Warning The diet you’re about to read isn’t for the unmotivated. It’s for those of you who want an effective way to shed bodyfat and are ready to work hard. Perhaps you have a special event looming on the horizon, or a vacation planned and short-shorts to wriggle into. This results-driven program developed by Chad Nicholls, the diet master who has helped shape the winning physiques of four-time Ms. Olympia champ Kim Chizevsky (Chad’s wife), current Mr. Olympia champion Ronnie Coleman and 1999 Fitness Olympia winner Mary Yockey, will get you looking good . . . if you’re ready for the challenge.

This 12-week program should allow you to shed roughly 20 pounds, Nicholls says. (Those of you hoping to lose more might need to give the program 16 weeks to reach your goals; those with less to lose may need only eight weeks.) The plan focuses on natural, whole foods. It employs lots of cardiovascular exercise to burn bodyfat, and strength training to maintain and/or build muscle, which simultaneously boosts your metabolism and shapes your muscles. It requires you to take the time to plan meals and menus, to shop for and prepare your food, to set the alarm clock and have your workout clothes ready and your sneakers packed in your gym bag.

The key to the diet is change. Nicholls, who advises noncompetitors as well as the pros, says consistently changing your meals and eating patterns is the best way to shake off stubborn fat and avoid the plateaus that are part and parcel of most diets. “I try to have my clients constantly change things around. I’ve found that a body can adapt to a certain set schedule and hit plateaus in as little as 2-3 weeks,” he explains. To avoid this, and add variety to the diet as well, his plan involves constantly rotating the types of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) you eat.

Cycling the Diet
Throughout the diet, you’ll eat four primary meals and one snack daily. A sample day’s meal plan for Weeks 1-3 is provided, which you’ll then rotate, utilizing the food list to suit your taste preferences. Week 1 allows for three starchy carbohydrate meals and one meal including only fibrous carbs. Week 2 cuts back to two starchy carbohydrate meals, and fibrous carbohydrates for the other two meals. In Week 3, you’ll exchange two of your meals for meal-replacement powders, again changing the type and amount of carbohydrate per meal. Week 4 brings you back to Week 1 again, or if you have extra fat to lose, you can go back to Week 2, with fewer starchy carbs.

In general, Nicholls recommends a base of approximately 40 grams of protein and 25-40 grams of carbohydrates – derived from either “starchy” choices, such as potatoes and oatmeal, or “fibrous” choices, such as broccoli and cauliflower – at each meal. If your protein is lean and your carbohydrates “clean” (not processed), your fat intake will average roughly 4 grams per meal. Yet daily dietary fat totals will differ depending on your varied protein and carbohydrate choices for that day.

“This is just a base,” Nicholls emphasizes. “You always want to rotate. For example, at one meal you may take in 60 grams of protein but only 15-20 grams of carbohydrates (two medium-sized chicken breasts and a small dinner salad). Or it may just be the opposite; you may take in a smaller amount of protein and an equal amount of carbs (35 grams of each).” The point, he notes, is to constantly confuse your body so your metabolism doesn’t have time to adjust.

Remember, this diet is for a noncompetitor. If you’re a highly conditioned athlete or have an interest in competing, the plan may not provide you with enough calories (energy) to sustain your training. Make each snack another primary meal and make further adjustments if necessary. And if you feel like the diet is driving you crazy, either due to out-of-control food cravings or low energy, modify it slightly to incorporate a little bit of the foods you need to keep you sane. Sure, looking lean is a great goal, but even more important is eating for health and avoiding the vicious cycle of deprivation, overeating and guilt that can turn you into a disordered eater.

Basic Guidelines

  • Eat four meals and one snack per day. (Schedule your meals roughly three hours apart. Fit in your snack meal when it best suits your needs.) Your last meal or snack shouldn’t be any later than two hours before bedtime.
  • Aim to drink 4 quarts of water a day, one each during your morning and afternoon workouts and two that you drink throughout the day.
  • Most days, your snack will be a protein drink with no or very low carbs. Twice a week, allow yourself a portion of fat-free frozen yogurt (containing less than 30 grams of carbs). It’s a nice reward for the hard work of dieting, says Nicholls, and since it’s “legal,” you should have no guilt and, therefore, no ensuing binge. Decide what days and at what mealtimes you want to enjoy your treat. If you don’t want frozen yogurt, a meal-replacement shake might be a nice change.
  • Nicholls strongly recommends rotating MRPs (meal-replacement powders) in and out of the diet. Go for one with about 40 grams of protein and 15-25 grams of carbs.
  • Use whey isolate protein powders for your daily snack, he advises. They’re a bit more expensive but reduce bloating. Try mixing vanilla protein powder with your favorite Crystal Lite, or shake up chocolate protein powder with cold decaf coffee over ice for a mid-afternoon snack at the office. A half whey/half soy isolate product is also fine.
  • In the beginning, Nicholls recommends weighing your food on a scale and keeping track of calories as well as grams of protein, carbs and fat. After a while, you’ll learn to eyeball portions. The slight variations in your amounts will help keep your metabolism from adjusting. One caveat: If you have trouble with portion control, continue to weigh your food. 
  • Get adequate rest and recovery time during this time of restricted food intake and stepped-up training!

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Remember, even the pros don’t live on a precontest diet. This is a temporary program in which healthful foods such as fruit and dairy products are omitted to assist with time-efficient fat-burning. While you’re living on restricted food choices, supplying your body with the necessary nutrients is vital.

To keep vitamins and minerals in your system throughout the day, take these supplement basics once in the morning and once in the afternoon: a good multivitamin/mineral, 1,000 mg Vitamin C, a calcium/zinc/magnesium product, and 400 IU Vitamin E. Also take one iron tablet in the afternoon only.

If the diet leaves you feeling deprived, eating one piece of fruit a week is acceptable (and better than skipping a meal, says Nicholls). Don’t feel you have to have it, though. If you really want to see quick changes, you should avoid having cheat days during the first four weeks.

After you’ve dieted for a month, a cheat day becomes optional. Gauge your progress and your motivation. If you must indulge, preplan your cheat to stay incontrol. Write down what you crave, Nicholls suggests. Whether it’s a plate of pancakes or a lasagna dinner, hold off for four hours instead of three between your cheat meal and the next meal, then make the latter light and easily digestible, such as an MRP.

Thermogenic products, which usually combine ephedra with caffeine, are entirely optional. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re in good physical health before using thermogenics. They can help by curbing appetite, providing extra energy and raising body temperature, which boosts metabolism, but people with certain medical conditions shouldn’t take them.