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Why It’s Ok To Feel Hungry
(An outline of Martin Berkhans LeanGains Protocol)
Original info on www.leangains.com via Martin Berkhan
Fasting will soon become a buzzword, a hype, just like kettle bells, Crossfit & TRX. But unlike most fads, this one is going to stick around a while like most evidence based methods do. It’s one of humanities oldest practices & it’s regaining media attention around the globe due to its ability to potentially increase lifespan, reduce obesity, control appetite & reduce body fat. I was drawn to the idea of intermittent fasting during my training for the Mont Blanc, seeking a method to lose weight, whilst still preserving the ‘engine’ that I had spent months developing in the gym. I was seeking a larger gas tank with minimal ‘bulk’. The phrase ‘light is right’ is often thrown around mountaineering circles so I hoped it would enable me to reach the summit of Western Europe’s highest mountain a little easier, & little less painfully. Weeks after adopting my new routine, my body tuned in to the new rhythm. I became hungry at the times I desired, I experienced no loss of strength & my concentration during these fasts sharpened.. Not at all what I expected. I had been warned by friends & relatives that I would experience a drop in my ability to concentrate, that my metabolism would slow & I would lack energy due to not eating breakfast, but the opposite happened. I dropped 4 kilos in 4 weeks with no visible loss in muscle mass and I reached the summit on the morning of my 23rd birthday feeling great (As great as one can feel perched 4800 meters above sea level). I returned from France still unsatisfied I had reaped all that I could from this, I hungered for more research behind my chosen method of fasting. Sometimes however, the best method of research is application. so with that view, I readopted the fasting protocol and delved deeper into the research surrounding fasting. I tracked my calories meticulously whilst looking for trends, then later I designed meals that would cause deliberate muscle gaining or fat loss.
Martin Berkhans LeanGains method is my chosen method for intermittent fasting now and its popularity is still steadily growing, even among top cyclists . Its evidence based approach has its followers post meals of epic proportions. They refer to it simply as ‘’FoodPorn’’. However despite all this sounding a tad strange, large meals & less body fat clearly has its appeal. It’s definitely unconventional, but maybe that’s what drew me in.
Don’t be mistaken though, this is no easy fix or magic system. The philosophy is built upon the first law of thermodynamics. Meaning; Calories. Matter. period. No amount of ‘low carb’ will override a calorie surplus when weight loss is the ultimate goal. To illustrate the importance of this philosophy we can look to Carson Chow, the MIT- trained Mathematician employed as the man responsible for figuring out why 1 in 3 Americans are obese. He devised a complex mathematical model, capable of predicting what a person will weigh. The message, which he believes the food industry doesn’t want to know and ordinary people do not want to hear, is that ‘there is no magic bullet on this. You simply have to cut calories and be vigilant for the rest of your life’ Dramatic results come with hard work, meticulous attention to detail and a good deal of suffering, indefinitely. But, if it sounds like you can stomach this, then dramatic results are a few cravings away.
Wikipedia defines Fasting as; ‘’the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time’’ and if we know we must consume less to lose weight why do we tend to associate hunger, fasting and missing meals with a breakdown of muscle tissue and even proclaim that we can gain weight like this? Our bodies do tend to lose lean body mass pretty fast when we start losing weight, but is it how much, what or when we eat that determines this? Amidst the sea of contradictions online that threaten to lull us deeper and deeper into the blurry realm I like to call ‘Bro-science’ I decided to look at what scientific research shows.
Science has proven long ago that meal frequency is not nearly as important as total calories. How much & what, matters. Fact. The next fact is a harder pill for people to swallow. Every single one of you reading this has heard skipping breakfast is bad, & every doctor, family member, and friend preaches this as fact. But a study quoted by the New York Times a couple of years ago actually showed that lower meal frequency improves appetite control , So why is breakfast still held with such high importance? Doctor Bojan Kostevski exclaims, those that go through med school actually spend a very small amount of their time learning proper nutrition related to weight management & we should be glad! Their job covers an immense range of skills and I know I hope that if I have a serious condition, I want my doctor to have spent his time catching up on new research related to his field, not the science behind a six-pack. But unfortunately the 6 meals a day theory is still preached to the mass market as the Holy Grail, despite a lack of evidence supporting its superiority . Even more significant, is the famous epidemiological study often quoted by the breakfast cereal companies that breakfast skippers tend to have a higher BMI (body mass index). But again, the results were flawed. These kinds of studies track trends & as one of the researchers pointed out, the breakfast skipping group tended to represent busy people on the run that weren’t health conscious. These people are not skipping breakfast as a means to lose fat and are definitely not intermittent fasting but more than likely sedentary. No wonder they tended to be heavier. In fact I’m sure we all know at least one of these breakfast skippers ourselves. Those who have little time & few options would be better off instead forgoing one meal (including snacks) and going hungry for a short while saving time & money. Interesting though, is the footnote at the end of the study stating that ‘Funding for the study was provided by the Kellogg Company’’ . Draw your own conclusions.
Data from the food and drug administration shows consumption of different food groups over the last 3 decades. Obesity has risen 10% since 1970, flour & cereal products have seen an increase of 4% whilst lean meat has seen a decrease in consumption of 4% over the same time period. As we know, protein increases metabolism more so than cereal products and keeps us feeling fuller for longer, so again, I’ll leave you to come up with your own conclusions.
For those of you worried about lacking energy by skipping breakfast, you should know that digestion of a meal generally takes around 6-7 hours depending on the size of the meal. So chances are if you’re reading this in the morning before work, last night’s dinner is still providing you with energy for that important meeting. Proteins from your meal are absorbed in a relatively slow steady state. (1.3-10g per hour depending on meal composition ) so the constant reminder to eat every few hours is once again shown to be flawed. This was demonstrated recently to an extreme by the same Swedish doctor Bojan Kostevski, who just last week, ran a crazy experiment he dubbed ILCD (Insanely Low Calorie Diet) where he condensed 4 weeks of dieting into one week, eating only 650-750 calories a day, 2000 less than he needed. He studied the effects on himself and published his log afterwards. I built on this experiment & created recreated a 7 day semi-fast program that includes strength training. Our result was a loss of 3-6 kg in 7 days… And I assure you, our muscles didn’t fall off. In fact I hit a Personal Records on my Deadlift by pulling 190kg when I weighed a mere 69kg. The results of me and my peers have inspired a number of others to contact me to recreate our experiment and the results continue to impress.
What can we take away from this? Eating less, works for fat loss & Feeling hungry is ok.
In an age where excess and gluttony runs rampant, lets enjoy these excesses in fewer frequencies and greater quantities. All it costs is spending a little more time feeling hungry. If a doctor spent a week without food in a busy hospital; I’m sure you can go 16 hours, with half of that asleep.
The fasted state lasts 16 hours & should run through the night and into the morning, finishing just after your workout. During this time you can drink unlimited black coffee (which works as a mild fat burner & appetite suppressant), Diet Coke or Coke Zero (anything zero calorie) but nothing else. The exception to this is just before training. 10grams BCAA’s with water before every strength training session will offset the negative effect of a net loss of protein during training . 10g BCAA is preferable over whey protein as this will have a lower calorie content keeping truer to the fast while helping offset muscle catabolism, whilst still getting all the benefits described above. However if you miss it once or twice, your muscles still won’t fall off. I promise.
Women are advised to start with a 10 hour feeding window and gradually work their way to 8 hours. This is due to different hormonal patterns as it can be more difficult to adjust to the schedule. Your first meal on rest days should be you’re largest. However this can be tweaked if looking forward to a large dinner with your family will improve adherence. Strength training should also be fasted, although if you must eat before, try to plan your meal with only 20-25% of your total calories and leave the biggest meal post-workout. Other workouts can be executed fasted upon a trial & error bases. Long endurance workouts & HIIT is advised to executed in a non-fasted state.
The fundamentals must be in place for this program to guarantee success meaning creating a caloric deficit if losing body fat or a caloric surplus if gaining muscle. 13-20 x bodyweight in pounds will give a very rough estimate on maintenance level calories. Leangains also uses a form of nutritional periodisation, meaning cyclical carbohydrate intake through the week. This is for a various number of reasons namely nutrient partitioning and adherence & uses heavy strength training as its exercise prescription (yes, you too ladies). Cardio is used sparingly, unless you have performance related goals, allowing you to recover optimally on a calorie deficit which should be seen as a recovery deficit also. Strength training is kept to 3-4 times per week with relatively high carb, low fat and 2-3g of protein per kg of bodyweight on training days and low carb, high fat on rest days. Protein is kept constant throughout the whole week.
Once finishing your workout, you will ideally start the feeding period with your largest meal of that day (65% total calories). Again, don’t dwell on this too much. If you can’t have your biggest meal after training but still stick with the fundamentals you will still be making progress. The above points just optimise nutrient partitioning, meaning – encouraging the body not to store those extra calories as body fat and make sure enough of them go to building and repairing muscle. Continue eating right up until you go to sleep & finish your day with at least 30g of slow digesting protein. (200-400g Cottage Cheese or 30-50g Casein protein will suffice) This will slow the rate of protein absorption lasting into the night, and well into the next day .
Intermittent Fasting set-up
• 13:00 Take 10g BCAA’s or 30g Whey Protein
• 13:00-14:00 Train
14:30 – Break the fast with your largest meal
(at least 65% total calories) including a high amount of starchy carbs (rice, pasta, potatoes). The reason for this, are starchy carbohydrates contain higher amounts of glucose in the post-workout fasted state. Glycogen is depleted, so most of the carbs can go to replenishing glycogen stores and less will be converted to fat. Include at least 30g protein in this meal as well. Your body will absorb every gram of protein you eat at 1.3-10g per hour so you don’t have to limit your servings of protein to only 30g . I regularly hit 100g Protein in my meals)
• 14:30-22:30 – Continue eating meals from your food schedule. The last one around 22:00 should have some of the slow digesting protein. I.e Casein Protein powder, Cottage Cheese
This is based on a 14:00 till 22:00 set-up as evenings seem to work best however any 8-hour window will work. All it depends on is how it fits your lifestyle. You can start or finish 30 minutes before or after your set times but the basic idea is to keep the times the same everyday as this will enhance the initial adaptation process resulting in predictable hunger patterns that will start to match your set schedule. The goal of the first 3-6 weeks is hormonal entrainment, meaning training the body to get hungry at your set times. For this reason, don’t mess around with your set-up too much.
Following the set up outlined above everyday with no attention payed to the type of food consumed may still produce desirable goals. I.e muscle gaining or fat loss. However results aren’t guaranteed. By following the above set up whilst tracking daily calories either through a calorie tracker (I use MyNetDiary) or through hiring a coach to write up a food schedule for you, results are 100% guaranteed & can be quite dramatic.
Adapting to this style of feeding will be hard initially. The first few sessions you may feel dizzy while training. After about 6 weeks, these effects will subside however consult a doctor before starting any food program & if it doesn’t suit you, just stop. The end result will be hunger at your desired time, more strength in the gym & better focus during work and study and best of all, you may actually start to enjoy it. The only thing you will have to deal with is people telling you off for skipping breakfast and enjoying big-ass meals late into the evening!
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