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The Low Carb Diet Cheat Sheet

by Tom Venuto

I like reducing carbs for maximizing fat loss. That’s why I’m always surprised when I get an email or see a comment from someone who thinks I’m against low carb diets or that low carbing doesn’t work or that low carb is just a fad. Not true. In fact, I’ve used a special variation of the reduced carb diet for years to prepare for bodybuilding contests or when I want to get my body fat extremely low (the “ripped abs” look).

The best fat loss diet of all?

I’ll even go as far as saying that, although there are many diets that can work, restricting carb calories is probably the most effective approach of them all… if it’s done intelligently.

Why do some people think I’m anti-low carb? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve spoken out against the old school low carb thinking, where some devotees still believe carbs are inherently fattening, “bad” (even “evil”) foods and that carbs and insulin drive fat gain, independent of excess calories.

Maybe it’s because they’ve seen my muscle-building (aka “bulking”) meal plans, which have large amounts of carbs – usually at least half my total calories from carbs.

Or maybe it’s because they see my fat loss meal plans and they notice I still eat 150 to 200 grams of carbs per day (the woman’s equivalent might be 120-130 grams). Some low carbers wouldn’t dream of eating that many carbs even on the long-term maintenance phase.

What IS “low carb?” How Low is Low?

Now that I’ve made it clear that I’m NOT against low carbing, a good question is, what IS a low carb diet? There are so many different types of reduced carb diets out there, the definition of low carb has gotten pretty fuzzy.

For example, I’ve seen diet reviews that call the Zone diet “low carb” even though it prescribes 40% of the calories from carbs. I’ve heard many people refer to paleo as low carb, when the carbs, according to Loren Cordain, could run anywhere from 22% to 40% (Cordain refers to this as “moderate” carb).

On the other end, some people don’t think anything is “low carb” unless it’s under 100 grams a day or even a full-blown ketogenic diet.

So the first thing I want to do is clarify the TYPE of reduced carb diet I use:

I use the bodybuilding low carb, high protein diet. If your goal is less fat and more muscle, you can use it too, so keep reading – even if you’re not a bodybuilder – because this melts fat like a blowtorch on butter.

Bodybuilding nutrition, which I’ve been teaching to my readers of all ages and backgrounds for years in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, has phases that you shift in and out of based on your goal at the moment:

Phase I is “baseline nutrition” for maintenance, muscle gain and long-term lifestyle (lots of carbs). Phase II is for maximized fat loss (moderate carbs), and Phase III is the contest diet (low carbs) – the strictest and lowest carb of the three.

The fat loss phases (Phase I or Phase II) have the following characteristics:

1. The diet is low to medium carb; it is not zero carb, very low carb or ketogenic.
2. The diet does not prescribe one amount of carbs for everyone – it acknowledges individual body types and allows a customized approach.
3. Carb amounts are the most you can get away with (and still lose fat), not the least you can tolerate
4. The diet usually uses “carb cycling”, a method of non-linear dieting
5. The diet is high in protein

I fully acknowledge that some people succeed on ketogenic diets, which are extremely low in carbs and higher in fat (with less protein). A handful of people may even thrive on them and get better health outcomes (contrary to conventional wisdom).

However, after experimenting with keto diets years ago, I found they didn’t suit me or support my intensive weight training. I found the near-complete removal of carbs distasteful and difficult to live with – physically AND mentally. I prefer the cyclical low or medium carb bodybuilding diet and after I discovered how to do it, I never turned back.

For active, metabolically healthy people who want BODY COMPOSITION and PHYSIQUE DEVELOPMENT, the bodybuilder’s way is the best way.

The bodybuilder’s way supports intense training and is designed for improving body composition, not just losing weight. When you talk about low carb diet weight loss, you really have to discuss the type of weight, since water and glycogen weight can make up so much of the early poundage lost and lean tissue loss may be a concern.

Remember, there’s weight loss, and then there’s a HOT, HARD BODY! – big difference!

Phase I: Baseline nutrition

In my fat loss system, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, there are three phases, from basic to advanced. The first phase is the baseline nutrition plan. This is designed to be very balanced and maintainable. Carbs are usually not restricted, but they are carefully chosen healthy and nutrient-dense carbs.

There are 3 parts to a fat-burning or muscle-building meal in Phase I:
1. Lean protein
2. Fibrous carb
3. Starchy carb

Here’s an example of a typical lunch or dinner using this baseline (Phase I) template:
1. Baked tilapia (lean protein)
2. Broccoli (fibrous carb)
3. Brown rice (starchy carb)

Here’s an example of a typical breakfast – Phase I:
1. 1 whole egg, 5 egg whites scrambled (lean protein)
2. Omelet veggies – mushrooms, bell peppers, tomato, etc (fibrous carb)
3. Oatmeal (starchy carb)
* a fruit could easily be substituted for the veggies – example, berries or an apple

Phase II: Maximized Fat Loss

When your goal shifts from muscle gain or maintenance into fat loss, what you need to focus on first is CALORIES, NOT CARBS. Even if this is just semantics or a technicality (because carbs have calories), please let this point sink in or you will end up like those (well-meaning, but wrong) low carb zealots who think “carbs are bad” and calories don’t matter.

To lose fat, you need a calorie deficit, so that means you have to reduce calories below maintenance level. What I’m asking you to think about, is where do you pull out the calories? You could cut calories across the board – just eat less of everything in the Phase I meal plan – and yes, that absolutely will work.

But the ideal way to create your calorie deficit is to drop down the starchy carbs.

Why? Because keeping protein high on a hypocaloric fat loss diet is important for retaining lean body mass, protein controls appetite, starches are calorie dense, starches are easy to overeat, extreme carb restriction may have negative hormonal consequences, you need to keep the fiber up, and you also need healthy fats for reasons too numerous to list.

So the no-brainer place to create a calorie deficit is by cutting back on starchy carbs and grains. If you were taking in a lot of refined grains or sugars, they are actually the first to go, but I’m assuming you’re not eating a ton of sugar and refined carbs to begin with – we don’t do that even on phase I baseline plan.

Lunch or dinner example – Phase II: :
1. Baked tilapia (lean protein)
2. Broccoli (fibrous carb)
3. Brown rice (starchy carb) – Reduced portion

Breakfast example – Phase II: :
1. 1 whole egg, 5 egg whites scrambled (lean protein)
2. Omelet veggies – mushrooms, peppers, tomato, etc (fibrous carb)
3. Oatmeal (starchy carb) – Reduced portion
* a fruit could easily be substituted for the veggies – example, berries

Phase III: The “Contest Diet”

As a diet progresses, fat loss typically slows down as your body adapts in various ways to the weight loss and calorie restriction. Almost everyone can relate to how the last bit of fat can seem like the most stubborn or difficult to lose.

To get past this plateau, and reach your peak condition or final goal, you can take another calorie reduction. Again, you want to leave those vital lean proteins and fibrous carbs alone, so you reduce the starchy carbs even more.

For some people, almost all the starchy carbs are removed. For others, especially those who are large and training very hard, they remain, but in small quantities and only after training sessions (and also most commonly, for breakfast to get a good start on the day).

Lunch or dinner example – Phase III: :
1. Salmon (lean protein with healthy fat)
2. Broccoli (fibrous carb)
* no starchy carb except in post-workout meal and or breakfast

Breakfast example – Phase III:
1. 1 whole egg, 5 egg whites scrambled (lean protein)
2. Omelet veggies – mushrooms, peppers, tomato, etc (fibrous carb)
* no starchy carb except in post-workout meal and or breakfast

And there you have it! The contest diet is mostly lean proteins, fibrous carbs (green veggies, salad veggies and other non-starchy vegetables). Healthy fats are always included somewhere in the daily meal plan – or provided by supplements – and if the calories get too low (in the absence of concentrated carbs), the percentage of fats can be increased further.

Did you catch the 1 simple food tweak?

At this point, most people have a million questions about specifics: what foods to eat or how many grams of each macro or what time to eat or when do do the carb cycling and so on, some of which are relevant or even important. But this is where we end today’s lesson because the purpose of this article has been to simplify and make one major point. More details would only serve to complicate.

Bottom line

Don’t look at those starchy carbs as bad, dirty, forbidden or… “evil!” Instead, let’s call them “optional.” Better still, let’s call them a “variable” – an “X factor.” You eat more of them during maintenance or muscle gain programs. As your goal shifts to fat loss and as your fat loss phase progresses, speeding up fat loss or getting past sticking points is a simple matter of adjusting your calories by tweaking the X factor.

You’re basically manipulating 1 thing: starchy carbs. Everything else stays mostly the same! Keep your lean protein high and eat a lot of fibrous carbs and green veggies (think “LEAN AND GREEN!”) Be sure to keep some healthy fats in the plan too.

Keep it Simple!

I am a “structure and details” guy and I DO make my meal plans by the numbers on spreadsheets. But this low carb technique is so simple, so easy, if you did NOTHING but drop some starchy carbs (and of course sugar) – and if all else remained equal, you would start losing more fat – without counting anything.

That’s the short and sweet “cheat sheet” summary, but if you want ALL the details of the “cyclical low carb diet”, then review chapter 12 in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle if you already have it.

OR, if you are new to our community and you want to see the complete system for yourself (now in the completely updated 2nd edition), visit the home page here (it’s an e-book, so it’s an instant download) ====> Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle Fat-Burning System.

About Fitness Author and Fat Loss Coach, Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is the author of the #1 best seller, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom is a lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who achieved an astonishing ripped 3.7% body fat level without drugs or supplements. Discover how to increase your metabolism, burn stubborn body fat and find out which foods burn fat and which foods turn to fat by visiting the home page at: BurnTheFat.com

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