The Biorhythm Diet
by Borge Fagerli
More muscle and less fat by doing the complete opposite
If you look at a typical Western meal pattern, it’s carb-loaded cereals and breads as the first meals of the day, while later meals for supper are calorie-dense fat-heavy meals. This is also prevalent in fitness and bodybuilding culture, we eat carbs early in the day to fuel up for our workouts, then drop carbs and add fats for our later meals. Recent research has shown that not only light and dark cycles regulate our circadian and biological clock – it is also controlled by nutrients. I’m going to show you how the typical Western eating pattern can actually be one of the factors which predispose us to obesity, and that you should, in fact, do the complete opposite!
My interest in the topic came about when I looked into research showing that eating carbs at night would inhibit fat loss on a deficit or increase fat gains on a surplus – it was not only a myth, it was flat out wrong!
The source of this misunderstanding which permeates both the nutrition literature and the fitness community probably originates from a study conducted in 1997 (1). Here, they compared two groups of women on a moderate diet with exercise, where one group had 70% of the carbs early in the day (AM) while the other group had 70% of the carbs later in the day (PM). After 6 weeks they decided to change groups. The result was that the AM group, dropped the most in WEIGHT – and it seems as if most people stopped reading at this point – because if you just keep reading you can see that this greater weight loss was comprised of 30% muscle! In the PM group weight loss was almost as high BUT the muscle loss was only 7%! So comparing numbers, FAT loss was a lot higher in the PM group eating the majority of carbs at night, even though total loss of weight was higher in the AM group.
A study just adds more sugary sweetness (pun intended) to the evening-carb recommendation (2). The scientists looked at a range of health parameters in 78 Israeli police officers over 6 months, divided into a group eating the majority of carbs at 0800hrs vs. a group eating the majority of carbs at 2000hrs (8pm) Despite the weaknesses of the study (method of fat% measurement is not stated, lack of control of exercise and caloric intake) there was a clear trend: the group who ate carbohydrates at 2000hrs experienced greater fat loss, less hunger, had higher leptin levels (hormone regulating metabolism), better insulin sensitivity (how efficiently the cells take up nutrients from a given insulin level), improved blood glucose control and lower inflammatory markers (inflammation shows a high level of correlation to obesity).
Quoting from the study: “Adiponectin is considered to be “the link between obesity, insulin resistance, and the metabolic syndrome”. Adiponectin plays a role in energy regulation as well as in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, reducing serum glucose and lipids, improving insulin sensitivity and having an anti-inflammatory effect. Adiponectin’s diurnal secretion pattern has been described in obese individuals (particularly with abdominal obesity), as low throughout the day.”
So high adiponectin is a good thing. Chronically high insulin causes chronically low adiponectin, and this is a problem as it increases insulin resistance and inflammation. By omitting carbs during the earlier part of the day, the researcher’s hypothesized that adiponectin would increase and improve health markers.
Indeed: “The experimental diet modified daily leptin and adiponectin concentrations compared to those observed at baseline and to a control diet. A simple dietary manipulation of carbohydrate distribution appears to have additional benefits when compared to a conventional weight loss diet in individuals suffering from obesity.”
But isn’t it a bad idea to skimp on the carbs when we are gearing up for a high-volume, high-intensity workouts? No, not necessarily, and if you ate plenty of carbs the day before, muscle glycogen stores will be maintained. Let’s look at some interesting research showing that it might be a better idea to hold off on the carbs until after your workout if you want to maximize nutrient partitioning – i.e. selectively push calories into muscle instead of fat cells.
A study by a group of Belgian scientists looked at two conditions, where subjects trained 2 sessions of 60 minutes and 2 sessions of 90 minutes per week, ranging from 70-75% of VO2Max cycling to 85% VO2Max of running. One group was fed a carb-rich breakfast of 675kcals, composed of 70% carbs, 15% protein and 15% fat, 90 minutes pre-exercise in addition to 1g of maltodextrin pr kg bodyweight per hour of exercise. The other group received the same meal as the first group, but AFTER exercise. The rest of the overall diet was the same for both groups, and provided a 30% nutrient excess, which essentially means they were “bulking”. The results were quite interesting, and I’ll skip to the most interesting part, even though it is worth mentioning that the fasted group had better improvements in insulin sensitivity, fat oxidation, and metabolic enzymes. The fasted group gained only 0.7kg of weight, mostly attributable to increased muscle glycogen. This was also shown in a previous study (4) where the fasted training group increased muscle glycogen stores by 55% vs the fed-groups abysmal 2.5%. The fed group gained 1.4kg, despite doing the same amount of activity/training and ingesting the same caloric surplus. Taken together, this indicates that having a low glucose status going into the workout should preferentially increase glucose uptake into muscle when you refeed carbs post-workout. I’m not necessarily suggesting you should drop carbs to zero, I’m just saying you should go easy on them and save up for later, and until we have resistance exercise studies showing the same trend, let’s not get too biased since these were some quite intensive endurance training protocols.
Still, I’d give a short mention to a study showing that fasted training improved post-workout growth signaling and genes compared to the fed group. The workouts were fairly basic whole-body sessions: 3 x 8 in seven movements such as bench press, overhead press, curls and leg press.
The fasted session (F) was performed on an empty stomach after an overnight fast.
The fed session (B) was performed 90 minutes after a breakfast of 722 kcal composed of 85% carbs, 11% protein and 4% fat.
Results revealed that the F session had twice as high levels of p70s6k in comparison to the B when measured 1hr post-workout. Other myogenic transcription factors were also higher at this point, though not quite as pronounced as p70s6k. At the four-hour mark, the differences between the two groups had evened out. From the study: “Our results indicate that prior fasting may stimulate the intramyocellular anabolic response to ingestion of a carbohydrate/protein/leucine mixture following a heavy resistance training session. ”
What are the practical implications? Increased levels of p70s6k may lead to a faster transport of amino acids into the muscle cell membranes, which should lead to a more rapid and potent anabolic response to post-workout nutrient ingestion. Since previous studies have shown a better growth response when whole protein is ingested 1hr pre-workout (to allow for digestion) or BCAA/EAA is ingested immediately pre-workout, it seems that the increased anabolic activity seen post-workout is a compensatory response to the increased catabolism that occurs during fasted state training. Being a short-term study, we don’t really know whether there would be a net difference in muscle growth at the end of the day, though. Training on an empty stomach will cause greater catabolism in the short run, but will it yield greater gains in the long run? Do we make a small sacrifice in order to receive a greater reward a month or a year from now?
I think we can slightly modify the solution to at least include some protein and fat meals pre-workout, and instead of a highly insulinogenic pre-workout meal of a whopping 153 g of high GI carbs, why not go with something more reasonable. It only takes 5-10g of glucose to get blood glucose into a range where performance should be improved, and if you combine it with some fructose (fruits, anyone?) you will also keep liver glycogen topped off (liver glycogen status is also important in anabolic signaling). My theory is that as long as you keep carbs equal to or slightly lower than protein, you should be fine. I will say that keeping carbs minimal does seem to give better mental clarity and wakefulness after a short adaption period, but this is highly individual.
Refueling workouts and growing slabs of muscle
So how about post-workout – shouldn’t we chug 200 grams of waxy maize as soon as the last rep is done, to refill glycogen stores as quickly as possible and get hyooge? No, not necessarily. If you have more than 8 hours until the next training bout, speed is irrelevant to total carbs ingested. Also, I’m going to argue that slightly delaying complete glycogen (super)compensation will maintain a higher insulin sensitivity, i.e. insulin can do its job at shuttling nutrients into the muscle more efficiently if it’s not completely full. Insulin is really more of an anti-catabolic and permissive hormone for muscle growth, it’s the amino acids (leucine in particular) which are key to stimulating protein synthesis. In fact, it only takes 15-30mU/L of insulin to maximize net protein balance, and this is easily achieved from a dose of only 40g of whey protein, not even requiring carbs.
Noted scientists Kevin D. Tipton specializing in amino acid and protein research has mentioned in a paper I just can’t seem to dig up right now, that a cell-full phenomena which would happen if you supercompensated glycogen stores decreases amino acid uptake and increases oxidation (it is burned off as energy instead of used for growth). Hence, keeping a slight nutrient deficit by prioritizing protein intake and saving up carbs for later seems like an even more interesting thought, doesn’t it?
A rule of thumb I got from Lyle McDonald says that for every 2 sets of 10 reps of a compound lift, you require 5 grams of carbs – so a typical high volume workout shouldn’t require more than 40-60g of carbs. I’d also note that some signals upregulated by the shift in AMP/ATP ratio and nutrient depletion in the cell – AMPK in particular – directly inhibits protein synthesis. The best way to drop AMPK levels seems to be arbs, so my practical recommendation for the post-workout meal(s) would be in the 30-50g range, up to 60-80g if you had a really long and grueling workout. I mostly let hunger be my guide here, your body is remarkably good at telling you what it needs, so listen to it.
The final key – eating according to your biological clock
Finally – let’s look at the newest research into circadian rhythms, and I came across this gem (6) that not only confirms my bias for having more carbs in the evening, but also shows us when we should enjoy our healthy fats.
I’m usually wary of drawing conclusions from studies in rodents as they have some slight, but important differences in metabolism – one worth mentioning is de novo lipogenesis (DNL) where rats and mice can turn carbs into fats quite easily, while this pathway is very limited in humans and under normal conditions not even something to be concerned about. But I digress. The scientists made it clear that based on previous research, the study results are highly relevant for human eating patterns, and as I kept looking into related research I got this notion confirmed over and over again. I’ll start off with some relevant quotes from the study, then add my observations and practical recommendations at the end as a conclusion to this article (which is too wordy already).
“Consumption of a high carbohydrate diet during the beginning of the active phase [the beginning of the day] impairs metabolic plasticity. Furthermore, consumption of a calorically dense, high fat diet at the end of the active phase [in the evening] leads to accelerated weight gain, increased adiposity, glucose intolerance, hyperinsulinemia, hypertriglyceridemia, and hyperleptinemia (i.e., the cardiometabolic syndrome). The latter is independent of daily total or fat-derived calories. As such, the time-of-day at which high fat diets are consumed profoundly influences multiple cardiometabolic syndrome parameters.
The present study reports that feeding mice a high fat diet throughout the waking phase does not significantly influence body weight, adiposity or glucose tolerance. This is despite increased daily fat consumption. The lack of weight gain appears to be due to a compensatory increase in energy expenditure and/or a balancing of total caloric intake.
Conclusions: The implications of the present research are important for human dietary recommendations. Humans seldom eat a uniform diet throughout the day, thus requiring the ability to respond to alterations in diet quality. Currently, a typical human diet consists of a high carbohydrate morning meal followed by higher fat and/or more calorie-dense meals later in the day.
Consumption of a high fat waking meal is associated with increased ability to respond appropriately to carbohydrate meals ingested later in the waking period, while a high carbohydrate morning meal appears to “fix” metabolism toward carbohydrate utilization and impair the ability to adjust metabolism toward fat utilization later in the waking period.”
My observations, in a bullet-point format, also drawing upon other related studies – forming my basic recommendations for the BioRhythm Diet:
— By ingesting high-fat meals in the evening, you induce “metabolic inflexibility” – effectively disrupting metabolic rate and increasing fat storage, risk of obesity, elevated insulin levels and a reduction in insulin sensitivity.
— By ingesting high-fat meals in the morning and afternoon, you increase metabolic flexibility – setting the metabolism for higher fat oxidation throughout the day. As LPL enzyme (splits up circulating fatty acids and makes them available for storage) is higher in muscle in the AM, fats are more likely to be burned off as energy or stored as lipid droplets within the muscle (IMTG).
— By ingesting high-carb meals in the morning, the same “metabolic inflexibility” occurred, and the metabolism is fixed towards glucose oxidation instead of fat oxidation. This also increases fat storage from meals eaten during the day, and higher-fat meals eaten in the evening in particular.
— By ingesting high-carb meals in the evening, you get a bump in the natural leptin signal (occurring 3-6hrs after going to sleep), essentially increasing fat burning through the night and the rest of the following day.
— Insulin sensitivity is higher in all cells early in the day, including fat cells, but decreases towards the afternoon and evening, thus partitioning carbs ingested at this time more efficiently into muscle vs. fat. This is obviously further improved by training the muscle that day.
— Eating carbs will increase the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin and make you sleepy. What better time to have your carbs than a couple of hours before bedtime so you can fall into a deeper, higher-quality sleep?
— Results with a steadily growing client base where I experimented with this eating pattern sold me completely on this concept. I mean, we can throw around theories and be glamoured by promising studies all day, but if it doesn’t work in the real world, it’s a moot point. It became apparent from progress reports that clients at the same, or sometimes even higher calories, were losing more fat and experienced better gains, pumps and fullness in the gym. They had more energy during the day, better recovery and slept better during the night.
— My personal diet experiment ending a few days ago got me into my best condition ever, implementing this eating pattern for the last 10 weeks. I did less cardio than ever before (2 days of 30 minutes), stuffed myself with carbs every evening, slept well, did not suffer from hunger pangs during the day, and could function vastly better socially, mentally and physically.
What 9 weeks of the BioRhythm Diet can do. It’s not a cure for ugly, though.
Some practical guidelines:
— Eat 10-30g of fats per meal for the first part of the day, keeping carbohydrate intake low, a range of 5-30g per meal (lower than protein), primarily fruits, berries and vegetables. Think whole eggs, cheese, grass-fed beef, fatty fish, nuts and various oils.
— The omega-3 fatty acids DHA, EPA and DPA have positive effects when they are stored in fat cells, they basically tell the cell to store less and mobilize more fats, so I can still argue for placing some of them in later meals.
— Immediately pre-workout, have 10g of BCAAs or 20g of EAAs with 5-20g of carbs (experiment) to fuel your workout. If your workout is particularly long and hard, sip on a dilute carb drink providing an isotonic 30g of carbs per 16oz of fluid per 30-60mins.
— Post-workout, a combination of a slow and fast protein source such as whey and casein is better than a fast protein source only, but some BCAA and whey immediately post-workout followed by a meal within an hour is a great option. You don’t need to rush carb intake at this point, and I suggest you limit intake to 30-50g per meal – but allow more carbs for really long-duration and glycolytic training. In a fat loss phase, you may actually forego carbs altogether at this point, or limit intake to 10-20g.
— Save up carbs for the last meal(s) of the day. Some will find it uncomfortable to eat a lot of food just before going to bed, so eat the biggest meal some 2-3hrs pre-bedtime with an optional protein snack with 10-30g of carbs just before hitting the sack if you’re in a bulking phase. I think a longer fast is beneficial if you’re in a fat loss phase, so skip this snack unless you’re very hungry. Fat intake should be low at these meals, so I generally stick to chicken/turkey, lean fish or some protein pudding (my favourite) where I blend a whey/casein-blend with various flavours into a huge bowl of rice with pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon etc. Put it in the freezer for (r)icecream. Rice- and buckwheat pancakes (I stay gluten-free) with various toppings is also a favourite, just limit the recipe to 1-2 eggs. Sweet potato with stevia and cinnamon. Potato wedges with barbecue sauce. I’m sure you can find your own recipes here, just think high carb, moderate protein, low fat.
So, whether you believe in low carb, high-fat diets and keto approaches, or if you’re one of those stereotype bodybuilders subsisting on chicken and rice (or fish, broccoli and rice cakes) – they are all correct…there is a time and a place for all approaches. Just at different times of the day.
Borge A. Fagerli
Coach MyRevolution Team
In order to get to the point and already having spent a couple of hours trying to find the correct study references – I gave up and encourage interested readers to e-mail me for further study references:
1) Keim et al. Weight Loss is Greater with Consumption of large morning meals and fat-free mass is Preserved with large evening meals in women on a controlled weight reduction regime., J Nutr. 1997 January; 127 (1) :75-82.
2) Sophereth et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 month diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly the dinner., Obesity (Silver Spring) 2011 Apr 7 [Epub ahead of print]
3) Van Proeyen et al., Training in the fasted state improves glucose tolerance during fat-rich diet., J Physiol. 2010 Nov 1;588(Pt 21):4289-302.
4) Stannard et al., Adaptations to skeletal muscle with endurance exercise training in the acutely fed versus overnight-fasted state., J Sci Med Sport. 2010 Jul;13(4):465-9. Epub 2010 May 7.
5) Deldique et al. Increased p70s6k phosphorylation during intake of a protein–carbohydrate drink following resistance exercise in the fasted state, Eur J App Physiology, Volume 108, Number 4, 791-800
6) Bray et al., Time-of-Day-Dependent Dietary Fat Consumption Influences Multiple Cardiometabolic Syndrome Parameters in Mice., Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 November; 34(11): 1589–1598.Published online 2010 March 30.
(link to a list of related studies on circadian rhythm – click here…)