Thursday, November 12, 2009

Questions & Answers

Quite busy lately, therefore the lack of posts. But I'm still alive and here comes some more questions & answers.


The window of opportunity

Q: Understanding that a caloric surplus is required for muscle building, is there a window post workout where nutrient partitioning is greater towards muscle building? I would think that the nutrient partitioning "curve" would ultimately swing back to muscle maintenance or fat gain in the absence of muscle stimulus, but the question is how long after that stimulus?

A: Have a pre-workout meal, train, go home and fix yourself a big meal. No need to count minutes or stress about this stuff. The 1-3 hours figure is for fasted-state training and not applicable to how most people go about their diet and training*. The 'window of opportunity' for nutrient partitioning post workout is much longer than a mere 3 hours.**

And since this question usually comes up in this context, never train completely fasted. Have some BCAAs/whey beforehand.

* Protein synthesis peaks acutely 1-3 hours post-workout and it is advantageous to have amino acids circulating in your blood stream during this period. Studies show that participants ingesting protein during this time frame gain more muscle - but these studies are performed on completely fasted individuals. For someone ingesting protein through a pre-workout meal or other source of protein pre-workout, those amino acids would be used for protein synthesis (making it less essential to stress about the post-workout shake).

** Protein synthesis is elevated above baseline for at least 24-36 hours after weight training.

Late night hunger

Q: It seems like lately, I have been getting a case of the late night (around 9pm or so) munchies. I usually eat dinner around 5:30 everyday, but I always seem to get hungry around the same time. I have always heard that you shouldn't have carbs within a few hours of bedtime, is there any merit to this?

A: One of my biggest downfalls before coming up with the 16-8 system/IF was late night hunger. The best solution was the simplest one, which meant eating a lot more before bedtime. Irrational fear of fat gain, much a consequence of the don't-eat-carbs-after-x pm-bullshit-myth, held me back from doing it in the past. I did my reading, figured out there wasn't much to it, and decided to try a different approach. Finally got lean as hell eating big in the evening, sometimes way past midnight. Lesson learned. Hope that answered your question (hint: a big fat no).

Catabolic cardio?

Q: Is there any way to perform cardio in a way that limits its catabolic effects? Is their any benefit to doing submaximal intervals vs. steady state?

A: The type of cardio that has the least impact on your recovery capabilities/gym performance will be the least "catabolic". If your conditioning is not adequate, don't play around too much with HIIT. Go with low impact cardio performed for duration rather than intensity if you want to play it safe, and if metabolic conditioning is of a lesser priority than fat loss.

Sodium and weight loss

Q: When I used to have to cut weight for wrestling I would eliminate sodium content about 3 days prior and see a nice drop. Also, drinking about a gallon of distilled water always makes me eliminate a lot of water retention(yes more than just chugging tap water)... purely anecdotal I realize and of course that might just be for the lack of sodium in distilled water. Any truth to this?

A: Yes, cutting sodium, or rather reducing it compared to your daily baseline intake, will cause you to shed water. Reduce sodium for a day and odds are you'll wake up a little lighter - but you'll bounce back on day 3, since this only works in the very short term. The hormones regulating water balance adapts rapidly (and you need to reduce sodium further to drop more water). And you're right on the other claim, as tap water usually contains (very) small amounts of sodium.

Fat loading

Q: Basically, we all know about carb-loading. This author promotes fat loading of 12-24 hrs, saying it will jack up the enzymes involved with burning fat. Drop the dietary fat back down low, and the enzymes will remain high for several days, helping to increase the rate at which body fat is burned. Thoughts?

A: Let's see

1) IMTG stores are extremely small vs glycogen stores
2) dietary fat has much less of an impact on leptin vs carbs
3) excess dietary fat gets stored efficently as adipose tissue vs carbs

Yeah, sounds like a great concept. Like carb loading, without any of the benefits.

Lyle McDonald chimed in:

Everything I"ve seen shows that the increase in fat use for fuel has everything to do with reducing carbs and nothing to do with increasing dietary fat per se.
Consider that the body will shift to using fat for fuel under the following conditions

1. lowcarb/ketogenic diet
2. protein sparing modified fast
3. complete starvation

What's the commonality? The lack of carbs. NOT the presence of dietary fat.

The bottom line is this, ingestion of dietary fat has very little impact on the body's use of fat for fuel and this has been shown endlessly.

EFA and growth hormone

Q: I was arguing with my friend regarding this issue. He stated that EFA (Essential Fatty Acids) slowed down the release of GH (Growth Hormone), however, i disagreed with him. We had this bet over it and i was wondering whats the truth behind this?

A: Eating anything affects basal levels of GH. Starve and you'll have high basal GH all the time. However, diet does not interfere with the nocturnal and the two daily pulses (though they are augmented with fasting). I am unaware of anything specifically related to EFA* and it's probably bullshit, as I have looked into this quite a bit.

* I would expect EFAs to affect GH no differentely than any other fatty acid, which is by lowering it.


Tan Yew Wei said...

I see that you have updated your blog description as well. Very awesome stuff lies ahead.

I've got an anecdotal observation though. I notice I get a hunger spike about 12 hours after the last meal. (meaning that it changes depending when I had the meal) Easily manageable, but just wondering if there are any studies on this.

Also, I've had this question raised to me once, of certain jobs whereby there were long hours but not close to intense. Eg: metal workers.

The question comes whereby you can have say a 180lbs individual easily having a 4000kcal caloric expenditure. What is your opinion on this with regard to Very low Calorie Diets (PSMF)? Does this 'tank the metabolism' so to speak, or it is the best way to jack up caloric expenditure without adverse effects?

Thanks, and I'm loving the blog.

UofMWolverine81 said...


As always, thank you for sharing some quality tidbits. And I eagerly await the completion of your projects. It will be excellent to have resources like that involving someone of your caliber (not to mention the other contributors to the "Four Horsemen" project.

Martin Berkhan said...


'I've got an anecdotal observation though. I notice I get a hunger spike about 12 hours after the last meal. (meaning that it changes depending when I had the meal) Easily manageable, but just wondering if there are any studies on this. '

It's very common and like you say, easily managed since it passes quickly.

I think it may have something to do with a slight drop in blood glucose. BG drops ever so slightly in that time frame (the hours following overnight fasting) only to be maintained within a very tight interval until the next meal arrives. In fact, it doesn't move much even after 72 hrs of fasting, assuming no intense activity is performed.

'What is your opinion on this with regard to Very low Calorie Diets (PSMF)? Does this 'tank the metabolism' so to speak, or it is the best way to jack up caloric expenditure without adverse effects? '

It would be the pure definition of foolish dieting behavior to have a 180 lbs man, unlikely to be one in need of a PSMF in the first place, run a -3000 kcal deficit. The weight loss would be dramatic, not to mention the degree of muscle catabolism and lethargy.

Martin Berkhan said...


as always, thanks for the kind words and encouragement.

Jon (DJTheory9 from lyle's forums) said...

awesome post martin. made my day lol.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Martin. I really like your Q&As-posts.

Enrique said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

Hey Martin,
wrt appetite, I sometimes get urges if I stay up too late. Twice this month I went cookie monster crazy in two separate 10-minute periods. While weight loss has been steady, I'd rather this not happen. To let you know I already come with a big appetite, this is what got me fat as a kid. I'll take the advice of moving the feeding window a couple of hours later. But more importantly, do you know of any good appetite suppressants to make the process easier. For diet, I am following a basic carb cycling plan with your guidelines from Fitness Spotlight. But for cravings, I'd rather get that little bit of pharmaceutical support.

Jon (DJTheory9 from lyle's forums) said...

@ Rick: i'm not martin but ephedrine-caffeine stack during fasting hours = heaven.

Anonymous said...

@Rick: I've found that just a cup of coffee dulls any hunger pangs I might have. I have a cup first thing in the morning and another about 3 hours before breaking my fast. Works great.

Half Navajo said...

Don't know if i would follow the coffee drinking advice... probably better just to get in the swing of lean gains and your feeding window. Adding in the coffee will just burn your adrenals out, on top of fasting, your body will be unloading lots of adrenaline... which feels good at first, but sooner or later you will crash,,,, and crash hard, i have been there and done that. If you enjoy coffee, then have the cup when you break the fast with food.


Martin Berkhan said...

Easy now, Troy. Sounds like you're confusing coffee with crack cocaine.

Coffee won't burn your adrenals out and you won't "crash hard". Some people are hypersensitive to stimulants in general and from your experience it sounds like you might be one of them. For the great majority, drinking coffee during the fasted phase won't give you a psychosis, just a good buzz and extra appetite suppression.

Rick, you've been given some good advice but I'll add that caffeine pills is another option. Add one or two pills to your coffee or take them with water. The effect is more rapid vs ingesting caffeine through coffee.

There are also a few decent supplements out there that can be of benefit. I'm planing a recommended supplements post the upcoming week, and I'll include thermogenics/fat loss supps. Might wanna check that out.

Alex said...

Hi Martin,

WRT to the "Window of opportunity" what proportion of calories do you aim to consume in the PWO period on the leangains protocol? I have heard 80% discussed previously?

Only reason I ask is that I find it difficult to consume the required cals in this period. My eating window is normally 3pm - 11pm and I workout at 5pm, so only have 4-5hrs to consume the rest. I try to steer clear of eatign large amounts of refined grain type products due to digestive issues so satiety becomes an issue, as in feeling over full. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

Jon (DJTheory9 from lyle's forums) said...

@ Martin: i agree with you on the caffeine pills. i prefer to use pure caffeine anhydrous over coffee since i seem to get a better effect. I'm looking forward to that upcoming article! =]

Jon (DJTheory9 from lyle's forums) said...

@ Rick: Rice is a good food to use and is easy to digest and get those cals in. I have celiac disease and other food allergies so i know where you are coming from regarding digestive issues.

Jon (DJTheory9 from lyle's forums) said...

EDIT: the last post was aimed toward Alex not rick lol, sorry about that.

Martin Berkhan said...


'WRT to the "Window of opportunity" what proportion of calories do you aim to consume in the PWO period on the leangains protocol? ...My eating window is normally 3pm - 11pm and I workout at 5pm, so only have 4-5hrs to consume the rest.'

It varies, but in your case I'm assuming one pre-workout meal, and that would be about 75-80% of your daily intake consumed in two or more meals in the pwo period.

If you're having trouble getting the alloted amount, I would suggest easily consumed foods such as white rice/pasta, cereal, bread, low fat icecream and similar. Or other high carb foods that are tolerable given your digestive issues. You may even look into liquid carb consumption, such as maltodextrin (note that I usually recommend whole foods, but in special cases such as your the aforementioned is an option to pursue if your goal is muscle gain and can't get enough calories on training days).

And then lastly, if you still have issues, consider a conventional meal split. IF ain't for everyone and splitting your meals into smaller more frequent ones is better than spinning your meals trying to put on weight with my protocol.

DCShores said...


Awesome site. Fifteen years ago prior to getting married I ate only one huge meal a day for dinner. It worked great for getting lean however I lost a little muscle (likely due to too little protein).

I had some brain fog and hunger that was easily fixed with some caffeine!

The problem is I can not tolerate caffeine anymore. It gives me insomnia. I set my feeding window from 3-11pm. I have a very difficult job mentally and I am finding it very difficult to focus during the later part of the fast from 11 to 3pm. I have found that taking a serving of Synthesize (hydrolyzed caesin, brached chain aminos, creatine and beta-alanine) at 9am and noon corrects this problem completely. Am I screwing up my fasting period?

Thank you!

Martin Berkhan said...

Depends on your definition of screwing up.


and 'The fasted state is not an on/off switch'.

DCShores said...


Thanks for the link! I will reduce my servings in half to under 50 calories and look to eliminate them over a week or two!


^Mike^ said...


Don't know if you're still around, but I was on a grain free diet for almost a year, back in the 90's. I found that liquid oils, which are low in carbs, can be used to combat hunger and fill out the calorie requirements. I'm talking about 5 teaspoons of olive oil per meal or more.

Hope that helps.

@martin I know nuts have some high levels of carbs, but what about liquid oils? do they raise insulin, could they be used as a calorie substitute for carbs at the end of the feeding window, to get the body into the fasted state even earlier? or is it better to have carbs in the last meal, with a longer insulin index to promote mass gains in conjuction with growth hormone release in the early part of the sleep period?

harry ed said...

i love this site soo much --- especially that it has lead me on to so many other things! --- one thing i`m finding difficulty with though is martins stance on HIT cardio as it runs very counter to various other strength coaches and I dont understand how it can be counterproductive to fat loss/ muscle gaining when sprinters are amoung the most muscled/lean people in the world - not to mention that sprinting would definitely be the closet thing to recreating paleolithic style exercise??? I would be really interested to hear some views on this as when looking at sprinters it just makes no sense to imagine the sprinting not helping them achieve the bodies they have?

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

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