Needless to say, it seemed as though it was destiny for me to try this unique, potentially revolutionary lifestyle of nutritional principles. I was intrigued from the beginning.
Martin Berkhan: Pioneer of the Lean Gains / IF methodology
A Perpetual Story that Sends you to Sleep
Let's get the tedious bit out of the way quickly. I'm not you & you probably don't care; that's understandable. But to give this article / review some credibility, it's probably useful to know that I started weight training properly at 15 years old, and have been consistantly without prolonged breaks until now (I'm 21 years old). As a young boy, I was naturally reasonably strong. I could remember wrestling fat kids on the school field, being a very good athlete and exceeding in sports because of my vehement dedication. Despite this I had quite a poor physique: very narrow framed, skinny, moderate bodyfat with some good shape to certain muscle bellies (especially in my arms). If God created the earth in 7 days then I was the slime that came out with the rest of the genetically average on the 7th day. Perhaps we have good reason to be envious of certain individuals. But commitment was never a word that abdicated my vocabulary.
Fast Forward 6 Years... & 6 Meals Per Day
Luckily I have always been a very curious individual and this led to vigorous reading over the years (that probably did a lot more harm than good at stages!). My insatiable desire to change a poor physique into a decent, aesthetic statue has been half achieved. Like anyone I'd be amazed looking at where I am now from when I started, but like any of my iron bro's out there, you know as well as I do that you'll never be truly satisfied with either your physique or strength, and that's the beauty of this game. Regardless, I have still went from 9 stone (125ish-lbs), 5 ft 9 at around 15% bodyfat to 14 stone 4lbs at my heaviest (bodyfat closing in on 20%, admittedly). I'm now a modest 12 stone 10lbs with about 12% bodyfat. My lifts have went from a 40kg bench press for 6 reps, to at my peak a 140kg for 2 reps; a deadlift of 80kg or so to 230kg; and a squat that used to make me cry with 40kg on my back because it hurt the skin on my neck to 190kg. I'm by no means the finished article, but I'm very proud of accomplishing this as a natural and not being persuaded to touch any steroids despite being surrounded in an environment that epitomised their value to some lifters.
That's basically my story to date. I have also religously attempted to follow the advocated 6 meals per day which is the main culprit of this article. If you're like me, you possibly struggle with hitting this meal frequency on a consistant day-to-day basis. I did condition my body to feel reasonably hungry 6 times during the day; but what was really difficult for me is how unsociable it made me. Anybody that eats like this and either works full time, has friends and a social life and likes to think of the world as more than just bodybuilding knows what a pain in the ass it can be. I'm not saying it's impossible; merely it's an inconvenience for many of us and it certainly hampered my ability to go about day to day life.
Christmas 2010: Fat Adam. I didn't realise until this pic was took - I was becoming quite a fatty!
Enter Intermittent Fasting / Lean Gains / Martin Berkhan
Being an avid reader of Lyle McDonald in recent times, I browsed his site to discover a gentleman that went by the name of Martin Berkhan. When Lyle McDonald advocates you as a trusty source for nutritional info you know you're carrying the burden of respect in my eyes.
The first thing that struck me about Martin's site was that it was a sloppy blog. I hate rummaging through blog's, but I soon discovered the material within the pages were invaluable. They were also incredibly enlightening in many regards. The first article I read on his site was not only shocking to me but also relatively inspiring: 10 Diet Myths Debunked. It stimulated me to challenge conventional wisdom in the bodybuilding scene and invesitgate further. Needless to say Martin provide's plenty of references and scientific data to back up his statements so this wasn't difficult. What also impressed me was Martin's ability to stay objective and modest, denouncing his dieting methodology as something that provides superior results; rather, he seemed more intent on providing people with an alternative solution that was flexible & didn't take over their lives in the process. I was prepared to listen.
After delving into the Lean Gains protocol I was sold. I started in January this year and my results are outlined further below. Here's a brief summary of the methodology however and what it is comprised of:
- Intermittent Fasting: Fasting has been around for thousands of years dating back to our historical ancestors. I'm not here to discuss the eating habits of our ancestors but it stands to reason that many of them practiced fasting or had to abstain from food for prolonged periods of time before gorging on kills / foods they ate.
- The fasting period is set in stone as 16 hours for males and 14 hours for females. That gives me 8 hours per day to consume my daily target. There are various protocols you can see in the plan outlined by Martin that are flexible towards your daily schedule. I follow the two meal pre-workout protocol and consume around 40-50% of my cals pre-training and then 50-60% before bed post-workout.
- No calories are to be ingested during the fasting period bar coffee, calorie free sweeteners and the odd splash of milk. It's generally recommended to keep it under 50kcal which is what I've been doing. You're a lot more sensitive to stimulants which is cool during fasting due to concentrations of various hormones.
- No limitations on food choices. You hit daily macro targets. You can eat cereals and ice cream as long as it fits into your daily calorie goals. Hitting targets is of paramount importance.
A Sample Day
The following is a sample day of what I've been doing recently to cut bodyfat down for summer and since around late February when I got back from New York. My daily target has been roughly just over 2,000kcals to create a 500 calorie deficit. On training days I eat a bit more to prime myself for anabolism and hang onto muscle. Here's a training day example.
7.30/8am: Wake up
2.30pm: Break the fast. Can of tuna, light mayo, big salad / leaves and two slices wholemeal bread
5.30pm: 200g steak / chicken, baked potato with sauces, plenty of vegetables, maybe some rice or pasta as well dependant on the daily target
9.30pm - 3 scoops of Biorhythm After Glow as my post-workout shake.
10.15pm - 2 Bagels smeared in honey, 300g cottage cheese over 4 wholemeal crackers with tomato puree, maybe some ice cream, etc... OR - 3-4 whole eggs, 100g oats in honey, couple of slices of toast. I'll usually throw in some chocolate or ice cream or some form of sweet thing to help here with diet adherence and enjoy myself. This mean generally reaches close to 1,000kcal.
Some basic statistics based on around the middle / late February to now:
Start weight: 13 stone 7/8lbs at 17% bodyfat
Current Weight: 12 stone 8/9lbs at 12% bodyfat
Lifting stats: I've added strength overall to key lifts during this period
Visual changes: This is the most important I presume to most of you reading. I haven't lost an ounce of muscle as far as I'm aware. I dropped around 12lbs and 5% bodyfat which is very good going. I've made some small improvements to my physique but overall the obvious allure of being leaner and more aesthetic is just generally more pleasing.
Not the best lighting for definition; but a big change for me
A better pic for definition
Sorry for crap quality - the embarrasing mirror pic. We've all been there!
Strength changes: You can check my 2011 journal here to see how my lifts have been progressing. There's been some small changes here & there, but overall I've worked towards my primary targets of increasing flexibility in my legs, rehabbing any muscle groups and making small incriment increases to my big lifts while losing close to a stone which is important.
Diet Review: Many people have asked me "How do you go so long without eating food?!", and I suppose that's what you're probably thinking about now. I'll admit: it was a big scare switching from the conventional 6 meals a day dogma to just 3 meals per day. The first few days fasting I thought my muscles were going to fall off, yet time & time again I found myself challenging conventional wisdom through Martin's meticulous detail to science and his references, along with my own self-experimentation paying dividens.
I have to say sincerely that adherence has never been easier than when following a protocol like this. When you condense your daily targets to 3 meals as opposed to 6-7, hitting daily targets is just generally more easier. You feel a lot more satiated, get to enjoy bigger, more calorie dense meals and also don't have to worry about eating so frequently. It's like feasting while dieting; and for that reason I have probably had very good success without feeling like I'm killing myself along the way.
The hunger pangs in then initial phases of dieting are quite intense. I found it took about 4 days before my body adapted to the fasts and after then it became very easy. Of course you still have a tendancy to think about food but that's more of a by-product of dieting in general. I just keep focused in work and keep busy (hopefully my co-workers agree!) and it seems to do the trick.
Overall, this has been a siginificant lifestyle change for me. Sure, the thought of not eating for 16 hours and fasting goes against conventional wisdom and every anecdote you've probably heard from magazines etc, but so what? The key is always to finding a diet methodology, meal frequency that helps with adherence and hitting daily / long-term targets, which is the most important factor towards achieving your goals. If fasting helps you achieve that faster then maybe it's time to drop the conventional dogma and give it a go. I only hope it will be as kind to you as it has to me!
About Adam Kitchen: Adam is the founder of DPA Fitness, an expert online Personal Training Service both Internationally and in Hong Kong. He is also the author of the free E-book, The Weight Training Antidote, and a long-term contributor to BodyActive Nation and the Muscle & Fitness industry.