Mini Diets: Why And How?

Mini diets can actually be beneficial to muscle growth.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 04 Jan 2018

Nutrition
7 Mins

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Two of the most underused tactics amongst trainees are ‘mini diets’ and ‘diet breaks’.

The former refers to short, sharp periods of caloric restriction during a gaining phase. The latter are short periods of backing off from cardio and an increase in calories, but during a dieting phase.

For many on the ‘gain train’ the thought of pulling calories down seems counter-intuitive, right? This instinct is to increase calorie intake, not reduce it.

However, mini diets can actually be beneficial to muscle growth for two main reasons:

  1. To trim excess body fat accrual
  2. To give the digestive system a break, and potentially increase appetite in the long term

Anyone that’s been seriously involved in muscle gain for a while has likely tried the first point at least once in their lifting career.

When in building mode, you just want to see that scale weight going up week in, week out. At first, definition you used to have glazes over, which is okay – a small additional body fat is fine, and maybe even beneficial.  The scale then continues to climb at around 1-2% bodyweight per month, which is in line with progression in the gym, so we’re all good. More often than not, this weight gain is mistaken for all muscle tissue, so we start kidding ourselves, and then enter into a state of denial. We just stop looking at ourselves in the mirror post workout, we stop taking progress photos, and we baulk at the thought of taking skinfold readings.

Instead we keep piling the food in and continue to convince ourselves that the majority of the weight going in muscle. In reality, we all know that true muscle growth is a slow process. If you haven’t read just how slow, check out our article on Realistic Rates of Muscle Gain.

When body fat levels get out of hand, insulin sensitivity decreases. This leads to glucose not being taken into the cell as efficiently as normal. Instead, it lingers in the bloodstream longer and can potentially cause increased levels of inflammation – less than ideal for energy levels, digestive turnover, joint health and so on.

Also, we’re simply not designed to be ramming down large amounts of calories/protein 5-6x per day for months on end. It’s a large stress on the digestive system. Most will end up noticing that digestion starts to become sluggish, belching and gas becomes more common and eventually appetite starts to decline.

This is your body telling you that it’s likely not needing and utilising all of the food you’re constantly pushing in. But rather than listen, we tend to just keep on pushing, and pushing until both appetite and digestion comes to a grinding halt.

Rather than let ourselves get to these extreme stages where our body is physically fighting us, we think it’s best to take a two steps forward, one step back approach.

When we wait until it’s gotten to this point, it takes a fair while to undo all of the stress we’ve just put ourselves through. It seems much more logical to get ahead of the curve and pull back temporarily before these negative adaptations occur. If we’re proactive in this, ultimately we leave ourselves in a better position to keep gaining lean tissue and give ourselves a chance to actually ramp up appetite hormones again!

In the long run, this is going to be much more conducive to gaining muscle! Knowing when to keep pushing and when to back off is key to longevity in this field. This principle also applies training and avoiding injuries in the gym.

Setting It Up


The first thing to bear in mind, is that you’re likely going to be coming from quite a large surplus of calories for an extended period of time. Body fat and energy levels in general will also be high, so we can afford to make quite a dramatic cut in calories right off the bat.

This isn’t a 12-20 week dieting phase where small manipulations along the way are key. This is going to be 7-28 days, so you can be quite aggressive with it.

Keep protein exactly the same and make a good 30-50% reduction in carbs and perhaps dropping fats to around 60-75g. Of course, it’s impossible to give specific numbers as each client is different.

But as a rough guide, if someone was at the peak of their gaining phase on the following:

  • Calories: 3800
  • Protein: 250g
  • Carbohydrate: 450g
  • Fat: 110g

Then the very next day, we’d suggest to roll straight onto:

  • Calories: 2875
  • Protein: 250g
  • Carbohydrate: 300g
  • Fat: 75g

As you can see, it’s a 1000cal slash of calories.

Initially body weight will drop like a lead balloon. The majority of this will be water, along with gut contents from the reduction in food volume.

Run this for about 5-7 days and then depending on the rate that you are dropping, push further. This time round either make a big drop in carbs on rest days to 100g or less, or look to incorporate some HIIT.

Remember, this is only going to be 1-3 weeks in length. Muscle loss isn’t going to be an issue.

In theory, if it was a three week mini diet, it could look something like this:

Week 1: BIG drop in total calories across the board
Week 2: Drop all starchy carbs on rest days from training
Week 3: Introduce 2 x 20min HIIT sessions

Training would remain the same throughout, keeping the mentality of getting stronger and striving for progressive overload each session.

What To Expect?


Now, it’s important to note that the goal of this isn’t to get ‘shredded’. We’re essentially trying to reduce inflammation, chip away some excess body fat and re-ignite the appetite. So don’t go into this expecting that at week four, you’re suddenly going to be at checkpoint condition.

Instead, we’re looking for signs like:

  • Reduced puffiness around the face
  • Joints feeling better
  • Improved digestion
  • Increased appetite
  • Better energy levels

In conclusion, it’s nothing fancy, but it does allow for longevity during gaining phases and, if done correctly, can be very effective.
Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-sellilng book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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