Check out the original FAQ posted here by Sol Orwell.
A phrase coined by Martin Berkhan, LeanGains is a diet/workout methodology based on intermittent fasting (IF) and lifting heavy weights. It is meant to be a way of body recomposition - losing fat and gaining muscle/strength at the same time.
What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
IF is essentially a self-contained cut-bulking cycle. You eat for X hours, and fast (no calories) for Y hours (with Y > X). For example, the Warrior Diet has you fast for 20 hours and eat for 4. Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) has you eat 24 hours, and then fast for 24 hours.
In LG, you fast for roughly 16 hours and eat for 8. For women fasting 14 hours and eating for 10 is recommended.
Having zero calorie gum, diet soda, and coffee is okay. The caloric load of anything you ingest should essentially be zero.
Why Bother with IF?
There are a boatload of health benefits from IF. See Page 2 of the PDF Guide. LeanGains is a system that incorporates a version of IF, extending it to include timing of calories (a majority to be consumed post-workout), macros (high protein), and workout (lift heavy). It is not the definition of IF.
You can add an IF schedule to most any other diet plan. It’s fine. Give it a shot if you want.
Okay so What is LG?
- Fast for 16 hours, eat for 8 (roughly. Fasting for 14 or 18 hours will not kill you)
- Lift heavy stuff using the Big 4 compound movements (deadlifts, squats, bench press, chinups)
- +20% maintenance calories on workout days, -20% maintenance on non-workout days. Varying your caloric amounts is important
- Martin prefers to lift 3x a week. He also likes Reverse Pyramid Training (aka RPT).
- For beginners Martin does recommend Starting Strength.
- High protein every day (say 3g per kg bodyweight). On workout days high carb low fat, on non-workout days low carbs moderate fat.
What is the Workout Schedule Like?
Martin has not explicitly outlined his workout, but the general schedule is:
- Monday: deadlifts + chinups, accessory
- Wednesday: bench press, accessory
- Friday: squats, accessory
Martin says to ensure at least 2 days of rest between any sets of squats and deadlifts.
Martin suggests between 2-3 sets per exercise, RPT for only 1 or 2 exercises, and also adequate rest between each set (at least 3 minutes, 5+ for deadlifts).
That Seems to Focus too Much on the Legs
Negative. The Big 4 hammer the hell out of your entire body. Martin always says that he got his guns from deadlifts and close-grip weighted chinups.
What is RPT?
Basically do X # of reps for Z weight. Next set, do (Z-10%) weight for X+1 reps. Next set, do (Z-20%) for X+2 reps. Alternatively, you can do (Z-5%) weight for X reps.
An example to elucidate:
- Bench Press: 4 reps of 300 pounds (10% = 30)
- Next set, drop 30 lb (now at 270) and do 5 reps
- Next set, drop 30 lb (now at 240) and do 6 reps.
Remember for chinups that the weight is any weight you have attached to you plus bodyweight. So if you weigh 150lb and do chinups with 50lb attached (total weight=200lb, 10%=20lb), next set you should do chinups with 30lb attached to you.
Martin Says that I Should be Fairly Lean to do LG. I’m 20% BF, Help!
So in the PDF Guide it says: I would say 10-12% body fat is an appropriate starting point to pull this off with the greatest efficiency.
This does not mean that it isn’t worth at a higher body fat percentage. Simply put, as you get to a lower BF %, it becomes harder to lose that fat. The LG approach can help you break that 10% threshold. LG is still effective even if you are 45% BF.
What Should I be Eating?
Every day, Martin recommends high protein intake. The minimum he recommends is at least 2.5 grams of protein per kg of total bodyweight, and he encourages 3g+/kg of bodyweight. On workout days, he recommends moderate/high carbs (in the post workout window) and low fat. On non-workout days he recommends lower carbs higher fats
Why so much Protein?
It keeps you full (satiated). And it has a high thermal effect (to get into it, the Atwater-formula from the 19th century states that 1g protein = 4 kcal energy. Factoring in TEF, it can be argued that the net effect of each gram of protein is really 3-3.2 kcal/gram).
I’ve tried IF for 3 weeks and it makes me sick
Listen to your body. Some people love squatting every day, other people can’t stomach it. If IF doesn’t work for you, so be it. It isn’t the end of the world.
Should I Eat Before Working Out?
Martin prefers to workout fasted, except for ingesting BCAAs before working out. He also recommends putting the majority of calories in the post workout window.
At the same time, if you need to eat before working out … then eat! Try to keep the carbs post workout, but again … if you need carbs before you workout, then get some.
What the Hell are BCAAs? And Why Should I Take Them?
BCAAs are Branched Chain Amino Acids. They are a group of 3 amino acids which work to alleviate or prevent muscle loss during intense and fasted exercise, with Leucine being a very important amino acid.
To simplify, BCAAs are source of fuel/energy for your body when working out to ensure no muscle loss happens.
If you prefer Whey Protein, take it. If you have eaten, BCAAs are not needed.
How do the Calories Change on Workout vs Non-workout Days?
Martin recommends +20% your maintenance calories on workout days, and -20% on rest days.
Should I have 2 or 3 or 19 Meals a Day?
You have a window of eating (for most people, 8 hours). Get your calories in then. If you do 1 meal + a snack, or 3 meals, just do what works for you. Again, what matters is the overall amount of calories (based on maintenance) and macros (more carbs on workout days, more fat on non-workout, high protein all days).
But You Still Haven’t Told Me the Exact Macros!
Start with at least 2.5 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight (more is even recommended … Martin likes 3g+/kg of bodyweight). On workout days, make the rest of your calories 75/25 carbs/fat, and on non-workout days make it 50/50 carbs/fat.
Check out this link for someone’s macro breakdown.
What About Timing?
Martin recommends a majority of your calories post workout (by post workout he means in the feeding period after your workout). A minimum of 60% is his recommendation.
But I’m Keto
Carbs are an essential part of muscle building. Starchy carbs are great for building muscle. Read what Lyle McDonald says about that. Carbs can make you fat … if you overfeed on carbs chronically (we are talking about 700g+ a day for many days).
Can I Bulk with the LG Approach or is Strictly to Lose Fat?
LG is not about just losing fat. It is about recomposition. So yes you can bulk - just eat above your maintenance.
LG will help you lose BF, and it will let you get to low BF% levels, but the overall focus is on recomposition. Martin has said that LG is essentially a self-contained cut/bulk - 16 hours of cut, 8 hours of bulk.
What about Cardio?
Cardio is an extremely over-reaching word. Martin is explicitly against doing intense cardio on workout days, saying that the anabolic reaction of lifting heavy weights is dented by the catabolic response to extended/intense cardio.
Martin also believes that for maximal fat loss, heavy weights + rest = success. If you want to throw in some conditioning, then do it on your off days.
If conditioning is important to you, then do it. If you are focusing on fat loss, Martin recommends sticking to just heavy weights.
At the same time, low impact steady state (LISS) cardio should be ok - aka walking. Do it before you break your fast.
What if I Want to Fast 20 Hours a Day?
Then do it. It is best to stick to roughly the same schedule as your body has a way of regulating itself. Fasting 18 hours one day and then 19 the next day won’t kill you.
Should I Drink Protein Shakes?
Martin is very anti “drinking your calories.”
Then again, do what makes you feel comfortable. This is meant to be something you can do long term.
DOMs is Hurting Me
Fish Oil could help you.
Any Other Supplements I Should Take?
More info on them via Examine.com:
I Can’t Seem to Get Rid of the Stubborn Fat
I Went Out and Ruined my Fast, Now What?
Stop worrying, and just try to stay the course. Everyone fails at times. Everyone.
This is Hard / Help I’m Not Ripped Overnight
Look, LG is simple. It is basically lifting heavy heavy stuff and fasting. Fasting has health benefits (eg it can help regulate blood glucose levels), but the biggest and obvious one is that it makes it hard to eat like a lardass. Having a stupid amount of calories is harder when you only have 8 hours to jam them in instead of 24 hours.
LeanGains won’t magically make you ripped. It won’t give you abs in 15 days.
LeanGains WILL make you stronger and leaner if you follow it. You have to have the mental fortitude to lift heavy stuff. The numbers listed aren’t perfect, but you should be working towards at least the Advanced Levels of Strength.
Hard work is needed. LG just gives you the template to make it happen.
Any other Notable Links?
- LeanGains Guide
- PDF Guide
- LeanGains Mega Thread on SomethingAwful
- LeanGains on Reddit
- Fitness on Reddit
At the end of the day, LG is just one methodology. If it works for you, great. If you need to tweak it, then tweak it. If you want more hypertrophy, then increase the rep range a bit. If you play sports, add some conditioning on the off days. If you feel hungry all the time, add more calories. If you feel like garbage 2 weeks in, then maybe fasting isn’t for you.
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- the-mountain-man said: This has been bookmarked. I’m strongly considering trying this out for all of next week.
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