I’ve been putting this post off for far too long – so here goes. I first found intermittent fasting via Martin Berkhan’s LeanGains in the summer of 2010 just after finishing college. At this point I was the leanest I’d ever been, graduating from school I was right about 188 (compared to the 200-205 I carry daily now) and was interested in finding a way to get even leaner. The logic there was that the leaner I could get, then I could add muscle smartly while keeping that leanness. Needless to say this plan did not quite work out that way, but thats another story. At the time I was not responsible for my own meals as I was part of a residential fellowship in Bar Harbor, Maine. Thus, intermittent fasting wasn’t really in the cards, though I suppose looking back on it, it easily could’ve been if I was dedicated enough. In any case I waited until my next job here in Saint Louis where I had my own kitchen and meals to prepared. I started experimenting with LG in November of 2010 and have followed it on and off ever since.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
This may seem silly, as intermittent fasting is really about as straightforward of a title as you could give to this practice, you fast, consume next to 0 calories intermittently, either over the course of a day or a week. There are many approaches to this, I’ll name some others but afterwards my focus will be solely on LG, as I’ve found it the easiest to stick to and fit to a daily schedule or regime. On one end of the spectrum is alternate day fasting, wherein your fasted period lasts a full 24 hours, I’ve never tried this, nor do I want to, as I believe the costs outweigh the rewards but many have seen success with it, popularized by Brad Pilon’s “Eat Stop Eat”. Within the 24 hours period there are a couple approaches. The Warrior Diet wherein you eat one enormous meal at night and remain fasted for the entirety of the day, this ends up being a 22-2 breakdown, fasted to fed, yeah it takes awhile to eat an entire day of calories in one sitting. The next stop down is a 19-5 breakdown from Fast 5 which again I’ve not tried but is pretty close in it’s look and feel to LeanGains. And then finally is the LeanGains method which is a 16 hour fast and 8 hours of feeding.
The basics of all of these fasts are simple, eat nothing. The amount of caloric intake it takes to “break” the fasted state is rather small, on the order of about 100 calories. Typically this would mean anything more than water, tea, coffee would be off limits. Martin does say that a bit of milk or cream in coffee is okay as long as you’re not using it as an excuse to pile on the calories. In other words, just enough to get the coffee down. Let’s just say I’ve been drinking my coffee black for 2 years now for very good reason. It sounds stupid but it’s really that simple, there aren’t any pills or shakes or timers, just stop eating at night and pick it up sometime the next day. The simplicity of this is what really sold me on it. If there were absolutely no health benefits, as long as there were no draw backs I would still eat this way because it keeps life simple.
Why I Chose LeanGains
Your eating habits are very much your own. If you’re serious about considering IF as a lifestyle, be sure to research the in’s and out’s of each system before you throw yourself at one. I knew off the bat I wouldn’t handle a 24 hour fast well, I’ve tried it before, chiefly every year at Thanksgiving I eat nothing that whole day. So Eat-Stop-Eat was out. Since I found IF through LG I was pretty biased already, but wanted to research the rest anyways. The Warrior Diet I’d read up on and looked intimidating, eating 2500-3000 calories in one sitting is no small feat, I didn’t want to be so full I couldn’t sleep every night. So I cut that one out. The next step was to assess my eating habits as they already existed, I had pretty consistently eaten lunch and dinner without issue, the easiest way to change the fewest things was LeanGains. Simply trying to fit IF into my lifestyle LG made the most sense.
Then comes the athletic performance side. At this point I’d been weight training for about 20 months and had become quite enamored with it and myself, let’s be honest, lifting heavy things makes you wink at yourself in mirrors. Along with this passion came sites like bodybuilding.com which at the time were loaded with people who ate every 2 hours and fed on a steady diet of chicken breasts, oats, and peanut butter. IF seemed pretty radical to me. There’s still a lot of junk science and myth out there, Martin and Brad are doing a lot to rid the world of it, but its no easy task. Martin’s site specifically mentions training routines and gearing its tenants towards heavy resistance training. This is what really sold me, being strong while being lean – what’s not to love. Until now you could be strong, or lean, but not both, this was common knowledge to me.
Okay, What is LeanGains
The beauty of LeanGains is that Martin, whose said he’s working on a book since I first found his site in 2010, publishes all of his work for free. And unlike most things in life, it’s worth far more than you’re paying for it. In other words, the guys is a genuine KStar of the IF world, he does immense amounts of research, he knows everything there is to know about IF and the research around it. Every article of his has numerous links to PubMed articles, scientific studies, or research reviews – moreover he will often critique the work’s he’s citing for being inconclusive or incomplete in some regard, just for completeness. My point here is that these resources are already on the internet, I’m not going to retype them all, but I will summarize the primary foci.
Martin really likes fasted training. 2 of his 4 protocols call for it, and the other 2 set you up to eat no more than 40-50% of your calories before working out. I’m going to copy these protocol’s verbatim, so check them out in the link above for more detail.
11.30-12 AM or 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA
12-1 PM: Training
1 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal of the day).
4 PM: Second meal.
9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
6 AM: 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA.
6-7 AM: Training.
8 AM: 10 g BCAA.
10 AM: 10 g BCAA
12-1 PM: The “real” post-workout meal (largest meal of the day). Start of the 8 hour feeding-window.
8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Pre-workout meal. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake.
3-4 PM: Training should happen a few hours after the pre-workout meal.
4-5 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal).
8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Meal one. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake.
4-5 PM: Pre-workout meal. Roughly equal to the first meal.
8-9 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal).
As you can see he makes it pretty easy to find a way to fit this into whatever your lifestyle. Personally I’ve stuck with either Protocol 2, early morning fasted training, or Protocol 3 with one small pre-workout meal followed by training and a larger meal thereafter. My implementation is as follows, lunch right about noon, training around 3:30-5:30, my largest meal of the day around 6:00-6:30 when I get home, followed by a snack right around 8:00 at which point I’m done for the day. Then it starts all over and I fast from 8:00PM to 12:00PM the next day. Throughout this I’ve never lost any strength for reasons beyond my own stupidity.
Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg here. Martin has written hundreds of pages on the topic, all of which I have on my desk, printed out and covered in highlighting and notes. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed my spattering of information but probably have a lot of questions. There are a few pages that are more informative than others.
- What about [insert conventional wisdom here]?
- What’s BCAA/Supplement X?
- Why Fasted Training?
- How to Evaluate Yourself
- What do I need to Change in the Gym?
- What’s my Muscular Potential?
- What else does fasted training do?
- What about Alcohol?
I wasn’t lying – there’s a lot of good information here.
There are three pretty big exceptions to this post. The first is that none of it has to do with Paleo, so when martin recommends a large feeding of carbohydrates post workout and you see people eating white potatoes or a loaf of bread, you’ll have to make some adjustments there. It really doesn’t change all that much though, sweet potatoes, squash, fruit, it all works same as always. Being Paleo actually probably gives you a leg up eating a shit load of protein. If you’re going to overfeed, overfeed protein. There’s a ton of reasons why, google Thermic Effect of Food.
The second big caveat is that Martin Berkhan would probably laugh his way out of a Crossfit box before you could even say “Hello.” He’s an advocate of lifting heavy and eating. He’d much sooner see you do a Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 than any Crossfit style workout. Namely he doesn’t like the idea of doing anything cardiovascular-ly intensive fasted, “avoid deficit spending” he says. This is fairly unbreached territory for the IF crowd as I’ve never seen it explicitly addressed. Being and Outlaw disciple we lift fairly heavy and don’t do a lot of cardio for cardio sake so I think it’s probably pretty safe. Just to be certain though I never train without at least 10g of BCAA, at the very least I’m not doing harm. I’ve been able to be quite successful in the Crossfit game but I’d be curious to hear of others experience.
The third is a tricky one, I’m a man. IF appears to be quite sexist. I’ve read countless articles, blog posts, and forum threads about women getting totally fucked up by IF. Their hormones and bodies don’t tolerate it nearly as well as men. Blame evolution, physiology, God, or whatever else you feel like blaming for this but it’s the nature of the beast. If you are a woman take some serious time to think about this, start slowly, and be careful. I’ve seen women starting at 12 and 14 hour fasts rather than the prescribed 16 to curb some of this. Sorry gals.
Finally, don’t freak out when Martin posts crazy look pictures of himself and others. Yes it’s more of a bodybuilder, natural figure athlete diet but that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. Once you get passed the crazy pictures the amount of information is dizzying, no one could look past that much free information.
If I left anything out, or you have questions feel free to comment, tweet, or e-mail me.