From the Atkins craze, to the Ketogenic craze, lots of people have found immediate success with "zero carb" diets. Now in reality, it's close to impossible to consume ZERO carbs since many foods have trace carbs in them, but for the sake of this post I'll speak in real generalities.
It is definitely possible to get leaner and lose body fat with a Zero Carb diet. The problem is that this sort of eating approach is only meant for the short-term (ie - prepping for a photo shoot or bodybuilding/figure competition, last-minute beach vacation prep, etc). This sort of eating approach is not meant for long-term success without VERY close monitoring and periodic-to-frequent refeeding of surplus carbs and calories.
Now that I've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, back to the original task. A zero carb diet is fairly easy to implement (the challenge is sticking to it). You basically center your meals around protein (think anywhere from 1.5-2x body weight per day) and green vegetables. That's basically it (besides your standard multi-vitamin and probably some fish oil caps during the day).
I've both studied and tested this philosophy myself several times and actually noticed it during a recent UFC Primetime episode to hype the St. Pierre-Hardy fight. The week before the fight, cameras followed Georges St. Pierre into a Montreal restaurant where his nutritionist was preparing one of his meals.
His chef, Jennifer Nickel explains: "I do this for Georges Monday through Friday, three meals a day. We've done two fights so far with him, and we will cook for his weight cut in exactly this style - absolutely no carbs, or sugar, or dairy so...it gets a lot more strict. The only fat in this meal is the olive oil."
St. Pierre sat down to a pretty good looking meal of grilled tuna, sauteed asparagus, and mixed diced vegetables with what looked like citrus flavoring. Clearly the zero carb plan is working for GSP, both aesthetically and athletically, since he went on to beat Dan Hardy by unanimous decision on Saturday night.
Everybody doesn't have a professional chef to make their zero carb meals (I know I sure don't), but compliance is still possible. Fitness model Jamin Thompson recently underwent a zero carb phase for about 3-4 days to prep for a photo shoot. He kept those of us interested in such things updated on Twitter:
@jaminthompson: Day 2 of "no carb"...not bad so far, just had ground turkey, steamed cabbage, green beans, & flax...now off 2 train legs. LETS GO!
You can see how well the results worked out for him here.
There are plenty of resources available online about temporary zero carb diets. Lyle McDonald is another well-studied resource, having written a book on to topic. I actually tried his "Rapid Fat Loss" diet which is also termed a "Protein Sparing Modified Fast". I made a few mistakes with this diet, not realizing two key points:
1 - It is very easy to over-train.
I didn't realize that recovery can be slowed by zero carb dieting, so it's important to reduce cardio and/or allow for rest days from resistance training. MMA Nutritionist PR Cole made a great point on Twitter:
@FueltheFighter metabolic rate is slower if there is a cal deficit-that can mean suboptimal recovery rate/potential for compromised immune fxn
2 - It is important to "re-feed" within 4-5 days, if not sooner
At some point, the body will need carbs again, at least in my experience. That doesn't necessarily mean a gorge-fest on pancakes and bagels, the refeed can still be clean complex carbs like oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. The amount of carbs and length of the refeed can be complex, and there are numerous sources and strategies available with a Google search. But in general terms, refeeding with a substantial amount of carbs (preferably stretched over a day's worth of meals) is important after such a severe restriction.
I'll be traveling to Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four this week, so my hope is to stick to a zero carb diet while I am there. There will be lots of hotel, restaurant, and hospitality party food available, so my goal is to take down as much chicken, steak, shrimp, and vegetables as are available. I can't guarantee I won't slip up "accidentally", but at least there's a goal and plan in-mind.
I'll let you know how it goes.