One of the biggest mistakes I made with my diet early on, and even somewhat recently, is eating too much protein. Sounds weird coming from a bodybuilder, right? In fact, many high level bodybuilders advocate(d) low protein too: Dorian Yates ate "low protein" during his reign as Mr. Olympia (6 yrs in a row, plus he's arguably the best of all time), and Chris Aceto, nutritionist and prep guru to athletes such as Ronnie Coleman, Kim Chivesky (I can't wait to look like her! :D), Jay Cutler, Mike Francois and others, also advocates low protein. Chris is fairly well known in the bodybuilding community, and he's considered one of the major "diet gurus," along with Charles Glass, Hany Rambod, George Farah, etc. His approach is particularly interesting because of the intense focus on low protein diet compositions.
Low protein is a relative concept. Most bodybuilders (or folks just trying to add a little size) are using, consciously or not, the 1.5-2 g per pound rule of thumb, meaning for each pound of lean body mass (LBM), they are consuming 1.5-2 g of protein. Let's take me for instance: 165 lbs, if I had to ballpark it I would say I'm under 20% but over ten, probably even over 15 :( I can't tell :P Anyways, that still puts me at around 180 grams of protein per day if I go with 1.5 g/lb. This is how most people would calculate it. So Dorian Yates, at 315 lbs, 3 weeks out from the Olympia, should be eating close to 600 grams, right? Wrong, both Dorian at his peak, and me in whatever this is LOL, are both doing half of what the rule of thumb would dictate.
So relative to most bodybuilders, I'm doing a ridiculously low protein diet. What's taking up the slack? While IMO carbs are super anabolic, in reality the real accelerant behind fat loss and muscle growth is FAT. So by adding fat and reducing carbs and protein, I've been able to stay strong and improve my composition during the off season without doing cardio. And yeah, it's kind of a big deal to not have to do cardio in the off season. Do you have any idea how hard it would be to do a contest prep if I was already doing cardio 5 or 6 days a week? It would never happen! I'm that lazy.
Back to the main subject: In Chris Aceto's semi-famous nutrition book Championship Bodybuilding, he describes how to kick ass in pretty much every diet situation. He goes into off season lean bulking methods for endos, mesos, and exos, cutting methods for cyclers and cheaters--everything! I highly recommend it, although I will admit to only reading parts of it (for my last prep). I do remember skimming over parts of his lean bulking section and I'm not sure what kind of body type I am, but I do know that I always rebound way too hard off prep diets. So I actually remember reading about bulk and diet cycling and putting some of it to good use.
In this instance, Chris basically shows you how to exploit what your body does naturally (duh?) under both calorie deficit and surplus situations. For instance, when initially dieting, your body responds really well to the reduction in caloric intake, resulting in "faster" results early on in the diet. Similarly, when initially increasing calories, the body will respond by first replenishing muscle glycogen stores--which can take weeks for a fully depleted athlete. Chris proposes taking advantage of both of these mechanisms, alternating between dieting and bulking in order to maximize the efficacy of either. Theoretically this will help you stay hypertrophic while maintaining low bodyfat. This is because you never diet long enough to lose muscle, and you never bulk long enough to gain fat. This in itself might not be ground-breaking, but Chris also insists on lower protein intake and higher carbs and fat. This is also congruent with the method of increasing protein slightly during prep in order to help protect muscle tissue from catabolism. During the off season, however, when this is less of a concern, protein levels can be lowered without any depletion or noticeable effect on gains, especially when carbs and fats are increased proportionately. You don't want to be restricting yourself when lowering your protein, you only want to be giving your body more of what it needs for energy, so that growth with the protein you are consuming is possible. Teaching your body to burn dietary fats for energy by increasing your fat intake will help you burn fat as well. The body will always take carbs first, so when you diet and go low carb but keep the fats in, your body will burn the carbs, then the fat you ate, then the fat in your ass. On the other hand, if you don't lead your body to the fat in your ass, and instead go high protein, your body will be forced to convert the protein to energy--inefficient and unsatisfying and worse for muscle retention anyways.
I would also like to point something out to those who may be doubtful. Protein isn't magic, it gets stored as fat or burned for energy just like everything else. If you eat too much protein during either a cut or a bulk, you will either be sacrificing precious calories that could be better spent on real energy, or you will be contributing to your fat gain during a bulking phase. Either way it's bad, bad!
And low protein definitely works. I've been using this basic diet model for about 15 weeks, almost 3 cycles of 5 weeks: 4ish weeks of dieting and 1.5ish of not dieting. I kinda messed up last month and pigged out more frequently than I should have, but it's amazing what you can get away with when you are really good most of the time. I'm doing a more extreme version, increasing the dieting proportionately to the bulking, pretty much switching out a week either way because I think I need to make more progress on my condition than my size. As far as I can tell, you can adjust the duration of either portion of the cycle, to some extent, in order to benefit more from dieting or bulking.
Anyways, I've never been this lean in my life without being 7 or 8 weeks out from a show. Seriously, this is really close to what I looked like at 7 weeks out from my last show. So, thank you, Chris Aceto, for making it possible to grow in the off season and not turn into a fat cow ever again!
Proof of condition can be seen in my latest training video here.