5 Reasons The Zig Zag Diet Is a No-Brainer

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With traditional diets, you eat about the same amount of food every day. At first, you get results. But after a while, your progress stops even though you didn’t change anything.

If this kind of plateau sounds familiar, then you’re ready for a different approach. The zig zag diet helps you break through plateaus in multiple ways.

So I’m going to explain how zig zag dieting does this. And show you how to use it to reach your bodybuilding and fitness goals.

Zig Zag Diet Sign

What Is The Zig Zag Diet?

Another name for the zig zag diet is “calorie shifting” or “calorie cycling”. Since it involves changing the number of calories you eat each day over the course of a week. The idea is to avoid the inevitable plateaus that come with constant calorie diets.

Some zig zag diets have you eat a different number of calories every single day. But that gets tedious. A better approach is having “low”, “medium”, and “high” days.

Low days maximize fat burning and medium days balance fat loss with muscle building or maintenance. While a weekly high day boosts your metabolism and refills your energy stores.

zig zag diet

Figure 1. This graph of daily calorie intake shows how the zig zag (or calorie cycling) diet gets it’s name.

Why Constant Calorie Diets Fail

Before we go further, it’s important to understand why traditional diets don’t work. One of the main reasons is predictability.

Think of a football team trying to get a first down. Now imagine the coach decides to run the ball on every play. While it may work a few times, eventually the defense recognizes the formation and adapts to stop it.

Metabolic Adaptation Analogy

Figure 2. Doing the same thing over and over rarely results in continued success.

The same is true for constant calorie diets. After some initial success, your metabolism adapts and you stop making progress. This is called metabolic adaptation.

For instance, when you cut calories, your metabolism changes within a few weeks and you hit a plateau. At that point, you might cut calories again only to hit another plateau. This is why regular diets fail.

constant calorie diet

Figure 3. Plateaus caused by metabolic adaptation during a constant calorie diet.

However, there’s a simple way to fix this problem. All the coach has to do is throw a deep pass – zig when his opponent expects zag.

Therefore, all you have to do to succeed on your diet is zig zag your calorie intake to keep your metabolism on its toes.

5 Reasons The Zig Zag Diet Works

1. “Confuses” Metabolism

In contrast to constant calorie diets, the zig zag diet is unpredictable. So your metabolism has a harder time adapting to your calorie intake. Another term for this is metabolic confusion.

During a zig zag diet, some days you eat fewer calories than you burn (calorie deficit) in order to lose fat. And other days you eat more calories than you burn (calorie surplus) to build/maintain muscle and signal your body that it’s not starving.

In this way, your metabolism remains stable which allows you to make continuous progress.

zig zag diet metabolic confusion

Figure 4. The zig zag diet prevents changes in metabolic rate by “confusing” your body. TDEE = total daily energy expenditure, BMR = base metabolic rate.

2. Maintains or Builds Lean Muscle

One reason the zig zag diet maintains metabolism is that it prevents the breakdown of muscle tissue. More muscle means a faster metabolism and more calories burned. Which helps you get lean and look your best.

In addition, zig zag dieting can help you build muscle without gaining excess fat. By adding more high days, you create a calorie surplus. While the low and medium days help you stay lean.

3. Adjusts to Your Activity Level

With constant calorie diets, you eat the same amount regardless of your activity level. But the more calories you burn, the more calories you need.

It’s like our lazy football coach running the ball on 3rd and 20. In this situation, he’d have better odds passing the ball.

The zig zag diet is like having more plays in your playbook. Giving you the ability to adjust your calorie intake to meet your calorie needs.

Zig Zag Diet Fat Loss

Figure 5. An example of the zig zag diet adjusting calorie intake based on energy needs.

4. Burns More Fat

It’s important to realize that your metabolism adapts to the source of energy (macros), and not just the amount of energy (calories).

For example, if you constantly eat carbs your metabolism teams up on that one energy pathway. That means you get less efficient at converting carbs into energy.

Like if our soon-to-be fired coach always gives the ball to the same player. Even though he’s calling different plays, the defense knows who to go after and shuts it down.

However, mixing up your macros makes your diet more effective. Because you force your metabolism to switch between energy pathways (carbs and fat). Also known as metabolic flexibility.

Shifting macros along with calories is called carb cycling. And it’s an excellent way to become more efficient at burning fat while preserving muscle.

zig zag diet carb cycling

Figure 5. Adjusting daily carb intake along with calories is called carb cycling.

5. Avoids Burnout & Boredom

After weeks or months following a traditional diet, you inevitably hit a point where you can’t go on. Along with the physical burnout comes mental boredom.

But the zig zag diet keeps you from hitting this wall. Not only do you make continuous progress, but you also keep things interesting. And that feeds your motivation to keep going.

How To Zig Zag Diet

Now that you know the benefits of the zig zag diet, you’re probably wondering how to implement it in your own routine. Well, that depends on your overall fitness goal as well as your schedule.

Zig Zag Diet For Fat Loss

  • Eat low calories on days you don’t work out, but make sure you consume at least as much as your BMR. Also, carbs should be less than 20% of calories on rest days.

  • Target medium calories on days you do work out. This is more than your BMR but less than the number of calories you burn. Carbs can be 20-40% when you’re more active.

  • Include one high calorie day per week where you eat about 100-200 more calories than you burn. Carbs can be up to 50% of calories on a refeed day.

Zig Zag Diet For Muscle Gain

  • Target high calories on days you work out – usually 200-500 more than you burn. Carbs can be 40-50% when you’re working out hard.

  • Eat medium calories on days you don’t work out, but you should still consume at least as much as you burn. Also, carbs don’t need to be more than 20% of calories.

  • You could include an occasional low calorie day to prevent excess fat gain, but it’s not always necessary.

Zig Zag Diet Calculator

If you’ve been following along, you may be wondering how to find your metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). All this can be a little confusing to figure out at first.

That’s why I created the Zig Zag Diet Calculator. It does all the math for you and tells you how much to eat each day depending on your goal, activity level, and schedule.

metabolic confusion meal plan

Zig Zag Diet Plan

Zig zag dieting definitely takes more planning than conventional diets. But you can get all the planning done for you! And receive a personalized plan built for your body, activity level, and goals! Including daily menus and recipes for just $13.99 per month.

Customize Your Plan


To sum it up, the zig zag diet is like being an effective play-caller in the game of nutrition. Just as a good football coach varies play calls and personnel, the zig zag diet varies calories and macros.

While all this adjusting may seem like more work, it gets easy with practice. And your personalized zig zag diet plan is like having a script that tells you exactly what plays to run! So you have a game plan to reach your fitness goals no matter what your experience level.

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