Now We Understand the Science but How do we Take Advantage of it?
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Intermittent Fasting – Popularized by Martin Berkhan on his website www.leangains.com. Martin has a very clear and concise guide written here. I will cover only the main points in this post.
The main idea is that by fasting for 12 to 16 hours a day we create beneficial hormonal changes within our body(remember that fasting for 24 hours caused a rise in growth hormone of 2,000%). Not flooding your body with insulin throughout the day is the greatest benefit for fat loss that comes with intermittent fasting. The average Westerner rides a rollercoaster of high blood sugar followed by high insulin. Which then drops them into a catatonic state of low blood sugar until their next meal- which sends them right back up to the crest of their glucose/insulin high. Compare this to someone following an intermittent fasting style of eating: they will have steady blood sugar and almost no insulin response for 16 hours out of the day. Even if they choose to eat large portions of processed carbohydrates they are still subjecting their body to only 4 to 8 hours of an insulin roller coaster as compared to the all-day insulin rush caused by “normal” diets.
Insulin resistance is currently a major health problem. This may be because of a marked decrease in daily physical activity during recent decades combined with constant food abundance. This lifestyle collides with our genome, which was most likely selected in the late Paleolithic era (50,000–10,000 BC) by criteria that favored survival in an environment characterized by fluctuations between periods of feast and famine. The theory of thrifty genes states that these fluctuations are required for optimal metabolic function. We mimicked the fluctuations in eight healthy young men [25.0 ± 0.1 yr (mean ± SE); body mass index: 25.7 ± 0.4 kg/m2] by subjecting them to intermittent fasting every second day for 20 h for 15 days. Euglycemic hyperinsulinemic (40 mU·min−1·m−2) clamps were performed before and after the intervention period. Subjects maintained body weight (86.4 ± 2.3 kg; coefficient of variation: 0.8 ± 0.1%). Plasma free fatty acid and β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations were 347 ± 18 and 0.06 ± 0.02 mM, respectively, after overnight fast but increased (P < 0.05) to 423 ± 86 and 0.10 ± 0.04 mM after 20-h fasting, confirming that the subjects were fasting. Insulin-mediated whole body glucose uptake rates increased from 6.3 ± 0.6 to 7.3 ± 0.3 mg·kg−1·min−1 (P = 0.03), and insulin-induced inhibition of adipose tissue lipolysis was more prominent after than before the intervention (P = 0.05). After the 20-h fasting periods, plasma adiponectin was increased compared with the basal levels before and after the intervention (5,922 ± 991 vs. 3,860 ± 784 ng/ml,P = 0.02). This experiment is the first in humans to show that intermittent fasting increases insulin-mediated glucose uptake rates, and the findings are compatible with the thrifty gene concept. – Journal of Applied Physiology
To put all that science talk in simple terms: fasting reduces insulin resistance. This is good.
Intermittent fasting is much easier to follow psychologically than other calorie restricting diets. Eating six small-meals consisting of 400 calories each will leave you feeling unsatiated and craving more . Compare the small frequent meals to the psychological effect of taking a post workout shake of 400 calories and then eating a meal that consists of 2,000 calories. You’ll be physically AND psychologically satiated with the latter and not feel at all deprived even though with both protocols you ate only 2400 calories in the day.
It is also difficult to overeat when in a 4-8 hour feeding period- especially if those meals are high in fat and protein. Meals high in fat and protein will cause large quantities of leptin to be released and thus leave you feeling full and satisfied. IF really is a “diet” protocol where you can reach your body composition goals by eating massive and satisfying meals.
When you are following an intermittent fasting protocol the best time to eat is after your workout. Remember that our body will prioritize glucose for the liver and muscles before the glucose is stored as fat. Therefore by eating your carbohydrate dense meals after your workouts the glucose you consume will first be prioritized by the body to repair and replenish your muscles.
It is best to break your fast past noon. This lets your body take advantage of the natural rise in cortisol in the morning which will allow you to mobilize fat for energy. Working out in this fasted state promotes high fat loss. It takes a few weeks to get used to working out in a fasted state but you will experience no detrimental effects on performance once you do get used to working out in a fasted state.
- 0500 – Wakeup
- 0530 – Cup of green tea – With no honey, we don’t want any insulin response from glucose interfering with our natural cortisol.
- 1600 – Fasted workout – I sometimes snack on almonds and small pieces of fruit during the day, but nothing more than 100 calories per serving. Ideally I would workout around noon and eat my first meal around 1300. But this is not feasible because of my full-time job.
- 1730 – Post Workout shake – 700 to 1000 calories, 50% fat, 30% protein, 20% carbohydrates from fruit
- 1930 – Meal – 1500-2000 calories, large portion of meat(around 16ozs) with veggies and fruits as sides. Generally macros break down into 40-60% fat, 20-40% protein, and 10-30% carbohydrates.
- 2300 – Bed – Arnold says we only need six hours of sleep. Listen to Arnold.
Nutritional Strategies to Maximize Fat Loss
We’ve talked about how the foods you eat effect your hormones and when the optimal time for eating is. In this section we’ll cover different nutritional strategies that can help you achieve maximal fat loss.
The Ketogenic Diet
If your goal is to lose as much fat as quickly as you can then The Ketogenic Diet is your answer.
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain function. However, if there is very little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acid sand ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures.
The keto diet is perfectly safe for those without epilepsy. When your caloric intake is less than your expenditure on a “normal” diet- one which is balanced in fats, proteins, and carbohydrates(40% carbs, 40% protein, 20% fats) your body goes into a state of gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis is a process where your liver converts proteins into glucose. If you are cutting on a “normal, balanced” diet your body will actively convert your precious muscle tissue into glucose in order to fuel the body’s vital functions. This is bad.
When you follow the ketogenic diet your macro breakdown looks like this: 55-65% fat, 25-35% protein, less than 5% carbohydrates. Eating in this manner consistently will cause your body to shift from burning glucose as its primary fuel source to burning fat as its primary fuel source. A person on a ketogenic diet will not experience gluconeogenesis. Rather than converting protein to glucose the body will directly tap fat cells to fuel its energy requirements.
This is exactly what we’re going for. Now instead of burning our precious muscle tissue our body directly burns our fat stores when we eat a caloric deficit.
I’ve cut with every diet out there. For me I lost 50% muscle and 50% fat when cutting on a traditional 40/40/20 diet. My strength in the gym dropped 5% each month. When I switched over to a keto diet my strength actually increased week over week and my weight loss was almost 100% fat. Not only did I preserve muscle, but I lost bodyfat 25% faster on the keto diet as compared to the 40/40/20 diet. AND it was easier to follow. The high fat and protein intake left me feeling full and satiated.
Where your calories should come from:
- Fat – Avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, fish, grass-fed animals, almonds, macadamia nuts, almond butter, coconut butter, grass-fed butter, free-range eggs. Avoid – Too much farm-raised animal fat, peanuts, vegetable oils, trans fats. 50-60% of your calories should come from fat on the ketogetnic diet. I understand that budgets often won’t allow for purely grass-fed animals. I am in the same boat and still eat a mainly farm-raised animal meat. In the big picture it’s not terribly bad for you as long as you actively seek out healthy fats from avocados, coconut oil, fish oil, and nuts. Your goal is to balance your omega-3 fatty acid intake(good, anti-inflammatory fat) with your omega-6 intake(bad, pro-inflammatory fat) in a 1:1 ratio.
- Protein – Grass-fed beef, pork, poultry. If you can’t find grass fed eat lean cuts of these same meats and get your fats from the good fat list above. Wild fish are also a fantastic source of protein. Also eggs, almonds, and macadamia nuts. Whey protein powder is great for supplementing your protein intake. 30-40% of your calories should come from protein on the ketogenic diet.
- Carbohydrates – Avoid six days a week. Refeed on Sundays. Refeed days should consist of 1.5g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. If you weigh 200lbs you will eat 300g of carbohydrates on your refeed day. Get your carbohydrates from fruits and veggies – bananas, apples, pears, strawberries, sweet potatoes, potatoes, plantains, yucca root, are a few options. Avoid processed carbohydrates(breads, pastas, flours). Your goal is to avoid eating ANY carbohydrates Monday through Saturday.
Benefits of Keto:
- When your body has no fuel from food it burns stored bodyfat instead of converting protein into glucose.
- The most effective fat burning diet in existence.
- You can eat awesome and satisfying meals- like bacon-wrapped steaks! On keto you can eat until you’re full and still lose 2-3 pounds of fat per month.
- Maintains muscle mass on a cut better than traditional 40/40/20 diets
- Keto increases your body’s insulin sensitivity and gives you steady energy levels throughout the day because you avoid insulin induced blood sugar crashes.
Negatives of Keto:
- It can be difficult to avoid all carbs and stay in ketosis.
- You are missing out on vital nutrients by avoiding fruits and vegetables. You should always supplement with a high quality multivitamin but this is especially important while on keto. Link to my favorite cost-effective multi.
- Your gym performance will suffer because your muscles will be glycogen depleted. This will lead to lower strength and endurance in your workouts. However this is temporary. As soon as you refill your muscle glycogen your performance comes back. Thus you should do your heavy lifting on Mondays after your carb refeeds.
“Man, alone, has the power to transform his thoughts into physical reality; man, alone, can dream and make his dreams come true.” – Napoleon Hill
Carb cycling is a nice middle-of-the road approach for people who want to lose fat but don’t want their gym performance to suffer. Depending on the amounts of carbs and calories you take in carb cycling is a very effective recomp eating strategy. Recomp is when you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time(albeit not as much fat as you could lose on a purely cutting diet, or as much muscle as you could gain on a purely bulking diet).
The idea behind carb cycling is that we want our muscle glycogen stores to be full when we perform our maximal effort lifts. We also want to keep our insulin as low as possible during the week in order to mobilize the greatest amount of fat and avoid all of the aforementioned problems that can come with excess insulin. We can achieve this by timing our carbohydrate intake.
When you carb cycle you should pick three days a week where you want to have the best performance in the gym. When I carb cycle I follow a 5×5 program and do full-body lifts Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So then my diet and exercise would look like this:
- Sunday – Perform 10 minutes of HIIT. This can be sprints, full-body cardio circuits, anything. I have a post detailing good interval circuits here. After you perform the HIIT eat a meal containing 100g of carbohydrates. Then I will eat another meal two to three hours later containing 50g of carbohydrates. I prefer bananas, plantains, and sweet potatoes for my carb sources. You perform HIIT prior to eating the carbs because the exercise will ensure that the glucose you consume is shuttled to muscle glycogen stores and not stored as fat.
- Monday – Full-body heavy lifting session in the gym. 15 minutes of HIIT after the session. Eat less than 50g of carbs post workout and no other carbs for the day.
- Tuesday – 10 minutes of HIIT followed by 100g of carbs with another 50g in a follow up meal.
- Wednesday – Full-body heavy lifting session in the gym with 10 minutes of HIIT after the session. Less than 50g of carbs post workout.
- Thursday – 10 minutes of HIIT followed by 100g of carbs with another 50g in a follow up meal.
- Friday – Full-body heavy lifting session in the gym with 15-20 minutes of HIIT after the session. Less than 50g of carbs post workout.
- Saturday – Depending on how I feel I will either perform another session of HIIT, take a walk/hike, or just rest.
This schedule can be modified to fit your lifestyle. The important thing to note is that your carb intake should always come after your workout. And you should lower the carb intake on your workout days to less than 10g if you want to achieve maximal fat loss. You will not reach ketosis with carb cycling. Carb cycling is great for keeping your insulin under control while giving you maximum strength and endurance in the gym.
Where your calories should come from:
- Fat – Avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, fish, grass-fed animals, almonds, macadamia nuts, almond butter, coconut butter, grass-fed butter, free-range eggs. Avoid – Too much farm-raised animal fat, peanuts, vegetable oils, trans fats. 30-45% of your calories should come from fat while carb cycling. I understand that budgets often won’t allow for purely grass-fed animals. I am in the same boat and still eat a mainly farm-raised animal meat. In the big picture it’s not terribly bad for you as long as you actively seek out healthy fats from avocados, coconut oil, fish oil, and nuts. Your goal is to balance your omega-3 fatty acid intake(good, anti-inflammatory fat) with your omega-6 intake(bad, pro-inflammatory fat) in a 1:1 ratio.
- Protein – Grass-fed beef, pork, poultry. If you can’t find grass fed eat lean cuts of these same meats and get your fats from the good fat list above. Wild fish are also a fantastic source of protein. Also eggs, almonds, and macadamia nuts. Whey protein powder is great for supplementing your protein intake. 20-30% of your calories should come from protein on the ketogenic diet.
- Carbohydrates – Get your carbohydrates from fruits and veggies – bananas, apples, pears, strawberries, sweet potatoes, potatoes, plantains, yucca root, are a few options. Avoid processed carbohydrates(breads, pastas, flours). 15-25% of your calories should come from carbohydrates.
- Your muscles will feel refreshed for your heavy lifting workouts.
- You can still gain strength and muscle while simultaneously losing fat. Or if you’re focusing more on cutting weight you can maintain muscle and strength while cutting a good amount of fat per week(.25-.5% bf per week).
- Easier to stick to than a strict keto or low-carb diet.
- You won’t lose fat as quickly as a pure cutting diet, and you won’t gain weight as quickly as a pure bulking diet. Every decision in life has its trade-offs.