I’ve been test-driving Martin Berkhan’s Leangains intermittent fasting (IF) protocol for the past four weeks. For an excellent overview of the program, see his post here. The rest of this post will be written assuming you read what’s at that link.
I wanted to test-drive IF for a few different reasons: first and foremost, to see if I could survive the fasting period. Second, assuming I survived (SPOILER ALERT: I did), to see if it could fit into my daily schedule. I was not about to rearrange my life for this or any diet program – not that I could if I wanted to, anyway.
In addition to fitting in with work and family obligations, I planned to continue my current regiment of running 3x/week (3-4 miles per) and lifting 2x/week (few heavy compound lifts, e.g., squats, overhead press, etc.; no isolation work).
The protocol I chose went something like this:
- 1pm: First meal of the day (lunch at work)
- 5pm: Second meal of the day (family dinner)
- 6-7pm: Run or workout
- 8-9pm: Last meal of the day
Water is not only permitted, but encouraged during the fasting period. Diet soda is also OK (that has really helped to take the edge off when I get hungry, especially toward the end of the fast), as are coffee and tea without milk/sugar (calorie-free substitutes are OK).
As far as what I ate, I didn’t micromanage my macros. I tried to keep it in the neighborhood of that 40/30/30 carbs/protein/fat ratio and between 2300 – 3000 calories per day, depending on whether or not I was exercising that day (less on rest days, more on work days), but stopped tracking closely after a few days of using FitDay just to get a general sense of what everything’s caloric and macronutrient values were. I tend to eat the same few things every day anyway, so that made eyeballing the balance a little easier.
My starting weight was 203. I didn’t take pictures of myself because this isn’t that kind of blog.
How It Went
I started my fast at 9pm on Sunday, Sept. 2. As I suspected, I was way too busy at work to miss food; in fact, it was often like that before I started officially fasting, and there were also days this month where I didn’t get to break my fast til closer to 2 or 2:30 because I was just that busy. Weekends, on the other hand, are a different story – it’s much easier to get distracted by the thought of food unless I’m actively involved in something.
That said, a month into it, I feel fine. A little diet soda takes the edge off the hunger, and I’ve also found the fast period helps me to eat more during the eating window. Unsurprising, but important for someone like me who generally does not like to eat a lot – in fact, eating too little has been my primary obstacle in making lifting gains over the years. I just can’t eat like a powerlifter.
Some people report feeling cold in their extremities or a general sense of fogginess. I was a bit foggy the first day, but ever since I have experienced no negative effects.
I have tried training in a fasted state; I do not like it at all. Berkhan recommends taking a BCAA before working out in a fasted state. I haven’t tried that yet, but have had to both lift and run “hungry” in the last month due to weekend time constraints, and I felt very unfocused and tired. That said, my lifts have continued to progress over the course of the last month, and I have slowly but surely increased the speed and distance of my runs. My physical performance seems to have had no negative impact from the fasting.
Like I said, I didn’t take any pics, so you’ll have to take my word for it on this: my belly is visibly flatter. I still have more fat than I would like, but the “spare tire” has deflated a bit. I weighed in every Sunday, but not at a consistent time and not in a consistent state of fastedness, so take these numbers with a grain of salt:
- Sept 2 (starting weight): 203
- Sept 9: 199
- Sept 16: 200
- Sept 23: 198
- Sept 30: 200
As I mentioned earlier, I’m less concerned with the numbers on the scale than I am how I look in the mirror. While I still have some way to go, I am visibly leaner than I was a month ago, and I’ve had to start tightening my belt another notch or so. I definitely think another month of this is in order to see if the trend continues.
There were two occasions this month when I broke my fast early: once at a work function thrown specifically for my department (thanks LIS colleagues!) and once at a family breakfast one weekend morning. Can’t find the citation, but Berkhan seems to be OK with these slight and occasional deviations; like any behavior support program, the change has to be liveable, and I wasn’t going to let this program turn me into an anti-social jerk. Two minor breaks out of 28? I’ll take that.
Besides those, the only other deviations were when I didn’t get to lift or run as often as planned due to work or grad school obligations. September is a crazy enough month for educators, but when you have two living in the same house plus two kids of your own, the Back-To-School Nights alone take up a week’s worth of evenings.
Where To Next?
I plan to continue the same IF protocol for another month. I’m hoping that as we get further into the school year and my schedule starts to normalize a bit, I’ll be able to be more consistent with my workouts. I should also make it a point to weigh in at the same time every Sunday in order to keep the data points a bit purer. Beyond that, I’m content to let the mirror and the fit of my clothes be the biggest indicator of how well the program is working or not working.
If I sound a bit cavalier or casual, it’s because while fitness is very important to me, it’s not the only thing in my life. I have a career, a family, graduate school, and a part-time job to squeeze into my 24 hours, so whatever I do fitness-wise has to fit into the spaces in between. I can usually make it work, but sometimes it’s not possible, and I’m OK with that. I’m not a competitive bodybuilder or athlete. What I do try to do if I have to alter the feeding/fasting periods is minimize the impact of the alteration on the overall program (e.g., I’ll fast an extra hour or start early in order to reset the window if necessary). The beauty of this IF program is that it is flexible.
I’ll report back at the end of October with an update on my progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your questions or your experiences – good or bad – with intermittent fasting.