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Sports Nutrition

In Case Of Emergency

Ever decided to buckle down and follow a strict fat-loss diet, only to end up second-guessing yourself — and backsliding to the same old way you’ve been eating for the last six months? We’ve been there. We’ve all started that “get ripped” diet at a feverish pitch, only to succumb days later to the allure of carbs, fat or sugar. What harm, we reason, in a thinly buttered English muffin or just one measly donut? From that moment, the downfall comes swiftly.

To succeed, you need more than the will to begin; you need a good plan. And a deadline helps — whether it’s a vacation, a special event, or you’re just at the end of your rope and you want to lean out ASAP. While you set the latter, we can help you with the former. Muscle & Performance sought the input of top Canadian trainer and bodybuilder Michael Ferrer, B.A., B.Ed., who’s used to getting lots of people in shape, fast.

Before going any further, however, a warning: The diet plan that follows is for individuals who are determined to drop ugly, muscle-obscuring body fat and are willing to sacrifice to get there. It will test your mettle. But if you’re hungry for results, this hardcore program is for you.

Getting Ripped

The nutrition plan that follows was developed for people weighing between 175 to 225 pounds. If you weigh more or less than this range, refer to the “Emergency Diet Guidelines” on page XX for instructions on tailoring daily calorie intake.

Speaking of daily caloric intake, for our weight range, it’s set at roughly 1,800 calories. That’s not a lot, to be sure, but remember — this plan is built for short-term use only, to jump-start your metabolism and knock off some demoralizing chub before you segue into a more lenient plan.

For the next 14 days, you’ll eat five meals each day. Schedule your meals every three to three and a half hours. “Try to eat at the same times each day,” Ferrer advises. “This helps prevent cravings.”

If absolutely necessary — you’re awake later than usual and you’re starving — add a sixth meal three hours after meal 5. For this meal, repeat one of meals 2 through 5.

Of course, to boost the fat-blazing effects of this plan and improve body composition, make sure to continue with your workouts. “Generally speaking, five days a week of weight training is ideal,” Ferrer says. “For optimal recovery, try a three days on/one day off split, followed by two days on/one day off.”

“[As for cardio], to maximize metabolic activity throughout the day, perform cardio nine to 12 hours either before or after your weight-training session,” Ferrer suggests. (For example, if you lift at 6:30 a.m., perform cardio between 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.) If you want to ramp up your metabolism, perform 35 minutes of high-intensity interval training cardio after your weight workout plus 45 minutes of steady-state cardio nine to 12 hours before or after weight training. (Using the previous example, you would perform 35 minutes of HIIT cardio immediately after your 6:30 a.m. weight workout, then perform another 45 minutes of steady-state cardio — perhaps a speed walk through your neighborhood — at 5:30 p.m.)

Be sure on your two off days from training that they’re truly “off” — no training or cardio at all. This is recovery time, and it’s important to let your body repair and rebuild.

What to Expect

On this diet, you will lose fat. And because you won’t be taking in many refined or processed foods, you’ll experience some water weight loss, too. Your clothes will feel looser. If you’re not too far over your ideal weight, you’ll see greater muscle definition.

Naturally, everyone is different. Results will vary depending on your age, gender, health status and starting point (for example, whether you’re at 10 body fat or 25 body fat). The degree to which you adhere to the plan counts, too.

If you’re considerably overweight at the start and you’ve been eating poorly, you may experience a dramatic loss in stored body fat and subcutaneous water retention. But if you’re already fairly lean and you generally eat a healthy diet, changes in body composition may occur more slowly, Ferrer says.

“Changing one’s metabolism — resetting the ‘bodyweight set point’ located in the hypothalamus of your brain — takes months to accomplish,” Ferrer says. “Therefore, restricting calories for a couple of weeks won’t slow down anyone’s ‘furnace’ anytime too soon. I personally stayed on a very similar diet to this for over two years, incorporating cheat days and spike meals, and the only side effect I experienced was being ‘ripped to the bone’ year-round.”

Sticking to It

As we’ve mentioned, this is built to be a two-week diet. If you stay on the plan longer than that, you will continue to drop body fat, but as Ferrer suggests, you must include cheat days and high-calorie “spike” meals to maintain the loss and your sanity. But before you decide to stick with it longer term, check with your physician to make sure it’s advisable for you to do so, Ferrer cautions.

As for those “cheat days,” once a week, take a day to eat “off plan” foods that you’ve been craving. Be reasonable with your selections and portion sizes. If you “pigout,” expect unpleasant digestive issues and undulating blood sugar levels, which can result in cravings and fatigue. The spike meal, meanwhile, shouldn’t be used on your cheat day — this is one meal per week in which you enjoy reasonable portions of your favorite foods.

“This cycle format allows your metabolic furnace to remain stoked,” Ferrer explains. “It takes the mental edge off dieting, and it allows you to reduce body fat while still taking in enough calories throughout the week to support muscle gains and energy levels.”

If you attempt to stay on the Emergency Diet longer than three weeks, don’t forgo these built-in splurges. Consider consulting a nutritionist who can work with you to modify your diet for the long term, both to boost your health and help you meet the needs of your fitness and performance goals.

To contact Michael Ferrer or for more information on his training and diet consultations, visit

Craving Control

If you experience cravings, Michael Ferrer suggests the following:

  • Drink more water (flavored with sugar-free drink mixes, if you choose).
  • Take a nap (which can reduce hunger pangs).
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Chew sugarless gum.
  • Move up your next meal by a half-hour to stave off hunger pangs.

Avoid adding more food to your meals, which can slow your progress, Ferrer adds. If you’re not careful, it can also lead to a gradual (or not so gradual) return to your old eating habits.

The Two-Week Emergency Diet

Rotate between these two daily diets. To boost your chances of success, stock your refrigerator and pantry with your food for the week, and portion out meals ahead of time so you don’t end up sabotaging yourself in the cafeteria or at the drive-through.

Emergency Diet Guidelines

  1. If you weigh less than 175 pounds, eat 20 percent less food per meal. For example, instead of 150 grams of chicken breast, you’ll eat 120 grams. Your daily total caloric intake would be 1,440 calories (1,800 minus 360).
  2. If you weigh more than 225 pounds, eat 20 percent more food per meal. For example, instead of 150 grams of chicken breast, you’ll eat 180 grams. Your daily total caloric intake would be 2,160 calories.
  3. Acceptable condiments are hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, diet (nonfat) salad dressing, fat-free or ultra-low-fat mayonnaise, lemon juice, salsa and vinegar. “Sodium may have a negative impact on water retention, but only when you’re eating junk,” Michael Ferrer says. “Otherwise, it’s a critical mineral in the uptake of carbohydrates and its conversion into energy and glycogen storage within the muscles. If you find yourself beginning to hold water, increase your daily water intake.”
  4. Good fibrous vegetable choices include broccoli, green beans, yellow beans, yellow, red or green peppers, summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, or fresh or frozen combinations of any of these.
  5. As for beverages, water is your best choice. Drink as much as you can. Coffee and green or black tea (use skim milk and sweetener, if you must), plus occasional noncaloric diet drinks, are acceptable. Avoid fruit juices or nondiet drinks, including sports drinks.
  6. Choose albacore tuna packed in water. For the sake of this diet, it may be easiest to buy the 12-ounce cans and eat one-half per sitting. Use lemon and pepper to season, if you’d like.
  7. When choosing chicken and turkey, use breast meat only — no deli meats. Remove any skin before cooking.
  8. Good white fish choices are tilapia, cod, flounder, sole, halibut, haddock, orange roughy and turbot. 
  9. As specified in the diet, use whey protein isolate, which is faster acting than concentrate and has a higher bioavailability than concentrate. And while meal-replacement powders (which include carbohydrates) are OK under normal circumstances, on this diet, you want to avoid them.
  10. If you can’t break out a chicken breast and potato at 10 a.m. on the job, substitute an easier meal from the plan, such as a drink made from water and whey protein isolate, plus four rice cakes.
  11. As far as those rice cakes, pick the unsweetened versions, either plain or flavored.
  12. The oils in meal 5 can be incorporated into salad dressings; also, prepare meals using nonstick cooking spray, as needed.

Supporting Supplements

Certain supplements can speed your progress, ease your cravings and boost your energy while dieting. If you choose any of the listed supplements, follow the label directions.

Fat Burners: A thermogenic formula could help boost your weight-loss efforts. Here are eight of the top options available.

Biotest Hot-Rox

BodyTech Technadrine Supreme

BSN Thermonex

Champion Nutrition WipeOut Crave Control

MHP TakeOff

MuscleTech Hydroxycut Hardcore X

Nutrex Research Lipo 6X

VPX Meltdown

Nonstimulating Aids to Fat Loss:Omega-3 fatty acids (derived from fish oils), conjugated linoleic acid, chromium picolinate, L-carnitine or acetyl-l-carnitine

For General Health, Energy and Recovery: Multivitamin/mineral supplement, coenzyme Q10, branched-chain amino acids