Intermittent Fasting and Bodybuilding by Ryan Zielonka
Martin’s Leangains protocol made famous the 16-hour fast/8-hour feed strategy. Its most obvious antecedent would be Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0 and the five-hour refeed protocol found in his book A Guide to Flexible Dieting.
Unlike most other intermittent fasting protocols, Leangains gives the user the ability to eat a full daily allotment of calories. Because a portion of the 16 hours are spent sleeping, many practitioners find the opportunity to skip breakfast a welcome one, leading to greater productivity in the morning hours.
Research indicates there may be some physiological benefit to consuming the majority of one’s daily calories before, during, and immediately after training. In sync with this research, the Leangains protocol has two phases: the fasting phase and the overfeeding phase. According to Martin, Leangains attempts to capitalize on the dramatic fat burning capacity of the 16-hour fasting phase while optimizing the nutrient partitioning effects of the short-term eight-hour overfeeding phase. The first meal comes 16 hours after the last meal on the night prior, so all eating occurs within an approximately eight-hour time frame.
Some explanation of the aforementioned is in order. Nutrient partitioning describes what happens to calories after they find their way into the body. High-intensity activity, especially high-intensity resistance training, puts the body into an optimal nutrient partitioning state. By demanding a lot of the body’s physiological systems, resistance training elevates key hormones and metabolic processes that encourage the body to build lean muscle and lose fat. Partitioning refers to how many of those ingested calories get stored as body fat and how many of those calories go toward replenishing muscle glycogen or building lean muscle tissue.
In the specific context of Leangains, the first meal of the day on a workout day comes right before training, is moderate in size, and provides adequate carbohydrate and protein. The post-workout meal resembles what is known in the bodybuilding as a refeed. Carbohydrates are high, protein is moderate to high, and fat stays relatively low. Including the pre-workout meal, the feeding window lasts for approximately eight hours.
The real beauty of what Martin has done comes not from his expertise, which while substantial, has yet to disseminate universally into the bodybuilding world. Rather, it is his exuberance that by inspiring others to experiment with the protocol on their own has created a community surrounding intermittent fasting that continues to probe the margins of contemporary research.
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