Starvation Mode – Why You Probably Never Need to Worry About It

September 9, 2011

Starvation mode is a term that gets thrown around loosely. Many people believe that too little protein or too few of calories in a day will cause loss of muscle mass. What if I told you that it is extremely difficult to go into starvation mode until you get down to 5% body fat(10% for women)? Brad Pilon and John Barban have given me permission to give you access to the first 15 minutes of one of their paid recordings: “Starvation Mode”. Brad and John discuss surprising findings of a military study, where they purposely tried to get the soldiers to lose muscle and get into starvation mode. They found it took extreme conditions to reach this point.


starvation mode

[Just a cool vintage restaurant sign. This reminds me of something you would see on a road trip in Nevada or Arizona on a 2 lane highway, hours from the big cities.]

Brad and John Show You How to Get Into Starvation Mode?

These guys take an interesting approach. They show you exactly what it takes to reach starvation mode. By showing how difficult it is to reach starvation mode, they destroy a lot of muscle loss myths. Once you listen to this, you can relax and not stress out about losing muscle when you are dieting and exercising to lose body fat. As you will see, you don’t even need to begin to worry about this until your reach crazy low body fat levels. Here’s that recording:


How to Get Into Starvation Mode

[Click on this old school cassette tape. Using sophisticated computer technology, my blog will play this bootleg in fancy MP3 format.]

My Notes From the Starvation Mode Recording

All of this is covered in the recording, but I wanted to put some of this in text as well. You can also right click and save this recording and listen on your computer or iPod. I’ll post my notes below like I typically format my blog posts.

Why Are Brad and John Examining a Military Study?

Brad and John mainly look at a military experiment done by Karl Friedl. They point out that the military has less restrictions and can push people much harder than they can in a typical university study. There is no way this stuff would get approved by a university, but no problem for the military. In their words…To find limits to what the body is capable of, you need to dip into military research.

Step 1 to Get Into Starvation Mode—> Start Out Lean

Karl Friedl used fit and athletic soldiers with an average body fat of 14%. This is what John Barban calls “4 pack lean”. There were guys as low as 6% body fat and as high as 18% body fat. Think along the lines of a fit and muscular soldier to get an idea of the participants of this study.

Karl Pretty Much Tortured These Guys for 8+ Weeks!

Karl had these guys eat between 1,000-1,200 calories…but burn upwards of 6,000 calories per day with crazy activity levels and sleep deprivation. So deficits in the 3,000-4,000 range on some days. Average deficit was 1,200 calories per day. They trained like mad and also went through extreme sleep deprivation.

Here’s what happened during the 8 weeks (avg height 5’9″):

  • At Start… 167 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.4
  • 2 Weeks…156 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.44
  • 4 Weeks…152 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.45
  • 6 Weeks…146 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.50
  • 8 Weeks…140 lbs & Adonis Index of 1.52

Note: Adonis Index refers to the shoulder circumference divided by the waist circumference. As an example, my shoulder measurement is 50 inches and my waist is 33 inches. If I divide my shoulder by my waist I get 1.51. The ideal Adonis Index is 1.61. The video below explains why a 1.61 ratio is pleasing to the eye in not just body proportions…but in art, architecture, etc.


[It is interesting to note that so many things follow the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio. This video claims that even many cereal boxes are made with these proportions to be more pleasing to the eye...so the cereal companies can sell more cereal.]

In This Experiment, They Were NOT Trying to Preserve Muscle

The important thing to remember in this study was that they were trying their best to beat these guys down. They weren’t doing things that normal people would do while dieting, like proper resistance training. Here are some of the tactics they used to try to get into starvation mode.

  • Severe Caloric Restriction
  • Severe Amount of Exercise
  • Severe Amount of Mental Stress
  • Extreme Sleep Deprivation

Began to Lose Lean Body Mass Between Weeks 6 and 8

At around the 8 week mark a lot of guys who were in the 5%-6% range could not drop any more body fat. This is when they began to lose lean muscle. The guys who started out the leanest, reached their limits at week 6. These were the guys who lost the most amount of lean body mass.

They Didn’t Lose Muscle Just Because They Were at 5%-6%

They lost muscle because they were still having days where they were running at a 3,000 calorie deficit. Once someone reaches their lower limits of body fat percentage it makes sense to eat close to maintenance levels. This strong calorie deficit at this low body fat level also caused extreme hormone disruptions: Testosterone dropped, thyroid issues, mood changes <---this is true “starvation mode”.

Why People Think Their Metabolism is Slowing Down

People with more fat available to oxidize…can oxidize more body fat per minute. The less body fat you have, the less you can oxidize per minute. So as you get closer to your lower limits of body fat, the slower you will burn what body fat you have. This is why those last 4-5 pounds come off slowly, NOT because you are wrecking your metabolism with an aggressive diet.

Most People Never Need to Worry About Starvation Mode

Most likely, starvation mode isn’t happening to anybody reading this. The average person thinks starvation mode happens between meals. It isn’t about not having enough calories. It isn’t about not having enough protein. It only effects people at their critical low body fat mass. You have to be in a massive deficit and already at your critical low body fat level. You are “6 pack ripped” before ever getting to starvation mode.

Summary: John Barban and Brad Pilon have tons of posts and phenomenal recordings over on these two blogs they run…

Adonis Index Blog <---For Men
Venus Index Blog <---For Women

All of their posts challenge bad info and myths with good solid scientific research. I’ve been following these guys for 3+ years and have learned a ton from Brad and John, especially when it comes to dieting for rapid fat loss. Great stuff!

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Rusty Moore

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Hawko73 May 15, 2013 at 6:35 am

sorry, 5lb of muscle guys, not 4lb…

Alie J June 25, 2013 at 6:07 am

Starvation mode is horrible. You feel cold all the time, become constipated, dizzy, depressed and have little energy.

I’ve restricted my calories and over trained. 1500kCal with running a couple of miles per day and doing 3 hours intensive martial arts 3 times per week. I lost fat and a lot of muscle and became underweight very quickly. I had to stop exercising after becoming injured and frightened of weight gain I cut to 1000kCal. I had anorexia nervosa and was unaware of it until I became too ill to work and my doctor referred me to a psychiatrist.

At the start of my eating disorder I was 29 years old and I’m male which just made it more difficult to accept as it normally happens to adolescent girls.

I’m now 31 and in recovery for the second time. Recovery isn’t easy and has many nasty physical and psychological side effects. After loosing >25% of your body weight (I was a healthy weight at the start!) it becomes impossible to eat normally. At the start, eating more than 1000 was hard work, then when I managed to get to 2500kCal, I ended up binging lots and would sometimes vomit which is what often causes bulimia. Lucky that didn’t happen. After relapsing for a few months I just sucked it up and binged on well over 6000kCal per day to get better.

Diet safely, please don’t put yourself on a starvation diet. The problem is it’s often too late as one of the symptoms of starvation is body dysmporphic disorder so you fail to see the weight coming off until it’s too late.

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