Friday, June 27, 2008

Sure-Fire Fat Loss

I made a guest post today, on Mike O'Donnell's blog IF Life, and I thought I might post it here as well. Enjoy.

Sure-Fire Fat Loss

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer. I also happen to be a proponent of intermittent fasting for health, fitness and fat loss. I have my own blog about fasting (, but when Mike asked me if I’d like to make a guest post on his blog, I thought that’d be a great way to present my method in greater detail.

The Leangains protocol consists of two phases; 16 hours of fasting, followed by 8 hours of feeding. During this period, three meals are usually eaten. Depending on the day, the composition of those meals varies; on workout days, carbs are prioritized before fat, while on rest days fat intake is higher. Protein remains fairly high on all days. That’s a very basic and general description of the protocol I employ; of course, variables change depending on goals, gender, age, body fat and activity levels, but it would be hard to describe it in greater detail without drifting off too far.

Most of my clients are fitness enthusiasts, athletes and weight trainers, but the great majority of them have one thing in common – to look good naked. The ‘gain’ in Leangains can therefore be a bit misleading, as most of my clients wants to lose fat, while retaining as much muscle as possible in the process. While their diets might vary, it rests on some nutritional principles that I thought I’d present to the crowd reading this post. These principles will work for everyone, regardless of fitness level.

Here are a few guidelines that I consider success factors for performance, fat loss and excellent diet compliance.

• On workout days, break the fast with meat, veggies and a fruit. If you’re planning to train shortly after this meal, add a few carbs in the form of a starch source – potatoes or whole grain bread, for example. Make it a medium sized meal and don’t stuff yourself. Train within 3 hrs of having eaten this meal and have a much larger meal after your workout; in this meal, add more complex carbs – and you may even have one of your favourite treats as dessert, if it’s not too high in fat and if eaten in moderation. Good examples of what I refer to as ‘treats’: low fat ice cream, sorbet or JC’s cheesecake. Bad example: Chinese buffet or your son’s birthday cake. You get the point, keep it within moderation and don’t pig out.

• On rest days, eat less calories than on workout days - do this by cutting down on carb intake, and make meat, fibrous veggies and fruit the foundation of your diet for this day. The first meal of the day should be the largest, in contrast to workout days where the post-workout meal is the largest. Largest doesn’t necessarily mean largest in terms of volume; I suggest getting at least 40% of your calorie intake in this meal, and the dominant macronutrient should be protein. I’ll have some clients eating upwards to 100 g protein in this meal, so don’t be afraid to pile on the meat (or whichever protein source you prefer). Fattier meat and fish like ground beef and salmon are examples of some excellent protein sources that may be consumed on rest days.

• In the last meal of the day, include a slow digesting protein source; preferably egg protein, cottage cheese (or any other source of casein based protein). Meat or fish is also ok if you add veggies or supplement with fiber. This meal will keep you full during the fast and exert an anti-catabolic effect on muscle protein stores by ensuring that your body has an ample supply of amino acids until the next meal.

• Whole and unprocessed foods should always take priority over processed or liquid foods, unless circumstance demands a compromise. For example, you might find yourself in situations when there is little time to eat or prepare foods – in such a situation, having a protein shake or meal replacement bar is ok, where as solid, more satiating foods should be consumed whenever there is ample time to cook.

These are a few of the principles I’ve employed with great success; there’s a bit more to it, but this should get you started in the right direction.


Anonymous said...

good stuff, thanks

Maciej said...

Great Post! Read your article on IFlife, and was really impressed by the content and the way you made it 'click' for me. I do have a question, though: I normally work out at 6am - mostly crossfit WOD + some of my own, 4-5 times a week. How would you incorporate IF into this, considering I like to have dinner at about 6:30 with my small kids. Would you wait till about 1030/1100am to break the fast or something else? It seems a long wait for Post-work out meal. Any help would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Martin, what's the best way to measure body fat? I've googled it, but I feel none of them would be truly accurate in my case. Thanks

Martin Berkhan said...


think I answered your q in an e-mail you sent me (?).


why would they not be 'truly accurate' in your case? The best, most affordable option is to have someone skilled (educated PT) take your skinfold measurements with a caliper. Of course, you could do them yourself and maybe save a few bucks, but getting accurate measurements is a science in itself as it takes a lot of practice to get consistent measurements.

If you are willing to pay more, some facilities offer dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) which gives the most accurate readings.

Maciej said...

No sorry that wasn't me, but I'll contact you over email as I'm trying to figure this one out.


Anonymous said...

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Doug said...

Interesting - this is the first I've come across the intermittent fasting method.

I may give it a go in a few months after I've finished my current training period.

I'm always skeptical about stuff like this but there's something about it that rings true.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Martin.
I am curious as to your response to Maciej. I prefer to work out each morning about 5am but also have kids.

Anonymous said...

Soybean is high in protein and also serves up fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium. How you eat this flexible food is up to you, cooked and mixed in salads, roasted for snacks or in tofu, or soymilk. The lentil is high in potassium, calcium and iron, and a good source of B vitamins, phosphorus and copper. You can involve lentils in your best foods for diet, as they are a very good source of cholesterol lowering fiber. Also, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article! Good luck!
Herbal for men

Kate said...

My workouts are at night, and I don't get home until 9:30/10PM. Is it better to shower and go to bed, or eat a post workout meal?

Martin Berkhan said...

Eat a post-workout meal.

Anonymous said...

Hello people!

I am new here and I just wanted to say hi!

Muchas Gracias!

Anonymous said...

Hey man,

I came across your site through Rusty Moore's fitness blog and its great. I have been intermittently fasting on and off for a few months and recently hit a plateau. I read some stuff about your approach that seems different and I am curious as to how I could customize this to my life. I am a student and work roughly 5 times per week. If I am sleeping for eight hours and getting up at 8 or 9 o clock in the morning you are saying to continue that fast for another 8 hours and then eat three appropriately proportioned meals before bed? That is a pretty rough outline but I am just a little confused as to how this works as well as how you can fit this in with workout availability changing as often as it does with me. I would really appreciate your feedback.


Anonymous said...

Long time lurker, thought I would say hello! I really dont post much but thanks for the good times I have here. Love this place..

Martin Berkhan said...


Since you're new here, do some reading on my blog and you'll probably figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Does HIIT (around 20-25 minutes)count as a workout day.

Martin Berkhan said...


Anonymous said...

You suggest getting at least 40% of calorie intake in the first meal after a workoutday and the dominant macronutrient should be protein. But what about fat? Can I include some oil, like 13g or else it's going to be pretty hard to get those 40% calorie intake of the day with only meat/veggies.


Martin Berkhan said...

Yes, of course.

Mike Robinson said...

Martin - 2 things:

1) I'm interested in coaching:

2) What about digestion and food combining - do you believe that eating starches and meat together reduces the protein from getting fully digested? I'm very interested in your thoughts on this.



Martin Berkhan said...

I don't know what quack you heard that from but no, eating meat with starches does not impair protein digestion.

Mike Robinson said...

Hi Martin,

Well I wouldn't exactly call it quackery. I have been reading about this for some time.

Since others can better articulate the process better than me, then here it is (please comment):


If a food that is a natural protein-starch combination is eaten alone, the body is capable of modifying its digestive juices and timing their secretions in such ways that digestion can go on with a fair degree of efficiency.

But when a starch food and a protein food are eaten at the same meal this precise adaptation of the digestive secretions to the character and digestive requirements of the food is not possible.

There is a marked and important difference between eating a food that is a natural protein-starch combination and eating two foods, one a protein, the other starch.

When starches and proteins are eaten together, there is a fermentation and this results in fouling the whole digestive tract. Fermentation means irritation and poisoning.

If starch is eaten without protein, the gastric (stomach) secretions will not be acid, or will be so weakly acid that they will not interfere with salivary digestion.

In this case here will be no fermentation, except from other causes, such as overeating, hurried eating, other wrong combinations, eating when fatigued, worried, angry, fearful, grieved, etc., eating immediately before beginning work, eating when in pain, fever or when there is inflammation, etc.

The causes of indigestion are legion.

When the artificial protein-starch combination is eaten, not only undigested starch, but undigested protein will be found in the stools.

The presence of undigested starch and protein in the stools is of far greater importance in determining the digestibility or indigestibility of a food combination than is the emptying time of the stomach.

"Research" workers have found that the protein-starch combination delays the digestion of protein four to six minutes.

This would seem to be unimportant, and I believe it is unimportant. If this brief delay in protein digestion represented all there is to the matter, we could forget the whole thing and continue to eat haphazardly.

But starch digestion is important, also. Then there is the fact that the delay in emptying time of the stomach is no criterion of the completeness with which gastric digestion of protein has been done.

- Mike

Anonymous said...

Should the 16 hour fast be done on a daily basis? And does the time when the fast begins matter?


Martin Berkhan said...


There's so much bullshit there I don't even know when to start. Provide me with a scientific/credible reference to support this statement

"When starches and proteins are eaten together, there is a fermentation and this results in fouling the whole digestive tract. Fermentation means irritation and poisoning. "

and I might start caring.

Martin Berkhan said...


Read the Leangains guide.

Mike Robinson said...


Thanks for your comment. I do value and respect your education on this subject, which is why I brought it up.

I first heard of the digestion issue from Vince Gironda, and although it makes sense on paper, it's great to get input from your personal experience.

- Mike

Mike Robinson said...

Also Martin, I'd love to get some diet and training coaching from you.

Please email me your rates and schedule:

Much thanks.

Martin Berkhan said...

Check consulting requests at the bottom of the page.

Anonymous said...

I have a question I'd hope you'll awnser.
Not sure i'm getting this right, should you only have casein protein based food such as cottage cheese on
the last meal of the day only
on rest days? Or should it be the last meal of the day every day of the week, even though it's traning day?

Ashley Smith said...

Can dark chocolate fall into the "dessert" category you think? I usually have a serving at night after dinner. I would hope that it would be better for me than cheesecake or low fat ice cream or pure sugar sorbet in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Martin...I think my meal order content is off, I work out at 4.30am, break my fast at 9am, I'm also on a lower carb maintained diet..would it make sense to have eggs and oatmeal as my last I need the energy for my early morning workouts..?

mykemacapinlac said...

Hey Martin,

On workout days, is it ok to drink a post workout drink (ie. Surge) then eat your biggest meal after? Or skip the drink, and just jump right to the meal! Also, what are your thoughts on legumes on rest days? What's your idea on eating fruits, i read so many research (including 4 hour body) that it should be avoided. Thanks in advance for your reply!

Clayton said...

Hello, My aplogies if this has already been asked. If fat loss is the primary goal and I am not concerned with recomp (or gaining muscle at all) should carbs still be the dominant macro on training days? Thank you sir.

Anonymous said...

great stuff here.

what are your thoughts on someone that wants to try this diet and is an avid marathon runner/trying to tone up and lose fat on this diet? also weight training 3-4 times a week, in addition to marathon training? are there only parts of this plan that would work?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. I really want to give it a try but I'm vegetarian and although not wholly vegan - I do limit dairy too. Do you think this method could still work for me?
Many thanks

Samalot said...

Hi Martin,
As the horde has already stated, you have created an amazing resource on the internet for IF.

My question:
You suggest to eat higher carbs, partcularly starchy carbs, immediately post-workout. However, in another section of your site (I can't remember which one), you posted a link to this study which states that the absence of carbs post-workout (which delays glycogen storage) leads to increased metabolism and insulin sesitivity.

So I would really appreciate it if you could share your thoughts on how high carb intake post-workout helps lower body fat, considering the abovementioned study.


Anonymous said...

Is the 16/8 protocol done everyday or just the weekdays?

Hugh said...

What's your take on Gluten? Robb Wolf & Matt Lalonde fom the Paleo scene categorize "Wholegrains" as "Junk Food"?

TG said...

Hi Martin,

I notice your IF guide sets some guidelines on what kind of foods you should eat (whole grain carbs vs refined, low fat ice cream vs normal etc).

I was wondering how you feel about the IIFYM school of thought? The claims are that this is backed up by scientific study, and that would seem to indicate that it doesn't matter WHERE your carbs or fats come from if the amount is the same (so if you eat some carbs/fats in the form of normal ice cream vs low fat it wouldn't matter as long as the macro amounts were the same. You'd be eating less of the normal ice cream in that case of course). Same with carbs, they seem to suggest that it doesn't matter whether they are whole or refined, body composition will not be affected.

Would you disagree with this? Or do you suggest certain types of foods because of health benefits other than body composition (micronutrient profile, heart health etc?)

I'd really be interested to know how these approaches fit (or don't fit) together.

On a separate note, if all those studies you posted really do indicate that meal timing/frequency are irrelevant to body composition, then wouldn't that mean IF would have no different effect than any other breakdown of meal timing? Obviously I don't fully understand all this stuff, but any guidance would be appreciated!

AndyTexas said...

Hello Mark,

My feeding state is 1-9pm, but if I take Casein protein before bedtime 1130pm--does that count as my feeding state? or should I consume my Casein protein with my 9 pm meal? Thanks.

Andrew (Aj)

Anonymous said...

Moon Jun:
Hi I'm a little confused.
1. How many days do you fast per week?
2. My friend is also trying out your method, he says he can't train while fasting. You actually train on the day you're fasting, does it take time to adopt? And, will it okay to fast on non-training days?

Also thanks for the great article. :D

Anonymous said...


Please pretty please tell us what your response was to Maciej?? Its nowhere listed.

How I found your blog:
I couldn't sleep on an empty stomach - ever!
I am willing to fast all day because I'm never hungry anyway but I have to, simply have to eat 1000-1200 calories filled with Carbs at night-time, or I am completely unable to sleep. Is this too much in caloric intake per day? I do an hour of cardio everyday and try to lift weights right after that - usually in the mornings or late afternoon.


Anonymous said...


What if I only have one huge meal of 100% daily intake at Dinner post-workout??
Do I have to eat the rest of the day? I find this necessary to be able to sleep!

(I could also maybe consider two 50%/%50 pre and post workout but they would normally not be filling enough to let me sleep)


Anonymous said...

Hi Martin-I've been going along with this diet for 2 weeks and it's going well, however I'm attending university in England and drinking is normal part of the socials. So I'm pretty sure it would mean I'm the extending my feeding period by anything upto 6-7 hours so I was wondering how to get around this issue-many thanks

Patrik Törnqvist said...

Guide leangains.

Hello Martin:)
I just want to say, incredibly cool website!
But I was wondering if you could help me.
I am a boy of 20 years and has strengthened training for almost 2 years. I weigh 73 kg and has a fat percentage of 6.1%
But I'd like to try the way to eat at seemed really it sounds interresting.
I can not really understand the blog you make with lean gain guide, so if you could tell me anything more about it, it could be great on how to put his daily intake so that you build mass plus you discard fat.
You are welcome to write to me at patrik.kadri @
And if it costs something then you just give me some offers on what you had for it.

Best Patrik.

Christina said...

I'm about to start this new eating plan, but just one snag. I'm vegetarian, and finding it difficult to figure out how to get enough protein without eating too much tofu or just living on protein shakes. I dont eat fish or chicken. Any advice?
Female 28, weight training 6 days/week.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,
I'm trying to lose my last 10 pounds of fat to get to approx 8% BF. I do a three times a week workout(steady state run + strong lifts), and I really prefer doing it on an empty stomach on the mornings. Can I still employ IF? This would mean eating from around 10-11 to 18-19, which is pretty much normal to me anyway.

Also, what are your thoughts on keto? Is it even compatible with lean gains? I know you talk about complex carbs on workout days, so how does this sound to you: 25-40 grams of simple + complex carbs on workout days with 0-5 carbs on rest days, excluding fibre. Is it crazy?


Zero Kazama said...

Holy shit, do you people even read the rest of what's on here? It's no wonder why he stopped replying.

jharr1281 said...

Great many calories should i be targeting on workout days and rest days for fat loss? also what about muscle gain with minimal fat loss? I read the info regarding meals and carb/protein/fat ratios just not sure how many calories to target for my body weight - 160lbs and ~ 8.5% body fat. workout 3-4 days per week.

jharr1281 said...

how many calories should i be targeting on weight training days and rest days for fat loss? also, one i reach targeted 5-6% body fat, what about for lean muscle gain? workout is 3-4 days per week. i am 160lbs and ~ 8.5% body fat.

Anonymous said...

I read my first IF article last week. Is the basic premise of the fasting to simply make the most of the body's natural fat burning mechanism as opposed to interrupting it with small frequest meals? And then fuel the body properly in the remaining 8 hours? As far as the training goes is it fair to say that as long as the trainng is intense, of short duration and includes adequate recovery it does not have to include all the exercises mentioned in fuckarounditis. (my back surgeon said no to heavy squats and deadlifts) Whoever wants to answer this is welcome to. Thx

Anonymous said...

You could tell he was getting pissed. The answers became more blunt time after time!

ikinga said...

Hello! I would love to try this method out, but I don't know how to fit it in my daily routine.
I work from 8:30 to 18:00 and I have a paid lunch by my company at 12:30-13:30. I can get chicken breast and veggies, so it is not a problem.
When I go training I do it from 18:30 to 20:00, then I go home.
How am I supose to do the fast fasting? Is there any way for me?

About me: I am a girl, 157cm tall, 53kg, body fat is 22% (was 25% 3 months ago), I do a circuit that includes 5 sessions of cardio (9min each), the first 3 ones I run at 10km/h (and try to improve it) and do weight training in between, like squats, leg press, abs, lat machine, pulley etc.
Oh, I am not taiking any type of integrators.

Anonymous said...

The level of retardation on these questions. No wonder Martin takes off once in a while

david3211 said...

hello,how many days do you fast a week?and whats the maximum days?also i workout 6 times a week,3 day weight lifting and the other 3 cardio.

Ale-Alejandro said...

Makes sense and sounds great if u workout in the middle of the day. But i usually workout at 6 or 7am. when would be my first and last meals and which would be my largest meal

Kumat Mebro said...

Hey man, decent post, lot of useful info in there.

Just wondering if by "workout days" you include cardio too? I currently do 4 lifting days and 2 cardio days a week

Anonymous said...

Did this for one week and droped my body fat percent from 9.7 to 7.3

Anonymous said...

Hey a quick question is I.F. effective if one can only fast a few days a week? My diet is consistent and I workout regularly, Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

is it possible to lose body fat using homeworkouts instead and using this protocol?

Ulysses said...

Great work overall and thanks for sharing it. I experienced a visible cut just 5 days into the plan (pure madness) but things have appeared to gradually slow down after the initial stunning impact. I have always been very lean and used to eat 7 rather big meals a day (approx. 4,000 Cal/day) in order to gain some mass (used to be 84kg and quite lean but shed 16kg in just one year without training and irregular meals). I am now at my 5th week following the macros outlined on (approx. Rest days1600Cal - Workout days 2100Cal) and I am pretty ripped and vascular all over the place but far from your 5.5% and not bulking (currently 69kg and 177cm tall). Wouldn't like to vanish while not losing fat. I never craved cheese cakes, bakery and carbs so much in my life. Suggestions?

golfnut said...

I workout (weight train) at 6:30 pm three days a week and HIIT for 20min. the other three days at 9 pm and rest on Sunday. How should I do my meals? Thanks in advance

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

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