Low-fat-this, low-carb that... dietary dogma swings both ways like a metro-sexual at an after hours party. It can really get overwhelming. (I know. Here, have a hanky.) In a world of tunnel vision, first dominated by fat fears and now by a killer-carb craze, this series of articles will write the world a healthy reality check. It pays-out in common sense, so come on over to Lonnie's latest smart-bank location, set up right here in downtown T-Nation.

Actually, it pains me to write what I'm about to write. Rather than continue with my insistence that bodybuilding calls for some "big eating," I'm going to go in the opposite direction on this occasion and share some information on what I call "calorie dilution techniques."

That's right, I'm talking about ways to reduce kcal over the course of a day, while maintaining decent-sized portions and keeping yourself satisfied in general. This general concept helps for long-term weight management but here we're thinking more along the lines of a stay-on-the-wagon, "target date" type of diet. You might even consider my alternative to tiny portions as "dieting for the restraint impaired." And you know what? Other scientists are thinking along these same lines:

"This [fruit and vegetable] approach may facilitate weight loss because it emphasizes positive messages rather than negative, restrictive messages."(22)

So for now, to heck with big time power eating, let's explore the first few of several ways to keep daily caloric load "diluted" with fillers. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, "Do I contradict myself? Very well; I am large. I contain multitudes."

But why in the name of Gary Strydom would any size-crazed bodybuilder want to use dietary fillers and calorie reduction techniques? Well, while we surely need some big daily totals to build energy-costly muscle, we generally have to choose between periods of growth and periods of leaning-out. Summer is approaching fast so many of us are moving toward a "ripping phase." It's time to unveil that muscle we've added over the late fall and winter and it's going to take more than treadmill work to do it.

With periodized training so prevalent for addressing different goals at different times of the year, do you really think diet is much different? There is a time for "dieting." And that's when calories become an unavoidable factor. Despite some pretty effective strategies for changing body composition via macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) manipulation and timing, bioenergetics still come into play. Just as we can't build something from nothing regarding weight gain whilst under-eating, nor can we whittle our love handles down to nothing whilst there remains too much something going into our pie holes.

So let's get to the brass tacks. Beyond their other roles in human metabolism, many components of a meal also affect appetite and satiety. When coupled with temporal changes in our physiology throughout the day, these can have a big impact on reducing overall kcal intake – and that's a real trick considering a dieter's uncanny ability to unconsciously maintain a steady daily calorie balance. This is called "compensation," as we'll see.

Once all other factors in fat loss have been addressed (e.g. "cardio" frequency and duration, macronutrient profile, peri-workout nutrition, etc.), we see that the macronutrient composition of a meal is huge – not only for hormonal and metabolic reasons, as we usually hear, but also when it comes to satiety and reducing kcal load.

Whether it's protein, fat, and soluble fiber (good guys for reducing hunger) or refined carbohydrates (which induce blood sugar swings and more frequent eating), there's plenty of "appetite" data to suggest some food components are superior.

1. Satisfying Protein Foods Help Dilute Overall Daily Calorie Intake

I like to say that protein "dilutes" rather than "reduces" daily intake because we still get to consume something. We're just replacing easily over-consumed foods (like Super Frosted Sugar Bombs cereal) with something that slows us down and satisfies. For example, if someone is having difficulty controlling morning feedings, which incidentally is truly the lesser evil, one corrective approach is adding protein to his breakfast. This has been shown to enhance satiety.(25)

Additionally, humans don't appear to compensate very well for macronutrients, just for calories, as time progresses,(11, 17) so we might as well get those calories from highly thermogenic protein. A (mostly) egg white veggie omelet or a scoop of casein-based protein powder (19) like Metabolic Drive® Protein in a nice bowl of oat bran hot cereal are good choices. Even chicken breast is a breakfast meat alternative to calorie-riddled bacon or sausage. I personally like it pounded-out flat; maybe it's just a bit more like bacon that way. (Sad, perhaps, but we do what we must.) Plus, a solid food like chicken slows gastro-intestinal transit compared to a liquid meal.(4, 12)

Caution is needed, however. By over-meddling with AM calories and ditching carbs altogether, later-day compensation–even binging–is possible in certain individuals.(10,11,17) Talk abut a blown daily calorie balance! This may have something to do with a hormone called ghrelin that's specifically stimulated by dietary protein.(8) And it's protein upon which we're ironically relying for early satiety.

Regardless of when you eat lower-calorie protein sources like egg whites, turkey and chicken, you've got to keep the meals attractive! NO dry or bland boiled chicken breasts! A food's appearance really does get important as a diet progresses if you want to stay on the wagon. Here are a few tips:

  • Marinate meats in low-cal dressings the night before
  • Vary the preparation and recipes (omelets vs. boiled vs. scrambled eggs, roasted whole chickens vs. chicken salad sandwiches, etc.)
  • A "Foreman-type" double-sided grill gets three chicken breasts cooked fast for breakfast, second breakfast, and lunch away from home
  • Use parsley flakes and spices for color, flavor, and attractiveness!
  • Use yellow, butter-flavored cooking spray on egg whites

2. Grazing on Small Frequent Meals Can Help Maintain Negative Energy Balance

Although controversial, it may be better to eat many smaller meals over the course of the day. This can reduce peak insulin concentrations and hunger, too.(16, 23) I've often called this the "eat it, burn it, eat it, burn it" strategy. Although it calls for some level of discipline (what doesn't?), by not over-consuming to the point where body fat storage is necessary, this approach keeps our bodies fueled while overall intake and lipogenesis are minimized. A business person might equate this to "just in time inventory management." That is, bring-in just enough goods to meet demand so none have to be stored at one's own expense. Grazing is the same principle on a physiologic level.

A particular focus on morning grazing may help even more. Dedicated bodybuilders and athletes can actually use calorie compensation to their advantage. It's been shown that exercisers are far better than sedentary folk when it comes to down-regulating later meals after getting a plenty of calories early.(20) So, again, eating some carbs along with one's protein throughout the morning hours should lessen evening cravings.

3. Put Your Few Calories Where They're Needed Most

By consuming plenty of nutrients post-workout when they're more likely to end up replenishing and repairing skeletal muscle, we may also reduce the risk of our bodies compensating for a negative overall intake. Saving perhaps a quarter of one's (already small) total kcal intake for a post-workout "window" seems like common sense to me. Presumably, this means less hunger overall, as workout-drained glycogen stores get decently replenished fast.

If your concern is that you'll be sitting on your duff after an evening workout and large post-workout meal, don't worry. There's currently little reason to believe that evening glucose intolerance or late-hour inactivity will seriously hamper the post-workout nutrient window. That is, a good workout may indeed be a cure all regarding evening energy balance. You can relax knowing that – on these workout evenings - you're in a good state for nutrient partitioning. (Although I'd still love to see actual data on post-workout glycogen resynthesis or protein turnover related to the time-of-day.)

It may also be the case that by choosing to exercise in the evening, one avoids a behavioral land mine when one would otherwise lounge around eating during a period of low muscular activity (watching old Star Trek re-runs... no wait, that's just me). Add-in poor satiety as the evening progresses (6) and you're NOT likely to stay in a negative energy balance. In other words, prepare for your non-exercise evenings.

4. Dilute Evening Meals with Lean Meats, Vegetables, Bran, and Low-Cal Desserts

For those evenings not associated with any exercise, we need to dilute calories in order to maintain portion sizes and improve our fleeting sense of fullness.(6) Here are some ideas:

  • Consider a solid lean meat and/or low-fat cheese dinner (and supper) with tons of fibrous veggies as a side dish. These include but aren't limited to broccoli, onions, green beans, mushrooms, asparagus, peppers, etc.
  • While making dinner, chill some sugar-free gelatin (ice cubes in place of half the cold water dramatically speeds the process); some great flavors now exist and can be doctored-up with sugar-free whipped topping or even sucralose-sweetened cottage cheese layers. Again, appearance is critical to diet compliance.
  • Need something slightly more solid and fast as an after dinner snack? Try a microwave-prepared hot cereal mixture that's 50/50 or even 70/30 wheat bran/ oat bran with a scoop of protein (~20g). Two tablespoons of ground flax seed can replace part of the wheat bran (both are almost pure fiber, as far as carbs go). Don't try nuking a bowl of just wheat bran; it'll never gel. Yes, there are carbs present in the oat bran but a large part of this bed time snack is just fiber.

5. Implement Grocery Store Zen

It's not a chore. Enter the grocery with zeal to buy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. That will ensure that what you actually have on-hand at home offers fewer calories. Here's how:

  • Never shop hungry! Consume an apple, some nuts, or a protein shake (or any high-satiety food) just before you leave to shop.
  • A sense of fullness will make you less vulnerable to marketing hype in the high-cal goodies sections. (Real dietary compliance happens at the store, more so than at home; who can resist treats within arms' reach of the couch?)
  • Try picking out a few different bags of frozen vegetables or new and different fruits each week. Plan to consume your entire weeek's purchase (e.g. two 16 oz. bags of frozen veggies and 14 fruits [two each day]). This helps you track compliance.

6. Fiber: Not just for Breakfast Anymore!

Soluble fiber is a great bulking (i.e. expanding) agent and slows movement of food through the gastro-intestinal tract. It even binds a few grams of fat daily (further reducing kcal load). In fact, high fiber diets automatically reduce all "metabolizable energy" from the diet!(21) Now that's what I call calorie dilution! It's no mystery that the satiety index is positively effected by protein, fiber and water content.(14) Here are a few ideas and personal favorites:

  • Add as much wheat and/or oat bran to meatloaf, salmon patties, and meatballs as the recipe can tastefully handle. Ah, it's good to enjoy red meat again.
  • Are you into low-carb, slightly higher-fat dinners? I love a big side of mushrooms, and/or broccoli and/or artichoke hearts fried in cooking spray and just a few sun-dried tomato segments in their "own" oil or marinade.
  • Remember, we've got to vary our vegetable choices and make them attractive in order to make them habitual (no nasty yellow-gray canned green beans every night)!

Alrighty then. We have now discussed the first six concepts (and many underlying ideas) on diluting both individual meals–and indeed a whole day's worth of intake–with healthy, well-timed food manipulations.

You may want to try a few of these techniques before Part Two of this article comes out. Indeed, if you hate "obsessive portion control dieting," maybe this can be your impetus to nonetheless kick-off a pursuit of etched summer abdominals.

References and Further Reading:

  1. Almiron-Roig, E. Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: how good is the evidence? Obes Rev. 2003 Nov;4(4):201-12.
  2. Boschmann, M. Water-induced thermogenesis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Dec;88(12):6015-9.
  3. Chan, J., et al. Water, other fluids, and fatal coronary heart disease: the Adventist Health Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2002 May 1;155(9):827-33.
  4. Clarkston W., et al. Evidence for the anorexia of aging: gastrointestinal transit and hunger in healthy elderly vs. young adults. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jan;272(1 Pt 2):R243-8.
  5. Conceicao de Oliveira, M. Weight loss associated with a daily intake of three apples or three pears among overweight women. Nutrition 2003 Mar;19(3):253-6.
  6. deCastro, J. Circadian rhythms of the spontaneous meal pattern, macronutrient intake, and mood of humans. Physiol Behav. 1987 40(4): 437-446.
  7. DiMeglio, D. and Mattes, R. Liquid versus solid carbohydrate: effects on food intake and body weight. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Jun;24(6):794-800.
  8. Erdmann, J. Differential effect of protein and fat on plasma ghrelin levels in man. Regul Pept. 2003 Nov 15;116(1-3):101-7.
  9. Froetschel, M. Bioactive peptides in digesta that regulate gastrointestinal function and intake. J Anim Sci. 1996 Oct;74(10):2500-8.
  10. Gendall, K. The effects of meal composition on subsequent craving and binge eating. Addict Behav. 1999 May-Jun;24(3):305-15.
  11. Goldberg, G., et al. Dietary compensation in response to covert imposition of negative energy balance by removal of fat or carbohydrate. Br J Nutr. 1998 Aug;80(2):141-7.
  12. Hammer, J. Does the ileocolonic junction differentiate between solids and liquids? Gut. 1993 Feb;34(2):222-6.
  13. Heacock P., Hertzler S., and Wolf B. Fructose prefeeding reduces the glycemic response to a high-glycemic index, starchy food in humans. J Nutr. 2002 Sep;132(9):2601-4.
  14. Holt, S., et al. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90.
  15. Kissileff, H. The satiating efficiency of foods. Physiol Behav. 1984 Feb;32(2):319-32.
  16. Jenkins, D., et al. Nibbling versus gorging: metabolic advantages of increased meal frequency. N Engl J Med 1989 321(14): 929-934.
  17. Kirkmeyer, S, and Mattes, R. Effects of food attributes on hunger and food intake. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Sep;24(9):1167-75.
  18. Lavin, J., et al. The effect of sucrose- and aspartame-sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice of female, moderately restrained eaters. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1997 Jan;21(1):37-42.
  19. Layman, D., et al. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr 2003 133(2): 411-417.
  20. Long, S., et al. The ability of habitual exercise to influence appetite and food intake in response to high- and low-energy preloads in man. Br J Nutr. 2002 May;87(5):517-23.
  21. Miles, C., et al. Effect of dietary fiber on the metabolizable energy of human diets. J Nutr 1988 Sep;118(9):1075-81.
  22. Rolls, B. What can intervention studies tell us about the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and weight management? Nutr Rev. 2004 Jan;62(1):1-17.
  23. Speechly, D. and Buffenstein, R. Greater appetite control associated with an increased frequency of eating in lean males. Appetite 1999 33(3): 285-297.
  24. Stellman S. and Garfinkel, L. Patterns of artificial sweetener use and weight change in an American Cancer Society prospective study. Appetite. 1988;11 Suppl 1:85-91.
  25. Stubbs, R., et al. Breakfasts high in protein, fat or carbohydrate: Effect on within-day appetite and energy balance. Eur J Clin Nutr 1996 50(7): 409-417.
  26. Stubbs, R., et al. The effect of graded levels of exercise on energy intake and balance in free-living men, consuming their normal diet. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Feb;56(2):129-40.
  27. Westerterp-Plantenga, M. The appetizing effect of an aperitif in overweight and normal-weight humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Feb;69(2):205-12.
  28. Yoshioka, M., et al. Combined effects of red pepper and caffeine consumption on 24 h energy balance in subjects given free access to foods. Br J Nutr. 2001 Feb; 85(2): 203-11.