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How do I get lean? Part 3 - Intermittent Fasting

Today I started a dietary adjustment called Intermittent Fasting (we'll refer to it as IF moving forward).  There is a TON of information available through Google so I'm going to stick to the broad strokes here. 

 In simplest terms, IF (as used and coached by Martin Berkhan) consists of 16 hours of fasting, with an 8 hour "eating window".  Most people completely freak out when the topic of fasting for fat loss (or cleansing for that matter) comes up, so I won't spend time trying to dispel any of your previously-held concerns or fears.  What I'll stick to here is (1) sharing some of the information I've found on the topic (2) the points of interest I've discovered and (3) my plan. 

Here are a few points to consider when you either think about (or immediately dismiss) IF as a tool in your plan to get lean for the summer.

 1 - There are cleansing benefits to small-to-moderate periods of fasting.

Since I am not a scientist, I won't attempt to boil down the mountain of evidence and studies to this point.  I'd invite you to perform your own Google search on keywords like "fasting health benefits", "fasting detox", and "fasting+colon+intestines".

2 - It's not unheard of for active people to remain active during periods of fasting

I never considered this originally, but many times of active people inadvertently go through periods of Intermittent Fasting while still remaining active.  Surfer Laird Hamilton awoke me to this fact when outlining his training habits and diet on an episode of "Insider Training" on FitTV.  Paraphrasing, he basically said that he only has a shot of espresso before leaving the house in the mornings before his surfing and mountain biking.  He said that digesting food requires energy from the body (true) and whatever foods he attempts to scarf while headed out the door for training won't be absorbed by the muscles fast enough to be of use anyway.

I also have a marathoner friend who told me she rarely eats anything before hitting the road in the mornings as well.  She places a much greater emphasis on eating a nutritionally substantial dinner the night before. 

In this same context, think about young teenage athletes who play hours upon hours of basketball during the summers without stopping for a PowerBar or a protein shake.  I also recalled my own experience as a college football player when breakfast would be at 7-8am and I wouldn't have a touch of food (save for a few gulps of Powerade) until close to 5-6pm that evening.

3 - Psychologically, IF is easier than grazing.

 I have tried nearly every diet and fat loss "philosophy" out there.  Many are more similar than they are different.  But the one consistent between IF-style philosophies like Eat-Stop-Eat and The Warrior Diet when compared against the traditional 5-6 meals per day grazing philosophy is psychological ease.  When I've been focused on "portion control" and monitoring the amount of calories in each individual meal, things are not as difficult as one might think.  However there is a substantial difference in the mental relaxation that comes with knowing I can (within reason) forget about meal size during my 8-hour eating window. Silly example, but I don't have to weigh a "handful" of almonds to make sure it's cut off at 1oz.  I don't need to measure each peice of salmon or chicken or cup of oatmeal.

4 - Calories in vs Calories out STILL matters

        This is perhaps the MOST important point, and needed to follow the points made in #3.  One of the biggest mistakes people make in any diet philosophy (low carb, low fat, Atkins, Warrior Diet, etc) is that periods of fasting mean they can throw all regard for caloric intake out the window.  I made this same mistake with my first trial of the Warrior Diet.  I forgot what is perhaps the first rule of dieting for fat loss - calories in versus calories out ALWAYS matters.  If you are eating more than your body needs, you won't lose weight.  You will possibly gain weight.

5 - Food choices still matter

This shouldn't be a necessary point to make, but I'll make it anyway.  You'll get much further in your quest to have the body you want when eating clean foods (lean proteins, tons of vegetables/fruit, healthy nuts, seeds) versus junk food with lots of white starches, sugars, fried things, and artificial elements.

There are a number of other sources available online that can help you educate yourself about the benefits of intermittent fasting, both for fat loss and overall health.  Rather than re-word some of the writings myself, I'd rather steer you to sources like Martin Berkhan's Leangains website that have helped me tremendously.  Pay attention to the sections about topics like leptin (basically the hormone that serves as the thermometer for your metabolism) and fat mobilizing hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.

 As for my approach each day, it will look something like this:

5am-12noon - Fasting

12pm - some combination of almonds, sunflower seeds, grapefruit, apple, salad, green beans

2pm & 4:30pm - same as above (goal is less than 1/2 of daily caloric amount)

6pm - Workout and/or group fitness instruction

8pm - Largest Meal: salmon or chicken, brown rice, blended protein drink with spinach/berries

Tomorrow is day 2 in my second trial with IF, I'll be sure to log progress and follow-up with successes, failures, and key learnings.


No Sugar Diet (cont.) - Grant Hill & Jared Dudley

As time goes on, I'm learning of more famous people who have discovered both the health and performance benefits of a diet focused on natural foods and restricting (or eliminating) sugars and processed foods.

First we reviewed Steve Nash, then Ellen DeGeneres, now Nash's Phoenix Suns teammate Grant Hill.

Without reviewing Grant Hill's entire career resume, he basically saw his career plunge from multiple-time NBA All-Star with the Detroit Pistons, to plagued by ankle and foot injuries that kept him out of action for years.  After sporatic playing time with the Orlando Magic, he ended up in Phoenix (with Nash) and at age 37 has seen a career resurrection and is somewhat of a medical marvel. 

He interviews about his new-found dedication towards food intake here, I was particularly drawn to his tales of negligent eating as a young athlete which sound familiar to my own poor habits:

Q: What have you cut out?

A: My first year in the NBA I ate nothing but fast food. There was a street in Michigan near my home that had seven or eight fast-food places. I went eeny-meeny-miney-moe. I got a chef my second year, but I still kept two or three pitchers of Kool-Aid in the refrigerator. And of course we had to have Sprite (which Hill endorsed commercially). And we made lot of cakes. So I would go to bed with a quarter of a cake and a Big Gulp-sized container of Kool-Aid. I’d take that to bed with me.

Q: When did you change?

A: It was gradual. At one point, I cut out all drinks except water. That’s when I started getting away from some of that. I was still eating red meat, less pasta. As I’ve gotten older and become more educated about it, I’ve slowly changed. My wife (Tamia) and I practice a macrobiotic diet. (A macrobiotic diet eliminates processed foods and emphasizes water, vegetables, fruits and organically grown grains, such as brown rice. It typically does not include red meat, dairy or eggs.)

It’s hard to eat like that on the road, but you want to try to make healthy decisions. When we get on the plane after the game and the options are turkey with mashed potatoes and yams, or a Cobb salad with chicken, I’ll get the salad. I drink a lot of water. It’s just understanding what you put in your body and how it will affect your energy level.

 Here's another anedcote where Grant Hill talks about a typical day's eating and meals:

Q: In order to reach your maximum performance level for games, what meals do you eat pre-game? Post-game?

A: It’s easier at home to control what you’re eating. At home I eat an oatmeal batter made into a waffle and use agave nectar as a syrup. Agave is a natural sweetner that doesn’t have the rise in sugar levels that syrup or honey has. I tend to eat that in the morning for breakfast and usually a salad and some sort of fish, a sea bass or salmon. I may have that once or twice before a game, and then usually an hour or two before the game and in the locker room we have a fruit platter or tray of some sort. That’s what works for me.

Since I’ve become really particular in the last few years about what I eat, my energy level and my recovery level post-work out are so much better. I try to eat afterwards a salad and try to get some protein in my body, but keeping it simple, staying away from heavy pastas, sauces, butters, all those types of things I feel great. I feel better now than I did 5 years ago. My body feels better as I go through the season. I’m not as tired and sluggish and I sleep better. I’m not sore. A lot of that has to do with what I eat.

Not only has Nash's disciplined approach to his nutrition helped Hill, but teammate (and former Charlotte Bobcat) Jared Dudley has also seen benefits from taking food intake more seriously.

Those habits are what caught the eye of Suns swingman Jared Dudley. Whenever the team was flying on the franchise’s charter plane, Nash would almost always pass on the food prepared and order a salad. In addition, Dudley would overhear Hill and Nash discussing different nutritional strategies and he figured he’d seek out some pointers from the two co-captains. After losing 10 pounds, the third-year man officially became a convert.

“You ask them for hints and you try to use those tips because you see the ways your body reacts after you junk food,” Dudley said. “Those guys have played 13, 14 years and a lot of that has to do with God-given ability, but you see Steve and somehow his body is in shape and you know that if he just ate junk every day, I bet you he wouldn’t be the player he is now.”

The Suns already play an exciting brand of basketball, but for health-conscious people there's one more reason to pull for Phoenix in the NBA Playoffs later this month.


How do I get lean? Part 2 - Zero Carb Diet

From the Atkins craze, to the Ketogenic craze, lots of people have found immediate success with "zero carb" diets.  Now in reality, it's close to impossible to consume ZERO carbs since many foods have trace carbs in them, but for the sake of this post I'll speak in real generalities.

It is definitely possible to get leaner and lose body fat with a Zero Carb diet.  The problem is that this sort of eating approach is only meant for the short-term (ie - prepping for a photo shoot or bodybuilding/figure competition, last-minute beach vacation prep, etc).  This sort of eating approach is not meant for long-term success without VERY close monitoring and periodic-to-frequent refeeding of surplus carbs and calories.


Now that I've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, back to the original task.  A zero carb diet is fairly easy to implement (the challenge is sticking to it).  You basically center your meals around protein (think anywhere from 1.5-2x body weight per day) and green vegetables.  That's basically it (besides your standard multi-vitamin and probably some fish oil caps during the day).

I've both studied and tested this philosophy myself several times and actually noticed it during a recent UFC Primetime episode to hype the St. Pierre-Hardy fight.  The week before the fight, cameras followed Georges St. Pierre into a Montreal restaurant where his nutritionist was preparing one of his meals.

 His chef, Jennifer Nickel explains: "I do this for Georges Monday through Friday, three meals a day.  We've done two fights so far with him, and we will cook for his weight cut in exactly this style - absolutely no carbs, or sugar, or dairy so...it gets a lot more strict.  The only fat in this meal is the olive oil."

St. Pierre sat down to a pretty good looking meal of grilled tuna, sauteed asparagus, and mixed diced vegetables with what looked like citrus flavoring.  Clearly the zero carb plan is working for GSP, both aesthetically and athletically, since he went on to beat Dan Hardy by unanimous decision on Saturday night. 

Everybody doesn't have a professional chef to make their zero carb meals (I know I sure don't), but compliance is still possible.  Fitness model Jamin Thompson recently underwent a zero carb phase for about 3-4 days to prep for a photo shoot.  He kept those of us interested in such things updated on Twitter:

@jaminthompson: Day 2 of "no carb"...not bad so far, just had ground turkey, steamed cabbage, green beans, & flax...now off 2 train legs. LETS GO!

 You can see how well the results worked out for him here.

There are plenty of resources available online about temporary zero carb diets.  Lyle McDonald is another well-studied resource, having written a book on to topic.  I actually tried his "Rapid Fat Loss" diet which is also termed a "Protein Sparing Modified Fast".  I made a few mistakes with this diet, not realizing two key points:

1 - It is very easy to over-train.

I didn't realize that recovery can be slowed by zero carb dieting, so it's important to reduce cardio and/or allow for rest days from resistance training.  MMA Nutritionist PR Cole made a great point on Twitter:

@FueltheFighter metabolic rate is slower if there is a cal deficit-that can mean suboptimal recovery rate/potential for compromised immune fxn

2 - It is important to "re-feed" within 4-5 days, if not sooner

At some point, the body will need carbs again, at least in my experience.  That doesn't necessarily mean a gorge-fest on pancakes and bagels, the refeed can still be clean complex carbs like oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.  The amount of carbs and length of the refeed can be complex, and there are numerous sources and strategies available with a Google search.  But in general terms, refeeding with a substantial amount of carbs (preferably stretched over a day's worth of meals) is important after such a severe restriction.

I'll be traveling to Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four this week, so my hope is to stick to a zero carb diet while I am there.  There will be lots of hotel, restaurant, and hospitality party food available, so my goal is to take down as much chicken, steak, shrimp, and vegetables as are available.  I can't guarantee I won't slip up "accidentally", but at least there's a goal and plan in-mind.

I'll let you know how it goes.


Fitness Spotlight: Jamin Thompson

Jamin Thompson wears many titles.  Fitness model, fat loss expert and consultant, and motivational speaker are just a few.  He was a ATP world-ranked tennis player growning up and played collegiately at both Miami (Hurricanes) and Clemson, and now resides in Malibu.  His website is a gateway into a few of his fat loss courses and various peices of literature, but there's also an informative blog and e-newsletter with tips and key learnings on nutrition and training as well.  His e-book "The 6-Pack Secret" is a best-seller online. 

I've actually learned quite a bit from his e-newsletters and have passed information onto a few friends who are badly in-search of such things.  He's pretty active on Twitter also - which is where he advised me to combine salmon and eggs at breakfast some time (he was right, they go well together).

Those who know me are aware how much I stress the importance of diet, not only for fat loss and the pursuit of the elusive "six-pack", but for overall health.  I was impressed to see that Jamin Thompson stresses many of the same points of emphasis as well.  In-fact he rarely does any pure "cardio", which will shock some, but it further emphasizes the point that your nutrition makes up far more ground in body composition than hours spent on the treadmill.

His diet is very similar to mine (though his abs are obviously much better...) and is made up of lots of lean proteins (chicken, tilapia, tuna, salmon), vegetables, and strictly complex carbs like brown rice. 

I'm always big on learning from people whose bodies and fitness are worth emulating.  Jamin Thompson is one of those people, and I think his e-newsletters and resources will be helpful to most out there trying to win the fat loss battle. 



Ellen DeGeneres joins the No-Sugar Bandwagon

Out at a bar the other night, a friend who is well plugged into the social media landscape and pop culture universe made a comment about my recent article highlighting Steve Nash's no-sugar diet.  She asked, "Have you heard about Ellen? She's given up sugar too!"

Well naturally my initial response was, "Uh...who is Ellen???"  After some clarity, she explained that Ellen DeGeneres had began a sugarless crusade of her own recently.  Ellen apparently took a look at her increased daily schedule and workload thanks to being a new judge on American Idol, and rationalized (perhaps with some consultation, I don't know for sure) that eliminating sugars from her diet would be a great way to prevent the wild insulin surges and subsequent energy crashes that come with regularly ingesting sugars.  Much like Steve Nash, she has focused on getting her sugars the natural way, mainly through fruits.

I don't know how long Ellen will stick with this (cutting sugar is by no means an easy pursuit, especially the first few days) but I am proud of her for taking on this challenge.  My hope is that for someone with such an enormous platform as "The Ellen Show", she will influence many of her viewers to follow suit.  Let's be honest, quite often people feel more motivated to give something a try if one of their favorite celebrities is already doing it.  This is one instance where I hope the trend continues.

For continued learning, here's a great blog I found by a woman who decided to give up sugar for a year back in 2008.  I won't spoil her story, but I think you can guess how it turned out.