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Cyclic Nutrition Program for Hormone Optimization
By Gary F. Zeolla
Over the last several years, I have been doing much research and experimentation on differing nutrition programs. My results are detailed in my book God-given Foods Eating Plan and in the articles listed on the Nutrition section of the Web site.
This Cyclic Nutrition Program (CNP) is based on all of this research and experimentation. But it will not be possible to repeat all of that information here. So I will simply refer the reader to those sources for the background and rational for the various points of this CNP.
This program works best when combined with an exercise program, especially a strength-training program. It is especially well suited to strength athletes like powerlifters and bodybuilders. But even non-athletes will benefit from it. But some degree of strength training should be engaged in whatever your goals.
The main purpose of this nutrition program is the optimization of hormones in the body. Foremost among these is growth hormone (GH) and testosterone (T). These are both anabolic hormones, meaning they enhance muscular size and strength. They are also both lipolytic, meaning they increase metabolism and burn body fat. Increased levels also have other benefits, like an increase in sex drive and performance and an increase in energy levels.
Most of the time, the CNP is a low carb/ moderate protein/ high fat eating plan. The low carbs and moderate protein levels will cause an increase in GH release. The high fat consumption will lead to an increase in T levels. A copious consumption of meat will further increase T levels. However, total protein is kept at a moderate level as too much protein can lower T levels.
Interspersed in-between the low carb days are occasional high carb meals. These meals will cause an increase in insulin levels. This will enable insulin to exert its anabolic effect of driving amino acids (protein) into the muscle cells, thus enhancing muscular recovery and growth.
The high carb meals will also increase levels of IGF-1, a powerful anabolic and lipolytic. And the periodic high carb feedings will prevent a drop in thyroid hormone (T3) levels as can happen with a strict low carb diet. Plus, the high carb meals will provide variety to the diet, enabling the consumption of healthy high carb foods, along with the follower's favorite foods.
But the emphasis will be on low glycemic carbs, which will help to keep cortisol levels low. Cortisol is a catabolic (muscle-destroying) and lipogenic (fat building) hormone.
Moreover, the high carb meals will end and low carb eating will resume before the elevated blood sugar and insulin levels can lead to a decrease in GH release and the laying down of body fat as can happen in diets that are chronically high in carbs.
So the CNP gives the follower the best of both worlds; the benefits of both low and high carb diets, while avoiding the pitfalls of both. But the main emphasis of this program is on hormonal optimization rather than on weight loss per se. That is why I am calling this a "nutrition program" rather than a "diet." Documentation for these hormonal advantages and further details is found in the three-part article Hormones and Diet.
It was mentioned above that the high fat consumption will lead to an increase in T levels. This point needs some elaboration. Studies show the consumption of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) raise testosterone levels. Omega 3 fatty acids also raise T levels. However, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) other Omega 3s do not raise T levels.
So to raise T levels, the emphasis should be on SFAs, MUFA, and Omega 3s. However, there are potential adverse health effects to a diet high in SFAs. Such diets are associated with an increased LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and resultant heart disease risk.
However, the exact opposite is true with MUFAs and Omega 3s. Their consumption can lower LDL levels and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels and thus lower the risk of heart disease. There are also other potential health benefits to their consumption. Moreover, the consumption of these healthy fats will help to offset any possible deleterious effects of the consumption of SFAs.
The consumption of PUFAs are also associated with a decrease in LDL. But PUFAs do not elevate HDL levels or T levels. So they are not as beneficial as MUFA and Omega 3s health-wise, and they are not helpful at all for main goal of the CNP of optimizing hormones.
A final kind of fat is trans fat. This unnatural fat is usually found in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and in deep fried foods. This is the unhealthiest kind of fat there is, having greater adverse health effects than SFA. Trans fats have also been shown to lower T levels. So they have no place in the CNP.
Trans fats can easily be avoided by reading labels. Trans fats are now listed on the "Nutrition Facts" label. If the number is anything other than "0" and/ or if any kind of "partially hydrogenated oil" is listed in the ingredients, then do not use the item. Also, deep fried foods should be avoided.
So the emphasis of the CNP is on foods high in MUFAs and Omega 3s. The consumption of SFAs will be kept at a moderate level, while the consumption of PUFA fats will be kept to a minimum, and trans fats should be avoided altogether.
There are three phases to the CNP. The first is a one-time only "Initiation Period." This entails a week of eating virtually no carbs. The purpose of this period is to convert from being a "carb-burner" to being a "fat-burner."
The idea here is that most people rely on carbohydrates for energy, especially while exercising. The source for these carbs is ingested carbs and stored glycogen. But by eliminating ingested carbs and depleting stored glycogen, the body is forced to start utilizing fat for energy, both ingested fat and stored body fat.
The advantages to this are several-fold. First, fat provides greater energy than carbs. Second, most people have a much greater amount of stored fat than glycogen. So these two points combined mean you will have greater energy levels as a fat burner than as a carb-burner. Third, the usage of stored body fat will lead to a loss of body fat. And finally, hormones are better optimized while in a fat-burning state than while in a carb-burning state.
The second phase to the CNP is the regular low carb days. The carb levels of these days are slightly higher than during the initiation period. These days are similar to the low carb diets that many are following today. They are designed to provide the many metabolic and hormonal benefits that a low carb diet provides.
The third phase is then periodic high carb meals interspersed between the low carb days. These meals are designed to avoid many of the hormonal and practical pitfalls of a strict low carb diet, while providing various hormonal benefits. They also replenish muscle glycogen. But the carbs are limited to just one large high carb meal or several smaller moderate carb meals, once or twice a week. So on the intervening days, you'll still be burning fat for energy, but you'll also have glycogen available for high intensity exercise. So you'll have two readily available sources of energy.
The optimal eating plan is to eat 4-6 times per day, about every 2-4 hours. So an ideal eating schedule would be: breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, supper, bedtime snack. Also, it is recommended that a post-workout drink be utilized, which would substitute for one of the snacks. Ideally, each meal should have about the same number of calories.
The basic schedule for the CNP is:
Initiation period of very low carb eating for 7 days (one time only, to instigate metabolic shift).
Low carb eating for at least 5 days.
A high carb meal on the twelfth day or later after starting the program.
Then high carb meal(s) once or twice a week, with low carb eating the rest of the meals.
For the first cycle of low carb days, some might want to continue them for longer than five days to get experimental with what to eat on these days and to be firmly established in fat-burning mode. But don’t wait longer than two weeks before having high carb meal.
High Carb Meals
The high carb meals will be eaten once or twice a week, on say Sundays or Sundays and Thursdays. The idea is to eat enough carbs to replenish glycogen stores but not so many carbs as to kick you out of fat burning mode. For most, this will be one large high carb meal. It would consist of various kinds of high carb foods as will be discussed in part Two, but for example, a large plate of spaghetti. But some might find it best to split up the carbs over several smaller, moderate carb meals. It will require some experimentation to determine which frequency and plan will work best for you.
It is best that a high or even moderate carb meal not be the meal right before or after a strength-training workout or right before bedtime. The reason for this is the consumption of high carbs at these times will blunt the normal spike in GH that occurs at these times. You might also feel somewhat lethargic due to the increase in serotonin if high carbs are consumed immediately prior to a workout. So it is best to consume the high carb meal(s) on an off day for lifting, or at least three hours before or after a workout, along with at least three hours before bedtime.
Probably the best way to view this program might be that it is a low carb diet, but one in which it is okay to "cheat" on occasion and eat high carb foods. In this way, you won't feel restricted like on a strict low carb diet, and there is no reason to ever feel guilty about eating high carb foods. You just need to consume them within the prescribed limits.
In my article on the post-workout drink, I discuss the importance of consuming carbs immediately post-workout. But that is based on the assumption the exerciser is in a carb-burning state. In that case, it is imperative to replenish carbs after a hard workout.
However, once a person goes through the initiation phase of the CNP, s/he will no longer be in this state but will instead be in a fat-burning state. As such, carb replacement will not be necessary. In fact, as stated above, consumption of carbs at this time would be detrimental as it would stop the release of GH that normally occurs post-workout.
So the post-workout drink will consist only of the two other main ingredients discussed in that article, protein and fat. The protein should be in the form of a scoop of protein powder, while the fat should be in the form of a tablespoon or two of a healthy vegetable oil. Such oils will be discussed in Part Two of this article. But here it will be said Nature's Way MacNut Oil is a great option in this regard.
This is macadamia nut oil. It is higher in healthy, testosterone-raising MUFAs than any other oil. Plus it is unrefined. This means it still contains all of the naturally occurring antioxidants in the oil. This will further aid in recovery. And it is organic to boot.
Unfortunately, unrefined nut oils tend to be rather expensive, but any oil high in MUFAs will do. It should also be noted that this protein powder/ vegetable oil drink can be used a quick and convenient snack anytime.
Tracking Your Progress
With the cyclic eating pattern, your weight will fluctuate throughout this program based on how close you are to a day with high carb meal(s). It will be highest the morning after this day and lowest the morning of this day. So to track your progress, pick a day to weigh yourself in relation to that day. For example, it might be best to always weigh yourself a couple of days after the day with the high carb meal(s).
However, you'll probably find the longer you're on the program, the less your bodyweight will fluctuate. This is because your body will become adapted to the lower carb intake and be better at conserving glycogen.
Note also that your average bodyweight might not change, but your body composition should. In other words, you will gain muscle and lose fat. This is why a scale is not the best way to track your progress. Some method for measuring body fat percent would be preferred. For details in this regard, see the article Throw Your Scale Away! You might also want to take body measurements, especially of the waist and hips.
Other less tangible ways of monitoring your progress will be to simply notice how you feel. Hormone optimization should lead to increased energy, improved sleep, increased sex drive, and better progress in your strength training workouts. Of course, many other factors can affect all of these. But if you're not showing improvements in these areas, then you need to re-evaluate your nutritional program and whatever else might be affecting them.
Staying in Fat-burning Mode
The main issue on this program is that once you have gone through the initiation period, you need to stay in fat-burning mode. But the consumption of too many carbs can knock you out of fat burning mode. The over consumption can be from consuming too many carbs on the low carb days or from too many carbs for the high carb meals.
In the former case, you will need to experiment as to how many carbs you can consume on the low carb days without causing problems. Some suggestions in regards to amounts will be given in Part Two of this article.
And similarly, it will take some experimentation to find out how many carbs can be consumed for the high carbs meals without problems. Some might find that some form of carbs are more likely to cause problems than others.
Most generally, lower glycemic foods are less likely to be a problem that higher glycemic foods. Or to put it another way, most will find they can consume more lower glycemic carbs without problems than high glycemic carbs. This is why the relative glycemic ratings of foods will be indicated in Part Two. For more on this issue, see the article The Glycemic Index.
Some might they can only consume one high carb meal a week without losing their fat burring state. Others might even find that even one high carb meal is sufficient to knock them out of fat-burning mode. For such people, they will not be able to follow the cyclic part of this program. They will have to stick with just the low carb phase. But Part Two of this article will still provide plenty of information on how best to go about following a low carb diet.
In this situation, it would be best to experiment and try to consume as many carbs as possible without losing the fat-burning mode. This will help to avoid some of the problems with strict low carb diets mentioned above. And even if regular high carb meals are not possible, you might still find that you can "cheat" every once in a while and eat a high carb meal without problems.
If for whatever reason you feel you are no longer in fat-burning mode, it will be necessary to repeat the initiation phase. But most likely, it will only take a couple of days to reinstate you fat-burning state. Details on how to determine you are in a fat-burning state will be given in Part Two.
Part Two of this three-part article will provide specifics on the first two phrases of the CNP.
Brand-Miller, Jennie, et. al. The New Glucose Revolution. Marlowe
& Company: New York, 2003.
Di Pasquale, Mauro. Anabolic Diet: Secrets Reveled. N/A, videotape.
The Anabolic Solution for Powerlifters. N/A. 2002.
Metabolic Diet Web site.
Faigin, Rob. Natural Hormonal Enhancement. Extique Publishing: Cedar Moutaint, NC. 2000.
Extique Web site.
Jamieson, James and Dr. L.E. Dorman. Growth Hormone: Reversing Human Aging Naturally. Published by J. Jamieson: St. Louis, MO, 1997.
Schuler, Lou. The Testosterone Advantage Plan. Rodale: USA, 2002.
Thorton, Jim. "Maximum Testosterone." Men's Health. April, 2005, pp. 146-155,182.
Various abstracts on PubMed.
Cyclic Nutrition Program for Hormone Optimization. Copyright © 2006 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.
The above article first appeared in the free FitTips
for One and All email newsletter.
It was posted on this site March 3, 2006.
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