Here’s an interview I did with Adam Steer from Better is Better. Includes a book excerpt.
Other interviews, discussions and articles:
Interviewed by Leigh Peele
Intermittent Fasting Roundtable
Sure-Fire Fat Loss
Excerpt from Knowledge and Nonsense
There are only a handful of big names in the Intermittent Fasting game. As many of you will know, I’m a big fan of Brad Pilon and his Eat Stop Eat approach. But another name that continues to attract my attention is Martin Berkhan of Leangains. His approach is quite different to that of Brad, so I contacted him to see about getting an interview with him. To my great pleasure he agreed.
As you’ll see, Martin’s focus, like Brad’s, is mainly on physique. However, the evidence supporting the health benefits of Intermittent Fasting just keeps piling up and I think that no matter what approach you take you’ll reap the rewards of vitality and wellness.
Adam: When asked to tell us a bit about his background and how he became interested in Intermittent Fasting, Martin was gracious enough to offer this excerpt from his upcoming book.
Martin: “When I got into weight training and healthy eating, my goals were no different than most people’s; I wanted to get stronger and look better. I started out overweight and quite out of shape, the consequences of years of bad eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Because I put in work at the gym and eagerly learned everything there was to know about nutrition (or so I believed at the time), I made decent improvements over the years to come. Most noticeably, I lost a lot of weight.
I did it all according to the rules of the game, or at least how I had read and been told I should be doing it. And I was a slave to many rules. These rules dictated that I had to eat small meals throughout the day, that I needed “fast” carbs and whey protein after workouts, and that I should cut out carbs in the evening. Everyone that has spent some time reading fitness magazines, or browsed around on some of the countless fitness/bodybuilding forums on the net, should know what I’m talking about. There are many rules to follow if you want to optimize your results. Or so we are told.
This escalated to a point where I would get obsessed with my diet and everything pertaining to it; when to eat, meeting the right amount of protein and carbs in my meal plan, and so on. Whenever something happened that would interfere with my meal plan, I would get anxious and my mood would take a turn for the worse. Social interactions became crippled and my diet would basically dictate my daily routine. Simply put, I was obsessed with food and meal timing.
It was draining on me, mentally and socially, but I persisted because I feared breaking the rules in any way would have detrimental effects; muscle loss, a slowed down metabolism, or something else born out of irrational thinking.
I dabbled in many different approaches; low fat, low carb, cyclical ketogenic diets, the Paleolithic diet and others, always looking for that magic diet that would be easy to integrate into my lifestyle and one that wouldn’t feel like a neverending diet. I was always envious of guys that managed to look muscular and ripped without much effort.
At one point, I reached a point of diminishing returns. I didn’t think the amount of effort I put in was remotely proportional to the results I got. I had basically been spinning my wheels for years. I didn’t like how my life had become so centered around my diet, and I was starting to get fed up with my own behavior. I couldn’t justify it any longer.
Enter intermittent fasting
The high meal frequency diet I followed for years, called for eating around the clock. I always got too fat, too fast, when trying to gain muscle. The frequent eating also made cutting a chore and very challenging; contrary to popular belief, frequent feedings seemed to trigger my appetite, rather than keeping it at bay. Yet I never questioned the method – I questioned my discipline for my poor results.
It wasn’t until after some experiments with a lower meal frequency that I began to question the methods I had used in the past. This lead me to explore the research surrounding the topic of meal frequency – reading the studies myself and not letting so-called gurus, magazine and supplement companies give me their skewed and biased interpretation. My findings will soon be presented, but suffice to say, I discovered that the diet I had been following for so many years was based on one big hoax, with no scientific foundation.
Gradually, I started to lean into a more relaxed approach, which also felt more natural to me; fasting throughout the morning and not eating my first meal until 1-2 pm. I would eat more later in the day, often enjoying my largest meal around 9-10 pm in the evenings after workouts. I was never fond of breakfast, but always hungry in the evening, so this approach fit me perfectly. At a later point, I would move the first meal to 4 pm and then feed until midnight.
Suddenly, everything started to come easier for me. I got into great shape (177 lbs at 6% body fat), with relative ease. I played around with the approach some more, and gained a good amount of muscle mass with little fat gain (202 lbs at 9% body fat). And finally, I achieved my peak condition (195 lbs at 6% body fat) by combining periods of fat loss with periods of muscle gain; what some people would refer to as body recomposition. I revamped my body completely in 18 months.
After embarking on the intermittent fasting regimen, I also became more productive, focused and had lots of energy during the day. Contrary to my initial concerns, hunger was almost never an issue during the fast. I felt great. My head was clear and I didn’t spend much time thinking, or obsessing, about when, or in what form, my next meal was going to arrive. Worrying about such things had been my default behavior for a good amount of time and it was a relief not having to spend any more mental energy on it.
I wanted to look better and get stronger, and do it in a manner that appealed to me. Intermittent fasting turned out to be the approach I had been looking for all these years.”
So, now you know how it all started. As for my education, I have a bachelor’s degree in Medical Sciences and Education and my major is in Public Health Sciences. But most of the things I’ve learned about nutrition and weight training is purely self-taught.
Adam: You’ve developed your own unique approach to fasting. Can you tell us about the guidelines of your methods?
Martin: 8 hrs feeding, 16 hrs fasting. Fasting means abstaining from food, not from fluids. You may drink coffee, tea, diet coke, whatever you like, as long as no calories are ingested. Trace amounts are acceptable – such as a tiny splash of milk in your coffe or the 1-2 calories found in a diet coke.
So, you might be eating between 1-9 pm, for example. On workout days, you train in between those hours and eat the absolute majority of your daily calorie intake post-workout. I usually set it up with three meals, as that is what I have found most practical. Some of my clients prefer two or four meals, but most do three meals.
Calories and macronutrient intake is always cycled, being higher on training days and lower on rest days.
That’s the gist of it.
Adam: From what I understand, you have a very unique and effective approach to nutrition timing around workouts. Can you share with us how you approach workout nutrition (pre / peri / post) and what principles lead you to your approach?
Martin: I like to keep pre-workout nutrition to a bare minimum. Enough to satisfy a psychological need, enough to support and enhance the training session. No more. The greatest amount of calories should be ingested post-workout. By providing calories when they are needed the most, and are more likely to be used for muscle anabolism and recovery, you will get an edge. The insulin sensitizing effects of intermittent fasting on muscle cells further enhances the effect. There’s more to it, but I’ll save that for now.
That’s the kind of theory and thinking that I’m basing my method on. I should note that there isn’t a lot of research that can be applied in this context. So, unlike gurus that claim to have found The Truth or a magic pill, I’ll put in a disclaimer saying that I might be crazy.
For me, writing the book has been about finding theoretical/scientific support for a practical approach that has turned out to work very well and not the other way around. For me, my clients and for many others that tried it.
Adam: There has been great anticipation for your book and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Do you have a release date?
Martin: No, and I need to keep my mouth shut, because I keep failing the deadlines I set up for myself. When I said I was going to have it out during the first quarter of 09, I was really in the flow of things and it seemed realistic at the time being. Then I got distracted. Work kept piling up. Moved to another city. Etc. Anyway, it’s done when it’s done.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
Martin: Be careful who you listen to. There’s a lot of clowns and conmen in this industry. Also, egg whites and peanut butter. Don’t frown until you try it.
Adam: Where can people go to find out more about you and your methods?
Martin: My site www.leangains.com. Yes, I’m lousy at updating. I’ll get better when the book release draws closer. Right now I’m just busy as all hell.