Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cheat Day Strategies For A Hedonist

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Can you avoid fat gain during cheat days and holiday feasts like Thanksgiving and Christmas? Sure, you can. But if you're a big eater that loves food, like me, it's more a question of minimizing fat storage than attempting to avoid it. And trust me, there's a few nifty strategies that can be used for damage control while still enjoying holiday hedonism, cheesecake mastery and spontaneous feasts of all sorts.

The key to damage control during ad libitum ("at one's pleasure") eating sprees lies not only in how much you eat but also with the choice of macronutrients. Food combination voodoo? No, just pure facts based on nutrient metabolism and science.

The question is also how to quickly get back on track for there is no doubt that big eaters can eat thousands of surplus calories that do lead to fat gain and post-holiday bloat. One of the "secrets" to maintaining low body fat while still being able to enjoy wild excess from time to time is therefore to make a quick turnaround in the days after.





Last weekend I ate mounds of porter beef, stuffed goose and cheesecake. Ah, how I love such days of unfettered hedonism.


Cheat days and Refeeds

In this article I'll be using "cheat day" and "feasts" interchangeably but they are both synonyms for short-term overfeeding of various durations and magnitudes. The same general principles will apply, more or less. A "refeed" is often used in the context of a structured diet approach. It tends to be more strict and planned in terms of macronutrient composition (high-carb, low-fat.)

While I will discuss refeeds in brief, this article will mainly discuss overfeeding of a mixed diet - that is, what you should take into consideration on Thanksgiving, at the Christmas dinner table, or any other occasion where you will be presented with lots of tasty foods.

My plan is not to tell you exactly what to eat or how much of it - that would be absurd. I don't encourage someone to count calories on Thanksgiving Day or similar such occasions. Instead, I'll talk about some factors that will determine how much fat you end up putting on and how you can potentially reduce the time spent making up for your splurging.

First, let's look at the general effects of overfeeding and do some myth debunking in the process.



Effects of Overfeeding

I tend to look at cheat days and feasts mostly as psychological relief and fun, but you'll often see some overly optimistic claims about cheat days being made in the fitness community; how it boosts your metabolic rate and tricks your body into "fat burning mode" for the rest of the week. There's some truth to this, but the real impact of cheat days are exaggerated if you look at the numbers you're dealing with.

Studies on overfeeding shows that metabolic rate typically increases about 6-8% for up to 24 hours after feeding. There's also large differences in between individuals, illustrated by the fact that the magnitude of the increase ranges from 3-10%. Those prone to obesity ("thrifty" phenotypes) tend to be in the lower range (3%), while the naturally lean ("spendthrifty" phenotype) tend to be in the upper range (10%). Either way, from a fat loss perspective it's not really justified to eat thousands of surplus calories to burn a few hundred calories extra.

The other argument, about tricking your body into fat-loss mode, usually alludes to the effect of overfeeding carbs on leptin. For a lean person, or for someone one a prolonged dieting stint, low leptin is an issue. This hormone, the king of hunger regulation, controls metabolic rate, appetite, motivation and libido, among other things. Leptin drops whenever your body senses a calorie deficit and when fat mass is lost.

The reverse happens when your body senses a calorie surplus. A surplus temporarily boosts leptin, which leads to downstream effects on fat oxidation, thyroid, dopamine and testosterone. In the context of dieting, refeeds are therefore beneficial.

However, similar to the effects of overfeeding on metabolic rate, a leptin-boost is also rather transient and drops again once you resume your diet and your body senses the deficit. It's for this reason I prefer to use frequent but moderate overfeeding, or refeeds, as part of the Leangains approach. Usually in conjunction with weight training to take advantage of the anabolic effects.

What macronutrient causes the greatest boost in leptin calorie per calorie? The hierarchy looks like this:

1. Carbohydrate. (Glucose - not sucrose or fructose.)

2. Protein. Glucose is superior to protein, but I suspect it might be a better choice to sucrose or fructose. (I'm quite sure that protein hasn't been compared to sucrose and fructose, but I'll look into it just in case.)

3. Dietary fat.

4. Alcohol. Ethanol has not been directly compared to the other macronutrients. However, the effect is a negative one. While one study actually found a positive effect on leptin, most studies point towards an inhibitory effect. Strangely, a reverse effect has been seen in women from red wine. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that alcohol consumption is associated with lower body weights in women but not men. I'll have to look into that.

Due to the superior effects of carbs on leptin, and leptin's downstream effects on metabolism and anabolic hormones, a high-carb, moderate-protein and low-fat refeed is traditionally recommended for dieting purposes.

Lyle Mcdonald has written a great deal on this topic, most extensively in "The Ultimate Diet 2.0." Though I am no fan of the diet itself, the book is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in the physiology of dieting and its impact on various hormonal parameters.

Lyle has also written a lengthy and detailed article series on leptin. I highly recommend it if this topic piques your interest: "Body Weight Regulation: Leptin Part 1."

However, a low-fat, high-carb refeed is obviously not so doable during Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, or any other such occasions. A few different factors should be taken into account on cheat days and feasts.




Rest assured that I have documented my recent cheesecake mastery in great detail. This time I used an ancient and dark technique that is not to be taken lightly. I'll tell you more about it in the near future.


Nutrient Metabolism: A Quick Primer

This is a quick primer on nutrient metabolism, as it will help you understand some of the concepts discussed later on.

The easiest way to think about nutrient metabolism is in terms of the Respiratory Quotient (RQ) and insulin. They are associated - when insulin is high, RQ is high, and vice versa. Here's a quote from "Intermittent Fasting and Stubborn Body Fat":

"After you eat, insulin and fatty acids are elevated. You are in the fed state and there's zero fat burning going on. Your body is relying completely on glucose oxidation during the hours following the meal."

This doesn't mean that you'll be burning more body fat if you follow a low-carb high fat diet, or that you'll never burn fat on high-carb diets. In energy balance, 24-hour RQ is reflective of the macrocomposition of the diet rather than fat gain or fat loss per se. Dietary fat has insulin-independent storage mechanisms (ASP) and "fat balance" (net storage of dietary fat) is primarily dictated by total calorie intake at the end of the day. The time course and trend in substrate metabolism will be different dependent of the carb:fat-ratio, but not the net effect.


Key point

Overfeeding elevates RQ for several hours - up to a day even - and indicates that glucose metabolism is dominant. Since glucose metabolism is high, fat burning is low or insignificant. This metabolic state allows net storage of dietary fat. Carbs, protein and alcohol all elevate RQ and affects fat burning negatively. Dietary fat does not affect RQ but has insulin-independent ways of getting into fat cells.

Knowing this is, are there some ways to limit fat gain in mixed-diet overfeeding or is it all about calories? To answer this, let's look at the energy costs for fat storage of various macronutrients.


Energy Cost of Fat Storage: The Macronutrient Hierarchy

During overfeeding, surplus calories are stored as fat with a great deal of varying efficacy.

(From most likely to be stored as fat in adipose tissue during overfeeding to least likely.)

1. Dietary fat.

The energy cost for storage of dietary fat is minimal (0-2% depending on saturation.)


2. Carbohydrate.

The conversion of carbs to fat, de novo lipogenesis (DNL), is hardly significant in humans and usually only occurs when glycogen stores are saturated (i.e. prolonged high-carb overfeeding). This does not matter much in practical terms, as there will be plenty of dietary fat in mixed-diet overfeeding. Carbs promote fat gain by reducing fat oxidation, as explained before. There's some variance between individuals here, based on genetics, metabolic state and habitual diet-patterns. Enzymes that modulate DNL are up-regulated in habitual high-carb diets and in the obese. Another factor that play a role is insulin sensitivity. There are similar individual aspects to the storage of dietary fat as well (mediated by LPL and ASP.)

In metabolically healthy humans, the energy cost for DNL is approximately 25%. In practical terms, this means that 3 out of 4 calories can be used for fat synthesis once a "carbohydrate surplus" is achieved (after saturated glycogen stores). Given that glycogen stores are never full in conditions of energy balance, people have a large "carb-sink" to use up before carbs contribute to fat gain directly. (Until then, the effect of carbs is indirect via suppression of fat metabolism. Am I being redundant yet?)

The above is in particular reference to glucose; sucrose and fructose are more lipogenic due to some differences in metabolic pathways. Fructose do not go to muscle glycogen stores, but to liver glycogen - and this glycogen depot is significantly smaller than muscle glycogen. One study comparing DNL from glucose and sucrose overfeeding in lean and obese people, showed DNL to be 10% and 20% higher respectively after the sucrose-experiment.*

* From results: "The type of carbohydrate overfeeding (sucrose or glucose) had no significant effect on de novo lipogenesis in either subject group." Which means that the difference (10-20%) was not enough to be deemed significant from a scientific standpoint. Fructose-overfeeding has not be compared to glucose in a controlled study, but judging from this study, DNL would likely be substantial (sucrose is half fructose, half glucose)


3. Protein and alcohol.

The energy cost for storage of amino acids and ethanol as fat are very hard to quantify for methodological, biochemical and (in the case of ethanol), ethical reasons. No controlled studies has been performed. However, it's safe to conclude that these two substrates serve as very poor precursors for fatty acid synthesis for a few different reasons.

First of all, the thermic effect of the separate macronutrients is 20-30% for protein, ~5% for carbohydrate, and 0–3% for fat. Total TEF is generally said to be 10% of total calorie intake, but this number is for the standard American diet, which is low in protein, relatively speaking.TEF for alcohol is harder to estimate, as values range between 10-30% in various studies. I talked about alcohol and TEF in "The Truth About Alcohol, Fat Loss and Muscle Growth":

"Alcohol is labeled as 7.1 calories per gram, but the real value is more along the lines of 5.7 calories due to the thermic effect of food (TEF) which is 20% of the ingested calories. This makes the TEF of alcohol a close second to protein (20-30% depending on amino acid composition)."

In a similar vein, the real caloric value of protein would be closer to 3 kcal/g and not 4 kcal/g as it's currently labelled. Indeed, arguments that we revamp nutritional labeling to more closely match the true metabolic impact by various macronutrients has been made. Livesey proposed that protein should be counted as 3.2 kcal/g, for example.

Further complicating the issue in regards to quantifying fat synthesis from protein is the amino acid composition of the protein consumed, as it varies depending on the protein source. Amino acids are either glucogenic, ketogenic, or both, and use different metabolic pathways for fat synthesis. For example, a glucogenic amino acid must first be converted to glucose (de novo gluconegenesis) once it can contribute to fat synthesis via de novo lipogenesis, while a ketogenic amino acid can contribute via a more direct pathway (via acetyl-CoA).

I might revisit this topic again some day, as I've discussed it with some smart biochemists, but the key point here is that protein cannot contribute to fat gain directly to any meaningful degree. Even in highly artificial scenarios, such as overfeeding thousands of calories of pure protein, would yield fat gain that is a lot less than what's estimated from traditional formulas (i.e. 700 calorie surplus of fat or carbs = +0.1 kg weight gain is not true for a protein surplus).

Similar to carbohydrate, protein and alcohol act similarly as carbs in regards to metabolism. That is, they blunt fat oxidation. However, while carbs can contribute to fat gain directly once glycogen stores are full, protein and ethanol are unlikely to do so. (Ethanol metabolism was explained in detail in "The Truth About Alcohol, Fat Loss and Muscle Growth".)


Key point

In mixed-diet overfeeding, macrocomposition matters. In comparing two diets at the same calorie intake - say 5000 calories - the one with the highest percentage of calories from protein yields the least fat gain. This is mainly explained by TEF and the poor efficacy with which protein can contribute directly to fat synthesis.

What other factors need to be considered for someone who wants to minimize fat gain during overfeeding?


Satiety: Effects of Macronutrients

This is a complicated topic to address in real life terms, as most people do not eat "protein" and "carbs" - they eat food, and food composition matters greatly. While protein is clearly superior to both fat and carbs, a whey shake likely provides less satiety on a calorie-per-calorie basis than - for example - an equicaloric amount of fibrous veggies, even though the former is lower in protein and higher in carbs. Similarly, an equicaloric amount of steak and whole eggs is more satiating in both the long- and short-term than chicken and rice.

Adding to that, there's a good measure of difference in between individuals, as evidenced with the varying amounts of success people have with high or low-carb diets respectively.

Further complicating the issue, there's the "hedonic" aspect to consider. Simply put, a tasty and/or sweet protein, carb, or fat-based meal might affect how much you end up eating.

With that in mind, here's what research shows.


1. Protein.

Protein is superior to carbs and fat intake in both short-term and long-term hunger suppression. This seems to be related to not only a stronger effect on appetite-regulating hormones (i.e. ghrelin, PYY and GLP-1), but also to its high TEF.


2. Carbs and fat.

Up until a few years ago, carbs were generally regarded as superior to fat in terms of satiety on a calorie-per-calorie basis. The problem with the studies this belief was based on was the short duration used for measuring appetite-regulating hormones and subjective measures of satiety and fullness. In recent years, better methodological approaches show a more nuanced picture. In summary, it can be said that carbs suppress appetite better in the short-term, while fat wins out in the long-term.

The carbohydrate hierarchy in terms of best appetite-suppression from source: Glucose --> sucrose --> fructose.

With regards to satiety from different fatty acids, there's no significant difference between saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat. (Another study showed similar results.)

3. Alcohol.

From "The Truth About Alcohol, Fat Loss and Muscle Growth":

"Is higher TEF a reasonable explanation for lower body fat percentage in regular drinkers? We need to consider that alcohol does not affect satiety like other nutrients. The disinhibition of impulse control that follows intoxication may also encourage overeating. Ever come home from a party in the middle of the night and downed a box of cereals? That's what I mean."

Adding to that, note what I wrote about leptin earlier:

"Ethanol has not been directly compared to the other macronutrients. However, the effect is a negative one. While one study actually found a positive effect on leptin, most studies point towards an inhibitory effect.

Alcohol clearly provides nothing in regards to satiety and may even encourage overeating by affecting impulse control and/or leptin. For occasions where large quantities of alcohol is consumed, you may find the strategy outlined in my article about alcohol useful ("How to lose fat or prevent fat gain when drinking.")


Key point

Food composition, individual differences and hedonic aspects aside, protein is superior to carbs and fat in terms of satiety and appetite-suppression.

I've now covered what you need to know about macronutrients in order to make an informed decision about food choices on cheat days or holiday eating sprees. Let's look at how this information can be put to use in practice.


Cheat Day Strategies

Here are some strategies you might find useful. They are how I approach cheat days and holiday feasts, and what I encourage my clients to do. First, however let me address what you should not be doing.


1. Don't stress it.

Some people "pre-compensate" holidays by training themselves into the ground and/or reduce calories significantly in the days leading up to the feast. I highly recommend you do not do this, since I can almost guarantee that you will end up eating a lot more than you would normally if you approach holidays or feasts in a "deprived" mindset.

I touched on this issue in "Intermittent Fasting, Set-Point and Leptin." On the folly of "planning" a big meal or refeed at the end of the diet instead of taking it nice and easy, I said:

"...I would sit and plan my big refeed meal at the end of the diet. I would count every day like an inmate counting the days to his release from prison. And once I reached my goal, I would go bonkers, eat a bunch of crap, take several steps back and then go back to dieting in a feeble attempt to make up for my screwed up 'refeed' (aka binge in my case)."

Take it nice and slow - don't do anything stupid in the days before. No need to train your butt off and deplete glycogen, no need to up your cardio to two hours a day. You'll just end up eating more junk if you do. This is due to a combination of psychology and physiology (i.e. plummeting leptin.)

The topic of calorie-compensation is a well-known phenomenon; it's part of why exercise doesn't produce the predicted weight loss in some people. This is based on studies on Average Joes and Janes, and do not apply in most circumstances to the people reading this article. However, with specific reference to holiday eating and cheat days, I definitely notice a tendency in myself to eat more than I normally would if I train or reduce calories in the day leading up to the occasion.

Surely some people get away with it and don't compensate but in my experience those who think they are exempt from the rule are the ones to which the rule applies.


2. Create a calorie buffer.

On the day of the feast, you'll want to make sure you have a buffer saved up for the occasion. You'll either want to reduce your meal frequency as much as you can or reduce your calorie intake in the meals leading up to the feast.

If possible, fast up until the big meal. This is easy and a bit of a no-brainer for those used to intermittent fasting. If you are used to 16-hour fasts per my usual recommendations, it should not be an issue to prolong it further, i.e. doing a 20-24 hour fast ("Eat Stop Eat"-style).

Make sure you eat a high-protein meal on the day before, as usual - preferably with fiber to slow down absorption. That's also a good practice for regular Leangains-fasts but it's even more so important for >16-hour fasts to avoid hunger pangs in my experience. Should hunger become unbearable, which I've never experienced even during prolonged fasting, drink some coffee and/or eat a plate of fibrous vegetables.

The second best strategy if you're not used to intermittent fasting is to use a "high-protein low-everything-else"-diet leading up to the feast. This will maximize satiety for the lowest amount of calories. Here's an example assuming you have your big feast planned for dinner or around evening, 5-8 PM or so:

10-12 PM: 40-50 g protein, trace carbs and fat (~200-250 kcal)

2-3 PM: Same as above.

5-8 PM: The grand feast. Be it Thanksgiving Dinner, cheesecake mastery or whatever else you have planned that involves eating yourself silly.

For a regular guy, the above plan allows about 2000 calories of goodness during the big meal until any significant fat gain occurs. Still, if you're like me you can eat a whole lot more than that in one sitting. Next we'll have a look at what you can do for damage control during the meal itself.

By the way, here's a pro tip: If you don't know how to make a "high-protein, low-everything-else"-diet bearable, you need to try protein fluff. I've yet to encounter a more satiating and tasty high-protein treat.




Protein fluff; I mistakenly wrote that you'd need casein or milk-protein isolate for this, but people report getting respectable fluffs with some whey protein brands as well. Give it a go - you'll love it.


3. Protein priority.

In the short-term, splurging on high-carb, high-protein and low-fat foods would lead to insignificant fat gain, as glycogen stores would soak up most of the carbs (which would severely limit DNL.) However, such an approach is not very appealing, or realistic, if you want to experience the splendor of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don't know about you, but I never think of the gifts on Christmas - I think of all the food I get to eat :D

Here's how I suggest you approach the eating spree that is about to ensue:

* Vary fat and carb intake to personal preference but make protein a high priority. "Protein first - carbs and fat for taste". If you think of your meals like this, it'll automatically raise the percentage of protein during the meal, increasing TEF and satiety.

* In regards to the order which you eat your foods, I suggest mainly focusing on protein, fat and volume (i.e. veggies) first and then add carbs in later. In my personal experience, this tends to maximize both short-term and long-term satiety and reduce calorie intake later on. Fat has a latent effect on appetite-suppression, so eating more fat earlier on makes sense.

* Do not neglect food volume - if possible, try to fill up on veggies in your early meals and save the more calorie-dense stuff for later on.

* Sucrose, fructose and liquid calories, i.e. treats, cakes and alcohol, should preferably be added in last, when you're full from the main meal(s).


4. Limit choices, not amounts.

Studies show that when people are presented with multiple food-choices, they eat more. In fact, calorie intake during a buffet scales almost linearly with the amount of different foods to choose from. If I offered you unlimited amounts of turkey and cheesecake, you'd likely only eat so much of it before you felt "full" and satisfied.

However, if I threw a third food into the mix, like potatoes or chocolate pudding, you'd end up eating a lot more - even if you weren't a fan of potatoes or chocolate pudding in normal circumstances. Humans are wired a bit funny and some behaviors are maladaptive in our environment of excesses. Having a taste of everything was a good strategy during our evolution, since it protected again micronutrient-deficiencies.

By "mentally limiting" the food choices you allow yourself, i.e. only eating that which you absolutely love and crave, can be a very effective strategy in regulating calorie intake without feeling deprived. Remember, you don't need to taste of every damn food or treat that is offered. Stick to that which you truly enjoy eating and skip the rest.

77 comments:

Suhendra said...

Great info. Lots of thanks from Indonesia. I'm a huge fan of your methodology, Martin!

I'll put this article into good use come this weekend. Steamboat buffet on beef and lamb, it is!

Organism as a Whole said...

Martin, thank you for pointing out the studies on the rate of de novo lipogenesis and the energy costs of converting glucose into fat.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! Would you suggest cutting out sodium and carbs for a few days after the big feast to get rid of the bloating asap or do you have some secret methods you're going to share with us??

Anonymous said...

Protein fluff tasts great with diet coke or coke zero. Tastes like a chocolate float and is very filling. Try it:)

Kamil said...

Another great and well-timed article.

Is your post-holiday diet a modified PSMF? I think I remember you suggesting something similar before (can't remember where). How long would such a diet last?

Silje Mariela - BodyWork said...

A great read, Martin! Thank you! And i`ll definitly try the proteinfluff, for sure!:)

Raj Ganpath said...

Solid post Martin! As usual you deliver top class stuff at the right times. Thank you much!

Bill Pairaktaridis said...

Once again, Martin hits the nail on the head and hits us with some science right in the face! I haven't had a big feast in a while but I feel one coming my way soon enough...MWAHAHAHA

Michael said...

A lot of good info. To be honest I had been checking your site a long with Lyle's frequently this week hoping one of you would have an article on holiday over feeding. Anyways I have been switching between leangains protocols, UD2, and SFS protocols the past 6 weeks and am now the leanest I've ever been! thank you so much. I love IFing so much more than when I ate 6 meals a day "bodybuilder style." Currently I am in a week of UD2, and thanksgiving is actually my main carb-up day :)

Jonny said...

Found the article very informative, I really enjoy how you solve everyday situations with a scientific yet realistic approach. Its very refreshing to read advice intended for people who aren't just athletes or bodybuilders.

I have two questions sparked by your article. I have been "cutting" for some time now. Around 7 months with slow consistent progress, during this time I have gone from ~20% to ~9% (calliper readings) with around 50% from following your lean-gains approach. I include cheat days fairly frequently, buying into the hype that they restore your slowing metabolism and boost leptin. After reading your article it would seem that maybe including regular carb refeeds (3 times per week on days I train) would be a better strategy?

Secondly, I still do not consider myself to be as lean as I would like. In your opinion is it a bad idea to simply cut until I achieve my leanness goals or its it better to intersperse periods of increased calories.

Thanks again

Moritz said...

great article!

personally, i've had huge success in the past with the strategies you mentioned, especially by limiting food choices and going with protein first. last thursday, my dad visited me and i teared through steaks and dessert for more than just the two of us ;D...

contrary to most people, i love the days afterward, i always have tremendous energy and power... saturday i had a little informal jiu jitsu tournament and sent people flying around!

have a great one,
moritz

Anonymous said...

Martin,

great advice. Me too, I look forward to eating before the gifts on Christmas:-)

I use your IF style and sometimes also ESE and they both work great. Definitely, I enjoy it more and I don't have to worry about inserting a few cheat meals a weak.
Thank you for advice

Jozef

Julian said...

Martin,

Great post. I appreciate that you didn’t deal with structured re-feeds in detail, but at times it can be a confusing topic. For example, Lyle suggests (UD2) doing a structured re-feed consisting of a lot of carbs (which through a combination of glycogen depletion an calorie partitioning should not lead to fat gain) and protein. He limits fat to circa 50gm – a point which he stresses and suggests you comply with if you want to avoid regaining the fat on your re-feed. The whole purpose of the re-feed is of course to raise leptin levels as they drop to around 50% after the first week of calorie restriction. However, I recently came across an interview between Tom Venuto and Joel Marion where Joel gives his take on re-feeding. His comments are centred around his program “Cheat Your Way Thin”. In particular he states:

“The reason is, I’ve read through quite a few VERY intriguing papers that show the number one influencer of leptin is insulin, and the supersedes the actual calorie content being consumed. There was actually one study, and you’re eyes are really going to be opened with this one, that monitored leptin levels of fasting individuals. Naturally, leptin crashed pretty hard, but then they did something else. They gave each subject an IV drip of insulin to maintain normal blood insulin levels, and even though they were consuming ZERO calories, leptin levels were maintained”

he continues to say

“French fries, pizza, ice cream, pastries, etc, all combine two things very well—very high glycemic carbohydrates and fats. That is the winning combo. Carbohydrate + fat produce a synergistic insulin response beyond what is possible when just using carbs”

So in summary Joel is saying that insulin restores leptin – which can of course be achieved by a high carb, moderate protein, low fat re-feed as outlined in UD2. However, the study he refers to goes further suggesting French fries, pizza etc.is better for raising leptin levels because of the superior insulin spike.

What gives?

Wouldn’t the simpler way to get “around” the whole leptin issue be to decrease calories only moderately below maintenance and increase calorie burning by increased cardio?

Thank you in advance.

Julian said...

Martin,

Great post. I appreciate that you didn’t deal with structured re-feeds in detail, but at times it can be a confusing topic. For example, Lyle suggests (UD2) doing a structured re-feed consisting of a lot of carbs (which through a combination of glycogen depletion an calorie partitioning should not lead to fat gain) and protein. He limits fat to circa 50gm – a point which he stresses and suggests you comply with if you want to avoid regaining the fat on you re-feed. The whole purpose of the re-feed is of course to raise leptin levels as they drop to around 50% after the first week of calorie restriction. However, I recently came across an interview between Tom Venuto and Joel Marion where Joel gives his take on re-feeding. His comments are centred around his program “Cheat Your Way Thin”. In particular he states:

“The reason is, I’ve read through quite a few VERY intriguing papers that show the number one influencer of leptin is insulin, and the supersedes the actual calorie content being consumed. There was actually one study, and you’re eyes are really going to be opened with this one, that monitored leptin levels of fasting individuals. Naturally, leptin crashed pretty hard, but then they did something else. They gave each subject an IV drip of insulin to maintain normal blood insulin levels, and even though they were consuming ZERO calories, leptin levels were maintained”

and furhter more that:

“French fries, pizza, ice cream, pastries, etc, all combine two things very well—very high glycemic carbohydrates and fats. That is the winning combo. Carbohydrate + fat produce a synergistic insulin response beyond what is possible when just using carbs”

So in summary Joel is saying that insulin restores leptin – which can of course be achieved by a high carb, moderate protein, low fat re-feed as outlined in UD2. However, the study he refers to goes further suggesting French fries, pizza etc.is better for raising leptin levels because of the superior insulin spike.

What gives?

Wouldn’t the simpler way to get “around” the whole leptin issue be to decrease calories only moderately below maintenance and increase calorie burning by increased cardio?

Thank you in advance.

shizuka said...

Thank you Martin, I think I will be enjoying my Thanksgiving just a little bit more now because of this post. Thank you for your work.

LayzieBone085 said...

I think the wait was well worth it for the article Martin. A good read at a good time! CHEESECAKE FTW

Julian said...

Martin,
 
Great post. I appreciate that you didn’t deal with structured re-feeds in detail, but at times it can be a confusing topic. For example, Lyle suggests (UD2) doing a structured re-feed consisting of a lot of carbs (which through a combination of glycogen depletion an calorie partitioning should not lead to fat gain) and protein. He limits fat to circa 50gm – a point which he stresses and suggests you comply with if you want to avoid regaining the fat on you re-feed. The whole purpose of the re-feed is of course to raise leptin levels as they drop to around 50% after the first week of calorie restriction. However, I recently came across an interview between Tom Venuto and Joel Marion where Joel gives his take on re-feeding. His comments are centred around his program “Cheat Your Way Thin”. In particular he states:
 
“The reason is, I’ve read through quite a few VERY intriguing papers that show the number one influencer of leptin is insulin, and the supersedes the actual calorie content being consumed. There was actually one study, and you’re eyes are really going to be opened with this one, that monitored leptin levels of fasting individuals. Naturally, leptin crashed pretty hard, but then they did something else. They gave each subject an IV drip of insulin to maintain normal blood insulin levels, and even though they were consuming ZERO calories, leptin levels were maintained”
 
and furhter more that:
 
“French fries, pizza, ice cream, pastries, etc, all combine two things very well—very high glycemic carbohydrates and fats. That is the winning combo. Carbohydrate + fat produce a synergistic insulin response beyond what is possible when just using carbs”
 
So in summary Joel is saying that insulin restores leptin – which can of course be achieved by a high carb, moderate protein, low fat re-feed as outlined in UD2. However, the study he refers to goes further suggesting French fries, pizza etc.is better for raising leptin levels because of the superior insulin spike.
 
What gives?
 
Wouldn’t the simpler way to get “around” the whole leptin issue be to decrease calories only moderately below maintenance and increase calorie burning by increased cardio?
 
Thank you in advance.
 

Cindy Lewis said...

I remember as a kid, my mom would eat so sparingly throughout the day leading up to a holiday meal. She wanted the meal to really taste good. That's something that I have done my whole life without giving it much thought, and the meal is always outstanding. Great tips that make sense....a lot of them I already do!! Makes me feel semi-intelligent!

XO to you Martin!!

Ahmed said...

Great article Martin! Thanks for all the info

Nick N said...

fascinating article. love your pragmatic approach

("such an approach is not very appealing, or realistic, if you want to experience the splendor of Thanksgiving and Christmas")

hoping that you will post about your holiday quick fix diet

Lewis said...

Excellent article - by far the best and most interesting I've ever read on the topic of overfeeding. I for one also appreciate the references you linked to. I look forward to reading your other articles this weekend.

MJR said...

Best. Article. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Martin

I am curious about the cheesecake you eat.

Is it the American version or Swedish Ostkaka?

Pikku said...

@Julian:

Read this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11126336

In short: lyle and martin's rec's of keeping it low fat, high carb and moderate protein are correct.
Joel's recommendations are incorrect. Junk food (high fat & high carb) is not as beneficial in terms of raising leptin & more fat will be stored.. so it ends up being worse.

Also leptin is an energy sensor (acute) and is dependant on the amount of fat you carry (longterm). Hence dieting vs burning the fat through cardio will end up with the same result.

Joe said...

Being stuffed to the gills on delicious food I fully endorse this article. My take is to simply use an eat stop eat style of fasting the day before, and the day after my splurge that would make Dom Deluise cry.

Thanks for the info, and for proving once again how amazing protein is for those of us that are aiming to stay lean.

Anonymous said...

Martin you are awesome! Truly my favorite person on earth right now. Granted, I already fasted til the "big thanksgiving meal" and focused on protein intake above everything else, before I even read this article. But now that I have read through it, I am enormously pleased with myself. I didn't insanely overeat and I enjoyed everything I made with my dad.

Have a happy holidays and thanks for everything Martin :)

EarningMyWings said...

Hey martin, nice to meet you. My name is Evan Chelini

**shakes hand**

Chris Helth said...

Great article, Martin. I'll be enjoying social events a little bit more now because of this post.

- Chris

Clement said...

Hi Martin,

As a long time reader, I realise that your blogging has become less frequent, but the wealth of information has increased in each post. I will not say that the quality has increased, as every single one of your posts are excellent and just so inspirational for your readers.

I often read each post multiple times now, or read portions of it each day. Please keep up the good work and I'm excitedly awaiting your new book, not only for the information it promises to deliver but also for the specific training programme that would be included, Reverse Pyramid Training. I'm now doing something akin to this - Pavel's Power To The People, which only consists of deadlifts and military presses - and I'd love to transition into RPT.

What I do now is just keep my protein intake in mind and not care about the make-up of the rest of the calories, regardless of whether it's a training or non-training day. 20% above maintenance on lifting days; 30% below maintenance on non-lifting days. I sense that you might be making a cheeky reference to Joel Marion's Cheat Your Way Thin diet. Personally, I've never felt that hormones could be manipulated and all of a sudden deliver fantastic results. As long as calories, protein and activity are taken into account, I feel that the results will come. I'm sure you would agree.

Clement said...

Oh, and I do have massive post-workout meals too. I love them.

^Mike^ said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks for the info on how to eat big and how to mediate the consequences.

But...

I'm really trying to give this a shot so I just started the diet this week...

Sorry if these seem like dumb questions, but this is the reality of someone starting out on something new....

Last three rest days, I'm having difficulty JUST eating the big first rest day meal!

You suggested that the first fast-breaking meal should be the biggest, i've doubled my usual zone diet meal size and problem is I get so tired and sleepy and uncomfortable after the first meal my productivity drops to zero for the whole afternoon. I usually have to lie down for an hour or two till the discomfort subsides. by that time I missed the second meal time and I panic because there's not enough time to force all the food in. I either go overtime, loosing sleep hoping the stomach ache will subside enough to eat another meal. and worry about going to bed on a full stomach (how much time should there be between the last meal and bedtime?)

1) What can I do?

Also I don't feel hungry again for hours because of stomach pains and cramping after eating so big.

so I can only get in 2 meals a day now. The first meal is 20% the second is 10% and I'm done! I can't eat any more.

And that's less than half the calories I was consuming last week.

2) Is this something I just have to FORCE myself to do to get the benefits and just SUFFER the stomach PAINS?

I'm really scared of getting sick and loosing the all the terrific gains I've made in the last 2 months following the zone diet.

3) Are there any hidden dangers or contra-indications to this protocol?

I enjoyed the fast before the workout on monday morning. The workout days are great, plenty of energy!

But the REST DAYS are KILLING ME!
(And I have 5 or 6 of those every week!)


5) Should I compromise on rest days? What's your opinion of trying the womans version? bigger eating window and smaller more frequent meals? what if I start at 11am finish at 9pm?

Please help!

Thanks in advance...

^Mike^ said...

Cont..

although I'm only 70kg, My workouts are heavy and intense with multiple 600kg leg presses (not full reps - on static hold for 10sec), so at my age, 45, I need the rest of the week off to recouperate.

4) It seems like your advice on this website is aimed at those who weight train multiple times a week.
Will this diet work for a once a week trainer? Is there a maximum limit for the number of rest days you can have before you should do some training or some other kind of intervention?

5) This kind of heavy half-body workout is very taxing on my recovery resources.
Now that my calorie intake has been forced down since my last workout, I'm feeling like things(joints and ligaments) aren't healing as well.

What can I do?

Thanks again, Martin.

Michael M. said...

I'd love to see the post feast suggestions. Keep it up man, thank you!

^Mike^ said...

You wrote about fructose primarily being shunted to the liver forliver glycogen replenishment.

So when is the liver most active? during the early morning? during fasting? I don't know, but I remember reading some chinese medicine book that claimed different organs have cycles of low and high activity depending on the time of the day. Could the liver need a 'post-workout' re-feed? When? Right after fasting?

I wonder if there's a case for fruit as part of the fast-breaking meal?

^Mike^ said...

In cheat day strategy 2...

is that 10pm the night before or a typo ie 10am the same day as the fast?

Anonymous said...

My family unfortunately doesn't treat holiday feasting as a meal so much as a continual process that lasts an entire day. It's like being at a buffet for eight hours.

You mention trying something like a 24 hour fast leading up to the holiday meal. Is the opposite also a good idea? Having stuffed myself silly from continuous gorging, it seems like I could probably pull off a day of not eating afterward. The real question is would that actually be a good move to make for combating the fat gain or would I be better off having something like a pure a protein low cal day?

Alan Beall said...

I didn't know where to post this link, but I thought you'd be interested in the casein connection.
http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2010/11/sweet-truth-about-liver-and-egg-yolks.html

O Primitivo said...

"In mixed-diet overfeeding, macrocomposition matters". So you believe there is a metabolic advantage for protein? If you account for Net Metabolizable Energy, would that advantage still exist at all? See http://www.canibaisereis.com/download/calorie-delusion-new-scientist.pdf and http://www.canibaisereis.com/2010/08/19/a-desilusao-das-calorias-new-scientist/

Martin Berkhan said...

Thanks, guys. Glad you liked the article. I'll see if I can get that Holiday Quick Fix Diet up later.

O Primitivo,

NME *is* the metabolic advantage of protein. Ain't accounted for in Atwater's numbers, yet they're the ones we're using today.

Anonymous said...

****cking awesome article Martin. Thanks for this and all the other great info you share. Just top notch stuff all across the board.

Suhendra said...

Quick question Martin,

So you say that fat gain on a high protein binge meal is very low. I'm curious as to where do all the protein go, after enough is used for cell repair, cell growth, and energy expenditure. Are they excreted out as waste then?

You did mention that fats can go to adipose tissue immediately if RQ is high, carbohydrate can go to adipose tissue thru lipogenesis... But if Protein do not contribute significantly to fat gain, where do they go?

Anonymous said...

This may be more relevant to your alcohol post, but I personally find that alcohol actually benefits me this time of year, for the following reasons:

* Suppresses my appetite, probably because it relaxes me and helps me keep in control (oddly) when I get that hungry, agitated, serotonin-deprived feeling.
* Makes socializing more tolerable, and actually helps me take in less calories. If I wasn't drinking, I'd be hanging around the buffet table all day, stuffing my face.
* Takes longer to sip a drink then it takes (me) to eat a calorically-equivalent cookie.

Anyone else have a similar experience, or am I just fishing for excuses to drink?

Also, I'd argue that on a few special days (Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, anniversary), one shouldn't even bother with a caloric buffer (at least not mentally). Even if you eat 6-7,000 calories, you probably only store about a pound of fat. If you've dialed in your calories for the other 48 weeks, you've still come out ahead for the year. That said, I think the caloric buffer strategy is extremely helpful for the random eating events that come up this time of year (holiday parties, etc.)

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Great article, once again - Martin! :)

Orinn said...

Hi Martin,

Do you ever find problems with insomnia on leangains protocol. Even if my last meal is at 8pm when I go to bed at say 10.30pm sometimes it feels like adrenaline is pumping inside me even though very tired. This can last till 3, 4am in the morning and then I might fall asleep. My carbs b4 bedtime with last meal on rest days are veg and cottage cheese. Should I have some complex carbs to keep blood sugar levels adequate whilst a sleep? Martin, what are your thoughts please? Orinn

^Mike^ said...

@Orin

Hi, I'm having that problem too!

I also am getting the post-big meal sleepiness problem with the first meal on rest days.

I've been experimenting with a smaller meal of fish as the fast breaker and having a bigger heavier meal closer to bedtime.

I don't know if that changes the lean gain effect too much, but it sure seems to make life more tolerable.

I've also had to incorporate liquid meals, as an adjunct to a solid meal to get the calories up.

I find they work better together (i.e. I feel more comfortable), having a solid meal first then a liquid protein shake as a kind of desert. This way I can compress the two meals into one meal. Whereas if I take a shake first, it seems to spoil my appetite for a steak.

Anyone notice that?

Martin Berkhan said...

Suhendra,

"So you say that fat gain on a high protein binge meal is very low. I'm curious as to where do all the protein go, after enough is used for cell repair, cell growth, and energy expenditure. Are they excreted out as waste then?"

1. Gluconeogenesis (~60%)

2. A large amount is wasted as heat (TEF). (~20-30%)

3. Oxidation ---> urea.

4. Ketogenic amino acids can be used as precursors for lipid synthesis though it's almost impossible to quantify the % of ingested protein that is used in this pathway.

Martin Berkhan said...

Orinn,

"Hi Martin,

Do you ever find problems with insomnia on leangains protocol. Even if my last meal is at 8pm when I go to bed at say 10.30pm sometimes it feels like adrenaline is pumping inside me even though very tired. "

Some people get an exaggerated response to insulin, i.e. their sympathetic nervous system goes haywire ----> increasing metabolism, so you might consider lowering carbs in the evening.

Btw, it's worth noting that the elevated SNS response is a good thing. Studies show the obese often have a blunted SNS response to carbs. So you should count yourself lucky.

Martin Berkhan said...

Orinn,

It's also worth noting that the SNS response can be caused by protein, as some protein sources are fairly insulinogenic.

In response to your question, I suggest you try adding some fat and lower carbs, whilst focusing on non-insulinogenic protein sources like egg protein (and to a lesser extent, cheese).

Anonymous said...

I've used IF and had the same problems. The culprit in my case seems to have been that a high protein intake as my last meal for the day disturbed my sleep greatly, it only made me feel more alert. And it wasn't even that high, anything between 50-100g.

Carbsources like bread seem to make me a lot sleepier so I usually eat bread before I sleep nowadays, works fine

Orinn said...

Thanks Martin for getting back to me. Love the Website and have been doing Lean Gains for 2 months now and strength going through the roof. Deadlifts now at 420lbs, weighted chins at 60lbs (plus my bodyweight of 220lbs), Breathing Squats x 20 at 350lbs, Bench at 260lbs and weighted dips at 90lbs. Orinn

^Mike^ said...

Hi Martin,

What do you think, about refeeds:

1. I've read about people doing multiple refeed days up to a week even. Is this ever really necessary?

2. On a refeed day would always fast or are there reasons for not fasting and using the whole day as a feeding window?

^mike^ said...

Oh by the way, what's the implication for that coffee study you just twittered? When would the best times to take advantage of the insulin sensitivity increase - pre workout (for the performance boost) but what about post post workout to extend the period of insulin sensitivity and force a bit more glycogen into the muscles? or could it be used as part of a refeed protocol? Sorry just some random thoughts - interested to hear what you think on that - Cheers!

Daniel said...

Awesome post once again Martin, I can't wait for your Holiday Quick Fix Diet post. Maybe you'll find time to post it before Christmas Eve, if so everyone would be surely grateful. Keep up the awesome work man!

Anonymous said...

this post is very usefull thx!

Maomao said...

Your post makes sense because my weight drops (defies logic) after a feast meant for a King.

Last week, I ate a plate of french fries and an entire deep fried chicken, including the delicious crispy skin and chewy animal fats - and I still lost about 1kg the following week!

If anyone is interested, my daily food logs are documented here: http://intermittent-fasting-experiment.blogspot.com

Martin Berkhan said...

Mike,

"Hi Martin,

What do you think, about refeeds:

1. I've read about people doing multiple refeed days up to a week even. Is this ever really necessary?"

No

"2. On a refeed day would always fast or are there reasons for not fasting and using the whole day as a feeding window?"

Yes, same 16/8 split, not whole day.

Martin Berkhan said...

Mike,

Just drink coffee dammit. No need to overanalyze this stuff endlessly.

Anonymous said...

It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

mdw2020 said...

Martin-

Is it possible that hedonistic feasts are actually an integral element in long-term success with the Leangains approach? [And here I refer to true feasts, such as your roast lamb followed by cheesecake with wine, not just the regular moderate carb refeeds on workout days.]

While the immediate impact on body composition of such feasts can be managed via your excellent strategies, perhaps such occasional indulgences are also critical to total leptin reset or full muscle glycogen replenishment or ....?

Regardless of the physiologic mechanism, I wonder if hedonistic feasts are not just to be managed but intentionally planned. And if so, how frequently? (Perhaps once per quarter, after the heavy lifting of a 1RM strength check?)

Thanks for the wealth of research-backed thinking you share on your blog!

Cheers,
Mike W.

Johanna said...

tried out Fairings Complete Protein III, and it makes such a good portion of proteinfluff, and I just add water. i normally do the proteinfluff, it's quite normal among my friends here in Stockholm, and he mintchocolate is to die for! Thank you,



Johanna

Jim said...

Martin--I'm sure you've heard of these guys before, but just in case you need some inspiration for your next Meat Mastery:

http://www.youtube.com/user/EpicMealTime?blend=2&ob=1#p/u/0/wFB_vHVFM_8

Anna said...

I will be using these strategies on Easter Sunday! Thanks for all of your research.

popimaster said...

I don't know why but this article gave me a huge headache.

Just enjoy your fucking cheating days, and don't over-carb it like an idiot.

popimaster said...

Martin, what's your take on weekly cheat days / cheat meals ?

I only noticed they set back my results...

Is there any scientific proof that we need cheat days to avoid hitting plateau ?

Ever since I've dropped my cheat days my weight loss has streamlined to 200 grams per day without any drop

Jens said...

Also, about SNS, sleeping etc

There's also the fact that alot of protein = alot of tyrosin and phenylalanine = more dopamin and catecholamine release, as more dopamin tends to go hand in hand with leangains and lower carbs.

I've also noticed the adrenaline "feeling" althought I've eaten, but that is after longer fasts, ie 24 hours etc.

Also one thing Martin doesn't mention is that adrenalin and noradrenalin are upregulated as a response to your fast and don't just automatically downregulate right away as a response to feeding.

Anonymous said...

Martin, just tried this Protein Fluff. Its...divinely good, I never thought it would fluff up like that and I didnt even add sweetner. Its like whipped pink cream without the layered of cream inside ones mouth!

I'm gonna use this method for cakes and cake layers, damn!
rgs.
/Rasmus

Jake said...

Martin,
You say you have certain strategies for minimizing weight gain after the holiday feast, but I can't seem to find them. Can you post them, or point me in the right direction if you already did?
Best,
Jake

Tyler said...

Hey Martin. I've been IFing since November of 2011 with some success body recomp-wise, but the real success are the mental (annorexia, orthorexia) conditions that I've overcome with IF. I simply love being hedonistic. Some really awesome strength improvements as well.

I have two questions regarding nutrient partitioning and weird training quirks.

1.) Sometimes, I find myself losing control and eating 2,000 calories for breakfast (usually rocking lots and lots of high carb, low fat, low protein cereal). I'm 170, 5'9.5", approximately 15% BF, so my maintenance is about 2,300-2,500. I'm curious about how to optimize the rest of my day so I don't gain a lot of extra fat. Due to the hierarchy of how the body stores fat, would it be safe to assume that if I were to eat straight protein (lean cuts of meat, etc) for the rest of the day, my body wouldn't store very much extra fat?

2.) In the past, when I was primarily a runner, I used to do a lot of pullups and chinups and pushups, but never lift heavy weights, or do compound moves like squats, etc. Since transitioning to weight lifting, I've adopted a 3times a week, RP style training regimen, I've noticed really staggering differences in my compound movements. For example, my 1RM bench is around 210, 20 good form chinups, 17 good form pullups, 1RM for squat is 240, and 1RM for deadlift is 220 looking at everyone else, deadlift is supposed to be lightyears ahead of squat and bench. What can I do to even this out more? (Note these are done on different days, obviously.)

Anonymous said...

Hi, great to share your thoughts & strategy about this common problem. But man, would be great to keep it a lot shorter.. Got lost over the long & sometimes unstructured information here. Didn't really get the main point at the end out of the enormous amount of text. You surely have important stuff to tell but to present it in an effective way might still be worth some practise.

Anonymous said...

This is the best info anywhere online

Hamza Tazi said...

Hey Martin ! Thanks for the info, I'm from Morocco, beginning Ramadan Fasting in about 3/4days. I'm doing IF Leangains Protocol since a week and a half now, and it's pretty good.
You're such a source of inspiration. Keep going, and keep giving us good advices as you know how to do :)
Good luck buddy

Histamine said...

Great post..Thanks for sharing the information.

Cody Code said...

I've been waiting for a conclusive evidence regarding alcohol and muscle/metabolic impact. You really opened my eyes to alcohol and comparing it to the rest of our marcos.
Rock on once again man. Amazing stuff!

Cody

guyw99 said...

Do I eat a lunch around noon and dinner at dinner time with all workouts happening before eating? But do I eat a another meal (dinner before 8pm) and if I am basing my diet on 1800 calories do I have 2 750 calorie meals +/- with a small 300 calorie snack, basically limiting my intake of food from 12-8 pm.
also does it matter what i eat first or 2nd? like salad and veggies for lunch and more heavy foods for 2nd meal or can i eat 2nd meal as long as i stick within the time guidelines.
And what about having some fresh vegetable and fruit juice in morning before workout? does this mess up the fasting phase?

customized fat loss review said...

I think it's all about eating in moderation. You can't go crazy low on your calorie deficit on normal days, neither should you eat like a pig on your 'cheat days'.

customized fat loss review said...

Not only is protein a longer hunger oppressor compared to carbohydrates, but your body also needs to burn more calories to digest proteins, making it better for weight loss.

Monahan Communications said...

Hello all - I'm looking for some advice:
I love the fasting lifestyle... works great! I do have a question however in regard to eating sugar. I have of course cut it out but indulged about 5 weeks back and on Thanksgiving. The day after each I was so incredibly sick I couldn't believe it. Have you heard of any similar reactions to sugar (from desserts not fruit) and is there a way to circumvent those bad effects so I can have a cheat day on certain occasion? Please help! I was in bed with the worst headache and literally could not drive. Both times I vomited. Very strange and I can only attribute it to the increased sugar intake from the day before. Anyone else have a similar reaction and any advice?JM




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

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