Rock the Holidays with Glycogen Depletion Training

What is glycogen depletion training and how can you use it?

What is glycogen?

To understand this kind of training we must understand what glycogen is at a rudimentary level. Glycogen is the storage substrate in the muscle and liver from the carbs we eat. We eat carbs for energy, they are converted to glucose for quick use and what isn’t used is stored as glycogen in the muscles and in the liver.


Why do we want to deplete Glycogen?

The reason we would want to partake in training and diet that depletes glycogen depends on the context of the situation. Glycogen depletion training goes hand in hand with diet and can’t be done without both the diet and training being manipulated. One would want to deplete glycogen when planning on feasting or going into a large period of undeniable food consumption. For an example this might be a hotdog eating contest or more realistically, a holiday feast with friends and family.

Whatever your reason, there’s a cascade of hormones and processes within the body that occur when glycogen is depleted. This physiologic scenario mitigates the damage that would normally occur when you reverse this process and feast upon that holiday ham and those sugar cookies. A gluttonous and beautifully normal thing to do during the holidays.

We will touch on the main concepts: insulin sensitivity/resistance, nutrient partitioning, catecholamine (the “fight-or-flight” hormones) production, glycogen supercompensation.

Insulin is what stores glucose as glycogen or sends it to be converted to store as fat. Think of insulin like a UPS package coordinator deciding whether the carbs from that brownie you eat goes on the fat storage truck or the “gains train” truck. Those with poor insulin sensitivity produce too much insulin and will store overfed calories as fat more often. This is relevant to glycogen depletion because insulin sensitivity is affected by diet and activity.

Insulin sensitivity is improved by muscle contractions! So just contracting the muscle more will lead to effectively increasing glycogen storages in the muscle. Low carbohydrate diets with healthy fats also improve insulin sensitivity. Can you picture how we can theoretically start to manipulate how our body partitions nutrients?

The main idea behind glycogen depletion is to prime the body for the incoming onslaught of calories and nutrients in the form of glucose. When glucose is depleted your catecholamines are increased. This increases the mobilization of fatty acids to be used for fuel at rest. This is an extra benefit to someone who will assumedly be well into a caloric surplus soon. The increase is good for burning fat but can cause problems if kept this way for too long. A cascade of hormonal changes and enzymatic signaling make it very difficult to stay in such an extreme caloric deficit for long without feeling some terrible side effects. Just don’t think you should always be in a glycogen depleted state to lose weight because this isn’t the case. Your body is primed to take on carbohydrates because your muscles and liver are empty so when you have glucose hit the blood stream it’ll get sucked up immediately and rapidly. At this point the muscle will hold onto more glucose than normally resulting in a super compensation effect where you get away with storing more glucose in the muscle without it spilling over and being stored as fat! This is what we’re looking to accomplish this holiday season.

So what is glycogen depleting training and how do we apply it?

Glycogen depleting training is a form of training that involves high reps and short amounts of recovery time in order to deplete the muscles of the stored glycogen in them. This has a multitude of benefits and sets us up for glycogen supercompensation. Glycogen depleting training utilizes a high number of sets per body part, anywhere from 5-15 depending on training experience, age, and load used. The rep range used is high with 10-15 per set and the rest is short with around 30-60 seconds in between sets. The goal is to deplete glycogen, which this kind of training does extremely well.
There are also benefits from glycogen depletion training for joint health from the increased blood flow and metabolite production spurring the repair process. While the weight is light the work is not, especially on a low carbohydrate diet which I will go deeper into on the next part.

Ideally you should have two days to do a complete glycogen depletion. The best split for this kind of training is chest/back/shoulders for day 1 and legs/arms/abs for day 2. You can start out strong with bench press and have some sort of enthusiasm starting this tough process. Don’t do back and legs on the same day, a glycogen depleting workout coupled with a low carb diet will be difficult to recover from on its own. Pick 1-2 exercises per body part and if it’s your first time doing this kind of training stick with 5-6 sets per body part at 13-15 reps. The best way to navigate these workouts is with as short of rest as possible and around 1-1/2 to 2 minutes rest in between exercises.

A sample workout plan could look like this:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Bench Press: 5 x 15

Squat: 3 x 15

Row: 3 x 15

Leg Press: 3 x 15

Lat Pulldown: 3 x 15

RDL: 2 x 15

Overhead Press: 2 x 15

Biceps curl: 3 x 15

Lateral Raise: 2 x15

Triceps Pushdown: 3 x 15


This should get you up and running on glycogen depletion training. In the next part I will go over how to set up the diet to compliment this style of training. If you have any questions or would like me to write your workouts for you and take the hassle out of planning email me at

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