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Intermittent Fasting

Can ignoring post-workout nutrition be a GOOD thing? Or at least neutral?

I’m in the latter stages of retooling The Chaos Bulk to better reflect some philosophical changes I’ve made since I first wrote it. One of the things I go more in depth with is the ever-so complicated web of post-workout nutrition that intermittent fasting makes even more complex. But I don’t want to eat, else I’ll ruin my fasting window – is the common plea, with the idea that no post-workout nutrition then wastes away muscles or any sort of expected gains.

I get it. You spent a lot of money and time in the gym. You don’t want your gains to feather away, and neither do I. This is where my mystic confidence swoops down and says: if your body is so stupid that it not only can’t build muscle anytime beyond a magical post-workout window, but is also so stupid that it wastes away the muscle you have forever, then there’s no hope for humanity.

I wrote about this in a previous post, too: even if you are “breaking down” without an immediate feeding, it’s not as if your body can’t build back up later. 

And that’s how I personally deal with this situation: I have confidence that my body isn’t a stupid pile of slop.

The point I make in the book is that training is all about a physiological response, specifically a breakdown. When you train, you deplete your energy stores, etc. It’s a stress.

Of course your body wants to regenerate from this stress as soon as possible, and it makes itself receptive to the task sometime after you train and break down. In comes the need for post-workout nutrition and kick starting the recovery process.

The longer you wait to being the refueling process, the more prone your body may be break things down.

but who cares?

This breakdown is the reason why you train in the first place. This is what I call plopping training stress atop nutritional stress for “otherworldly” gains because I watch too Ancient Aliens too much.

So yes, you might be “breaking down” when you avoid immediate post-workout nutrition. But what does that mean? Isn’t the breakdown the whole reason why you train in the first place?

Of course, we can get into the inverted-U here and say that, at some point, you need to eat. The inverted-U seems to govern just about everything, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some is good, but more isn’t always better. 

When it comes to any kind of post-workout feeding though, it seems that the some is somewhere around 24 hours. In other words, you need to eat something and do your refueling after you train, preferably within 24 hours. If you’re of the research digging type, here’s some backup  Suppversity article on Acute Post-Exercise Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Is Not Correlated with Resistance Training-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy in Young Men.

The take away, as I see it: yeah you might have improved ability to make use of protein post workout, but that might not be all that significant in the long run. Just like you can be burning fat like mad if you’ve been jogging on the treadmill for three hours, it doesn’t mean you’re going to lose fat in the long run.

The moral of the story is that after you stress yourself and break yourself, you do need to rebuild. But when that rebuild takes place probably doesn’t have to be as immediate as you think it does.

There’s the macro view and the micro view. I think we tend to worry too much about the micro.

Intermittent fasting = vehicle, not direction

One of the most common things I see and hear is something like, “Yeah I started intermittent fasting to lose fat.” You can replace those last two words with “build muscle” or “recomp” if you want, but it’s all the same.

To this, I say: intermittent fasting is a vehicle, not a direction. 

In other words, intermittent fasting can take you places, but it doesn’t decide the place. You can use intermittent fasting to lose fat, gain muscle, and it’s even been used to do both at the same time. (I find it most useful for “clean bulking,” but that’s just me.)

Reader beware: eating eight meals per day also has the same street cred of being able to lose fat, gain muscle, and recomp. 

So it’s like this:

“I have this roundabout way of how I want to go about losing weight, now how can I configure it to intermittent fasting.”

It’s not:

“I want to lose weight, so I’ll just start intermittent fasting.”

The efficacy of fasting (or anything else, for that matter) depends on how everything is arranged within the concept, not the concept itself. And intermittent fasting, in a nutshell, is simply saying, “I”m only going to eat within these time slots.”

“Eating within time slots” says nothing about fat loss or muscle building or anything else. It’s not like you can take infinite slop and cram your eating into an eight hour window and have intermittent fasting work its magic.

Define your direction, find out what you need to do to get there in some roundabout way, and then, if you’re interest in intermittent fasting, see if you can make it happen.

I’m a fan of intermittent fasting, but I’ll be the first to admit: it’s not for everyone or every situation, and that’s OK because there are many ways to get from point A to point B. The direction comes before the vehicle.

9 Common Intermittent Fasting Mistakes

It should come as no surprise that I’m a proponent of intermittent fasting. In fact, despite trying many other nutrition schemes, I was never able to gain muscle without getting fat before hopping on the intermittent fasting bandwagon.

Given that I’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid for quite some time now, I’m approached by eagar souls looking to dive in to a world of fasting and feasting without boundaries.

But beware: This could be costly. You have to set yourself up with realistic expectations, and avoid common newbie mistakes.

Here are some mistakes you probably are making, followed by some suggestions for improvement.

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9 Things You Should Know Before Intermittent Fasting

These days, everyone is all about intermittent fasting. The talk centralizes around the physiological and psychological benefits of skipping meals, like not having to carry around twelve Tupperware containers filled with six meals to last an eight hour shift. And how it increases insulin sensitivity, which, when combined with matterful training, creates an ideal environment for partitioning. (Read: more muscle gained, less fat gained.)

Yes, fasting — of all sorts of durations — is something I’m just about two years of experimentation into. And while I’ve seen incredible physical gains, there are some “things” fasting does that few people talk about. Some of these “things” are good. Others, bad.

You live and learn, as they say. But I just wish someone would have told me the following 9 things before embracing an intermittent fasting lifestyle.

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The Cheat Day Survival Guide

For many dieters and health conscientious folk, “cheating” is an integral slice of mental sanity. After a week of eating so-called “clean” foods and adhering to a strict “diet,” fitness enthusiasts around the globe take reprieve in being able to acknowledge and indulge in their wildest cravings.

Because of the mainstream popularity of The 4-Hour Body, cheat days are more prevalent than ever. Ferriss deems them a necessity to rebound hormone levels after days of dieting.

But, sadly, most cheat day fiascos end up hindering progress rather than enhancing it. So here are so ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.

WHY ALL CHEATS AREN’T CREATED EQUAL

Without getting fancy, under-eating triggers adaptations associated with minimal nutrient intake. So the body starts operating assuming a deprivation. Some processes, like muscle building, slow as the body “senses” the lack of consistent nutrients. “Cheating” resets things and stops the body from going too far into the “deprived” state.

As mentioned, The 4-Hour Body brought “cheating” to the mainstream world. But in the underground athletic fitness community, it’s been around for a while. Ferriss science-ified his recommended one cheat day per week by advocating “regular” breakfast, timed grapefruit juice intake, timed caffeine intake, special supplement use, and specifically timed intermittent workouts. If you’re interested in the details of his method, just check out The 4-Hour Body.

When it comes to food intake, there are no barriers on the Ferriss cheat day. As most dieters are starved for junk food, cheat days turn into an indulgence extravaganza. And therefore most people associate the concept of a “cheat day” with stuffing your gizzards with junk food. But this isn’t fully representative of “cheating.”

Let’s clarify some things.

  • Cheating: Breaking your normal dietary rules or plan out of personal desire. In this sense, eating a boatload of “healthy” food can also be “cheating.” Hunkering down 10000 kcals worth of oats would likely be a “cheat” simply because of the quantity, regardless of how “clean” oats are thought to be.
  • Cheat Meals: One meal in which cheating occurs. For instance, “My cheat meal is Sunday dinner, so I’ll have the cake then.”
  • Cheat Days: Entire days in which cheating occurs. For instance, “Sunday is my cheat day, so I’ll eat donuts for breakfast, pie for lunch, and pizza for dinner.”

Now, there are different levels of cheating. For some, eating a small hunk of chocolate is a cheat meal. For others, it’s opening their mouth underneath a chocolate fountain. So let’s clarify cheat volume.

  • Normal Cheat: Eating to satisfaction. Not stuffed. Not hungry.
  • Stuffed Cheat: Belt loosening. Shouldn’t eat anymore. Not really discomforting though. Almost euphoric feeling. No regrets.
  • Binging Cheat: Eating even though you are full. Mild discomfort. Regrettable. “I shouldn’t have ate that last slice of pizza.”
  • Gorging Cheat: When binging goes wild. Being sick to the stomach. Self loathing to follow. “I want to throw up to relieve the pressure in my stomach.”

THE DOWNFALLS OF CHEATING – THE DARK DAYS

No one is perfect. Cheating, in some capacity, is essential for everyone. Essential. But whether the cheat is a twelve egg omelette or twelve buffalo wings depends on discipline, goals, and philosophy.

Some can handle the cheat day mentality with moderation. For others, however, it becomes an uncontrollable spiral of regrettable habits very similar to binge drinking.

Small pieces of chocolate bars after meals become full blown desserts. Full blown desserts become sketchy meals. Sketchy meals become cheat meals. Cheat meals become cheat days. Cheat days become binges. Binges become gorges.

Not long ago, I fell into a pattern of gorging weekly. Every week, it got worse. Every week, I was filled with regret. I nicknamed this time period, “The Dark Days.” Below are some common symptoms.

1. Your entire week is spent plotting your cheat day. This wouldn’t be so bad except you eventually lose sight of what you live for. If the aim is to live a healthy life, what good is finding refuge in the single most “unhealthy” moment of the week?

And if this “unhealthy” moment makes you feel whole, you’re ultimately limiting what gives you the most joy in life in your attempts to be healthy. It’s backwards.

2. Every weekend becomes a gorge. Ferriss admits to limiting gorges to once per month. But in The Dark Days, it’s non-stop.

3. The day following your cheat day, you wake up dry mouthed, bloated, sick with regret, and full of self loathing. This is the cheat day hangover. It’s not fun.

4. You get stuck in a cycle of cheating, feeling guilty, and then under eating to compensate for the cheating. Then, just when you start feeling good again, another cheat pushes the reset button on the cycle.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ME

In 3 Reminders for the Skinny-Fat Ectomorph, I said that cheat meals = game over. But to this day, I cheat. The extent and magnitude of the cheat, however, isn’t quite like it was during The Dark Days.

You can say this entire post is an accumulation of six months of experimentation, psychological toil, and some emotional anguish. It’s been a long road to get where I am, so learn from my past failures. The process wasn’t easy. Not everyone will face the same issues and have the same problems. For those that do, however, this information is invaluable.

At first, straying from the path of food cleanliness was difficult. I’m naturally one of those guys that thinks eating one malted milk ball instantly creates a third love handle. Being a former skinny-fat ectomorph, I don’t take this issue lightly. Gaining fat scares me. Like, “I just watched the movie Teeth,” kind of scared. So I just didn’t really cheat. And that lasted for a long time. Chips, chocolates, and most processed foods didn’t appeal to me. At all. I had no problem throwing away food that didn’t fit my normal intake. My emotional attachment was 100% cut.

Cheats started slow. Maybe a bit more of my normal food here and there. Maybe a slight indulgence after one meal, once per week. But then I found out about feasting and fasting. This method worked great for me for a long time, and I still think—for some people—it’s a kickass idea. But Monday’s, my fast day, became draining.

The feast – fast method is basically eating whatever you want one day, and then fasting the following day. So the fasts last 36+ hours. (An entire night, an entire day, and then another entire night.) This led me to overeat to the point of feeling like I had to fast. So as my feast day dwindled, I would intentionally put myself over the edge to ensure I was “full” enough for the fast that awaited.

This was likely what destroyed me. Every cheat day I told myself, “I’m not eating tomorrow, so I have to eat beyond my capacity todayto avoid miserable hunger pangs tomorrow.”

This grew. And grew. And grew.

Every week, I wanted to stop eating before discomfort. But it never happened. It only got worse.

Leftovers that normally were thrown away were forced down the hatch. I don’t know why either. Nothing changed about the confines of my cheat day, but I felt like I had to consume.  At parties, I would flock to the cookie table. Months prior, however, cookies were an afterthought. So I took a long look at what I had become and where I wanted to go. Was the cheat meal to blame for this gap?

A NOTE ON FEASTING-FASTING

In the name of transparency, I have to mention that the feast – fast method, although taking me down an unwanted path, worked 100% for its intention.

I gained muscle. Hell, I even think I lost fat. I didn’t care to track it at the time, but I made some outrageous gains. This in itself was one of the reasons why abandoning it was difficult.

But the psychological baggage became too heavy, and it interfered with my summer life. (Tricking bloated and disgusted doesn’t end well.) If you’re interested in learning more, however, I suggest checking out John Romaniello’s Fat Loss Forever, in which his feast – fast method is included in a comprehensive plan. (In the interest of disclosure, this is an affiliate link, meaning if you click through and purchase, I get some schwag. Thanks for the support.)

HOW TO MINIMIZE CHEAT DAY DISASTER

Every Sunday, I battle the cheat day urges. Some days, my food challenge-esque portions and mindset get the best of me. (I’ve been known to tackle local restaurant food challenges.) But having since stopped the feast – fast method, I’ve learned to mitigate the damage, even if I do an outrageous food challenge here and there. Here are some of the strategies I use.

1. Stopping at stuffed

This is the most difficult of them all, but simply stop eating when you feel full. For those used to gorging regularly, this won’t work well. For instance, my feelings of satiety don’t kick in until 20-30 minutes after a meal. This means I eat. And eat. And eat. And by the time I sense fullness, it’s too late.

2. Make it a cheat meal

Ditch the cheat day. Adopt a cheat meal. Make it one and done. So take one sitting and acknowledge your cravings. But once you leave the table, end it. No “I’ll eat dessert later.” No “I’ll save these leftovers for later.” One sitting. One meal. That’s all.

3. Over hydrate

Waking up with dry mouth and a cheat day hangover sucks. Combat it by downing water by the bucketful the day of your cheat, especially during and after the meal. Drinking a bunch directly after the meal also kicks in satiety faster, which can prevent you from eating when you probably shouldn’t.

4. (W)hat (W)ould (J)ujimufu (D)o

It’s no surprise: I look up to Jujimufu of Tricks Tutorials. He has been the sole purpose for who and where I am. He seems to do everything “right.” So I abide by this motto: What Would Jujimufu Do?

Now, I’m not truly sure what he do. He could very well be by the cookie table, stuffing himself with sweet treats. But something tells me that most times he isn’t. So get some standards, have a role model, or make some kind of goal that prevents you from going overboard.

5. Cheat healthy by re-conceptualizing junk food

Get eighteen scoops of ice cream? Or create your own super awesome sautéed apple protein pudding concoction with a side of oatmeal crust bread? Perhaps a sexually satisfying serving of banana, whey, cottage cheese, and walnut “parfait?”

Find “healthy” alternatives to the junk foods you love the most. You would be surprised what you can whip up with oatmeal, peanut butter, fruit, protein pudding, whipped cream, cottage cheese, and dark chocolate.

5a. Cheat healthy by overeating good foods

People cheat to rebound hormone levels when dieting. But hormone rebounding is less about junk food and more about the total quantity of food. Overeating doesn’t necessarily mean pigging out on junk food. Just up the quantity of your normally eaten foods once or twice per week. Twelve egg pork omelette with a side of oatmeal crust bread, anyone?

6. Fill up on protein and green veggies

Eat a ton of lean protein and vegetables before your “cheat meals.” Cottage cheese, chicken, turkey, whey, and green veggies carry little caloric load and make you full quick. But beware. If you’re prone to gorging, you will find a way to pile food down the pipe regardless of how “stuffed” you are, so this can potentially backfire.

7. Train the day of

If you’re going to be eating a lot, why not train and hope that something comes of it? After all, maybe the calories will help with recovery? Or kick start some muscle growth?

8. Don’t try curbing every craving in one week

Pick one craving. Then satisfy it. You can always hit the next one the next week. If it’s something seasonal that won’t be around for long, get it while you can and save the other cravings for future weeks.

9. Learn How to Throw Away Food

This may sound stupid, but it truly deserves an entire post let alone one small section. Throwing away food is difficult. It’s a mind game. It’s a waste. And I have trouble doing it myself.

But think about the emotional impact and the end result.

If you throw it away, it’s in the garbage. Gone. You can’t see it. End of story.

If you eat it, it’s in your stomach. It makes you feel bad. But the end result is still the same: You can’t see it. It’s still gone. You just end up hating yourself.

Don’t obsess over it. Just toss it.

10. Eat Out

Go out for your cheat meal and don’t get a to-go box. Finish what you can in this one sitting and be done with it. While I’d much rather cook for myself, it’s easy to overcook and be stuck with mounds of leftovers. Not good.

11. Cheat less frequently

Think about cheating every other week instead of every week.

12. Cheat, but only during social affairs

This comes from a reader of the website, Rajat Desikan. He shared a unique idea: only cheat at social functions. Don’t go out of your way to plan something. But if an event comes up, enjoy yourself. The upside of this is that you won’t kill your social life. (And you won’t be perceived as that wierdo health freak. Although, that’s kind of a cool persona to play so bask in the role if you want to.) The downside of this is that if you have an active social life, you will be tempted to cheat often.

13. No buffets.

Another reader, Daniel Wallen, said he prefers buffets for cheat meals. But in my opinion, only those with the stones to stop at stuffed will do well at an all you can eat extravaganza. Although you can curb many cravings at once, I recommend steering away from buffets. They’re like proximity mines.

14. No trans-fats.

Even though cheats allow for indulgence, keep some standards. My cheat days were optimized when I voluntarily turned things away that didn’t fit my code of good health. This extended beyond cravings and was more about living a good life. One of these codes was avoiding fried and trans-fat foods. To this day, I rarely eat them. Cheat day or no cheat day.

15. Consider a fast.

This is a hark back to my feast – fast days, but full day fasting after a cheat day does work. It attacks the bloat head on, allowing you to mentally get back on track instead of depriving yourself for a week.

The feast – fast method requires a unique mentality in itself. (This is better served as a separate article.) But just know that it’s easy to get carried away once you adopt the “I need to jam two days of eating into one” mentality. Keep your wits about yourself with the above tips.

Alternately, you can do Brad Pilon, Eat Stop Eat style, twenty-four hour fasts two or three times per week instead of the one day fast crush. (Once again, affiliate link. Schwag. Thanks.)

GENERAL CHEAT RULES YOU MUST KNOW

What does it all mean?

  • Most people are better served with cheats that are simply “more” of normal food intake. In other words, take one or two meals per week and double or triple the portions.

For those of you that want to go the junk food route, here are some thoughts.

  • Cheating works better for those dieting to lose weight because the subsequent starvation mentality that follows a cheat plays right into the calorie cutting mentality. But this only works if you’re actually following a diet that does restrict calories.
  • For those looking to gain weight, that aren’t looking to gain a lot of fat, over-cheating is dangerous ground. People under eat the days following a hardcore cheat day to combat the bloat and hangover. This leads to a cycle of cheating – under eating – starting to feel normal – cheating again – etc. More often than not, this leads to sub-optimal nutrition throughout the training week. End result being that most people fail to gain any muscle because they’re too concerned with mitigating the cheat day damage.
  • Save the hardcore binges for once per month. Like I said, I love food. I eat food. A lot of it. I’ll always be into food challenges. The key is to reduce the frequency of binging. By doing this, you can also employ more drastic techniques—like fasting—to combat the hangover without the immense psychological hit.
  • For the most part use moderation on your cheat day. Stop at stuffed.
  • Have standards. Cheat meals and cheat days where “anything goes” is usually a bit too loose of a mentality. Have some stones and set some standards. Save fried or trans-fatty foods to your once per month binge. You are in this for health after all.

CONCLUSION

Cheating helps some dieters keep their sanity. Avoiding sweets for life in favor for raw vegetables isn’t exactly an appealing trade to most.

But there’s a darkside to cheating. A side that leads people down a path of living for junk and sweets. Is it a good way to live?

I’m not so sure.

+++++

What do you think?

To cheat or not to cheat? I’d love to get your opinion in the comments section below. You know I always reply, so I’ll be waiting for your answer.

 

Intermittent Fasting for Athletes

The evidence for intermittent fasting being useful, or at the very least effective, for physique competitors is compelling.

But what if you aren’t a physique competitor?

After all, physique is different than performance.

And the reality is that most everyone high on fasting is a fitness professional, most of which are only concerned about looking good.

But what about those of us that are…a little more?

What about someone like myself, that lifts, tricks, and plays recreational sports? What about the days when I lift early and play late?

In other words, what if your life isn’t optimized solely for weight-training workouts? And what about life beyond the barbell?

Fasting for weight-training is all well and good, but we’re talking about performance here. Can fasters still perform at a high level?

A QUICK NOTE ON THE SCHEMES

Before diving into any research or practical experience, know that the word “fast” is being generalized here. There are many fasting schemes, like Martin Berkhan’s, Brad Pilon’s, and Ori Hofmekler’s.

To do my best at generalizing, I focused on the extremes. For instance, seeing no performance impairment after a 3.5 day fast makes it easier to predict shorter duration fast effects.

RAMADAN TO THE RESCUE

When it comes to performance and intermittent fasting, we lucked out. There’s a host of athlete specific fasting research thanks to the religious observance of Ramadan.

During Ramadan, participants fast from both food and drink from sun-up to sun-down. So it’s tremendously hellish compared to most of our comfy fasting experiments that have us sipping on coffee and chugging water.

Keep that mind: these athletes are going without food and drink. It’s safe to say that they would undoubtedly perform better with some kind of hydration.

YOUR INITIAL PREDICTIONS ARE WRONG

No food or drink for hours upon hours? Performance has to drop. Right?

I would think so too.

But this just isn’t the case.

Many studies (see end of post) and stories show athletes of all shapes and sizes doing just fine without both food and drink. But there are also some downsides.

Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Performance, for the most part, is maintained.
  • Performance never increased as a result of fasting.
  • During Ramadan, few athletes eat enough to match caloric demands.
  • But when body weight is lost, it’s mostly fat, not muscle mass.
  • Huge feasts before bedtime can negatively affect sleep.
  • Experienced Ramadan athletes handle the fast better and have performances to show for it.
  • Anticipatory feelings towards a meal can disturb performance.

OVERALL FEELINGS

It’s safe to say that performance—for the most part—can be maintained on an empty stomach.

Overall, it seems athletes with stable mindsets do the best. So craving food and obsessing over hunger is foregone failure.

Anyone that ventures into intermittent fasting knows that it takes time to get used to new eating patterns. And yet these athletes are suddenly thrown into a situation without both food and drink for 12-or-so hours. So their maintenance of performance markers is impressive. The big take home here is that hunger is  apparently what you make of it.

HANG UPS WITH FASTING FOR PERFORMANCE

More so than specific nutritional demands, the main consideration for an athlete and fasting is living at the extremes.

What I mean by this is that you’re either hungry, or you’re full. A hungry athlete isn’t going to perform well unless they are mentally conditioned to accept hunger as an arbitrary feeling. Most people, however, associate hunger with depletion.

But the other side might even be worse—performing on a full stomach. Big meals increase parasympathetic nervous system activation. Think of the Thanksgiving sleepy effect. Not good.

WALKING THE LINE

The ironic part about intermittent fasting and performance is that if you’re considering it (or even experimenting with it), you likely have a better diet than most professional athletes. (Who usually eat garbage. To the left is Michael Phelps’s “diet.”)

To decide whether or not fasting is for you, and to see how to arrange it around your activities, first ask yourself if you thrive or dive on hunger?

If you can manage hunger fine, the Ramadan studies show that most performance markers can be maintained.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Have your biggest meal later in the day, after any strenuous activity. Don’t worry about eating late, it might even benefit you. But don’t overly jam calories down your throat before hitting the pillow, as it can funk up sleep.
  • Don’t eat any big meals 6-8 hours before activity.
  • Follow a general template of scheduled meal times, but don’t be overly anal about it. Late games might mean eating a larger meal at 10-11PM. That’s OK, even if your last meal should be at 8ish.
  • If you’re doing anything strenuous for over an hour, think about getting something small in your stomach beforehand. Not so close to the activity, but not so far either. Just make sure it’s small enough to feel “neutral.” Don’t be starved. Don’t be stuffed.
  • This is more of a personal anecdote, but a heavy dose of carbohydrates prior to activity never ends well. On almost every experimental trial, carbohydrates (outside of something small like fruit), resulted in a crash and burn. So if you lift early and play late, save the big carbohydrate meal for later (not post-workout).
  • If you’re having trouble fitting in the calories, be sure to optimize your “off days” when nothing is planned. So maybe a few hectic days can’t be as “structured” as you prefer, and you can’t eat enough and adhere to fasting principles. Just take the hit. But fill up on the days that allow for more structure.
  • If you want to carb cycle, be mindful of what kind of athlete you are and what your macro demands are.

BIG CONCLUSIONS

The big takeaway here is that hunger isn’t going to kill your performance. Every day, collegiate and professional athlete’s train at 6AM. The vast majority don’t eat anything before their training. Most of them are still half asleep, actually.

When your feeding period starts, eat or or two smaller meals. Don’t get full. Don’t be starved. (Unless you can mentally tame hunger because, really, performance won’t take much of a hit.)  Save your big meal for after any practice, games, or activity.

Do you have any experience with fasting and activity outside of weight-training? I’d love to hear your opinion, so post it in the comments. I’ll see you there.

LITERATURE REVIEW

1. The effect of time-of-day and Ramadan fasting on anaerobic performances.

Findings: Before Ramadan, athlete’s had better night performances. During Ramadan, peak power dropped at night, but still matched morning performances. Perceived feeling of fatigue increased at night.

2. Subjective Perception of Sports Performance, Training, Sleep and Dietary Patterns of Malaysian Junior Muslim Athletes during Ramadan Intermittent Fasting.

Findings: Opinions all over the place. Half of participants said Ramadan had no effect. Over half said they were tired during the day. Only 40% were able to maintain caloric intake.

Thoughts: Maybe ones that reported fatigue couldn’t maintain intake?

3. Effect of ramadan fasting on body composition and physical performance in female athletes.

Findings: Most athlete’s couldn’t consume enough calories, bodyweight dropped. But there minimal to no drop in performance. Average deficit around 500 calories.

4. Effects of fasting during ramadan month on cognitive function in muslim athletes.

Findings: Performances requiring sustained rapid responses decreased in evening. Performances not dependant on speed stayed the same.

5. Ramadan and Its Effect on Fuel Selection during Exercise and Following Exercise Training.

Findings: “Separately, a single bout of endurance exercise places similar metabolic stress on the body as fasting since the exercising muscle must reduce its use of carbohydrate and utilize lipid more readily as exercise progresses. Not surprisingly therefore, adaptations in muscle to repeated bouts of endurance exercise (endurance training) are similar to those seen with repeated fasting/refeeding.”

6. Temporal Patterns of Subjective Experiences and Self-Regulation during Ramadan Fasting among Elite Archers: A Qualitative Analysis.

Findings: “Overall patterns revealed that experiences associated with physical, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual dimensions dominated in the first phase of fasting, while the mental dimension surfaced increasingly in the latter phase of fasting.”

7. Investigating Two Different Training Time Frames during Ramadan Fasting.

Findings: No difference in performance. But bodyweight dropped.

8. Effect of Ramadan intermittent fasting on aerobic and anaerobic performance and perception of fatigue in male elite judo athletes.

Findings: Fasting didn’t affect aerobic and alactic anaerobic performance. Anaerobic lactic suffered a bit.

9. Effects of Ramadan fasting on 60 min of endurance running performance in moderately trained men.

Findings: Didn’t affect performance.

10. Effects of Ramadan intermittent fasting on sports performance and training: a review.

Findings: “Whereas subjective feelings of fatigue and other mood indicators are often cited as implying additional stress on the athlete throughout Ramadan, most studies show these measures may not be reflected in decreases in performance. The development and early implementation of sensible eating and sleeping strategies can greatly alleviate the disruptions to training and competitiveness, thus allowing the athlete to perform at a high level while undertaking the religious intermittent fast.”

11. Intermittent fasting improves functional recovery after rat thoracic contusion spinal cord injury.

Findings: Perhaps intermittent fasting can enhance recovery?

12. Effects of Ramadan intermittent fasting on middle-distance running performance in well-trained runners.

Findings: “At the end of Ramadan fasting, a decrease in MVC was observed (-3.2%; P < 0.00001; η, 0.80), associated with an increase in the time constant of oxygen kinetics (+51%; P < 0.00007; η, 0.72) and a decrease in performance (-5%; P < 0.0007; η, 0.51). No effect was observed on running efficiency or maximal aerobic power.”

13. Effects of Ramadan fasting on physical performance and metabolic, hormonal, and inflammatory parameters in middle-distance runners.

Findings: Hormones mostly stayed the same through Ramadan, but there were some sleep disturbances and increased adrenaline overall.

14. The influence of Ramadan on physical performance measures in young Muslim footballers.

Findings: Zero performance effects.

15. Precompetition taper and nutritional strategies: special reference to training during Ramadan intermittent fast.

Findings: Experienced athletes are able to maintain performance.

16. Effect of Ramadan fasting on some biochemical and haematological parameters in Tunisian youth soccer players undertaking their usual training and competition schedule.

Findings: Zero effects.

17. Effect of Ramadan fasting on fuel oxidation during exercise in trained male rugby players.

Findings: Caloric intake reduced. There was more fat used as a fuel substrate and lower body fat levels found after Ramadan.

18. Impact of Ramadan on physical performance in professional soccer players.

Findings: Decreased performance. But what’s interesting is that players thought there would be.

19. Lipid Profiles of Judo Athletes during Ramadan.

Findings: Reduced body fat levels and able to maintain training load.

The Diet to End All Diets: Muscle Building, Fat Loss, and Easy Living Without the Calculator or Scale

Stop counting calories.

Really, just stop.

I don’t care if you want fat loss.

Or muscle gain.

Throw the calculator away.

And carb cycling?

Easy. Beyond easy.

So easy that it makes me want to write easy six more times so you realize just how easy carb cycling is.

Easy. Easy. Easy. Easy. Easy.

What follows is a simple nutrition plan that’s adjustable for any goal and can even be optimized for an awesome lifestyle.

[ ...click here to read more... ]

How to Start Intermittent Fasting and Kick Hunger Aside

Intermittent fasting has taken over the diet and nutrition world.

And fast. (Sweet pun.)

As I write this, I’m experimenting with the Warrior Diet — a fasting strategy that revolves around eating one meal per day.

And as I look back, just two years ago I lived and died by eating six small meals per day.

These days, everyone is quick to write and talk about the methods and research behind fasting.

But what’s often overlooked is the most fundamental part of the journey: how to start.

How I started

I wish I has a grand story detailing the hardships I faced when starting intermittent fasting, but, sadly, I don’t. My fasting journey didn’t blossom from a grand experiment (like most of my interests do), it blossomed from necessity.

After breaking my foot during a tricking session, I was on crutches for two months. Being a phys ed teacher, this sucked. My days consisted of crutching back and forth between the weight room, the gymnasium, my office, the lunch room, and the rest of the school grounds. The broken foot became immeasurably swollen inside of its cast and my healthy foot quickly became overworked and just as painful. So the hours I wasn’t working, I was on the couch hating life. And I would starve before I could motivate myself to endure the discomfort of hopping around to cook a meal. Bye bye breakfast.

It was tough. I loved breakfast. Hell, to this day I love breakfast. One of my favorite cheat day feasts is cooking a monster breakfast. Not to mention, omelettes are my favorite food. Back in my younger days, when I worked at 5:00AM, I awoke at 4:00AM just to cook and eat breakfast because I couldn’t live without it.

Now, of course, I live without it. Regularly. And even to the point of only eating once in an entire day. Here’s how you can too.

Fasting gurus

It would be a sham if I didn’t mention Martin Berkhan, Brad Pilon, Ori Hofmekler, and John Romaniello. All four of them have influenced my fasting habits, and I’ve experimented with each of their methods.

And I guess I should also preface with this: I’m not saying intermittent fasting, eating once per day, or doing any of this stuff is necessary. People have seen results for years following principles in stark contrast to intermittent fasting. It’s just like GOMAD and other nutritional tools. It’s right for some, not everyone.

Although I’m going to detail more reasons in the follow-up to this post, I fast because it fits my lifestyle. Through experimentation, I found that I’m ultra productive during a fast. And the past week — my dive into eating only one meal per day — has shown encouraging performance and physique benefits.

The logistics

Breakfast eaters and frequent feeders see fasting as a daunting task. They hate hunger from a comfort and state-of-mind standpoint.

Despite some puported benefits of fasting (boosting growth hormone, being better for body recomposition), one that’s now widely accepted is that the body doesn’t eat your muscles away to nothingness in times of hunger. And to start fasting, hunger is truly the only hurdle.

So if you want to fast, first assure yourself that you won’t starve to death and that you will indeed feed and live another day. This is difficult, as both hunger and eating patterns are ingrained behaviors and you’re violating your “set” internal feeding clock.

But the body is adaptable. It will change its interworkings to better deal with hunger if it has to. And so the first step to fasting is adopting the right mindset. This is kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. William Thomas, a now deceased sociologist, has his own theorem that says: If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. If you’re one minute into a fast, suffering from hunger, convincing yourself of impossibility, and obsessing over food, you’re not going to get very far. Just try to relax and tell yourself that eating isn’t a big deal and that you won’t starve to death.

The natural fasting progression

Start with Martin Berkhan’s 16/8 scheme. The numbers 16 and 8 stand for the fast and feast durations, so you fast for 16 hours and feast for 8. Most opt to break the fast at 12:00PM and eat until 8:00PM, but you can move the eight hour window to better fit your lifestyle. Just don’t hop around. If you pick 12:00PM – 8:00PM, stick with it daily.

Keep in mind, however, if you eat breakfast at 7Am, your last meal will be at 3PM. And people struggle sleeping on an empty stomach, usually succumb to snacking. That’s why most people prefer the 12:00PM – 8:00PM window.

If you wake up at 7:00AM and break the fast at 12:00PM, you’re only fasting for about five waking hours  But for people that live for breakfast, this will be an eternity.

You can conquer these five hours by going cold turkey. But just like smoking, few people can handle it. Here are some alternatives.

The best way to forget about hunger is to literally put yourself in a position to forget about hunger. Keep active during your fasting window and put yourself in a situation where you can’t eat. Hell, sleep in if you have to.

Before I truly began intermittent fasting, I was student-teaching under a teacher that didn’t eat lunch. So I got used to eating a big breakfast, having nothing but an apple for lunch, coming home and lifting, and then having a bigger dinner. I didn’t have a choice. Not exactly intermittent fasting, but I was forced to alter my eating patterns around my schedule.

So if there’s a way — if even for a day — you can force yourself to go without eating during your fasting window, you’ll see that it’s not so bad. It makes future fasts easier.

In this same line, schedule a ton of things to do. The day of my first ever 24+ hour fast went like this: I slept in, golfed, lifted, and then went to batting practice. It was 7:00PM before I even thought about food. A cup of herbal tea went down the hatch, a few episodes of The Office entertained my brain, my head hit the pillow, and food never glitched my radar.

Subtle tricks

Back in March, I met John Romaniello at the Arnold Sports Festival. Knowing John was a fasting proponent, I tried sparking a conversation about coffee because nearly every fasting guru is a coffee addict. The punchline here is that John doesn’t drink coffee and my conversation starter was shot down, but the reality is still that most fasters are coffee drinkers because it (along with teas) can blunt hunger.

But you have to be cautious with sugars and creams as technically these negate the whole premise of fasting. And you also have to monitor how caffeine affects the quality of your sleep.

Another hunger helper is sugar-free gum. Although I’m not a huge fan of gum, it has saved me during a few longer duration fasts. Just make sure you test out different brands. Some gums tend to get “hard” quickly, which is like making your jaws do squats for hours.

Another trick: chew on and eat ice cubes. Cheesy, but it works.

For those hardcore breakfast eaters, try adding whey into your morning coffee (as a creamer of sorts, I can give the “recipe” to those that want it). This prolongs it’s hunger busting effects even though it negates the whole nutrient deprivation part of the fast.  It’s a useful beginner trick, but don’t get addicted. Know the means to the end. (It is delicious though.)

Lastly, if you’re struggling with a 16/8 fasting scheme, suck it up. If you wake up at 6:00AM, you’re only fasting until 12:00PM. That’s six hours without food. How spoiled are you? Grab some haunches and just do it. If you can’t survive six hours without sustenance, how do you expect to survive the zombie attack?

The 24 hour fast

After adapting to the 16/8 fasting regime, pushing your hunger boundaries is easier. You may never want or need to fast for 24 hours. But in the name of experimentation, I think everyone should. For the record, a 24 hour fast isn’t a full day fast. It’s a 24 hour fast from your last meal. So if you eat dinner at 7:00PM, you wouldn’t eat again until 7:00PM the next day.

When it comes to fasting, I sometimes see myself as Kramer in “The Dealership” episode of Seinfeld — seeing how far I can drive a car that’s listing empty on the fuel tank. (My fasting record is 46 hours.)

24 hour fasts are mentally challenging. But here are some GameGenie codes. (And don’t forget the the “Subtle Tricks” section above.)

For a first ever 24 hour fast, eat a bigger “cheat-y” meal the day prior. Not only will you be fuller longer, but you will give yourself some psychological backing to justify your fast. For example, “I ate slop yesterday, so I’m fasting today.”  It’s an admittedly unhealthy mindset, but it works. (Note: this is somewhat like John Romaniello’s Feast-Fast method, although he recommends a longer fast.)

The downside: If you’re aiming to cut calories, this “cheat meal” neglects the benefits of the 24 hour fast by filling up on them the day prior. Use it as an introductory technique to transition your body into longer bouts of hunger.

The best way to break into 24 hour fasts has nothing to do with coffees, teas, cheat meals, or any “special” modality. No, the best way is to simply adjust your feeding schedule.

The wrong way to handle a 24 hour fast is to have your last meal at 8:00PM the night prior. This means you have to survive all morning, all afternoon, and into the evening without food. That’s a long day. Fix it with these two tweaks.

First, eat your last meal at 3:00PM – 5:00PM the day prior to the fast. You will spend more waking hours full. Eating at 8:00PM means sleeping on a full stomach. Sleeping on a full stomach wastes waking hours of satiety. By moving the meal to 5:00PM, hunger is moot for the rest of the day and the fast is broken earlier the following day.

Second, make that 3:00PM – 5:00PM two meals combined into one. So if you’re used to eating at 12:00PM, 4:00PM, and 8:00PM, combine the 8:00PM meal with the 4:00PM meal. You’re eating the same amount of calories and the increased satiety will carry into the night and morning.

It shakes out like this: Wake up, 12PM meal, 4PM meal (combination 4PM and 8PM meal), start fast, sleep, wake up, 4PM (one meal), sleep.

Beyond 24 hours

Fasting beyond 24 hours is an adventure. If you have the psyche and dedication, you can pull-through using the same strategies above. But it’s is less about secret tactics and more about commitment.

For a long time I fasted 40+ hours every week (and actually saw gains). It was per John Romaniello’s Feast-Fast method, which is basically the strategy I listed for those struggling with 24 hour fasts: having a large cheat meal the day prior. But my cheat meal was very cheat-y and the fast spanned an entire day.

I grew tired of the slight dysfunctionality associated with gorging into oblivion and following it with extreme deprivation. (Although, for a long period of time, I enjoyed it greatly.) Eventually, food became alcohol. I needed more and more and pushed to get fuller and fuller, which led to food hangovers — waking up to dry mouth and grogginess. (This is an entire post in itself, and if people are interested, I’d actually love writing about it.)

But I still fast for more than 24 hours at times. But it isn’t structured and I let hunger be my guide. (More on this in an upcoming post.)

Conclusion

This post was inspired by a recent 46 hour fast in which I had zero hunger. And, lately, people have been asking about my nutrition habits, so this was an appropriate preface seeing as how I now only eat meal per day.

Hardcore faster’s are adapted to hunger. Hell, some fasters (like me) thrive in states of hunger. I’m more productive, more focused, and more alive. But those with little experience will struggle because breaking body’s rhythms takes time. After being prescribed intermittent fasting, a few of my clients get lightheaded and struggle finishing workouts. This is normal — some aren’t meant for it.

For others, hunger isn’t an issue. Fitting in calories, however, is. Some can’t eat larger infrequent meals. I, as well as most hardcore fasters, don’t fall in that boat. I can easily eat a 12 egg omelette, three chicken breasts, and heaps of vegetables — a typical “off day” meal for me.

Living and thriving with hunger is easy once you break the barrier. If nothing else, fasting puts you in tune with your body by helping you listen to and tame hunger. And that, I think, is the biggest luxury of them all.

Intermittent Fasting and High Repetition Breathing Squats

How would intermittent fasting and high repetition breathing squats effect body composition?

Well, it’s about time we found out.

Breathing squats have long been touted as a heavenly saint for gaining mass. Intermittent fasting à la Leangains supposedly facilitates mass gain without fat gain. Is it love at first sight?

Before I catch hell, let me say that I’m not an ideal candidate for this program. Since recovering from a broken foot, I gravitated towards minimalism. This past summer was nothing but deadlifts, dumbbell floor presses, chin-ups, push-ups, and assorted carries. I was perfect for me at the time.

But since venturing into heavy loading in November, the nerve pain in my foot has grown. I hold no interested in having 315+ on my back. So lowe(er) load high repetition squat work is ideal. Come March, I play many sports making it impossible to run this program then. So now is the perfect imperfect time.

A quick disclaimer: despite often spewing athletic nonsense, this quest has no athletic bearing. I’m in it solely for the guns y’all.

IMPORTANT LIFESTYLE NOTES

- Some weeks, I use John Romaniello’s Feast-Fast system. Others, Brad Pilon‘s Eat Stop Eat. Part of me enjoys prolonged fasts, so I tailor my lifestyle to them.

Sunday I usually eat whatever I want in unlimited quantity. Sometimes it’s as innocent as wine, spaghetti, meatballs, and calzones. Othertimes it’s as naughty as nachos and Newcastle Brown Ale. Following this “feast” day, I fast. The fast lasts either 24 or 40ish hours, depending on how terrible I feel.

All other days I follow a Leangains-esque intermittent fasting template. Wake up is at 6-7AM followed by a couple cups of coffee. Training goes down from 12PM – 2PM (round about). Following that is my first meal: a huge bowl of oats, chicken, sporadic vegetables, and my very own super special protein pudding (three scoops of protein and cinnamon mixed with a tiny bit of water). But there’s a universal law: an oatmeal volcano must be architected to house to protein pudding. Oatmeal volcano’s make me very happy.

I don’t normally measure servings, but curiosity got the better of me one day. My volcano was constructed upon 1000-or-so kcals worth of oats. The second bowl in the picture of above houses couscous, chicken, and vegetables.

Later on I eat more meat, vegetables, chicken, and mucho eggs—it’s very Precision Nutrition inspired. So I don’t 100% carb load on training days. Assuming successful oatmeal volcano creation and consumption, further carbs make me gassy. Sometimes, however, I’ll indulge and suffer (as with the couscous example above, or the wheat berry example below). On off days, it’s all meats, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables.

- My upper body lifts are pathetic. Just more proof that getting strong in barbell lifts isn’t always the only way to look semi-respectably muscled. Long live chin-ups and deadlifts.

- I’m not at the stage of training advancement I should be. Ideally, I would have already busted through linear progression with the rows and incline press. But, as mentioned, this will serve as that. And if there are hormonal benefits from 20 rep squats, it will make it more meaningful, as my lower body strength is “good” enough to benefit from the 20 reppers.

- Most traditional twenty rep squat programs call for three training session per week. Because I’m an idiot, asshole, and jackass, I will be training four days per week. But the program is rooted in a high-low central nervous system activation scheme. Therefore—outside of shoulder presses—recovery shouldn’t be much of an issue given my body’s current level of adaptation.

- Did I mention my upper body strength is pathetic?

- Warm ups start with dynamic stretching and transition to 6 round of: 10 jumping jacks, 5 pull-ups, 5 squats, and 5 push-ups with some hanging leg raises mixed in. It may seem excessive, but I’ve built tolerance for these movements.

- Some front squats are done before the breathing squats. Idiotic, I know, but it will serve future-me better because they are my primary squat lift.

- My journey will be chronicled on Twitter under the hashtag #20REPEXP. So if you search twitter for “20repexp,” you will find a sporadic log with pictures (I already posted before pictures). Detailed updates will be posted weekly on this here blog.

THE PROGRAM

The program alternates two basic workouts, and is a modification of a program Aram Hamparian used to throw around.

Day One (Wednesday)

A1) Incline Press 2-3×12

A2) Romanian Deadlift 2×15

A3) Kip-Ups, Unilateral Shock Absorption Work

B) Barbell Row 2-3×15

C) Breathing Squats 1×20

D) Breathing Pullovers 1×20

Day Two (Thursday)

A1) Overhead Press 2×10

A2) Barbell Curl 2×10

B1) Dips 1 x as many

B2) Close Grip Chins 2 x as many

C1) Hanging Leg Raises 2 sets

C2) Calf Work 2 sets

D) Gymnastics and Tumbling Circuit

Day Three (Saturday)

Same as Wednesday

Day Four (Sunday)

Same as Thursday, except with Dumbbell Overhead Press

PROGRAM DETAILS

  • Incline presses, romanian deadlifts, and barbell rows work up to a max rep set. If the rep range is hit on one of the sets, five pounds is added the following workout.
  • Kip-ups and shock absorption work is for my foot (and because kip-ups are way cool).
  • Breathing squats are done with 2-5 breaths per rep. If the reps are hit, ten pounds is added for next workout.
  • Pullovers are done with twenty pounds, inhaling mega air and stretching the chest as much as possible.
  • Dips and chins are rep progressions unless thirty is hit in one set.
  • Gymnastics and tumbling: planche progression held for thirty seconds, some rolls, handstand progression held for thirty seconds, some rolls, front lever progression held for thirty seconds, and some rolls. This “circuit” is repeated twice, keeping the heart rate going.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Back to the original question: how would intermittent fasting and high repetition breathing squats effect body composition? Give me eight to ten weeks. I’ll let you know then.