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.
Smart Tip: Do NOT exercise on an empty stomach. The theory that you burn more fat with no available blood sugar is a myth. In fact, it can result in the loss of muscle tissue. So, make sure to get a healthy snack in you about 45 minutes before you train.
THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE.
6. Myth: Fasting causes muscle loss.
This myth hinges on people’s belief it’s important to have a steady stream of amino acids available to not lose muscle. As I explained earlier, protein is absorbed at a very slow rate. After a large high-protein meal, amino acids trickle into your blood stream for several hours.
No studies have looked at this in a context that is relevant to most of us. For example, by examining amino acid appearance in the blood and tissue utilization of amino acids after a large steak, veggies and followed up with some cottage cheese with berries for dessert. That’s easily 100 grams of protein and a typical meal for those that follow the Leangains approach. We are left to draw our own conclusions based on what we know; that a modest amount of casein, consumed as a liquid on an empty stomach is still releasing amino acids after 7 hours. With this in mind it’s no stretch to assume that 100 grams of protein as part of a mixed meal at the end of the day would still be releasing aminos for 16-24 hours.
Few studies has examined the effects of regular fasting on muscle retention and compared it to a control diet. None of them are relevant to how most people fast and some are marred by flaws in study design and methodology. Like this study which showed increased muscle gain and fat loss, with no weight training or change in calorie intake, just by changing meal frequency. While I would love to cite that study as proof for the benefits of intermittent fasting, body composition was measured by BIA, which is notoriously imprecise.
Only in prolonged fasting does protein catabolism become an issue. This happens when stored liver glycogen becomes depleted. In order to maintain blood glucose, conversion of amino acids into glucose must occur (DNG: de novo glucogenesis). This happens gradually and if amino acids are not available from food, protein must be taken from bodily stores such as muscle. Cahill looked at the contribution of amino acids to DNG after a 100 gram glucose load. He found that amino acids from muscle contributed 50% to glucose maintenance after 16 hours and almost 100% after 28 hours (when stored liver glycogen was fully depleted). Obviously, for someone who eats a high protein meal before fasting, this is a moot point as you will have plenty of aminos available from food during the fast.
An example of severe exaggeration of physiological and scientific fact, not relevant to anyone who’s not undergoing prolonged fasting or starvation.
I did not write this article. The original author is listed at the bottom for more information.
I’ve personally experienced major results with a 16 hour intermittent fasting program. I’ve achieved visible fat loss, and measurable strength gains simultaneously. Whether you’re trying to gain muscle, lose fat, or just be a more healthful resilient person, intermittent fasting might be a lifestyle habit that makes sense for you.
For the past 3 months I’ve been following an intermittent fasting program. I had heard about intermittent fasting and read about it in a few articles well over a year ago, but never really got inspired to give it a try. After all, doesn’t eating inspire metabolism? Aren’t you suppose to eat many small meals throughout the day or ELSE you’ll lose all your hard earned muscle and waste all those hours of hard work? Well the reality is all those old conceptions are myths and have no scientific backing. It took bumping into a few sites and learning from a few sources for me to start to question all the ‘gym bro knowledge’ that I’ve heard for years to give it a try. After only 3 weeks, I could already tell that I’d likely be committed to this way of eating for life. I’ve already seen fat loss results while also gaining strength. This indicates a REAL body re composition where I’m gaining muscle while simultaneously losing fat. I’m feeling more energy (especially in the mornings when I’m fasting). And there’s something within my intuition that tells me this is a more healthful way of living.
Why Intermittent Fasting Makes Sense To Me
When evaluating how our bodies evolved, it’s seems reasonable to think that the human body was in a fasted state a lot of the time. Maybe not by choice, but by demand. Food is scarce in the wild. There is no tupperware, no microwaves, no packaged convenience foods. Hunting and gathering takes effort (aka exercise), and often coming up empty handed and remaining hungry would be unavoidable. This is why the human body is extremely effective at storing fat (I know from experience). In other words, in nature food was probably scarce for most of human evolution. Human beings definitely weren’t pigging out continuously, and most likely the feeding times were irregular and erratic. So what is the point? Replicating conditions of how the human body evolved will likely provide health and wellness. Read more about this concept here. So the point is, that the human body evolved to have times of being fasted. aka not fed.
Fed vs. Fasted
If you look at modern society, we rarely let ourselves go fasted. I was under the impression that it was a muscle building sin to not have something in the stomach at all times. I don’t know what it’s like to be on steroids, I have never done them, but it seems like most of the ‘never let yourself go hungry’ preaching is coming from the bodybuilding community (the gurus being steroided up). At one point I listened to this preaching without question or critical thought. However, it just didn’t work for me. I found it nearly impossible to actually lose fat, I felt like crap alot of the times (especially in the afternoons), I was drowsy and un-alert, and looking back on it now I just didn’t feel vibrant and healthy.
Even if you’re not into fitness and bodybuilding, the average population (in the USA at least) is in a fed state continuously throughout their lives. Not only are we eating stuff our bodies weren’t designed for, we are eating too much, and too often. It makes sense to me that keeping your body in a ‘fed’ state continuously is going against our evolutionary programming and could be one of the causal factors behind diseases of civilization as well as the obesity epidemic.
Summary: Intermittent fasting makes sense from both a health and fitness perspective.
Intermittent Fasting Scientific Backing
There is an increasing amount of studies being done on fasting. The results are starting to compile and short-term intermittent fasting has been found to have the following health and fitness benefits:
- Decreased body fat & body weight
- Maintenance of skeletal muscle mass (you won’t lose muscle in other words, despite what the bodybuilding community falsely claims)
- Decreased blood glucose levels
- Decreased insulin levels & increased insulin sensitivity (avoiding diabetes and obesity is a good thing right?!)
- Increased lipolysis & fat oxidation (which leads to ABS)
- Increased Uncoupling Protein 3 mRNA
- Increased norepinephrine & epinephrine levels (more energy and ‘awakeness’)
- Increased Glucagon levels
- Increased growth hormone levels
If you’re a nerd like me and want to research the studies, you can find many of them here.
Intermittent Fasting as a Lifestyle
So how can you make intermittent fasting into a lifestyle/system/habit? Well the good news is there aren’t any hard ‘rules,’ only suggestions and principles. The principle is simple: let yourself go hungry occasionally. Some people (such as the author of one of the books I recommend called “Eat Stop Eat“) recommend fasting once or twice a week for 24 hrs. Personally, I’ve followed Martin’s program of daily 16 hour fasts. For me, this made sense as I’ve never liked breakfast anyways. Like I just mentioned, the whole ’3 square meals’ or ’6 small meals’ and ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ fads are conventional wisdom hogwash that has been repeated so much that we assume it to be truth. The only problem is it doesn’t have any basis in nature or current research.
So basically I have my last meal at around 9 PM. I skip breakfast, do my workout routine with weights at noon in a fasted state (taking BCAA’s before my workout), and have my largest meal of the day at around 1 PM. From 1 PM to 9 PM. (P.S. I’m absolutely NOT perfect and have at least one day where I eat whatever I want. Perfection isn’t the goal, excellence is.)
Intermittent Fasting Program vs. Skipping Breakfast
I’ve had alot of people say something around the lines of “so you just skip breakfast, big deal.” Intermittent fasting isn’t complicated, but getting results with it probably entails alot more than just skipping breakfast, especially to get optimal athletic and aesthetic results. In other words, although skipping breakfast may be considered intermittent fasting, it’s not the full intermittent fasting program that has gotten me such great results. After much thought and study, an intermittent fasting program that will get you real results is much more than just skipping breakfast. It’s really about 3 things:
1. Fasting in conjunction with a workout routine and appropriate supplements
If you’re just skipping breakfast, it’s likely that you won’t be getting optimal benefits of an intermittent fasting program. Fasted workouts with the right supplements is what has gotten me results, not just skipping breakfast. Like I mentioned, after about 15 hours of not eating I do a fasted workout supplementing with 5-10 grams of BCAA’s, Glutamine, and sometimes Creatine monohydrate beforehand (links to my favorite supplements below).
2. Nutritional timing (post workout)
The intermittent fasting program I follow is all about nutritional timing as well. Specifically what I mean by nutritional timing is eating certain quantities of food around certain times. In other words, it’s much more than just skipping breakfast; it’s also about eating large percentage of your daily calories (up to 50% of your daily caloric intake) after your workout.
3. Appropriate calorie consumption
This is still the basis. You can overeat on an intermittent fasting program and see minimal (if any) fat loss. You still have to determine, or have an intuitive sense of your calorie consumption. If you’re trying to gain muscle you’re still going to need excess calorie consumption, and if you’re trying to lose fat you’re still going to need restricted calorie consumption. Intermittent fasting is a program that allows you to follow a system that keeps you on track in this regard. It’s not magic, and doesn’t make your body defy the laws of calorie consumption.
Fear NOT, Your Muscles Aren’t Going to Run Away, and Your Metabolism Is NOT Going to Crash
Alot of people who read this are probably in the same shoes that I was in before discovering intermittent fasting. That is, always being paranoid that if you didn’t have something in your stomach your hard earned muscles were going to rapidly disappear and your metabolism was going to crash, thus turning you into a fat blob. Probably the biggest takeaway you can get from reading this is simple: it’s okay to have an empty stomach. In fact, that’s exactly what you need in order to lose fat effectively. Your muscles aren’t going to run away, and your metabolism isn’t going to crash. Those claims are false ‘broscience’ that are incomplete summaries of ideas based on limited/incomplete understandings. I, and alot of other people, have found this understanding to be very liberating and helpful. For example, I no longer have to be paranoid about eating constantly. I use to think about this constantly. Hell, I’d even go pick up a candy bar if I hadn’t meticulously planned out my eating schedule to ‘preserve my muscles.’ Of course, this mentality only led to me gaining fat and not getting the results I was after. The bottom line is that with these understandings you are a lot more likely to achieve better results because you’re not consistently overeating due to inaccurate assumptions on how the body works.
If you’re just looking to lose some weight, maybe these aren’t critical; however, if you’re looking to maximize your muscle gain and rearrange your body composition they definitely are. (for those that aren’t aware, bodybuilding.com is a great place to order supplements; fast shipping, good service, cheap prices)
- Natural Whey
- Multi Vitamin and Mineral
- Fish Oil
- Vitamin D3 (2000 iu/day minimum)
Call to Action
Ultimately, I believe intermittent fasting may be one of the most beneficial and EASY health habits you can implement for yourself. If this has peaked your interests to give it a try, I’d love to hear your feedback. Keep in mind there may be an ‘adjustment’ period initially where this may be no fun. Personally, once I got the mental belief out of my mind that I ‘needed’ food in my stomach constantly, I found that I really wasn’t hungry as much as I had anticipated I would be. In fact, I’m able to just forget about food in the mornings and I find myself more focused and productive because of it. I also find that I have increased mental clarity and ‘presence,’ as well as plenty of physical energy in the mornings and throughout my fasted workouts (I feel like an unstoppable beast lifting weights on most days). If you’ve already been trying intermittent fasting what have been your experiences? Results? Concerns? I look forward to hearing your response.
Eat Stop Eat
I’ve found that one of the most motivating forces is fully understanding the implications of certain actions. In other words, if you ‘sort of’ understand how intermittent fasting has potential to help you in your fat loss goals, it’s likely that you won’t be fully motivated to give it a fair chance and reap the full benefits of it. In order to make sure you fully understand the implications of intermittent fasting I HIGHLY recommend you continue to study this lifestyle in detail.
Make it a challenge for yourself to gain a detailed understanding of how intermittent fasting works and how you can really implement it into your life. Here are a couple resources you should check out.
Eat Stop Eat is the book that really helped me to understand intermittent fasting on a level that got me motivated to take action (and thus experience results). This book is probably the best condensed resource available on the subject. I am SO thankful for this book and I recommend it for anyone who has an interest in learning more about intermittent fasting. Was this whole page noting but a sales pitch? Absolutely not. Obviously my goal was to articulate my thoughts and experiences with intermittent fasting and provide value to those looking to get a more athletic and aesthetic body. However, like I mentioned above, to remain motivated toward making a lasting lifestyle change, you must fully understand and educated yourself on the implications of your actions. This book will allow you to get the details of intermittent fasting which will likely get you to take consistent action, get results, and therefore get you closer to the healthful, aesthetic, athletic body you deserve. The book is a simple read and the author breaks down and articulates important clinical studies in a digestible and motivating way.