Monday, July 7, 2008

Book Reviews: Best of Lyle McDonald

Mission Statement: all reviews will be my honest assesment on the material in queston. My opinion will never be influenced by personal bias or my opinion of the author.

First I thought I'd only review Lyle's latest books, but then again I've read them all and thought I might as well go ahead and do a ranked list of which books I consider his best.

Though my association with Lyle is no secret, I'm keeping these reviews honest and objective, as you'll discover.

Still, I consider Lyle to be the most sensible authority on all things nutrition related and in some cases I've resorted to nitpicking. I'm judging his work against an extremely high standard as I consider any of these books to be far superior to 99% of any run-of-the-mill diet book out there.

Feel free to discuss or list your own list in the comments section.

1. The Stubborn Fat Solution Review

“Hardcore dieters have no problem getting certain areas super lean. Shoulders, upper back, etc, all come in just fine."

"But most people have those trouble spots. For men, it’s usually the abdominal and low-back area, women’s lower body fat has been a problem for years.

"The Stubborn Fat Solution represents the culmination of a 10-year obsession I’ve had with the problem of stubborn body fat and how to eliminate it”.

- Lyle McDonald

Who is this book for?

Lean people wanting to get even leaner. Maybe you’ve reached a condition where you’re almost satisfied with your physique, but still have that nagging fat over your lower abs preventing it from being visible…and it bugs the hell out of you. Well, this book is for you. Included in the book are four ways to rid yourself of this stubborn fat once and for all.

This is also a very interesting read for anyone interested in the science of getting ripped and why it can be so damn hard.

What will I learn from it?

This book provides an excellent primer on body fat and fat metabolism; basic fat cell metabolism, the interaction between hormones, exercise and body fat, why we have stubborn fat depots in the first place, how fat burning supplements works on fat cells, are all topics covered in this book.

Strong points

* The theory behind the method is explained very well before leading the reader into the actual protocol. Lyle handles a complex topic skillfully and lays it out in a way that everyone can understand.

* Creative, fresh ideas which are explained and backed up by actual research. This is a true rarity in the fitness/bodybuilding community.

* The methods presented in the book works. I helped him test run the stubborn fat protocol on my clients (IF style) and I think it works just as good as it claims to.

Weak points

* No pictoral presentations of what stubborn body fat actually looks like. Lyle spends a lot of time telling the reader that you should already be lean to start with, in order to take advantage of the methods presented, but including some pictures on what would be considered having stubborn fat vs just being fat would probably have helped a lot.

* Lyle apparently can’t spell for shit and gets my name wrong in the foreword. Pissed me off.


I rarely come across something on the topic of diet and exercise that teaches me something new, but this book did. The chapters about hormones, diet and exercise, and how these factors relate and affect stubborn fat cell metabolism, were a gold mine of quality information on this rather niche topic.

As for the exercise protocols, you can tell Lyle spent a decade collecting and processing his thoughts; the rationale for why you should do this and that are very well explained and backed up by solid research.

Overall, this book is an excellent blend between theory and practice. A must-read for physiology and nutrition geeks like me, or the frustrated fitness enthusiast/bodybuilder looking for a fresh approach to finally uncovering those semi-obscured abs.

2. The Protein Book Review

“The Protein Book is a comprehensive look at the issue of protein intake for both strength/power and endurance athletes."

"Coaches looking for the latest scientific developments in terms of optimizing protein nutrition for their athletes as well as athletes looking for answers to their questions will find them all covered in complete detail.“

- Lyle McDonald

Who is this book for?

Athletes (all kinds), fitness enthusiasts, coaches and nutrition geeks interested in all or any aspects of protein.

What will I learn from it?

Everything there is to know about protein and how to apply that knowledge in practice. Chapters are dedicated to such topics as protein metabolism, protein quality, meal frequency, nutrient timing, requirements for athletes and protein controversies – among many other topics.
You’ll also learn why eating protein frequently (high frequency meal plan) can have a negative effect and may not even be optimal for muscle growth – an issue that I figure might interest IF’ers.

“...I’ll take three hours to represent the minimum amount of time that should pass between meals. Eating more frequently is unlikely to be beneficial and may very well have a negative effect…”

- Lyle Mcdonald, direct quote from the book, pertaining the issue of meal frequency.

Strong points

* Extremely thorough and complete. Make no mistake, this is the only book on protein you will ever need. There is simply no issue left untouched.

* Excellent resource for laymen and professionals alike; everything is very well referenced and substantiated with hundreds of studies cited throughout the book.

Weak points

* The book almost reads like a research paper; though the language is very proper and correct, you’re at the risk of dozing off if you’re trying to take in too much at once.

* Gets a bit repetitive.


The only book you'll ever have to read about protein and an excellent resource for athletes and professionals alike.

Instead of second guessing your protein intake and the when, how and why's of workout nutrition, supplements and meal frequency, get this book.

3. The Ultimate Diet 2.0 Review

“Building on previous cyclical diets such as the original Ultimate Diet and Dan Duchaine's Bodyopus, the UD2 will give you the reasons why dieting to extreme leanness is so difficult (hint: thank evolution)."

"More importantly, it'll give you the solution to those problems.”
- Lyle McDonald

Who is this book for?

This is a book for fairly advanced, experienced and lean fitness enthusiasts/ bodybuilders seeking an improved body composition. The diet can be described as an extreme version of a cyclical ketogenic diet.

What will I learn from it?

Aside from the diet and training protocol itself, you are also given a theoretical primer on why it’s so hard to get lean, stay lean and/or build muscle in the process; it will give you a very good understanding of how and why your body doesn’t cooperate with you despite how hard you push.

Lyle explains how the various anabolic and fat burning hormones, such as leptin, IGF-1, insulin and catecholamines conspire against you when you venture below your body fat set point – the main point being that building muscle and losing body fat gets a lot harder the leaner you are, and UD 2.0 was developed to sidestep those issues.

Strong points

* The first part of the book explains how and why our body will do anything to keep us from reaching our goals (lean and muscular) and it does so very well.

* Humorous and enjoyable to read.

* The diet is very effective if you're willing to put in the work.

Weak points

* Short; the chapters on alternate versions of the protocol could’ve been longer and more elaborated on.

* This is definitely not a diet for the timid or flexible minded individual. Having this as a weak point may not be fair, since Lyle is quite clear on that fact.


When this book first dropped 5 years ago, it was an eye opener for me and many others that read it. The answers to why fat loss stalls, and why cravings and feelings of malaise increases as body fat drops lower, finally received a logical and thorough explanation.

Some of the facts about leptin and how it relates to body fat set point is now common knowledge among the more educated (forum) crowd, but I still suspect that the great majority has no clue about these things; if so, pick this book up, regardless if you plan to try the diet or not.

As for the diet itself, it works (as evidenced by numerous people), but don’t expect a walk in the park.

4. The Ketogenic Diet Review

“I became interested in low-carbohydrate diets over 10 years ago when I used one myself to lose fat. However, as I delved more into them, I realized that most books written about low-carbohydrate (aka ketogenic) diets were miserably flawed.”

“… I set out to determine for myself what the research actually said about low-carbohydrate diets. It took me over two years of research and writing, culminating in this, my first book.”

- Lyle McDonald

Who is this book for?

Fans of the ketogenic diet and nutrition/physiology geeks.

What will I learn from it?

Everything there is to know about ketosis and the ketogenic diet(s); the how, when and why’s of ketosis are thoroughly explained, as well as the effect of ketosis on your health and body. You will also learn how to set up a ketogenic diet (three versions) in practice and everything else you need to know about how to make it work.

Strong points

* Very comprehensive and complete. If you’re interested in the mechanics of ketosis, practice a ketogenic diet or would like to try a ketogenic diet, you need to get this book.

* Objective and extremely well referenced.

Weak points

* Same problem as with the protein book; in parts, the book almost reads like a research paper and you’re at the risk of dozing off if you’re trying to take in too much at once.


This is just as comprehensive as the Protein Book, as it thoroughly explores the subject in detail. Being his debut title, it’s impressive in scope and ambition. It covers every aspect of ketogenic diets I can think off and if you’re a fan of that diet approach you’ll find this book very interesting. It’s certainly technical in some parts, but that comes with the territory.

5. The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook Review

“Finally, Discover a Diet System That Will Help You to Lose Weight in the Fastest Way Possible!"

“If you’re willing to invest mere moments of your time, you’ll learn how you can lose 4-7 pounds of unsightly body fat, and anywhere between 10-20 pounds of scale weight in only two weeks.”

- Lyle McDonald

Who is this book for?

This is a book for the impatient, frustrated dieter wanting to lose fat the fastest way possible while keeping as much muscle as possible in the process. The diet presented here is commonly known as PSMF, which stands for Protein Sparing Modified Fast.

What will I learn from it?

Before leading the reader into the actual diet, Lyle gives a basic primer on body fat, nutrition, metabolism and exercise. You’re then introduced to the diet, how to set it up and how to include ‘free meals’ and ‘refeeds’. You’ll also learn what supplements to take, what not to do and how to proceed after reaching your goal.

Strong points

* If you’re new to nutrition or dieting: a basic primer on nutrition is given, giving some basic facts about protein, carbohydrates and fat.

* It lives up to the claim of being ‘a scientific approach to crash dieting’. This is not your run-of-the-mill fad diet book on how to lose weight fast; the diet is well thought out and optimized in order to make the most out of the calories ingested.

* Humorous and enjoyable reading.

Weak points

* If you’re advanced/well read up on nutrition/physiology: you’ll be disappointed. Don’t expect the same intricate theoretical background given in books such as Stubborn Fat Solution, UD 2.0 and other books by Lyle.

* No cookies on this diet.

* Just kidding. There aren’t really any more weak points that I can think off – this book delivers exactly what it claims, but it’s a little weak on the research side of things (no reference list, though an explanation for that is given in the introduction).


If you want to lose fat the fastest way possible, get this book. Lyle doesn’t sugarcoat things, nor tries to hide the fact that the diet in itself is restrictive, tough and that you’ll get hungry from time to time - but the diet works, and it works very well for those that adhere to it.

This is probably Lyle’s most ‘mainstream’ book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so it will be of great benefit for those fairly new to nutrition and dieting, but of less benefit for those already well read up on the subject.

6. A Guide to Flexible Dieting Review

“What if I told you that expecting to be perfect on your diet was absolutely setting you up for failure, that being more flexible about your eating habits would make them work better? ”

“No filler, no fluff, no pages of full color supplement ads like other products. After reading this book, you'll understand more about successful dieting behaviors than you ever thought possible.”

- Lyle McDonald

Who is this book for?

Everyone that has problems maintaining their eating behaviors during and after dieting. If you’re the kind of person that tends to spiral out of control when you ‘break’ your diet, then you need to read this book.

What will I learn from it?

You’ll learn how, when and why people often fail their dieting attempts and why they aren’t likely to keep the weight off in the long run. In stark contrast to, for example, UD 2.0, Lyle lays out a very flexible strategy which includes free meals and structured refeeds (in order to maintain sanity and increase fat burning hormones).

Strong points

* As with The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook, this is very newbie friendly book.

* Covers aspects of dieting psychology which most of us can relate to.

* A humorous, easy read.

Weak points

* As with The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook, you can tell this book is clearly aimed at the mainstream crowd. Nothing wrong in that, the advice given here is very solid, but more advanced readers won’t find much new here.

* I’m really nitpicking now: no reference list.


This didn't score high in the rankings for the sole reason that I didn’t learn anything new from it. Keep in mind that this is my opinion as a professional and as someone that knows nutrition and dieting like the back of my hand – for someone new to dieting, or with not as much of a vested interest , this might very well be the first book you should get.

7. Bromocriptine Review

“The drug bromocriptine is a nearly 30-year-old drug that has been classically used to treat Parkinson's disease and hyperprolactinemia.”

“As it turns out, it may also be able to trick the body (the brain specifically) into thinking that all systems are normal when you're dieting (and your body is adapting to the lower caloric intake).”

- Lyle McDonald

Who is this book for?

People interested in finding out how the body defends against fat loss and/or interested in manipulating the body fat set point with pharmaceutical agents.

What will I learn from it?

Besides learning everything there is to know about bromocriptine (and other dopamine agonists), you are also given a detailed primer on why it’s so hard to get lean and stay lean after dieting. The difficulties and hormonal impact of dieting is discussed throughout many of Lyle’s books, but this is by far the most detailed exploration of the subject.

Strong points

* An interesting read; the interaction between brain, hormones and pharmaceutical agents (sounds better than 'drugs') is very well covered.

Weak points

* The one major flaw of this book is the foundation and premise it is being based on: what looked good on paper did not seem to have worked so well in practice.


Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book – I found it a more interesting read than, for example, A Guide to Flexible Dieting and The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook, but I can’t possibly rank it higher due to the sole fact that the bromocriptine approach never took off. It’s not a popular fat loss aid and there’s probably a good reason for that.

The feedback and anecdotal reports from bromocriptine users have been very mixed, perhaps even leaning towards negative. While it seems to have appetite blunting effects, side effects such as nausea and hypoglycemia are often reported and the general consensus tends to be that the negatives outweigh the positives. Simply put, there are better things to use if you want to venture down the supplement/pharmaceutical route while dieting.

It’s still a good and informative read, but Lyle touches on the issues explored here in other books as well (UD 2.0, Flexible Dieting). Unless you’re passionate about subjects like leptin and dopamine agonists, you might want to consider getting some of his other work first.


Anonymous said...

Martin, having read every book by Lyle except bromo I think this is a very good write up. You bring up some valid points that I havent thought of myself. As for my favorite book I cant decide. Maybe u.d 2.0(most interesting) but I also like the psmf book (best results).

Nat said...

Short , sweet, and to the point. A good place to refer friends that have questions about dieting.

Anonymous said...

Solid review Martin! I'm going to get the SBFProtocol after reading this.

Anonymous said...

Good shit Mr. "Berkham" :)

Jim said...

Excellent reviews Martin.

Lora said...

People should read this.

Tom Pentzer said...

Hey, I just found your site via Mr. McDonald's site, and I will be looking into IF as a means of getting back to my ideal weight. I would like to point out re: your review of the bromocriptine manual, Bromocriptine was approved for NIDDM Type II by the FDA last year (not that they're the end-all be-all), which makes me wonder if there's not something to the whole bromo idea afterall. Thanks again!


hailtotheking said...

Hi Martin,

i was considering getting a decent book on proteins and amino acids, and i read a bit of Amino Acids and Proteins for the Athlete: The Anabolic Edge by Mauro DiPasquale on the Google Books reader. However, i have been told Lyle's Protein Book is also one of the best books on the subject. Have you read DiPasquales book, and if so which book would you pick between the two?

Also, have you read Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat by Ori Hofmekler? I read it recently and although its very poorly referenced, it is much more scientific than anoy of his other stuff and it has some intruiging ideas about cAMP activity during fasting.

Martin Berkhan said...

Lyle's book is the one you need. Hands down the best. Haven't read Ori's book.

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Thanks for this post, great to read before digging in to his books :-)

Christian said...

Martin, I've been using your system of intermittent fasting for about 3 months now with amazing results (and that's with horrible nutritional structure and no sense of caloric intake).

I recently purchased Lyle's "Ultimate Diet 2.0" book to maximize my potential but, I was wondering if the leangains method can still be incorporated with UD2 without interference?

Martin Berkhan said...

Well, I know from Lyle's forum that some people have been doing that with success. So yeah, sure, but the carb loads will be tough if you plan on using the 8 hr feeding window on those days.

Anonymous said...

In UD 2.0 Lyle is telling us that high load sets to fail isn't that great because of the injury risk. He also said that Dorian Yates used high load sets and were one of the most injured bodybuilders. Martin, you prefer RPT training/1 set to fail, which is high load and often set to fail. What do you think about this? Is the injury risk big during those sets? I know It's really productive, but It Isn't worth any injuries.


Alex Zinchenko said...

Thanks for the information, Martin. I'm interested in Lyle's books and now I know where to start.

Dimitris said...

Would it be a good idea combining the UD 2.0 with the Intermittent Fasting?

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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