Foreword:
This is a guest post by Sgt Joshua Breaux, of the U.S. Marine Corps, who emailed me a lot great information about the traditional Lean Gains approach to Intermittent Fasting.  While Sgt Breaux gave me a little tough love concerning my own progress and methods, he’s someone that I instantly respected as a quality resource.  And hey.. If you can’t take a little tough love from a Marine Corps Sergeant, it’s probably time to give up blogging.

Joshua’s journey took him from 12-13% body fat (at 160 lbs) to 8% body fat (at 175 lbs).  That’s pretty remarkable results.  While admitting that he’s since strayed from the single-digit body fat range, his goal is to return from overseas and return to this level of fitness.

The following post addresses a lot of areas where many people struggle with implementing the Lean Gains approach to intermittent fasting.  It’s a great read and I think most will be able to take something away from this.  Thanks for a great source of information… “Sgt Bro”.

HOW TO IMPLEMENT THE LEANGAINS METHOD OF INTERMITTENT FASTING TO REACH LOW LEVELS OF BODY FAT

The Leangains Method of Intermittent Fasting was developed by Martin Berkhan. It has helped many individuals reach insanely low body fat levels, while liberating them from the unnecessary tasks consistent with the 6 small meals a day dogma, as well as other discomforts that accompany a daily calorie deficit. The intent of this article is to arm one with the tools necessary to develop their own plan, and provide guidance to make smart adjustments when the need arises.

I stumbled across Martin’s blog in 2009 (he started it in 2007). I was instantly intrigued and immersed myself in the posts until I had read every single one in a matter of a couple weeks. Also, at the same time I friended him on Facebook, which at the time his page was more like a Q&A forum where he answered any and all questions and it was a community of quite a few of us conducting personal experiments on ourselves and others with his methods.

Unfortunately, I witnessed Martin transform from a willing expert on his methods eager to tell anyone who cared how to achieve the best body composition of their life – into an internet douchebag who belittled those who came to his page (BTW I really don’t blame him much, because I was able to see the trend of people asking the exact same questions day in and day out without reading ANY of his guidelines on the blog. This, I imagine would start to get on your nerves…in any case, that’s just the way it turned out).

The reason why this is all relevant is because those of us who were able to communicate with him and the community before this whole IF thing blew up, got so much great advice and other knowledge nuggets that were missed in some of the articles. To add to the confusion around his methods there were tons of others who took his material and either unintentionally screwed it up when they put it up on their site, or purposefully changed things on their own accord. Don’t get me wrong, tweaking some things is good and at most times necessary, but it had sort of a telephone effect on the web…one person puts their spin on Martin’s methods, then someone else reads that and puts their spin on it all the while calling it Leangains. I would like to offer some of the many things that I have learned throughout my LG IF journey as well as some of the things I have observed from others who I have guided.

The first thing is that there are several different protocols depending on what your overall goal is. Once you establish your goal, that dictates the degree of calorie cycling that you employ (+/- Maintenance (M)). Your goals can fit into one of four main categories, as follows:

  • Fat Loss/Muscle Maintenance – very slow muscle gain is possible
  • Recomp – Gain Muscle Slowly/Lose Fat Slowly – at the same time
  • LeanGain Muscle/Little to no Fat Gain
  • Maintenance

Now, most people misunderstand the LEANGAINS METHOD as the RECOMP protocol, which is most commonly M+20%/M-20%. While this is correct for the RECOMP protocol, this is also the one which produces the slowest results. When the results don’t come fast enough they start freaking out and changing things the wrong way and end up with a bastardized version, but still call it Leangains, and then dismiss Leangains as not being optimal.

In its simplest terms the Leangains Method is calorie and carb cycling, centered around high intensity/low volume resistance training, coupled with a daily 16/8 fast. From there, the rest is details depending on your goals, albeit in some cases very important details.

I will not discuss at this time all of the goals, but I will go into detail for the Fat Loss/Muscle Maintenance protocol, as I feel that is the one most people will fall into, and the one which gives the fastest results. I will not go into any of the technical or scientific explanations, because Martin has discussed these subjects in great detail on his blog. Also, I am in no way qualified to speak about the scientific background of why this happens, but rather I can speak to what happens and how to make them happen. I will link some of the most important blog posts at the end that explain a lot of this stuff.

Fat Loss Protocol

The Fast:

Daily 16/8 – Fast/Feeding window

Stop eating at a certain point, go 16 hours without consuming calories (sleep included) and then start eating the next day after the 16 hours is up. For example, I stop eating at 8pm and then eat my first meal at 12pm. In the morning during the fast you may consume no more than roughly 30kcal in a 3 hour time-frame. Most of the time, this will come from a splash of cream in coffee. You can drink anything that has no calories or less than 30kcal – water, diet drinks, tea, black coffee, zero or low calorie energy drinks (i.e. low carb monster – blue). This is not complicated, but there are ALWAYS a million questions about the fast. If it has no calories, it is fine. If it does have calories, be sure you do not consume more than 30kcal in a three hour period. You can move the feeding window to whatever time of day is more comfortable for you.

Diet:

The first thing is to find your Maintenance Caloric Intake. Lyle McDonald has a great article on finding maintenance which basically states that for Males, multiply your current BW by 14-16.  Since our goal is weight loss, start with the low end of that recommendation as a starting point. So, multiply your bodyweight by 14. I’ll use an example of someone who is 185lbs. 185×14= 2590 -> round up to 2600kcal = M. Remember, this is all just estimates that will guide you. I round to the nearest hundred when calculating the templates. The name of the game is making adjustments based off of your results.

Next, you need to establish your over/under daily calorie target. I suggest starting out at M+10%/M-30%. So, 2600kcal (+) 10% and 2600kcal (-) 30%. The surplus calories will be assigned to your workout (WO) days, and the deficit will be assigned to your rest days… We will get to training in a minute. For now, just assume that we will be working out 3 days/week (M,W,F) The below table shows our example’s daily calorie targets for a week.

weekly calorie target

***Unless you weigh 185lbs do not use this example.

After establishing calorie targets, we need to create some Macro Nutrient Ratios. I’ll go ahead and address a major issue now, because this is where most people take one extreme stance or the other – both of which are less than ideal, IMO.

If the tracking of these details is a spectrum, then on one extreme end you have someone who is anal retentive and tracks their daily eating down to the gram and calorie, and then on the other end there is the person who disregards everything and goes with 100% intuition. You want to be somewhere in the middle. You may need to start off being anal retentive, until you start to become more knowledgeable about nutrition and how to better estimate things, but you never want to completely leave it up to guess work either. I will say though, that the more understanding you have about nutrition, the more freedoms you will have – which will lead to feeling less restrictive, adding to the success rate of sustainability.

Back to Macros… when you boil it all down you want Protein to be almost constant at a moderate to high level – and then Fat/Carbs inversely cycled depending on the day. Again, this is all estimates – and honestly you have a lot more freedom with these ranges than one would think. For our example, the table below represents Macro Nutrient “TARGETS” for WO and Rest Days respectively.

macronutrient targets

How to Calculate Your Macronutrient Ratios

WO Day

Protein (g) – 1 x BW – Round up to the nearest number that looks attractive -> 200g

Carbs (g) – 2 x BW – round to nearest ten -> 380g

Fill in the blanks with Fat – by following the instructions below. (1g Fat = 9kcal / 1g Carbs = 4kcal / 1g Protein = 4kcal)

(grams of protein x 4) + (grabs of carbs x 4) = P & C kcal total

(Calorie Target in kcal) – (P & C kcal total) = Fat kcal total

(Fat kcal total) / 9 = Fat in grams

185 lbs Example

(200g x 4) + (380g x 4) = 2320kcal

2900kcal – 2320kcal = 580kcal

580kcal / 9 = 65g

Rest Day

Protein (g) – 1 x BW – Round up to the nearest number that looks attractive -> 200g

Carbs (g) – 60g -> Everyone will use this number…seems arbitrary, but just go with it!

Fill in the blanks with Fat – by following instructions below. (1g Fat = 9kcal / 1g Carbs = 4kcal / 1g Protein = 4kcal)

(grams of protein x 4) + (grabs of carbs x 4) = P & C kcal total

(Calorie Target in kcal) – (P & C kcal total) = Fat kcal total

(Fat kcal total) / 9 = Fat in grams

185 lbs Example

(200g x 4) + (60g x 4) = 1040kcal

1800kcal – 1040kcalkcal = 760kcal

760kcal / 9 = 85g

On WO days think of Fat as your Macro Enemy, and don’t go above about 20% of total calories – in this case ~60g. If you want to eat more calories on this day from protein so that you are not eating 390g of carbs, go for it. If you want to stick with the above guidelines as close as possible, cool – the variance in results will be minimal. Just ensure you hit your protein minimum, while eating close (within 100kcal either way) of your kcal target and you will be fine.

On Rest Days, think of Carbs as your Macro Enemy. Do not exceed 60g on this day, and sources should be from fibrous veggies and incidentals from dairy (in moderation) including protein powders. Again, as long as Carbs are kept in check, you can increase protein, thus minimizing fat intake – just keep kcal intake at or slightly below your target.

Sometimes life gets in the way and you may find yourself in a situation where your numbers for the day are getting all screwed up. Below is the flow of elements in order of importance.

macronutrient order of importance

 

The next issue is the type of food choices.

I understand that some people feel very passionate about certain views (i.e Paleo) I have my own views on such topics, but I RESPECT each individual’s right to choose how they want to eat. On WO days, the majority of carbs should come from starches. If you are Paleo, I guess you will be eating a lot of sweet potatoes. If not, R.P.P.…rice, potatoes, pasta – and lots of it.

Fat on this day should mostly be incidental from meat and other protein sources.

On Rest Days, carb sources should be green fibrous vegetables and incidentals form protein sources. Avoid starches like the plague!
Fattier cuts of meat should be eaten on this day, as well as various seed, nuts and oils while not exceeding the dietary fat target.

I have done so much experimenting with all variables in this equation, from eating STRICT Paleo, to getting my carbs in by eating Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Pop Tarts + 8 bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. From a body composition perspective, NO DIFFERENCE! Let me say though, THAT I DO NOT ADVISE ANYONE TO TAKE UP A DIET WITH SO MUCH REFINED SUGAR AND PROCESSED FOODS.

If you haven’t noticed, I take the middle of the ground on most issues. For me, a diet that is mostly made up of whole foods, but allows for an occasional treat (read every WO Day) while still being in the confines of the targets you established, is the best course of action over the long haul. The bottom line is that you can still eat within your set of beliefs while still adhering to the Leangains principles. Those of you who do not bear allegiance to said beliefs; you can splurge about with moderation with no negative effects on body composition.

Training

I’ve experimented with this aspect of the equation a great deal over the years as well, and all roads lead back to Martin’s advice: High Intensity/Low Volume – 3 days a week – 1 day rest between sessions. Most people will feel more comfortable with a M, W, F scheme.

One important note is that your eating day revolves around your training day. If life gets in the way and you don’t train, eat as if it is a rest day. If you started eating carbs because it was a WO day and then it doesn’t happen…don’t freak out, just manage the piece you can control and eat low carb for the next meal. However, consistency is key, and ensuring all cylinders are firing away together is optimal

–DO YOUR BEST NOT TO MISS YOUR TRAINING DAYS!

Again, you have a great deal of latitude with the training, just ensure you are using mostly compound movements and as heavy as possible while overall volume is kept low ( i.e Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) scheme, or 3×5 or 3×3). Be sure you are programming smartly and allowing for progressive overload (no matter how small the increases are).

Remember, you are hitting a weekly caloric deficit, so don’t expect to be smashing PRs every session, but if your strength is declining – then it is time for a smart and small dietary adjustment. Most people complain about wanting more freedom with training and diet, but when it comes down to it, they are scared shitless when someone gives them that freedom. They start to ask questions about very insignificant details because of fear of the unknown. This is natural and I’ve experienced it firsthand. The more knowledge you have about a subject, the more you can adjust things to mold it to your personal situation.

Below I have provided an 8 week “program” as a template. Either do it as is, or if you understand training principles – feel free to substitute movements or rep schemes as you see fit. Just remember to keep intensity high and volume low.

Follow an A/B split. Meaning alternate between two Workouts: A & B – 4 week schedule is below.

alternating workout schedule

Movements

                    A                     B
SQUATS DEADLIFT
PRESS (BB OVERHEAD – STRICT) BB ROWS (PENDLAY)
DIPS (WEIGHTED WHEN NECESSARY) CHINS (WEIGHTED WHEN NECESSARY)
BW SUSPENDED PUSHUPS (RINGS, TRX, etc…) BW RING CHINS

Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT):

Do a proper warm up by incrementally loading the bar and performing the selected movement. After the warm up, you will do three total sets. Only track progress for the 1st working set (Top Set). The Top set will be done to failure or the rep before failure on Squats (you will know). The weight will be selected based on Failure being reached between the 3-5 rep range.

The first session may be tricky, but based on what rep you hit failure; you can make adjustments from there. Record the weight and reps of your Top Set only.

For the 2nd set, strip roughly 10% off and complete + 1 rep from before but not exceeding 5. If you got five on your top set, then do five on the 2nd. Things will work themselves out as you go along from session to session. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

The 3rd set will be roughly 10% less than the 2nd and for 5 reps.

Do not bring a calculator to the gym and don’t try to get exactly 10% off the bar by using fractional plates. If you hit 3 reps on your Top Set, then next time you do that movement keep the weight the same and try to get more reps when going to failure. If you reach 5 reps on the Top Set, increase the weight by an appropriate increment. Be conservative with increases…slow and steady progress is the name of the game, because our goal ultimately is fat loss, without muscle loss or strength loss. Trying to go up too much too fast might have negative effects.

Paramaters

Weeks 1-5

SQUATS: RPT (3-5) DEADLIFT: RPT (3-5)
PRESS: RPT (3-5) ROWS: RPT (3-5)
DIPS: RPT (3-5) CHINS: RPT (3-5)
SUSP PU: 2XFAILURE RNG CHINS: 2XFAILURE

Week 6

SQUATS: TEST 3RM* DEADLIFT: TEST 3RM
PRESS: TEST 3RM ROWS: TEST 3RM
DIPS: RPT (3-5) CHINS: RPT (3-5)
SUSP PU: 2XFAILURE RNG CHINS: 2XFAILURE

*Use a Rep Max calculator and chart to find out what your estimated 3RM is based off of your last TOP SET to failure for each movement.

If you feel drained from testing your max, you can drop the dips/chins and pushups/chins after. Whichever workout has to be repeated this week, either take the day off or drop back to the RPT schedule. If you take the day off eat as a rest day.

Week 7

SQUATS: TOP SET ONLY* DEADLIFT: TOP SET ONLY
PRESS: TOP SET ONLY ROWS: TOP SET ONLY
DIPS: RPT (3-5) CHINS: RPT (3-5)
SUSP PU: 2XFAILURE RNG CHINS: 2XFAILURE

* Be sure to add weight to your week 5 top set, but only do one set to failure. Listen to your body here, if you feel sluggish 2 sets of 10 with the basic movements at about 60% est. 1RM might be more appropriate, because you are going to be testing your 1RM next week to finish out the macro cycle.

Week 8

SQUATS: TEST 1RM* DEADLIFT: TEST 1RM
PRESS : TEST 1RM ROWS: TEST 1RM
DIPS: RPT (3-5) CHINS: RPT (3-5)
SUSP PU: 2XFAILURE RNG CHINS: 2XFAILURE

* Based off of your tested 3RM calculate the estimated 1RM. Add some weight to this estimate and attempt it. If you fail at that weight, drop down a bit and attempt that lift. Don’t be afraid to add a bit to the estimate, because it’s just that… an estimate. If you feel drained from testing your max, you can drop the dips/chins and pushups/chins after. Whichever workout has to be repeated this week, either take the day off or drop back to the RPT schedule. If you take the day off eat as a rest day.

Take a week off from heavy training, and repeat.

Fasted Training

You do not have to train fasted. Many say that it accelerates your progress, including me…but sometimes you don’t have a choice when you can train. If you have to go to the gym in the afternoon or evening, you will still get great results having eaten lunch earlier in the day. If you do train fasted the consumption of BCAA’s are advised. For more information on timing of your workout in relation to your eating schedule, go to the Leangains Guide link at the end of this article to get the info straight from the source.

Track Progress

There will be daily fluctuations in weight caused by water retention. Generally you will be heavier after workout days and lighter after rest days. Because of this, I would advise against just one reference day on the scale. I weigh myself every morning, just to get a feel for the trends. Slight ups and downs are fine, but a gradual average decrease over time is what we are after.

If every day weighing seems cumbersome, then I would suggest twice a week, Thursday and Sunday. This gives you an idea of a post-WO day weight and a post-rest day weight. Again, progress over time is what we are seeking.

Also, sometimes progress will not come in the form of pounds lost. For this reason, I suggest taking measurements at least every two weeks of at least Neck, Chest, Waist, Thighs. The mirror is also a good tool; as well as your training journal.

If you are slowly progressing on your lifts, while measurements stay the same or increase, weight on the scale is decreasing, and you look sexier in the mirror- then I would call that a success!

Notes

The higher your body fat percentage, the larger weekly deficit you can support. The lower you get, the more conservative you have to be with your deficit. There are no set guidelines for this, but I would say once you get to sub 9%, you should switch to the RECOMP protocol of M+20%/M-20%. This reduces your weekly deficit and ensures you are not losing muscle. Likewise, once you are content with BF%, you can switch to a Lean Gain protocol, M+20%/M… or, if you are totally content, straight maintenance. The over/under is a sliding scale that can be tweaked, and needs to be tweaked depending on progress and individual needs. The above mentioned ratios are just estimates from which to start.

The above information is from my interpretations from posts on Martin Berkhan’s Blog, www.leangains.com, as well as much trial and error to fill in the blanks that he intentionally left out. For those of you who have been around this long enough, we gave up all hopes of him finishing the book at least 3 years ago.

Below are some links to some posts that helped me along my way. Also, understand that the method has evolved some over the years, so over time the restrictions have gotten less and less with more experimentation. There is some material on the web that is old, and while those guidelines still work, in some cases the constraints were a bit tighter than necessary. I hope this helps…train and eat smart!

Links

Diet

Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked
Lean Gains Guide
Intermittent Fasting and Stubborn Body Fat

Training

Minimalist
Lack of Progress
Reverse Pyramid Revisited

Results

2009 Client Update
2010 Client Update
2011 Client Update
2012 Client Update

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