Category: Thinking

Evolution of a Cyclical Diet

It started with controlled refeeds. The first diet I ever set up was based on carb cycling, I would have high, medium, and low days. Each day had fixed macro targets. My high carb day usually consisted of 3 meals with rice and 3 meals with oats. How exciting.

(Oh, and I would have a protein shake with Gatorade and waxy maize during training. I thought that was the secret to astronomical gains.)

Then I found out about Skiploading. This was developed and popularised by coach Ken ‘Skip’ Hill. You have a single refeed day with a fixed eating window. You eat high carb, low fat foods to satiety within your eating window, which usually starts in the morning. You don’t track macros and you don’t train.This is much more exciting!

Then I experimented with just eating whatever I wanted within a fixed eating window, including high fat foods, like cheesecakes, brownies, ice cream, and pastries. I found that this approach worked for me and I refined the process over the years, tweaking it with each new diet.

Nothing about this is original, I’m just going to show you my own take on it and how you can implement it yourself.

“But I thought you did flexible dieting?”

I do. If I want to eat a small amount of ice cream, some marshmallows, or Reeses’s peanut butter cups, I’ll fit them into my macros.

But what if I don’t want a small amount?

And what if I don’t want to eat protein pancakes with zero-calorie syrup?

Maybe I want to eat a giant stack of real pancakes with bacon and maple syrup…

There is no way I can reasonably fit that into a rational set of macros and I have no intention of trying.

I’m not going to decide how much ice cream I can budget for, weigh it out, and then hope that it satisfies me. I’m going to eat as much as I want and enjoy it.

Mental flexibility is important. This is flexibility in the way I think about food. We create mental prisons with our macro targets and we need to break out. Think of this as a controlled demolition.

And I know that at some point when I diet and it gets really tough I’ll want to say “fuck this” and just eat whatever I want anyway, regardless of how flexible I’ve been. I decided to create an environment where I can do that and still make progress.

Is this right for you?

You need to avoid this kind of cyclical dieting if:

  • You have unresolved issues with food.
  • You can’t delay gratification.
  • You can’t go a day without tracking or analysing everything you eat.
  • You can’t trust yourself with regulating hunger and satiety.
  • You don’t like eating stacks of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup…

This is NOT for everyone.

How to do it

Step by step

  1. Pick your refeed day.  Initially set a 3 hour window where you can eat whatever you like. If you normally start eating at 8am, eat from 8am until 11am. Then return to your regular diet food.
  2. The other days aim for 10-11kcal/lb. For example, if you weigh 90kg = 200lbs, you’ll aim for 2000-2200kcals/day initially.
  3. Track your weight every day.


Take daily weigh-ins. You take a baseline measurement (borrowing Skip’s terminology) on the morning of your refeed day. Then you find out how many days it takes for you to drop below that baseline. In general you should aim for 3-4 days if your goal is fat loss. If it happens earlier, you may need to increase your eating window or increase calories slightly during the week. If it happens later, you may need to do the opposite, or increase your training volume.

You need to experiment to find the right adjustments.

Severe calorie deficit. This is not designed to offset the cheat day, but to create a supercompensation effect. This is one of the key ideas behind Lyle McDonald’s UD2.0. Scott Abel also uses this concept with his cycle diet.

I would suggest 10-11kcal/lb as a starting point on your regular diet days. Any sensible set of macro targets will work.

I prefer low fat, moderate protein, and high carb. Interestingly, with low fat during the week you seem to get a fat supercompensation effect. I’m not sure what the mechanism is, it may just be intramuscular triglyceride storage.

It makes you look really good the day after your refeed, whatever it is.

Depletion. You don’t have to train for glycogen depletion, like with UD2.0. It should happen naturally as a consequence of your training volume. Moderate to high volume bodybuilding style training works just fine. Higher volume is usually better, assuming recovery is adequate.

As you get leaner you’ll find it harder to get a pump, especially towards the end of the week. I recommend putting your most demanding training sessions right after your refeed day.

I train 6x/week: chest and shoulders (heavy), back (heavy), legs (heavy), chest and shoulders (light), back (light), and arms.

Timed eating window.  Don’t count macros on your refeed day. Eat when you’re hungry and eat until you’re comfortably full but not stuffed. It’s important that you don’t eat outside of your regular feeding times, so try not to eat in the middle of the night on Friday if your refeed is on Saturday!

Start with a 3 hour window, which is effectively like a large cheat meal, and increase as necessary. If you get hungry afterwards, just go back to your regular diet food.

Don’t worry about protein. I don’t mean you should avoid eating a burger or a steak, just forget about hitting the leucine threshold with all of your meals. A day with lower protein won’t hurt you. I could attempt to justify this by talking about methionine restriction induced autophagy or something, but I’m not going to do that.

Rest. Don’t train on your refeed day, just eat and relax.

Mistakes to avoid

Stuffing yourself. Don’t try to eat yourself into a coma, basically.

Low volume training. High intensity, low volume training won’t work very well with this approach. You just won’t get the same supercompensation effect.

Stockpiling junk food. It’s better to eat out or prepare structured meals at first. Go for quality over quantity. Remember that the idea is to enjoy food, not to eat everything in sight because you can.

Liquid calories. This isn’t about satiety, it’s just that if you demolish a stack of pancakes then guzzling down a milkshake is going to leave you feeling bloated. Don’t overdo it.

Examples of what I eat

Diet day

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The leaning tower of pancakes. #protein #pancakes #chocolate #raspberry

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A quick and easy lunch: lamb steak with roast butternut squash and broccoli.

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Chicken, ham, chorizo and tomato pizza. All kinds of meat gains.

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A fantastic day for protein fluff. #raspberries #strawberries #fluff #protein #iifym #breakfast

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Refeed day

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French toast with maple syrup.

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Sometimes it's not a dessert.

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It's that time again.

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Chocolate mousse with raspberries and raspberry coulis.

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Did I get fat?

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Pausing for a moment before that first cup of coffee.

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