Friday, April 30, 2010

Cheesecake Mastery Part 3: Divide and Conquer

Having barely recovered from the last bout a few weeks ago, I sensed a new war brewing on the horizon.

This time the enemy would prove to be a formidable opponent. Facing powerful magic from the gods, I had to employ a new strategy to overcome it. Brute force was not an option. Wits and cunning was the name of the game.

After having warmed up properly, the cheesecake arrived. It appeared fairly modest and unintimidating at first. Similar in size to my first opponent and lacking the whipped cream-carapace of my second opponent. Surely this would be an easy match for my carefully honed skills. Or so I foolishly thought...

Suddenly the goddess Athena appeared out of nowhere and cast a powerful magic spell on the wretched cake!

Upon taking the first bite I sensed that this was going to be no easy battle. The spell had imbibed the cheesecake with supernaturally satiating properties. But I fought bravely.

I did well for a time, but after two thirds of the cake I could no longer fit another piece in. This damned cake would win if I did not come up with a new plan.

I was ready to return home as a defeated and broken man when I suddenly heard a booming voice to my right. An owl-god had appeared and offered some sage advice.

"Divide and conquer"...Why hadn't I though of that before? Surely this was the right strategy to employ when facing a magically enhanced cheesecake. No mortal can consume such a creation in one sitting.

So I sealed the cheesecake in a box of the finest quality and brought it back to my haven.

And there I made quick work of it later in the evening.

That's cottage cheese and heavy whipped cream on top if anyone wonders.

I can already hear the purists among you protesting that this is not True Cheesecake Mastery. After all I used the divide and conquer-technique. I did not consume it in one sitting as I have done in the past. But ask yourselves this: can you fight fairly against the magic of the gods? I think not.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Intermittent Fasting: To Feast or Not to Feast

New interview at Elitefts. Intermittent Fasting — to Feast or Not to Feast: An Interview with Martin Berkhan.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Leangains-Inspired Bodyrecomposition

It's time for another success story.

Success stories are body transformations that are sent to me by people that have used the Leangains system with exceptional results. This remarkable success story was sent to me by Neto Bertalia.

Here's Neto, 16 years old and 375 lbs, on April 16th 2008.

At 375 lbs Neto was in dire need of substantial fat loss. This was not about getting ripped for the beach, but a real health issue. So he decided to get things done and lost 190 lbs in about 18 months with a low carb diet, cardio, strength training and intermittent fasting. Yes, you heard that right: 190 lbs. A net loss of more than 10 lbs per month consistently for 18 months. That's a mind-boggling effort.

After his tremendous accomplishment he switched gears to strength training in order to improve his body composition further.

The left picture is Neto at 190-200 lbs and 28% body fat shortly after finishing his diet six months ago. The right picture is a recent picture of Neto at 210 lbs and 18-19% body fat after having used the principles I advocate and have summarized in the Leangains guide.

If 18-19% seems low, keep in mind that excess skin, which Neto has, often gives an appearance of higher body fat when judging solely from upper body pictures.

Net change fat mass (left vs right picture): - 16 lbs

Net change lean body mass: +26 lbs

For the calculations I have assumed: 200 lbs at 28% body fat and 210 lbs at 19% body fat.

Reaping the rewards from getting it right

This is definitely one of the most impressive examples of bodyrecomposition I've seen. There's a margin of error here, of course, but you can clearly see the difference in the pictures. His upper body has gained an appreciable amount of muscle mass. Chest and shoulders has filled out nicely.

It should be noted that even while Neto was no strength training newbie in the left picture, he trained in an inefficient manner. Think "pump and tone". Think curling in the squat rack and rinky-dink movements like triceps kickbacks and pinky ring curls.

In combination with his substantial daily caloric deficit during the fat loss diet, it's no wonder that his results were lacking. Real results came once he researched strength training, focused on big movements and progressive overloading, and increased his calorie intake. Along with his muscle mass, his strength skyrocketed; for example, his bench went from 135 lbs x 12 to 250 lbs x 8.

Some of Neto's increase in lean body mass and strength could be attributed to newbie gains. Not newbie gains in the true sense of the word, but gains that comes once you go from training like an idiot to training with a purpose and a goal. I had a similar experience when I first discovered HIT over a decade ago. Even though I wasn't a beginner in the true sense of the word, once I started focusing on the things that mattered I gained tons of strength and plenty of muscle mass.

For some of my ideas about strength training you may find the following articles useful.

10 Random Thoughts on Weight Training

Reverse Pyramid Training Revisited


I hope you found this amazing success story inspiring. I will be in touch with Neto and update you on his progress in the future.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Scorch Through Your Fat Loss Plateau

This is an article I wrote for Rusty Moore's blog, The Fitness Black Book.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Leangains Guide

It's about time I compiled a comprehensive guide to my system, so here it is.

Intermittent fasting and Leangains

How does Leangains differentiate itself from some other intermittent fasting based diets? Here's a brief primer.

The basics

In-depth coverage of my approach, and the benefits of intermittent fasting, can be read about here.

A much shorter summary can be found here.

Fasting and feeding

My general position on the fasted phase is that it should last through the night and during the morning hours. Ideally the fast should then be broken at noon or shortly thereafter if you arise at 6-7 AM like most people. Afternoons and evenings are usually spent in the fed state.

However, the fast could also also be broken later in the day depending on your personal preferences and daily routine. I personally tend to break the fast as late as 4-6 PM since I work well into the night and rise later than most people with normal jobs.

The recommendation for fasting through the earlier part of the day, as opposed to the latter part of the day, is for behavioral and social reasons. Most people simply find it easier to fast after awakening and prefer going to bed satiated. Afternoons and evenings are times to unwind and eat. For adherence reasons during dieting, I've also found that placing the feeding phase later in the day is ideal for most people.

The protocols

I work with four different protocols depending on when my clients train. Depending on setup, one, two, or three meals are eaten in the post-workout period.

Fasted training

Training is initiated on an empty stomach and after ingestion of 10 g BCAA or similar amino acid mixture. This "pre-workout" meal is not counted towards the feeding phase. Technically, training is not completely fasted - that would be detrimental. The pre-workout protein intake, with its stimulatory effect on protein synthesis and metabolism, is a crucial compromise to optimize results. The 8-hour feeding phase starts with the post-workout meal.

Sample setup

11.30-12 AM or 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA
12-1 PM: Training
1 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal of the day).
4 PM: Second meal.
9 PM: Last meal before the fast.

Calories and carbs are tapered down throughout the day in the example above.

Early morning fasted training

Here's a sample setup for a client that trains early in the morning and prefers the feeding phase at noon or later. Read this for details regarding this protocol.

6 AM: 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA.
6-7 AM: Training.
8 AM: 10 g BCAA.
10 AM: 10 g BCAA
12-1 PM: The "real" post-workout meal (largest meal of the day). Start of the 8 hour feeding-window.
8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.

For the sake of conveniency, I recommend getting BCAA in the form of powder and not tabs. Simply mix 30 g of BCAA powder in a shake and drink one third of it every other hour starting 5-15 minutes pre-workout. Tabs are cheaper, but much more of a hassle (you're going to have to pop a lot of tabs). Check my supplements guide for specific brand recommendations.

One pre-workout meal

This is the most common setup for my younger clients that are still in college or have flexible working hours.

Sample setup

12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Pre-workout meal. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake.
3-4 PM: Training should happen a few hours after the pre-workout meal.
4-5 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal).
8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.

Two pre-workout meals

This is the usual protocol for people with normal working hours.

Sample setup

12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Meal one. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake.
4-5 PM: Pre-workout meal. Roughly equal to the first meal.
8-9 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal).

Key points

* No calories are to be ingested during the fasted phase, though coffee, calorie free sweeteners, diet soda and sugar free gum are ok (even though they might contain trace amount of calories). A tiny splash of milk in your coffee won’t affect anything either (½-1 teaspoon of milk per cup at the most - use sparingly and sensibly if you drink a lot of coffee). Neither will sugar free gum in moderation (~20 g).

* The fast is the perfect time to be productive and get things done. Don’t sit around, get bored and brood about food.

* Meal frequency during the feeding phase is irrelevant. However, most people, including me, prefer three meals.

* The majority of your daily calorie intake is consumed in the post-workout period. Depending on setup, this means that approximately 95-99% (fasted training), 80% (one pre-workout meal) or 60% (two pre-workout meals) of your daily calorie intake is consumed after training.

* The feeding window should be kept somewhat constant due to the hormonal entrainment of meal patterns. We tend to get hungry when we're used to eating and maintaining a regular pattern makes diet adherence easier. If you're used to breaking the fast at 12-2 PM and ending it at 8-10 PM, then try to maintain that pattern every day.

* On rest days, meal one should ideally be the largest meal, as opposed to training days where the post-workout meal is the largest meal. A good rule of thumb is to make meal one on rest days at least 35-40% of your daily calorie intake. This meal should be very high in protein; some of my clients consume more than 100 g of protein in this meal.

* When working with clients I am always open to compromising on the above rule. If your preference is to eat a larger meal in the evening instead of noon, or whenever you break the fast, it's no great harm. Some people prefer to save the largest meal on rest days for dinner with their family instead of having a large lunch and that's fine by me if it makes them enjoy and adhere to their diet better.

* Macronutrients and calorie intakes are always cycled through the week. The specifics depends on the client's ultimate goal: fat loss, muscle gain or bodyrecomposition. The details will be revealed in the book. Generally speaking, carbs and total calorie intake is highest on training days. On rest days, carbs are lower and fat is higher. Protein is kept high on all days.

* Here are the supplements I recommend everyone to take on a daily basis: a multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D and extra calcium (unless dairy is consumed on a regular and daily basis).

* For fasted training, BCAA or an essential amino acid mixture is highly recommended. However, if this feels like too much micromanaging or simply questionable from an economic standpoint, you could also make due with some whey protein. The importance of protein intake prior to fasted training is outlined in this and this post.

* People sometimes ask me which protocol is best. I tend to look at things from a behavioral perspective first and foremost, so my reply to that is to choose the protocol best suited to your daily routine and training preferences. When dealing with clients I make the choice for them. If you work a 9-5 job and your only option is to train after work, training fasted is generally a bad idea and I always choose the one or two meals pre-workout protocol.

* Even from a physiological perspective, each protocol has it's own strengths and theoretical benefits. With "physiological perspective" I mean in terms of nutrient partitioning, fat loss and muscle growth. This deserves an article on it's own. I have some interesting and compelling arguments that I think are very unique.

Below I'll list some other resources that I think will give you an idea of what Leangains is all about.

Diet methodology

Calories, foods and macronutrient choices play an important role in the optimal diet. The following articles will give you an insight into my philosophy on this topic.

Scorch Through Your Fat Loss Plateau

Maintaining Low Body Fat

Intermittent Fasting, Set-Point and Leptin

Diet psychology

The right mental attitude is a crucial factor for a successful diet and training routine. This is an area that is all too often overlooked. I've explored this subject through many different perspectives.

The Secret Benefit of Being Lean

The Marshmallow Test

How to Look Awesome Every Day

How People Fail Their New Year's Resolutions

Regarding comments

Commentators often ask me if this or that is fine or how they should optimize things. I simply don't have time or energy for that any longer. Understand that a lot of factors need to be taken into consideration when determining calorie intake and macronutrient cycling; body weight, body fat, activity level, training routine, gender, insulin sensitivity and so forth. That's why I have clients - optimizing a diet plan requires time and reflection, and being a perfectionist by nature I simply can't "okay" something without having all the facts in front of me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Brand New Everything

This is my 100th post and I thought it would be fitting to switch it up a little with regards to the blog template.

While I liked the old dark layout, I also received complaints about the text being hard to read and the blog being less than ideal in terms of user friendliness.

I listened to your feedback and hopefully this new style is an improvement over the old. Let me know what you think.

Keep in mind that some sections aren't yet complete (FAQ, Bio etc).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cheesecake Mastery Part 2: Easter '10 Massacre

This Easter I went head to head with my one of the most brutal foes I have faced so far: a cherry cheesecake covered in heavy whipping cream. Man versus cake in a fight to the finish.

While my last foe was impressive in terms of sheer power and bulk, it was also unsophisticated and predictable. I conquered it easily. This one had a trick up its sleeves. The heavy whipping cream was unexpected and deadly. I felt this was going to be a challenge; especially considering that I was weakened from the mounds of eggs, salmon, roasted lamb and assorted meats I had consumed minutes before. It was a devious cake they had prepared for me. One that might very well have proved to be my undoing.

At first it seemed cherry cheesecake was gaining the upper hand by dark powers of intimidation. Could I break through the thick outer shell of heavy whipping cream - and not to mention could I finish all of it? The task seemed impossible. Doubt was beginning to set in.

But once I broke through the whipping cream I found it's weak point - the moist soft core. After that I made quick work of it. Victory was mine.

Click to see a bigger version. (if you dare...)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Three Meals Superior for Appetite Control

The six meals a day dogma gets knocked again. Badly.

It wasn't too long ago that the mainstream media caught wind of the fact that there is no difference with regards to fat loss on lower versus higher meal frequencies.

Now a new study shows that three meals a day is actually superior to six meals a day for appetite control.

Interestingly, the three meal-setup used the exact same meal split as the one I have been advocating for the Leangains-protocol: three meals consumed within an 8 hour time period. Let's take a closer look at the study.

Participants were monitored during four different 11-hour trials separated by 1-2 weeks. They were given three or six meals and asked to fill out a questionnaire relating to hunger and satiety with regular intervals. Blood samples were obtained to gauge levels of the hunger hormones ghrelin and PYY, as well as blood glucose and insulin. In random order, each subject ate the following diets:

Medium-protein: 14% protein (~0.8 g protein/kg per day), 60% carbohydrate, and 26% fat.

High-protein: 25% protein (~1.4 g protein/kg per day), 49% carbohydrate, and 26% fat. The additional dietary protein in this diet was primarily from lean pork and egg products.

Both these diets were consumed with varying meal frequencies: six smaller meals (every second hour) or three larger meals (every fourth hour). Diets were set to maintain participants in energy balance (2100-2200 kcal) during the trials.

The researchers found that the high-protein diet consistently came out on top in comparison to the medium-protein diet regardless of meal frequency. No big surprise there.

Also the 3-meal high-protein diet scored the highest on all questions relating to satiety overall. Blood glucose and insulin were a tad lower on the higher meal frequency, but I suspect this might have something to do with the trial period being 11 hours. Had the trial period been longer the differences might have evened out.

Here are some highlights from the full text version of the study:

"Whereas higher protein intake increased daily perceived fullness, frequent eating led to reductions in daily perceived fullness. These findings were further supported by the elevated PYY concentrations observed with higher vs. normal protein intake and by the reduced PYY concentrations observed with frequent vs. infrequent eating."

"These data strengthen the current literature indicating that increased dietary protein leads to increased satiety, refute the long-standing assumption that increased eating frequency has beneficial effects, and suggest that overweight and obese men might achieve better appetite control by consuming three higher protein meals per day."

"In summary, the findings that higher protein intake and lower eating frequency independently promote daily perceived satiety in conjunction with comparable differences in the satiety hormone PYY suggest that overweight and obese men might achieve better appetite control by consuming three higher protein meals per day."

Seems like I might have been right all along...

Book Review

Muscle Gaining Secrets

"Written in a straight forward, easy to understand manner, Muscle Gaining Secrets provides the road map to success which can instantly be applied by anyone."

- Jason Ferruggia

Who is this book for?

This book is primarily directed towards "hardgainers," but everyone spinning their wheels with the generic high-volume muscle magazine-esque pump-routines would be well off reading this.

What will I learn from it?

Basic weight training information and the stuff that really matters if you want to add muscle.

Strong points

* Great narrative interspersed with various anecdotes. A joy to read.

* Not bogged down by minutiae and hyperbole. Tells it like it is.

* Covers a wide spectrum of weight training and performance tops, including everything from exercise selection, rest periods and periodization to recovery techniques and training music.

* Includes a comprehensive list of the most useful exercises for various muscle groups, which is handy to have when composing routines.

* Great common sense advice all the way through.

Weak points

* Ferruggia ranks the most effective types of exercises being the ones that "involve moving the body through space" (i.e. gymnast rings) followed by compound movements and isolation movements. Can't say I agree with that and he doesn't really talk about that first type of training in the book. One wonders why he bothered to write a book about weight training if he believes body weight training is more effective (it's not). Body weight training seems to be one of the themes in his most recent book Triple Threat Muscle, though I'm not quite sure since I haven't read it yet.

* Covers many methods for strength and muscle gain, such as various periodization protocols and intensity techniques. This might paralyze the reader because there are too many options. When Ferruggia lists training splits he also leaves exercise selection up to the reader.


Before Ferruggia went crazy and started advocating vegetarian diets (!) he wrote this solid book on muscle gaining. This is a good and comprehensive book with many similarities to Stuart McRobert's Beyond Brawnwhich inspired my own training methodology. Like McRobert's classic, Muscle Gaining Secrets is full of good advice and pointers on how to put on muscle. It covers just about every important aspect of the iron game. It's a great starting point for the new trainer, or the ideal reset button for the person caught up in the minutiae of training.

Some may consider the lack of scientific references a weak point, but I don't. Beyond Brawn didn't have references and that book made a huge difference to me. Another improvement over Beyond Brawn: Ferruggia doesn't get quite as repetitive as McRobert did.

The only weak point in this book is the lack of concreteness regarding specific training splits. Some may disagree because Ferruggia gives you the option to personalize your routine a bit. But in my experience, this could lead a beginner to mistakenly mixing together the wrong exercises.

I can easily recommend this book with a straight face. Along with Beyond Brawnand Starting Strength Muscle Gaining Secrets is one of the best books on weight training directed towards the layman.

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

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