You can find the previous post in this series that discusses the workouts, right here.
I’m not going to lie to you: this could be the most controversial post of the Leangains series. I suppose the reason for that, were I to sum it up, is that the readership of this blog largely focusses on those with current or formerly damaged and broken metabolisms, and Martin Berkhan’s approach does not seem to zero in on that — at least from my perspective. A low-carb predisposition is an understandable aspect of my readership and in Martin’s case, low-carb, while being a valuable tool anyone can use, is not a requirement for all.
So I think it’s fair to say that a lot of paleo / Primal practitioners out there might not necessarily see eye to eye with all the Leangains approach to diet prescribes. But I also see this as a temporary thing for me. I simply want to get as lean as I want to be and then carry on more or less as before, though with a Leangains informed approach, which I might sum up as: lift really heavy; briefly, a couple times a week, eat lots of meat, and go good & hungry for some period almost every day. Also, from my perspective, I see Martin as highly supportive of paleo principles, but with some added tweaks owing to what he knows about the science of nutrition and conditioning.
As reported in the previous reports in this series I have thus far dropped about 10 pounds even though I often feel as though I eat more than ever.
The basic approach is simple enough and there’s lots more in The Leangains Guide:
- You have to count calories
- You have to track macronutrient ratios
- No processed junk food
- Relatively high intake of protein all the time
- Higher carb / lower fat on workout days
- Higher fat / lower carb on rest days
It should also be pointed out that a crucial, foundational aspect of the whole integrated Leangains method is the incorporation of intermittent fasting, 16 hours per day. We’ll cover the science of fasting in the next post in the series (and I’ll have lots to offer from my significant experience pre-Leangains) but for now just keep in mind that all this eating is done every day in the space of eight hours. Here’s just a few examples of some of the meals I eat during that eight hour window. You can also review the Food Porn category and at the end of the post I’ll give you a list to specific food posts I’ve done that highlight the high-protein spirit of Leangains. All photos I post can be clicked on for the hi-res versions.
You’re going to see lots and lots of sauces. This will really help you down the amount of protein you need to down. This way, you don’t need to choke it down at all, but savor it, wishing you had more — even after a pound or two of it has crossed your palette. And that sauce is low fat, super low carb, low calorie and Big Flavor.
Let me give you the basic method:
- Slowly reduce about 1/2 C of red wine per serving until you get a syrup, like a few Tbsp.
- Add your beef stock. I typically use about a cup of Trader Joe’s organic (per serving).
- Reduce the whole thing to about 1/3 C per serving.
- Add a pat of butter per serving.
- Bring to a boil and add 1/4 tsp potato starch per serving to just enough cold stock to make a slurry. Stir, watch it thicken, serve.
You can play with it, too. For instance, use some ratio of vegetable stock or mushroom stock with the beef stock. You can add spices & herbs like rosemary, sage, garlic (salt & pepper, of course). This is great with beef, venison, lamb. For chicken, pork, fish, just use white wine for the reduction and chicken stock in place of the beef (and with ratios of vegetable and/or mushroom stock too). For herbs & spices, think tarragon (my personal favorite — and less is more…hint).
What I’d suggest is to first get down the basic method and then start playing with the ratios of the stock you use and herbs & spices…or even fruit or peppers. For example, some crushed blueberries or cherries or even jalapeno peppers work wonders in the beef stock and try persimmons in the chicken stock. When you use herbs, spices, & fruits, always strain your sauce before you thicken. A wire strainer works fine.
This is my favorite high protein post-workout meal. I get it at a local Harry’s Hofbrau. $12, with the iced tea. That’s about a pound of roast beef, simple beef consume (calling it "au jus" is a pet peeve — don’t do it!), about 2/3 C mashed potatoes, 2/3 C low-fat cottage cheese, and 1/2 tsp horseradish all mixed together.
That is high protein. And here’s just another variation on the same theme.
And with that, let’s get into some questions for Martin.
I notice that you require a significant amount of protein. Any particular reason(s) why? Is there any such thing as a "metabolic advantage," or is it only calories that count?
There is a “metabolic advantage” for protein and it’s for protein only. We count protein calories per the old Atwater-formula from the 19th century that states that one gram of protein yields 4 kcal.
A more precise method of estimating energy yield for one gram of protein is by looking at the net metabolizable energy, which is calorie yield after accounting for TEF. TEF is the increase in energy expenditure that is due primarily to the metabolic cost of transporting and converting the absorbed nutrients into their respective storage forms.
Accounting for TEF, which is substantial for protein (20-30%) protein comes in at around 3-3.2 g per gram depending on the amino acid composition of the protein source. For fat and carbs, TEF is negligible; 2-7% depending on the sources and where is ends up (i.e. muscle glycogen, liver glycogen for carbs, and oxidation or storage of fatty acids). The current nutritional labeling of 4 and 9 kcal per gram is therefore not far off the mark for carbs and fat.
Needless to say, the high TEF of protein results in a metabolic advantage for the higher protein diet when comparing two equicaloric diets if we count protein as 4 kcal per gram. If the increase is substantial, i.e. if we compare a 2000 kcal SAD with 15% protein intake versus a 2000 kcal 45% protein diet, the difference will be significant. Adding to that, other advantages of high-protein diets are superior effects on satiety and better lean mass retention during weight loss.
Doesn’t a very high protein intake both stimulate insulin release and initiate gluconeogenesis? If so, why the need for the higher carbs specifically after a workout and in general on workout days?
Good question. Yes, you could probably satisfy the demand for muscle glycogen via protein only whilst following a low-volume training approach and consuming a high-protein diet.
The question is more along the lines of what’s practical and feasible, and what macronutrient is preferable for post-workout consumption if the choice stands between fat and carbs.
In between carbs and fat, carbs are the superior choice due to the insulinogenic effect and contribution to muscle glycogen. This is desirable for muscle gain and recovery. The combo of high protein and high carbs impacts gene expression related to muscle hypertrophy more so than a higher fat intake in place of carbs.
Furthermore, in the context of the Leangains approach for fat loss, there are other desirable effects of this high-carb refeed, such as the impact of carbs on leptin, which is superior for carbs.
How about insulin? One often gets the feeling in low-carb circles that it’s Beelzebub, only with more horns. What’s your take, in general? And how about to someone with a severely damaged or broken metabolism?
I don’t know where to start with that one. I’ll just say that the fear of carbs and insulin is vastly exaggerated and taken out of context. I’ve talked too much about this in the past, so you could say I’ve burned out trying to explain or defend insulin. Anyone who has spent some time on my site should get an idea of my thoughts. Most recently, I discussed the effects of insulin in Cheat Day strategies for the hedonist.
For someone with poor insulin sensitivity, I would certainly prescribe a less insulinogenic diet on training days, i.e. training days will be lower in carbs and higher in fat.
However, it’s worth noting that just about everyone seems to believe that they have poor insulin sensitivity and react poorly to carbs. Going by my practical experiences, it’s a rare phenomenon. I’ve asked hundreds of people via my questionnaire that I send out for consultations and 8 or 9 out of 10 will note that they react poorly to carbs, or imply it by stating that they do much better with low-carb diets. It never turned out to be the case when they started following my approach with large post-workout meals, sometimes of more than a hundred carbs in one sitting. Their "poor insulin sensitivity" and low carb tolerance simply never manifested itself as they would have predicted.
I think people tend to think of their reaction to carbs in extremes, such as: "How do I feel when I eat a large bowl of Cornflakes/rice/bread" (Insert other high-GI high-carb meal here that includes hundreds of fast-digesting carbs), etc. Just about anyone will get drowsy and lethargic after such meals. It’s quite a different thing from eating a big plate of veggies, potatoes, and meat. Meal composition and carb sources matter a great deal.
So what makes the Leangains approach superior to other dietary regimes you’ve seen and tried? If it’s not just about the calories, what is it?
From a behavioral point of view, which is the most important aspect to consider for long-term health and weight control, Leangains is very easy to follow for a lot of people. In the context of dieting, it’s also a very attractive approach since you get to eat large meals to fullness whilst still losing fat.
From a physiological point of view, the Leangains approach incorporates controlled overfeeding and underfeeding in a strategic manner that may provide superior nutrient partitioning effects. I’m saying “may” because it’s impossible to find hard evidence for this in the scientific literature. But in practical terms, you are providing a surplus of calories at a time where they are most likely to be used for muscle building and recovery. As protein synthesis levels off, so does calorie intake. I don’t think it’s a far-fetched hypothesis that timing overfeeding in this manner would be beneficial for body composition. In bodybuilding lingo, you’re basically bulking for one third of the day and cutting for two thirds of the day. Furthermore, the strategic refeeds provides a timely leptin-boost that may be of benefit to fat loss, metabolic rate, and other parameters related to leptin (such as libido, testosterone, etc). It is also interesting to speculate whether there is any synergy of intermittent fasting and refeeding after workouts. I could talk a lot about this topic and I will elaborate more when the time comes.
Lastly, from a health perspective, intermittent fasting may be beneficial. I should note that this is a relatively new area of research that has only really started to take off in the last five years. However, the effect of intermittent fasting on health parameters such as blood lipids, insulin sensitivity and protection against certain diseases (such as Alzheimer’s) looks promising.
Finally, it’s gonna be asked so we might as well touch on it here: what are the pros & cons of drinking your protein?
There are no pros of drinking your protein unless it’s in the context of quickly increasing amino acid levels in the blood, such as in the case of fasted training. In other cases, whole food protein is the superior choice due to the effects on satiety.
Learn to eat and chew your protein. It might seem hard at first if you’re not used to it, but you will get used to it and eventually learn to enjoy it. Adapting to a habitual high-protein diet is one of the most important changes you can do for long-term body fat control. An indirect effect of this will likely be better health and more muscle as well.
And now here is a number of food posts over the months since I began Leangains that serve to show you the spirit of the thing, not only in a high-protein theme, but perhaps more importantly, shattering the notion that a leaning, even body building program necessitates bland and boring meals (dry chicken breasts, protein powders, tubs of cottage cheese, and so on).
- Meat & Potatoes
- Salads, Cheeseburgers & Tacos
- Two Potatoes; and Meat & Sauce
- High Protein and Low Fat, KFC Style
- Too Many Meals for One Post
- The High Protein KFC Double Down Applied to Beef
- Not Pizza; Meatza
- Big Ass Beef Filets Sous Vide; Sauce & Veggies
- Pork Baby Back Ribs, Dry Rub and a Paleo Compliant BBQ Sauce
- Just Make a Double or Triple Recipe of These Braised Beef Short Ribs
- If You’re Cooking for Two, You’ll Need Two of These Grilled Flank Steaks
- Three Big Meals; All of Your Favorites
- Overfeeding or Leangains?
- Chili Dogs on a Low-Carb Day
- If You Get Enough Carne Asada, Everyone Can Overdose Protein
- Make Sure You Do Some Lamb; Cook it Right
- Life Gets in The Way; But Not of Good Filets
- Wall to Wall Protein Options
- Basic: Omelet & Bacon
- BBQ Protein Gluttony
- Some Do High Protein Leangains in Restaurants
- Finally, a Protein Theme
I know that most of my regular readers have seen many of those food posts. I might suggest that it’s interesting to see them all again one after the other.
But my main reason for doing all those is for Martin’s readers who’re not regulars here. Martin doesn’t focus a whole lot on food preparation, gourmet, or anything like that, so here’s now someplace he and his advocates can send people to demonstrate that….
You can have a lot of fun eating a lot of protein.
Next up, we’ll delve into intermittent fasting, the core foundation of the Leangains method.
Update: While reading the comments tonight, I fixed this. All elements included. Click to hi-res it.
That’s a grassfed filet and a grassfed sirloin (the wife got 2-3 slices :). Did the sauce thing in the basic fashion, i.e., the three ingredients plus the starch to thicken. Here’s an added tip I didn’t mention: when the wine is almost there, add the butter and fire it up in order to brown the solids a bit. Adds a lot of flavor. Oh, that’s 3/4 white sweet potato mixed with 1/4 orange.
I might mention that I didn’t have any chance to add or rework anything after getting Martin’s answers and the one thing I’d have to emphatically agree with is where he describes the distinction between a high-carb meal of rice crispies (or whatever) vs. one of veggies and/or potatoes. I have never felt anything but great and invigorated after. He’s so right about that. After a deadlift session today of 315 x 3 and 285 x 4 (and the other stuff) and a post workout meal of a culotte steak, fruit, cottage cheese, hard boiled egg and some veggies, this rounded out the evening along with some scotch and one of the macadamia nut cookies my wife is fixing for holiday baskets.
Life is good.