Monday, October 17, 2016

The Leangains Study (Oct 25th Update)


After last month's scientific debacle, there's finally a good study on intermittent fasting and lifting. This one comes from Italy and also involves Grant Tinsley, but the change in scenery and colleagues must have done wonders for the man, because this is truly a huge bump in quality compared to his last publication.

I'll remind you that the previous study that involved intermittent fasting and lifting was marred by intolerable food reporting. This study contains none of its predecessors glaring methodological flaws.

Thankfully, Greg Nuckols have already provided a good summary of the results. Since I also agree with most of his points and perspective, I'll just link it here:

The “Leangains” Intermittent Fasting Study Is Finally Here.

...And that saves me a lot of time in the sense that I can just skip over the boring parts and get right to the meat of things. 


1. In this study, intermittent fasting beats out a normal diet, assuming we count points based on the overall impact on body composition. Over 8 weeks, subjects doing intermittent fasting a la Leangains, lost a lot more fat - and even gained more muscle - than subjects on a normal diet. 

2. True, the muscle gain is non-significant - scientifically speaking - but for someone in the real world, adding 1.4 lbs of muscle over 8 weeks is quite a bit, especially if you're simultaneously losing fat. 

3. These guys were not beginners either. Starting out with an average bench of 107-110 kg at 84 kg or so, they were well into the intermediate stage. It's worth noting that the intermittent fasters upped their bench by 3.3 kg, while the other group barely gained anything (0.7 kg). Increasing your bench press while losing weight is a bitch, that's why it's worth noting. On the leg press, gains were about equal in both groups (8-10 kg).

One glaring flaw in this study is the lack of seal rows.


All in all, I don't think I could have asked for better results if I so funded this study myself. It would lie in my best self-interest to make a bigger deal about it all, but I can't really muster up the same excitement when a good study comes along. I prefer to criticise and point out flaws and this study doesn't have many. 

Food reporting is a limitation, as always, but since you won't ever see a study where this potential confounder doesn't exist, you might as well spare people the redundancy of pointing it out every single time - unless the protocol is truly inadequate (which it was in the previous study, for example). 

Here, there is no major discrepancy between the food intake reported and the actual results. A contributing factor to the much more precise numbers obtained here compared to the previous study, I think, lies in the fact that the subjects had a good amount of weight training experience (5 years) and thus were a lot more likely to know the ins and outs of what they were eating. If you've accumulated 5 years of weight training experience, it's inconceivable that you aren't aware of what you're eating - this is in stark contrast to the previous study by Tinsley et al, which featured beginners with no weight training experience, and presumably matching diet experience, which is to say none.

Consequently, these results are as legit as they can be in my eyes. It would be cool to see them replicated, of course, but until that happens, it's the best study* on intermittent fasting and lifting to date.

* Unless you're counting my own "studies" of course. I will publish another one soon, but there are no great surprises here, because gaining muscle while losing fat is just business as usual in my book. Unless you're at the advanced stage, you should be gaining muscle on a diet. I'm not talking pounds or inches, but you can and should see measurable progress on most of your lifts on a monthly basis, as long as the deficit isn't too steep or the training regimen too dumb. Come to think about it, that's actually a lot to ask for, so feel free to browse around this site to get a clue if you feel that you need one. 

Beginners and intermediates have it good. At the advanced stage, some muscle loss is inevitable without drugs. I miss the days were I could increase my lifts while simultaneously dropping weight.

Update (Oct 25th)

Greg Nuckols rightfully mentions that several anabolic hormones decreased in the TRF-group but speculated that the decrease might not be explainable by the caloric deficit alone, which is something I don't entirely agree with.

Subsequently, he brought up an interesting point in a private conversation.

Greg Nuckols: "I was thinking about the drop in testosterone in the IF group in that study. Since testosterone levels can fluctuate 25-50%+ over the course of a day, it may just be that daily IF shifts the diurnal rhythm of testosterone secretion. That seems like a more likely explanation to me than the VERY slight calorie deficit, since it generally takes a much larger deficit to have that sort of effect on testosterone levels. I wish they took several blood draws throughout the day to compare 24-hr AUC, because it's well-known that eating patterns can shift the diurnal rhythm of other hormones."

I told him it was a great point and that he should add it to his article. He replied that I could add it to mine if I want to, as he generally avoids talking about hormonal stuff, since it usually doesn't play that big of a role in the grand scheme of things (in the physiological range). I can't help but agree.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Intermittent Fasting and Lifting: Finally, A Study


Finally, the first study on intermittent fasting and weight training has arrived. Thank God. I have been waiting since 2006 to find out. My body is ready. 

The title of the study is Time-restricted feeding in young men performing resistance training: A randomized controlled trialI previously mentioned it in Intermittent Fasting: Where Are We Now? and now that the paper is published, I will explore the results and lessons within.

In this study, researchers sought to determine the effects of weight training and time-restricted feeding (TRF), which is essentially another term for intermittent fasting, on nutrient intake body composition and strength.

Briefly, here's how the study was done:

The researchers tracked two groups of males who trained and ate for 8 weeks. Both groups did an alternating upper/lower body split three times per week, using 4 sets of 8-12 reps to failure in movements like the bench press, lat pulldown and squat.

Their diet regimens differed radically on 4 out of 7 days. One group ate as usual - ND (Normal Diet) on all days of the week. The other group did TRF (time-restricted feeding) for 4 out of 7 days. They ate as usual on training days, just like the other group (ND), but restricted their food intake to a 4-hour window between 4 p.m. and midnight on their rest days.

ND-Group: Ate anything they wanted on all days.
TRF-Group: Ate anything they wanted on training days (3 days) and anything they wanted within a 4-hour window on rest days (4 days).

Participants reported their food intake via diet logs during the first, 4th and 8th week. These records were subsequently analysed to pinpoint calorie- and macronutrient intakes for each respective group, and it's important to note that the researchers did not influence the diet in any way or form beyond the implementation of time-restrictions on the one group.

Beyond that, participants were free to eat whatever they wanted, which is to say that these folks basically followed the Standard American Diet throughout the process - think of how your non-lifting friends eat and you get the idea.

That said, how did the results compare? Let's find out.


Unsurprisingly perhaps, participants in the TRF-group consumed 667 kcal less on fasting days compared to normal days. More surprising is the fact that they didn't compensate this deficit by eating more on normal days; they ate 1631 kcal on fasting days and 2318 kcal on normal days, which for the average participant (87.4 kg) means that they were in marked caloric deficit on fasting/rest days and a slight deficit on normal/training days.

As the study goes on, average intake in TRF drops to 2207 and 1370 kcal in the 4th week, and then to 2150 and 1674 kcal in the 8th week...

*Ehum* Spoiler alert, I might revisit these numbers later.

In ND, average intake is 2642 kcal in the first week, 2715 kcal in the 4th week and 2106 kcal in the last week. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the average intake in ND was a lot higher than in TRF throughout the study. With such a long period of under eating, you'd expect significant weight loss in the TRF-group, and some weight gain in ND, but what actually happened?

Here are the results.

For the RT-TRF, per cent changes for individual participants ranged from −5.5% to +2.6% for body weight, −22.1% to +4.5% for fat mass, −4.0% to +4.6% for lean body mass, +4.4% to +22.7% for bench press 1-RM, and +13.7% to +48.1% for hip sled 1-RM. 
For the RT-ND group, per cent changes ranged from −1.4% to +2.1% for body weight, −13.5% to +12.6% for fat mass, −2.5% to +3.9% for lean body mass, +4.7% to +12.2% for bench press 1-RM, and +13.6% to +31.5% for hip sled 1-RM. 

To say that "substantial variability in outcomes was observed in both groups" is an understatement, because the numbers are all over the place. You got one guy losing a ton of fat (-22.1%) on TRF, yet another one gaining a bit (+4.5%). Another one gained a good chunk of muscle (+4.6%), while another one lost some (-4%), etc.

Performance wise, TRF clearly outperformed ND. Low-responders in both groups increased their bench press by merely 4% in both groups, with the highest number reaching +12.2% in ND, and an impressive +22.7% in TRF. Same goes for hip sled 1-RM. Both groups had their lowest increase at 13%, while TRF had its highest at 48.1% compared to 31.5% in ND.

Dietary analysis reveals that average calorie and carbohydrate intake on fasting days appeared to be related to the increase in hip sled 1-RM which is somewhat interesting...simply for the fact that it's one of the few things that makes sense, because none of the rest really does:

There were no significant correlations between overall energy or macronutrient intake and body composition or strength changes in either group.

Let that sink in for a minute. Do you understand how strange that statement is? Based on the dietary analysis, the researchers could not find any relationship between what participants ate, how they performed or how it affected their body composition. Imagine if you had one group claiming to eat 4000 kcal and another one claiming to eat 1000 kcal, and yet looking at the results, you couldn't tell one from the other.

Does that mean that a calorie isn't a calorie and that we've just debunked the laws of thermodynamics? Of course not. It comes down to this, the dietary record keeping in this study is bullshit, more so in one group (TRF) than the other.

Let me show you how much it's off, because it's not by a small margin. According to my calculations,  the average calorie intake for the entire duration of the study was 1955 kcal in TRF. Over a duration of 8 weeks, this would yield a net loss of approximately 5.5 kg (12 lbs) for a 87.4 kg male. Now how much was actually lost? 1 kg.


I would have preferred if this was fact was illuminated in the discussion, but that's too much to ask. When fishing for an explanation for the discrepancy between reported energy intake and lack of changes in body composition, it is briefly skimmed over and bundled in with a bunch of far fetched bullshit like metabolic adaptation.

Although the reported energy intake was substantially lower in the TRF group, the lack of changes in body weight and body fat, as well as the very small effect sizes for these parameters, indicates that there could have been spontaneous reductions in energy expenditure (e.g. decreased non-exercise activity thermogenesis), substantial misreporting of dietary intake, or metabolic adaptations in the TRF group that conserved energy, thereby minimizing weight loss (Byrne, Wood, Schutz, & Hills, 2012; Müller et al., 2015).

Substantial think?

I've been critical of many studies on intermittent fasting in the past, most of them in fact, and this is probably not going to be the last. It's not the researchers fault that people misreport and underestimate their food intake, that's actually to be expected, but in this study, the misreporting is off the charts. I saw it the minute I laid eyes on the data. I mean, in week 4, participants in the TRF-group claim to be eating an average of 1370 kcal on rest days and that's just absurd. These guys aren't any lightweights either at 87 kg.

There's more accurate ways of tracking food intake than the method chosen here, which consisted of filling out a 4-day diet log week 1, 4 and 8, and I find it really disappointing to see that the error is not acknowledged in the discussion.


Summing it up, what conclusions can we draw from this paper then? Well, that depends on who you ask, but the researchers concluded that TRF had a positive effect on performance:

Interestingly, effect size data indicate that the RT-TRF group had greater improvements in lower body strength and endurance, as well as upper body endurance, as compared to the RT-ND group.

...But that low protein intake on TRF may have limited muscle growth:

When calculated relative to body weight, the average daily protein intake in the RT-ND group was 1.4 g/kg body weight/day, whereas the intake in the RT-TRF group, taking both TRF and non- TRF days into account, was 1.0 g/kg. While this level of intake in the RT-TRF group is similar to both the European Food Safety Authority rec- ommendation and the US Recommended Dietary Allowance of 0.8 g/kg, it is likely suboptimal for muscular hypertrophy during weight training and lean mass retention during weight-loss diets (Morton, McGlory, & Phillips, 2015; Phillips, 2014).

...So to grow more, you need to eat more:

Specifically, individuals who consumed more calories, carbohydrate, and protein on TRF days tended to have greater improvements in maximal lower body strength. Future research should examine the impact of total caloric and macronutrient intake during TRF days on RT performance, as well as employ higher protein intakes in individuals undergoing intermittent fasting programmes to determine if this promotes greater lean mass accretion.

Higher protein intakes to promote greater lean mass accretion? Let me save you some time on that future research.

How about this big ass chicken salad? Throw a pound of sliced chicken on some lettuce and pour dressing on it, there's your meal. There's more protein in there than what these guys ate for an entire day on TRF. No wonder they didn't grow.

And lastly, participants rated TRF 3.6 out of 10 in terms of difficulty, which means that it's a feasible diet approach for just about anyone.

This information, coupled with the relatively low ratings of difficulty of adherence, could indicate that young males are able to adhere to a TRF programme, although long-term evidence is not readily available.

If you've spent any amount of time on my site, you already know this shit. The real lesson of this study is this. If you tell Average Joe to lift weights and occasionally fast a few days a week, he'll lean out spontaneously over the course of a few weeks, eating whatever he wants. And judging by this data, he'll short-change his results by eating the same shit he usually eats in smaller quantities. This is a less positive spin on the results, but it's the reality as far as I see it.

Adding to that, there's a few lessons here about food reporting and eating behaviour, but I think anyone interested in that aspect of science, has already figured it out.

That's all for today, folks. I found the study fairly disappointing. You and me both, I guess. There's good times ahead though, guaranteed, so stay tuned! :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Leangains T-Shirts And Facebook


Great news everybody. I'm glad to announce that I finally have official Leangains clothing in stock, starting with T-shirts. Why did it take so long? It's easy enough to make and sell T-shirts these days if you're willing to skimp on quality, but I can't have that. The Leangains logo is complex (detailed) and won't survive many washes on a T-shirt manufactured via traditional channels.

After much trial and error, I've arrived at something I'm proud to put my brand on. This high-quality T-shirt features a durable and simplified version of the Leangains logo and is made from 100% cotton. It's printed locally here in Malmö, Sweden.

Available now for men and women in sizes S-XXL and S-XL on The Leangains Store. Let me see how they fit you on Instagram and I'll repost it to the rest of my followers. If you have any questions about the T-shirts, email to store at lean gains dot com.

More Good News

I'm relaunching The Leangains Facebook Page. My memory is a bit hazy on why I took it offline in the first place, but I'm pretty sure it had to do with myself and others posting too much nonsense there. Since I don't have the same time or mindset anymore, I think I can handle it just fine now.

Feel free to drop news, links, gossip or questions that me and other Leangains practitioners can engage in. Give it a like while you're at it.

P.S. Check out the RGA Online Challenge. This is basically an online version of the event I've been competing in* where anyone can submit their results and compete with others. I really like the concept of RGA; you can use it as a checkpoint to keep your physique in check. Jump on it, guys.

* I took 1st place in Low-Rep and High-Rep 2015 and 2nd place in High-Rep 2016. Low-Rep 2016 will run in September.

P.S.S. I want to give a quick shoutout to the Leangains community on Reddit. No particular reason. Just thanks for keeping the flame alive.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Help Contribute to Findings About Intermittent Fasting


Undergraduate and graduate students in NYC needed for a research study. Participate in a brief research study (approximately 45 mins) at The New School for Social Research (located in Greenwich Village, 1 block from USQ). 

Participants must have actively participated in an intermittent fasting pattern of eating for at least 1 month prior to taking the study. All participants will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. Contact Alisha Rana at for more information.


P.S. I'm (Martin) not involved in this study. Just helping out with the recruitment process.

P.S.S. At the end of my last post, I announced that I’m accepting new clients again. Due to overwhelming demand, I won’t be able to accommodate everyone in a timely fashion. To make it fair to those who has expressed interest, I’m extending the $50 discount to everyone who sends in their application during March/April, and not just those who sign up during these months. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Intermittent Fasting: Where Are We Now?


It's been a good while since I last wrote about intermittent fasting. I guess largely because there's only so much to say about the topic and because I feel like I've said most of it. Unless you're going to make inferences based on animal studies, there's only so much you can extrapolate from the human experience and write about.

Another part of it is that I've lost interest. Once your understanding of nutrition is complete, more or less, you reach a point of radically diminishing returns - at this point, expanding your knowledge further in this realm, won't make an iota of difference for your level of fitness. It's much more fruitful to improve your training regimen and understanding thereof. That's my experience.

So for these reasons, I am thankful to Alan Aragon for the aptly titled 'Intermittent fasting: After over a decade of research, where are we today?' in which he writes about the current state of affairs of intermittent fasting. The article appeared in the December edition of the Alan Aragon's Research Review (AARR) which I have been a subscriber of since the first issue.

I asked Alan for permission to publish the article on my site, as I had a few comments on the content therein, and housed no doubts that our readership would be interested in taking part of it all. You'll find that most of my thoughts doesn't have to do with the article itself, but rather with some of the statements and issues raised.

Alan has previously published A Critique of the ISSN Position Stand on Meal Frequency on this site. If you enjoy reading about nutrition and exercise with a scientific twist, check out Alan Aragon's Research Review.

Now enjoy this article, folks. You will find my comments prefixed with MB after the relevant paragraphs below.

Intermittent fasting and body composition: After over a decade of research, where are we today?

By Alan Aragon

Speaking of decades...

The last time I wrote an article about intermittent fasting (IF) was almost a decade ago. A rich body of research on the topic has been published since then. The ongoing interest in IF is not surprising, given its mystique that’s wrapped in ancient spiritual origins, all the way to its modern applications to clinical and aesthetic goals. The aim of this article is to bring the reader up- to-date on the scientific findings, with a particular focus on comparing IF regimes with conventional/linear dieting. After all, the question is not whether IF works – it obviously does, as does any mode of caloric restriction. The question is whether it works better than conventional dieting for improving body composition, and if so, to which contexts can we apply it.

Variations on a theme

Let’s get some labeling/classification aspects out of the way. In the literature, the broad categories that I call linear and non- linear dieting have been called daily caloric restriction and intermittent caloric restriction, respectively. They have also been called continuous energy restriction and intermittent energy restriction. The intermittent category (what we call IF) can be further divided into three subclasses (1):  alternate-day fasting (ADF), whole-day fasting (WDF), and time-restricted feeding (TRF).

Alternate-day fasting

The most extensively studied IF variant is ADF, which typically involves a 24-hour fasting period alternated with a 24-hour feeding period. Complete compensatory intake on the feeding days (to offset the fasting days’ deficit) does not occur, and thus total weight loss and fat loss occurs on ADF. Lean mass- retention has been an intriguing effect of ADF reported by Varady et al (2-4). Lean mass loss in ADF conditions has also been observed by other investigators (5-7). However, the latter effect might be attributable to more severe energy deficits. The more lean mass-friendly The ‘fasting’ period in the Varady model is actually an energy-restricted period (~25% of maintenance requirements, typically in the form of a single meal at lunchtime) alternated with a 24-hour ad libitum (as desired) feeding period.

On the note of alternating fasting and feeding periods of the same length, alternate-week energy restriction (one week on ~1300 kcal/day, one week on the usual diet) has only a single study to-date, but is worth mentioning since it was as effective as continuous energy restriction for reducing body weight and waist girth at 8 weeks and 1 year. (8)

Whole-day fasting

WDF involves one to two 24-hour fasting periods through the week of otherwise maintenance intake in order to achieve the deficit. Of note, not all WDF studies involve zero energy intake in the ‘fasting’ days. Although WDF has been consistently effective for weight loss, Harvie et al saw no difference in bodyweight or body fat reduction between the WDF (2 ‘fasting’ days of ~647 kcal) group and controls when the weekly energy deficit was equated over a 6-month period (9).

A subsequent study by Harvie et al (10) compared two WDF diets (one with 2 structured energy-restricted ‘fasting’ days and one whose 2 ‘fasting’ days consisted of ad libitum protein and unsaturated fat) with daily energy restriction (DER). Both WDF diets caused greater 3-month fat loss than daily energy restriction. An important detail here is that at 3 months, the 70% of the fasting days were completed in the WDF groups while the DER group achieved their targeted caloric deficit only 39% of the trial.

Time-restricted feeding

TRF typically involves a fasting period of 16-20 hours and a feeding period of 4-8 hours daily. The most studied form of TRF is Ramadan fasting, which involves approximately 1 month of complete fasting (both food and fluid) from sunrise to sunset. Unsurprisingly, significant weight loss occurs, and this includes a reduction in lean mass as well as fat mass (11-12). 

Aside from Ramadan fasting studies, there’s a scarcity of human TRF research in the peer-reviewed literature. Stote et al (13) compared 1 versus 3 meals per day in eucaloric (weight–maintenance) conditions for 8 weeks and surprisingly found 1 meal resulted in fat loss and lean mass gain, while no significant improvements were detected in the 3-meal group. Unfortunately, the use of bioelectrical impedance (BIA) keeps these results questionable. Perhaps the only other longitudinal TRF study was done back in 1971 by Young et al, (14) who found no significant differences in weight loss and body composition change between 1, 3, or 6 meals per day

As for TRF programs in the lay press, Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet (15) published in 2002, was perhaps the first popular diet book to expose the general audience to TRF for weight loss. It involves a 4-6 hour feeding period at night, and an 18-hour “under-feeding” period during the day. The diet draws inspiration and justification from the purported habits of our Stone Age ancestors, as well as other leaps of faith involving the sympathetic and autonomic nervous systems. 

Berkhan’s Leangains system of TRF has a 16-hour ‘fasting’ period and an 8 hour feeding period (16). What separates this protocol from others is its attention to macronutrition, and its administration of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) during the fasting period. As a matter of trivia that you might enjoy, Hofmekler and Berkhan’s were recently referenced in the peer-reviewed literature (17).

MB: Let me translate that. What Alan means to say is that Hofmekler's Warrior Diet is full of pseudoscientific nonsense and I agree wholeheartedly. 

Article continues...

The most comprehensive systematic review on IF to-date

Seimon et al (18) recently published the largest systematic review of IF research to-date. Importantly, they compared the effects of intermittent energy restriction (IER) to continuous energy restriction (CER) on bodyweight, body composition, and other clinical parameters. Their review included 40 studies in total, 12 of which directly compared an IER with a CER condition.

They found that overall, the two diet types resulted in “apparently equivalent outcomes” in terms of bodyweight reduction and body composition change. In addition, neither IER or CER was superior to the other at improving glucose control/insulin sensitivity. No different effects on thyroid, cortisol, and sex hormones were seen between IER and CER, though the authors concede that there’s insufficient research comparing neuroendocrine effects of the two diet types to draw definitive conclusions in this area.

Interestingly, IER was superior at suppressing hunger. The authors speculated that this might be attributable to ketone production in the fasting phases. However, this effect was somewhat immaterial since it failed to translate into superior improvements in body composition or greater weight loss.

MB: Well, that's not quite true. These studies didn't have a suitable control group, as the participants served as their own controls. Thus, you can't say that it didn't translate into "superior improvements in body composition or greater weight loss" - it might have done so for that that group, even if that conclusion can't be drawn from the collected brunt of data. That's the problem with these systematic reviews Like it says in the paper:

Only 12 of the 40 publications included in this review directly compared IER with CER: the lack of direct comparison makes it difficult to determine whether IER is superior to CER, or for whom.

Seimon, et al. (2015)

Article continues...

Limitations of the review included the standard ones – relatively small sample sizes, relatively short trial durations, and heterogeneous study designs making comparisons outside of the same study difficult. An acknowledged limitation worth highlighting was that 14 of the 40 studies were by the same research group (Varady et al, University of Illinois at Chicago). Ideally, a more diversified and less concentrated set of labs is less likely to repeat the same errors or preserve the same biases.

Speaking of the potential for bias, Varady has published a lay- directed book titled, The Every-Other-Day Diet (19). I’m not claiming that Varady is destined to make sure her ADF study results will always square up with her book, but it’s one of the potential caveats nevertheless. I would add to these limitations that there’s a severe lack of IER (and IER vs CER) studies that include a structured training component.

MB: I agree wholeheartedly. I'm glad Alan brought this up. The opportunities for fuckery in the scientific literature are endless. Usually, industry is the culprit - you know, studies praising the benefits of snacks or breakfast (sponsored by Kellogg's or General Mills) or studies on the tremendous muscle-building effects of protein powders (sponsored by supplement companies) and the like.

These studies can't fully be trusted and needs to be scrutinised more than the rest. They're suspect, because their funding comes from a source that would benefit from a positive result, and the results should always be taken with a grain of salt. And very often, almost always in fact, these studies arrive at a positive result.

Studies sponsored by the food industry were far more likely to reach conclusions that favored the industry. They seemed more like marketing than science.
Of the 152 industry-funded studies she has examined, 140 boast results that favor the funder. That's more than 90 percent.

Food companies distort nutrition science. Here's how to stop them.

If you want to read more about this topic as it pertains to nutritional science, check out Marion Nestle and her writings. She's quite brilliant.

Why Calories Count by Marion Nestle. I found this book in a large box of bullshit that I ordered from Amazon two years ago. It was the only thing worth scavenging and I intend to read it after I'm done with a few horror novels. I figure that I'd be properly warmed up by then. A book about food politics and marketing shenanigans can get quite dark and depressing no doubt.

But food companies are as unlikely to fund research on intermittent fasting, as Coca Cola is unlikely to fund research on ketogenic diets. What Alan brings up is the potential for bias on the researcher's part, Krista Varady to be specific. Aside from researching intermittent fasting, she is also involved in selling books, namely books based off of the research she is doing. What gives?

Well. While I haven't read The Every-Other-Day Diet, but I have mixed feelings about Krista Varady. She does try a bit too hard for my liking. I covered her work* before in "Intermittent Fasting For Weight Loss Preserves Muscle Mass?" back in the days and found several problems. Note that I'm wrongfully referring to Varady as "he" in that article. In short, she published a pretty shitty review of the subject, but then again, there weren't that many data points around in 2011. Five years later, it's gotten a little better, but there's still not enough good data around to draw any definitive conclusions - and like Alan says, a lot of that data comes from the same lab (Varady's).

It's worth mentioning that Varady appeared in a laughable infomercial documentary called "Eat, Fast and Live Longer" on BBC Horizon. In it, Michael Mosley - the show host and soon-to-be-author, interviews researchers working in the field of intermittent fasting and Varady is one of them. After rewatching the segment she appeared in, I found her to be matter of fact and professional even though she dutifully suffered through all the TV show gimmicks thrown at her - they gorged on hamburgers and fries to show that you could stuff your face and still lose weight on ADF, for example.

By the way, this "documentary" served as a launching pad for Michael Mosley's worthless book The FastDiet. Seems like there was some kind of falling out between Varady and Mosley after that. Anyway. Don't waste your money. If you want a book on intermittent fasting, pick up Eat Stop Eat.

Now, speaking of Varady, there's nothing wrong with pushing your agenda, but don't shove it down peoples throats by publishing bad research and doing shady shit like failing to disclose your conflicts of interest, because that makes you suspect in my eyes.

That said, there's nothing fishy about her recent work, as far as I can tell. It's entirely possible that Varady and her colleagues got together one night and decided amongst themselves to doctor the results, but I find that very unlikely.

It's kind of spooky, but a client just sent me this two minutes ago. I'm mentioned on the same page as Mosley and Varady, and I'm reading it just as I finish up this paragraph. I believe he was reading a book by his doctor, Robin Willcourt. I'll have to ask about the title, so I'll add it here later for those interested. Update: Name of the book is  Chasing Antelopes: Why All This Caused All That

When fuckery strikes in science, it's usually a lot more subtle and sinister. I would know, because years ago, I approached Alan with this subject. See, I had uncovered some sophisticated tampering with the results of a study that received a lot of spin on social media and the mainstream news. I was slightly distressed over the fact that he had missed it - the studies appeared in the AARR, not only once, but twice - and presented my findings. I needed a second opinion, because maybe I was making a hen out of a feather.

Nope. Alan agreed, it was some shady shit. In fact, it was a case study in deceit. Career-ending, if you ask me. But to this day, no one has debunked the findings, and the researcher is still active; polluting the journals with more bullshit for every new study that gets published. Who knows, maybe one day I'll put an end to it.

The key point of all this, is that science can't be trusted for shit, unless you do your due diligence and read the fine print. But in this particular case, concerning Krista Varady, I'm not worried.

Article continues below...

This limitation also plagues the body of research comparing various within-day meal frequencies. Readers familiar with my work know that Brad Schoenfeld, James Krieger, and I did a meta-analysis on the effect of meal frequency on body composition, and found that higher meal frequencies were associated with greater losses of fat mass and greater retention of lean mass (20). However, sensitivity analysis revealed that the removal of a single study (21) completely eliminated the significant effect of meal frequency on changes in body composition.

It’s worth noting that the studies in our analysis (and in this entire body of literature) lacked sufficient protein. An exception was Arciero et al (22) who found that 6 meals per day at 35% of total kcal as protein was superior to 3 meals per day for reducing total body fat and abdominal fat. Furthermore, 6 meals per day increased lean mass despite hypocaloric conditions.

MB: Sure thing. Something like that only happens in a study sponsored by EAS, Alan.

Article continues below...

What about muscle gain? 

The retention of lean mass in IF studies has been seen repeatedly. However, the question of muscle gain via IF remains unanswered since the investigative focus of IF research has been on weight/fat loss and accompanying clinical effects. No IF studies in the current literature have focused on the goal of gains in muscle size and/or strength. As such, No IF studies to-date (at least none that have passed peer review) have included a structured, progressive resistance training program.

This is untreaded ground fresh for the taking by researchers with the desire to do so. With that said, a poster presentation by Tinsley et al (23) at the The 12th ISSN Conference and Expo provided a summary of their study that compared the effects of TRF (on non-training days, all calories consumed in a 4-hour period) and progressive esistance training (RT) 3 days a week for 8 weeks – versus an RT group presumably on their usual diet. No between-group differences were seen in body composition, but interestingly, TRT+RT outperformed the RT in leg press maximal strength and in bench press endurance. The full text of this will be interesting to dig into if/when this study makes it into publication.

MB: Very interesting indeed. Reading the paper behind this presentation, the sentence "Noticeable differences in individual responses to the programs were noted." caught my eye. I spoke to the lead author, Grant Tinsley, and here's what he had to say about that.


Care to elaborate on this part? 
"Noticeable differences in individual responses to the programs were noted."

How did this present itself? In what group did these high/low-responders reside?


Thanks for the email. I’m familiar with your work online, and I read a good number of your articles as my interest in intermittent fasting developed a few years ago. In regards to the abstract, that individual variability data wasn’t the focus, but I did want to mention it. That data is the focus of an abstract we wrote which will be presented at the Texas chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine in early March (and at the national conference in Boston this summer). Although we had a statistician look at the data a few different ways, I think that the descriptive information about percent changes seen during the study were most interesting.

Here are some of the major ones which we included in the upcoming abstract: For the TRF + RT group, percent changes ranged from -5.5 to +2.6% for body weight, -22.1 to +9.4% for fat mass, -7.7 to +4.6% for lean body mass, +3.4 to +30.4% for bench press 1-RM, and +10.1 to +67.6% for leg press 1-RM. 

For RT alone group, percent changes ranged from -6.6 to +2.1% for body weight, -14.4 to +12.6% for fat mass, -4.1 to +3.9% for lean body mass, +4.9 to +12.9% for bench press 1-RM, and +14.3 to +37.7% for leg press 1-RM. 

There were individuals who responded favorably and unfavorably in both groups. Based on our interviews of subjects (discussed more in the full manuscript, which should be submitted this week), I believe that the intermittent fasting positively influenced some individuals food choices, but negatively influenced others (i.e. some individuals “felt healthier” and thus made better food choices, which likely improved their body composition results, while others felt that they would eat anything and everything in sight whenever they were allowed to eat).

I hope that information is somewhat helpful.


Article continues...

The Editor’s Cut of the May 2012 issue of AARR pondered the question of what might be the lower threshold of meal frequency for optimizing muscle gain. I concluded that this threshold, based on what we knew at the time, was probably 3 protein-rich meals. I contended that a lower daily meal frequency than that would compromise maximal rates of muscle gain. Since that time, a replication of well-controlled studies has shown the superiority of 4 doses of 20 g whey eliciting a stronger anabolic response during a 12-hour period than 2 doses of 40 g or 8 doses of 10 g (24, 25). These findings made me re-think my position of a 3- meal minimum. It’s plausible that folks with the goal of maximizing rates of muscle gain should look to a minimum of 4 daily doses of protein at of at least 20-40 g (older subjects require 35-40 g to maximize the anabolic response). (26-28)

MB: This is all nice and dandy in theory, if it weren't for the fact that...

1. The studies that made Alan "re-think" his position of a 3-meal minimum are all funded by Néstle - a controversial company who likes to be addressed as the “world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company.” The former Néstle-owned supplement company Musashi supplied the whey protein used in at least one of the two studies Alan cites.

Remember the quote from Marion Nestle - no relation to the company Nestlé - earlier in the article? Here it is again:

Studies sponsored by the food industry were far more likely to reach conclusions that favored the industry. They seemed more like marketing than science.
Of the 152 industry-funded studies she has examined, 140 boast results that favor the funder. That's more than 90 percent.

If you think the supplement industry is any different, you're batshit crazy. I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that it's closer to a 100% when it comes to the supplement industry.

2. The results obtained in these studies are unlikely to be relevant for real-world eating habits and real-world results.

However, it is important to note that this response was characterised when protein was ingested alone, and as the authors acknowledge, this finding cannot be evaluated in the context of a mixed meal. Indeed, it is commonplace to consume protein in the form of a mixed-macronutrient meal. Therefore, it is reasonable to postulate that macronutrient co-ingestion could alter intestinal transit, thus influencing amino acid absorption kinetics () and perhaps MPS. Moreover, this study used high-quality whey protein
With regard to the notion of applicability to the ‘real-world’ setting, it also may be significant that the participants entered the experimental trial in the fasted state. As a result the authors are unable to identify whether a pre-exercise meal would influence the MPS response to RE and various feeding strategies. This point becomes more relevant when considering the impact of insulin on MPB with regard to the true growth response and therefore the long-term applicability of the findings.

Pattern of protein ingestion to maximise muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise. Commentary by McGlory, Wardle & Macnaughton (2013).

3. Grant Tinsley, previously mentioned, showed that there were no major differences in lean body mass gain between one group maintaining a standard meal frequency and one group adhering to a 4-hour feeding window while performing weight training thrice a week for 8 weeks. In fact, less frequent eating lead to superior results overall, as the intermittent fasting group outperformed the other group in measures of leg press strength and bench press endurance.

How is that possible? Well, perhaps it's only possible without a supplement company as your funding source, as you're not dependent on delivering results that favour an approach which entails gobbling down protein shakes between your meals. Because that's what this is really about in the end - supplement companies fund studies that will tell people to eat more frequently to maximise muscle growth, because that means they profit. No one really eats more than three cooked meals a day - so if you can throw out some gobbledygook about how you must spike muscle protein synthesis every few hours, in comes the protein shakes = profit.

Article continues....

Of course, the big limitation is that acute studies can measure protein synthesis but they can’t measure changes in body composition. Recent work by MacKenzie-Shalders found no significant difference in lean mass increase between a high protein intake (2.6-2.7 g/kg) spread across 4 vs 6 meals in elite rugby players. This findings are interesting, but once again, 3 meals per day remains a gray area in the question of a minimum for maximizing muscle growth. Perhaps future studies will compare 3 meals versus 5 or 6 for this purpose – while imposing an energy surplus and a progressive resistance training program. Seems like just a matter of time before someone in the current or newer generation of researchers attacks this gap in the literature.

MB: Yes, and preferably someone without ties to a supplement company.

Article continues....

Concluding perspectives & applications 

IF has proven itself to be an effective approach to dieting, and has outperformed conventional dieting in some cases. In the interest of cohesion to the topic, this article didn’t delve into IF’s effect on athletic performance. However, it’s important to keep in mind that IF protocols can compromise performance goals if careful modifications are not made. In general, IF is best applied to goals oriented toward altering body composition and clinical markers that occur alongside body fat reduction. This is not to say that muscle gain cannot occur with IF – it’s just that the rates of gain will not likely be maximised.

As for which IF variant to chose (ADF, WDF, TRF, etc) if one decides to try IF, the good news is that they all have demonstrated effectiveness in the literature, and therefore can be chosen on the basis of personal preference. Just remember that there is no special metabolic magic in IF, just like there’s no stoking the metabolic furnace with 6 meals a day.

Article ends.

Alan ends by reminding the audience that there is no special metabolic magic in IF, just like there's no stoking the metabolic furnace with 6 meals a day. He's right on both accounts, but loses credibility by pushing for something that seems equally ludicrous; the assumed fact that a higher meal frequency, specifically "a minimum of 4 daily doses of protein", is superior for muscle gain. There is not one good independent study in support of this claim - the ones he cites are either sponsored by Nestlé or EAS, and most of them doesn't measure real-world results.

It's unfortunate to see that Alan has fallen for this. At the very least, I would like him to exercise his critical thinking skill and question the validity of the studies he forms his opinion on.

Meanwhile, he discounts the studies not backed by supplement companies that does measure real world results - and these all show that there's either no difference between between low or high meal frequencies when weight training is involved, or a slight edge to be obtained by a lower meal frequency.

I don't think Alan is in cahoots with the supplement industry nor do I think he's wilfully misleading his audience. What I do think, is that he doesn't see all cards on the table, and that he would do well to reflect more on possible conflicts of interests in the papers that he reads and presents in Alan Aragon's Research Review.

That's all folk. Thank you all for reading. Special thanks to Alan Aragon for a large part of the content and for the willingness to participate in this open "peer review" of his article.

P.S. For those of you who aren't aware, I am no longer on hiatus. I am actively working with and accepting new clients. People who sign up during the month of March or April get a $50 discount. If you're looking to get beach ready, get in touch.

P.S.S. I will be competing at Eleiko Sportscenter in Halmstad on March 20th and starting 11.30-12.00 GMT, you will be able to livestream the event on YouTube. The link will be up on, so stay tuned for that. Don't hesitate to swing by and say hi if you're in the vicinity. 

P.S.S.S. One last thing, I've fixed the PayPal donation button at the bottom of my page. It was broken for the longest amount of time. :( If anyone wants to donate, I highly appreciate it.


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2. Varady KA, Bhutani S, Klempel MC, Kroeger CM, Trepanowski JF, Haus JM, Hoddy KK, Calvo Y. Alternate day fasting for weight loss in normal weight and overweight subjects: a randomized controlled trial. Nutr J. 2013 Nov 12;12(1):146.

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4. Bhutani S, Klempel MC, Kroeger CM, Trepanowski JF, Varady KA. Alternate day fasting and endurance exercise combine to reduce body weight and favorably alter plasma lipids in obese humans. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Jul;21(7):1370-9.

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8. Keogh JB1, Pedersen E, Petersen KS, Clifton PM. Effects of intermittent compared to continuous energy restriction on short-term weight loss and long-term weight loss maintenance. Clin Obes. 2014 Jun;4(3):150-6.

9. Harvie MN, Pegington M, Mattson MP, Frystyk J, Dillon B, Evans G, Cuzick J, Jebb SA, Martin B, Cutler RG, Son TG, Maudsley S, Carlson OD, Egan JM, Flyvbjerg A, Howell A. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 May;35(5):714-27.

10. Harvie M, Wright C, Pegington M, McMullan D, Mitchell E, Martin B, Cutler RG, Evans G, Whiteside S, Maudsley S, Camandola S, Wang R, Carlson OD, Egan JM, Mattson MP, Howell A. The effect of intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction v. daily energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. Br J Nutr. 2013 Oct;110(8):1534-47.

11. Attarzadeh Hosseini SR1, Sardar MA, Hejazi K, Farahati S. The effect of ramadan fasting and physical activity on body composition, serum osmolarity levels and some parameters of electrolytes in females. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Spring;11(2):88-94.

12. Norouzy A1, Salehi M, Philippou E, Arabi H, Shiva F, Mehrnoosh S, Mohajeri SM, Mohajeri SA, Motaghedi Larijani A, Nematy M. Effect of fasting in Ramadan on body composition and nutritional intake: a prospective study. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2013 Jul;26 Suppl 1:97-104.

13. Stote KS, Baer DJ, Spears K, Paul DR, Harris GK, Rumpler WV, Strycula P, Najjar SS, Ferrucci L, Ingram DK, Longo DL, Mattson MP. A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal- weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):

14. Young CM, Scanlan SS, Topping CM, Simko V, Lutwak L. Frequency of feeding, weight reduction, and bodycomposition. J Am Diet Assoc. 1971;59:466–472. 981-8.

15. Hofmekler O, Holtzberg D. The Warrior Diet. St. Paul, MN: Dragon Door Publications; 2001.

16. Berkhan M. The Leangains Guide. April 14, 2010.

17. Tinsley GM, Gann JG, La Bounty PM.. Intermittent fasting programs and their effects on body composition: implications for weight-restricted sports. Strength & Conditioning Journal. Oct;37(5):60-71.

18. Seimon RV, Roekenes JA, Zibellini J, Zhu B, Gibson AA1, Hills AP, Wood RE, King NA, Byrne NM, Sainsbury A. Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2015 Dec 15;418 Pt 2:153-72.

19. Varady KA, Gottlieb B. The Every-Other-Day Diet. Hyperion, Hatchette Book Group. New York, 2013.

20. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW. Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta- analysis. Nutr Rev. 2015 Feb;73(2):69-82. [PubMed]

21. Iwao S, Mori K, Sato Y. Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 1996 Oct;6(5):265-72.

22. Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Gentile CL, Nindl BC, Brestoff JR, Ruby M. Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Jul;21(7):1357-66.

23. Tinsley GM, et al. Intermittent fasting combined with resistance training: effects on body composition, muscular performance, and dietary intake (poster presentation). J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12(Suppl 1): P38.

24. Moore DR, Areta J, Coffey VG, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Burke LM, Cleroux M, Godin JP, Hawley JA: Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2012, 9:91.

25. Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML, Camera DM, West DW, Broad EM, Jeacocke NA, Moore DR, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, et al: Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol 2013, 591:2319-2331.

26. Yang Y, Breen L, Burd NA, Hector AJ, Churchward-Venne TA, Josse AR, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Resistance exercise enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis with graded intakes of whey protein in older men. Br J Nutr. 2012 Nov 28;108(10):1780-8.

27. Pennings B, Groen B, de Lange A, et al. Amino acid absorption and subsequent muscle protein accretion following graded intakes of whey protein in elderly men. Am. J. Physiol. 2012; 302:E992–9.

28. Kim IY, Schutzler S, Schrader A, Spencer H, Kortebein P2, Deutz NE, Wolfe RR, Ferrando AA. Quantity of dietary protein intake, but not pattern of intake, affects net protein balance primarily through differences in protein synthesis in older adults. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Jan 1;308(1):E21-8.

29. MacKenzie-Shalders KL, King NA, Byrne NM, Slater GJ. Increasing Protein Distribution has no Effect on Changes in Lean Mass During a Rugby Preseason. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Jul 1. [Epub ahead of print]

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Deadlifting Update and Competition Live Stream


Since the last post I wrote, I’ve acquired a much better understanding of barbells and their impact on lifting performance. For the advanced lifter, the barbell will either make or break your deadlifting experience, as I found out in my case.

About a month ago, my gym obtained two Eleiko barbells; one standard training bar and one competition bar. Both of them stiffer than the Olympic bars I’ve been using up to that point, but more importantly, their knurling is excellent (the competition bar especially). This small detail has virtually eliminated my deadlifting woes - I now have zero grip issues. 

Now using a proper bar, I hope to take my deadlift to the next level. I’ve also changed my training setup for this lift; the flip side of using a competition bar in training, is that the knurling will really mess up your hands beyond 4 reps or so at max effort. Rather than having to terminate a set due to fatigue, you terminate it because of the pain, and it’s not really the calluses near your fingers that take the beating, but more so the inside of your palms.*

* This might have something to do with my gripping technique which is a bit unusual; I dip, grip and enclose the bar with my hands right before I start pulling, which puts the bar in the middle of my palm, and below the "callus area" - if that makes sense. I call it the dip’n’squeeze. Here's a video.

Speaking of good bars, here's me outside the Eleiko headquarters in Halmstad, Sweden, where I was invited to discuss a co-op of sorts. More on that in the future.

Using the Olympic bars with shitty knurling, I was training in the 6-8 rep range, and increasing the load when I hit 8 reps. This was necessary, because I saw a big drop-off in reps whenever I increased the load, reason being the poor knurling, and the resulting grip issues that I discussed in my last post. The scenario now is the opposite; with the competition bar, gripping is a non-issue, but you're limited to low reps if you value the integrity of your skin.

So what I do now, is a warm-up with the competition bar, followed by 4 reps at 85-90% of my estimated 1RM. Heavy enough, but without any real grinders so far, and aiming to increase this by 2.5 kg (5 lbs) ‘till I hit a true 4RM.  Here’s an exact breakdown of my last deadlift session. All numbers are in kilos.

Warm up: 150 x 3, 170 x 2, 220 x 1, 220 x 1.

Set 1: 300 x 4 - mixed grip, chalk, no belt. Easy and fast, relatively speaking. This goes up 2.5 kg next time. I’ll try my damnedest to get 4 reps, and will increase the intra-rep rest to accommodate for it.

10 minutes of rest

Set 2: 210 x 12 - double overhand grip, straps, no belt. I use straps to spare my hands, and a double overhand grip as there's no point in using a mixed grip with straps.

Furthermore, I believe the double overhand grip will serve to smooth out any muscle imbalance that I've acquired by training with a mixed grip all my life, and gotten quite strong doing so. Since I haven’t trained with double overhand before, I’m starting light and high. Pacing myself here is key, as the potential for injury is there, given my strength with a mixed grip. Indeed, pulling with a double overhand grip, I have to be mindful of keeping my left arm “tight” throughout the set. Otherwise, it feels like the damn thing will pop out of the socket.

Yes, so rather than risking to fuck myself by tweaking my left side, which I’ve trained with an underhand grip, I’m allowing for several months of training before I start pushing the limits in a low rep range here. For the second set, I started doing 170 x 12 the first week, 200 x 12 the second week, now 210 x 12, and intend to increase 10 kg per week as long as I don’t lose more than 1 rep per jump (if so, I will decrease it to 5 kg per week).

Prior to this sequence, I did a few weeks of singles for shits and giggles. 300 kg the first week, 310, 320, and finally 325 kg - check ‘em out on Instagram if you want to. When I hit 310 x 4, I might try a round of singles again. 

By the way, the straps I’m using are called Figure of 8 Straps by Giants Pro. Can’t go wrong with something used by Benni Magnusson, arguably the worlds strongest deadlifter. Easy to wrap on and doesn't come off. No fuss, no bullshit.

Alright, enough of that. The take away point of all this is get yourself a proper bar with good knurling, and you won’t be limited by your grip, as long as you use a mixed grip and chalk for your heavy deadlifts. At some point, consider using straps and a double overhand grip for your back-off set(s); however, use straps sparingly, and don’t rely on them to improve your poundages.

RGA Barbell Challenge Live Stream

This Sunday on November 1st, I will be competing in the RGA Barbell Challenge, where you can watch me squat, press, pull and row big weights live via the stream below.

A great way to round off your drunken Halloween night or hangover, depending on where you're located. Can't watch it live? Don't worry, the videos will be up later.

I've gotten stronger since I last competed here six months ago, even though I'll be entering at the same body weight more or less (105 kg), so there's been some recomp action going on. After the competition, I will probably start writing more about how my views and perspectives on diet and training have evolved in recent years. There's also a major update to The Leangains Guide coming in the foreseeable future.

Anyway, wish me luck! :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Deadlift Hot Fixes


Long time, no see. I’ve been putting a lot of effort into my training in the last year, trying to make something of it. In most cases, my training had shortcomings that were easily identifiable and fixed. While there’s nothing easy about training hard and consistently, there’s usually a reassurance present throughout the process; what you put in, you get back, and that alone makes it endurable, and sometimes even enjoyable.

For squats, I discovered that my reoccurring knee troubles were related to an inadequate warm-up routine, were I would do only two light warm-up sets and ramp up the weight way too fast. Contrary to all other movements, I found out that I needed 3-4 sets with a heavy enough load (50-60% of my first work set) before I was ready to squat heavy; otherwise, I’d get a dull ache in my right knee that would make squatting uncomfortable and impede my progress.

For bench, I concluded that bench pressing once a week wasn’t cutting it, if I was intent on bringing up my weakness, balancing my strength and win a competition here or there. The solution was to bench twice a week and incorporate paused bench pressing. 

Contrary to squats and deadlifts, where I was and still am making good progress on 1-2 work sets a week, I’ve found a much higher volume and frequency to be beneficial for pressing movements. I’d probably generalise that to the entire upper body, as I also train the bench press antagonists twice weekly.

These changes has added an easy 60-70 lbs on my squat and bench, and brought my work sets up to 450 and 315 respectively. But during the time when most this progress was made, my deadlift remained at a relative standstill; I did 585 x 10 in May, and then got stuck at 595 x 6-7 for the longest time. This was vexing to me, because I couldn’t make sense of it at first. Upon closer reflection, I eventually identified the issues, and pulled 605 x 11 a few days ago. 


After I pulled 585 x 10 in May, I wrongfully concluded that my performance was limited by the bar I was using, potentially combined with a weak grip. It was always my grip (left side, underhand) that gave out, not my back, and I blamed it on the worn-out Olympic barbell that I always used. It’s a solid piece of work, but the  knurling has been faded by the tides of time, sweat and chalk. 

It stands to reason that I would benefit from a newer bar with better knurling, I reasoned, and was ecstatic to see my prayers answered when the gym brought in a new set of bars. Even better, these ones seemed to have a clear and sharp kind of knurling that really allowed the bar to dig into your hands.

Many shitty sessions and torn calluses later, I concluded that I was wrong. Not only did this new bar aggravate the underlying issue with my grip giving out, it also tore up my hands to the point that I could only deadlift every other week, because the skin didn’t heal fast enough.

Back the old bar I went. 

Bad bar/good bar.


Clearly, my issues weren’t resolved by switching bars, and I started to look elsewhere. Namely, at chalk. There’s three things you need to know about chalk, both of which I’ve been ignorant of as of recently. 

Firstly, your chalk should be as dry as possible. There seems to be a difference between brands, with some chalk powders being harder and grainier than others, and that’s the ones you want to use. I couldn’t tell you which brands are better than others, but I know the difference when I feel it, and there was a marked difference between the stuff I’m using now, to the stuff I was using back then.

Secondly, bring your own chalk to the gym and keep it in a sealed plastic box or something similar. Minimise exposure to the air and don’t leave the box open longer than necessary. Under hot and humid conditions, such as the summer months, the powder will soak up humidity, turn “wetter” or softer, and gradually deteriorate in effectiveness. We have a chalk bowl at my gym and there’s a night and day difference between it and the one I keep in my box.

Thirdly, don’t overdo it with the chalk. Too much chalk will cover up the creases on your palms and fingers, and have the opposite effect, in my experience. If you ask me, the ideal way to apply chalk, is to rub it all around the part of the bar where you place your hands - all around it, not just on top. Then you apply it on your hands, carefully creating a thin and even film of chalk, reaching in between your fingers and across the whole of your palm. 

When deadlifting in the 8-10 rep range, I usually stop mid-set to re-chalk, and I sometimes do it between every third or fourth rep if needed. What I used to do, was to sloppily jam my hands into the chalk box and/or slather the bar with it - not good. What I do now, is a brief pause to apply it correctly.

This bit about chalk is a true case of the saying that “The devil is in the details.” In this game of diet and fitness, it rarely is, but sometimes, just sometimes, it truly is.


Finally, I wanted to touch on the last piece of the puzzle, which is directly related to the grip, rather than the type of externalities covered before. Having done no grip training whatsoever, it would be easy to presume that it’d be beneficial to add it in. While I don’t dispute that, I’ve seen tremendous benefits from the following mode of gripping the bar.  

It applies exclusively to the underhand grip, which is engaged by your weaker side (left hand for most folks). Hold your arm out and your palm up. Now, relax your arm, and you’ll find that the hand will rotate to the side. Keeping your palm up, requires a conscious effort on your part; it doesn’t just stay that way by itself, so you need to bend it to the left. 

By the same token, I’ve found that “bending” the bar to the left with my underhand grip, really helps keeping the bar in position. I’ve had no grip issues since adopting this mode of gripping, and applying the other “hotfixes” covered earlier.

That's all for now. Talk soon. (Serious)

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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