It’s about time I compiled a comprehensive guide to my system, so here it is.
Note: A more current version of this guide, The Leangains Guide 2.0, is available in my book, The Leangains Method: The Art of Getting Ripped. Researched, Practiced, Perfected.
That doesn’t mean you have to buy my book to get results. However, I do suggest you displace BCAA in this guide with EAA; I’ve explained why in EAA or BCAA and Why? – Q&A #11
Intermittent fasting and Leangains
How does Leangains differentiate itself from some other intermittent fasting based diets? Here’s a brief primer.
In-depth coverage of my approach, and the benefits of intermittent fasting, can be read about here.
A much shorter summary can be found here.
Fasting and feeding
My general position on the fasted phase is that it should last through the night and during the morning hours. Ideally the fast should then be broken at noon or shortly thereafter if you arise at 6-7 AM like most people. Afternoons and evenings are usually spent in the fed state.
However, the fast could also also be broken later in the day depending on your personal preferences and daily routine. I personally tend to break the fast as late as 4-6 PM since I work well into the night and rise later than most people with normal jobs.
The recommendation for fasting through the earlier part of the day, as opposed to the latter part of the day, is for behavioral and social reasons. Most people simply find it easier to fast after awakening and prefer going to bed satiated. Afternoons and evenings are times to unwind and eat. For adherence reasons during dieting, I’ve also found that placing the feeding phase later in the day is ideal for most people.
I work with four different protocols depending on when my clients train. Depending on setup, one, two, or three meals are eaten in the post-workout period.
Training is initiated on an empty stomach and after ingestion of 10 g BCAA or similar amino acid mixture. This “pre-workout” meal is not counted towards the feeding phase. Technically, training is not completely fasted – that would be detrimental. The pre-workout protein intake, with its stimulatory effect on protein synthesis and metabolism, is a crucial compromise to optimize results. The 8-hour feeding phase starts with the post-workout meal.
- 11.30-12 AM or 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA
- 12-1 PM: Training
- 1 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal of the day).
- 4 PM: Second meal.
- 9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
Calories and carbs are tapered down throughout the day in the example above.
Early morning fasted training
Here’s a sample setup for a client that trains early in the morning and prefers the feeding phase at noon or later. Read this for details regarding this protocol.
- 6 AM: 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA.
- 6-7 AM: Training.
- 8 AM: 10 g BCAA.
- 10 AM: 10 g BCAA
- 12-1 PM: The “real” post-workout meal (largest meal of the day). Start of the 8 hour feeding-window.
- 8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
For the sake of conveniency, I recommend getting BCAA in the form of powder and not tabs. Simply mix 30 g of BCAA powder in a shake and drink one third of it every other hour starting 5-15 minutes pre-workout. Tabs are cheaper, but much more of a hassle (you’re going to have to pop a lot of tabs). Check my supplements guide for specific brand recommendations.
One pre-workout meal
This is the most common setup for my younger clients that are still in college or have flexible working hours.
- 12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Pre-workout meal. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake.
- 3-4 PM: Training should happen a few hours after the pre-workout meal.
- 4-5 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal).
- 8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
Two pre-workout meals
This is the usual protocol for people with normal working hours.
- 12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Meal one. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake.
- 4-5 PM: Pre-workout meal. Roughly equal to the first meal.
- 8-9 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal).
- No calories are to be ingested during the fasted phase, though coffee, calorie free sweeteners, diet soda and sugar free gum are ok (even though they might contain trace amount of calories). A tiny splash of milk in your coffee won’t affect anything either (½-1 teaspoon of milk per cup at the most – use sparingly and sensibly if you drink a lot of coffee). Neither will sugar free gum in moderation (~20 g).
- The fast is the perfect time to be productive and get things done. Don’t sit around, get bored and brood about food.
- Meal frequency during the feeding phase is irrelevant. However, most people, including me, prefer three meals.
- The majority of your daily calorie intake is consumed in the post-workout period. Depending on setup, this means that approximately 95-99% (fasted training), 80% (one pre-workout meal) or 60% (two pre-workout meals) of your daily calorie intake is consumed after training.
- The feeding window should be kept somewhat constant due to the hormonal entrainment of meal patterns. We tend to get hungry when we’re used to eating and maintaining a regular pattern makes diet adherence easier. If you’re used to breaking the fast at 12-2 PM and ending it at 8-10 PM, then try to maintain that pattern every day.
- On rest days, meal one should ideally be the largest meal, as opposed to training days where the post-workout meal is the largest meal. A good rule of thumb is to make meal one on rest days at least 35-40% of your daily calorie intake. This meal should be very high in protein; some of my clients consume more than 100 g of protein in this meal.
- When working with clients I am always open to compromising on the above rule. If your preference is to eat a larger meal in the evening instead of noon, or whenever you break the fast, it’s no great harm. Some people prefer to save the largest meal on rest days for dinner with their family instead of having a large lunch and that’s fine by me if it makes them enjoy and adhere to their diet better.
- Macronutrients and calorie intakes are always cycled through the week. The specifics depends on the client’s ultimate goal: fat loss, muscle gain or bodyrecomposition. The details will be revealed in the book. Generally speaking, carbs and total calorie intake is highest on training days. On rest days, carbs are lower and fat is higher. Protein is kept high on all days.
- Here are the supplements I recommend everyone to take on a daily basis: a multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D and extra calcium (unless dairy is consumed on a regular and daily basis).
- For fasted training, BCAA or an essential amino acid mixture is highly recommended. However, if this feels like too much micromanaging or simply questionable from an economic standpoint, you could also make due with some whey protein. The importance of protein intake prior to fasted training is outlined in this and this post.
- People sometimes ask me which protocol is best. I tend to look at things from a behavioral perspective first and foremost, so my reply to that is to choose the protocol best suited to your daily routine and training preferences. When dealing with clients I make the choice for them. If you work a 9-5 job and your only option is to train after work, training fasted is generally a bad idea and I always choose the one or two meals pre-workout protocol.
- Even from a physiological perspective, each protocol has it’s own strengths and theoretical benefits. With “physiological perspective” I mean in terms of nutrient partitioning, fat loss and muscle growth. This deserves an article on it’s own. I have some interesting and compelling arguments that I think are very unique.
Below I’ll list some other resources that I think will give you an idea of what Leangains is all about.
Calories, foods and macronutrient choices play an important role in the optimal diet. The following articles will give you an insight into my philosophy on this topic.
Scorch Through Your Fat Loss Plateau
Maintaining Low Body Fat
Intermittent Fasting, Set-Point and Leptin
The right mental attitude is a crucial factor for a successful diet and training routine. This is an area that is all too often overlooked. I’ve explored this subject through many different perspectives.
The Secret Benefit of Being Lean
The Marshmallow Test
How to Look Awesome Every Day
How People Fail Their New Year’s Resolutions
Commentators often ask me if this or that is fine or how they should optimize things. I simply don’t have time or energy for that any longer. Understand that a lot of factors need to be taken into consideration when determining calorie intake and macronutrient cycling; body weight, body fat, activity level, training routine, gender, insulin sensitivity and so forth. That’s why I have clients – optimizing a diet plan requires time and reflection, and being a perfectionist by nature I simply can’t “okay” something without having all the facts in front of me.