Revisiting the Anabolic Diet


What if I told you about a diet that not only mimicked the effects of steroids but also allowed you to gorge on meats, eggs and cheese for days at a time before indulging in pizza and pancakes on the weekend? A diet that would help you get leaner, stronger and more muscular. A diet that seemingly had it all?

This isn’t the stuff of fairytale but some of ways that Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale’s Anabolic Diet has been advertised since it’s inception in the early 90s. A cyclical diet, Di Pasquale’s high fat approach came at a time when the majority of Bodybuilders, along with the American public, were stuck in a low-fat mindset.

Whilst the majority of gym goers nowadays are unaware of DiPasquale’s work, the Anabolic Diet was one of the seminal eating programmes of its time.

So in today’s post we’ll look at the history of the diet itself, what the diet entailed and just why it was so revolutionary.

The Birth of the ‘Pork Chop Diet’


In the late 80s and 90s Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale had a weekly column in MuscleMag International entitled “The Doctor’s Corner”. A curious haven for common sense and evidence-based research, ‘The Doctor’s Corner’ covered everything from injuries to steroid abuse and even the effectiveness of supplements. A world champion powerlifter outside of the medical profession, Pasquale was one of the biggest authorities on bodybuilding during the 1990s. Heck Pasquale was so well regarded that when Vince McMahon was having trouble with steroid use in his World Bodybuilding Federation, he turned to DiPasquale for help. It was with the WBF that DiPasquale’s dietary ideas came to the fore.

Clamping down on the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs in the WBF, Di Pasquale put many of the competitors on a high fat, low carb diet, which he said mimicked the anabolic effects of steroid use and despite what they may have thought, the competitors weren’t guinea pigs for a new experiment. Di Pasquale practiced what he preached. Over his decades long powerlifting career, the good doctor had eaten this way for many years and gotten stronger and leaner doing so.

Although the WBF experience with his diet was mixed, Di Pasquale and Musclemag writer, Greg Zulak, soon began publishing variations of Di Pasquale’s diet in the popular press. Interestingly Zulak initially called the eating plan, the ‘Pork Chop Diet’, a name which stuck for nearly three years until Pasquale published The Anabolic Diet in book form. Far from receiving a positive reception, Di Pasquale’s book received rather mixed reviews. For some, he was a madman bent on raising people’s cholesterol whilst for others he was a genius, brave enough to go against the anti-fat dogma with a diet that was not only simple to understand, but highly effective.

So what was the Anabolic Diet all about?

The Anabolic Diet


Knowing that different people are at different stages in their weight training career, Di Pasquale provided three different phases to the Anabolic Diet. A maintenance phase, a cutting phase and a bulking phase.. The maintenance or start-up phase, centred on weaning people off their carbohydrate dependency and introducing more healthy fats. Regardless of how experienced someone was, this phase was usually a pre-requisite as many people were (and still are) sucked into thinking carbs are wholly necessary for training. During this phase, which usually lasted three to four weeks, people ate a strict ratio of 60% fat, 35% protein, and only 5% carbs, eating calories equivalent to 18 times their bodyweight. So for example, a 200-pound male would consume roughly 3,600 calories per day.

This was done for five days a week before the diet would be switched around on the weekend to 30% fat, 10% protein, and  60% carbs. The idea being that a re-feed on the weekends would replenish glycogen stores in the muscles for training the following week. This pattern would continue for roughly a month until you adjusted to this style of eating. After that, you could try out the bulking or cutting phases.

The Cutting Phase

Similar to the maintenance phase, weekday macronutrients were kept to the ratio 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs. Regarding calories, Di Pasquale recommended dropping the calories (calculated during the maintenance phase) by 500-1,000 calories every week until you’re losing 1.5-2 pounds per week. However if you lost more than two pounds a week, you were encouraged to add 500 or so calories back in until you reach the two-pounds-per-week maximum. This would, in theory ensure maximum fat loss with minimal muscle loss a.k.a the holy grail of dieting.

To make matters even more appealing, the weekend re-feeds were still permitted in the same ratio as the maintenance phase. Importantly, Di Pasquale encouraged people to cut weight until they attained a single digit body fat. The book was aimed at natural bodybuilders after all!

The Bulking Phase

The bulking phase was a little bit tricker than the other two as the calorie requirements far exceeded what most people would consider manageable. It was this phase that separated the men from the boys so to speak!

In explaining the bulking calorie requirements, Di Pasquale often used the example of a 200-pound competitive bodybuilder looking to reach 215 pounds. DiPasquale recommended taking this ideal weight (215 pounds) and adding 15% to it, which was the weight to shoot for while bulking. In this instance, the 200-pound bodybuilder would overshoot his ideal weight by 15%, putting him close to 250 pounds. To do this, he would consume20-25 calories per pound of desired bodyweight everyday. In terms of daily calories, this was between 5,000 and 6,250 calories! Admittedly it is an extreme and importantly, Di Pasquale discouraged gaining anymore than two pounds a week. Excess of two pounds was most likely fat gain.

This eating pattern would continue until a trainee reached the ideal weight plus 15% or reached 10% body fat. After that you would switch back to the maintenance phase, or cutting phase if their bulk had been too ‘enthusiastic’. Di Pasquale was keen to stress that although professional bodybuilders could ballon up in the off-season, natural bodybuilders couldn’t afford the same luxury that performance enhancing drugs provided. Therefore going over 10% body fat on a bulk was a bad idea.

Putting it all together

Di Pasquale encouraged going through the three phases several times during the calendar year. If things had gone to plan, you would come into competition leaner and more muscular than before. What’s more, you wouldn’t have suffered during the dieting phases!

Regarding what foods to eat, Di Pasquale recommended getting the necessary fat and protein from steak, hamburger, eggs, and fish. Turkey, chicken, and tuna alongside full-fat cheeses, pepperoni, sausage, and certain nuts. Leafy greens were also encouraged. A simple trick was to remember to eat less than 30 grams carbohydrates a day whilst getting in sufficient fiber (DiPasquale often recommended a supplement).

Re-evulating the Anabolic Diet


So what can we say about the Anabolic Diet?  A diet that went against pretty much everything people knew about nutrition and how the body worked?

First off, the publication of this work was an incredibly brave decision to take. Aside from Vince Gironda and Dan Duchaine, very few coaches were recommending high fat diets to the bodybuilding community at this time. Given the emotional attachment people hold to ‘correct ways of eating’, Di Pasquale’s diet, which went against the common way of thinking, was an important moment for the sport.

Secondly for those suited to a high fat diet, the Anabolic Diet was and still is, an extremely effective way to lose body fat and gain muscle. Furthermore, Di Pasquale’s book (available here under a different title) was broken down in simple, easy to understand language, making the diet extremely accessible.

Finally, even if people didn’t subscribe to his high fat approach, Di Pasquale’s stress on cycling carbs encouraged new ways of thinking about dietary approaches. That alone is good enough for me.

If you’re interested in learning more about the diet, I encourage you to try one month on the maintenance phase as it’s only after trying a high-fat low carb diet that you begin to understand what makes it so different from normal approaches. Happy eating!

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