Can you compete in a bodybuilding competition using ketosis and carb backloading?
Chaz Branham is a man-beast and a freak of nature in all the best ways. This is a guy who entered the Texas Shredder Classic, his first bodybuilding competition, on a dare—and did ridiculously well by using a fat-based approach.
He’s my good friend, a venture capitalist, a trainer, and the first person I thought of to answer your questions about burning fat fast, ketosis, and carb backloading.
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Chaz Branham has coached some of the world’s greatest athletes, executives, and early stage entrepreneurs. He started his fitness career by helping college and professional athletes fine-tune during the off season and now he’s a venture capitalist investing in startups in Austin, TX. He also advises Fixed Foods, an explosive subscription-based paleo meal delivery business that’s selling 2,500 meals per week after only 7 months in business.
Chaz’s Fat-Burning, Muscle-Building Story
This is the story about how Chaz went from essentially having zero knowledge of ketogenics to getting crazy awesome results using a ketogenic diet—in only 14 weeks!
It all started over a plate of ribs at my house during the Super Bowl.
I mentioned the ketogenic diet to him, and he just kind of tucked that info away until he started bantering with some guys at the gym who were eating food out of little plastic containers.
Chaz ended up betting these guys that he could beat them in the Texas Shredder Classic (a natural body building competition) by eating nothing but fat and protein.
And Chaz started training for his first bodybuilding competition just 14 weeks away. He called me for help… and he started on a journey of education and implementation, which wasn’t always easy. In fact, it was really hard.
He started out reading “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living” by Dr. Jeff Volek, PhD, RD and his second book, “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.”
He dropped the carbs out of his diet and amped up the protein and fat—in two days, he started to feel a euphoric type of high and this incredible mental acuity.
He wondered if the “wall” people talked about was really just a myth… but then at Day 9, he was doing shoulder presses at the gym and he couldn’t squeeze out those extra few reps. (By the way, Chaz deadlifts 630 lb, benches 400, and squats 450+lb.)
But for the first time he couldn’t explain what happened at the gym—why he couldn’t get in those extra reps.
Well, it was because he hit the “wall,” which is really just this brief period wherein your body is making the switch from using your glycogen stores for energy to burning ketones (fat). It can last a day or two before you’re in full ketosis.
Chaz was eating things like a pre-workout meal of grass-fed butter, magnesium, and sodium. It was a different type of energy than he was used to, but once he found a rhythm he noticed that his energy levels didn’t fluctuate—he was able to manage his energy levels and his body composition at the same time simply by changing what he ate.
The not-so-weird thing is that his personality also changed—he came over to my place and I was like, “Who is this guy?”
There’s a level-headedness that comes with removing carbs and simple sugars from your life—which is why people with ADHD and ADD are often on a restricted diet… to help them focus better.
“The process was extremely difficult and stressful,” says Chaz.
There wasn’t much precedent, as very few had used a ketogenic approach to bodybuilding. Chaz was blazing a trail.
At this point, Chaz was working out twice a day, had hired a guy to help him work on his poses, and was trying to get a tan… all for the competition.
He says he had a lot of thoughts like, “This isn’t going to work.” But, he hates to quit anything he starts, so he just went for it.
His determination paid off—he placed in his first ever body building show! Chaz started at a svelte 12% body fat—and competed at a seriously lean and mean 3% body fat.
Now, I’m usually around 10 – 12%, or maybe down to 8% if I’m trying. Chaz at 12% already had incredible muscles, so he was trying to manipulate his mass not just for strength, but also for beauty.
He got down to 6% in just a few weeks… but then he went into a 2 – 3 week lull where nothing was really moving. So, he switched it up. He started utilizing sweet potatoes to store glucose in his muscles, which makes muscles really bulge.
While on a ketogenic diet, he added 350-400 grams of carbohydrates in the form of sweet potatoes to his diet—and within a day, he felt like his muscles were going to explode right out of his skin.
Adding the sweet potatoes worked to pull water out of the body and skin and into the muscles, and his body was super-receptive while on the keto diet.
At this point, Chaz started questioning the sanity of this experiment… at under 3% body fat, you die. But, Chaz wasn’t going to quit, even though he took on this stunt as sort of a superficial pursuit. Even though he started feeling his energy stores depleting.
Chaz weighed 216 pounds when he started the experiment, and got down to 179 pounds for the competition just 14 weeks later. It would be illegal to put those kinds of results on a product label. This is such a testament to what a body is capable of doing.
What Now? How Do You Apply Keto To Real Life?
“Now,” says Chaz, “I practice carb backloading and timing nutrients.”
He might eat his first meal at noon, relying on intermittent fasting and coffee to power him through the day. Or, he might have a bowl of meat and veggies at lunch time. It’s easy to follow, you can even just have a burger with no bun.
Then, he doesn’t eat his main meal until after he’s worked out fasted. Men produce the most testosterone and human growth hormone in the late afternoon, about 4pm – 7pm, so that’s the best time to kick it at the gym. Then, you want to have your feast later in the evening. Doing this, he finds it so easy to gain mass in a lean manner when he wants.
Chaz claims that intermittent fasting and nutrient timing makes sense in his highly scheduled world. He doesn’t have time to eat 5 – 6 small meals a day out of Tupperware containers. This method allows him to be serious about both fitness and everything else in his life, including his work.
“It’s got to save me 10 – 15 hours a week,” he says of this way of eating. It’s simple and easy to stick to on a long term basis—as a lifestyle.
Because of the intermittent fasting and carb backloading, Chaz doesn’t have to take lunch breaks, doesn’t get distracted by hunger, and doesn’t experience energy lulls. This approach allows him to be quicker, more efficient, and more focused.
The Choice Not To Drink Alcohol
As someone who enjoys a glass of wine now and then, I asked Chaz why he’s chosen not to drink at all.
“Not drinking allows my body to work as efficiently as I feed it,” he says.
He doesn’t have to worry about three days of recovery after a night out drinking. Plus, “It saves a ton of money.”
He says he can smell the alcohol sweating off the guys at the gym after they’ve been drinking, and all the pros know that drinking just slows them down.
A lot of runners drink a ton of beers after a long run, and it’s just really not a good idea. Never-mind the carbs, the alcohol just doesn’t do good things for the body—and you’ll notice maybe a 10-second slower pace the next day.
Plus, Chaz points out that alcohol taxes the liver… and the health of our blood has so many ramifications on how we look and feel.
So many people sort of pressure themselves into drinking in social situations because they feel out of place, but really, people don’t care if you drink or not.
If asked, Chaz just tells people it’s a health choice—which opens up a good conversation, usually.
Tips For Starting A Ketogenic Diet
Go through the process of allowing your body to become fat adapted. Get into ketosis, and once you’re there, utilize carb backloading and intermittent fasting. Then, find a pragmatic approach that fits into your lifestyle utilizing these techniques.
Where to Find Chaz
You can find Chaz Branham at www.atxseedventures.com or at www.fixedfoods.com. If you’d like to reach Chaz, you can tweet @ChazBranham or if you Google his name, you can find nice pics of him in a speedo. 😉
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What did you think of this interview? Let us know in comments below!
Vincent Pugliese says
I needed to drop you a line and let you know that we received our copy of The Wild Diet, and I can not put it down. This book needs to be everywhere. It’s fascinating (how you break it all down), exciting (the potential!) and frustrating (the information about Big Food industry and the hurdles we need to overcome). Thank you for all of the work that you put into this book, I’m already planning on buying multiple copies for friends. Thanks man!
Abel James says
Vincent, thanks so much for the kind words. So glad you dig The Wild Diet!
Alex Dresko says
Great video, as usual. I always get pumped up to take my health to the next level any time I watch an Abel video… Which probably explains why I got so fat during his hiatus.. 🙂
Abel James says
Never fear – I’m back, baby.
Great interview Abel! After this talk, I fell like this is the right place to ask a question. I started experimenting with the kitogenic diet. Not for the fat loss part, but for the performance improvement. From 215 with 12% BF to 179 with 3% BF, it seems Chaz lost more than BF. If my calculation is correct he lost about 15 lb of muscle mass. Was this a desired effect, or it is a side effect of this diet?
Chaz Branham says
Radu, muscle loss is par for the course in those final weeks when I had to lean down to 3%. If I were doing a normative keto approach for regular health and not a body building competition, there wouldn’t be as much lean mass loss involved.
How do you manage carb back loading/keto if you are only training in the morning 4 days a week due to schedule?
Chaz Branham says
Karan, backload for your post workout meal, and lighter carbs for a second meal after your post workout meal…then switch back to keto. Does that help?
jeff clayton says
This was a fantastic video! I love the Fat burning Man pod cast, and check back often to re-listen to old ones. I am currently on day 6 of Ketosis… I have found it very easy to consume fats and protein and very little carbs (avg. less then 15 g per day so far). I would like to understand the best way to know when your body has switched over to fat burning. I am waiting for that wall that you talked about, but haven’t seen it yet. Thanks for all the great content! Jeff
Is this safe for women?/ how many carbs do women really need?
Excellent podcast Abel! I cannot tell you how much I really do appreciate your approach. You are always upbeat and gracious and it does not go without notice. I try to keep and open mind and stay up-to-date with the philosophy behind a variety of protocols. But lately I’ve just grown very tired of the bloggers/podcasters that feel it necessary to bash other people’s approaches (of course it is fine to disagree, but it’s not necessary to be rude about it). I have begun actively unsubscribing to the podcasts and blogs where they find it necessary to denigrate a peer’s work. I don’t need that negativity when there are folks like you putting out good information.
To add on to Rachel’s question… how about addressing not only women’s nutrition but the hormonal aspects of ketosis, IF and women?
Abel James says
I’ll see if I can do a show specifically about ketosis and women, but you might find this one interesting: http://fatburningman.com/tawnee-prazak-high-fat-endurance-training-keto-adaptation-the-danger-of-being-too-lean/
anthony wustefeld says
Could you be a bit more specific as to how much you we’re eating calorie-wise and which type of foods exactly during the entire 14 weeks leading up to the show. And the carb backloading part, how many carbs did you consume ??? Would you go all out on carbs or just low or moderate carb ?
Ditto to the question about women doing this. How would we carb backload?
Abel James says
Thanks for all the questions, guys! We are putting together a full Ketosis guide that will have much more specific information and will answer all of those specific questions in-depth.
Just finished this podcast this morning and going to start your Wild Diet book today! I have the same questions as above are women doing this, how would carb backloading work and can we incorporated IF with ketogenic? I’ve been hearing more and more about men incorporating IF and ketogenic just haven’t heard a females perspective on the subjects.
Chris Bennett says
That guide would be awesome. Would love to hear more about post workout meals/shakes on non back loading/refeed days. Also what he would do if he had to workout in the morning. I have read that people will add a banana and other things to their post workout shake and the go back to low carb until dinner and then back load.
Would be sweet to get a typical day/week of his meals when he was shredding fat.
Yes, more information on pre and post-workout nutrition on a ketogenic diet would be really helpful! Carb counts in protein shakes make the buyer’s decision difficult. Love the podcast!
Chaz Branham says
Folks, happy to answer questions. Feel free to email me email@example.com
What a great interview. I really enjoyed this young mans’ story! Appreciate the effort Abel.
I’m not really into training anymore, but I would like to lose Body Fat and stay at a good weight. However, as few carbs as I eat, I do love my wine, whiskey and beer. How harmful is this and what can be done to offset it, rather than abstaining?
When can we expect that guide for ketosis
“While on a ketogenic diet, he added 350-400 grams of carbohydrates in the form of sweet potatoes to his diet.”
Did you mean 350-400 CALORIES? That would be 100 grams of carbs, more in line with a reasonable carb load for someone that is ketogenic. I’m ketogenic (0.8-1.3) and a bodybuilder and if I took in 400 grams of carbs in one meal, I’d have brainfog and be lethargic for 2 days!
How did Chaz measure BF? For myself, I am 12% on dexascan and 8% on an impedence device. Quite a difference. I’m told the dexa is higher because it measures brain and marrow fat, whereas the impedence scale does not. My body composition in photos looks more like 8% based on Tim Ferriss’ photo array in 4 Hour Body.
Hi Abe, Loving this content and am gaining momentum on transferring to a keto diet myself. Just started the wild diet and am curious if there are other guests who hone in on the keto piece as much as this one. Thanks for any suggestions!
Ralph Dunniehigh says
Awesome. Thanks for the podcast! This was published over 3 years ago, and the concept of KETO bodybuilding is STILL in it’s infancy, and there’s very little almost non-anecdotally based info on how to prepare for a competition this way! I started prepping KETO, but after 30 days in, I decided to postpone the comp and focus on the keto lifestyle for a while. I really enjoy the sense of calm and the mental focus/energy stability… I wanted to ask Chaz, who undoubtedly had great success, if his years of ketogenic experience gave him any insight on how to improve upon his contest prep if he were to do it again? Thanks so much!