Monday, January 3, 2011

Better Blood Glucose with Lower Meal Frequency


A new study called "Effect of meal frequency on glucose and insulin excursions over the course of a day" questions the all too popular recommendation of eating every so often to keep blood sugar in check. It actually shows that such advice can be counterproductive, as high meal frequency leads to higher blood sugar levels compared to low meal frequency.

Yes, that's right - eating every 2-3rd hour to manage blood sugar is nonsense and a myth that's just about to die.

The World is Upside Down

It's funny how mainstream health advice in regards to diet and meal frequency gets turned upside down by new and more accurate research. In 2010 we learned that three meals is better for appetite control.

We also saw more hard evidence for the fact that a higher meal frequency does not "stoke your metabolism" or lead to better fat loss. Fortunately, some mainstream media outlets are starting to wake up and has enough sense to inform people - as we saw when the New York Times debunked the myth about meal frequency and fat loss. Sad thing is that they're more than a decade late. That's OK though. Hell, even I was late to finding out but I've been talking about this nonsense since 2005.

We also saw the New York Times cover the benefits of fasted training. Again, the NYT is late to the party - I summarized that study back in September.

(Furthermore, I've been training fasted, and have been using fasted training as part of diet regimens for myself and my clients since around 2006. Check out the "Fasted Training"-tag.)

We should be thankful that a big and influential newspaper like the NYT is relaying this information to its large audience. Indeed, as far as mainstream media outlets go you can say that they're "on the cutting edge" as far as new diet research is concerned...  

...But if you want to stay on the true cutting edge, you better have Leangains bookmarked :D Or better yet, subscribe in a reader or by email.

I remember way back in the days when I first started talking and writing about meal frequency, fasting and fasted training on blogs and forums. Everyone thought I was crazy. Guess who's laughing now. But I digress; back to the topic.

The Meal Frequency Myth

As you have probably heard and read many times over - in the form of weight loss advices given by health enthusiasts and dietitians alike - eating small meals every second to third hour is supposed to keep your blood sugar in check. That's on top of other benefits that include boosting metabolism, improving appetite control, preventing muscle catabolism, and so forth.

If you are a regular reader of this site, you know that this is utter nonsense - and even in complete opposition to what actually happens. I thoroughly debunked these myths in "Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked" (a must read if you haven't read it yet).

Blood Glucose and Health

Maintaining blood sugar within a healthy range is important, as higher blood sugar levels may predispose people to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. That's on top of other diseases such as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's. Furthermore, it as long been hypothesized that high blood sugar (blood glucose) may accelerate the aging process.

It should be noted that the aging-hypothesis, and the link between blood glucose and Alzheimer's, is based on animal and cell culture studies. As you can understand, it would be hard to establish a definitive link between blood glucose, aging and other diseases in free-living humans.

That said, it is not far fetched to assume that our bodies haven't adapted to the modern diet with its high calorie intakes and highly refined carb sources. The abundance of junk food and highly concentrated carb sources provides endless opportunities for spiking blood glucose to heights that we are ill equipped to deal with. That there will be a backlash for those who continuously maintain higher blood glucose may not be a wild theory.

In summary, maintaining blood sugar within a healthy range is very important for individuals with poor glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity ("prediabetes"). However, it might also be of interest for just about anyone who wants to live a longer and disease-free life.

Blood Glucose and Meal Frequency

While debunking myths about meal frequency and metabolism is easy, the scientific literature on meal frequency and blood glucose (BG) is harder to explore and reach a conclusion on. For one thing, there is the issue of taking blood samples at the right time point in order to make a fair assessment on the result.

Let's say we want to track average BG levels during a day of either 3 or 6 meals. We split meals equally in terms of calories (i.e. 3 x 800 kcal vs 6 x 400 kcal) and measure BG at various time points. The first time point is one hour after the first meal. Needless to say, the first reading is going to show a higher value after the 800-kcal meal (3-meal group).

On the other hand, the 3-meal group will have a lower BG reading in the third and fourth hour of the experiment - just as the 6-meal group is eating or finishing the second meal.

The above is an example but illustrates the problem. Proper timing of sampling is a huge confounder - and this has been handled poorly in earlier studies on meal frequency, BG, and insulin. In order to make a fair assessment of the results, researchers need perfect timing in relation to meals or draw several blood samples throughout the day. Otherwise, the results will be highly misleading.

Another monumental confounder has been using different nutrient compositions of meals. Not standardizing calorie and macronutrient composition in the above mentioned context makes any conclusion drawn from results worthless. Each nutrient has an independent effect on BG and insulin. Carbs raise BG and insulin the most, protein much less so, and fat the least.

Feast your eyes upon this beauty. I ate a lot of cheesecake this Christmas. The events that transpired will not go unnoticed and I shall tell you more about it soon. Keep in mind that I don't recommend this practice for optimal blood glucose control. (You might wonder what a picture of a cheesecake slice is doing in the middle of a diet study review. First of all, your brain needed a break from the science-talk. Second of all, cheesecake is a hell of a lot better than lame graphs, a bodybuilder holding a dumbbell, or some chick doing yoga.)

The New Study: Greater Accuracy

The new study seeks to improve on the lacking methodology used in past studies. From the paper:

In contrast to previous research, this study used frequent blood sampling to track glucose and insulin concentrations to three and six subsequent nutrient ingestions.

OK, so let's look at how the study was conducted, what the results showed, and what we can take away from it all.


The participants arrived to the laboratory fasted, after which baseline blood samples were taken. On three separate occasion, each participant was then fed the following 1500-kcal diets:

6 CHO: 65% carbs, 15% protein, 20% fat, split 250 kcal x 6.
3 CHO: 65% carbs, 15% protein, 20% fat, split 500 kcal x 3.
6 PRO: 35% carbs, 45% protein, 20% fat, split 250 kcal x 6.

Meals were taken in the form of liquids; carbs in the form of sucrose and corn syrup, protein in the form of soy protein. Fat came with the protein supplement. Certainly not "ideal" but liquid meals are standard in these types of experiments.

Meals were eaten every second hour starting at 7 A.M. for the 6-meal groups (6 CHO and 6 PRO) and every fourth hour starting at 7 A.M. for the 3-meal experiment (3 CHO). Blood samples were drawn every 15th minute during the study period (7 A.M. - 7 P.M). The results were added together and values for BG and insulin were then calculated to establish averages for each diet.


Baseline (fasted) glucose and insulin values were similar across the three study days. Let's look at the average BG values for each diet-experiment.

6 CHO: 710.0 +-251.0 mmol/L*min
3 CHO: 522.7 +-99.3 mmol/L*min
6 PRO: 442 +- 121.0 mmol/L*min

The 6 CHO-experiment exhibited significantly higher BG values than the other groups. Despite identical carb and calorie-intakes, those who ate 6 meals had 30% higher blood sugar values than those who ate 3 meals. That's a rather striking difference considering the energy- and nutrient-matched condition.

The difference between 6 CHO compared to the high-protein experiment (6 PRO) was even more pronounced (60% higher), but this is not so strange considering the effect of protein on BG. 

Insulin values were not significantly different between the CHO-groups and the PRO-group had the lowest values; again, this is not unexpected given that carbs are more insulinogenic than protein.


The authors of the paper sums up the results:

The present study is one of the first to investigate glucose and insulin excursions in response to altered meal frequency and macronutrient composition in healthy young adults over a 12 h period. Our primary finding is that consumption of 6 frequent meals in 12 h resulted in higher blood glucose levels over the course of the day than the consumption of 3 meals, although there was no difference in the insulin response between these two conditions.

The implication here is that it seems insulin was able to do its job better, that of lowering blood sugar, with less meals.

There has been considerable promotion both by the medical community and the lay press to consume 6 meals per day for weight loss or for glycemic control but our data indicate that the glucose AUC is 30% higher over the course of the day with a frequent high carbohydrate feeding than when consuming 3 meals per day.

This is just a nice way to say that mainstream diet advice is a bunch of bullshit.

This could potentially have profound implications for individuals with glucose intolerance or those with type 2 diabetes, and should be studied further in this population.

Not only is it bullshit, but it might even be counterproductive for some individuals.

My Thoughts

A few remarks:

1. The subjects were lean, healthy and young; 18-35 year old males and females with an average of 12% and 30% body fat respectively. Thus they were metabolically healthy and representative of the health-conscious crowd. If they saw a negative effect of high-frequent feedings, one can speculate about what someone in worse metabolic condition, i.e. poor glucose tolerance or insulin resistance, might experience.

2. Ironically, eating six meals a day is pretty much the norm among the fitness crowd - partly due to the belief that it will help be beneficial for blood sugar control...when it does the exact opposite.

3. While the study design was excellent, it can be argued that the sample size was fairly small (8 subjects). This makes the results less definitive than if the sample size were larger. However, this is still a larger sample size than some studies that have been cited when questionable claims of benefits of high meal frequency has been brought up (e.g, this widely cited study by Speechly, et al that used 7 subjects). Furthermore, a sample size of 7-10 subjects is quite typical in these kinds of studies.

4. There was considerable variance in the average BG values of subjects in response to the 6 CHO-diet; a whopping +-251 mmol/l*min compared to the +-99 mmol/l*min for the 3 CHO-diet. The implication of this is that it seems some subjects handled 6 meals very poorly while everyone handled 3 meals well, relatively speaking.

5. It's unfortunate that the researchers did not compare six high-protein meals to three high-protein meals by including a 3 PRO-experiment in the study. However, I'd be surprised if the results of such an experiment would differ much from those of the 6 CHO vs 3 CHO-experiments.

6. Another conclusion by the authors, or shall we say affirmation of fact, is that of the benefit of increasing protein intake relative to carb intake as an effective preventative measure against the metabolic syndrome and Diabetes Type 2. I've talked about the benefits of high-protein diets numerous times in the past, but usually as an effective diet strategy for maintaining low body fat and minimizing fat gain during overfeeding.

However, despite the fact that there is overwhelming scientific support for the positive effects of high-protein diets on fat loss, weight management and health markers, many medical professionals and dietitians are still hesitant to recommend high-protein diets. In the bizarre world of public health professionals, a high-carb (45-65%), low-protein diet (15-20%) is still recommended. Most recently, such dietary advice was given in this shameful publication: "The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010."

It's strange to see such ignorance given the growing waistlines of the American population (and elsewhere). When scientific evidence for the effectiveness of high-protein diets are discussed, it is lamely stated that "further research is warranted" - but this has been said for the last 30-40 years, ever since the beneficial effects of high-protein diets started to surface.

This is all strongly related to findings in dietary epidemiology, which is the cornerstone of public diet and health guidelines. But it's completely worthless. You easily can "prove" that higher protein intakes and meat causes weight gain. But like I've said many times in the past, correlation does not imply causation.

Public health recommendations must be given based on controlled studies - where diets are standardized and compared against each other in a controlled and methodological manner (such as the one discussed in this article). Only then can we draw conclusions based on the collected evidence.

For a thorough explanation of why the results of dietary epidemiology can be highly misleading, read "Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked" where I discuss this in relation to meal frequency and breakfast. As you will note, results from interventional studies dispute the results found in dietary epidemiology.

7. Lastly, a disclaimer: As with every new finding in nutritional research, more studies are needed to to confirm the results found here. While this study was an improvement over older studies, due to better methodology and greater accuracy, nothing can be said with full certainty before the results are replicated (i.e. with a larger sample size).

There is always a chance, however slim, that some of the participants were significantly different from the Average Joe or Jane with identical characteristics. If that was the case, their results, be it that they were genetically wired to handle three meals better, not well suited for frequent feedings, or any combination thereof, would skew the average values for the group and perhaps falsely show statistical significance when there is none to be had.

That said, it would be unlikely that the results found in a future study would be in complete opposition to the ones found here. So for now, I think we can safely pronounce the blood sugar myth dead and state that the latest and best scientific research suggests that a lower meal frequency is superior for blood glucose.

Fake Diet Gurus

Take heed of diet gurus and "health experts" who claims that a high meal frequency is ideal for health, metabolism or fat loss. The advice has always been questionable from a physiological point of view, but the truths have remained hidden and obscured to the public. Buried in academic papers that are unavailable to the lay person or hard to decipher for anyone without solid understanding of the topic. (...And not the "solid understanding" displayed by the so-called experts.)

Remember, there was no incentive to talk about the meal frequency myth, but there has been, and still is, lots of monetary incentive to have people believe that smaller meals and frequent feeding is important. Supplement companies makes billions from people that gulp down protein shakes, bars and meal replacements in the false belief that it might be beneficial.

However, we've all been there, believing the myths. Eating breakfast, drinking whey shakes, watching the clock for the next meal, worrying about catabolism, etc. Given that the noise of those who have something to gain by keeping these myths alive is much higher than those who spread the right information, it's perfectly reasonable that we buy into the things we hear everyone saying. After all, it is not until fairly recently, in the last few years, that the myths has been exposed - by myself and others.

The evidence against any supposed benefits of high meal frequency is mounting, while the evidence that speaks for a lower meal frequency is emerging. The information has been presented - it is available. Now you just can't get a free pass if you keep spinning the same bullshit about how meal frequency stokes your metabolism and all that other nonsense.

In this day and age, anyone that claims to be a health or diet expert and keeps regurgitating these myths displays the mark of incompetence. Be wary of them. They are still around and their number is legion. Confront them when you can and watch them squirm when you ask them to back their claims up with scientific evidence. Ignorance is inexcusable today if you claim to be an expert.

That's all for tonight, folks.


Anonymous said...


TanYewWei said...

Very nice read. Another thing I'm wondering about is how this would change with more "normal" caloric intakes (say 2000-3000kcal).

Needless to say, this obviously proves that 6 meals a day aren't necessary.

Anonymous said...

I do well with two a day.

One at times if it is a particularly big meal.

Lord D

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Tom said...

Another excellent article. Your blog rules Martin...but you already knew that. More people need to open up their eyes and read your stuff. Keep up the fantastic work.

Johnn said...

GREAT post as always. Very informative and interesting.

I'd be ashamed of teh Internetz if Leangains dont get a mention on those Best of 2011 lists that should be popping up soon.

Tomas F said...

Great Martin!

Maybe I'm stupid but need to ask.

Info I got says low blodd sugar is 2,5-3 mmol/l and normal between 4-6 mmol/l

Levels from the study says 442-710 mmol/L*min

Whats the difference?

Hugo said...


Another great article. I do have a question though, and please excuse my ignorance here:

Lower meal frequency leads to lower blood sugar levels (insulin works better?). But why would this specifically be a good thing? Lowering blood sugar means storage of bodyfat right? or are we talking about muscle gains here? ..



Anonymous said...

Hi Martin.

What impresses me the most is that there are no more such studies for such important issues.

I am wandering what all those scientists do all day.

Why can't a university or a corporation design a really big study with hundreds subjects and test many many feeding variations and we all learn once and for all what is the truth.

Keep up the good work.

You have changed a lot of views I had about nutrition.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff martin, can't wait for your book.

LayzieBone085 said...

Damn Martin, Cheesecake preview, more great info, an the book on the horizon. Life must be good right now eh? Keep up the fantastic work.

Anonymous said...

Awesome article man, proceed with the good work!

Anonymous said...

Yes! So proud to be ahead of the crowd. All thanks to Martin of course.

Amanda Strassner said...

Very interesting!

You made one error when explaining the study - you refer to a "3 PRO" condition for most of your post when it was actually "6 PRO."

To be honest I wouldn't mention it if you were consistently wrong, but you mention it accurately in your "thoughts" section which confused me and might confuse other people. =] Feel free to delete this comment if you end up fixing it.

Martin Berkhan said...


Glad you noticed. I've corrected those parts of the article (I hope). That's what happens when you stay up & write at 5 AM in the morning :D

Anonymous said...

My university nutrition professor advised against a high protein diet and when I asked what kind of of a macro-nutrient ratio I should implement into my diet for muscle gain and fat loss, she recommended 60% Carb, 20% protein, 20% fat.

This was a little over a year before I stumbled upon your blog and opened my eyes. A little over a year of life wasted with shitty advice from shitty "professionals"

Brofist Martin.

Erik said...

Thank you for a great article. The information provided on this blog has made my life much easier. Earlier I always ate every three hours, to "prevent catabolism", which wasn´t very practical and often caused a lot of stress. Now I know better. So again, thank you!
Unfortunately, not everybody read your blog. Quote from Charles Poliquin´s blog: If you have to delay a meal after your watch goes off indicating it’s time to eat, get some water and take 10-20 capsules bcaa to maintain your hard-earned muscle.

Mvh Erik

Chris Kresser said...

In general, I agree. However, if the metabolism is already damaged significantly and the cortisol/melatonin rhythm is dysregulated, then IF can actually worsen blood sugar control. I see this in my practice. I'm a health care practitioner, and a lot of my patients are either on a Paleo diet when they come to me or I put them on one. Some have been doing IF and Paleo for months and even years, and yet their blood sugar is trashed.

When I test their adrenals, they have cortisol output and rhythm issues. As soon as they stop doing IF, and start eating small meals every 2-3 hours, their blood sugar normalizes and their adrenals also improve. After further treatment of their adrenals, their blood sugar gets even better. I suspect that some of these folks will be able to return to IF later, but for now, they don't do well on it.

I know the theories, I've seen studies - but they can never capture the complexity present in a single individual, especially when thorough and regular testing is done with a glucometer and we also check the adrenals.

I think IF is natural from an evolutionary perspective, and that most people benefit from it. However, I know from firsthand experience that there are people it's not good for. At least not until their adrenals get back in order.

Anonymous said...

6 CHO: 65% carbs, 15% protein, 20% fat, split 250 kcal x 6.
3 CHO: 65% carbs, 15% protein, 20% fat, split 500 kcal x 3.
6 PRO: 35% carbs, 45% protein, 20% fat, split 500 kcal x 3.

Shouldn't the last one be split 250 kcal x6 not 500 kcal x3 since it's the 6 meal group?

Martin Berkhan said...

Absolutely & thanks for spotting that. Corrected.

Aaron Curl said...

Awesome post. It's still sad that healthcare, government and media "professionals" tell us to keep eating the way we have been for the last 40 years while the majority of the world keeps getting fatter. These "professionals" are after money plane and simple. They really don't care about us, or they are too proud to admit they are wrong, whichever it is it needs to stop.

Ronald said...


How long will 35-40g of casein (non-liquid), 9g fat and 13g carbs consumed in the fasted state (empty stomach) keep me in protein balance?

I'm hoping for 8 hrs+. ;)

Anonymous said...

You are my hero

Clint - Crude Fitness said...

Great stuff as usual Martin.
Facebooked and tweeted.

I've been a huge advocate for 5-6 meals a day for years. It's been really difficult to shake the need to eat so often. More ammo the better :)

DBAR said...

I have always suspected that lower meal frequencies work best.

I am just curious. Does anyone, while fasting, feel amazingly good? What i mean is that, while fasting, i experience a euphoric "runners high." This puts me in a very good state of mind, and helps me focus my daily activities.

As a student, I find it highly difficult to study a good portion of the day while my mind is occupied with my next meal in way 7 minutes! Oh no, i can't walk to my apartment from the library in that time :D

But really, its my goal, as I am applying and interviewing for medical schools, to try and shift my future patient base on the essentials of proper, not OCD nutrition

Susan@Home Workouts said...

Hi Martin - being a fitness professional, I read hundreds of health, fitness, and weight loss blogs. And every post I read from you continues to impress me and put others to shame.

Hopefully, intermittent fasting and other cycling diets will start to move into the mainstream sooner rather than later.

But, one thing is for sure.....if you eat 6+ times per day you will more then likely be eating more food then if you ate 3 times per day. $$$$$$$$ that means the food manufacturers make more money. They probably started the myth in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Really awesome article, and even if IF was only AS GOOD as 6-meals a day, I would still go for IF...

Imo you can repeat it as many times as you want, but most recognized fitness gurus won't ever admitted...

They preached the 6-meals a day habit too much to just say "oh I'm sorry I was wrong yet I still took 200$ a day from you and gave you unproven information that made your life hell for years"

The min I stumbled upon your blog, I was so excited to finally finding something that will free me from this hell of 6-meals a day, I hated it since day 1 but everywhere I read, they all agreed on it... so Thank you!

Cole said...

Martin, I soon plan to try to cut hopefully around 20 lbs of just fat while retaining as much strength&muscle as possible. Does my diet have to be high carb low fat or visa versa? Or can I just pit my calories 750 to 250 below what it takes to maintain and make up my diet and not have to pay attention to the % intake of my fats/carbs? Basically you could say I'm confused that if I eat too much grains will my insulin allow me to loose fat. I appreciate what you've done here martin. Great job

Anonymous said...


I don't think a 15-20% protein diet can be considered a low protein diet.
On a 2000 calories diet 20% protein is 100g of proteins and this is definitely not low, althought might be less than what many consider optimal.

Silje Mariela - BodyWork said...

Once again, thanx for a great article!

Arien Malec said...

@Cole -- did you read the Leangains Guide?

Cole said...

@Arien Malec

I have read it, the reason I ask the question i ask is because I may not Intermittent Fast, so I am asking this question as more of a nutritional question in general.

Anonymous said...

What sources to dietary fat would you advice instead of nuts?

Anonymous said...


One of the main benefits of IF for me is that I am sated egen going to bed. It works and I am dropping weight. I have two questions though.

1. If I am unlucky I wake up in the late night and then I cant go back to sleep because I am hungry. What should eat/do in those situations? Should I shorten the fast that day and still follow my normal schedule or should I extend the fast and eat later? What should I eat in the middle of the night? it has to be quick so I dont wake up fully. À protein shake perhaps?

2. I know that for your concept leangains, you limit the workouts, but if you exercise more how would you cycle macros? Say you lift 3 dags and do cardio 4-5 days each week. When would you increase fat intake and when have high carbs? I know it is not your model, but I would value your opinion.

Matt said...

Hey Martin, I'd very very much appreciate it if you could help me with this - it may even be a good idea to cover this for an upcomming article.

How does your and your clients diet change if you get sick? For instance, I have a throat infection and a mild fever + smashing headache. Since I'm the type to blow myself out every session, training is out of the question until I recover. (I've read Lyle's article about training when sick).

But how do you eat? Is it smart to eat below maintenance (like on rest days) when you are sick? Does macrocomposition of the diet considerably affect your ability to recover? I'm very interested in this and I don't think you've covered it before.


Anonymous said...

Would a 200 cal 'meal', half protein, half carbs be OK as the first meal breaking the fast at the 16 hour mark?

mechaeng said...

Hi Martin!
You promote eating a lot of protein. I'm vegetarian-ish, and eat beans, fish, cottage cheese, and eggs as my main sources of protein. I'm unsure if I'm getting enough, I've been, as a start, shooting for 100g a day, and that sometimes isn't met. Any ideas on other resources for protein? Or do you think I should just eat more of what I already am?

mechaeng said...

I should also tell you I'm a small female, 5'9", 130 lbs (60kg).

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Another great post, Martin!

it was a very big difference between the groups, bigger then I would have guessed..

pete said...

awesome post!
found you via a german site. thx for sharing quality information

Anonymous said...

Relatively speaking...!!!

Don said...

Only one thing to add to this excellent article, which is to say that I think most people have the idea that you need to eat frequently to prevent low blood sugar, not to prevent high blood sugar.

This study certainly confirmed the conventional belief that frequent feeding will prevent low blood sugar...and will probably also prevent normal blood sugar...i.e. it probably encourages diabetes.

Martin, right on about the fear of protein among public health leaders. Now we have people also claiming, on slim evidence from rodent studies, that protein restriction promotes longevity. I recently dissected a few rodent protein restriction studies on my blog and found them thoroughly unimpressive from a cost-benefit stand point, and some used pretty creative accounting to come up with a significant increase in lifespan among the protein-restricted animals.

Anonymous said...

The Dietary Guideline for America 2010 is written with simple people in mind, not wannabe bodybuilders or athletes.

Saying that 15-20% protein, for the general population, is low is ridicolous.

The only way to eat more than that would be to either have a pound of meat a day or several scoops of proteins powder between meals. But this is ridicolous for everyday people.

Someone with a calorie need of 1800 would still get 90g of proteins following the 15-20% guideline. How can anyone claim that is low? How could an average person with no athletic ambition eat more proteins than that without resorting to diet micromanaging?

Anonymous said...

Looks like t-nation is hopping on the IF train too, except they figured out a way to push their overpriced supplements at the same time! Fundamentally, I dont see much difference between your approach and their new "Pulse Feast" article.

Anonymous said...

Atleast Thibs is giving Martin credit in the livespill.

Anonymous said...


I know you have a low opinion of the return from cardio as a "fat burner," however I was wondering what you would recommend for someone who needs to actually maintain a high level of endurance (i.e. lots of sprinting/running) without f'ing up everything else. I was thinking do cardio in the fasted state and supplement with BCAA's before and after, then business as usual for evening weight training. Retarded or non-retarded?


Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Roberto said...

Hi Martin

From what I've gathered about your program so far, it seems you pay strict attention to calorie intake.

Mild deficit when losing fat, mild surplus while building muscle, and I can only assume as close to maintenance calorie needs as possible while on the maintenance program.

On the fat loss program, with deliberate calorie reduction each week, I think it's reasonable to say that the fat loss will generally correspond with said deficit.

If that's the case, on the fat loss program, why set up any macronutrient guidelines? On the rest day, with a calorie deficit, you are going to lose weight whether you're eating roast beef or pizza.

Intermittent Fasting said...

Another awesome post Martin! I'm going to adopt the IF style of eating in the coming weeks, partly thanks to your website and partly thanks to my hearing sputterings about IF for the last year or so. I was a major promoter of 6-8 tiny meals a day for muscle gain and fat loss, but now I'm evolving all of my advice to an IF mindset. Too bad I have to go back and rewrite 3 years of blog posts. Argh!

Leo said...

Martin, others,

Tnation/Christian Thibideau is giving you huge praise over at the Tnation website.... of course the props dont come until you get deep into the comments. Either way, cool shit, this cutting edge.

Roberto said...

Hi Martin

I have one other question.

It's clear that your clients are able to very effectively reduce their body fat. From what you've told us, and from testimonials, it would appear they remain energetic and happy doing so.

What happens, though, if a person discontinues your program? Do they become ravenously hungry and binge uncontrollably until every pound of fat, or more, returns?

Obviously they are likely going to lose the results to some extent if they return to uncontrolled, ad libitum feeding. But if they do stop, does their appetite remain normal the way it apparently is on the program?

Matt said...


The reasons for macro guidelines are numerous, from what I've gathered.

Sure you could eat pizza and drink whey/casein shakes on rest days and the results would probably be comparable, if not identical. But that is assuming you are able to maintain a deficit eating pizza or some other delicious, calorie laden treat. You see, most people who have problems losing fat, or even maintaining their weight would definitely have trouble feeling full on pizza while still being in a deficit. I'd be much less compelled to overeat chicken breast and cottage cheese than pizza or burgers. So in a addition to all the studies Martin has demonstrated about how a high protein diet is superior to all else in terms of effects on body composition and how protein is especially crucial when you are fasting, it would simply be like setting yourself up for failure if you suggest that your clients can eat whatever the hell they want on rest days, BUT must stay in a deficit.

My opinion.

Roberto said...


Makes sense. I started thinking that myself, after I made that comment.

I'm still mostly curious as to what happens to ones appetite if they quit this program.

Obviously they will put fat back on.

But how they put the fat back on says a lot about the program.

If they become voraciously hungry and binge non-stop until they gain every pound back or more, then it would appear that this program has the same pitfalls as every other calorie restricted program. Basically, it slows the metabolism and starts the starvation response.

If a person quits and has their appetite remain stable and normal, as it allegedly remains on the program, and the pounds just slowly creep back on, then the starvation response likely wasn't activated.

I realize the "starvation mode" is a controversial topic. But surely, if a diet leaves you obsessed with food and unable to stop eating, something has gone seriously wrong.

Matt said...


Maybe I'm not representative of Martin's target audience, but I've quit leangains (note: just the macro guidelines, not IF, because IF still suits my lifestyle a lot better than 6-meals-a-day ever did) and I haven't lost it and started stuffing myself. I went on a planned high carb hypercaloric diet, in conjunction with starting strength, for a couple of months to put some meat on my bones (I kept protein high though). I'm not as lean as I used to be when on leangains (around 9% fat, now around 12) but I'm much stronger.

I'm a bit different in that my issue has always been getting ENOUGH calories on a clean diet without feeling sick to my stomach. I never ever binged, but maybe that has something to do with high self-control, however conceited that may sound.

But here's the deal: there's nothing in leangains that would warrant a starvation-mode type reaction. Martin NEVER suggested a high deficit on rest days, just slightly below maintenance. So you'd never be starving, you've just reduced meal frequency and slightly condensed the feeding window. Those, from a physiological point of view, aren't traumatic changes.

Dieting psychology is a whole other pair of socks though. Very much up to the individual.

Menno said...

Ey Martin,

I couldn't find how else to contact you, so I'll post this here.

Firstly though, great site. You're on my rather exclusive 'knows his shit' list now, along with types like Lyle, Patrick Ward and Eric Cressey.

As for what I wanted to say, I think you may be mistaken about post-workout nutrition. Check this study.

Adding carbs to protein increases protein synthesis. From what I read from other studies, it really is insulin's effect boosts protein synthesis even further.

Jason - Core Strength Exercises said...

Great post.

It was not all that long ago that I was telling people to eat every few hours.

I think a little different now and love all the studies you refer to.


Anonymous said...


What's your point exactly?

The leangains guide clearly states you should eat a high carb, medium protein, very low fat meal PWO, with carb sources being starches predominantly, with a bit of sugar.

Anonymous said...


Would you mind giving us a primer on carb requirements for your favored training methodology? I noticed you employ fairly low volume workouts (both in terms of sets and reps) training, but also encourage post workout carb feedings to replenish lost glycogen. How much glycogen do your recommended workouts typically deplete? I believe Lyle McDonald heard 5 grams/2 sets, which would suggest just 25g for a 10-set workout.

Also, when you say your workouts are 6-10 sets, I assume you are referring to work sets only. What kind of warm-up do you do for compound and isolation exercises? Perhaps you could walk us through a workout so we get a sense of how many total sets you are doing.

Leo said...

one of the highlights of the Leangains protocol is that you are cycling calories and macros. This has some important physical/physiological effects, but as importantly it has some pretty meaningful psychological ones.

Eating light on a non training day (tuesday, for example)is MUCH easier knowing you have a big eating day coming up on wednesday (after deadlifts, for example).

One "trick" I've been using on my "light" / dieting / non training days is to break my 15-17 hour fast with a whole food snack before my day's main feast, to help create a larger defecit while still keeping a similar eating pattern and supporting leangains (ha!).
This might mean that I have 150-400cals of tuna/chicken/eggs @ noon and not start my feast until 3 or 4 PM. Honestly, this suits my work schedule really well, too.

Like many who love the IF lifestyle, I have little trouble not eating, but once I start...

Again, my idea is to make my diet suit my lifestyle, not the other way around. I did that for years and have an eating disorder to show for it. Since starting IF/leangains/paleolite I am feeling worlds better.

Menno said...


I read somewhere you said carbs are not necessary PWO, that protein alone is useful, but maybe that was an older post.

Just thought I'd share that study with you, as it's a very controversial issue. Pro + carbs has been recommended by bodybuilders for ages, but the empirical support that carbs have an additive effect is usually weak, so many smart people have often doubted the need of glucose PWO.

Anonymous said...

Layne Norton needs some correcting about IF.. he doesn't think it works.

Monte Diaz said...


Martin says the upper level of protein intake should be about 1 gram per pound of body weight. Others suggest you need to base this off of lean body mass instead of total body weight. Your lean body mass is about 102lbs.

Depending on which formula you are using or how active you are, anything between 75g to 130g of complete protein is recommended.

Remember that you don't absorb all the protein you eat, especially true of vegetable based protein, as the Biologic Value of animal protein is higher. Juicing does however, increase the available protein of vegetables.

As for additional sources...
Fermented soy products like Miso and Tempeh are complete proteins and because of the fermentation are less likely to upset estrogen balance and other possible ills of non-fermented soy.

Anonymous said...

@Monte Diaz

I'm pretty sure he said that 1g/lb is the LOWER limit, not the upper.

The upper limit is far higher than that, as Martin himself has reported numerous times to have consumed several hundred grams of protein,especially on rest days.

Monte Diaz said...


"""You'll often hear that 1 g protein/lb body weight is a good guideline for muscle gain. That's true. Studies show no additional benefit in going higher than that, assuming adequate calorie intake. But protein has other important qualities. I put great emphasis on it in every diet I design and believe it needs to be kept higher than the generic guidelines."""

First, Anonymous, the "generic guidelines" are much lower than "1 g protein/lb body weight", so Martin is talking about an upper limit on the USEFUL protein intake for muscle growth.

Also its fairly irrelevant to talk about the amount of protein you CAN consume in this context. People regularly consume a few hundred grams of protein a day. One turkey leg can be close to 200g and I know I've had a couple in one sitting before. :p

aroumell said...

This has less to do with your post and more to do with a the link I'm adding. You're getting press amongst bodybuilders now too.

You're mentioned quite positively at the end of the article and there are some other articles they've posted about research lately that validate the IF approach to bodybuilding. Thought you'd like to know.

Anonymous said...

@Monte Diaz

I'm pretty sure the 1g/lb is in fact the generic guideleine mentioned, and not the laughable FDA recommendations.

Martin recommends a higher consumption than 1 g/lb, for purposes above just muscle building, like the satiating effect of it and it's thermogenic properties ;)

Lean poultry has, on average, something like 16 g of protein per 100 g of mass. If a turkey leg has 200g (though it's a bit more than that usually) of total mass that's only 32 grams of protein per leg. Let's say you eat 4 (which isn't really practical given the anatomy of a turkey XD), that's nearly 130g of protein, above and beyond the RDA. That would be, for a relatively lean 165 lbs male, just the first meal of a rest day, as recommended by the leangains guide.
If the two remaining meals each contain at least half as much protein as the first one, which they by all accounts should, then total consumption would be 260 g of protein, cosiderably more than 1 g/lb.

Monte Diaz said...

Your math is correct but what does it matter when the numbers are wrong in the first place?

Click the drop down box and choose a whole leg. 152g of protein per leg. My 200g number was actually protein (a slight exaggeration but so what), not the entire leg. 600 grams of glorious protein... and 4000 calories hahaha. It was a fun night.

Anyway back to the point...

Martin's recommendations to go above "1 g protein/lb body weight" are mainly for satiety and fat loss. Given Mechaeng's numbers her BMI is 19. I assumed she was more interested in muscle gain and less in fat loss at this point even though the two are never mutually exclusive. She'll do both, as I and others have, following The Leangains Guide...and according to the literature (and Martin) she can do it at 130g and possibly less.

Besides, we're talking apples and oranges here. Your speaking of generalizations and I'm trying to be specific. We're both right and wrong in different contexts.

Avishek said...

Good article, but it's too early to be convinced. Personally i can't eat 6 meals a day, because there is no fullness signal ever sent to my brain, but this study conflicts those in other studies, one of which you linked actually in another post

The protein intake here confounds effects of eating frequency, but in the abstract is does state that the 6 meal a day group experienced lower insulin and glucose concentrations, conflicting the study in this post, this may be because protein intakes were higher in the study I linked.

What perplexes me is how some people tell me they prefer to graze, as if it actually is natural for them.
Also, I wanted to ask you what IFing does to cortisol levels, I heard you say they lowered it but I'm looking for a study so if you post one that'd be great. Pce

Tuoa said...

Hi Martin,

I have a question not direclty related to the article, but related to high consumption of protein.

Maintaining a high intake of protein (2g/kg) means eating a lot of meat, dairies and other acidic food. Coffee which you recommend to drink on the fasted state is also know to be very acidic.

I dont think you ever wrote on your blog about acid-alcaline balance and PRAL index.
What is your opinion on this matter, and do you take it in consideration when elaborating a diet?

I'd be glad if you could write an article on whether an acid diet is bad for muscle gain/fat loss.


Anonymous said...


Eating like that doesn't make any sense. Who has the time, the money and the willingness to eat 1 pound of meat a day just to eat way more of a single nutrient than is really necessary for both health and muscle gains?

That's just obsessive compulsive and damn expensive eating. If the whole world had to eat like that 3/4 of the population would die of starvation because of the excesses of the other half.

I thought this was a sustainable diet, against the obsessive compulsive nonsense of mainstream nutrition and broscience pseudoscience but with the protein nonsense recommendation is seems to be just another OCD way of eating sustainable by maybe 0.00001% of the general population both economically and culturally.

Anonymous said...

- ¨ Who has the time, the money and the willingness to eat 1 pound of meat a day just to eat way more of a single nutrient than is really necessary for both health and muscle gains? ¨

I eat between 1-2 pounds of meat every day and I really enjoy it. I feel better with higher protein intakes, and this makes it possible to mantain a long term dietary compliance. In my country we are all heavy meat eaters.

- ¨ If the whole world had to eat like that 3/4 of the population would die of starvation because of the excesses of the other half. ¨

Only a minority of the people are willing to eat a real food diet like Leangains and ditch the refined junk, so your point is irrelevant. Only a minority of the people presented with this valuable info. will take it anyway.

- ¨ I thought this was a sustainable diet, against the obsessive compulsive nonsense of mainstream nutrition and broscience pseudoscience but with the protein nonsense recommendation is seems to be just another OCD way of eating sustainable by maybe 0.00001% of the general population both economically and culturally. ¨

It may not be sustainable FOR YOU. If you can´t eat more than a pound of delicious meat in an entire day you are the exception, not the rule.

Maybe you can show us photos of your ripped clients showing their extraordinary bodies achieved by eating your highly sustainable low-protein diet, backed up by all the science of course.

Anonymous said...

@ Monte Diaz
Yep, you're right, my numbers were way wrong, the average is around 25 g protein per 100 g of mass, silly me

And, I didn't ralize you were speaking with the specific context of a previous comment in mind.

GENERALLY, as per the leangains guide, Martin recommends an intake of more than 1 g/lb of protein, as you and I both have stated, for reasons beyond just muscle building. That's what I was implying.

@ the OCD fearful Anon

You are right, it's definitely not a sustainable way of eating, for the MAJORITY. But if you have taken any interest in the topics of population growth and food supply, you'd know that our planet's capacity to supply meat for its human population will be vastly outmatched by the demand in as soon as 20 years time. I've already explored some alternatives such as entomophagy (which is probably our collective future as a race, if we wish to continue eating meat) and I'm not the least bit fearful or squeemish about it. Again, many people will find the prospect of eating insects repulsing, but I've always kept an open mind about things and I'll continue doing so. A bold minority will always reap the rewards of audacity while the majority will inevitably realize how foolish it has been.

Alex said...

Hi, Martin. First of all, I'd like to thank you for the site. This program seems just what I was looking for. I am completely tired of having to worry with my meals all the time. It is very time-consuming and affecting my social life. I am giving it a try.

I am planning to do Early Morning Fasted Training. Also, I am willing to do very low-intensity cardio for about 45 minutes on the fasted period on my rest days. Would I have to take BCAA also, even if I don't weight train? Here in Brazil supplements are very expen$ive.

Thanks in advance!

Martin Costa said...

Hi Alex,

I live in Brazil too. I buy my BCAA from ebay - 500g costs around US$ 37 (em torno de 60 reais). Much much much cheaper than the capsules we have around here.

BTW, I am doing IF for a month now. On a fat loss approach - 20% above maintenance on workout days and 40% below maintenance on rest days (give or take), 2 workouts per week. I have lost 4 kg in the past month (plus 2 kg water). The only regret I have is that I didn't find this earlier. I am really looking forward to Martin's book.

Abraços Alex e boa sorte. IF vale a pena. Muito.

Martin Costa

Anonymous said...

is fasted training good or bad for someone with adrenal fatigue?

Alex said...

Thanks for the tip, Martin Costa. I am going to on ebay for lower prices.

The diet has been great so far. However, I am slightely concerned about protein food sources. I am basically eating meat, cottage cheese and egg whites.

The problem is that an egg white contains about 50mg of sodium. I am eating more than 40 egg whites, so only that exceeds the daily recomended limit of 2g. I am worried about retention and hipertension. Any advice, Martin?

Anonymous said...

@Adrenal Fatigue

Stay away from any and all stimulants and get 8 hours sleep. Don't fast more than 16 hours a day and make sure your not VLC (less than 40 carbs a day)....

Fortunately all of these parameters fit in very well with the Lean Gains Protocol.

Anonymous said...


Jeez, 40 egg whites? That's like 200+ grams of protein from that alone! How much do you weigh?

BTW, unless you have a pre-existing heart condition (maybe you do but you don't know, so it would be a good idea to get that checked out at the doctor's), I wouldn't worry about the sodium as long as you stay below 4g total for the day. The recommended values are generally playing it very safe.

Anonymous said...

Do you still recommend doing fasted training sessions with adrenal fatigue?

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest fasting + bcaa + coffee does work well, but coffee is what does it for me.... but maybe in the long run it wont be good because of my adrenal fatigue

Alex said...

Anon, I reviewed the number of egg whites. However I need a high ammount of protein, despite the fact that I wheight 77kg, because on non-training days the majority of calories comes from protein, as I tend to eat very few carbs and moderate fat.

I would like to know if 40g of protein from cottage cheese is a little too low as my last meal before the 16h fast. Sorry for all the questions, it's just that I am new in LG.


Anonymous said...

you recommend eating in a 8 hour window...

what do you think about eating only once a day (warrior)?...

i've been experimenting with low meal frequency, and finally arrived at this one meal a day pattern as the most comfortable - now, i can't even imagine eating more than once...

liposculpture guide said...

So,According to you that less frequent meals gives higher peak blog sugar values, but lower total values. Interesting.

Yuri said...

I started to follow the intermittent fasting regime before two month and I like it.
I like reading your blog, Martin.
But I think you must be more accurate in conclusions and critically check any research you like and publish.
For example the current research modeled the 6 meals regime as EQUAL 250 Cal intakes. But current mainstream diets recommend 3 main meals and 2-3 small.
So I see very debatable jumping to conclusion based on this research. It is models 6 meals regime in very strange way, that doesn't allow any conclusion about "mainstream" diets.

Simon Whyatt said...

Its great to see more scientific research appearing that validates what many of us have know to be true for some time.

Its a shame that the mainstream media (in the UK at least) are still so far behind.

Check out this article in the Daily Mail if you feel like banging your head against the table:
You've got to love these articles - The author must have spent at least 2 mins researching all these nutrition "facts"...

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm not sure if this is the best place to post this but I'm hoping someone can help me out. I started starting strength last week with an IF style approach to diet. So far I've had no problem with making the recommended increases in the lifts although I have yet to cut my calories. If my main goals were strength and fat loss would I be able to eat just below maintenance calories and still stick with starting strength as it's prescribed?


Avishek said...

anonymous - you can eat above maintenance on IF and still burn fat, the fewer meals you eat in a day the better. Try just 1

Anonymous said...

Hi thanks for replying. I'll try that out one meal a day actually suits my current schedule perfectly.

Anonymous said...

What a missed opportunity not to have done the 3 PRO meal group!

What were they thinking?

Dan said...

Your article actually convinced me to eat 6 meals a day. For me, as a healthy, non-diabetic person:

low blood sugar = hunger, brain fog
high blood sugar = feeling good, satiety

So, if ingesting the same food can yield higher blood sugar by eating 6 times a day, then 6 times a day it will be!

Because high blood sugar = satiety, being able to be active and do work, etc.

So - am I wrong?

Avishek said...

- I believe 6 meals a day can work for you. But you do not need to have high blood sugar to have energy, you need normal levels. 6 small meals can help prevent you from going hypoglycemic.

With intermittent fasting, you still can have high blood sugar, as well as high ketones that yor body burns from stored body fat. After a certain amount of time however your blood sugar will drop and you may not feel good

Anonymous said...

Those are REALLY high blood glucose levels.
Who did this and where is it published????

anton said...

Nice read.

And I agree with TanYewWei about this study was for weight loss diets, and that it could perhaps differ from studying regular eating habits.

Another bother for me however is about studying average BG as a marker for good or bad. Is it possible that the spikes in BG do the real harm?

Jon said...

There is a website: which promotes the following plan- "No Snacks, No Sweets, No Seconds, except for days that start with S." Basically you eat three meals a day, one plate per meal. I am surprised when I tell people about it the reaction I get about getting rid of snacks...

Rachel said...

Martin... I was having a debate about this very topic with someone. I pointed her to this article and she came back with this study:

Perhaps you're familiar with it? I see its from 1989, and I couldn't learn much from the abstract. I would really appreciate your thoughts on it. Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am 48 years old, have 4 kids, weigh the same as I did at 20 yrs old (5 feet 6 in and 123 pounds). Mistaken as my 17 yr old daughters, sister, more often than not. I have alway'eaten all day long, actually not even meals. I snack on nuts , dark chocolate almonds, daily .I throw in some raw fruit and veggies and a meal at night. So I think what is right for one may not be right for the other person. Our bodies are all unique. I eat strictly organic and take several supplements. I have a feeling you will not post this. It goes against your false beliefs.

JAG said...

To 12/2 Anonymous -

Of course you can maintain a lean figure while snacking all day - as long as you are not taking in too many calories! You also eat fairly clean, so the overall calorie density of your diet is probably lower than average.
However, I'd guess that not everyone would be able to maintain a feeling of fullness just by having small snacks all day. For me, restricting my feeding window means getting to have bigger meals, and I prefer this to spreading my calories out over the whole day.

Magnus A. said...


Great article, I want to share it with my sceptical coworkers, but the hyperlink which directs to the study does not work. Could you please fix this, or give me the url to the study? (I could not find it on my own.)


Adam Clark said...

The link to the source study doesn't work.

Can you add a footnote to the study details?
(title, publication, year, author, etc.)

Michael oey said...

How about nutrient absorption, would it be better with higher meal freq?

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

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