Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fasted Training Boosts Endurance and Muscle Glycogen

In this article I wrote about a study that showed an anabolic rebound effect during feeding after fasted weight training. The title of that article ended with a question mark, since it was a (very) short-term study with results that were far from conclusive in regards to fasted training being superior to fed state training.

However, when it comes to endurance training, there's compelling evidence showing that fasted state training is superior, or complementary, to fed state training.

Now, for those of you that have no interest in endurance training, bear with me. At the end of this article I will tell you how fasted state weight training may provide additional benefits, not discussed before, based on some new findings.

Fasted endurance training

One idea that has been tossed around in the endurance training community is that training sessions should be performed in the least performance-enhancing situation to ensure the most potent training stimulus. Training fasted, or under conditions with low muscle glycogen, could be superior to fed state training when it comes to inducing the fastest adaptations to training.

Two fairly recent studies has lent credence to this notion (De Bock and Nybo). While the researchers didn't find any significant differences in some of the measured variables, it's interesting to note that the fasted-trained groups in both studies showed higher levels of resting muscle glycogen concentrations after training. Similar to the anabolic rebound for fasted weight training, there seems to be an anabolic rebound during feeding after fasted endurance training through more efficient glycogen storage.

Looking at real world examples, the Kenyans, hailed for their superior endurance in running events, are known for doing a brunt of their training in the fasted state. They also follow a high carb diet to maximize muscle glycogen storage. According to experts, this pattern of "training low" and "competing high" might provide a distinct advantage. Muscles that are well stocked with glycogen can simply outwork the competition.

Back in Cape Town, during my modelling days, I did my fair share of endurance training. The scenery was amazing. It was hard not to take advantage of it. I became known as the go-to-guy for sports and ended up doing a lot of work for various sportswear brands. The picture is from a Swedish sportswear chain called Stadium.

The new study

Results of a new study on fasted endurance training was released just a few weeks ago. The primary aim here was to test the hypothesis that fasted state endurance training would yield greater improvements in fuel utilization and boost muscle glycogen storage efficiency. A hypothesis that was based on results seen in prior studies on this topic. The secondary aim was to see if the effects differed between genders, since men and women favor slightly different fuels during exercise. Men tend to utilize more glucose, while women tend to burn more fat.

This study lasted four weeks and had all subjects cycling 25 minutes at 65% VO2Max five mornings the first week. The duration was then increased by 25 minutes per week, so that subjects were cycling 100 minutes in the final week.

The cycling was either done in the fasted state or one hour after a cereal-based breakfast (1.5 g carbs/kg). In weeks three and four the fed group also received 30 g of maltodextrin during training. The fasted group received the breakfast, and the maltodextrin, after training.

Week 1, fasted: 25 min cycling followed by breakfast.
Week 2, fed: breakfast followed by 25 min cycling.

Week 4, fasted: 100 min cycling followed by breakfast and maltodextrin.
Week 4, fed: breakfast followed by 100 min cycling and maltodextrin.

With regards to the diet maintained outside the laboratory, weighed food records was collected to ensure that potential differences could not be explained by differences in diet. This was done pre-training and in the final week. The findings showed that calorie intake increased in both groups, with an increase coming mainly from carbs and protein. But no difference in total calorie intake or macronutrient intake existed between groups.

The results

After the study, the researchers summed up the improvements in a few relevant variables related to performance, muscle glycogen and fuel utilization. I'll give you a brief rundown of what each of these variables means before showing the changes in the fasted and fed groups.

VO2Max: "The highest rate of oxygen consumption attainable during maximal or exhaustive exercise" (Wilmore & Costill, 2007). This is a rough measure of fitness.

Both groups started out with levels around 3.5 liters per minute (l/min), which is close to standards for untrained individuals. To put this into perspective, elite endurance athletes have about twice that capacity. One Norwegian skier topped this chart at 7.3 l/min. A more accurate measure of VO2Max is ml/min/kg, but in this study l/min was noted.

Fasted: +9.7% increase
Fed: +2.5% increase

The fasted group increased their VO2Max significantly more than the fed group. Interesting.

It's also noted that "Whilst peak power increased in both groups, there was a strong tendency for FAST to improve their peak power more than FED".

Muscle glycogen content: This is measured in millimoles per kilo dry muscle and shows how much glucose is stored in the muscle. The sample was taken from vastus lateralis, a portion of the quads, since this was the main muscle exercised during the cycling sessions.

Fasted: +54.7% increase
Fed: +2.9% increase

As you can see, the fasted group showed a dramatic increase in muscle glycogen content compared to the fed group. It's almost too good to be true.

Citrate synthase (CS): This enzyme is critical for the initiation of the citric acid cycle, which regulates the mobilization of fat and converts glycogen into glucose for use during exercise. Think of it as a marker for fuel utilization efficiency.

Fasted: +17.9% increase
Fed: +19.1% increase

While the differences between groups, on average, did not show any significant differences, these appeared when comparing the results obtained from the women with those of the men. When this comparison was made, fasted training was found to stimulate significantly greater increases in CS in men (+35%) than in women (+10%).

On the other hand, fed training stimulated significantly greater increases in women (+25%) than men (+10%).

Men attained a more much better response from fasted training, while women received a more favorable response from fed training.

3-hydroxy-CoA dehydrogenase (HAD): Also a marker for fuel utilization efficiency, but this one is specifically involved in fatty acid metabolism. Think of it as a fat burning enzyme.

Fasted: +3.5% increase
Fed: +9.1% increase

As was the case with CS, the mean increase above is a bit misleading, since there were big differences in between fasted and fed groups depending on gender.

When looking at gender differences, females showed a stronger response than males (+5% fasted and +25% fed). This goes in line with prior studies which show that the HAD activity of female muscle is more responsive to the same training stimulus. Males in both groups showed only subtle change that was deemed non-significant (+3% fasted and -10% fed). However, fasted training seems to provide a slight edge once again.


Quoting straight from the discussion in the full text paper:

"The main findings of the present study were that: training in an overnight-fasted state enhances storage of muscle glycogen compared to training in the fed state; skeletal muscle of men and women respond differently in terms of oxidative activity to training in the fed and overnight-fasted state; and peak VO2 and peak power improved more when training in the fasted state compared to the fed state."

Questioning the dramatic increase (+54.7%) in muscle glycogen in the fasted group, the researchers were not able to find an answer based on unexpected confounders or behaviors between groups. Muscle biopsies were taken at the same time and there were no difference in diet in between groups.

" is highly likely that the differences in glycogen stores between groups reflect the training intervention and not exercise timing or pre-biopsy diet."

Moreover, these results are in line with a prior study that found similar results for fasted training.

"Importantly, our findings correspond to that of De Bock et al. confirming that training whilst circulating CHO levels are low increases the capacity to accrue glycogen in the trained muscles."

What might be the reason for the different effects between genders on oxidative enzymes? As mentioned previously, differences in fuel utilization. Males rely less on intramuscular triglycerides and fatty acids and more on glucose, while females burn a higher percentage of fat at any given exercise intensity. But why fed state training would then be more beneficial for females when it comes to "oxidative adaptation" requires further investigation.

My thoughts

This study is great news for anyone doing fasted training, particularly the kind that involves elements of conditioning and glycogen depletion such as CrossFit, kettlebell training, PX90. Or just about any kind of endurance training. Based on feedback from readers and clients, it reflects my personal experiences in this area as well (performance enhancing effects of fasted state training with little or no dietary intervention).

I would expect the effects seen here to be similar for weight training, just of a much lesser magnitude. Traditional weight training doesn't improve VO2Max nearly as much as the aforementioned activities, nor is it as glycogen intensive* - but still, boosting your ability to soak up carbs as glycogen should have benefits for nutrient partitioning and performance. Not to mention the ability to eat more carbs without triggering de novo lipogenesis (the conversion of glucose into fat).

* Some numbers: For an average weight male, 25 mins cycling at 65% VO2Max expends roughly 250 kcal. At 65% VO2Max, fuel utilization is half glucose and half fatty acids, so each session depleted about 30 g glycogen in week 1 and 120 g glycogen in week 4. Rough numbers for weight training is 2.5 g glycogen per set of 10 reps at 70-75% 1RM. 25 mins of cycling is approximately the equivalent to a weight training session of 10-12 sets in terms of glycogen depletion (not counting excess post-exercise oxygen consumption which is small, but a tad higher for weight training).

It would be interesting to see whether competing bodybuilders, for whom size matters more than strength, could benefit from some higher volume weight training in the fasted state. On a cyclic diet, where higher carbs are consumed on training days, the improved ability to store carbs as glycogen will give the appearance of fuller and larger muscles - a clear advantage on the stage.

It would also be interesting to see whether such a protocol, fasted state high volume weight training, would provide benefits in regards to hypertrophy*. One theory that has been floating around is that of the anabolic effects of glycogen supercompensation. The Ultimate Diet 2.0, based around low carbs and concomittant glycogen depletion with a supercompensation phase, is designed partly around this concept.

* However, while this is an interesting thought, I still don't think glycogen depletion should play an important part in the natural weight trainer's lifting regimen. I consider it arguably more important to focus on progressive overload in the 4-8 rep range first and foremost. That being said, I have experimented with a few higher rep back-off sets (to induce modest glycogen depletion) following the heavier sets with good results. But I digress. Let's get back on topic.


By what mechanism does fasted training lead to fuller muscle glycogen stores? I think the effects seen here might be explained by an increase in glycogen synthase, which is an enzyme involved in converting glucose to glycogen. Endurance training increase glycogen synthase, as would I expect any other form of activity that draws upon glycogen stores. On top of that, studies on intermittent fasting show a similar effect via phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase. Training in the fasted state might provide a synergistic effect, or at least be a double whammy, since both short term fasting and training independently induces adaptations that favors glycogen replenishment.

And what might explain the greater improvements seen in VO2Max? On that topic, I have no clear cut explanation, nor do the researchers in this study. If anyone is well versed in the scientific literature on endurance training, feel free to chime in and speculate.

Interrupting the homoestatic machinery

To explain these results in a broader framework, it might be fruitful to think of the fasted state as an additional stressor, on top of the training itself, that interrupts the homeostatic machinery of the body to a greater extent than that of fed state training. Greater interruption means greater adaptation in the recovery phase.

A similar pattern can be seen in some other phenomena. In my article on fasted training and muscle growth I mentioned that "studies show that ingesting antioxidants from supplements weakens the body's own response to deal with free radicals created by training. "

My point here being that if you make it too easy for the body to adapt, it won't see a need to adapt, or the adaptation might not be as powerful. Force it to adaptation while training under more strenuous conditions and you will reap the benefits. This is what this study shows and what the study on fasted training and muscle growth hints at.

Coming up

While there seems to be some clear benefits of fasted cardio in terms of improving endurance and muscle glycogen storage, this form of training may hamper muscle growth by a few different mechanisms. Besides being potentially catabolic to muscle growth by accelerating de novo gluconeogenesis (the conversion of amino acids to glucose), it may also interfere with cellular adaptations to weight training.

Someone interested in preserving or gaining muscle while using cardio for improving conditioning, or as means to speed up fat loss, need to be cautious and implement strategies to sidestep the negative effects. This will be the topic of the next article on fasted state cardio (ETA: Sept).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Gymboss Review


Gymboss Interval Timer

What is this?

The Gymboss is a small, easy-to-use, dual-mode, interval timer.

What do I use it for?

It can be used for a large variety of training protocols where time is an important variable. I've tested it for HIIT and weight training.

Test number one: HIIT: 15 s sprint/45 s walking x 10.

For this protocol, I set the first timer to 15 seconds and the other one to 45 seconds. Once the timers reaches zero, the device either vibrates or beeps. I prefer to set it to vibrate since I have my earphones on during training. I set it to be repeated ten times. 15 sec, buzz, 45 sec, buzz, and repeat.

Test number two: 4 x 4 squats (6RM), 55 s per set/4 min rest x 4.

I calculated 55 seconds per set: 10 s for getting ready and unracking, 10 s per repetition (3:2 tempo and 5 s rest between reps), and 5 s for racking the weight. Repeated four times.

For both of these setups, the device worked splendidly. When you feel the buzz, or hear the beep, you'll know when it's time to start sprinting or initiate the set.

I wear it like this and it's covered under my tank top during the workout. If you set it to vibrate, you can also put it in your pocket. If you want your workouts to be become a little more interesting, try putting it in your underwear (just a thought...).

Strong points

* Very useful.

* Easy to use.

* Very affordable ($19.95), but surprisingly high quality nonetheless.

* Not specifically related to the product, but the company ships fast (~3 days to Europe) and worldwide at a very low shipping cost ($2.99).

Weak points

* None that I can think of.


The Gymboss interval timer is an easy-to-use, cheap and high quality product that can benefit your training in a concrete way. Like I wrote about in this post, studies suggest greater strength gains with longer rest periods in between sets during weight training. Greater strength gains likely equal greater muscle gains.

In the training routines I design for my clients I typically advise 3 mins rest minimum in between sets and up to 5 mins rest in between and after sets for movements that are particularly draining, such as the deadlift. Here's an example that I copy-pasted from one recent routine:

Deadlift 2 x 4-5 (5 mins rest in between sets).

5 mins rest or walk on treadmill 3-5 mins.

Weighted Chins 2 x 4-6 (3 mins rest minimum in between sets).

So rather than having someone rushing through the workout doing tons of work on foo-foo-movements, I go with quality over quantity and make sure to emphasize the importance of rest periods. Perhaps that's part of the reason why my clients end up stronger and leaner.

Personally though, I'm a bit impatient at the gym, so I might cut the rest periods short unless I'm keeping tabs on time. That's where I find much use in this product, though it works very well for HIIT as well - especially if you train outside and don't have the treadmill display to keep track of time. Other areas of use include CrossFit, circuit-training, and just about any other form of training where time intervals are used.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

10 Random Thoughts On Weight Training: Part Two

Random stuff I've either discussed or thought about in the last few days.

You can read part one here.


1. Some workouts don't go as planned. Even if your diet has been on point and even if you feel well rested from your last session. If you are attuned to your body and its limits, you will often feel when that time is early in your workout.

How do you feel it? The warm-up sets feel heavier than they should be. You feel a subtle soreness in your pecs in between your warm-up sets for bench presses. Knees feel sore after squatting. Lower back feels sore after deadlifting. When warming up for weighted chins, you might find that body weight chins go slow - when you'd normally be flying up for the first 4-5 reps. And when thinking about the weights you are supposed to use for your first work set (the heaviest load per my guidelines for RPT) hesitate. You think twice. You just can't picture yourself doing that today.

Let me provide an example of my latest deadlift-session. This is an important lesson in how to listen to the cues that your body sends you.

I noticed something was awry already when loading up the barbell. I loaded it with 55 lbs weights (25 kg), which I carried across the room, one in each hand. These usually feel light to me. This time they felt heavier.

I proceeded to warm up with 50% of my 1RM; I usually do 3-4 easy and quick reps. It felt easy, but I noticed a lingering soreness in my lower back after the set. I upped the weight to 60% of my 1RM, hoping the soreness would "pass". It didn't.

I upped the weight to approximately 70% of my 1RM which is usually my last warm-up set before proceeding to my work set. I do a few singles with this weight and there is a certain speed and ease I expect to be able to do them with if I am fully recovered. To my disappointment, I found the speed and ease was not to be found today. By this point, my lower back felt sore as if I had deadlifted just a few days prior. I left the gym.

Cue number one: Carrying the weights I used for loading the barbell was heavier than usual.

Cue number two: Lower back soreness after the first warm-up set.

Cue number three: Impaired speed and greater degree of perceived effort when approaching weights at 70% of 1RM.

2. Master the skill of backing off when it's warranted. If your body is telling you to back off, per the above example, listen to it. Unfortunately, only a select few will have the presence of mind to say "screw it", leave, and take 2-3 full rest days before attempting the same session again (or alternatively skip it altogether, rest, and move on to the next session in your cycle). The great majority will insist on pushing through despite subpar performance. And they will be much worse off, digging themselves deeper into the ground and risking injury.

A reward awaits those with enough temperance to throw in the towel and leave. I have always found that I come back stronger and more motivated. Many personal records of mine have been set after taking a few days of unplanned rest.

Leaving is easier said than done. You might feel like shit for a few hours. You might even feel like your day is ruined. This feeling will soon pass. When you have experienced the positive effects that unplanned rest usually brings, that feeling will get weaker each time you make the decision to leave. Live to fight another day. A better day.

Knowing when to leave is a habit that takes practice to develop. Developing this habit is extremely useful in the long term. You'll gain more strength, more muscle, and will be much less likely to injure yourself if you just listen to the cues your body sends you.

"Serious hard-gaining trainees have the grit and character to soldier on even when the going gets tough. This is usually a desirable trait, but when it comes to dealing with the warning signs of overtraining, this grit can be destructive. Watch out for your emotions getting the better of your reason."

- Wise words from Stuart McRobert in Beyond Brawn

3. If you can't relate to what I'm talking about above, it might mean something. Perhaps every training session is a walk in the park for you. Maybe the concept of beating your training log is foreign to you. Maybe you don't even keep a training log or have a clue about what you did in your last training session. You arrive at the gym without any pressure to perform. And that's probably why you are weak, why your physique is unimpressive, and why you haven't made any significant progress in the last year.

4. Don't be afraid of a little pain now and then. For there is a wonderful reward waiting for you after completing that set of squats or deadlifts where you gave it your everything. Embrace and treasure the adrenaline rush. The soothing pulse of endorphins. The dopamine kick that comes from achieving a new personal best.

5. Work on developing a competitive spirit in the weight room. That will take you much further than worrying about the optimal rep range for hypertrophy, whether protein hydrolyzates are better than isolates, and what brand of fish oil to buy.

6. The proper way to perform chins and pullups is with a medium/shoulder width underhand grip (chins) or medium/shoulder width overhand grip (pullups). I often see people using a wide grip for pullups in the hope that it will hit the lats better. This only results in piss poor ROM (range of movement) and sore elbows. Knowing how poorly people tend to perform pullups I often recommend chins as the default lat movement when I can't monitor the client in question. This is a fail-safe way of ensuring good ROM with increasing weights, as people also tend to skimp on ROM when adding more weight to pullups.

Chins involve a greater total muscle area* than pullups, which is another factor that makes this movement an all round better choice. Pullups on the other hand hit the lats better which is why I might make this the primary choice for lat specialization-routines. Of course, there's no reason you can't include both movements in your training routine.

* On this particular issue, I am not sure. I recall an old study using electromyography for chins and pullups which found the former to be slightly better in terms of total muscle area activated. I'll look around and see if I can find it. Let me know if you are aware of any evidence to the contrary. Should I be wrong, I still stand by my recommendation for chins as the first hand choice due to the fact that people generally maintain a better ROM for this movement.

My experience with chins as the default lat movement is that it greatly lessens the need for direct biceps work. Throughout my training career I've performed very little direct work for my biceps. The best biceps growth I ever saw came many years ago when I was training for a one-arm chin-up.

Addendum part one: One commentator linked this article. Though it does not reveal whether chins are superior to pullups in terms of total muscle area involved, or vice versa, it provides some interesting data. Note that weighted chin-ups wins out in terms of peak biceps activity and mean lats activity.

"Some say that wide-grip pull-ups are better than underhand-grip chins for lat development, but they're actually very close. The weighted chin-up edges out the weighted pull-up in mean activity, and the weighted pull up-edges out the weighted chin-up in peak activity. Quid pro quo."

- Bret Contreras

Addendum part two: I e-mailed Contreras and this is what he said in response to the question -

"Do you know if it is possible to rank chins above pullups, or vice versa, in terms of total muscle area involved or the degree of mean/peak activity in the targeted muscles? Which one would you consider to be the all round better choice for someone looking to get the most bang for their buck so to speak."

His reponse -

"I believe that the two are very similar in lat activity as the wide grip may give a preferential angle but also less ROM and less resistance. The chin has more ROM and more resistance, but maybe the angle isn't quite as good as the pull up. My EMG studies confirm this, which is why I said "quid pro quo."

If I had to go with one or the other, I'd agree with you and go with the chin. The greater ROM and resistance in my opinion has to work more muscle - maybe the same amount of lat with a little more bicep, rhomboid, mid and lower trap, etc. Even if the chin and pull up are close, the tie has to go with the greater ROM. "

7. Glycogen depletion lowers metabolic rate via decreased noradrenaline output and is only restored to basal levels with a high carb meal. I rarely employ glycogen depletion in my training protocols, but a few of you do. I am convinced that there are a few Crossfitters, PX90-adherents and kettlebell-enthusiasts reading this that deplete a fair amount of glycogen in their workouts while following a low carb diet. Low carbing is fine. But going too low on carbs on training-days is a suboptimal strategy. Have some carbs with your post-workout meal and save the low-carbing for other meals. Your metabolism and performance will be much better off. A minimum of 1 g/kg body weight or 0.45 g/lb of predominantly starch-based carbs is a rough guideline for post-workout meals following training sessions that deplete a fair amount of glycogen.

8. What might have been the reason for my subpar deadlift-performance? Three days prior I had been squatting hard. Hard enough to break my personal record. One might think two days of complete rest in between squatting and deadlifting is sufficient. And for some, it is. But it's not the first time I have learned that this is not the case for me and others approaching high numbers in these lifts. When training squats and deadlifts to failure, I have found that a minimum of three days of rest after squatting before attempting deadlifts is required to ensure optimal performance in the latter. After deadlifts, two days of complete rest is needed before attempting squats. And even that is pushing it. When squatting and deadlifting heavy, I think the advanced trainee might be better off abandoning the traditional weekly cycle and use an 8-day cycle.

Example: A1-rest-B1-rest-A2-rest-B2-rest - and start over. Deadlifts and squats are rotated on A-sessions, which are lower body-dominant. Each lift is trained every eighth day with three rest days in between lifts.

9. As your proficiency and strength in squats and deadlifts reach what I call "highly advanced" levels, you will find that training these lifts close to failure will take a much greater toll on your body than before. Put differently, an advanced lifter training these lifts to failure will need a longer time to recover than a beginner or intermediate trainee.

10. What do I consider a highly advanced level for key lifts, and when do I think people attain a highly advanced training status? When you can do a minimum of 5 reps at 2 x body weight and 2.5 x body weight for squats and deadlifts respectively. More on this topic in a future post.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Client Update

Time for another client update.

See all client updates and testimonials on this site by clicking here* and here.

* To see all client updates, you need to click "older posts" at the end of the page.

Dave G

Dave Gerczak, successful entrepreneur and founder of the large online watch store Watchco, has made a complete body transformation.

Before at 230 lbs+

After at 162 lbs

I'll quote from Dave's write-up at

"I found Martin Berkhan on this very thread sometime in February of 2009. I contacted him and started with him officially on March 9, 2009. My weight was 230.8 at that time, having lost 4 pounds while waiting for his routine. I turn 39 in two weeks.

I stopped taking progress pics, as I get really busy with work in November/December, traveled a lot for work in January and was more or less just lazy with pics. However, I kept on LeanGains the whole time, but could have lost the weight faster with less travel, less work and better diet adherence. Oh yeah, it was football season, so I had to drink once a week, right? Either way, I really bore down in March and April, and finished on May 1st.

Total weight lost on LeanGains cut, 69.4 lbs in 13 months, 21 days. Bodyfat percentage from 25% to approx 7% (according to Martin). Needless to say, I am a very satisfied client. I love intermittent fasting, love Martin's program and guidance, and anyone that has doubts can just look at the results."

- Dave G

Overall, Dave also managed to gain strength during the diet. His squat increased by approximately 40 lbs and deadlift and chins went through the roof.

I should note that these results could have been obtained faster. As Dave got busy with work and travelling there were months that more or less became diet breaks. I think Dave's close to 6% body fat in these pics, but he has some skin issues obscuring the lower abs which might give the impression that he's higher. His shredded obliques and serratus tells a different story.

Jennifer F

Very impressive transformation considering the small loss in scale weight. Jennifer has been doing glute specialization. It has clearly worked and nowadays I call her J-Lo. You might find it hard to believe that Jennifer is 45 years old. I've included Jennifers testimonial further down the page.

Before at 150 lbs and now at 144 lbs

Andreaz E

Andreaz achieved his best condition ever for Oslo Grandprix Classic Bodybuilding in April. Despite a grand personal victory, the competition was was stiff with some guys 45 lbs heavier, and being the lightest guy on stage didn't help. He didn't make it to the finals this time.

Teddy S

8 week progress shown. Waiting on new pics and will update when they arrive. Strength increases all across the board despite rapid and substantial fat loss.

Before at 214 lbs

After at 186 lbs

Gabriel R

After I helped Gabriel lose enough fat to make him shredded, I put him on a lat specialization routine. It worked very well. Pics show progress over 12 weeks: significant back and lat development and minimal/no fat gain. Strength gains in some key movements include +40 lbs for weighted chins and bench press.

Before at 173 lbs

After at 186 lbs

Henrik A

Great example of real bodyrecomposition. More muscle and less fat.

Photo shows progress over 12 weeks (210 lbs/204 lbs).

Substantial strength gains across the board: +22 lbs bench press, +65 lbs deadlifts and +35 lbs weighted chins for example.

Check out the video Henrik put together to show off his weekly progress. You can read Henrik's testimonial further down the page.

Jim L

Jim maintained (and even gained a bit) strength perfectly, despite losing almost 10% of his body weight and reaching a shredded 6% body fat.

Before at 150 lbs

After at 137 lbs

Alex D

Work in progress but has so far sliced his body fat in half, from 20% to 10%, in about 12 weeks (which included 2 weeks of vacation). Has gained strength in all movements.

Before at 172 lbs

After at 155 lbs

James R

8 week progress. Fat loss and strength/muscle gain.

Before at 194 lbs

After at 187 lbs

Mikael R

Mikael was featured in a client update in May last year. In the time that passed, he has gained lean mass and strength. Pictures below show Mikael at the end of his diet last year in comparison to his current condition. Body weight is identical, but body fat is clearly lower. I'd hazard a guess and say that he's approximately 10% body fat in the older pictures and 7-8% in the latest pictures. This is equal to a lean mass gain of ~4.5 lbs.

Before at 180 lbs

Now at 180 lbs

And just for the hell of it, Mikael's pre-diet pics at 203 lbs from last year. Quite a striking difference in comparison to his current lean condition.

Gustav L

Progress over 18 weeks (included several weeks of sickness). Strength increased in most movements.

Before at 172 lbs

After at 155 lbs

Brad G

Brad is a work in progress but has so far lost fat and gained muscle and strength. Pictures show progress over 8 weeks. Despite the higher body weight in week 8, he has clearly leaned down. Strength gains include +50 lbs squats and going from 1 chin-up to 5 chin-ups.

Before at 210 lbs

After at 216 lbs

Jill J

Olympic weightlifter Jill is a work in progress. Progress over 7 weeks is shown. Despite a minimal loss on scale weight (3.5 lbs), I think the improvements are very clear. Good example of bodyrecomposition.

Before at 123 lbs

After at 119.5 lbs

Erick S

Work in progress. Down 12 lbs in 7 weeks with solid strength gains.

Geir S

Work in progress, but has gained a good deal of strength while dropping 10 lbs in 4 weeks.

Before at 217 lbs

After at 207 lbs


Jennifer F

"I have trained most of my life. Sometimes harder than others, but I have been consistent. So at the age of 45 you could say that I have tried lots of methods of training and dieting. As far as diet, my pattern would be to adopt a classic 5-6 meal-a-day, high protein, low carb approach to get lean. But in the back of my mind that way of eating would end and I could go back to a “normal” eating pattern. Yes, I carried the cooler, I made family and friends alter their lives and plans so I wouldn’t miss a meal, I dodged social events, I panicked when I didn’t have my food. Didn’t they understand that I had muscle to preserve?

Call it what you will, but it was a roller coaster of putting on and taking off the same 5-10 pounds for the past 20 years. And as I got older, it just got harder, took longer and didn’t look the same when the 5-10 pounds would creep back on. In fact it got downright depressing. I was frustrated and thinking that I should just accept being in my 40’s and carrying around some extra stored energy (FAT).

But I don’t like to throw in the towel. I just didn’t know another way to lose fat and I certainly didn’t know how to keep it off. Then I found intermittent fasting. I was truly excited. It’s not that you can’t get lean eating 5-6 times a day, but it is NOT the only way and in fact there are many myths about meal timing. But you can read all you want about a subject, doing it is the proof.

Then I found Martin Berkhan and Leangains. His approach includes intermittent fasting but on a daily basis, with an 8 hour eating phase and fasting for 16. There is no one-size-fits-all, but this fit me for sure. I started a program with Martin including training. I loved the program and the lifestyle. I have so much energy, especially during the fasts. I am relaxed and non-stressed about my food which is half the battle to sticking to any program.

I was feeling so good about my results with Martin; I decided to tackle a project I had long since given up. My glutes. I wanted a tight, lean and athletic backside. I honestly thought I missed the boat on that one. It just didn’t seem possible to make that kind of transformation in my situation. OK, I will admit, I thought I was too old.

But things were going so well I started to think it would be possible. So I asked Martin to design a program to build some nice glutes. He put together a very doable training program, focusing on my preferred body part and of course intermittent fasting. I got what I wanted. I am VERY happy with my results. I still use intermittent fasting and probably always will. It works for me. Thanks Martin."

- Jennifer F

Henrik A

"For me, one of the most frustrating things about getting or trying to get in shape is that you always hear different, often opposing, theories and opinions on 'what works' and what will give you the best results. You can spend hours and hours of doing research, read theory and listen to 'gurus' and still be somewhat in the dark of what diet and workout regimen would give you the results you are looking for.

"This, combined with the fact you know a lot of people in the industry are just out to make a quick buck, makes you extremely suspicious. When you are suspicious, you tend to listen to the general consensus, the so-called 'undisputed facts' of the industry. I thought I had these facts down, at least to some degree, until I met Martin Berkhan. Turns out that a lot of the things I thought were facts were merely myths…

"I heard about Intermittent Fasting and LeanGains through some friends who are very active and in good shape. Their preaching of the methods and the fact I wanted to try something new made me have a look at the system. To be honest though, when I first checked the system out I thought the setup was absolutely ridiculous. Skip breakfast? Fasted weight workouts? No isolation movements? No more than 3 weight training days per week? Nonsense! It was quite the opposite from everything I’ve heard and been taught before. But the more I read the more it actually made sense, and results are hard to argue with (and Martin has plenty). So the question I asked myself was…

"Would it work for me?

"One of the major concerns I had about intermittent fasting when I first heard about it was 'Will this really work for me?' I’ve always been an avid breakfast eater and I’ve always woken up hungry and wanting to eat. On top of this, every other source out there says the breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so no wonder I ritualized my breakfast and the whole "Eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper” mentality.

"So of course I was skeptical about the whole deal with intermittent fasting. How would I, the breakfast king, deal with not eating in the morning? Well, the answer is 'surprisingly well.' 'Surprisingly well' not only because I thought it would be more of a challenge than it was, but even more surprising that I believe that if I can do it, then everyone else can too. The LeanGains system is neither difficult nor does it requires extra-ordinary will power and motivation – it just gives you the results of such a program. Intermittent fasting is the only 'diet' I’ve held on to for more than 6 weeks and trust me, it’s not been because I’ve been lacking the motivation before.

"What about hunger, metabolism and fatigue in general? Being on a number of cutting diets (or at least trying them out for a while) before, the major pain has always been that I never feel satisfied and full after smallish meals which has lead to the desire to binge or fall of the wagon. With LG, even on a cutting diet I sometimes have trouble getting all my calories in every day! Sure, I do feel somewhat hungry in the morning – but somehow it’s a different kind of hunger and it’s easily ignored and goes away after a short while. When it does go away, I get a surge of energy, motivation and clarity. I know, it sounds illogical. That’s what I thought until I tried it.

"This is the only program to date which has increased my energy, motivation and made me more quick-witted. The only downside is that I sometimes miss my breakfast meals. I’m such a sucker for yogurt and sandwiches in the morning… :)

"What were my results? While initially on the LeanGains program just to shed fat, I’ve actually managed the feat of not only losing substantial amounts of fat but also build muscle! I’ve lost about 6 pounds and I’ve added 66 lbs to my deadlift, 22 lbs to my bench press and 33 lbs to my chins (just to name a few exercises) over a 12 week period.

"Who would I recommend this program for? I’d recommend this program for anyone interesting in shedding fat or packing on muscle. Never have I experienced the same change in bodyrecomposition this fast. Martin Berkhan is an excellent coach that will listen to your goals and help you achieve them. I couldn’t be happier with choosing LeanGains."

- Henrik A

Alex A

"I have always been interested in new ways of thinking when it comes to nutrition and training. So when I heard about Martin’s IF and read about it, it just made sense to me and I decided to give it a go.

My main goal with contacting Martin was to lean out, and this guy really knows how to get in shape. I work as a personal trainer and a strength coach, and I have always believed that there is no need to reinvent the wheel, only adjust it to the terrain. I therefore got the best one out there to teach me about the IF and set up a diet suited for my goal.

The results were great and I lost fat while gaining strength. While I followed the diet a hundred percent during my fat loss period, I now adjust my nutrition from day to day depending on my schedule. What I love about IF is that it’s more of a lifestyle rather than just a diet. I am no longer dependent on eating my 5-6 meals a day, and it’s not the end of the world if I don’t make my '12 pm meal' before 2 pm. I have no doubt that this way of eating has its benefits and makes everyday life easier for a lot of people. And it really has for me. "

- Alex A

Glenn L - Norwegian Indoor Rowing Championship Gold Winner

"After three years of more or less consistent strength training, I have, through periods of muscle gains and fat loss, tried different types of approaches, low carb, high carb, keto-diets, HIIT, 6-8 meals a day etc. All is self-taught through the internet, and my results have been ok, nothing exceptional.

At the end of 2009, me and some friends caught the interest of indoor-rowing on Concept 2 row-ergometers. I saw that my results on 500m was acceptable, and actually quite good compared to results found from C2-competitions here in Norway. Or, good for a lightweight, that is! I was 5 kg overweight. 13th of Feb. 2010, the Norwegian Indoor Rowing Championship was to be arranged. I decided I wanted to give it a go! But to be able to compete in the lightweight-class, I had to drop the excess weight. Out of experience, I knew that during my previous diets, a lot of strength had been lost, so I was affraid that this might ruin my rowing-performance as well.

I had followed Martins blog with eager for a couple of years, and therefore decided to contact him on my road to the competition.

I was given a thorough description of how to approach the diet, with guidelines for both food intake and strength training. The fact that I work shifts added an extra challenge to the whole, but even this was dealt with in a great way.

I was ahead of schedule on my weight loss and actually gaining strength in several movements! This allowed me to do a slow carb-up before the contest, instead of a high intake just before the race.

I weighed in at 74,6 kg, full of energy! The contest preparation was excellent, and the final result as well, gold winner in the lightweight-class, 500m!

Whether your goal is some sort of competition or just personal goals in sports or weight loss/strength gain, I will not hesitate to recommend Martin Berkhan as coach!"

- Glenn L

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Early Morning Fasted Training

In the Leangains Guide I wrote the following:

"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."

My reasoning was:

"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."

This poses a dilemma for those who can only train in the early morning hours. If you're training first thing in the morning and finish at 7 AM it would call for a feeding phase of 7 AM to 3 PM. That's just a bit too early for my liking. Could you still do it and start the fast in the middle of the day? Sure. But generally speaking, this would compromise diet adherence for most people.

Seeing that most my clients wants to lose fat, optimal diet adherence is high on my priority list. I always aim for a diet design that is easy, painless and maintainable in the long term. So how have I solved this dilemma, knowing the importance of pre- and post-workout protein intake?

The protocol

Most clients maintain their 8-hour feeding-window between 12-2 pm and 8-10 pm on all days. For those doing early morning fasted training I have maintained that feeding window and added small feedings of BCAA pre- and post-workout.

Similar to fasted training, 10 g BCAA is ingested pre-workout. However, instead of initiating the feeding phase immediately post-workout, which is the standard protocol for regular fasted training, another 10 g BCAA is ingested two hours after the first. A third dose may then be ingested depending on when the client prefers his feeding-window.

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.

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 convenience, 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.

Protein synthesis

I had some concerns before deciding on incorporating and recommending this protocol on a wider scale. After rigorous testing, these concerns have not proven to be valid.

My first concern was that results would be compromised if the post-workout meal was pushed back several hours. I haven't seen any trend, such as lack of progress or loss of strength and muscle mass, to indicate that this is the case. The results are on par with those obtained with the other protocols.

Consuming BCAAs every other hour through the fast is sufficient to keep protein synthesis stimulated and prevent protein breakdown. If protein intake is completely omitted, it would undoubtedly affect results negatively. Thus the compromise of ingesting BCAA pre- and post-workout through the fast, before the real post-workout meal, which is initiated at the usual time of the feeding phase.

Will we still derive the benefits from regular fasting if we consume small amounts of protein throughout the fast post-workout? Yes. If carbs are omitted, the increased insulin sensitivity will quickly bring back basal insulin to fasted state levels despite consuming 120 calories worth of fairly insulinogenic amino acids. The fasted state is almost fully maintained post-workout.

When the post-workout meal comes around is also when muscle protein synthesis is beginning to take off. Though muscle protein synthesis is acutely stimulated post-workout in response to resistance training and protein intake, studies show some latency in regards to elevation and peak. Protein synthesis starts to climb about 3-4 hours post-workout, reaches a peak at the 24-hour-mark and returns close to baseline values 36 hours post-workout (or 48 hours depending on who you ask; studies on this topic show slightly different results regarding length and peak of elevation). Even if you push back the post-workout meal a few hours, you will be in the fed state at a time when nutrient partitioning is optimized and muscle growth likely to occur.

By consuming small amounts of BCAA through the fasted state we are stimulating synthesis and halting breakdown. A few hours later, when protein synthesis is increasing, we enter the fed state. The latency seen with protein synthesis in response to training, and the fact that we have amino acids (BCAA) in circulation pre- and post-workout, goes a long way in explaining why clients following this protocol get equal results to those following other protocols.

Hunger and hypoglycemia

My second concern was that clients would be hungry or suffer bouts of exercise-induced hypoglycemia post-workout. This would compromise diet adherence and/or impair productivity during the fast and make the protocol worthless. Fortunately, this has not been proven to be the case.

For some it will feel unnatural to not eat directly post-workout. This is part of a learned response. After a training session we want to reward ourselves . Even if there is no real physiological need to do so immediately. If anything, high-intensity exercise in the fasted state tends to suppress appetite in the short-term and not increase it.

This is mirrored by my personal experience as well. If I train within the hour upon awakening, I still don't get hungry until the time I am used to eating - which may be 4-5 hours post-workout. Clients have reported the same.

There are no hypoglycemic episodes reported so far, but this was only a true concern of mine for those involved in fairly glycogen-demanding training such as CrossFit. Considering that there's a fair amount of liver glycogen available to maintain blood glucose levels during training after an overnight fast this is not so strange.

The only way I could imagine someone experiencing hypoglycemia post-workout, if a post-workout meal was delayed for several hours, would be after prolonged and strenuous training in combination with severe calorie or carbohydrate restriction. In such a case the training session would induce a substantial and acute energy deficit along with complete depletion of liver glycogen content (which would escalate protein breakdown and also increase the risk of hypoglycemia). I am not a fan of prolonged endurance training in the fasted state.

For others, hypoglycemia is not a concern. Even type 2 diabetics maintain blood glucose very well in the hours following fasted state training in spite of not eating post-workout. For a metabolically healthy individual, there is nothing to worry about.

BCAA vs whey

What's all this fuss about BCAA and could we not use another protein source such as whey protein? Strictly speaking, no. BCAA contains the three major amino acids intimately involved in activating muscle protein synthesis, including leucine which is the key player. Whey protein contains 25% BCAA. Other high-quality protein sources, such as meat, contain 17-18% BCAA. To get an equivalent amount of BCAAs into circulation during the fasted state would require 120-180 g protein from these sources. That's more than 500 calories (120 g protein plus tag-along carbs and fat), which is not far from a medium sized meal.

With BCAAs we are getting maximal benefits with regards to muscle protein synthesis for a minimal caloric load. The latter point being important to maintain the fasted state and to allow for a liberal 8-hour feeding window later in the day.


If all this sounds like micromanaging to you, that's exactly what it is. Inquiring minds would probably like to know what, if any, benefits there are in maintaining a fasted state a few hours post-workout when it comes to muscle growth and recovery. But I'd be hard pressed to make such arguments when there aren't any. The real growth takes place later in the day, when the feeding-window is initiated. Until then we make sure that:

* Muscle protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown inhibited by regular feedings of BCAA pre- and post-workout.

* Appetite is suppressed and insulin sensitivity maintained throughout the fast.

* The feeding-window is initiated at the usual, entrained, time point.

This is how I have solved the dilemma of early morning fasted training without compromising the results of my clients.

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

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