Intermittent Fasting – 70 Day Review of the Leangains Method

About a year ago, I reported that I was experimenting with the Leangains 16 hour intermittent fasting method. I wasn’t strict with it. I did it about 3 days a week. My initial thoughts were:

Personally I like this intermittent fasting method better. It just seems more natural. I’m also gaining even more discipline over hunger. Being able to decline poor food choices when hungry is now something I’m very comfortable doing. I wish I could say I notice the results better than the other method, but it is still too soon to tell.

As the days got longer and my activity increased, I backed off from the Intermittent Fasting. My intention was to return to this method and follow the protocol on a daily basis (as required) in the dead of winter. So unlike my initial review, this time I did daily 16 hour fasts and I supplemented with BCAAs prior per the Leangains guide.

16 sign

Photo by Eva the Weaver

The First Week Can Be Tough

The hardest part of this diet is the first 7 days. It is in this period that you are retraining your hunger signal. Can you really retrain your hunger hormone? Yes. Leangains posted the article Ghrelin and Entrainment which explains how it happens. The take away lesson here is to expect to be hungry during that first week. The best way to deal with hunger is to be active. Move. Your brain thinks food is scarce and is warning you to get out of the cave or you’ll starve.

Month One Went Perfect

The first month was amazing. I got leaner. For the first time in my life, I saw the very faint beginnings of lower ab definition. After the initial week, it just seemed effortless. One of the problems I had with my initial introduction to fasted training was that I had lost strength and muscle. Not this time. Well, not in the first month.

Problems in Month Two

Progress slowed and eventually stopped and reversed in the 2nd month. I was strict with the diet, but I noticed some side effects.

  1. When I eventually did eat at 2 PM, I got majorly tired. This never happened to me in my prior IF experiences. I sort of solved this problem, by moving my last espresso to after the 2 PM meal and drinking tea in the afternoon.
  2. The second problem I experienced was I frequently felt cold, especially in my fingers. I have experience with cold weather exposure, so the fact my body wasn’t throwing off heat like before was concerning. This month was the first month in 3 years where the cold was bothering me.
  3. Muscle loss. The BCAA appeared to stop working. This one really bothers me.
  4. Lowered Immune System. Although I fought off a cold in late January, one nailed me in February. I’m very in tune with how my body responds to viral threats and during this month that response was sluggish.

When I do these N=1 experiments, I do my very best to isolate variables so I can learn what works for my body and what doesn’t. My diet, sleep and exercise did not change at all during this test.

Going Forward into Month Three

I went back and read the Guide again to see if I screwed up somewhere. I think I’ve been strict. My diet is clean. I’m sleeping 8 hours a night in a dark room. I don’t keep food journals, but I have posted the foods I eat. Instead of ending the Leangains program, I’m making a few changes.

  1. I lift weights once every 5 to 7 days in the morning. On this day, I will not do a 16 hour fast. I will start eating the moment I get home from the gym. I’ll still take BCAA before going to the gym.
  2. Since I just started 30 Days Without Sugar or Fruit, I need to up my carbs from glucose sources, such as sweet potatoes.
  3. More protein. I’m eating like caveman already, so I don’t know how much will help.

I was planning to end this experiment on March 22nd, but I’m probably going to continue through April. If I continue to lose muscle, I’ll end it. Hopefully, I can solve the Month Two problems. If you have any ideas, please add them in the comments.

Follow up: Intermittent Fasting – Spontaneous and Random


Add yours

  1. the term “intermittent” doesn’t seem to apply here. seems more like scheduled fasting. i haven’t tried this technique but i wonder if the constant fasting is moving past hormesis into chronic stress. makes me wonder if your cortisol levels may be raised with the suppressed immune system, possible muscle loss, and slowing of fat loss.

  2. @Chuck – If that is what is going on, then I think reducing coffee intake might be my next move. My plan is to cut back on my coffee intake starting in the spring.

  3. you may be on to something there. i know i’ve cut back on coffee recently with much success. more than 1 cup on an empty stomach makes me feel like crap. i sometimes eat very little in the morning so i try to be more careful. plus i’ve subscribed to the philosophy of it it’s not good coffee, don’t drink it. there typically isn’t good coffee at work. tea has been something i’ve turned to more often.

  4. @Chuck – I did increase my coffee intake during month 2. I’ve been home roasting and tinkering with a new espresso blend. Starting tomorrow I’ll begin slowly reducing my coffee levels. Today is already shot. 🙂

  5. home roasting? interesting. did you post about that?

  6. @Chuck – Yeah, I started home roasting coffee way back in 1998. For that topic, I’ll refer you to my other site There is an entire section on home coffee roasting.

    Currently I am using an I-Roast 2, which although extremely loud, does a good job roasting coffee.

  7. wow, you are a busy man. i read the i roast 2 article. do you roast fresh for every cup? or do you make a bunch for the day or week?

  8. also, glad to see you are doing it yourself rather than buying $4 coffees at coffee shops. what a waste of money.

  9. @Chuck – It takes a few days for the coffee to degas after roasting. Also the flavor profile will change from day to day. Some beans taste better further away from the roast (Aged Sumatra) and some sooner (many Latin American). So the trick is timing your roasting with bean profile and with your own consumption rates. Currently I roast about 2x a week.

    I still buy a fair amount of espresso in the coffee shops, but I do live in Seattle and have some the best options in the world. If I were living somewhere else, I doubt I’d have that expense.

  10. Mas, I practice some IF myself as you know and I think there are potential benefits to it for everyone. But I don’t really buy into leangains Martin B’s, before-and-after strip-show idea of IF being the end-all and be-all of fast-loss. Practicing IF isn’t going to turn you into a 25 year old mesomorph who can regain his six-pack from just cutting out pizza from his diet. In the end we’re 40-plus hard-gaining ectomorphs and IF isn’t going to change that.

  11. @dhammy – Good point. Age and somatype are hugely important. I also cringe thinking about how much vegetable oil fats my body has consumed up until the last few years. That damage can’t be undone in months or possibly even years. I wish I could go back in time a decade and smack that soy latte out of my hand. My dark past. 🙁

  12. Thanks for sharing this Mas. Do you know roughly how many grams of protein you were getting each day … was it close to 1g per body weight pound? Be interesting to hear what Martin has to say.

  13. @Doug – I do not keep food logs, but I would suspect I was close to 1g per lean body weight.

    It has been 6 days since this post and I’ve already started to feel better by ending this program. Yesterday I ate breakfast at 7 AM for the first time in months. Today I did an 18 hour fast. Tomorrow – who know? I’m bring random back.

  14. You lift weight every 7 days and you expect to gain/mantain muscle mass? I think your problem with muscle loss is in the training. Train 3 times a week with full body workouts and eat enough protein, carbs and fats in you feeding window, and you should add muscle. I’m on IF (leangains) and I’m gaining muscle and strength, plus I’m loosing fat.

  15. @Daniel – I’m doing High Intensity Training, which requires greater rest periods than standard high volume training. I’ve since altered my schedule and now lift every 5th day. Remember that muscle is built during periods of rest and that going back to the gym before you’ve recovered from the previous workout short-circuits that recovery.

    I did lose fat for the first 30 days on Leangains. My experience tells me that LG would be more effective if the dieter did not use 100% compliance and instead had 1-2 cheat days each week.

  16. Your training methodology of HIT is flawed and far from useful in experiments aiming to increase muscle mass OR strength.

    I like the fact that you have tried IF, please repost journal once you have altered your training protocols.

    Best of luck!

  17. @John – Please share any relevant links to support your first statement.

    As for the Leangains IF plan, I have no plans to repeat that experiment. In the long run, I suspect it works better when compliance is less than 100%.

  18. @john & MAS

    thought you guys may be interested in the article.

  19. @Chuck – For the past 15 years I have followed this endless debate and it just makes my head hurt. That article had some nuggets of good information, but so many straw man arguments. I don’t know where the truth resides. I do know that power lifting is a sport and a demonstration of both strength AND technique. You can be strong as an ox, but without technique your numbers in competitive lifts will be lower.

    My lifting style until recently favored myofibrillar over sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Now I am trying something new. The experiment continues.

  20. @MAS
    i found the article particularly interesting considering my intense periods of training over the last several years were typically low rep, high weight. i gained strength but not a lot of muscle. i also wasn’t eating as much calories as i probably needed to put on mass. oh well, i have started to see the light in regard to training and longevity. i am not going to stop training with heavy free weights, just going to turn down the intensity in those situations to avoid injuries. i will incorporate some machine based exercise with higher reps and turn up the intensity there.

    there is still the macho part of me that likes to lift heavy free weights.

  21. @Chuck – I’m going to do a post soon about genetic potential. I strongly suspect that the one-size-fits-all approach to lifting is flawed.

  22. Your problem appears to be that you do too many things at one time. You say you like to rule out variables, yet you experiment with several programs at the same time. Stick to one thing, and one thing only. You were trying to do Paleo (like a caveman), ’30 Days w/ Sugar or Fruit, AND Leangains. You were bound to fail. Pick one thing, and if it’s successful try something else…separately of course. And if that works, see if you can fuse the two, or three somehow. Just don’t do a whole bunch of things at once. Remember; patience is a virtue.

  23. @Capt Obvious – My 30 Day experiments with sugar and fruit were done months before my Leangains test. It is true that my carb levels are lower in the winter months, but not by much.

    If I decide a test has a clear benefit, it does become a habit. For example, I haven’t had bread in 2 years. I wouldn’t reintroduce bread to conduct a new unrelated experiment. I establish a new baseline and then start a new test.

    The only time I stack experiments is when I am trying to move from an unhealthy state to a healthy one. Then if I am able to correct the situation, I roll each off until I find the guilty party.

  24. For Leangains, you needed to be have refeed days on the days you don’t workout.For example, you eat like 500 cals or more over your maintenance caloric intake on workout days and about maintenance or a bit less on none workout days. You also need to go to the gym more than once a week to achieve any real progress. And one more thing, not all of your workouts have to be in the morning.

  25. @… – “You also need to go to the gym more than once a week to achieve any real progress.” Nonsense.

  26. I did read # 3, but haven’t had any of the side effects you encountered during your IF/LG. I’ve been doing it for about 3 months now. I switched to IF/LG because it was the way I ate back in High School. It seems more natural to me. As for my strength sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten weaker but then the very next workout my strength sky rockets. Good Luck with with your IF journey though.

  27. I’m coming in to this conversation a tad late seeing the last entry is in Nov and its now the end of Jan. I don’t know if you are still trying different regiments, but, I thought I add my 2 cents for whatever it’s worth (0: .. I only recently heard about LG and am thinking about trying it. My doctor is the one who actually told me about it. He is in his early 30 so this may explain some of his success. He told me since he has been doing LG he has maintain 7% bf. he works out 3 x a week. He eats paleo. Has some cheat days but basically eats 2x a day. He usually exercises @ night 7 pm but breaks his fast @1 . He is a crossfitter, which is you don’t know what that is go here So, idk, seems to be working for him….

  28. @Justme – I’m currently doing a mix of ideas including LG, Perfect Health Diet, De Vany and my own tricks. In a few months, I will post more specifically on my method.

  29. Looks like if you were doing HIIT and only doing strength training once a week, you were NOT doing Leangains, but just some kind of bastardized IF with some other stuff thrown in. LG typically employs either no cardio or very low intensity/long duration cardio, with all or most of the workouts coming from 3x / week of heavy compound free weight exercises with decent rest between sets. Personally, I have found success in layering Leangains over the Primal Blueprint. Playing with that many different concepts of diet and exercise at one time makes things way too complicated and stressful and makes it impossible to nail down causality. I admire your gusto, but simplify.

  30. @Kevin – I did not do HIIT during this 70 day test. My weight training was once every 5-7 days. I followed the LG protocol on the Leangains Guide post:

    No where on that page is a training methodology spelled out. I choose SuperSlow HIT (not HIIT) over traditional weight training. That should have zero impact on the fasted regiment. If it did have a noticeable impact, I’m sure it would have been mentioned on the guide.

  31. To train once a week and see results you would need a huge amount of volume which can’t really be supported by a fasted workout. I have been doing the leangains for the past 3 months and using a very high frequency, low volume approach has been best. I stick with sets of 3-8 range (unless doing corrective exercise) This allows you to keep intensity high and accumulate more total volume throughout the week. Superslow HIT is essentially the same thing as a high rep program (which increases sarcoplasmic hypertrophy). It is still based on time under tension.

  32. Venger Satanis

    Mar 5, 2012 — 1:37 pm

    No bread in two years… WTF?!?

    I’ve only been doing the Lean Gains approach for about 3 weeks (although, I experimented with it a couple years ago). Yes, don’t forget to carb-up 3 times a week, eating at least your maintenance calories on those days. That’s probably why training 3 days a week is preferable.

    In two weeks, I’m going to start posting my results. So far, not much has happened. Adjusted to the 16/8 fasting schedule fairly easily, but am probably eating too many carbs and fats on workout days.


  33. @All – I am thinking about repeating the Leangains test using some of the suggestions in the comments, plus a few tricks I’ve learned that are specific to ectomorphs. Because of the issues I had with being cold, I am going to wait until warmer weather. That way I can easily distinguish between being in a cold room versus have a low body temperature.

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