect of food.  

 

  • Please note: that says 2.3-3.1 g/kg of LEAN BODY MASS, not total body mass

 

    • Carbohydrate intake should be emphasized during the periods of energy balance.  Carbohydrates improve exercise efficiency, due to the greater yield of ATP per volume of oxygen deliverable to the mitochondria. Additionally, evidence suggests that inadequate carbohydrate intake can impair strength. Furthermore, the depletion of glycogen and blood glucose stores via low carbohydrate availability is associated with muscular fatigue, reduced work rate, and increased perception of effort.

 

Implications for strength athletes:

I’ve started implementing the 2 weeks on 2 weeks off for weight loss in some of my clients.  So far it is going really well! My athletes are enjoying the freedom it gives them (easier to plan social events rather than feeling like you have to avoid dinners and parties all together during a cut) so it keeps compliance during the energy restriction higher.  They also love that they still feel really well fueled in the gym.

This method takes patience, as the rate of fat loss will be a little slower, than a ultra compliant cut with CER.  If you are someone who struggles with compliance during a cut, intermittent dieting might be a really good method for you.  Obviously, if you are trying to cut weight for a meet that is soon, this method won’t be the best strategy, but if you’ve got time and want to keep performance high, this might be a good strategy.

Research Discussed Above:

Jackson James Peos, Layne Eiseman Norton, Eric Russell Helms, Andrew Jacob Galpin, and Paul Fournier (2019). Intermittent Dieting: Theoretical Considerations for the Athlete. Sports, 7, 22; doi:10.3390/sports7010022

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6359485/

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