This survivalist reality series is an unintentional controlled dietary case study on how to get ripped
The premise of the show Alone, and this article we refer to as the "Alone Diet", on the History Channel is simple: strand ten people in the wilderness with no tools, devices, gadgets, electricity, or guns. Participants can take ten items, other than a sleeping bag and some heavy clothes. Usually they take a sharp axe, a bow and arrows (each arrow counts as an item,) some sort of big-ass knife, a steel fire-starter as no matches or lighters are allowed, snares for game, a gill net for catching fish. They walk into the woods with what they have in their backpack. Whoever lasts the longest wins $1,000,000. Let the suffering begin.
The Alone show is profound for a lot of unintended and unintentional reasons. Alone has created a seven-year, 70 participant, highly controlled dietary experiment on how best to shed body fat. All Alone contestants get ripped within two months on the "Alone Diet". The snide response is “Yeah? Well anyone can get ripped when they starve.”
Factually, there is a lot more going on than just starving. The best contestants do not starve. Not starving is how they win. If you starve, you are gone early. The central characteristics of the fat-shedding diet the Alone participants are forced to adapt mimics the type of diet primal men ate before the advent of agriculture, which occurred a mere 10,000 years ago. What are the commonalities and lessons of the Alone diet?
- Eat organic
- Eat less
- Eat less often
- Eat an extremely limited menu
- Fat and protein will sustain life
- Protein alone will not sustain life
- Foraging for plants and wild edibles, fiber carbs, is calorically insignificant
- Starch and refined carbohydrates are eliminated
- Daily exercise is critical (build shelter, haul rocks, hunting, fishing, daily firewood cutting)
The problem with most dietary studies is they depend on the truthfulness of the participants – no one is locking away diet-study participants and controlling what they eat – except on the reality show Alone where all contestants are forced to reacquaint themselves with the primal man within.
The Alone participant are all survivalist pros, people with serious credentials and years of experience. The survivalist women are most particularly bad ass. Whereas the guys alpha it out, exerting and overcoming, the beta women flow with nature, earth mothers that gather exotic fauna and berries, make tea and cry when they snare “bunnies.”
Two beautiful earth mother women finished 2nd and 3rd in the most recent Alone season, a 100-day challenge with a $1,000,000 prize. The ladies were barely outlasted by an uber-alpha SEAL-type lifelong woodsman, a man that (on this show) stabbed a 600-pound musk ox to death with a Bowie knife.
They should have just stopped the show right then and there and given him the million dollars when he killed the beast on day 67. Naturally, he won. While the others were starving and eating kelp, he was roasting bison haunches over the stone fireplace he had installed in his cold-proof shelter. I love this man. This is the seventh season of the show and as a fitness professional, profundities abound.
- Everyone gets ripped: other than this year’s 100-day challenge, the six previous winners all won at around the 70-day mark. Not really a long time, 2 to 2.5 months to get ripped
- Everyone detoxes: Alone competitors fast until they get it together enough to land a fish, snare a rabbit, forage berries, mushrooms, edible plants. They are inadvertently detoxing
- Carb depravation cleans out insulin receptors sites: no longer overwhelmed with insulin-spiking carbs, insulin sensitivity returns
- Participant metabolisms shift from carb-burning to fat-burning in 10-15 days
- Alone competitors forage some fiber carbs, find a few berries, but nothing life sustaining
- All starch carbs and refined carbs are completely gone
- Protein alone is not enough to sustain life, protein and fiber are not enough to sustain life
- For Alone participants, dietary fat is the key, critical, life-sustaining nutrient
- Rabbits are the most consistent source of land-based protein. Extremely lean, a person could eat rabbit every day and within 3 months starve to death
- Man did not evolve consuming carbs. Grain foods produce inferior fuel. While life sustaining, refined carbohydrates have horrendous and detrimental physical effects
- Fish proved the perfect food. For the first 45-days, Alone contestants pulled 20-pound fish out of the lake. The high fat content and powerhouse protein reenergized competitors
- In seven years, 70 competitors, only two participants killed large land animals: both men won. Fish and rabbit, an occasional bird, were the only consistent protein/fat sources
- Fat and protein enabled contestants to retain muscle while shedding bodyfat: had fish been plentiful for the entire period, everyone would have lost fat while retaining muscle
The lessons of Alone
Want a fat-shedding, muscle-retaining diet proven to work? Replicate the Alone diet. No need to stab a deer to death with a penknife; you are allowed more variety, no need to confine the menu to giant freshwater fish, rabbit, quail, and foraged mushrooms.
Replicate with natural organic protein sources, fish, seafood, fowl, beef, pork, lamb, etc. Select proteins with a good balance of protein and fat. To paraphrase Blue Oyster Cult, “Don’t fear the fat” assuming the fat is part of a quality protein source. Replicate fiber with spinach, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, etc. Fiber carbs are calorically insignificant.
Alone contestants first established a state of starvation. They then stayed on the edge of that starvation for the next 2-3 months. While starving, they would periodically replenish when they caught something. The ideal replenishment meal was combination of protein, fat with some foraged fiber.
Once the Alone competitor’s civilization-based carb-burning metabolisms were deprived of carbs (other than some sporadic fiber) for a few weeks, their metabolisms shifted to a wilderness-based fat-burning metabolism. Now, whenever they got into the red zone and were experiencing starvation, their fat-burning metabolisms drew down from stored body fat. In the absence of glycogen and dietary fat, the body mobilizes and uses its own stored body fat to fuel activity. Fabulous! This is exactly what we want.
In civilization, to replicate the Alone fat-loss results would require the establishment of condition of borderline starvation. Eliminate carbs, other than fiber. Be prepared to eat less, eat less often, and eat clean. You are allowed protein, fat, fiber – nothing else and not much of it. There are no cheat days on Alone.
Once the critical shift from a carb-burning metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism occurs, the serious fat loss commences. Once the metabolic shift takes place, the goal is to stay in the zone: stay right on the delicate edge of starvation. Replenish after training hard, eat to your activity level. No activity? Eat less or eat nothing; more activity? Eat more. The goal is lose body fat while retaining muscle. This is accomplished through the skillful juggling of exercise and diet…
- Upon awaking, coming off the sleep-fast, perform “fasted cardio,” cardiovascular exercise done upon arising forces the body to burn body fat to fuel the accelerated activity
- Cardio should be done daily. Vary the type and kind: steady-state, i.e. moderate intensity, longer duration; burst cardio, high intensity, shorter duration. Keep the body guessing
- Resistance training: frequency depends on situation. Concentrate on higher rep sets. Use continuous tension, concentrate on feel and contraction, less on sheer poundage
Could one replicate the lighting fast fat-burning results that Alone contestants experience on a uniform and consistent basis? How best could the diet be modified – without compromising results? What are the characteristics and commonalities?
- Establish a basic position of starvation, fast, stop eating for as long as possible
- Detoxification commences with commencement of the fasting process
- When you can stand it no longer, add back small portions of protein, fat and fiber
- Establish and maintain the premise of hunger, never eat unless hungry
- Select quality proteins with a moderate to high fat content
- Jettison starch and refined carbs
- Protein, fat, and fiber carbs do not spike insulin
- Fiber has a beneficial roto-rotor effect: fiber scrapes intestinal walls of sludge and bile
- The longer the gaps between eating the better the results
- Stay true to an extremely narrow selection of foods
- Eat less, eat less often, eat organic when possible
- This Alone diet works: every contestant experiences a profound physical metamorphosis
- Discipline is easier when not continually tempted: the toughest part of the Alone diet is adherence
- Stay committed to a position of continual hunger even when surrounded with temptation
Denied glycogen (emulsified starch/refined carbs,) the body’s critical fuel becomes saturated fat, the kind derived from animals and fish. Once all carbohydrates are exhausted, the contestants own body fat becomes fair game.
If the new fat-burning metabolism is fed enough dietary fat, no body fat is burned. If the body is given enough fat in the diet, there is no need for the body to mobilize its own body fat. If the body detects a fat-shortfall it will draw down from its own fat stores.
- If the body is stuffed full of carb glycogen, there can be no fat burning
- If the body is stuffed full of dietary fat, there can be no fat burning.
Once a person’s body fat percentile gets down into the sub-5% zone, serious health problems occur. Obviously, the intelligent athlete does not go this unnecessary extreme. However, using an Alone replication diet might be the fastest, surest, and safest way to get to the watershed 10% body fat percentile.
Attaining a 10% body fat percentile creates the bodybuilder look: six-pack abs are revealed, defined quadriceps appear, crisp pecs with fat-free armpits, defined hamstrings, no more love handles or bubble butt.
Smart trainees can use the Alone diet for six to eight weeks, shift from a carb-burning metabolism into the preferred fat-burning metabolism, hold the course for 8-10 weeks and get down to the magical 10% benchmark.
We know with 100% certainty that this fat-burning approach works 100% of the time: it has a 100% success rate for 70 people. The only variable is the adherence of the user. That is dependent on the gumption, grit, and pain tolerance of the trainee. If you want a diet that absolutely, positively works every single time it is enacted as instructed, your search is over. Let the suffering begin.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.