Alone dieting, MCTs and “nothing but explosive!”
Randy Strossen of MILO magazine was the greatest weightlifting photographer in the history of the Iron Game. This incredible photo (above) from the early 1990s shows Roberta Utica, 181-pound Cuban Olympic weightlifting world champion squatting 644-pounds for raw double, ass-on-heels with no weightlifting belt. He is shown bottoming out and is about to latch onto the “rebound” as the weight plates on the whippy Olympic bar are about to reverse direction. He will “catch” the upward momentum and ride it to lockout, creating an explosive concentric. Note no spotters. This set was done three days before winning the world title.
As Picasso once noted, “Periodically, a man need be jerked out of his torpor.” The dictionary defines torpor as “A state of mental and physical inactivity characterized by sluggishness or lethargy.” A month ago, I sought ways to jerk myself out of my own self-diagnosed torpor. In transformational training, torpor is synonymous with inertia, stagnation, sameness, boredom.
I had a good summer insofar as training and progress, but summer was over, and I felt burnt out and bored. I needed something new, fresh, exciting, I wanted to set off in a new radically different direction – but what was that direction? I had mined a particular vein of progress for months and it had now run dry. It was a great run while it lasted, but what was formerly productive was now played-out and stale. Change was in order – but change to what?
A confluence of events, a series of unrelated happenings combined to inspire a new and wildly different approach for the fall campaign. I was mentally recharged and fired up about this strange new direction I would take.
My nutritional inspiration came from the most unlikely of sources, a reality TV show. I had been a fan of a survivalist reality TV series called Alone for many years. Recently, it hit me like a thunderbolt that every single contestant that has ever appeared on Alone used the identical diet and every single one had achieved a ripped physique within 30-45 days. This was a diet with a 100% success rate.
Alone contestants were forced to live like our hunter-gatherer ancestors before the widespread implementation of agriculture, a mere 10,000 years ago. Mankind evolved as a species eating as Alone contestants ate. When the modern Alone competitors were forced to eat the diet of the ancient hunter-gathers and live the exercise-intense primal lifestyle, everyone got ripped within 45-days.
The Soft Machine, the human body, was designed to run on organic fuel, quality protein loaded with ample amounts of quality fat. Add to that some foraged fiber carbs, occasionally some berries. Nothing else is eaten because there is nothing else to eat.
Over the shows seven-year history, all 70 survivalists ate the same foods and got the same results: the survivalist metabolisms shifted from a civilized carb-burning metabolism into a primal fat-burning metabolism and suddenly stored body fat was drawn down and burned to fuel caloric shortfalls. Body fat was shed by the bucketful – ideal – if it is not taken too far.
There was a definite exercise component: Alone contestants had to bust-ass every day, regardless if they had eaten or not. There could be no pause in chopping wood, hauling water, constructing a winter-proof shelter, continually improving that shelter, hiking for miles hunting and checking snares, making time to fish, busting holes to go ice fishing, building fires – the exercise never ended for Alone contestants.
At the end of the 7th season, nearly 100-days in, three contestants remained. Temperatures were minus 30 degrees and each spent hours each day trudging through deep snow to cut down trees needed to provide enough firewood just to stay warm through a single night. Was there anyway that I could replicate this? Could I create my own Alone-inspired dietary template and hold the course for 45-days? That did not seem like a long time to adhere.
My game plan was to shift my carb-burning metabolism to fat-burning metabolism by reducing carbs (excluding fiber carbs) to 50 or less grams per day and doing all my eating within a four-hour window: from 3 pm to 7 pm. I would take MCTs in supplemental form twice daily, early morning and again around noon. I would revamp my weight training and continue using sprinting as my primary cardio.
I would use my resistance training and cardio exercise to create a slight, yet continual exercise-induced caloric deficit. This would force the body, deprived of carb-fuel, to burn body fat. Taken too far and fat burning morphs into muscle-burning. Muscle-cannibalism is a horrific state wherein the starving body eats its own muscle tissue to feed itself, stripping muscle cells of amino acid.
There is a catabolic tipping point where optimal fat-burning “tips over” into muscle-cannibalism. This is to be recognized and avoided. Adhere to Simple Simon tenants for 30-45 days, lean out, then bail out before catabolism and muscle cannibalism take root. Alone contestants experienced dramatic results in 30-45 days. That seemed like a short time. Who needs to go longer and grow catabolic?
Right in about this time Stacy caught a wicked cold and brought it home and gave it to me. This particular strain knocked me down, and is my habit, when I get sick, which is exceedingly rare, my default strategy is to stop eating. I lose my appetite and go with it. On the rare occasion I catch a cold, I usually shake it and normalize within 24-48 hours. This one hung on longer.
At the end of my third day of having the cold, I realized I had not eaten solid food in 96 hours, and I hadn’t really missed it. Food had been the last thing on my mind. I had a few protein shakes, one a day, but other than that, nothing but water, coffee, and some of Stacy’s tea remedies.
My light bulb moment occurred when it occurred to me that I was four days into an Alone diet replication. I was sick and not noticing I was starving. As I came out of the sickness on the end of day four, I used my sickness-fast to launch my Alone diet. The dietary tenants were simple, establish starvation (I had) and eat then sparingly and very narrowly. No carbs and no beer.
- Intermittent fasting: I take my first food of the day at 3 pm. I arise at 3 am and drink coffee. Early morning, I drink 2-3 tablespoons of MCT oil, 200-300 calories. I repeat this at noon. At 3 pm I eat my featured protein: ribs, shrimp, chicken, fish, etc. I eat a raw coleslaw made by local farmers as my fiber. I eat three mini-meals within my four-hour window. I allow no more than 50 grams of starch per day.
- Ever narrowing dietary scope: the deeper into the process I get, the easier it is to adhere. Results cause you to effortlessly tighten up. I decided to forgo protein shakes during the Alone diet. I had come to depend on them on use them as an excuse to not cook a protein, i.e. just drink a shake and forget about making the salmon. I wanted to depend totally on animal and seafood for protein. Other than MCT oil, no supplements.
- MCTs: I decided to supplement with MCTs, medium-chain triglycerides, a liquified fat containing 9-calories per gram and 100-calories per tablespoon. Why would anyone want to take a supplemental fat? MCTs like alcohol, are preferentially oxidized and cannot end up stored as body fat. Because they oxidize immediately, they provide instant energy. I took two tablespoons like medicine. I am now a fan. MCTs have cognitive benefits.
- Fuzzing the edges: I allow myself a small amount of carbs each day, less than 50 grams. I might have some cashews, a roll for a burger, some cheese, a scoop of peanut butter. I eat three times within the 3pm to 7pm window. A perfect cheeseburger or steak with slaw, an hour later a cold shrimp cocktail with horseradish sauce with a salad or some cashews. I might finish the days eating with an egg omelet. The proteins shift daily. I love to cook.
Three weeks, 21 days in and my bodyweight has dropped from 208.5 to 197.2. My energy is incredibly good - until about two hours before fueling up at 3pm when I have an energy nosedive. Trying to use MCTs to offset predictable afternoon energy drop. Still fired up, I feel as though I am just getting started. I do not feel that I have totally shifted into a full-fledged fat-burning metabolism.
I needed a fresh direction in my weight training. I saw some video of myself and noted how sluggishly I was moving the reps on all my top sets. I would make my target poundage and my reps, but I had lost all my snap. All my top sets regardless the lift, were grinders. I was stuck in low gear: I still had a lot of torque – but I had become a dump truck when I used to be a 427 Cobra.
My lightbulb moment occurred while watching Kirk (Karwoski) squat and deadlift. Despite being 54, Karwoski, 6-time IPF world champ, world record holder, still rips 650 from the floor to lockout in a split-second. His squats are cookie-cutter: a tightly controlled, coiled descent, followed by an always explosive concentric. Look up the phrase “compensatory acceleration” in the dictionary and Kirk’s picture will be next to it.
How does he do it? How is it he is always explosive? As his lifelong coach, his only coach, and the man that introduced him the concept of compensatory acceleration, I feel uniquely qualified to comment: Kirk is always explosive because he has rewired his neuro-circuitry: he is programmed to explode at launch. Every rep he does is done with a characteristic explosiveness.
Over the past three years, Kirk and I have trained together in sixty or more weekly sessions and never once did I see him grind a weight or a rep – nor did I ever see him perform more than 5-reps in the barbell squat, bench or deadlift. Usually he did singles and doubles in the squat and deadlift – all done super-fast. He could move 650 faster in the deadlift than any of us could move 135.
I decided to go back to kindergarten in all my resistance training lifts. I took a vow that I would not allow myself to grind. I would explode the concentric on every single rep. The instant any grind appeared that set was curtailed. Naturally, my poundage took an ego-crushing plummet. I was good at grinding. But I was at a grinding dead-end. I needed a radical change. If I were to rocket up reps Karwoski-style, I would be forced to use embarrassingly light weights.
Still, it was exciting as hell and really different: my techniques after 60-years of immersion were fine so I could dedicate 100% of my training focus on exploding the concentric. This would be accomplished by staying 100% mindful during the set. On every rep, I would use internal mental command, a single word yelled internally at that exact instant when eccentric becomes concentric. That single word, yelled at the top of my internal voice was “SPEED!!!”
I would use perfect techniques, a full range-of-motion, create a coiled eccentric followed by explosive concentric and always initiated with the Speed! command – no grinding allowed! (for now) Lighter poundage handled with greater velocity complimented the Alone eating strategy perfectly. Now the game was not grinding out massive poundage, the name of the game was moving lesser payloads as fast as humanly possible.
This type of training requires I remain mindful on every rep of every set: the instant I space out or get distracted, I forget to give the Speed! command. This approach has reinvigorated my resistance training. I got it going on. I will post periodic updates. Three weeks in and results are making redoubling efforts easy.
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.