Of all the nutrients we eat, fats have by far the worst reputation. Everything you ever read about fat is negative. Fat is the enemy. It causes heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity
and various cardiovascular ailments.
As bodybuilders we're told to eliminate fat from our diets as much as possible because it makes us smooth and diminishes our definition and muscularity, and we're encouraged to burn it off
our bodies. Whether you prescribe to the high-protein/moderate-carb theory of nutrition or the high-carb/moderate-protein theory, you've probably been led to believe that fewer than 19
percent of your calories should come from fat, the fewer the better.
What would you say to a diet that is 65 to 70 percent fat and less than 5 percent carbs? What if the person advocating this diet called it a precontest regimen and claimed that people are
getting ripped on the high-fat approach? You'd think the guy was wacko, right? Well, you might if he was some Joe on the street spouting pseudoscientific babble, but when the source of
information is Mauro Di Pasquale, M.D., an ardent researcher and one of the leading sports medicine experts on drugs, food supplements and nutrition, you tend to sit up and take notice-or
at least you hear him out with an open mind.
Di Pasquale, a former powerlifting champion, is not only educated, but he has years of practical experience in the gym as well. His treatises on anabolic steroids and other ergogenic aids
are must reading for anyone interested in the subject.
Like most people in bodybuilding I was of the belief that one should avoid fat for fear of gaining unwanted bodyfat. Recently, however, I was speaking with Dr. Di Pasquale on the phone, when
he suddenly blurted out that he was working on a diet that was the total opposite of the popular John Parrillo plan, which is a diet that's very high in complex carbs, high in protein and low
in simple carbs and fat. "I'm working on a high-fat diet that allows a bodybuilder to cut up and add lean muscle mass at the same time at an amazing rate," Di Pasquale said with enthusiasm.
"But doesn't eating fat make you fatter?" I protested.
"Pure bunk," he replied. "If you do it right, you can get ripped while eating a primarily high-fat diet."
Obviously I was interested in learning more. While Di Pasquale was eager to share his information with me, he was also a little hesitant because he didn't yet, to his satisfaction, understand
all the elements of why the diet worked so well.
"I haven't yet worked out all the details...all the parameters," he stated. "The diet works-in fact, there have been several people I've had on it, and it's worked extremely well-but I don't
yet understand all the mechanisms of why it works. It's extremely complicated. I should also say that it's not a diet for beginners. It's for the intermediate and advanced bodybuilder who has
been stuck at a certain weight for a long period of time, say, a year or more. For these people it works just great."
By "works just great" Di Pasquale is talking about a 10 to 15 percent increase in lean muscle mass with a decrease in bodyfat-and in only 12 weeks! So a 200-pound man would increase his weight
to at least 220 pounds while increasing his muscularity and definition.
The Burning Truth About High Fat
The logic behind the high-fat diet is that by increasing fat intake and reducing carbohydrate consumption you can manipulate hormone levels in the body, primarily levels of natural growth,
insulin and glucagon. The end result is that you increase your growth hormone and glucagon and suppress insulin, which creates a natural anabolic effect in the body, at least according to the
The gist of the diet is this: For five days (say, Monday through Friday) you follow a high-fat/high-protein/high-calorie diet, including less than 50 grams of carbs a day. Then on the weekend
you have two days of high-carb and -protein and low fat eating. Di Pasquale said that a 200-pound man would probably be eating 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day. Because so many high-fat foods are
also high in protein, this includes about 350 to 400 grams of protein.
What kind of fat are you supposed to eat? "Anything!" Di Pasquale stated emphatically. "That includes butter; margarine; whole eggs; red meat, including pork; vegetable oil-a mixture of fats. I
don't really specify whether it's going to be margarine-type fat or oil or butter or whatever, as long as they increase their fat intake. The important thing is that they drop their carbs to
less than 50 grams a day-and less than 30 would be better."
About the only thing Di Pasquale's diet has in common with other bodybuilding diets is that you still eat frequent small meals throughout the day-at least six. The body normally uses glycogen
and glucose, which comes from carbohydrates in the diet, for energy. When you suddenly decrease your carb intake to less than 50 a day over a five-day cycle, your body switches over to burning
ketones and fatty acids as its primary energy sources. Here's how Di Pasquale explained it in medical terms:
"By decreasing your carbs to such low levels over a five-day period, you really decrease the insulin secretion," he said. " You're not really providing a stimulus for the insulin through increased
blood glucose. Once you decrease insulin-and this can be seen in diabetics who are going into ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition that diabetics can develop and that results in too many ketones in
the blood-insulin levels drop, and this immediately gives a stimulus to the lipolysis [fat decomposition]. So in other words they start breaking down their fat tissue for energy use.
"At the same time glucagon and growth hormone are released, so by decreasing carbohydrate you're altering the growth hormone-to-insulin-to-glucagon ratio. This changes things around as far as what
energy substrates are used by the body. Instead of using blood sugar, or glucose, the body is forced to start using fatty acids and ketones as energy sources. And at the same time, even though
you're taking in fat, this fat is not laid down in the body as fat tissue. It's burned as an energy source, and your own bodyfat is continually broken down as well. So you can see that you won't get
fat if you eat fat as long as you do it a certain way.
"There are other hormones involved as well- epinephrine for one," Di Pasquale continued. "But I really haven't worked out what happens with those yet. We do know that with the kind of ratio change
you get, you realize an anabolic effect from the growth hormone. You know how people say that insulin is anabolic? Well, growth hormone also has a lipolytic effect; that is, it tends to break down
fat, which adds to the effect of breaking down the fat even further. So you're using up your own bodyfat at a fast rate.
"People also seem to get bigger than they were before, and part of it, I think, is due to increased hormone levels. That's why I was a little leery about talking to you about it at this time-because
I haven't worked out all the parameters yet. When I do get things worked up, we should do a follow-up interview to publish my findings."
After you do five straight days of high fat, you switch things around and do two days of high carbs, high protein and low fat, still trying to eat about 6,000 calories a day. The point is to
manipulate hormone levels again. By increasing your carb intake, you increase your insulin levels dramatically-on those two days your insulin levels will be high due to the high serum glucose you
get from all the carbs. According to Di Pasquale, something really interesting happens in the body at this time.
"The interesting thing is that while insulin will lay down fat, it also increases the amino acid content of the cells and the glycogen content. Another interesting thing is, it's not until about 36
hours later that people feel as if they're starting to smooth out. It seems that laying down fat is secondary to increasing the glycogen and protein content of the cells. In layman's terms, it's as
if the body is saying, 'Let's fill up the cells as fast as we can with the readily available energy substrate, fill up the protein levels, and then, if we have more available, we'll lay down some fat
for future use.' This information is significant for the bodybuilder who is entering a contest because instead of carbing up for the last two days be-fore the show, I drop them back to 36 hours.
"What I do is take the end of the night show as the 36th hour, so if the prejudging is in the morning, that will roughly be around the 24-hour mark. At that point you will still be cut. You might
start smoothing out by the end of the contest, the 36th hour, but who cares at that point. The show is over.
"But everyone has to experiment, and the good thing about this diet is that every week you're seeing what you're going to look like at the time of the contest. Because you're going through five days
of high fat and two days of high carbs over 12 weeks, it becomes a very personalized program suited just for you. Each week you can fine-tune things-you can vary the amount of calories you're eating,
the amount of aerobics you're doing, the amount of exercise you do and all the other things an athlete does to prepare for a show. During your two days of high carbs each weekend you can see the type
of progress you've made during the first 24 to 36 hours of the carbing-up process."
If you decide to try this diet, Di Pasquale said that you can expect to feel very weak and tired the first three days of your first five-day cycle of high fat because your body is switching over from
using straight glucose for energy to free fatty acids and ketones. By the fourth day you should be feeling better, and your strength and energy should come back. After that you shouldn't have any
strength or energy problems.
The Pork Chop Diet and Contest Preparation
Keep in mind, however, that this is a precontest diet. Twelve weeks out from your show you should be eating 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day! After four weeks-or four cycles-if the diet is working for
you, you will have gained dramatically in solid, lean bodyweight, according to Di Pasquale. You should definitely be bigger and harder, although not in contest shape.
After six cycles-six weeks out from the show-Di Pasquale tells the bodybuilders to eat the same foods and keep the diet the same but to drop the calories to 3,500 a day. "The interesting thing is,
you'd expect them to start losing size at this point, right?" he said. "But they don't lose much size-if at all. They seem to lean out but stay big. This will vary from person to person.
"Some people need to go lower calories for eight weeks, and others can do it for only three or four weeks, depending on their metabolisms and how heavy they were before starting the diet. I've found
that 3,500 calories a day works well for most people, but if it's not working, I'll drop them down to 3,000 calories, and if that doesn't work I'll drop them down to 2,500. I've found, though, that I've
rarely had to go under 3,000 calories a day. It depends on how cut you are as the contest draws nearer.
"At the same time I cut the calories, I radically increase aerobics," the doctor continued. "The last four weeks prior to the contest the bodybuilders may do an hour to an hour and a half twice a day,
plus they'll be practicing their posing and still training very intensely. So that's the basic format."
I had to laugh as I asked Di Pasquale to outline a typical day's eating for a bodybuilder who is following the high-fat diet. "I have guys who get up in the morning and eat three or four pork chops, a
few whole eggs, a bit of high-fat cheese, have some butter on the eggs-and these guys are staying hard!" the doctor announced, chuckling with me. "It sounds weird, doesn't it? But basically, all the
meals are red meat, whole eggs, cheese, butter, margarine, vegetable oil-it really doesn't matter as long as the carbs are kept to less than 50 grams a day. That's not much when you consider that a large
baked potato contains more than 30 grams of carbs."
The Art of being Carb Conscious
If a bodybuilder is smart and buys a carbohydrate counter, he or she can quickly learn which vegetables have the lowest carbohydrate content and which have the highest. For example, a cup of watercress
contains only three grams of carb, but a cup of yam has 48.2. By choosing wisely, you can still eat (volume wise, at least) quite a few vegetables on your high-fat days as long as the amount totals only
50 grams per day It makes sense that it's better to have a cup of low-carb vegetable at each meal than to have all your carbs at one sitting; for example, if you ate a cup of yam.
One thing that Di Pasquale warned about is hidden carbs. Many items that are thought of as high-protein and/or high-fat foods contain a lot of carbohydrate as well-milk, cream and cottage cheese, for
instance. You have to be careful about sauces and condiments too. A cup of barbecue sauce contains 32 grams of carbohydrate. Many nuts and seeds, though high in fat and protein, are also high in carb;
in fact, a cup of sesame seeds contains more than 26 grams of carb and a cup of sun-flower seeds more than 28 grams. Of course, you should consume fruits and fruit juices only in moderation in order to
avoid going over the 50-gram daily limit; even with foods like yogurt you should watch your intake carefully, as a cup of plain yogurt contains 10.5 grams of carb and a cup of fruit yogurt a whopping 42
Obviously, you should check your protein powder (if you use one) to see how many grams of carbs each ounce contains so you don't exceed your daily limit. It's probably best to avoid a milk-and-egg-protein
powder; use products that are 100 percent egg or meat protein. And remember, too, that you can't mix your protein with milk, half-and-half or cream, as they all contain a lot of carbs (naturally, fruit
juice is out too). Stick to water.
Breads and cereals are off-limits as well, as they contain too many carbs. Think of it this way: You can pig out on all the carbs you want on the weekend (at least for the first six weeks). That's the
time to have your bread, fruit and dessert-or that slice of pizza. You only get two days of high carbs, so enjoy them while you can.
Although you don't have to take the two days of high carbs each week-a few people Di Pasquale has worked with just stay on high fat every day for the full 12 weeks-he feels that it's best to carb-load
each week to give your mind and taste buds a break. Twelve weeks of eating high-fat foods every day, at every meal, becomes a little monotonous after a while. Said Di Pasquale, "You do get tired of this
diet. It gets greasy at times, and you tire of eating so much fat and protein.
"This is a diet you have to go all the way with though. There's no sense in doing it halfway, because it just won't work. If you exceed your 50 grams of carbs a day, you won't get the manipulation of the
hormones and the growth hormone effect will be ruined."
The Obvious Cholesterol Question
By now you're undoubtedly wondering about the high-cholesterol levels that will result from this diet. That is a concern of Di Pasquale's too, but he pointed out that everyone will react to the diet in
different ways. Some individuals' cholesterol levels may skyrocket and double in 12 weeks; others will hardly experience any rise at all.
"First of all, let me say that I don't believe a high-cholesterol level for a short period of time is going to hurt anybody," he stated. "It's prolonged, chronic high-cholesterol levels that cause problems.
Still, I don't think people should take a chance; so anyone who decides to try this diet should have their cholesterol levels checked before they start, and probably six weeks into the diet and after 12
weeks-maybe more if possible."
Even so, Di Pasquale admitted, "This whole cholesterol business isn't solved. There was something in the literature just recently about an 82-year-old man who had eaten 25 whole eggs every day for the past
20 years, and his cholesterol was perfect. So some people handle cholesterol better than others."
The Eskimos, too, have lived for thousands of years on high-fat diets of whale blubber and seal meat, and incidences of high-cholesterol levels were unheard of before white man's food was introduced into
Again, Di Pasquale wanted to emphasize that this diet is not for beginners. It's for the more advanced lifter who knows how to train hard and properly. "It's not the kind of diet where you just laze your way
through your workouts," the doctor said. "It's got to be hard, heavy, fast, intense training. And as the weeks go by, you have to start into heavy aerobics. It's not any different from the Parrillo diet in
the activity end of things-or anybody else's diet for that matter. You have to work your ass off in the gym.
"With my diet we're attempting to manipulate hormone levels through the foods you eat. What I want to do for people, what I'm working at, is to be able to get somewhat of an anabolic effect manipulating their
diets naturally, without having to use anabolic steroids. Now, you'll never duplicate with food what you could do through steroids-that's impossible-but you can get a lot closer than you can through other diets
and be a lot fitter. So if people choose not to use steroids, they'll have an alternative."
The Final Analysis
One lifter who has been working with Di Pasquale has followed the diet religiously. According to the doctor, this bodybuilder has been competing for 10 years, and his heaviest contest weight in the past was
217 pounds. He could never get very hard at that weight, however. This fall the same bodybuilder competed at 240 pounds hard as nails-and more defined than he'd ever been even when he weighed 210. And that
was after only several 12-week cycles.
The key is to rotate the 12-week cycles with cycles of a more moderate, traditionally healthier diet. Di Pasquale recommends that bodybuilders go back to eating higher carbs, more moderate amounts of protein
and less fat again. You should also reduce your aerobics and training intensity to give your mind and body a break. After six to eight weeks of this you can, if you choose, do another 12-week cycle of high fat.
Di Pasquale recommends taking few supplements when you're on the high-fat diet, maybe just a good vitamin-mineral pack and, if you want, some medium-chain-triglyceride oil. It really isn't necessary to take
the MCT oil with meals, as you get enough fat from the food, he said, but he did recommend a workout drink that includes MCT oil. I personally have tried this formula, and I can report that it does seem to
help me train harder and feel less fatigued both during and after the workout. Di Pasquale said that people who sip this drink during their workouts can train harder, faster and longer and not be nearly as
fatigued and that their muscles don't burn as much during a hard set. It's a drink you make up yourself at home.
Put the following ingredients in a 1 1/2-liter bottle:
3-4 tablespoons MCT oil
1/2 tablespoon sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
1 small package sugar-free Kool-Aid
artificial sweetener to taste
cold water to fill
Since I like this drink better cold, I add some crushed ice instead of filling the bottle completely with water. Mix well, and shake before sipping (oil and water don't mix, remember). I think you'll be amazed
at how much harder you'll be able to train and how much fresher you'll feel at the end of your workout. By the way, if you're not following the high-fat diet and extra carbs are not a problem, the recipe works
great with regular Kool-Aid and sugar or with Gatorade in place of the sugar-free variety with artificial sweetener.
So maybe fat isn't the enemy after all. You can get ripped on fat. You just have to know how to eat it. Try this diet out and let us know at fitFLEX about your experience with it. Until then may the fat be with