Monday, March 1, 2010

Maintaining Low Body Fat

February was a busy month and I didn't get around to posting much.

Since things have cooled down a bit and I need to get back into the habit of writing, I'm gonna kick off this month with an article that touches on a few factors that I believe are important for anyone wanting to maintain a lean appearance at all times of the year.

I've never been a fan of the bulk and cut approach. An approach often taken to the extreme by some of my peers, with the net result being that they only look decent during the summer months. Simply not my style. Perhaps it's a consequence of growing up fat. Perhaps it's because I'm more impressed by feats of great relative strength, for which leanness is critical. I'm not sure. It is what it is, like the saying goes.

Once I cut down to 5.5% body fat by late December 2007, I decided I wanted to stay that way if it was possible. Possible in this case meaning if I could maintain my sanity, social life and not feel miserable. I questioned the possibility since I failed many times in the past. Sure, I got plenty lean before. That wasn't the problem. I managed to get very lean for shows and photo-shoots back when I was modelling. Getting there wasn't the problem. Staying there was.

But I'd come a long way since my semi-starved modelling career and had managed to adopt a new perspective on things. It would prove to be crucial for my success this time.

This is my current condition. I'm a little heavier than I was in October, but not by much.

Maintaining the lean state

I use and work with four different approaches to intermittent fasting. All of them entails a 16 hour fast followed by 8 hours of feeding. 3 meals usually, 2 or 4 meals less usually.

1. Fat loss. Maximizing fat loss and minimizing muscle loss.

2. Lean gains. Maximizing muscle gain and minimizing fat gain.

3. Bodyrecomposition. Simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss.

4. Lifestyle (or maintenance). Incorporating intermittent fasting as a lifestyle diet that is very sustainable in the long run. The difference between this and other approaches are in the form of much looser guidelines and lessened focus on macronutrient and calorie-cycling. Slow bodyrecomposition can still occur.

The diet changes depending on what my clients favor, but they have many things in common. There's a system to it - specific guidelines for each approach. There's no guesswork. I'm fairly specific. Left are the lowest common denominators that I believe are conducive to maintaining, or achieving, the lean state. I will cover a few of them below.

One of my clients, Andreaz, after months on a lean gains phase. As you can see, he remained lean throughout the whole process. Weight gain was slow, but fat gain almost non-existent. This picture was taken a few days before we switched to a fat loss diet.

Intermittent Fasting

Well, this one was fairly predictable. Nevertheless, it needs to be addressed first and foremost in this article since it played such an important role for me. Intermittent fasting was a key factor in allowing me to stay very lean and looking great 365 days a year. It was the golden ticket. While I don't think intermittent fasting is for everyone, it released me from the chains of feeling the need to eat every 2-3 hours. It spared me the torture from having to be content with tiny kindergarten-style meals that would only leave me wanting more.

Some people may feel differently. Maybe they feel "just right" after a small meal every so often, and maybe they maintain a low body fat doing just that. But I never really felt satisfied with that approach. I always failed when I tried, and I tried for years. I did 5-6 meals of 400-500 calories or so and still felt like I was dieting. Sooner or later I'd blow my diet and overeat (a lot).

I prefer to eat big. When I eat, I eat. When I don't, I don't. That's how I'm wired and trying to fight against my natural inclinations always caused me to fail.

Intermittent fasting is in my opinion a very effective way to maintain some hedonism in your life while staying lean. I'm able to eat awesome meals (some go as high as 2000 kcal) without adding body fat. I wouldn't be able to do that on the six-meal-a-day-diets I tried to maintain on in the past. I never get cravings anymore. I don't fiend around for snacks. I don't need them.


The foundation of a diet conducive to maintaining and achieving the lean state needs to be built on a few specific dietary fundamentals.

My framework contains a few rules that I adhere to most of the time. Following these rules makes maintenance of the lean state possible and enjoyable. These dietary fundamentals can be said to establish a low body fat settling point (not the same as set point). This is what you can control to make sure you remain lean despite not having the genetic makeup for it. I sure don't. I grew up fat. But with the following strategies, I've remained very lean for years now. And it feels great.

However, I should note that these rules are meant to be broken from time to time. Life will come in the way some days. Flexibility and a non-rigid mindset are important traits to make this work.

Robert has been on a lean gains diet for almost four months without any noticeable fat gain. He's made substantial strength gains despite only gaining 4 lbs.


Some people rely heavily on cardio in order to maintain their leanness. This allows them to be somewhat more lenient with their diet. I am however no fan of cardio and don't use it to stay lean. In my view cardio as a strategy to maintain a low body fat percentage is not only time-consuming, but also a sure-fire way to hamper muscle and strength gains. If nor time or muscle gain is a concern then by all means continue your cardio regimen. But considering my priorities and those of my clients, I focus on the macrocomposition of the diet to maintain the lean state.

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 and foremost, the effect on satiety is far superior to both carbs and fat. This ensures good diet compliance, since you won't get hungry and risk overeating.

Secondly, TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) is much greater for protein than for both carbs and fat. It's so significant that a researcher named Livesey proposed that protein should actually be counted as 3.2 kcal and not 4 kcal as the current guidelines state. In simple terms, in comparing two hypo-energetic diets at the same calorie intake, the diet with the highest protein percentage of total calorie intake will show superior results.

Last but not least, a high protein intake is absolutely crucial during fat loss if you want to optimize retention of muscle mass while losing weight.

A high protein diet is a key strategy to prevent overeating and warding off fat gain when attempting to gain qualitative weight. For fat loss additional benefits arise in terms of greater satiety, accelerated fat loss and sparing of lean mass.

Food choices

Most of your diet should consist of whole and unprocessed foods. One critical mistake people make when transitioning from dieting to (failed) maintenance or a muscle gaining diet is changing the food composition of the diet significantly. Out goes the fibrous veggies and whole food protein and in comes the refined carbs and protein shakes. Such foods invite overeating sooner or later. Most people don't have a problem gaining weight, they have trouble keeping it off - especially after dieting and reaching a low body fat percentage.

What you ate during your fat loss diet, satiating foods like veggies, fruit, berries, meat and cottage cheese, should also be a staple of your diet regardless of goal (muscle gain, bodyrecomposition, lifestyle). And minimize liquid calorie intake. Chew your calories, don't drink them.

While I'm not big on supplements, there are a select few that should be added to your diet if there is a need for it. For example, calcium increases fat excretion and Vitamin D plays an important role for metabolism. Making sure there is no lack of these micronutrients is therefore conducive to maintaining the lean state. For more on this, check out my supplement guide where I list the stuff I consider useful.

Calories and macronutrients: timing and cycling.

I've talked about this numerous times on the site, but in short I believe macronutrient and calorie cycling is an important part of a proper intermittent fasting setup. I've mentioned the potential benefits with regards to partitioning in the past, but this time I'd like to put a little more focus on the behavioral aspects. Simply put, there's a tendency for people to go lax and take too many liberties on diet setups and don't cycle phases of over-and underfeeding cycles.

Surplus calories should not be consumed each and every day, but in conjunction with training - when they are likely to be used for repair of damaged muscle tissues and recovery of glycogen stores. Conversely, slight underfeeding on rest days may have benefits mediated via mechanisms that kick in during calorie restriction (on top of the independent and positive effects of intermittent fasting), such as improvement in blood lipids and other health markers.

And then there's the fact that people simply get more productive with a lessened focus on food on rest days - they get stuff done. But this effect is unique for the short term. It's certainly not something that occurs with prolonged dieting, where thoughts of food may become overwhelming and obsessive. I actually prefer to have a few dieting days now and then. I've noticed I am at my most productive during those days and I certainly don't experience "dieting" symptoms such as increases in hunger.

So, cycling between overfeeding (training days) and slight underfeeding (rest days) is another excellent strategy to remain lean regardless of your goal. The benefits are not only physiological, but also behavioral.

Social events/eating

Some of my clients get anxious about attending social events, such as big family gatherings, parties and weddings. There will be tempting foods, maybe alcohol and various snacks and they will likely deviate from their diet. And when some people deviate from their diet, they lose control and overeat (usually on a plethora of sub par foods and snacks). Learning how to tackle social events that involve eating is therefore important for anyone wanting to get lean and remain lean - unless you plan on living your life like a hermit.

These events can be made into smaller issues with a good dose of self-control. But I can't assume that everyone is able to "eat in moderation." No, I have special strategy for such occasions. Assuming the event is in the evening, and that the client initiates his feeding phase around noon, I tell them to eat their full allotment of protein for the day before attending the event. They should keep everything else low; fat and carbs are consumed in whatever low amounts that are contained in the high protein foods eaten before the event. This creates a big caloric buffer for social eating AND ensures that the client comes to the party reasonably satiated and less prone to eat a bunch of junk.

Consider this easy and non-challenging strategy yourself. It has been a great help for myself and many clients.


* I follow intermittent fasting to maintain a shredded physique 365 days a year. For me and many others, it's an excellent way to enjoy dietary freedom without feeling deprived and constrained to your diet.

* I maintain a high protein diet and cycle carbs and fat depending on day. I chew most of my calories and my diet consists of whole foods primarily. By doing this, I'm rarely hungry and the diet is enjoyable and varied. I also believe that there physiological and behavioral benefits to macronutrient/calorie-cycling.

* I'm flexible and never let my diet rule my life get in the way of enjoying myself. Remember, it's the diet that you maintain 80% of the time that will dictate how you look. Not the occasional indulgences.

* There are easy strategies for tackling social situations, such as saving up for a "caloric buffer" later in the day.

So that's all for today. There's a little more to it, but I might save that for another article. Or my book, whenever the hell that will be out.


Anonymous said...

Im still anxiously waiting for that book. Is there an E-book that goes more into your methods.

Also, for recomping I have a question.

If I switched to IF and have been maintaining all around, do I just add a bit of carbs/caloires PWO on training days, and do the opposite on non-training days.

And following a progressive program like SS or Texas method, will the strength increases over time with a somewhat steady bodyweight likely lead to a recomp?

Simon said...

Great article Martin. Please release the book! You and your clients look great!

Martin Berkhan said...


'Im still anxiously waiting for that book. Is there an E-book that goes more into your methods.'

Well, I've been featured in Jamie Hale's book but that's only available in hardcover. Though I can't really say I go very deeply there, he just had me write a short treatise on intermittent fasting.

Then there's the pdf I wrote for Caleb Lee and his online product:

But obviously I'm saving all the juicy stuff for the book. Which should be out later this year. I'm completely worthless when it comes to meeting deadlines for this project, do don't ask me for a specific date.

'If I switched to IF and have been maintaining all around, do I just add a bit of carbs/caloires PWO on training days, and do the opposite on non-training days.'

It aint that simple buddy and I save the personal coaching for my clients.



Tan Yew Wei said...

Some Typos:

"Learining how to tackle social events that involve eating is therefore important for anyone wanting to get lean and remain lean"

"when some people deviate from their diet, they lose control and overat"

Finally, I think in the summary points you intended to say "calorie buffer".


That said, awesome article, and I can think of tons of questions to ask. But I'll wait for the book =).

Two questions I will ask now are:

(a) When you say your protein intake is higher, what is that value? I've seen the 3g/kg BW, figure quoted before, is that accurate?

(b) On your point of social eating, I'm sure there are some times (Thanksgiving, Christmas) where you go all out and eat in excess. You mentioned a short stint of caloric restriction after such an event. How aggressive is that when you're lean? (PSMF or a smaller deficit?)

Sorry for the long-windedness, but I, like the rest of the posters, am definitely eagerly awaiting the book.

Martin Berkhan said...

Thanks, Tan. Fixed it.

a) Yes, 3 g/kg is a good guideline.

b) Of course.

What I do then is basically a few days of very high protein with carbs and fat on the low side. Think of it as a more liberal form of PSMF.

I'll do that for a few days, never more than 3-4, until I'm back where I started before the festivities (i.e Christmas).

It's smooth sailing since you're still so damn full the first two days after. I would estimate the daily deficit to be in the -600-900 kcal range depending on day.

Tan Yew Wei said...

Wow, thanks for the quick update and great suggestions!

Martin Berkhan said...

No problem, Tan. Btw I've added a little here and there to the article since you first read it.

Zack said...

Awesome article! JUst found your site and it's a goldmine of great information man.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned that you don't like hte normal bulk/cut approach, but prefer a slower one. What sort of values for weight gain/loss are a good guideline to shoot for?
eg. -2kg/month fat loss, +1kg for leangains, and half of those values for a recomp?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response martin. I guess until your book comes out, i'll experiment based on the guildelines, and continue waiting anxiously.

Anonymous said...

I think that the strategy of getting in all your protein prior to a social event is a great idea. However, I do have one lingering question regarding this: with a large influx of nitrogenous substrate coming in within a relatively short period of time - and mostly in isolation from the other 2 macronutrients - won't some small-scale gluconeogenesis occur? Will the likelihood of the occurrence of GNG increase assuming hepatic stores of glycogen are empty? What if, prior to the social event, I were to do some exercise in conjunction with the high protein intake? Wouldn't that further increases the chances of GNG occurring?

In short, if for example 190 grams of protein were consumed (and after correcting for varying protein bioavailability given the food source), wouldn't far less of this protein be absorbed than we'd think?

Wilmar said...

another solid entry, martin.

do you think the FDA will ever re-evaluate the calorie value for 1 gram of protein, given that there's evidence that it's less than the listed 4 kcal/gram?

Anonymous said...


You noted some very simple yet effective strategies that you and your clients might use around special social events.

Since I gather that you're on point with your nutrition the lion's share of the time, I am just curious if there are times where you go out and are social but refrain from certain food and beverages that others might be consuming.

I ask this because I have a lot of friends who like to go out to dinner and eat and drink a fair bit, and while I will indulge every few weeks or so, on a week-to-week basis, I will usually forgo the booze/stick to water and order the least "egregious" item on the menu/ "work around" the menu by ordering a grilled piece of meat and some steamed vegetables (or something along those lines).

I rarely if ever find myself craving junk food or alcohol, so for me I am just happy to be amongst good company. Do you think how I handle this sounds reasonable or does it sound like I am shading toward ridiculous territory.

It may sound goofy, but I've become so accustomed to cooking at least 85 percent of my weekly meals and enjoy the whole/minimally processed stuff that I eat. So I find myself wanting to stick to that as much as possible simply because I like it so much (not because I feel like someone owes me an award for exerting excessive discipline or for depriving myself or anything along those lines).

-Lou Meniketti

Abbe said...

Hi Martin,

I am a huge fan of what youre doing and a former client (with great results in a rather short period of time I must add). Now my question, I am currently addicted to milk. I usually drink 1l milk (1.5% fat from Arla) + my usual lunch. My goal is to lean out and I wonder if that 1l milk everyday besides weekends will be bad for me. Reading what you said about chewing food, not drinking it. I need to add like 2kg to my bodyweight or something like that. Thanks!

Joe said...

Man Martin, you da shit.

I'm sure we all appreciate the effort and research you've put into creating an amazing, simple way to lose fat and gain muscle, all while catering to the psychological needs of a person that is doing so.

I've been following your methods pretty strictly for some time now and the benefits are enormous. Your book will be the first I buy of it's kind. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Exactly what Joe said.

Martin Berkhan said...


'What sort of values for weight gain/loss are a good guideline to shoot for?'

That depends on several factors - body fat percentage, training experience, gender and initial body weight to name a few.

A few examples on how these factors play a role:

The leaner you are the slower you need to lose in order to retain muscle mass. Muscle protein catabolism is more likely to occur when there is a shortage of fatty acids available via adipose tissue metabolism.

Conversely, obese individuals can lose fat mass rapidly without any muscle loss. So we are talking about a very wide range here - very lean individuals could be looking at no more than -0.8-1 lb/week while some obese individuals can sustain up to -4 lbs/week with good muscle retention.

As for weight gain, training experience is a major influence. A guy with 10 years of consistent weight training experience should be looking at much slower gains vs the beginner or intermediate trainer.

The closer you are to your genetic ceiling for muscle accretion, the more tempered your rate of gain needs to be. A newbie could get some quality muscle out of 3-4 lbs/month, while the same rapid gain would result in a relatively poor ratio of muscle:fat in an advanced guy. There simply isn't as much room left for muscle growth.

See this for more -

Martin Berkhan said...


'Will the likelihood of the occurrence of GNG increase assuming hepatic stores of glycogen are empty? What if, prior to the social event, I were to do some exercise in conjunction with the high protein intake? Wouldn't that further increases the chances of GNG occurring?'

GNG will occur regardless if hepatic stores are empty* or not. It's one of the primary fates of protein in the body. And it aint a bad thing.

* Hepatic stores being empty, at any time point during the day, is unlikely unless you've been fasting for 24 hrs+. It takes about 28 hrs after the ingestion of 100 g glucose to fully deplete hepatic stores (some believe that overnight fasting will empty hepatic stores which is wrong).

Martin Berkhan said...


'do you think the FDA will ever re-evaluate the calorie value for 1 gram of protein, given that there's evidence that it's less than the listed 4 kcal/gram?'

Considering how slow the FDA acts on these things...maybe in 20 years or so.

Martin Berkhan said...


'I am just curious if there are times where you go out and are social but refrain from certain food and beverages that others might be consuming.'

I don't limit my alcohol consumption and I drink on a fairly regular basis. On the other hand, I tend to stay the hell away from junk food and snacks when I drink.

When my (dieting) clients are going out on the town, I advise them to

a) use the strategies mentioned re: protein

b) drink as much as they want but avoid eating any junk. They can eat when they come home.

Do the above and a night out on the town won't set you back a bit on your diet. Even if you end up piss drunk and exceed your maintenance intake by a wide margin (mainly with alcohol kcal).

Sounds controversial? Sure, but it works.

Here's why.

Alcohol cannot be stored as body fat, but basically reduces fat metabolism to nil.

The effect on lipolysis is similar to that of carbs, with the difference being that ethanol isn't a possible precursor for triglycerides.

It aint alcohol making people fat, it's all the crap that comes with it. Fatty, calorie dense foods. Consuming them in conjunction with alcohol enables easy storage since you wont be burning any of it until your body gets rid of the alcohol.

Provide the body with the poorest precursors for fat synthesis (protein and alcohol) and fat storage just aint happening.

'Do you think how I handle this sounds reasonable or does it sound like I am shading toward ridiculous territory. '

I make no judgements about your lifestyle. If you don't like to drink and eat junk I'm certainly not going to encourage it. If you don't feel like you're making any sacrifices then props to you. Personally, I like to have a drink now and then

Martin Berkhan said...


'I am a huge fan of what youre doing and a former client (with great results in a rather short period of time I must add). Now my question, I am currently addicted to milk. I usually drink 1l milk (1.5% fat from Arla) + my usual lunch. My goal is to lean out and I wonder if that 1l milk everyday besides weekends will be bad for me. '

Well, it depends. Like I said, liquid calories aint optimal to ensure maximal satiety.

Then again, some people have trouble eating all the food in the 8 hr feeding window even during fat loss, not to mention muscle gain. For them, adding liquid calories is completely logical and even necessary in order to meet caloric requirements.

So by all means, keep drinking your milk. But if satiety is an issue, ditch it and replace it with whole food. And if you ever need to adjust calories downwards to keep losing, the milk should be the first to go.

Martin Berkhan said...



cubby said...

What are your thoughts on GPP? Most powerlifters do GPP and say it actually enhances recovery and strength gains, as long as it is kept at a reasonable level. I assume you don't like HIIT, hill sprints, incline treadmill sprints, etc., but what about sled dragging, hammer work, Prowler pushes, etc.?

Anonymous said...

In one of your replies to the comments here, you stated that alcohol cannot be stored as fat. If this is true, then what would happen if someone were hypercaloric due to alcohol intake? Extremely hypothetical (since at some point the person would die), but wouldn't the body still abide by basic thermodynamics and somehow cause TG synthesis?

mrvain68 said...

Hey bro-

Old big Vain may remember our correspondence back in the day...I just want to say great post and give a holler.


fitto13 said...

Great article....once again. Time and time again, IF reassures itself in my mind as the #1 dieting approach going around.

I've been eating this way for about 2 years now and follow a cyclical intake. On off days I just exlude the 'goodies' from my diet that I would add on a workout day and satiety is never a problem. But, if I want something to satisfy a craving for that day, IF doesn't make it a problem as it could potenitally be on a 5/6meal diet e.g. if I wanted a big burger kcal wise for instance at dinner, I'd have to sacrifice the other 4/5 meals to compensate, but with IF it's only a slight readjustment. Even during low calorie intake periods, doing 2 meals makes for no hunger issues.

The approach to placing most of my excess calories around weight training, based on science or not, has had a positive effect with regards to gaining strength. I can continue to get stronger week in, week out without seeing very rapid bw increases. (i'm not purely 'strength training' either.)

I can attest to the 'eat protein, stay away from junk, drink alcohol' approach too. I have seen no negative effects on body weight or composition following this. It's been a great reliever in my college life. I am curious as to what happens when you drink beer (as it has a fair amount of carbs in it) in regards to storage of those carbs as the body trys to rid the alcohol. I have only been drinking full strength beers and vodka redbulls as of late (not sugarfree redbull) and still have noticed no ill effects from doing so??

Keep it up Martin

Insight said...

Hey Martin, man dude, I've read your stuff before, but this put it all together for me. What a great idea this all is. Sign me up to buy the book as well.

You are very talented in the art of setting up long-term plans and lifestyles that complement your weaknesses, rather than force you to constantly fight with yourself.

"If every day you have to battle with yourself... eventually yourself will win."

I think this might be what I start doing from now on.

Martin Berkhan said...


Yeah, I'm aware of the popularity of GPP among powerlifters. I let some of my powerlifting clients use it (prowler and sled work) on rest days as a replacement for low impact activities such as brisk walking with no ill effect. It's not as draining on recovery/CNS as HIIT.

Martin Berkhan said...


That's a complex question that would deserve a post on it's own. But consider this for the time being.

In the end, most of the alcohol that is processed by the body ends up as acetic acid in the urine.

However, such as massive intake of alcohol will, among other things

1) Completely inhibit lipolysis*, perhaps well into the next day. Studies using massive carb overfeeding show this. The respiratory quotient is close to 1.0 even during the next (low) carb day. (1.0 = carb oxidation, 0.7 = fat oxidation). For ethical reasons, no such studies have been done on ethanol consumption.

* But fat synthesis from ethanol itself would be close to nil. It acts as an enabler, not a precursor, for fat storage in adipose tissue.

2) Disproportionately increase energy expenditure. Similar to protein, the "true" energy yield of ethanol is less than 7 kcal/1 g.

In simple terms, a hypercaloric diet containing (this is hypothetical) ONLY protein and alcohol will NOT lead to the same fat storage that would occur with a mixed diet at the same calorie intake.

And the effect would be significant; that is, while a 700 kcal surplus from a mixed diet should predictably lead to a 0.1 kg weight gain, the same surplus from the pro/ethanol-diet would be nowhere close to that.

And yes, I'm using absurd examples to illustrate my point.

Martin Berkhan said...


' I have only been drinking full strength beers and vodka redbulls as of late (not sugarfree redbull) and still have noticed no ill effects from doing so??'

Carbs are rarely used for fat synthesis unless your glycogen stores are saturated.

Martin Berkhan said...


Yeah, I remember. Good to see you here buddy. Hope all's well.



Relentless said...


Couple questions if you don't mind:

I'm 5'11 172lbs @ 14% bodyfat. I'm going to try out your IF plan to get around to the 8-10% range (where I would like to stay).

Q1) Does it matter what part of the day you have your 8 hour eating window? For example, 12-8 would be easier to me than 6 am to 4 pm. I didn't if the actual time chosen affects anything.

Q2) I guess you'll go into the difference of the four types of IF plans you adjust this method to in your upcoming book. When do you think it will be released?

Just really wanting to get rid of that extra few pounds of fat I have.


Nanok said...

Mycket läsvärd Martin. Håller själv på att krypa nedåt i bf. Har legat stabil på 7% ett tag , med målet att krypa ner under 6 och vara "funktionsduglig". En fråga dock. I och min relativt låga bf har jag börjat uppleva en försämrad bålstabilitet. Inte helt säker om det är bålen specifikt, men jag känner att har börjat bli lite "vingligare" i böj och mark. Någonting du /klienter har upplevt vid låg bf, eller tror du att det primärt kan beror på styrka/muskelförlust?

Forstätt vara en stenhård förebild!


Chris D said...


What would you estimate your ratio of pullups:chinups is?

I noticed your superior biceps development in relationship to brachioradialis.

I'm curious because after performing predominantly pullups for 2 years I had a relatively overdeveloped brachioradialis. After finding your site i started incorporating more chins.

Desirée said...

This is definitely why I just love your comments Martin, your guidance has taken me from obsessive cardio and crazy diet plans to a great life. Three meals a day, three or four days in the gym each week has made me stronger, leaner and more satisfied than ever before.

I've learned to keep it simple and that's been the key to my success.

Keep up the good work, and make sure to release that book a.s.a.p.

Martin Berkhan said...


'Does it matter what part of the day you have your 8 hour eating window? For example, 12-8 would be easier to me than 6 am to 4 pm. I didn't if the actual time chosen affects anything. '

It matters, yes. It should be centered and maintained around the training session.

'I guess you'll go into the difference of the four types of IF plans you adjust this method to in your upcoming book. When do you think it will be released? '

2010. That's about as specific I'm willing to get.

Martin Berkhan said...


Stick to english here.

I recently wrote this on a forum which I hope answers your question (ran this through Google translate so nevermind the poor wording) -

Generally speaking, bench press takes the hardest beating when body weight is lost. A 5-10 cm longer ROM due to a drop in the back / chest measurement may not sound much but may result in a substantial drop in poundage.

After bench it's usually squats, though squats may suffer more, relatively spaking, with excess cardio.

In some cases the opposite may occurs for deads i.e a slight strength increase. Especially when moving from high % to more normal bf% ranges. This is likely an effect from increased flexibility. Generally speaking, deads are also the most resilient lift during dieting i.e it doesn't take nearly as much of a beating as bench press/pressing movements.

Martin Berkhan said...


'What would you estimate your ratio of pullups:chinups is?'

I don't know exactly, since I don't do pullups atm. Usually stuck with chins throughout my lifting career. When I trained both movements in conjunction my pullup-numbers were just slightly less than chin-ups.

Interesting observation re: my biceps / brachioradialis developement. Might def be explained by my preference for chins rather than pullups and the reverse for you (pronounced brachioradialis due to pullups).

Martin Berkhan said...


'This is definitely why I just love your comments Martin, your guidance has taken me from obsessive cardio and crazy diet plans to a great life. '

That's just awesome to hear, Desirée. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Will definitely take some of your advice to heart.

MDieguez said...

How is your deadlift coming along on you recent higher frequency routine? Are your other lifts going up as well? What kind od adjustments have you had to make?

Martin Berkhan said...

The high frequency experiment has come to an end and I've switched back to a low frequency/higher intensity routine for a variety of reasons (time efficiency first and foremost).

But I'm pleased with the results and have successfully used the template on many clients as well.

I might or might not do a write-up on it some time in the future.

Plaxmodious said...

Great work, Martin! I.F. completely changed the way I eat. The part of your post where you mention never really feeling satisfied with small meals even while gaining muscle sounded as if you were reading my thoughts.

I'm currently gaining mass and I've been using IF since September 2009. Results have been amazing. I've not tried IF yet for cutting, but I've found staying at a low BF% somewhat difficult.

1st. It seems that my libido increases or decreases proportionally with my BF%. Is there any way to go around this annoyance? I'd like to stay at one digit BF% and yet... you know, perform well.

2nd. Sometimes I do twice-a-day workouts and that only allows me 12 hrs. feeding - 12 hrs. fasting. I hope I'm not losing most of the benefits this way.

Thank you for all your good work and for being an inspiration.

Flo said...

Another great article! I'm devouring them all, and I'm eagerly awaiting the book.

One question:
I don't work out at the same time every day; sometimes I have to work out at 10 AM (2 out of three times), and sometimes at 10 PM, which kinda sucks.

Does the 8 hour eating window have to be at the same time every day? At the moment I base it around my workout. If I workout late, I eat late (for example: 4 PM - 12 PM). If I workout early (or on off days), I eat early (8 AM - 4 PM).

Anna said...

Personally I have no restriction on the kind of food I eat. One reason may be I don't eat much and I don't have any illness that requires diet control. I go on the 24-hour fasting three to four times a week. Sometimes I do eat a lot due to social and family events. But once I resume my IF way of eating, my body weight goes down and remain stable again. I like the IF way of eating and it's been my 5th year.
intermittent fasting success

Martin Berkhan said...


'1st. It seems that my libido increases or decreases proportionally with my BF%. Is there any way to go around this annoyance? I'd like to stay at one digit BF% and yet... you know, perform well.'

Acute and/or prolonged dieting will affect libido in some cases, but this is dependent on factors such as calorie deficit and training. IME most people attempt to lose too fast (in the lower bf% range) and train too much which saps their libido.

'2nd. Sometimes I do twice-a-day workouts and that only allows me 12 hrs. feeding - 12 hrs. fasting. I hope I'm not losing most of the benefits this way.'

This question hints that your problem can be explained by behavioral factors such as simply trying too hard. A natural has no business training 2x/day.

Martin Berkhan said...


Thanks. No, the feeding window does not have to be the same every day, but there are benefits to a regular pattern. Do a search on ghrelin and you'll find posts where I talk about this.

Anonymous said...

Great article. In fact all your material is great. You should consider writing a book or something...;) jk keep up the good work!

nondual said...


Is the maintenance +50% calories on training days and maintenance -25% on off days still your advice for a recomp? Or do I have my info way off?

I thought I'd heard you recommend that in an interview or some such.

vmax said...

How low do you recommend going with the calorie deficit when you reach lower bf?

Personally I find it very tempting to slam it down hard, just to get done with it and see rapid improvements. But sooner or later general mood, libido,insomnia issues becomes my worst enemies, causing me to stall or rebound.

Plaxmodious said...

Thank you, Martin. As soon as I finish my current program (myo-reps, BTW) I'll switch back to 1x a day workouts. It's just that I'm currently on a kind of "sabatic" year (nothing to do) and I like to dedicate my time to what I love the most.

For now, I have no problems with the libido (gaining mass, low teens BF%). Problems start when I approach one digit. I'll be cutting soon, so I'll follow your advice on taking it easy on training and caloric deficit.

Congratulations again, Martin. Can't wait for the book to come. Hope it'll be available worldwide.

Martin Berkhan said...


Those are some generic guidelines I threw out in the past. I might do things differently nowadays. I wouldn't say you've got it "way off". It could be a decent starting point.


Depends on total body weight and fat mass.

IPBrian said...

I have been on a 6 month bulk and have gained about 20lbs, but the problem is just what you have been talking about. I am not lean. I went from about 6% body fat during this time to about 12%. I defiantly feel bigger which was my goal, but miss being really lean. Next year I will be working on leaner gains.

David said...

Does a person consume the same amount of protein, fat ,and carbs on an IF day as they would on a regular 3 meal day with no IF?

Martin Berkhan said...

On my plan with my guidelines? No.

JT said...

Great article! I've been following IF for a couple of years, thanks to you.

I got a question regarding refeeds. I know you don't use them in the traditional way, but I would like to hear your opinion nevertheless. If you limit fat intake to aprox 50g, while the carb intake is 500g ++. Will fat gain be insignificant even though in a caloric surplus?


Martin Berkhan said...


That question is way too broad to give a definitive answer to, since it depends on your energy needs, glycogen stores, what you ate/did before etc.

But in that particular context much of those 50 grams of fat would be stored unless you're severly depleted (in which case fat oxidation wouldn't be completely suppressed from carbs).

It's a moot point in the end. We store dietary fat every time we eat. And then fat is released and burned off in between meals if there is a calorie deficit.

Shawn said...


I have been living IFasting for about a year now and I dropped the lbs. in the first 6 weeks, but now I cant get past 12-13% body comp. I want to try the 8 hour eating window but I train at 5:30 am... What do you think the effect will be if I break my fast for a recovery meal and then dont eat until my 12-8pm window opens up? I'm torn because I havent had a recovery meal in 6 months for fear of breaking my Fast... Any help would be appreciated.

Martin Berkhan said...


I don't give out personalized diet advice in the comments section. I start doing it and suddenly a flood of comments start appearing with everyone wanting input on this and that. Sorry.

Simon said...

Very interesting article.

So how many % would you overeat on training days and undereat on rest days to gain mostly lean mass?


Martin Berkhan said...

Depends on several factors such as training status, body fat percentage and training frequency.

Simon said...

4 days/week lifting and moderately active over than that.

Simon said...

4 days/week lifting and moderately active over than that.

Simon said...

oh, and somewhere around 10-11% BF.

Martin Berkhan said...

Simon, I don't give out detailed advice on an individual basis in comments. I start doing it once and everyone will want me to set up their diet for them.

Simon said...

Oh, okey sorry :)
Just wanted to see if you had some general guidelines to share like in what ranges the calories would be in for calorie cycling.

By the way, great work on your articles.


Anonymous said...

Hi Martin, I just have a couple of questions if you don't mind, on the topic of body recomp and calorie cycling, and your 4 IF approaches.

1. Why is calorie cycling beneficial for mass gain/fat loss. (As opposed to a moderate caloric surplus/deficit 7 days). Does this have to do with hormones (leptin etc) and metabolic slowdowns?

2. Is lean gains calorie cycling slower than reaching the same level of lean body mass and body fat percentage, using a moderate bulk and cut approach?

3. Say you reach your goal weight, but not goal body fat percentage, would you then do a recomp or phases of leangains and fat loss. Or does it depend on how far you are from your goals?

4. Is there any reason why you mainly cycle carbs when you cycle your calories? Obviously we want protein to remain high, but what about fat?

Thanks a lot, sorry if I ask something that's been answered, feel free to point me in the right direction.

Martin Berkhan said...

1. Yes.

2. Leangains = greater qualitative gain (lean body mass), shorter/ no diet.

Traditional bulk = greater quantitative gain (lean body mass and fat mass), longer diet.

3. Depends.

4. I've covered this numerous times in articles and interviews. Look and you will find.

Dimpa said...


I think you need an IF approach to writing to get your book done. We are all waiting anxiously.
BTW where do you stand on PUFAs? Peanut butter? Good or bad to eat? I've been experimenting with a low PUFA diet after I read some post of yours about nuts being a poor source of protein--thanks it helped me kick the trail mix habit.

Reggae Man said...


Great to see that you drink fairly regularly. I was concerned that my love of beer would prevent me from getting lean, but I'll take your advice and enjoy it on occasion (without the fatty food of course). What's your favorite drink? I've never seen any Swedish beers here in USA


Martin Berkhan said...


I put peanut butter in the same category as ice cream. Tastes great, but not something you want to make a diet staple. I don't take a stand for or against PUFA, it's about moderation. Most people get too much PUFA in general but this is not something that needs to be fixed if your diet is in check otherwise (i.e whole foods, fish oil or fish to improve omega6:omega3-ratio).


Hard liquors is my style and Lynch Mob my signature drink.

Anonymous said...

Martin, I've looked through your website and am very curious about this diet approach, but how could your program be altered to help with bulking? I'm 5' 11" and 145 pounds. I find it very difficult to consume the necessary calories for me to gain lean body mass, especially in 8 hours. I've been trying fasted training with BCAA for about 2 weeks now. Do you think I should have a real pre-workout meal? Any advice would be fantastic. Thank you.

Martin Berkhan said...

1. Choose more calorie-dense foods. Rice instead of potatoes for carbs for example.

2. If you cant eat enough to gain quality mass during the 8 hour feeding window, dont do IF. It's not for everyone.

3. Or compromise, make it a 10 hr feeding window.

Jack said...


What do you think how much should one be in calorie surplus on training days and how much in deficit on off days? My objective is to maximize my gains and keep my body fat % where it's at. The traditional 500 calories sounds good?

Also, since muscle recovery continues after the day of working out, shouldn't the calories be kept the same on those days too to maximize gains?

Martin Berkhan said...


No. You can't be in a chronic surplus if you're looking to add quality weight. Training days should be highest in terms of total calorie intake.

Mik said...

hello Martin, i love your approach and your theories, i'm wonderin if there's a way to be followeb by you. How can i get in touch with you? i've sent you and email at the gmail adress but didn't received any answer :-)

Martin Berkhan said...

You're probably in the consultation request queue. I'll get back to you once a spot becomes available.

Anonymous said...

Could you be a little more specific about 'slight underfeeding' as far as a ballpark range that might work with during a leangains phase? Thanks. :)

Rajat Desikan said...

Hi Martin
I am new to your website, but I am blown away by all the great content in it...I follow Eat Stop Eat for 2 days in a week. My main question is about protein intake. I am a lacto vegetarian and do not eat egg, how do I meet my daily requirement of protein. I religiously workout 4 times per week and kickbox one day a week...Thanks.

Fabio said...

hi martin,great article; i have a question for you:
if i go out of town and i drink at midnight, when i go home a few hour later i can eat some junk food to finish the cheat day or not?

scuse me for my english^^

Martin Berkhan said...



Anonymous said...

How many calories do u restrict on rest days and add on workout days?

Cherry Collections said...

hi martin,
some of your clients said they eat pizza, burgers, pasta and another "cheat meals".
I follow ESE now and yes i become leaner and have 4packs abs while allow me to eat "bad carbs".
My question is :
can i eat those "cheat meals" on eating window (if i switch my diet to leangains) ? coz i read, some of your clients did it. Thx

Anonymous said...

Would intermittent fasting also be advicable for athletes who do intense cardio several times per week and workout once per day?

If yes, should athletes then increase the amount of carbs both during easy days and hard days?

Apolodor said...

Hey Martin , i was wondering how much fat you should get (minimum) on training days when carbs are high , as some people recommend getting 1g/kg no matter what you do , i'm on a 2k cals diet and am 185Lbs/85 kg btw , thanks

Anonymous said...

Does taking BCAAs take the body out of fasting state and the body recomposition/fat loss benefits associated with fasting?

Siddharta1979 said...

Hi Martin,
I'm about to try your method, and I look forward to your book.
One question I hope not tot newbie; On training day, one should overfeed by say 20%. Should this be on top of maintainance calories, or on top of maintainance calories plus the calories burnt in the gym?
I.E. My maintaince is 2500: on training days should I go 2500+500, or 2500-300+300+500? (Assuming 300 are the calories spent in the gym then refilled to get to maintainance again). I hope I was clear, and I hope you will answer to me.
THANKS! And keep up the great work.

Holmes said...

wondering how much fat is too much for a post workout meal. Today is my first day of IF training with Bill Starr's 5x5 training, and i finished training at noon then ate a big salad with lots of strawberries and 3 beef patties that were 380 cal each with 21 g fat each. should i be eating a whole lot leaner meat for my post meal? i didnt even see the fat content until after i ate them, guess ill pay more attention to that next time :/

Anonymous said...

As a vegetarian, is it even worth me being on this site?

Do you have any vegetarian specific articles/tips?


Anonymous said...

hey just recently discovered your blog and its great stuff. I was just wondering whats the best way to accurately calculate caloric needs. Since i have heard that most online calculators tend to be inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

I recently found your blog and I wanted to thank you. I love what you are writing about, I appreciate the ability to see and read the studies for myself and believe in the minimalist straight forward approach you identify.

I am at a different phase in my life, coming off being too obese for words and I am down to about 15% BF. I am working my way patiently down to 8%-9%.

Your site and insight are just what the doctor ordered. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Great read! Is this book out yet? Cause as you stated; keeping that lean state throughout the year sort of makes you coo coo, that is, till you eat a nice fatty, greasy burger. lol

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog articles nonstop for the last 2 days, and i'm ready to start IFing. A couple questions-

1. On the one pre-workout meal days, should most carbs for the preworkout meal come from starchy potatoes or from fruit? How much fruit can safely be eaten to ensure fat loss?

2. Would sweet potatoes be better than regular potatoes?

3. I'm in college, so my schedule makes it hard to time my eating and lifting right. What time window do I have to eat after I lift?

4. You seem to really know your stuff about the scientific aspects of dieting. I've been looking at primal eating and trying it for a while with good results. It says that basically all grains are bad. I've seen that you recommend whole wheat toast and oatmeal. What's your take on this?

Anonymous said...

Great read. I'm waking up around 11 some days. Does your body still burn the same amount of fat if you're sleeping as opposed to being awake? If i'm waking up later should I prolong my fast to 2pm making it a 9pm-2pm 17 hour fast?

Eugene said...

hey great site, I'm glad I found it, I think I'm exactly suited for this type of diet schedule. I also do not like having small meals half a dozen times a day.

Jay said...

Hey Martin, if you were to recommend a cutting diet what carb/fat macros would you recommend? I have heard for fat keep it at .45lb per lb of bodyweight and 1.5g protein per lb of bodyweight and for carbs to make up the rest of your cals. Any thoughts?

zafar malik said...

Wow,thank you for this post,there are many ways to lose weight like fatty person can use health products and fat reduction diet is also way to lose weight.

Bowie said...

hey there Martin. im 17, Male and weight bout 105kg. i would like to ask how much carbs must i consume each time? thanks :)

Anonymous said...

hello i read all of your articles and i want to know something i was at 98kg 1 year ago now i am at 58 at 7% bodyfat i eat only healthy foods for a while and trying to maintain and even lower my bodyfat but i afraid i will go too far with those calorie deficits so fasting is key for every avarage person or it depends on genetic or something ? and while fasting lifestyle i can eat evertying i want and not get fat couse i am so tired of my diet i am eating 8 9 meals measure them with my palm size really annoying thank you

Natalie said...

Hi Martin! I've been looking at LeanGains for a couple of days now and doing some extra research and seriously, going to the source of it all is probably the best bet! I'm so impressed by and in awe of the transformations taking place in as little as three months and I'm extremely excited to get started.
I'm still pretty young (age undisclosed, lol) and I was always the kid who didn't like eating breakfast because I wasn't hungry in the morning, and I had training (swimming) from 10-12 and I woke up at 9, and eating so soon before a workout never appealed to me. So I always ended up eating 2 big meals a day with a snack or two in between. No, they were not nutritionally ... er, good ... but I've never been overweight or unhealthy or anything.

I understand that leangains is mostly for people who are very serious about gaining muscle mass. I used to be a 'cardio bunny' (lol) and I did track and swimming as my 'main sports'. Recently, I've really taken the pure cardio down a notch because I finally faced how boring it really is when you're doing it by yourself. I'm lifting 4-5 a week at the gym and I'm still a beginner, so I'm doing lighter weights to focus on my form for now. I usually lift for about 1.5-2 hours every session. I know it's a lot, but I love my squats and I do 485398457 different kinds. I do squats and deadlifts every time, which in themselves take about an hour to finish anyway since I do a lot of variations. Then I'll do a specific body part afterwards, like biceps/triceps/chest/shoulders/back. I know 4-5 times a week seems a bit too much, but I've been very athletic my entire life and I haven't felt sore at all from any of the exercises I've done. If you're really really against this I'd love to know so that I don't injure myself and ruin my future, haha.

Okay. Getting to my point. I don't want to give up cardio entirely. I know it goes against 95% (at least) of the leangains philosophy/mantra/whatever, but I still want to be able to run 10k straight - I don't have to be SUPER FAST WITH CRAZY MARATHON ENDURANCE, but I want to have cardiovascular endurance. I also want to continue swimming because it's something I've done my whole life. I'm playing more badminton now because it's more fun and it's less extended-period-of-cardio (my heart rate never really goes up high, and even when it does, it's because i'm anticipating the smash that the other person is going to do, lol.)
In an ideal world where everything is perfect, I'd lift heavy 4-5x a week, run maybe a total of 2 hours a week [would HIIT be better? as in perhaps 30s sprint, 30s jog, but no stopping?], and swim maybe 4-5 hours a week.

SO AFTER 22835 YEARS OF RAMBLING, I was wondering whether the cardio would have a huge negative effect on leangains. I suppose my main goal now is to get stronger while maintaining decent cardiovascular endurance. I do 'cardio' with weightlifting (lots of squats with little rest between each set). Sorry for the terribly long comment.

Anyway, I'm super excited about your book. Since I'm such a noob, I thought you published it already and I was on Amazon looking for it. Then I realized you hadn't published it and I felt stupid for looking for it. I'M STILL WAITING ON THE BOOK!! Super stoked for that.
Your English is actually really exceptional (I'm assuming it's your second language.) May I ask how you got it to be so good?

Thanks so much for even reading through this, if you actually did that. Hahah.

fat loss factor review said...

i like that you mentioned we can afford to eat slightly more on days we workout, while much less on days we do not so as to maintain a low body fat. Makes sense, and does work, as I realized I have been doing that and my body fat percentage is indeed kept low. By the way you look insane!

Anonymous said...

Andreaz looks like Johnny Drama LOL!

PFCIntelli said...

I'm a 20 y/o guy and I'm unsure how many calories I should be consuming for body recomp. I have my macros planned out, but managing calories is hard to go by since I'm sure I burn more than the normal 2,000 calories you see on packages. Thanks for all you've done here! Look forward to the book.

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

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