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The 17-Day Diet: Is It Good For Runners?

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published May. 24, 2011

The "17-Day Diet" is based on four cycles: accelerate, activate, achieve, and arrive.

We sat down with the book’s author, Dr. Mike Moreno, to help us answer this question.

Interview by: Duncan Larkin

Diet fads are nothing new. Look no further than the weight-loss section of any bookstore and you will see rows of books touting increasingly odd ways of shedding pounds as quickly as possible. At first glance, Dr. Mike Moreno’s bestseller, “The 17-Day Diet”, looks like one of these books. It’s not. The book’s premise is based on four cycles: accelerate, activate, achieve, and arrive. Throughout the book Dr. Moreno applies common-sense principles like increasing your metabolism by drinking more water, eliminating processed foods, and making healthier food choices. This is all fine and good for a heavily obese person, but what about a lapsed marathoner who has put on a few pounds and wants to use the diet to help him jumpstart his running? Is this diet applicable to runners? Or is it best read by the coach potato on New Year’s Day? Competitor.com recently sat down with Dr. Moreno to ask him this important question.

Competitor.com: Full disclosure here: I read your book, put it to good use, and it seemed to work for me.

Dr. Mike Moreno: Tell me about your experience. How long did you do it and how much weight did you lose?

I made it through the “Accelerate” cycle and lost 10 pounds in the first 17 days.

Beautiful.

Yeah, I did it to jumpstart my running career again.

Now, you’re the guy that’s going to do really, really well with it, because with athletic and fit people, when you get this jumpstart, your athletic mind kicks in. I tell you, as an aside going into Cycle 2, there are three things I tell people: One is increasing the cardio. The second is to be mindful of your carb placement, and that includes fruit. A lot of us don’t like to think that fruit are carbs, but they are and they can be a little bit damaging to the weight-loss process, so make sure those two servings of carbs that you get are prior to 2 p.m. Also be mindful of portion control. Lastly, stay super hydrated. You’ll do well. You’ll probably drop another five to seven pounds in the next cycle.

So say a serious runner who maybe has a few extra pounds on him picks up your book and wants to lose weight by jumping on your diet. As a serious runner, should he do anything different or should he follow it to a tee?

They should follow it to a tee. I’m a runner myself. I run anywhere from 30 to 40 miles a week. I would say that you really have minimal adjustments to make on this diet. The only thing is that being a runner you can easily burn 800-1000 calories on a decent run. So be mindful of that, and perhaps if I had to make any criticism or offer a critique about things, it would be that perhaps the first seven days of cycle one if you are a runner that is an aggressive runner, you may want to turn it down 50%. That 50% will allow you to benefit from the lower calorie days and help achieve more fat burning and more weight loss without going hypoglycemic. Nearly everyone that I have talked to has been successful with this diet. The people who have issues like weakness, hypoglycemia, and carb withdrawal sensitivity tend to be the ones who are the most active or workout or run. And so what I tell people who are active is to just reduce the intensity and scale it back about 50% for that first seven days. That way, you still get the benefits of the rapid weight loss. You’ll start to get a tremendous amount of fat burning. You’ll probably see your mid-section toning up really quickly. Then once you’ve passed the seven days and your body is used to the low carbs, you can go back to your normal routine. By then you will be in cycle 2, which is a tremendous amount of carbs. By then, you’ll be great.

I can relate to the statement about active people feeling weak on your diet. In my first seven days, I had never more dead tired on my runs. So I guess that is what you mean by cutting it back.

That’s exactly where that comes from.

The runs in that first cycle all felt like the last mile of my toughest marathon.

Your calorie consumption is probably 50-70% less of what the typical person is taking in. But you have to realize that you have a tremendous amount of storage. Tapping into that storage takes energy consumption, so you have to be mindful about how aggressive you are in terms of your activity. This applies to anyone on this diet, but since we are talking about runners, for the sake of discussion let’s take someone who runs six miles a day at 70%. I would probably ratchet it down 50% on both scales. So this means I would do 3 miles a day at 35-40%.

You talked about low carb consumption and how that leads to fatigue early in the diet. But what about types of carbs? Should runners be taking in complex carbs in the first 17 days?

Yeah, but I think there are multiple factors, actually. It is the type of carbs, but I also think it is a carb withdrawal. I really think it’s a collage of things, if I may. I think it’s carb-based in its foundation. And then under that heading would fall several different types of things: types of carbs, reduction in carbs, and carb sensitivities. My philosophy in all this is to make it work for you. I don’t want you to work for the diet. I want the diet to work for you and your lifestyle. A lot of people will tell me that they are exercising in the beginning of the diet and get real weak. And so I say, “Let’s just make some adjustments.” The diet will work for anyone: 100%. It’s just a matter of making it fit into your life. If you are a cyclist or a runner, just be mindful of the caloric reduction. Make it work for you.

A lot of runners take GUs and other fuels during their workouts. If they are on the 17-Day Diet should they forgo these things?

I’ve looked into them, because they are such a common thing now. I think that’s OK, but for the first 17 days, I think those are extra calories. I think you will be working against yourself a little bit. What I would focus on in those first seven days is a change in your running style in terms of distance, speed, and intensity. It makes the requirement for those GUs significantly less. I’m not against them; I’m not opposed to them, but I think that if you really want to get that fat-burning process going and lose, like you did, 10 pounds in 17 days, I would stay away from those things. I would not take in any supplemental additive like that in the first 17 days.

You mentioned the 50% reduction in volume, mileage-wise, in the first 17 days. How does a person deal with their long runs in this cycle? Let’s say someone wants to get in a 10-mile run once during the week. Would you say not to do that?

Yes. I would say don’t do that for the first week. I wouldn’t say don’t do it for the entire first cycle. The first seven days of cycle one should be a reduction in volume and intensity—distance and speed.

What would you say then about resuming normal training levels in the following cycles?

Absolutely. There is a rare group of people who want to lose weight. They appear to be overweight, but they are in phenomenal shape. Then you can tend to see skinny people who appear to be in great shape, but you put them on a road and they run half a mile and drop dead, because they are just so out of shape. So this is a unique group of people who, on paper, appear to be out of shape, but happen to be in great cardiovascular health. These guys are going to do fantastic on this diet, because what they are going to do is use that pre-existing cardiovascular status they have. They are going to use that to drop the weight and then use it to further burn through. So when you get to cycle 2 and cycle 3, whereas most people see a little decline in weight, which you should, you are going to see a higher level. So a guy like you, a person who is burning through those carbs in your runs, will get to cycle 2 and really respond well to the new foods you are eating. If you keep up that intensity, you aren’t going to be the guy who drops one or two pounds; you are going to drop seven or eight.

What do you think about this diet with respect to the three body types: endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic? Would you say this diet applies equally to all three types?

Yes. I really think this diet is good for everybody—including type-one diabetics. The only thing is to just be more about your sugar control.

Your book advocates doing at least 17 minutes of exercise a day. It’s commonly held that you need to get in at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity in order to benefit from it. Where did you get the 17-minute number?

That’s a great question. I’m a big proponent of a 150-minute week. Give me two 75-minutes a week, give me three 50-minutes a week or five 30-minutes—whatever. When you look at the issue of weight loss and obesity in this country, there’s a significant amount of people who are not just slightly obese; they are approaching morbid. To give people a goal that they should shoot for that is likely unobtainable since these people can’t even get up and walk for three minutes, is counterproductive. This book is designed to take everybody, no matter where you are on the spectrum of obesity, and get you where you want to be. For that reason, I looked at people who were going to be utilizing this. The vast majority of these people are people who aren’t going to be able to do those 30 minutes. So I said, “Let’s just give them the 17. You are still going to be getting benefits from that. Let’s get them moving. As you get to cycle two, by then, those 17 minutes are starting to transition, because you are feeling so good. You feel great. So you look back and say, “This 17 minutes is nothing. I’m going to try and do half an hour.”  Before you know it, you are up to that minimum requirement that we’re all talking about in terms of conditioning. So it was really designed to give people an attainable goal that will let everyone get on this bandwagon. Let them get there themselves. It’s a self-realization thing.

Are you surprised by the success of this book?

I’m not surprised by the success of the program because I believe in it. It’s solid nutritional advice. It’s a foundation that can carry on for a lifetime, not just for the short term. I am surprised, lucky and fortunate for it to have the sort of viral sensation. I was lucky to get it out there and people started responding in the Internet world and social media world. Really, I’m sort of a product of the social media world being successful. It’s a good program. It focuses on sound health and getting back to the basics in terms of nutrition and habits. At the end of the day, it’s about people being excited about what happened and so I’m going to put it out there. I think I’m surprised in that I feel more fortunate than surprised that I was a victim of social media in a positive way. But I’m not surprised about the program. I know what it is and how it works. I honestly think this could revolutionize the weight-loss world in the next 10 years. I think it’s going to get better honestly.

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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