Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The miracle of intermittent fasting - a diet without dieting - my interpretation on why and how the Leangains type of intermittent fasting works.

Lets start by discussing the first myth that i mentioned in the into post.
Myth nr 1: Simultaneous muscle gains and fatloss is impossible

If you ever have discussed this with a bodybuilder or read about this topic in some mainstream fitness-site or magazine you already know the rap by heart:

“It takes calorie surplus to build muscle and calorie deficit to lose fat, so beyond some newbie gains, it is impossible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time”

A gymrat obsessed with your “Muscle and Fitness” mags and T-Nation and Bodybuilding.com falls easily for such misinformation. Why? Probably because firstly – such people tend to have a guru (be it someone at your gym or someone in the business) and therefore they tend to think less for themselves. Plus these gurus tend to have little knowledge in epigenetics, biochemistry and endocrinology; and most of them tend to rely on the marketing of certain products – be it their services, some products their gym sells etc etc.

So there are masses of gymgoing people, smart people at that, who are putting their bodies through an endless cycle of bulking/cutting which is ultimately very detrimental to their hormonal functioning and definatley not the fast nor permanent route to success. It is a very good advertisingrap to sell loads of supplements though.

So here is an alternative hypothesis so well implemented by Martin Berkhan of Leangains and which has lately gotten increasing scientific backing – links to articles will be given at the end of the second blogpost. I am so grateful to Martin Berkhan and also Brad Pilon for doing such a great job at popularising intermittent fasting, that I`d like to try and sum up what I have learned from these gentlemen, and what I have proved works over years of experimenting on myself.

The hypothesis: fatloss and musclegain can be achieved simultaneously

This hypothesis has 3 main principles that essentilly make it work:
NR1: intermittent fasting is necessary to manipulate your hormones (leptin and HGH plus all the other hormones that leptine controls) to control appetite and ensure continued fatloss.
NR2: smart refeeding done around each workout (again to manipulate leptin) NOT 1 big refeed per week or a period of constant refeeding (the bulk) is the key to muscle gain and continued fatloss.
NR3: the importance of SLOW muscle gain with zero fatgain is essential in ensuring permanent results and easy maintenance.

So lets begin with NR1 and discuss
leptin-the-masterhormone andintermittent fasting

What do I mean when i say that leptin is a master hormone? Well, it controls and affects many other hormones like epinephrine, ghreline and the thyroid hormones T3 and T4.
Leptin is produced in adipose (fat) cells so therefore the amount of free circulating leptin is tied to the amount of bodyfat a person is carrying.
Dieting results in a loss of bodyfat and consequently in the lowering of leptinlevels, which downregulates the production of some other metabolism hormones (as mentioned above)

I`m sure everybody is familiar with the common consept (and myth) of the “starvation mode”. What they actually mean by this is what happens when leptinlevels decrease as the result of dieting. Leptin regulates hunger and the metabolic rate among other things – so as a dieter loses fat and lowers his leptinlevels, increased hunger and a lowered metabolic rate start to make it more and more difficult to adhere to a diet.

Leptin is also a genetically conditioned hormone – ie. naturally lean people have a low level of leptin but handle it quite well.
In the other extreme, the obese have chronically high leptin, but have usually developed leptinresistance as a result.

That effect has been called the bodyweight setpoint theory (which has been explained very well by both Martin Berkhan of Leangains and Stephan Guyenet of Wholehealthsource)

Dieting for already lean people can be extremely difficult as has been shown in multiple studies. However all these diets used in such studies have been the traditional cutting diets used in fitness and bodybuilding – bear in mind, this is not at all what we are talking about here.

This is where intermittent fasting comes in:

So we have established that a lean person has low leptin levels. And the desire to diet down to single digit bodyfat should be a nearimpossible feat. Atleast whilst maintaining or even gaining muscle.

What can we do to boost the low levels of leptin without gaining fat? This is the question...

Free circulating leptin is actually decreased while fasting. The miracleworker is actually the feast not the fast. A refeed at the end of a fast is capable of boosting leptine levels above what can be explained by a mere gain in fat. Fasting introduces peaks of leptin in contrast to the constant low levels caused by traditional dieting. Do you see what I'm getting at?
Where women are concerned, we are even luckier: a study shows higher leptin levels during fasting. As you can see, that effect is achieved with out any gains in fatmass. In the study, women lost weight and lowered their body fat percentage in spite of eating a diet high in calories.
Fasting was also shown to decrease neuropeptide-Y (another hungerstimulating hormone).
A similar study has been conducted with men.
Also the fatburning hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine have been shown to increase with intermittent fasting.

Now lets continue with:
NR2: smart refeeds done around each workout (again to manipulate leptin) NOT 1 big refeed per week or a period of constant refeeding (the bulk)

So lets continue on the topic of leptin. As we already discussed, the amount of free circulating leptin in ones body is controlled (in longterm) by the amount of adipose sells (fat tissue). But in the shorter term, fasting followed by a refeed can elevate leptin levels to greatly surpass those that could be explained by fatmass.

One way to take advantage of that mechanism is intermittent fasting, as discussed above. But in order to reap the most benefits, the refeeds ending the fast should be timed correctly. Also the micronutrient content of such refeeds can be manipulated to induce the greatest leptin response.

Studies have shown that carb refeeds increase leptin. Protein has a smaller effect and fat has none.
As a primal lifestyler (what a word) I used to have a tough time accepting that there is this one reason and one time to cut down on fat – and that is during the refeeds (after a fast before and after a weightlifting workout).

Ok, so moving on to
NR3: the importance of SLOW muscle gain with zero fatgain or even fatloss

Slow weightloss means smaller calorie deficit. That combined with the miracle of intermittent fasting is all you need to induce simultaneous fatloss and muscle gain. Actually, I would venture that whilst using daily intermittent fasting, smart carb (starch) refeeds before and after resistance workouts while maintaining a low carb-high fat lifestyle on other days, a calorie deficit is unnecessary or at least it can be kept way smaller than on a traditional cutting diet.
Intermittent fasting and smart refeeding (Leangains style) mean manipulating your leptin levels=controlling your hunger and metabolic rate, making it possible to diet without feeling hunger, without having to fight constant carbcravings. There is no deprivation whatsoever. This is a diet without a diet.

Now, I have been using the Leangains method as the basis of this blogpost and i hope Mr. Berkhan doesn`t mind. But i must say that i do disagree with one of Mr. Berkhan`s points of advice - he always suggests the max time for an intermittent fast to be about 16 hours and even less than that for the women. The anecdotal experience of my n=1 experiment has shown equally good results with a longer fast (18-20h). So that is why i havent given a set timeframe for fasting and feeding or any set number of meals per day - I`d say anything between 1 - 3 meals is just fine.

1 comment:

  1. Eva, do you try to keep fat grams low during reefed post workout? What does the shift in grams of carbs/fat look like on the reefed days? I have heard that fat post workout is more easily stored as fat since insulin levels are higher (not sure if that is true)? Is it necessary to keep fats low while having a squash reefed for example? Appreciate your feedback.


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