Thursday, October 7, 2010

Leangains vs The 40-Year Old Crisis

I know I promised a new training article two weeks ago but my schedule has been a bit crazy lately. It's coming, but as it's been a while since my last post, I thought I'd drop this success story real quick. It's good that I have a whole bunch of these stacked away for times when my regular posts run far in between.

This one is from strength coach and former bodybuilder John O'Brien, who turned 40 this summer.

John decided that he didn't want to enter the big 40 being unsatisfied with his appearance. Guess you could call that a 40-year-old-crisis. And you do know what the best way to solve an age crisis is, right?

John's goals were not as extreme as some past success stories, nor are his results as dramatic or off-the-hook-crazy. The reason I wanted to share his story today is actually to bring some balance, and:

1. Show what's attainable in a relatively short amount of time for people approaching middle-age.

2. That you can get in great shape without feeling deprived or starving yourself.

3. That you never have to spend hours at the gym to reach your goals. John trained 3x/week and only did leisurely walking as "cardio." This is actually what most of my clients do as well.

In John's own words:

"Turned 40 today and have IF'd for about 10 weeks. This was not a pre-contest diet, I just wanted to get in reasonable shape for my birthday. Only cardio was walking the dog for 45 min every morning at 3 mph. Weight went from 205 to 195, so not a great deal of weight lost, didn't try to, wanted to recomp. Very easy to get to this point. I think this diet is ideal for those cutting/fat loss."

Considering the time, the ease of the diet, and the fact that John added some muscle in the process, I think his results are awesome. Also, note that John had been training regularly before he decided to make an extra effort for his upcoming birthday. This was about fixing his diet and working towards a goal, not starting training from zilch and taking advantage of muscle memory.

Here's his story.

How to solve the 40-year old crisis

"'Discovery'. This was the first thought that came to my mind when I stumbled upon a thread on titled “Intermittent fasting for strength training and fat loss” and saw Martin Berkhan. I thought to myself, “he looks too lean, he must be on to something.” I read the thread and then the info on his site and was extremely curious. The next few weeks I cross referenced the facts about intermittent fasting and came to the conclusion, that this theory has scientific validity!"

Hasta la vista, rolls of back fat.

"I competed in natural bodybuilding in my late 20’s and have continued to train consistently. My biggest problem was diet. I wouldn’t get overly fat, but not in the shape that I would like to be. My routine would go as follows: eat clean Monday – Friday, then on the weekends cheat and destroy the weeks’ progress. Repeat again and again. Granted this method keeps you from getting out of control, but you take one step forward, one step back weekly. I wanted to end this stalemate once and for all. I decided that I was not going to turn 40 unhappy about my appearance."

"I decided to shed my long held conventional methods to dieting and submerge myself into the intermittent fasting diet. I was pleasantly surprised that after the first month of this form of eating I didn’t resemble a Kenyan marathon runner and that I actually held onto my muscle mass."

John seems to be at least 15-17% body fat in the before-picture and 10% body fat in the after-picture. I just emailed John about strength stats, so I'll see if I can add them in later.

"As time went on, my weight and body fat started to come down, slowly but surely. Having done pre-contest dieting in the past, I can easily say this was by far the easiest process ever. I would have my forbidden diet foods (pancakes, cereal, French toast, etc) in the post workout window, therefore not craving them and having insane cheat days."

Tremendous improvement, appearance wise. John looks much younger, despite not having lost much weight, relatively speaking.

"I have adopted intermittent fasting as a way of life. This has been an eye opening experience for me on dieting, especially after already 'knowing it all.' I want to thank Martin for his excellent work on this subject and his commitment to sharing his knowledge."

Do you have a similar success story to share? Feel free to shoot me an email if you've used Leangains to transform your body.


Anonymous said...

fucken amazing results.

LayzieBone085 said...

Just another nail in the coffin, but hey all the bro's will continue to say that fasting for so long is "catabolic" What do they know :) Can't knock it till you try it right Martin? We need a CHEESECAKE UPDATE

Great Work Brother! Nail that diet.

kristoffer said...

I like these success stories :)

Anonymous said...

Impressive transformation for sure, but on the other end of the spectrum, would IF be possible for an endurance athlete or someone who runs a lot for training? I am training for a marathon and was wondering if the IF approach would be beneficial or just counterproductive.


Keith said...

Great story, BTW MArtin when is that overeating article you promised months ago gonna come up?

Anonymous said...

No way thats 15%, probably closer to 20% given how much his belly hangs over.. looks like he's over 10lbs off the second pic as well.

Joe said...

His strength gains will confirm the fat loss/muscle gain, he did say his goals were recomp. But ya, props to him.

Lisa said...

You look great, John! Fantastic results.

Anonymous said...

I also disagree with the estimate of 15% BF before. No way! 20% plus easy!

The way his belly looked indicates early type 2 diabetes: an insulin roller-coaster ridden, beer binging nightmare!

After: the dude looks truely awesome! No question. 10 weeks? Wow. Keep it up bud, no reason not to IF indefinitely...

I just hope he gives his pancreas the break it needs!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with what the anon said in regard to BF% - my belly looks somewhat smaller than that (but arms, legs, and upper chest are veiny) and I'm probably close to 20 myself. Which is good for him since it would mean he lost more fat...

Dameem said...

This is a nail...
(Say it with a Dave Chappelle voice tone)

Jake said...

Great post ... especially since I'm in my mid-forties (and going strong)! I use a mix of Leangains and ESE fasting. I maintain an 8 hour or less daily eating window, but I also mix in longer fasts (22-24 hrs) once or twice per week.

Question pertaining to training ... my main hobby is mountain biking and I compete in a few endurance races each year. I also love weight training to add/maintain strength and stay lean, but extra "bulk" is a negative for bicycling (power/weight ratio key).

What is the best style of lifting to maintain and maybe even gain strength, without adding bulk? Light weight, high rep (15-20), medium weight, medium rep (8-12), or heavy weight, low rep (4-6)? My understanding is heavy weight, low reps adds the least bulk, while also adding strength, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject ... Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Sensational results. I'd also have to agree that 15% body fat in the "before" pictures seems too low. John really appears to have lost a great amount of fat during these 10 weeks. If he lost "only" 10 pounds, it seems like we're looking at some significant recomp... wow!

Martin, I was wondering something about the daily walking. Is this generally included to aid in fat mobilization (as opposed to being used for the rather low calorie burn of walking)? I greatly enjoy walking outdoors so this is really just to help understand the "nuts and bolts", so to speak.

Congratulations to John! Congratulations as well to Martin for racking up a novel-length list of success stories.

Anonymous said...

No mean to bash IF, just saing.

We sure have to remember that he is former bodybuilder who have had atleast some amount of muscle mass before and therefore getting it back quicker/easier.

malpaz said...

yay success story! i sent a email!!

Anonymous said...

Amazing! When does your book come out Martin? People need definitely need your book!

geert said...

Age is indeed relative.
2 years ago,turning 40,i had several layers of fat covering my belly.
I looked into the mirror and said:get a life,u lazy,fat fuck.
I got rid of the fat via nutrition,boxing and,mainly, kettlebell swings.
Then i did kb swings,high pulls and snatches for several months.
The last 6 months i have been doin more strenght training.
Using tsatsouline´s ladder system i went from 3 to 15 dead hang chins and 0 to 10 dead hang pull ups(tested last week).

Avoid people who say 'too young,too old,too cold,too warm,too early,too late,...'They are just 20 kilos overweight.
Set a clear and simple goal and be consistent and u´ll be surprised how strong your body is.
Tamás Darnyi became one of the best swimmers(and athletes)of all time AFTER he had become blind in 1 eye...

Mistakes i made:HIIT for fat loss(worst scam ever),24/7 low carb,eating 3 times a day a handful of nuts(15 g of peanuts=90 cal).

I have been following the IF protocol for 5 months now and i feel healthier,younger and more energetic than ever and my WO are better than ever.

Time for a 'leangains vs the 50 and 60-year old crisis',Martin.

BTW:i adore squatting but as i work out at home(and alone) i cant use
heavy weights thus i use a protocol invented by a hungarian dude:8 minute squats non stop.
No pausing,no resting.I use light weights obviously cause its extremely brutal(u should start with 2 min and keep adding 20 seconds until u are able to do 6min,then add 30 til u get to 8 min-do this 2/week).Add weight and restart cycle.
"Pain is guaranteed,suffering is optional"(forgot the author...).

Roberto said...

Hi Martin

I've been reading your blog up and down, and your program seems very interesting to me. My only question: Do you count calories day by day? Or do you simply eat to appetite?

Capanga Dick said...

Great transformation... the more i read about IF more i want to give it a try.
Maybe its something you will talk about in your book: there is a way of implementing IF for someone who trains twice a day (for example weights early in the morning and mma in the evening)? Or IF could be done 4x week on non training days only? Or one shouldnt bother about IF with this kind of scheudle?

Thanks for the great job with this blog!

Clement said...

Hey Martin, I actually have a blog about using the leangains style of IF. I'm trying to achieve lean gains and I'm using Jay Ferruggia's Muscle Gaining Secrets. I'm not that strict about carb cycling now, but I'm using calorie cycling. I'm eating 60% of my daily calorie allotment in the post-workout window for lifting days. I'm eating above maintenance on training days and below it on rest days. When I've achieved great results (I'm sure it's a "when" and not an "if"), I'd be honored to be featured on your blog.

Great transformation, John. I've done some horrible things to my body in the past. I'm so glad that the diminished hormonal secretion in old age does not hider the IF-style approach. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

haha dogs shit their pants...dogs don't have pants!

Ahmed said...

Those are some great results! Especially taking into consideration the amount of training and what he said about effort.

Supperman said...

Martin, I have question.

What do you think of training 4 days a week(upper/lower) with 3 rest days on seperate days and eating at a caloric surplus on training days and not eat on rest days?

Another way to lean gain?

Anonymous said...

Is training 6 days a week dangerous for beginners?

lylemcd said...

@Jake: for endurance athletes who want strength without bulk, go with low reps and low volume (so 2-3 heavy sets of 5) twice per week.

@Supperman: Why go to the extreme of not eating at all on rest days. Keep in mind that recovery is ongoing, it's not a switch. Why not a surplus on training days and maintenance or a touch below on rest days.

@Anonymous: Dangerous to train 6 days/week as a beginner? Probably not . But certainly unnecessary. Three times per week in teh weight room is plenty for beginners (and often past that).

geert said...


U might wanna check out this:

Steven Bubel MS, CSCS said...

Outstanding results, John! I turn 40 in December and need to buckle down. I've been IFing for almost 4 years now but more for "damage control". It's worked like a charm in this regard but I wouldn't mind shedding some fat.

Anonymous said...

amusing, lyle answering in martin's blog... maybe martin is working finally in getting the book out!

great tips anyway, i am approaching 40 and it's great to take serious training in this ages...

Jake said...

Thanks for the reply! Sounds like i'm using weights appropriately then as I typically lift 2 days/week and keep my reps in the 4-6 range upper body, 6-8 lower (i could use a bit more mass on my legs).

I have dabbled a bit with metabolic weight training too but I currently use cardio after lifting and on "off" days rather than metabolic workouts ... I find the change of pace more enjoyable, plus I can focus on run & bike fitness improvements.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on intermittent fasting methods such as ESE and Leangains (pros & cons of each).

lylemcd said...

@anonymous: Yeah, I think Martin said two more weeks.

@Jake: I have limited experience with IF'ing, I've dabbled and not much more. At some point, I may write something up for my site. Martin is the IF expert.

"Guppy" Honaker said...

First, Martin, you are in amazing shape. Oh to have your genetics (and self-discipline). And second note goes out to John: You did a great job, entering into your 40's the right way. I'm 53, and while not in the great shape that you and Martin are in, I'm still in pretty good shape. But it's day-to-day work (esp as you get older). And the older I get, the more work it is. Still, it's worth it. Other guys my age (even fellow "Mormons") have huge guts, when they don't need to (though there are a few who have such bad health like cancer for years, it's understandable).

- David

Aloe Vera Juice Benefits
Holistic Nutrition and Health

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Great results!

Anonymous said...

How long before any type of results can be seen? Ive been doing IF for about a week now and Im still the same weight. I eat between 1pm and 9 pm. I also work out fasted and no weight loss so far.

John O'Brien said...

Thank you for the kind words. I believe I could have attained better results, but I was merely trying to get in reasonable shape, not compete in a bodybuilding contest. I am definitely looking forward to Martin's book.

As for bodyfat percentage, I concur with Martin, I was roughly 15% to start and ended around 10%. People who think I was 20 have no idea, I held most my fat in the midsection.

Anonymous said...

I'll step in and answer a couple things Martin, hope you don't mind.

"Guppy" Honaker said...
First, Martin, you are in amazing shape. Oh to have your genetics (and self-discipline).

If you'll read about Martin's story you'll note he was not very lean by genetics. More power to him for doing so well.

Anonymous said...
How long before any type of results can be seen? Ive been doing IF for about a week now and Im still the same weight. I eat between 1pm and 9 pm. I also work out fasted and no weight loss so far.

Caloric balance still matters. You can eat 6000 Calories and it won't matter whether you train fasted or whether you ate all those Calories in 8 hours, you will not lose weight. If you are in a deficit, give it time.

Anonymous said...


When you said "maintenance" is that referring to BMR or your BMR x Activity Level Factor?
This has always confused me.

When you do the silly BMR formula, it regurgitates a number (mine is something around 1850 cals) and then it says to multiply it by a corresponding activity level number (i choose 1.375 as mostly sedentary) and i get something in the 2300-2400 range.

So which number do I use for "maintenance"?


Wishal said...

Now somebody tell me how you can jump Martin's Consultation queue …

Anonymous said...

Anon, quick and dirty formula: 14-16 x bw in lbs gives you your maintenance kcals. Which refers to your BMR*activity factor.

If you ate at your bmr you wouldnt maintain, hence maintenance, your weight.

lylemcd said...


Maintenance calories is always the sum of basal metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food and activity. IT represents the number of calories you burn in 24 hours. To lose fat, you have to create a deficit either by increasing activity while maintaining food intake at old maintenance or reducing food intake.

there's an article on my site about this:

Anonymous said...

I know Martin recommends drinking coffee for its mild stimulant effect. I can drink quite a bit of coffee during the day. After I workout, I might drink a little more coffee on my way back from the gym before I eat. Is that a bad idea? I was wondering if there was any issue of cortisol or insulin from drinking the coffee then, that might inhibit any growth hormone release after the workout?

Anonymous said...

growth hormone doesn't do much for muscle building.

Anonymous said...

You wrote somewhere about using iso-caloric macros with females.

What's your reasoning for this?

Is this at every meal or total for the day?

I'm not female but I feel pretty shitty on lower carbs (physically and mentally). Do you agree with Borge's ideas on sympathetic/para-sympathetic diets?

Howard - Energia Fitnes said...


Great to see success stories like this especially now I have turned 40 myself. It just shows with the right nutritional approach and regular focused exercise you really can turn the clock back. I am also a big eat stop eat fan and this just shows how effective intermittent fasting can be.



Patrick said...

Sorry to hijack the comments section Martin, but what are your thoughts on Bryan Haycock's hypertrophy specific training? Have you tried it or do you possibly know someone who has?

Martin Berkhan said...


No problem with coffee or caffeine.


"You wrote somewhere about using iso-caloric macros with females.

What's your reasoning for this?"

Yeah, a while back at Lyle's forum I think. I'm not so sure about that any longer since my female clients do very well with the same macros I use for males.

My thinking was partly in terms of substrate use, as women oxidize a higher % of fat at rest and any given level of exercise intensity (% VO2max). They also seem to do worse on extremes (i.e. super low fat or carbs) in general.

"I'm not female but I feel pretty shitty on lower carbs (physically and mentally). Do you agree with Borge's ideas on sympathetic/para-sympathetic diets?"

I'm not too well read up on his material related to that tbh. But he has a lot of good ideas and we tend to agree on many things.

Martin Berkhan said...


No, I haven't tried it. I think it's a good program for beginners/intermediates.

Anonymous said...

more on training plz

Ryan said...

Martin I understand your frustration but think about it this way- whether as a trainer or trainee, being in the minority gives you an edge.

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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