Thursday, March 19, 2009

Interviewed by Adam Steer

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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

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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.

Enjoy!


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.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Äggvita och jordnötssmör alltså? Låter intressant..
Äggvita som i kokt ägg minus gulan, eller micrad vita, eller kanske stekpanne-varianten?
Annars måste jag säga att PF är the shit! Om det fortsätter så här blir Beach 09 en baggis!
//Johannes

Martin Berkhan said...

Damn swede. English please.

Cooked egg white. Then smear some peanut butter on that fucker.

Anonymous said...

lol

nice interview, martin. looking forward to your book.

- Peder

Anonymous said...

when is yr book be release? hav u decided it to b hard copy or ebook?

Henry

Martin Berkhan said...

Don't know.

Ebook most likely.

Anonymous said...

Damn, I was hoping the book would be out soon so I could be in great shape for the beach in Chicago this summer.

Angela said...

I'm sure it'll be worth the wait:)!

Anonymous said...

where have you moved to martin?

Manveet said...

I'm looking forward to the book!

Great interview Martin!

Anonymous said...

Do you think that IF can be useful for people with reactive hypoglycemia and hyperinsulinemia or it might be detrimental in such cases?

Martin Berkhan said...

"Do you think that IF can be useful for people with reactive hypoglycemia and hyperinsulinemia or it might be detrimental in such cases?"

I've had 2-3 'self-diagnosed' cases with reactive hypo, so take the following with a grain of salt.

Yes, if carbs are limited to about 120-160 g on the training/high day, about half of that on rest/low days. But useful implies that it might be superior to another (low carb) approach, with more regular meal frequency, of which I'm not so sure.

Theoretically it might, since IF improves insulin sensitivity. OTOH these folks get problems by consuming too much protein in one sitting as well (true reactive hypo). But as I recall, protein was kept fairly high, which begs the question if the clients really had 'true' reactive hypo.

So for reactive hypoglycemia/hyperinsulinemia, verified by an OGTT, I'd try it keto style maybe.

Anonymous said...

I'm hypoglycemia diagnosed with the glucose tolerance test. My glycemic curve after consuming sugar looks like roller coasters. Unfortunately very low carb diets and ketogenic diets didn't work for me. Actually the hypoglycemia symptoms worsened expecially after exercising, at night and when waking up. The 120-160 option seems to work better for me, but when I was eating every three hours, the more often I was eating the more I was developing a need to eat even more often to prevent sugar crash, so it was a vicious cycle. That's why I really hope that mantaining a good amount of carb (I can't exercise if they're too low) while decreasing my eating phase and having only 2 or 3 meals a day will help me to control my hypo without eating every 30 minutes ! Exepcially waking up hypo and after lunch hypo, which are the worst moment for me.

Martin Berkhan said...

Well, try it and you'll find out. Let me know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

I have been following your site off and on for a while now and have had some success following the IF regimen accompanied with a hybrid training program that borrows ideas from MaxwellsSC, Crossfit, and Mtn. Athlete. I feel solid on the training, but the dieting is problematic. One big question I had regarding Intermittent Fasting was this; Is their a varying degree of success if the fast is implemented only 5-6 days out of the week rather than all 7 or are all the results only significant with a strict adherence to the fast cycle everyday?
Thanks,
Solo Training in Alaska

Martin Berkhan said...

"Is their a varying degree of success if the fast is implemented only 5-6 days out of the week rather than all 7 or are all the results only significant with a strict adherence to the fast cycle everyday?"

The fast is only a relatively small portion of your dieting success. It's not like you can't lose fat without fasting every day. Calorie intake is still key.

Anonymous said...

What food can be eaten on this diet?
Only clean ones? What about more elaborated recipes or fast food stuff? Sometime it's tiring to eat the plain steak, the play hard boiled eggs, the plain bread ...

Anonymous said...

The fast is only a relatively small portion of your dieting success. It's not like you can't lose fat without fasting every day. Calorie intake is still key.

-Thanks for your response, so I guess my next question would be, on an average week, what is your typical fast cycle?
Thanks,
Solo Training in Alaska

Martin Berkhan said...

"What food can be eaten on this diet?
Only clean ones? What about more elaborated recipes or fast food stuff? Sometime it's tiring to eat the plain steak, the play hard boiled eggs, the plain bread ..."

There are no forbidden foods if that's what you're asking. This is a broad question. Your diet should be in line with your goals. If you can fit in some junk into your calorie budget, no problem (and that's a lot easier in a shorter feeding window vs the conventional approach).

I tend to include a treat in the pwo feeding wondow for all my clients. I personally eat 'unclean' foods almost every day and still maintain very low body fat.

Martin Berkhan said...

"Thanks for your response, so I guess my next question would be, on an average week, what is your typical fast cycle?"

Not sure what you're asking. If you mean what hours I tend to eat between personally, that would be about 4-12 am.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I did not clarify well enough. Specifically, do you fast everyday, or just for certain lengths of time such as 3-4 days, then break the 16-8 cycle for a day or two, then repeat the 16-8 cycle for another few days?
Thanks,
Solo training in Alaska

Martin Berkhan said...

Every day when it doesn't interfere with social events/eating/drinking.

Anonymous said...

I'm hypoglycemia properly diagnosed and want to use IF to feel better.
How many days of IF are needed for my body to adapt to IF and to stop being hypoglycemia in the morning?

Martin Berkhan said...

"How many days of IF are needed for my body to adapt to IF and to stop being hypoglycemia in the morning?"

Hard to say, as it depends on several factors, like the macrocomposition of your diet, and the time course of the adaptation to the new meal pattern (a few days in most cases).

Hypoglycemic said...

Yesterday I had steak and whole rice when breaking the fast, yogurt and cottage cheese in the afternoon and wheat wrap with ham, mozzarella and greens, tuna salad, nuts and more cottage cheese and pasta with sauce.
Stopped eating at 9 pm.

Felt good in the evening and slept well. Woke up at 7 am in the morning, feeling terrible, irritable, low energy, ice cold hands and feet and feeling drunk. I restisted and drank water. Around 10.30 am I started feeling immediately better, got warmer, brain fog lifted and exhaustation disappeared.

I woke up with low blood sugar and they raised during the fast. How is that happening? Is my body turning muscle proteins into glucose or slow releasing glycogen? How else my BGs could increase during the fast?

Martin Berkhan said...

"I woke up with low blood sugar and they raised during the fast. How is that happening? Is my body turning muscle proteins into glucose or slow releasing glycogen? How else my BGs could increase during the fast?"

BG is usually maintained within a fairly tight range during fasting. Shouldn't be increasing much. But it might have something to do with an exaggerated/abnormal cortisol peak during the morning hours.

Hypoglycemia said...

Update:
I have followed IF (eating from 2 pm to 9 pm) for 6 days.

The first days I felt horrible during the fast, I was shaky, irritable, cold, lightheaded.

After the third day I started to feel really good during the fast. No symptoms, no hunger, more concentration and also more sensitivity to colors, sounds, texture of the things I touch; a good sensation definitely. Sometimes I keep fasting even beyond the 16 hours since I don't feel any hunger at all.

I tend to be less insulin resistant in the evening so I have a light not carby meal when I break the fast and more calories and carbohydrates at dinner.

So far my blood sugar has been steady and I haven't woken up with low blood sugar. It's the first time I feel good for four straight days.

I feel also less bloated now that I eat a lot more food in one sitting then when I used to eat little food several times a day.

I will keep the blog updated.
IF seems to work for blood sugar issues and reactive hypoglycemia. If the results don't change, this is something that people should know!

Martin Berkhan said...

"It's the first time I feel good for four straight days."

"I will keep the blog updated.
IF seems to work for blood sugar issues and reactive hypoglycemia. If the results don't change, this is something that people should know!"

Good to hear. Feel free to e-mail me a a few lines about your issues and how/if IF has lead to any improvements. I'd be very interested in hearing about your progress.

Anonymous said...

Hey Martin. I seem to do best with overfeeding the eating little cals the next day.

Is this just in my head, or is it generally easier.

For instance, my maintenance is 3k calories per day. (Training days only add about 100 to 150 more).

I feel better eating 5000 one day, then 2000 the next day.

Is there any physiological reason for this, or is it purely psychological?

Martin Berkhan said...

"Is there any physiological reason for this, or is it purely psychological?"

Overfeeding and underfeeding is definitely better from a psychological perspective - for some, like me and many other doing cyclical diets or intermittent fasting. No doubt about it.

Is it better from a physiological perspective, i.e better for muscle growth/muscle retention/fat loss? I believe so, as providing adequate calories after an acute anabolic stimulus, such as weight training, while underfeeding as the effect tapers off, makes a whole lot of sense*

*considering increased protein synthesis, nutrient partioning benefits post-workout etc.

Anonymous said...

Martin, in this post you said it was OK to drink Diet Coke, etc. during fasting hours. I heard there was a small rise in insulin caused by artificial sweeteners. (Caused perhaps by the brain telling the pancreas to release insulin thinking you just ate something sweet as opposed to actual sugar in the blood causing the rise in insulin.) Is there? If so, should we abstain from diet drinks during fasting hours since we are trying to maintain very low levels of insulin?

Martin Berkhan said...

No and no. That aspartame spikes insulin is an old myth as shown by studies on the topic.

Anonymous said...

Martin! AWESOME reading from the excerpt of your book.

I'll buy it when it comes out, even though I read all your posts :D

bye




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

Welcome to the Internet's leading resource on intermittent fasting and all things related.


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