I’ve been getting a huge number of emails about a recently released diet and supplement strategy, and, because it has a fair amount in common with previous strategies and dietary practices that I’ve either recommended or written about, I thought I would address it here.
A few weeks back, T-Nation.com finally revealed a full article and Livespill discussion about the “Mag-10 Pulse Fast” a practice about which T-Nation coach and muscle building expert Christian Thibaedeau has mentioned several times in regard to the training and contest prep of a number of his bodybuilding competitors.
Now, before we go further, I feel it necessary to put forth a bit of a disclaimer:
I am a freelance fitness author with no official ties to T-Nation, nor any financial stake in the magazine or the parent supplement company thereof, Biotest.
However, T-Nation has always been and hopefully will always be a good friend of Roman Fitness Systems, and I write for the magazine as frequently as I’m able. The editors have always been pretty good to me, and I have an excellent relationship with the site and the company. I use their products from time to time (some more than others) and I believe that while they are a bit heavy on the marketing every now and again, Biotest makes some of the best supplements in the industry and have great quality control.
This article is not intended to endorse the company, nor to tear them down in any way. It’s merely a frank discussion of a product I haven’t yet used, based on my own observations and knowledge of similar practices.
Given all of that, in this discussion I’ll try to be as objective as possible.
With the boring disclaimer BS out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.
To bring everyone up to speed, let’s get a brief synopsis of this protocol. Essentially, the Mag-10 Pulse Fast is a fast day during which subjects take frequent doses (known as Pulses) of the protein supplement Mag-10. During this day, no calories outside of this supplement are to be taken in.
Of course, that doesn’t really explain the theory behind the protocol or explain tell you why you should or shouldn’t be doing it. Before we get into that, I think it best to enter into a (very) brief discussion of fasting in general.
Fasting, simply, is not eating. (Like I said, this is going to be very brief.) There are both full day fasts (which I’ve recommended on various occasions) and daily fasts or variations of intermittent fasting. In the latter model, you simply restrict your eating window to a predetermined but relatively short period of time; therefore, everything outside of this window will be time spent fasting.
Which brings us to the question:
There are really two main reasons to employ fasting: Calorie restriction and hormonal manipulation.
Calorie Stuff – Speaking generally, fast days work because they put you in a huge caloric deficit without even moving, and you wind up exercising and expanding that deficit tremendously.
As an example, let’s say we have a sample client. For the sake of visualization, our client is 193 pounds, 8% body fat, and really, really, really ridiculously good looking. His name, by the way, is Broman.
So let’s say by the calorie formula I normally use, Broman’s daily Caloric intake would be just about 3,000 Calories in order to maintain his weight. If he wanted to just have a traditional diet, he’d reduce to 2,600.
He begins with a Caloric deficit of 400, and then maybe does 800 Calories worth of activity, for a total reduction of 1200 Calories. Not bad. At this rate, he should lose two pounds per week.
However, in the full day fasting model, Broman just straight up does not eat.
So right off the bat, he is taking in 0 calories instead of 3,000, or even 2,600. Add in a reasonable amount of exercise (let’s stick with 800), and we have a really significant deficit. If he doesn’t exercise, Broman is 3000 Calories in the hole. By training as he normally would, he’s at negative 3,800 Calories.
Essentially, Anyone fasting for even one day per week is reducing their total Caloric intake by 14%, assuming uniform dietary intake on all other days.
Not hard to see how this can lead to fat loss.
Hormonal Stuff – Intermittent fasting proponents are (rightfully) very fast to point out the hormonal benefits of fasting. And, honestly, those that discuss this as the primary focus of their nutritional strategies are really more adequately equipped to discuss this in depth.
Rather than get into a huge discussion of hormonal interaction (which I feel would be just a bit beyond the scope of this already overly long post) I will just give a few bullet points.
- Increases the secretion of growth hormone. We’ve discussed growth hormone before, so, for the sake of brevity, let’s allow that any and all increases in GH lead to faster fat loss and a greater propensity for muscle gain.
- Increase in Insulin sensitivity. This is particularly true when training is involved. That is, training in a fasted state increases insulin sensitivity, which of course helps for fat loss. That aside, fasting in general seems to help in this regard.
- Leptin Manipulation. Leptin levels decrease when fasting, but you get a big boost the minute you start to eat again. Dietary manipulation of leptin for fat loss is one of the main principles of both Cheat Your Way Thin and the Xtreme Fat Loss Diet, two programs which I’ve discussed ad nauseum, so for those who aren’t familiar, check those programs out.
Let’s return briefly to the discussion of Caloric restriction. Not eating for an entire day certainly does lead to a large Caloric deficit, which should lead to fat loss, as noted above with our client Broman. Of course, it can be argued that huge deficits can lead to muscle loss; however, there are ways to allow for losing fat without losing muscle.
The first method (which you’ve seen before) is to schedule the fast day so that it comes on the heels of a cheat day (as in my feast–>fast model) or after a relatively high Calorie day when you’re trying to gain mass. As leptin levels will be elevated and you’re sitting on a huge caloric surplus from the previous day, you’ll be able to do it without losing mass.
In this model, I have always recommended that you supplement with Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) in order to help preserve muscle.
As I’ve said, I’ve written about it before, so if you want more information on that, read the blog post and check out the Xtreme Fat Loss Diet.
I should mention that a lot of the fasting gurus don’t make this recommendation, and seem not to feel that any muscle loss is likely, even with a 36-hour fast.
I’m not sure I agree. Mainly, I feel that BCAA’s are so cheap and are generally pretty effective supplement in their own right that there’s really no drawback to using them for this purpose.
The second method, about which the remainder of this post will be concerned, is the Mag-10 Pulse Fast model. In the new layout by Biotest, instead of using just BCAAs, you’ve got the doses of Mag-10 protein, taken 8-10 times per day.
Now, as far as helping hold on to mass while adding minimal Calories, something like this Mag-10 pulse should certainly help; you’ll be getting good amino acids to preserve muscle while simultaneously keeping your calories pretty damn low.
The argument Biotest puts forth is really pretty similar to what most fasting experts say about fasting: putting it simply, using the Mag-10 Pulse Fast essentially allow for simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss.
Well, the Pulse Fast allows you to live on extremely reduced Calories, as well as increase the sensitivity of various hormonal/anabolic receptors. The contents of the Mag-10 both take advantage of and exacerbate this, allowing for increased energy and strength during the fasting period.
Once you start eating again, you’re primed for growth.
To use their terms, you’re creating a “thermo-anabolic” environment and turn you into an “easy gainer.”
Does any of that sound familiar?
Well, it should, because it pretty much just sounds like a summary of the hormonal stuff I talked about earlier.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not saying they’re full of shit; quite the opposite. Nearly all of what they are saying about fasting is essentially true.
So, even if the recommended supplements were made up of nothing more revolutionary than Amino Acids and/or Cocaine, this would entire thing still probably work pretty well.
That isn’t what I’m questioning, and that isn’t why I bothered to write this post.
Rather, the MAIN thing here is that I don’t know that this is overall going to be THAT much better than just dosing directly with BCAAs during the fast day.
Obviously Biotest says it is, but they are trying to sell you a 130 dollar package instead of a 20 dollar bottle of BCAAs.
Knowing Biotest they way I do, though, I would have to say that at the very least I believe that THEY believe there is a reason to do this. That is, in my experience with them, they’re not the type of company to bother creating protocols like this unless on some level they think it’s better than what’s been available.
They have some case studies, some good sales copy and seemingly some good results.
I obviously believe that there is great merit to fasting for a full day every now and again to lose fat, and I think that done properly you are going to be able to hold onto strength and mass without an issue.
What I DON’T know is if this protocol is going to be more effective than just using BCAAs.
And, if it does prove to be more effective, will it the increase in efficacy be great enough to justify the cost?
Time for a Breakdown:
I think it would help if we put the entire comparison in more bleak mathematical terms, and just to be the most clear, I’ll use only Biotest supplements to illustrate.
The Mag-10 Pulse Fast Package is $124.99 (NOTE: this package also includes Alpha GPC and Power Drive, two supplements about which discussion is a bit beyond the scope of this post.) This package, based on recommended dosing, will last you 3 Pulse Fast Days, working out to roughly $41.66 per day.
As an aside, with that package, you’ll run out of Mag-10 first; but you’d still have plenty of everything else left over. Stretching it from there, you can also add another tub of Mag-10 to your order, bringing the total to $184.98, and bring to total to about $26.42 for 7 total Pulse Fast Days; which, while not incredibly cheap, quite a bit more reasonable.
Skipping the full protocol and using only the Mag-10 Protein supplement, let’s go again with the cheaper option of ordering two containers of Mag-10. This brings the price per unit from 59.99 to 54.99, or 109.98. Again, you’ll get 7 Pulse Fast Days. With this abbreviated protocol, you’re looking at $15.71 per Pulse Fast Day. Better still.
To be fair, let’s consider here, though, that $15.71 is probably less than you would spend on food during an average day. (Yeah, you’re not eating for 36 hours. Forgot about that, didn’tcha?)
However, let’s look at the other option.
Biotest BCAAs retail at $24.99 for 240 capsules. The recommended dosage is 6 capsules, but for the purposes of physique maintenance during a fast, I would have people using about 30 capsules per fast day. In that case, each bottle would last you 8 fast days, or just about $3.12–quite a difference.
Even at it’s cheapest, using Pulse Fast Days with Mag-10 is going to cost you six times the amount of money that you’d pay for using the discounted BCAAs alone.
If you were to opt with the full Pulse Fast Protocol, (even at it’s cheapest) you’d pay more than 10 times cost of using the BCAAs.
Okay, enough mathz.
You are at this point wondering, “Roman, is this worth it for me?”
Honestly, I have no idea. I haven’t tried the protocol (yet) and I don’t know that I will at any point in the near future, so I’ll have to reserve a verdict for that date.
What I DO know is that I’ve done fast days using BCAAs alone and gotten great results over the past few years. My experiences with that, out of interest, helped lead to the inclusion of fast days using BCAAs in the Xtreme Fat Loss Diet, by the way, and thousands of people have gotten great results using that method.
(NOTE: It must be mentioned that in that instance, it’s a fast day following a cheat day, which does make a difference. A fast day without a cheat day is a different beast, but I have done those as well — using slightly higher BCAAs –and also seeing nice results.)
So where does this all leave us?
Unfortunately, I can only hazard a guess here, but what I’ll say is that as much as I love Biotest, I believe that while they got the idea right, the execution might be overkill for the average person.
From a dollar-to-dollar perspective, I have a really hard time believing that you’re going to get 6-10 times the results. I mean, hell, if you do, hat’s off to them in the most honest and sincere way possible.
To be fair, even if you were to get “only” twice the results using the Pulse Fast than you would by using just BCAAs, it might not justify the cost for some people.
On the other hand, for those people who have very advanced physiques and for whom losing even 1 pound of muscle is a grave concern (or, to be blunt, those who simply do not mind a price increase of 10x to get 2x better results because their fat loss is just that important to them) I’d say give it a try.
If money is no object (and/or you like experimenting) I can certainly see the appeal.
For me personally: while money isn’t “no object” for me, I’ll be blunt and say that stuff like this really piques my curiosity, and at some point if I have to pay 125 bucks to satisfy that curiosity and test it out, I will do so without hesitation or regret, if only so that I can give you a more honest appraisal.
Further to that, I personally DO fall into the category of people for whom their physique is an investment of utmost importance, so if I saw phenomenal results I would be able to justify the cost going forward. I guess the smart thing for Biotest to do here would be send me some free stuff and let me blog about my experiences. *hinthint*
You’ll have to make your own decision on this one, but for the average trainee or anyone with more than 20 pounds of fat to lose, I’d say you can probably hold off until you get leaner.
Okay, for those who skipped the majority of the post because I am an overly verbose, garrulous, loquacious individual who is so prone to voluble prolixity that he cannot write a blog post of less than 3,000 words, I’ve also just written a brief summary.
The Mag-10 Pulse Fast
What it Be: A fast day using frequent doses or “pulses” of Biotest’s Mag-10 Protein Supplement.
What it Do: Allows you to gain muscle and lose fat due to a mix of extreme Caloric restriction and hormonal manipulation.
Do It Workz: Yes; given the inclusion of the fast day alone, and the research that supports fasting, it would be hard to say that this didn’t work.
Does it Work Better Than Other Options (ie Fasting Alone or Fasting With BCAAs): Unknown. Even if it does, it’s hard to say whether the increase in efficacy would justify the increase in cost.
Who Can Benefit: Very advanced trainees, people who like to experiment, Biotest, anyone who considers their training worthy of financial investment.
Who Should Skip It: People already making good progress, those who hate supplements, people who don’t like to fast, fat people, Biotest-haterz, really skinny kids who should be focusing on eating food and lifting weights, puppies.
Okay, so I’m curious on what you guys think about this. At some point or another, I’ll probably give it a shot, if only so that I can either confirm or deny the effects.
Now, let’s not have any straight up “I hate supplements so I think no one should use them because all supplements are useless and supplement companiez are teh Devil and only want your monieesssszz!!11″ We all know supplement companies–like all companiess–are trying to make money. Thanks anyway.
Similarly, let’s not have a bunch of T-Nation forum warriors who want to defend the good name of Biotest.
I just want to have an honest discussion.
If you have used the Pulse Fast, please leave your feedback; I’d love to hear from you–particularly if you’ve tried this both with BCAAs and Mag-10.