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The Leangains Guide

The Leangains Guide

Introduction, Outline, Meal Timing and Frequency.

Leangains calorie and macro calculations are covered in a separate guide here.

Note: These guidelines are my own summary of Martin Berkhan’s Leangains system. I’d recommend you check out his site.

What is ‘Leangains’?

 

Skip breakfast, eat big meals, train hard and heavy. These are the core principles of Leangains – a style of diet and training system pioneered by Swedish nutritionist Martin Berkhan.

There is a school of thought that it can be beneficial for nutrient partitioning (and therefore body composition changes) to have more calories on the days you work out, and less on the days you don’t. Martin took this a step further by experimenting with higher carb/lower fat intake training days, and higher fat/lower carb intake rest days, while combining it with morning fasts. It can therefore be considered a form of intermittent fasting.

I have used this system to coach hundreds of clients helping them in their physique journeys in the last four years.

What are the benefits?

• Reduced hunger when dieting – For a person looking to lose weight, this is one of the biggest benefits offered by I.F. as opposed to other dieting systems. Skipping breakfast allows for bigger, more satisfying meals. After a few days of starting the diet, the body’s hormones, notably the hunger hormone, ghrelin, get used to the new eating pattern and adjust accordingly so you no longer feel hungry in the mornings. Give yourself a week.

• Easier to plan meals – With fewer meals there is less meal prep, it’s harder to screw up your macro counting, and you have more time in your day to live your life.

• Easier to remove stubborn fat – I can’t prove this one, but this is something that Martin has talked about on his blog which jives with my experience working with clients – getting shredded lean seems to be less of a hassle when using this method.

Leangains Meal Timing & Frequency Guidelines

  1. Eat at all your meals in an 8 hour window. Don’t go significantly shorter or longer than that.
  2. It’s better to skip breakfast and fast in the morning, as that’s easier to stick to socially.
  3. Don’t eat or drink anything with calories during this time.
  4. It’ll take your body 3-7 days to get used to the new meal pattern. Hunger pangs will happen until then if you’re not used to skipping breakfast. Suck it up and don’t be a pussy.
  5. Don’t leave longer than two hours after your training without eating anything. Keep things as simple as possible, eat 2-3 meals per day.
  6. Choose your training time based on when you feel best and have time to do it. But if you train late in the day, make sure that you have time to eat a meal. If you train fasted, take 10g BCAAs ~10minutes pre-workout, then 10g BCAAs every two hours until you eat your first meal of the day.
  7. On the days you train, have the majority of the calories after the workout (meaning the time between when you work out and hit the pillow).
  8. You’ll have a higher calorie intake on the training days, less on the rest days. You’ll have a higher carb, lower fat intake on the training days, and vice-versa on the rest days. – Guidelines for this are covered in the Leangains Macros guide which I will link to at the end of the article.

There are multiple ways you can set things up, but as long as you keep to these principles then you will be fine. I’ve expanded below with specific suggestions but when it comes to examples, for the sake of brevity, I’ve given the simplest set-up option for that training time only.

Early Morning Fasted Training

05:50 10g BCAAs
06:00-07:00 Training
08:00 10g BCAAs
10:00: 10g BCAAs
12:00 Lunch ~50% calories/macros
19:30 Dinner ~50% calories/macros

Morning Training

07:50 10g BCAAs
08:00-09:00 Training
10:00: 10g BCAAs
12:00 Lunch ~50% calories/macros
19:30 Dinner ~50% calories/macros

Afternoon Training

12:00 Lunch (~35% calories/macros)
16:00-17:00 Training
17:00-17:30 Snack (10-15% calories/macros)

19:30 Dinner (remaining calories/macros

12:00 Snack (~20% calories/macros)

14:00-15:00 Training
15:30 Afternoon Meal (20-40% calories/macros)

19:30 Dinner (remaining calories/macros)

Evening Training

12:00 Lunch (~40% calories/macros)
17:00-18:00 Training
19:30 Dinner (~60% calories/macros)

For exceptions to these guidelines for stage competitors and athletes, see “Meal Frequency Guideline Exceptions” in my complete set-up guide.

Make sure that you don’t screw yourself over by focusing on the timing aspects and missing the bigger, broader, more important pieces of the puzzle.

Intermittent fasting reached a peak of popularity in 2013. Unfortunately with this popularity came the typical fitness industry nonsense articles selling people on exaggerated expectations of what it can help do for dieters and physique focussed individuals. The timing aspects are here to make your life easier, but you can’t just skip breakfast and expect to suddenly get ripped without paying attention to your calorie and macro intake. (The leangains calorie and macro calculations are covered in this guide)

Martin has a strong preference for getting his clients to focus on strength. It’s a good way to gauge progress and is a sure-fire way to stop people falling into the fuckarounditis trap.

Put the big compound movements the core of your training program and train three days per week. The squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and chin-ups should be the core of your program if you wish to follow Martin’s methods strictly. (Though I’d argue that any effective training can be paired with the Leangains diet principles – there’s a link at the bottom of this article to explain what I mean by that.)

Your workouts will take roughly an hour. Could be a little more or less, don’t worry about it.

Getting The Most Out Of This Site

There are over 100 articles on this site. There’s pretty much everything you need to be successful as long as you’re willing to put in the effort to read. If you are, I’m here to help in the comments if you have any questions. I’ve answered over 16,000 so far, but please respect the time that I take in answering them (up to an hour every day for the last four years) by reading the articles thoroughly and using the FAQ.

FRUSTRATION VS. WILLINGNESS TO READ

Frustration vs Willingness To Read

The guides on this site have helped thousands of people to achieve their physique goals.

Now it’s your turn.

There are no excuses anymore, it just comes down to you. Do you want it?

How To Calculate Your Leangains Macros →
The Core Principles of Effective Training →

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Jeppe
Jeppe

Hi Andy,

As suggested I have tried out skipping breakfast. At first I was quite amazed by how easy it was to get through the morning without eating, as long as I had my coffee. And I felt that it certainly was helping me in cutting away fat and keeping me on the targeted calories – a really good experience. However, after a couple of weeks, I had to be honest to myself and admit that I actually was not feeling completely at the top of my game some of these mornings, when at work. I would get a little dizzy and simply not feeling that I could have an as efficient conversaiton with a co-worker as I usually did.

A friend, who have studied your guides a lot I believe, told me that in theory, you are still fasting as long as you eat less than 75 kcal (is that true?). So I have tried that; eating a small portion of high-protein youghurt during the morning. Slowly, I have now slipped into a situation where I am not so serious about skipping breakfast, simply because I was not feeling it was worth it, due to the dizzyness and being ‘light-headed’.

Do you have any comments/ideas that I could try out to adress this dizzy-ness? As of now, I do not see skipping lunch or dinner as options, for some of the same reasons you have mentioned.

Leonardo Pires
Leonardo Pires

Hey Andy,
I’m a beginner and trying to lose weight (about 12 pounds) while keeping, and gaining if possible, muscle mass. Do you think it is worth for me to workout 5~6x/week? Or it wouldn’t make a significant difference?
I’ve been seeing a lot of people with great results and only working out 3x/week, so I acctually started wondering if putting more volume as a beginner would be just a waste of time.
What do you think?

Great site!
Best regards,
Leonardo

DJ Changsta
DJ Changsta

Hi Andy,

I was wondering what your view is on overnight muscle catabolism. I was planning to take a protein shake in the morning or casein protein at night, but this hinders the intermittent fasting.
From searching around some articles were saying that muscle catabolism is minimal if you get right number of calories and macros for your BMR?

Thank you,
Ben

Anna
Anna

Hello!

I’ve just stared my cut. I’ve been doing Lean gains for a year now and I really love it. BUT! I struggle with hunger constantly.
I started to cut out 400cal and the hungerpain is just horrible. I’m looking to loose a little weight (Not more than 3-5kg) Weightloss comes fairly easy for me but this time the hunger is just extreme. Any advice?

Gregory
Gregory

Hey Andy

I’m new to the intermittent fasting diet and wanted to know what’s your best meal plan for someone just starting out?

Stefan
Stefan

Hi Andy!
Former client here.

I just hit 170kgx3 in deadlift, first time I’ve PRed since 2012!

BUT, I want to change my workout schedule so that I workout at 6am. This leaves a 4-5 hour window until I eat breakfast. Isn’t it “bad” to not replenish your body with food/protein in a certain window after working out?

Dan
Dan

Hi Andy,
I’m a little confused on the amount of carbs I should be consuming?? My calorie intake is 2,250, My protein intake is at 180, and my fat intake is at 114. What should be my carb intake? The articles I read several times says the rest should be in carbs. Am I missing something? I’m new to this site and want to cut weight and get leaner. Please help.
Dan

Dan
Dan

Got it! Thanks..

Jenn
Jenn

Hi Andy,

My Stats: Female, 30 years old, 5’2″, 127lb, vegetarian (but do eat dairy and eggs), do not drink.

I’m naturally an intermittent-faster (I have never eaten breakfast). I find the methodology quite simple to follow and can often fast for a whole day without noticing. However, since I have started learning to lift weights 6 months ago (I have a trainer) my body-weight has increased about 7lb+. I do understand there’s some muscle gains but my waist measurement (my problem area) has not decreased (30″ around belly button – I have a small frame so it’s rather unsightly)

Can you provide direction on where I should focus to have success in fat loss…add cardio? eat at a caloric deficit? Reduce carbs?
I have my macros dialed in and I eat healthy overall.

Thanks,

Jenn
Vancouver, BC Canada

johnsuzuki
johnsuzuki

Hi Andy,
Im trying to a Leangains style bulk, but because of work, I can only work out twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
I understand that my macros should be cycled (+30% high carbs,low fat on training days, -10% high fat, low carbs on the following rest day)
But, how much should I eat on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays?

Thanks in advance!

Cory
Cory

Hello Andy,

Great site!

When you have a moment can you confirm my macros?

[Deleted by Andy]
Thanks in advance.
Cory

John
John

Hi Andy my wife wants to lose a lot of weight she is 269 lb she lifts weights M W F and Tues. and thurs, she does zumba should she stay low carbs on these days or should she have some carbs afterwards

Ross
Ross

Under “5 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make,” point #1. you state that “muscle weights more than fat.” I am nitpicking here, but as a fitness professional, this is not technically accurate. A pound of feathers weighs the same as a pound of nails. The difference is the amount of space each takes up. Therefore, muscle is more dense than fat – but does not weigh more. A pound of muscle takes up less space than fat, as you know, and so as you state – if you gain a pound of muscle and lose a pound of fat, the scale weight will not change.

To those who are new to resistance training, people will also start storing more glycogen in the muscle. This also results in a temporary weight gain, or stalled weight loss, as fat losses are offset by glycogen storage and increased intramuscular water retention. So best to do the measurements of the different body parts you suggest, and take some pictures!

Great results in the photos, good stuff.

Dennis
Dennis

Hey Andy, I read a lot of highcarb on restdays and LC on trainingdays.
You fill your stores the day after the training.

Do you have any experience about that?

Matt
Matt

Enjoying the guides, Andy – great work.

I was wondering if you have a guide on shopping and doing this on a decent budget, specifically. Something on budgeting food shopping and guidance on the best cuts of meat for doing this on a budget would be fantastic.

Couldn’t find a guide about this on the site, so wondering if something is planned?

Thanks!

Nick
Nick

Hey Andy, enjoy your upcoming break 🙂

Looking back on my 2014 cut (6 months), I lost about 15 pounds of LBM and 15 pounds of fat, which is not optimum, obviously.

My protocols were pretty close to what you recommend, cycling carbs and calories, -30% and +10/0% on respective days. Cardio was light cycling 3 x per week for 30-45 minutes. Training was Reverse Pyramid, and strength improved for the first few months, and then maintained for the most part. Diet breaks were taken every 6 weeks or so.

With that info, what do you think I could have done better, or can do better next time. Cuts will be much shorter in the future since I have maintained relative leanness.

Thanks.

Nick
Nick

Thanks Andy.

I used body fat calipers, 9 point testing, with the same person taking my measurements weekly. Weight was calculated based on a weekly average, not just one day that maybe had a crazy reading. Protein was kept high, a bit over 2 gm per KG.

I began at 18% and ended at 8.4%. I know that there will be some changes in water, glycogen and bowel content, but it just seemed like quite a bit over a period of time. Do you think that low carbs could be more catabolic for some more than others? Should I go with a reduced calorie, but 40/40/20 (C/P/F) split next time?

Thanks again for your input.

Nick
Nick

Thanks Andy, I understand if you don’t want to continue the discussion any longer, but here is a link to my pre-cut and post-cut photos, if that may give you a visual guide of where my LBM loss may be (or not be). https://imagecdn.bodybuilding.com/img/user_images/growable/2014/06/23/51019691/gallerypic/hbkQwSTKJvmpFsgsbqAwEqCdXiZWYChrIrWb-610xh.jpg

Your comments would be appreciated though, based on your experience, to help me know whether I missed it, or had solid results, in your opinion. (between 2nd and 3rd clip)

Thanks again.

Giovanni
Giovanni

Hey Andy, is it ok to drink a protein shake after I workout? I usually workout between 5-6am, and break fast at 11:30 am

Great guide by the way!!

Rodrigo
Rodrigo

Hey Andy,

I have been eating ultra low carb/ketogenic for 8 months+ with some random carb refeeds that didn’t go that well (gained fat instantly). My family has a history of diabetes and insulin resistance. I’m not diabetic, but I did the keto diet in order to improve my insulin resistance and it worked great. I’ve been doing a slow recomp and so far it has worked great, but it gets slower every week and I feel it’s hard to gain muscle this way. I’m about 12-13% BF (I think) at the moment, and still gaining some muscle while shedding fat slowly. My goal is to reach 8-9% BF and then do a lean bulk. I want to start adding carbs again and have been experimenting with going up to 150g twice a week after workouts. I feel this is my upper limit, as whenever I go beyond this in regards of amount and frequency, I get sluggish and sleepy, and insane cravings. I have no problems adhering to my diet at all, except when I go beyond 150g carbs which is still considered low carb. What do you suggest I can do? BTW I’m 5’7 and currently 140 lbs and what I think is 12-13% BF (4 top abs are visible).

Rodrigo
Rodrigo

Thanks for your reply Andy,

I’ve read Lyle’s book and pretty much all the main books about ketosis and consider myself experienced in the keto realm, but I don’t know much about how to transition to low-moderate carb as I would like to. I hadn’t considered that insulin sensitivity improves as one gets leaner and you are completely right. I’m fairly lean at the moment thus why I think I have been able to experiment with those mild “carb loads” with success. I guess I can increase the amount of carbs on those “loading” days as I get even leaner. I’m very thankful for your insight, it has given me a great point of view that I wasn’t considering and will also take your advice on taking it easy with the bulking process.

Kind regards dear fellow.

Raul
Raul

This web site is so awesome and very instructive. I have read most of it. My question.

IIFYM diet, for cutting fat, if i add 50-100 cal. per week, where should I put those calories? Protein? Fat? Carbs? or all three?

I’m on my second week since I started so please excuse if my question is silly.

Dave
Dave

Andy, I’m from Mexico and I will start IF soon (for weight loss). I work from 9am-3pm. I train from 6:30-7:30 am (The big 3 routine). Can my feeding window be from 9am-5pm? This is our country`s traditional feeding hours, after that I`ll have the remaining 16 hours of fasting window. Is that ok? I belive this is the set-up that works best for me. Thank you so much.

Dave
Dave

Thanks very much Andy!

David
David

Hi Andy. I`m trying to lose fat. I understand that fat loss is mostly “diet” (eating/nutrituion habits). But I would like to make the most of my training sessions. I`ve searched a lot of workout routines in bodybuilding.com. But honestly I`m inclined towards your approach. That said, dou you think I should do some other routine in between my Mon-Wed-Fri workout sessions (The Big Three), besides cardio and the workout itself? I`ve read your cardio section as well, but I’m a runner. I just had a break from running and gained about 15 pounds, so I’m trying to lose that weight, as well as body fat, towards a leaner body. Thank you.

Also, the first time I tried IF (december 2013) I actually gained weight (i think as a result of the holidays),I think my calorie input was very high…should I keep track of everything I eat, or is there something more practical to do. I appreciate in advance your comments.

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