T Nation

Don Alessi's Response to Meltdown on Low Carb Diets

Here is my intial question to Don Alessi:

Many people are using Meltdown training on a low to no carb diet. You even suggested a low carb diet like the T-Dawg would work very well with this program. This is not making sense to me.

Meltdown works through several mechanisms that you have already explained, but the primary means by which people make gains on this program is throught the lactic acid/GH mechanism.

How do you create high enough amounts of lactic acid while on carb restricted diets?

Below is a question that I posed to my t-mag forum brothers. It contains my intial thoughts on the process. Any insight from you would be welcomed.

"Can Meltdown work on low to no carb diets? Jason Norcross 2002-03-09 15:23:02 Something clicked in my mind just a few minutes ago and I had to rush to the computer to get this idea out for discussion. According to Alessi, meltdown training works by creating a lot of lactic acid which then stimulates growth hormone. Growth hormone then does its thing and we all become huge and ripped at the same time. I don't want to discuss the growth hormone at all. I want to talk about lactic acid. Lactic acid is a product of anaerobic glyolysis. So to produce lactic acid, you need glycogen. On low carb (like the T-Dawg as Alessi recommends) or no carb (like Fat Fast), most people will be severely glycogen limited or have almost none at all. So where is the lactic acid coming from? Without stored glycogen, one has to rely on the glycerol portion of stored triglycerides converting to 3-phosphoglyceraldehyde and then to pyruvate which can then go throught the Cori cycle to create glucose and eventually go through anaerobic glycolysis to produce lactic acid. Also, many amino acids are glucogenic (primarily alanine and other BCAA's) and can be deaminated and converted to pryruvate, malate or oxaloacetate which can also be converted to glucose. So to get our glucose so that we can get our lactic acid, we have to use both fat and protein for energy metabolism. According to my readings, it seems as if both sources contribute quite a bit to the gluconeogenic pool. Anyway, it seems like a recipe for muscle loss. I know that I have read where Alessi's staff members have recommended large doses of BCAA's during exercise obviously to prevent muscle catabolism.

Anyway, my question is: why not do meltdown with an adequate carbohydrate intake? If the goal is to create a lot of lactic acid, you need a lot of glucose. If you keep carbs moderate to high, there will be plenty of stored glycogen for which to create a lot of lactic acid. I'm not saying that Meltdown cannot work with low/no carb diets, but it seems like it would be optimized to work with a diet higher in carbohydrates. With summer coming up, a lot of people may try Meltdown to lean up and I think that we need to figure out what kind of diet would be most optimal."

After some discussion and later discussion on this topic amongst other threads, no one is coming to a clear answer. I have seen one of your trainers who posts as "jman" mention taking high doses of BCAA's and glutamine during and after training. I understand this will provide energy substrate and stimulate growth hormone, but to me it just seems like an expensive substitute for carbohydrates.

Don Alessi's Response:

You answered your own question, assuming excess bodyfat, the greater contribution of glycerol & fatty acids will fill in the energetic gap - post workout -thus driving EPOC & Fat Oxidation. Plus, after initial replenishment even more energy is demanded to drive super-compensation. And this does not even scratch the surface on the anabolic effects of the other metabolites. The studies on muscle damage indicate that it is the degree of disruption that drives protein turnover. Both anabolic and catabolic - so yes you need to use glutamine & bcaa's to restore nitrogen balance. Bottom line, the program works better with low carbs - results speak louder than theory!


Question: What’s the best way to look flat and soft when coming off a cutting cycle?

Answer: Do Meltdown Training.

Question: What's the best way to look full, hard, and ripped when coming off a cutting cycle?

Answer: Do the classic 5x5 program.

Question: Why?


1. Anyway you look at it, the caloric and carbohyrate restrictions associated with cutting cycles don't go well with Meltdown training. Meltdown training is very glycogen demanding. When you are conducting a high repetition, lactid acid producing workout four times a week, you can bet your glycogen stores will become depleted rather quickly. Now, I realize that there are other ways that the body produces lactid acid, but they are secondary to glycogen utililization, and you better believe that glycogen stores will be the first thing to go. Bottom Line: You look and feel flat.

2. Meltdown training does nothing for muscle tone. Muscle tone is simply the resting tension of a given muscle, and can only be altered through heavy, high tension training. Bottom Line: You very well may burn a few extra calories during a meltdown session, but when you reach your body fat goals, you'll still be SOFT, not ripped and hard.

3. Meltdown does nothing to prime your system for new growth once hypertrophy training is resumed. Most individuals train with higher volume, higher reps (i.e. 8-12) for hypertrophy. Meltdown isn't much different. When you go back to bulking, not much has changed other than your diet. Bottom Line: High volume, high rep training won't be a shock to your system, and your muscles will likely respond in a mediocre fashion once hypertrophy training is resumed.

4. It is not likely that you will gain much strength from doing Meltdown.

Now let's look at the 5x5 program in the same way:

1. 5x5 is not very glycogen demanding. Bottom Line: Provided that you are taking in some carbs, 5x5 won't take away from your "full, round" look.

2. 5x5 puts greater tension on the working muscles by utilizing heavier weights. If you want to look ripped and hard, you have to train heavy. You can get incredibly lean, but you'll never look hard without increasing the resting tension of the various muscle groups (i.e. muscle tone). Bottom Line: 5x5, when accompanied by low levels of body fat, gives you the hard, ripped look that you are longing for.

3. 5x5 will prime your system for even greater gains once hypertrophy training is resumed. When you go back to the 8-12 range, it will be something completely new, and your muscles will respond beautifully. Not only that, but if you were previously doing hypertrophy work, then you will likely gain lean mass during your 5x5 cycle, because your muscles are not used to the low reps. Therefore, meltdown has no advantage even from a hypertrophy standpoint. Bottom line: 5x5 will help you gain lean mass during a cutting cycle and at the same time will prime your system for greater gains once hypertrophy training is resumed.

4. 5x5 is a classic powerlifting program and it will significantly increase your strength. It is obvious that if you can move more weight when you start bulking again, you will make greater gains than if you were moving the same weight, or less weight than you were on your last bulking cycle. Bottom Line: 5x5 will increase the poundage that you can lift, once again allowing you to make greater progress come your next bulking cycle.

Question: Why the hell are you doing Meltdown?

-Joel Marion

Thank you, Pavel Jr. I hope you’re at least bigger than at The Evil Russian Whose Not From Russia.

I listen to things that make sense, I question the validity of things that don’t.

Gotta say I agree with Joel on this one. I feel like absolute dog shit when I try to do high volume/high rep workouts while dieting, and my strength and size always suffer as a result.

hmmm…now im even more bloody confused…meltdown training seemed almost ideal to get the last few pounds of fat off and break my current plateau (after losin like 30 lbs, mostly fat)…but joel makes some good points…5x5 or meltdown to get rid of those last pounds of fat…anybody?

I’ve been following this argument for a while, and Joels argument makes a lot of sense. My question concerns Meltdown 2, since it seems to involve ATP for energy more than glycogen. (Also keeping the weights at near max levels). I’m not much of an expert at energy pathways, but would everyone else agree that this new incarnation of Meltdown is much better suited for dieting and a low carb diet than the old?

I’m confused. I was under the impression that I would do Meltdown mostly for its advantages as a fat-burning regimen during the cutting cycle. You said the 5x5 has these advantages when combined with low bodyfat.

Diet aside, as that is a whole new discussion, how would you then train get to the lower bodyfat levels? More cardio?

I know a lot of you have been bashing meltdown, but have you tried it. I’m not saying it works, but I usually try something before I bash it.

There are many programs/protocols for cutting and all will work to some extent. Some better than others, especially under different “circumstances”. From my experience and what I’ve seen, meltdown type programs work well for individuals starting at higher BF% and poor initial conditioning but as Joel indicated, results come at a price. And I think Don alludes to the higher BF% needed in his answer. However, Joel makes some very valid points that cann’t be disputed. For individuals coming off a bulking or hypertrophy cycle already in good condition and just wanting to lean up some, Joel’s 5x5 program will provide the best over all results in the end. However, out of shape individuals with higher BF%'s may initially do better with lower carb and meltdown type program because of where they are starting from, and then at some point switch to a more isocaloric diet with Joel’s 5x5 program. But for individuals in good shape just wanting to lean out for summer, Joel is correct that the 5x5 program will do a better job polishing your physique. And I definately agree, once lean enough, a 5x5 type program with heaver weights will harden you up and leave you ripped with great resting muscle tension. It all depends on where you’re starting from and what your immediate goal is.

3-L T-man: You can’t say “diet aside” when talking about losing body fat. That would be like saying “weight-training aside, how would I go about increasing my lean muscle mass?” Diet is the numero uno factor in achieving low levels of body fat; although cardio and weight training can speed up the process, they are not neccesary. If, however, you want quicker results, SPRINT. Don’t turn to high intensity weight training, you’ll miss out on all the benefits of training with lower reps while cutting (They are clearly presented on my previous post).

Now the real issue is this: What do you want to look like when you achieve those low levels of body fat? Cleary you are not going to achieve a hard, ripped physique through diet alone. You accomplish this through training, and high reps ain't gonna do it. 5x5 is a great way to go about things; it's not the only way (there are plenty of powerlifting-type programs), but it's not overly complicated and it works.

The advantages of 5x5 over Meltdown are obvious. It's just utter foolishness to neglect the truth when it's staring you in the face.

Just curious,who has been more more of a mentor to you,Mel Siff,or Charles Poliquin?It seems from your writing that you are coming from a Siff internship,not Poliquins.Then again<I heard thru the grape vine that Poliquin is also A Siff intern.

I’m still working this one out guys. I tried to do Meltdown again (on moderate carbs) and I still struggled to get effective workouts.

With the issue of resting tension in the muscle aside, Joel and I agree that a 5x5 strength based program is probably the best type of lifting while on a cutting cycle. You just need to manipulate diet, exercise, and supplementation to get the fat loss.

I'm sure that many people had fantastic results with Meltdown #1. Personally, I skimmed the Meltdown #2 and it seems much better suited to a cutting cycle (I'll have to read very thoroughly before I can really say this).

For my next cutting cycle, I'll be doing a 5x5 based program with both aerobic exercise and interval/Fartlek training.

Dave two quick points (in a friendly and helpful tone). 1) Pavel is not the one who pushes 5x5, that would be attributed mostly to poliquin. 2) Pavel is from russia. His credentials have been reviewed by the US marines, the US Energy department (nuclear division), various law enforcement agencies,etc. He trained russian special forces and was a ranked kettlebell lifter. Not really a big follower of his methods, but I’ve seen this rumor debunked and thought I’d share.

What exactly is the point? If you feel, pun intended, that Meltdown doesn’t work for you then fine…don’t use it. Your “Bottom Line” statements seem pretty presumptuous since not even the research community has come up with bottom line’s. Meltdown is one way, which obviously doesn’t work for, but it is only one of many…Lest we forget than a decade or two ago cardio and high carbs were the “bottom line” for “weight” loss…

Jason, I think it shows a lot of generosity and class for you to post this exchange. Thanks.

I believe your BF% is already to low and you’re in too good of condition to benefit from meltdown, IMO. I still believe meltdown is best suited for individuals starting a weight loss program in poor conditioning with higher BF%'s such as someone coming off an extended layoff. For dedicated trainers in good condition and at reasonable BF% and just wanting to lean out and harden up after a bulking or hypertrophy cycle; a heavy, lower rep program such as 5x5 is better suited, IMO. Both of these observations have been from my own personal experiences over the years and also by watching others at various stages of the game. The controversy of meltdown vs 5x5 is really dependent on the individual considering where they are starting from and what their immediate goals are.

Thanks Joel. I realize diet is important, but I only wanted to discuss the workout in my question, which is why I phrased it as I did.

That being said, what would you all suggest as a workout for someone in decent but not super-cut shape who wants to drop about 5% bf? I just got done with a bulk-up phase, and I’m starting to cut at 5’11", 190 lbs. with about 14% bf as measured with the six-site caliper test. Thanks for any suggestions.

the 5x5 protocol makes sense to me. Another question, would the 1,6 scheme good too on a cutting diet?

I would just like to thank Heb for his phenomenal breakdown of this issue. His insight is absolutely perfect in this case. I’d have to say that I agree with his perspective on who these programs are best suited for.

Good job buddy! You've absolutely hit the nail on the head.