Chapter 6

The Daily Fast: Back on Track

So far, my experiments revolved around entire days of fasting, with varying success. However, in the IF movement, some fasting proponents prefer shorter, more targeted fasts, especially for those who work out and are interested in improving both health and body composition.

Perhaps the most prominent is Martin Berkhan, who is something of a nutritional contrarian. He blogs about loving alcohol, skipping breakfast, training in a fasted state, eating carbs before bed, and only eating 2-3 meals per day. Despite not following more commonly established “healthy eating rules,” he boasts of a 600-pound deadlift and a lean, muscular body, while claiming to never have used any muscle-building drugs.

Intrigued, I decided to play around with his ideas, which he calls the “Leangains” method.

The Leangains program is based on a few simple rules.

  • Fast 16 hours every day.
  • Eat within an 8-hour window every day.
  • Exercise with high intensity, a few times per week, often while still in a fasted state.
  • Use 10 g of BCAA before or during your exercise session.
  • On your exercise days, eat 2-3 big meals of protein (meat), veggies, and carbs.
  • Eat your largest meal directly after your workout.
  • On non-exercise days, eat 2-3 meals of protein (meat), veggies, and fats.
  • Eat mostly whole, minimally processed foods, instead of processed foods or supplements.

As you can see from my description, this isn’t just intermittent fasting; there's actually a lot more going on. In fact, the approach is based on a whole host of well-accepted and non-controversial practices:

  • High protein intake
  • Low processed food intake
  • Carb cycling
  • Calorie cycling
  • Nutrient timing

All solid strategies for body composition, fitness, and overall health to begin with. To those, Leangains adds a few experimental twists.

What makes this approach different?

Here’s where Leangains departs from more conventional nutritional methods.

Fasting

Most coaches are fine with a 12/12 schedule (12-hour fasting, 12-hour feeding window). Berkhan prefers extending it to 16/8 (16 hours of fasting, 8-hour feeding window.)

Breakfast

Most coaches recommend it; Berkhan skips it as a natural part of the extended fast.

Exercise

Most coaches recommend eating prior to training; Berkhan usually uses a small dose of BCAA instead.

Eating frequency

Most coaches recommend 4-6 small meals; Berkhan says have 2-3 larger ones.

In my opinion, these are minor points of departure from the more commonly accepted nutritional best practices. But are they significant enough to make a difference?

Note from Krista: Start Slow

If this style of fasting appeals to you, you don’t have to jump right into it.

I started gradually: by simply pushing back my meals a bit. If dinner was normally at 7 PM, I’d eat at 6 PM instead. Next day, at 5 PM. Next day, at 4 PM. And so on. Same idea with breakfast. Try eating half an hour or an hour later than normal.

Like salivating dogs, our appetite hormones are trainable, and they’re driven largely by our routines. They make us hungry when we expect to be hungry. If we have dinner every day promptly at 7, we can count on Ye Olde Hunger Hormone Factorie to start firing up around 6:30.

Thus, you can use the “cold turkey” method of just jumping into a 16-hour fast, or you can “train” your appetite hormones to adjust slowly. From my fasting experiences, it seems that in many ways, hormones are just as “trainable” as any other skill.

You get “better” at doing things when you practice… and it almost never hurts to start slowly.

What’s the logic here?

The Leangains protocol attempts to use the extended fast (and fasted workout stimulus) as a powerful time of fat-burning. According to Berkhan, fasting (and training) this way means:

  • Blood flow to fat cells increases.
  • Concentrations of epinephrine and norepinephrine go up.
  • Metabolic rate goes up slightly.
  • Insulin goes down.
  • Fatty acids are released for energy.

Berkhan reasons that this scenario is the perfect storm for fat loss.

However, as discussed earlier, extending the fast for too long could become counterproductive. So Berkhan suggests jamming in as many growth and recovery promoting nutrients as possible after the fast and during the post-workout period – without overeating, of course.

After intense exercise, the body is most sensitive to nutrient uptake and subsequent protein synthesis. Thus, he recommends eating as much of your food as possible as soon after your workout as you can. In practice, that means eating your largest meal of the day immediately after your workout.

With this plan, Berkhan reasons, you get fat-burning during one long, 16-hour stretch of the day and lean muscle building during another 8-hour stretch.

Each day is the same. Rinse and repeat.

The Daily Fast: the program

I wanted to test these theories. So I committed to following the Leangains principles fairly closely for the next few weeks with the “shorter fasts, more often” approach.

I planned to fast for 16 hours each day – from 9 PM until around 1 PM (skipping breakfast along the way). I’d train at the end of the fast; starting my workout around noon and then eating 2-3 fairly large meals (depending on my hunger and the size of the meal) between the end of my workout and 9 PM.

As recommended, I also took 10 g of BCAAs (in capsule form) just before my workout. On my intense weight training days – Mondays and Fridays – my meals included mostly protein, veggies, and starchy carbs. And on the other 5 days, my meals contained mostly protein and veggies.

My schedule

Here’s a single day’s schedule.

8:00 AM Wake up, drink 500 mL (2 cups) water

9:00 AM Drink 1 L (4 cups) water with 1 serving greens+, 250 mL (1 cup) green tea

11:00 AM 250 mL (1 cup) green tea

12:00 PM Workout session with 10 g BCAA during session

1:30 PM Eat first meal, largest of the day

4:30 PM Eat second meal, moderate sized meal

8:30 PM Eat third meal, moderate sized meal

Here’s what a week of the plan looked like:

Day Exercise Nutrition
Monday Upper body strength exercise – 45 minutes, and 100 push-ups before each meal Higher calorie and carb (3200 kcal)
Tuesday Treadmill sprints – 10 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Wednesday Upper body circuit exercise – 30 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Thursday Treadmill sprints – 10 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Friday Lower body strength exercise – 45 minutes, and 100 push-ups before each meal Higher calorie and carb (3200 kcal)
Saturday No exercise Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Sunday No exercise Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)

As you can see, there were no “eat whatever I want” days and no days of complete fasting, as I’d used in the previous plans. Just a daily 16-hour fast followed by a workout and then an 8-hour feeding period.

There were also 2 higher calorie and higher carb days and 5 lower calorie and lower carb days. Despite the differences between this plan and previous plans, my average calorie intake was still around the same: 2500 calories per day.

Note from Krista: When is the “right” time to fast?

There’s no good answer – although, of course, there are many theories.

I didn’t want to give up my big breakfasts, so I chose evening fasting first. I simply pushed dinner earlier and earlier until I eliminated it completely. I normally trained in the mornings, so this worked for me.

However, I noticed three things about my sleep when fasting in the afternoons/evenings. First, I was much more tired. Once my “battery” ran out, I was done. Getting up the stairs to bed was a terrific ordeal.

Second, although I’d conk out quickly, I didn’t sleep well. And third, I woke up early – at a consistent 4 am – when my body released adrenaline to free up some stored blood sugar. Since many of our hormones run on a day-night cycle, this blast of adrenaline was nearly as accurate – and painful – as a buzzing alarm clock.

Later, I experimented with skipping breakfast and lunch. At first, that felt like much more of a sacrifice, but it took advantage of the fact that I was already deep into the better part of fasting after 10-12 hours overnight. Eventually I got to like the efficiency of getting up, grabbing a cup of tea, and getting straight to work. And I slept a lot better after a good meal in the evenings.

Bottom line, as always: Do what works for you.

What I ate during the Daily Fast

Of course, my food rules had to change a little.

First, I needed to cram the same number of calories – especially on the high-carb days – into 2-3 daily meals instead of 4 meals. Second, I needed to gradually taper down my calorie intake after the post-workout meal.

With this in mind, my menu looked like this, although it did vary from day to day:

Low Calorie, Low Carb Days

Meal 1: immediately after exercise

  • 4 palms of protein (about 100 g of protein)
  • 3 fists of veggies
  • 1/2 handful of raw nuts
  • 1/2 handful of legumes
  • 500 mL (2 cups) of water

Meal 2: about 3 hours later

  • 3 palms of protein (about 75 g of protein)
  • 3 fists of veggies
  • 1/2 handful of raw nuts
  • 1/2 handful of legumes
  • 500 mL (2 cups) of water

Meal 3: about 4 hours later

  • 2 palms of protein (about 50 g of protein)
  • 2 fists of veggies
  • 1/2 handful of raw nuts
  • 500 mL (2 cups) of water

Daily supplements:

  • 1 multi-vitamin
  • 4000 IU vitamin D
  • 1 tablespoon fish oil
  • 10 g BCAA capsules before workouts

High Calorie, High Carb Days

Meal 1: immediately after exercise

  • 4 palms of protein (about 100 g of protein)
  • 3 fists of veggies
  • 2 fists of starchy carbohydrate (about
    100 g carbohydrate)
  • 1/2 handful of raw nuts
  • 1/2 handful of legumes
  • 500 mL (2 cups) of water

Meal 2: about 3 hours later

  • 3 palms of protein (about 75g of protein)
  • 3 fists of veggies
  • 1 fist of starchy carbohydrate (about 50 g carbohydrate)
  • 1/2 handful of raw nuts
  • 1/2 handful of legumes
  • 500 mL (2 cups) of water

Meal 3: about 4 hours later

  • 2 palms of protein (about 50 g of protein)
  • 2 fists of veggies
  • 1 fist of starchy carbohydrate (about 50 g carbohydrate)
  • 1/2 handful of raw nuts
  • 500 mL (2 cups) of water

Daily supplements:

  • 1 multi-vitamin
  • 4000 IU vitamin D
  • 1 tablespoon fish oil
  • 10 g BCAA capsules before workouts

Another reminder to the obsessive-compulsive: I wasn’t counting calories in or calories out. I just followed this general plan and wrote down what I ate in a little notebook. I analyzed everything much later, so I could report the results in this book.

Sample meals – lower calorie and carb days

Here are some samples of meals I ate during the lower calorie and carb days:

Sample Meal 1

  • 16 oz extra lean beef burgers
  • 3 cups of cole slaw, broccoli slaw, and carrot slaw salad
  • 1/4 cup of chickpeas mixed in salad
  • 2 tbsp raw mixed nuts in salad
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar as dressing
  • 2 tsp Udo’s oil as dressing

Sample Meal 2

  • 12 oz scallops
  • 3 cups of frozen vegetable medley
  • 1⁄4 cup of black beans mixed in salad
  • 2 tbsp raw mixed nuts in salad
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar as dressing
  • 2 tsp lemon flavoured fish oil as dressing

Sample Meal 3

  • 9 oz turkey sausage
  • 2 cups of spinach, tomato, green pepper, and onion salad
  • 1/4 cup of kidney beans mixed in salad
  • 1/2 cup home-made guacamole in salad
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tsp Udo’s oil as dressing

Sample Meal 4

  • 3 scoops of protein powder
  • 2 tbsp raw mixed nuts
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp raw cacao nibs
  • A few tablespoons of unsweetened almond milk mixed in

Sample meals – higher calorie and carb days

Here are some samples of what I ate during the higher calorie and carb days:

Sample Meal 1

  • 4 whole eggs, 3 egg whites
  • 2 slices chicken bacon
  • 1/2 cup refried beans
  • 1/2 red pepper
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal with raspberries and blueberries
  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter

Sample Meal 2

  • 16 oz steak
  • 15 asparagus spears
  • 12 oz sweet potato fried in coconut oil
  • Salt, pepper

Sample Meal 3

  • 8 oz tuna steak
  • 3 cups salad with Italian dressing
  • 1 cup cole slaw
  • 1 cup wild rice

Sample Meal 4

  • 3 scoops of protein powder
  • 2 cups raspberries and blueberries
  • 1 tbsp raw mixed nuts
  • 1 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp raw cacao nibs
  • A few tablespoons of almond milk mixed in

While most of my higher carb meals during this phase looked something like this, there were a few times during this month, on the higher calorie days, when I ate a post-workout bacon cheeseburger, a few slices of vegetarian pizza, and a few hot wings, making sure to enjoy these foods, while still keeping my total intake in check. (I didn’t have a single binge session, which was awesome.)

Here’s what one of those meals looked like:

  • 6 oz beef burger with 1 slice of bacon and 1 slice of cheese (no bun)
  • Lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup
  • 1 cup of salad with Italian dressing
  • 3 slices vegetarian pizza
  • 4 hot wings

On “clean” food vs. “junk” food.

Let’s be clear. I didn’t go for pizza and wings regularly. I really do prefer eating lean meats, loads of colourful veggies, and more natural, unprocessed carbohydrates, and I eat this way 90% of the time. It’s much more physique- and health-friendly to eat real, whole foods most of the time.

Yet I’m also careful not to let orthorexia – a psychological term for developing a fixation with healthy or righteous eating – sneak into my lifestyle. Yes, food quality is on a continuum and some foods are “higher quality” than others. But it’s not an all-or-nothing, “good” versus “bad” thing. Using “healthy” or “unhealthy” to qualify food choices isn’t all that useful. In some cases, it’s downright confusing.

Most importantly for this book, occasionally eating “lower quality” food won’t likely harm your physique or health. Just don’t eat too much of it, too often.

Bottom line: If you ever choose to follow an approach like this, make sure you eat high quality foods most of the time, while allowing a little latitude too. Of course, you don’t have to eat “junk food.” But do allow yourself to have a few “whatever you want” meals after working out.

Just be sure to follow the rest of the rules. Get enough protein, some carbs, some veggies, don’t eat too much relative to your own needs, and don’t eat so much that you make yourself sick. You’ll feel terrible (especially if your stomach is used to going without food for long periods), and it won’t help your progress or health.

So, how did this style of eating work out for me?

The Daily Fast: the results

This plan went really well. We have another winner… almost.

Body weight

Within the first four weeks my weight actually increased by about 4 pounds, from 171 pounds to 175 pounds on my reference day. According to my body fat measures, this increase was all lean mass with no body fat. Very impressive, considering my weekly calorie average was about the same.

(I’m guessing this weight increase is a function of increased carbohydrate stores and body water stores, which increase as carbohydrate stores increase. With two higher carbohydrate days per week and no extra fasts, this makes sense.)

In addition, the wild weight fluctuations I saw in the last phase were almost completely gone. The most I’d fluctuate from day to day was about 1-2 pounds, which is pretty normal.

Mood and energy: Cautious optimism

In addition to my body composition, I started feeling better within 14 days.

However, be warned.

I did go through a rough transitional period while my body adapted to this program. Here are some of the things I experienced for the first 10-14 days:

  • I really missed breakfast, both physiologically and psychologically. Massive stomach rumblings. Hunger cravings. Low mental focus until my first meal. And big-time morning moodiness. I did my best to stave off the breakfast cravings with a greens+ shake in 1 L of water and a few cups of green tea or coffee, which helped. But I still felt really bad.
  • Speaking to the mood problems, I was cranky and unfocused from my wake-up time of 8 am until my workout at noon. I was mentally sluggish. Sometimes when speaking to my wife or a member of my team, I spoke so slowly that they must have thought I had a stroke overnight. Of course, this affected my relationships and my work. I started ignoring my family until after my first meal. I never scheduled meetings before 1 PM.
  • I should also note that for the first 10-14 days I was much quicker to anger than usual. Comments or situations that I would have been able to let slide just a few weeks earlier lead me down an unhealthy path of smart-ass comments or bubbling rage. It got to the point that I didn’t even like being around myself. Luckily, I told my friends and family what was going on. And they’re a pretty understanding bunch. Also, I had some practice in the art of mindful interaction and self-soothing from the one-day fasts.

As a result of these experiences, I felt like bailing on the plan altogether during the first few days. However, because I’ve dieted before, I knew that these feelings are pretty normal when in a negative energy balance. I also knew that the body typically adapts in a few weeks. So I kept going.

One client’s experience.

One of my clients who’s following this approach sent me the following email, which highlights some of the early pros and cons of this approach:

“I thought I’d be more productive in the morning yesterday and today, but I’m almost catatonic. On the plus side, I’ve dropped about 10 lbs in a week, not all of it water.

Compared to where I was when I got back from vacation, it’s night and day. People are noticing it right away, in normal clothes. Some of it is also probably attributable to the addition of caffeine (of which I had had only miniscule amounts for the last year), but not all. This is super effective.

The only downsides are that I think this would be disastrous for anyone with a history of disordered eating (probably a significant number of your clients and readers) because it makes me almost obsessed with food.

A one-habit approach is definitely a more solid, healthy way to go because I feel this may feed people’s obsessions and hinder the development of a healthy, sane approach to eating. But that’s just conjecture on my part.

The other downside is that without having pre-prepared healthy meals waiting for me after the workout, I (personally) would be totally screwed. I’m certain I’d binge. The discipline to prepare your food in advance would HAVE to be there, otherwise I suspect this diet would fail early and badly. But I suppose that’s true of most calorie restricted diets anyway.

The upside is that it feeds into the instant gratification side of my mind. Seeing substantial results just four days in is super motivating, at least for me.”

As I expected, something magic happened after 10-14 days on the plan. Thanks to some key changes in my metabolic and neuroendocrine systems, everything got better.

I pretty much stopped thinking about breakfast altogether by the 10-day mark. By 12 days, my moodiness was in check. And by 14 days, I was productive again. Not only was I back to normal, I was actually starting to enjoy the program.

My gym workouts got substantially better than they had been for a few months since I started the experimentation. In fact, they seemed as good as my pre-fasting days. In addition to having more energy to train and lifting heavier weights, I started to get really great pumps during my workouts. (“The pump” is the feeling of fullness you get in the muscle during a workout.) Considering I wasn’t eating anything except 10 grams of BCAA for 15-16 hours, it was weird, but understandable, if indeed my body carbohydrate and water stores went up.

On vascularity and blood pressure/volume

When you see someone who’s very lean, but not vascular, it means one of two things: either they’re cold and blood is being shunted to their core to preserve their core temperature, or their blood volume and blood pressure have dropped, usually due to a low carbohydrate intake and low body fluid levels.

In the past when I dieted hard and got very lean using lower carbohydrate diets, my blood pressure would drop down. (I used to do research with a cardiovascular medicine group and used ambulatory blood pressure monitors to measure this. My lowest recorded blood pressure was 75/35.) During those days, if I wanted to appear more vascular, I’d have to eat a bunch of carbohydrates, add sodium to my diet, and drink more water. Do that, and voilà: blood pressure pops up to 110/70 and you get instant vascularity.

Lookin’ swole

Speaking of the pump thing, I started to appear more vascular during my workouts and after, which means that the veins in my arms, legs, and even abdominal area, started to become more prominent. This effect only shows up in very lean people who have even blood flow and are able to maintain a normal blood volume.

With this protocol, even my friends and training partners started commenting on how much more muscular and vascular I was looking, even though I was only a few pounds heavier. It was also weird because just a few weeks prior they were saying how scrawny and sickly I looked. It’s amazing what a few pounds of well-proportioned muscle glycogen and water can do visually.

Food issues

One of the most welcome changes, beyond the great workouts and improved appearance, was that the weird food compulsions went away. The insistent food and carb cravings I suffered during the last month completely disappeared.

I slipped into an easy-to-follow routine of skipping breakfast, training at noon, eating a few well-planned meals before bed – some days more, some days less – and repeating it all the next day. Very tolerable and sustainable considering my lifestyle.

Some additional challenges

But it wasn’t all roses. There were a few other things worth mentioning.

Body Temperature and Cold Extremities

Beyond the breakfast transition I had to go through – which might be minimized with the slow adjustment period Krista recommends – each morning I’d get colder and colder as the fast extended, especially in my hands and feet. Even in the sunshine, while drinking hot green tea, I’d be shivering. It wasn’t terrible, but it was annoying. I verified this same pattern in two different clients who also tried this IF approach. Interestingly, I didn’t experience this same effect with the full day fasts.

Some speculate I should be thankful for the cold extremities, as fasting may increase blood flow to adipose cells, helping them release fatty acids for eventual burning. Because of this, it may also cause vasoconstriction of the peripheral vasculature, namely fingers and toes. If this is true, I guess a little extra fat loss is worth the shivering. (There’s a lot of speculation here, though, so I’m not yet convinced.)

Appetite and Fullness

Another odd annoyance was struggling with the larger meals. I know some people love stuffing themselves and many IF proponents rave about this aspect of IF-style eating. Because you have to meet your daily calorie quota within fewer meals, you sometimes have to eat until you’re feeling more than 100% full. For many chronic dieters, this is like a dream, since they’re used to smaller meals that leave them “unsatisfied.”

For me, it wasn’t a huge selling point. At times the meals felt too big, like I was force-feeding myself. (Sometimes I wasn’t even able to finish my 1000–1500 calorie meals.) While I certainly don’t prefer tiny, unsatisfying meals, I don’t need to swing to the opposite end of the spectrum to feel good about things. Fortunately, just like my breakfast cravings, I adapted to feeling full in roughly two weeks.

Mental Performance

It’s fairly common to struggle during the first few weeks of any new dieting approach, whether it’s a low carb diet, calorie restriction, or IF. Before the body adapts to the new calorie balance and new pattern of fuel utilization, there are all sorts of physical and mental complaints. However, after the initial period of adaptation, most people start feeling better.

After I adapted to the 16/8 pattern, the first thing I noticed – mentally – was an extremely acute improvement in focus and concentration, especially during the fasting part of each day. (Many IF proponents talk about this effect, and I can definitely corroborate it.) During this time, I found it very easy to ignore distractions and focus deeply on single tasks. Of course, this granted me a big boon in productivity. When doing analytical tasks – the work traditionally thought of as “left brain” – my performance was greatly enhanced. Everything from statistics to article editing was easier to dig into. I was excited.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that what I gained in focus and analytical performance, I lost in creative, synthetic thinking – the work traditionally thought of as “right brain.” While I worked really well alone, real-time collaboration with others suffered big-time during the fasting portion of my day. In addition, my early morning article-writing and strategic thinking sessions were worse than ever.

Once I noticed this pattern, the solution was straightforward. I shifted my “left brain” work to the first half of the day. So, no meetings, no real-time collaborative work, and no article writing before eating. Instead, I focused on editing, statistics, and project management. Then, I shifted my “right brain” work to later in the day.

Body Weight

One last thing worth mentioning, relative to my goals: Although this new approach was working out fairly well, I was actually gaining weight. While this is a very cool observation, and likely explained by increased glycogen and body water, I didn’t actually want to be heavier. Instead, I wanted to maintain my weight in the 170-175 pound range. I had to do something.

The amazing, adaptable metabolism

I never cease to be amazed at how adaptable the body is. In two weeks, I went from being “a serious breakfast person” to not needing breakfast at all, likely due to something called the “hormonal entrainment of meal patterns.”

Because of this, one can literally train themselves to love and crave breakfast even if they think they’re “not a breakfast person.” Likewise, they can train themselves to easily skip breakfast even if they think they’re “a total breakfast person.” It just takes a few weeks to adapt, and most people give up before they reach this point. Fascinating stuff.

Also, in two weeks I went from being stuffed with every single meal to feeling a little more normal. Again, physiological adaptations like these – and there are lots of them – do take about two weeks to kick in. Therefore, when trying any new and different exercise and nutrition approach, don’t bail at the first sign of discomfort. Give yourself two weeks to adapt. That’s usually when the magic happens.

The Daily Fast: version 2.0

My next outcome-based decision was to modify the 16-hour fasting/8-hour feeding schedule to create more of a negative energy balance that would drive my weight back down.

I had a couple of options here:

  1. I could increase my exercise volume, which I didn’t really want to do, since more exercise with fewer calories usually makes people feel terrible.
  2. Or I could reduce my weekly calorie average, which is what I decided to try.

With lots of options for reducing calorie intake at my disposal, I decided to go back to where I started: the one-day-a-week fast. According to this plan, I’d keep following the 16-hour fasts Monday through Saturday, but I’d incorporate a full day of fasting on Sunday.

A note on outcome-based decision making

I hope it’s now becoming obvious how I make my exercise and nutrition decisions when trying to achieve a goal. In fact, this is how I make almost all of my decisions when going after a goal.

I call the process “outcome-based decision making,” and it goes like this:

  1. Try something that makes sense, is simple, and that you can do every day.
  2. Commit to doing this one action every day for a reasonable period of time, usually a few weeks.
  3. Measure the things that’ll give you objective feedback on how it’s going.
  4. Stick with the intervention until your pre-determined time is up, even if your measures go up and down.
  5. Assess the success of your actions based on the overall measures – the general trend over time.
  6. At the end of the pre-determined period, if the intervention’s working, keep doing it.
  7. If it’s not working, or stops working, make a small change, one you’re confident you can do.
  8. Keep repeating until you reach your goal.

While the process seems like common sense, it’s damn hard to follow and takes uncommon patience and discipline. When we want to reach a goal badly enough, the days can seem long and progress can feel exceptionally slow. That’s why you have to remember that any progress you make is great. In fact, this has to become your mantra.

Lost only half a pound in two weeks? That’s great. In a year you’ll be down 25 pounds while your friends will have gained 5-10 pounds.

Know someone who’s making faster progress than you? That’s nice. Just don’t forget that 95% of the people who crash diet and lose 15 pounds will gain 25 back for their trouble. Like most people, they made the weight loss project either physically or practically unsustainable.

Losing weight fast often means a huge calorie deficit, and a huge deficit means an impending rebound. Also, working out like crazy or cloistering yourself away from food temptation leads to a rebound of a different kind.

By using outcome-based decisions and making the smallest reasonable change when your measurements tell you it’s time to make a change, you’re vastly more likely to succeed in the long term.

Here’s what version 2.0 looked like:

Day Exercise Nutrition
Monday Upper body strength exercise – 45 minutes, and 100 push-ups before each meal Higher calorie and carb (3200 kcal)
Tuesday Treadmill sprints – 10 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Wednesday Upper body circuit exercise – 30 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Thursday Treadmill sprints – 10 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Friday Lower body strength exercise – 45 minutes, and 100 push-ups before each meal Higher calorie and carb (3200 kcal)
Saturday No exercise Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Sunday No exercise Fast until Monday morning (0 kcal)

As you probably guessed, I kept exercise time and volume the same (although I kept doing a little more and a little better each week in the gym). I also kept my food selections the same as the last phase. I simply didn’t eat from Saturday night at 10 PM until Monday morning, using green tea, greens+, water, and BCAAs during the day on Sunday. This dropped my weekly calorie average by 2200 calories (or 300 every day).

As expected, my weight dropped again within these next two weeks. I shed about 4 pounds (2 pounds fat, 2 pounds lean), dropping down to 171 pounds on my reference day, which is right where I wanted to be. I maintained this for two additional weeks.

However, after getting used to eating every day for the prior month, and having success with the shorter fasts, I wasn’t looking forward to the Sunday fasts any longer. They were starting to become a drag. And although I was getting extremely lean and looking like an anatomy chart, I was starting to feel sluggish on the days between the higher calorie and carb days. My enthusiasm for the workouts – and movement in general – was reaching a new low.

As I was looking for something that’d both help me achieve my body weight goals, as well as something I could stick to for as long as I wanted, I decided to make another small change after this month.

The Daily Fast: version 3.0

Wanting to stick with the 16/8 plan as laid out in Version 1.0, but not wanting to gain additional weight beyond 175 pounds, I decided to get rid of the full day fast on Sunday, opting to use a 20/4 approach on the weekends instead. So, I’d do the 16/8 thing for Monday through Friday and the 20/4 thing on Saturday and Sunday.

Here’s what that plan looked like:

Day Exercise Nutrition
Monday Upper body strength exercise – 45 minutes, and 100 push-ups before each meal Higher calorie and carb (3200 kcal)
Tuesday Treadmill sprints – 10 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Wednesday Upper body circuit exercise – 30 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Thursday Treadmill sprints – 10 minutes Lower calorie and carb (2200 kcal)
Friday Lower body strength exercise – 45 minutes, and 100 push-ups before each meal Higher calorie and carb (3200 kcal)
Saturday No exercise Fast until 5 PM, eat 1-2 lower carb meals (1500 kcal)
Sunday No exercise Fast until 5 PM, eat 1-2 lower carb meals (1500 kcal)

As I had done all along, I kept my workouts and food choices/rules the same. In fact, this program was very similar to my first shorter fast iteration; I just lengthened the fast by 4 hours on Saturday and Sunday, having 1-2 meals instead of 2-3 meals.

By making this shift, my weekly calorie average jumped by about 800 from the last program, giving me an extra 100 calories a day, on average. This made a big difference. Within the next two weeks, my weight increased to 173 pounds with surprisingly few day-to-day fluctuations. It remained there for another two weeks.

Note from Krista: Fasting and exercise

Studies of Muslim athletes who fast during Ramadan find that many athletes do worse in the early weeks of Ramadan. It takes time for the body to get used to fasted training. And your body may never really take to it.

However, research also shows that it depends on the exercise type and the athlete (more experienced athletes tend to have fewer problems). Research results vary widely. And often, any difference in performance is small.

What seems to get worse, on average, with daily sunup-to-sundown fasts:

  • activities that require more intense but longer effort (such as 200-400 m runs)
  • speed endurance, such as repeated short, intense runs in soccer
  • repeated power-explosive movements like jumping
  • some types of strength
  • work capacity
  • how much athletes want to train or be generally active
  • how well athletes thought they performed (which may not always be accurate)
  • overall energy levels

What seems to be more or less unaffected:

  • sprint performance
  • single explosive movements, like one jump or a judo throw
  • non-maximal lower-rep weight training
  • overall aerobic capacity
  • agility

Again, this isn’t definitive, and it may not apply to you. Since fasting Muslims usually have a small breakfast, the results might be different with training after a full overnight fast (i.e. no breakfast).

After trial and error, I prefer to eat before really tough workouts. But I have no problem doing lower-intensity activities, such as moderate swimming or walking, fasted.

As always, experiment and find what works for you.

The Daily Fast: v2.0 and 3.0 lessons

I learned a lot about my body during these last few phases of experimentation.

LESSON 1
I really liked and did well on the daily 16/8 Leangains protocol.

After a terrible first two weeks on the program, my body finally adapted. I then felt strong, energetic, and very lean after another two weeks. Kudos to Martin Berkhan for really perfecting these general principles of eating and training. (Although damn you, Martin, for that transition period.)

However, as mentioned, the first plan I designed was causing my body weight to creep up. And although it was all “lean weight,” and lots of folks would love to have that “problem,” I needed to rein things in. That’s why I decided to try v2.0 – following 16/8 on Monday through Saturday and one full day of fasting on Sunday – and eventually v3.0 – 16/8 on Monday through Friday and 20/4 on Saturday and Sunday.

LESSON 2
While I can drive my body weight down into the 170-171 pound range with longer, more frequent fasts, I don’t feel good when I do it.

Whether it’s the low body weight that’s triggering the feelings of low energy and preoccupation with food, the low body fat percentage, or the energy deficit itself, I’m not sure. (Different physiologists have different theories on this, and I’m not sure anyone’s pinned it down yet.) Whatever the reason, I’m not willing or able to live with the blahs and food hang-ups.

As a side note, these feelings of low energy and food preoccupation usually occur later in the day when I hit this magical low body weight/low calorie combination. It doesn’t matter if I’m having a moderate calorie day, using a 16/8 feeding schedule, a 20/4 feeding schedule, or fasting for a full day. If it’s not a high-calorie or high-carb day, my energy goes down significantly, starting around 4 PM. This lasts until the following morning. It’s like I’m a video game character starting off with 10/10 on the power bar and by late evening there are only 3 bars left.

Of course, this happens because my body is conserving calories, which keeps me on the couch. Unless I force myself to get up and do stuff, I’m effectively neutralizing my negative energy balance.

Again, behold the power of human adaptability and our built-in survival mechanisms. If your body weight dips too low, or your negative energy balance is too extreme – even when you’re exercising a lot and keeping your calorie intake in check – your body will adapt by decreasing your spontaneous activity. In other words, lying on the couch starts to look like the best possible option.

LESSON 3
I do what works for me.

Folks on the internet tend to be loud proponents of what worked for them, urging others to do the same exact thing in all situations, always, and forever. And it’s tempting to buy into their confidence. However, after years of self-experimentation, I realize it’s more important to discover what works for me.

Thus here’s my plan for the future.

  1. Stick with less frequent fasts and/or fasts of shorter duration.
  2. Keep my energy intake in the 2500 calorie range until I start increasing my exercise volume, which is coming soon. (I start my track workouts shortly.) When my training time increases, energy intake will go up too.
  3. Keep my body weight in the 173-175 range, just in case low body weight is triggering the discomfort I’ve been feeling in the 170-173 pound range.

Of course, none of this is set in stone. And that’s the beauty of self-experimentation and outcome-based decision-making:

  • It empowers me to make ONE small change at a time;
  • measure how that change works for at least two weeks, and then
  • make small subsequent changes as needed, one at a time, to keep moving toward my goals.

That last part is important. If I expect that I’ll reach my goals in two weeks, and then bail on the whole program because I don’t, I probably deserve to fail. The only criterion for success is moving in the right direction… even painfully slowly.

Anything else is false expectation.