Have you heard all the buzz about intermittent fasting?
Some say it’s the silver bullet to fat loss and muscle gains. Others say it will destroy your thyroid and make you fat.
Personally, I enjoy the practice of eating my “breakfast” later in the day. I call it “fasting and feasting.” And no, my muscles didn’t fall off when I started eating less often.
But that doesn’t mean that fasting is right for everyone.
Today we have a special throwback episode with Dr. John Berardi PhD, CSCS, one of North America’s most popular and respected authorities on fitness and nutrition. He’s a Co-Founder of Precision Nutrition, which has coached more than 20,000 people across the world.
In the last Olympics, John’s students collected over 30 medals—15 of them gold! But he doesn’t JUST coach extreme athletes. He helps regular people reach their goals by using a surprising approach.
On this show, you’re going to learn the pros and cons of intermittent fasting as a fat loss strategy, how to use multivitamins, and much more.
But before we get to the show, here’s the review of the week…
Lisa, I’m glad you enjoyed the show with Dr. Saul. If you haven’t heard that one yet, go back and see how you can upgrade your health with Vitamin C. It’s one of my secret weapons, especially when I get stung by a scorpion.
If you like this show, please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes. I read them all!
In today’s show with Dr. John Berardi, we talk about:
- The pros and cons of intermittent fasting as a fat loss strategy
- How to use multivitamins to shore up nutrient deficiency
- How to turn yourself into a bona fide guinea pig
- And what it’s like to tell Georges St-Pierre what to do. No small feat!
Here’s the show…
Dr. John Berardi: Influencer of Influencers
John earned a doctorate in Exercise and Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario and currently serves as an adjunct assistant professor of Exercise Science at the University of Texas. He also provides nutrition consultation services for athletes and sports teams including a number of Canadian Olympic programs, the University of Texas Longhorns, and numerous individual professional football, hockey, and baseball players. He has published more than 300 articles in major health and fitness magazines, including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Oxygen, and more.
Abel: In the last Olympics your students collected over 30 medals, 15 of them gold. Wait a second… Is that true?
It’s always funny listening to people read my bio. I have to be humble while someone lists my life accomplishments.
Abel: You’re very well respected in this field. You’re an influencer of influencers – top bloggers and authors pay attention to Precision Nutrition. Your free guide on intermittent fasting is excellent.
Intermittent fasting is such a hot and important topic that I think everyone should know about it.
We wanted to make the book accessible to anyone, so it can be downloaded as a pdf, or read online like a book. We wanted it to be free, and people shared it like crazy through social media and other venues.
For the book, I basically made myself a guinea pig for a year trying every type of intermittent fasting that seemed sane and reasonable. Then I recorded everything from blood work to photos to performance variable and cognitive measures.
This approach was so radical because at the time what we were teaching was frequent eating. People thought I was crazy for doing the opposite of that. But it worked.
Abel: Can you talk about what happened to you over the course of time trying intermittent fasting regimes?
I am the ultimate test pilot of every new diet and training fad that comes out. I have a 700 square foot gym in my house complete with testing equipment. It’s a mini exercise physiology lab. I test everything.
When the online discussion of intermittent fasting were taking shape, there was a lot of strong opinions and inflexibility. I hadn’t seen anyone taking an objective non-religious point of view on it. So I decided to use intermittent fasting to help reinvigorate my athletic career.
Some friends and I decided to run the 400 meter relay at the Penn Relays as master athletes. Normally, I was about 190 pounds and 10 – 12% body fat. I needed to get down to about 170 pounds. Intermittent fasting was my solution.
Can I lose a tremendous amount of body fat while preserving my lean muscle mass in a way that’s more sustainable? I started a daily journal recording every morsel of food and every workout along with all the tests and results. Then I published it.
I’ve tried 6 or 7 different protocols from a once-a-week 24-hour fast to a daily 18-hour fast to a daily 22-hour fast. Some protocols were fantastic, sustainable, and I could do them. Some of them were a total trainwreck, leaving me obsessing about food all day. I was fantasizing about Dairy Queen.
But I ended up losing a tremendous amount of body fat. People say that’s impossible. I started in an 8% range and by the end my ultrasound was reading 3% body fat. Correct or not, you can see by pics that I was completely shredded. I reported on T levels and all the other things. It was a cool experiment for me and helped add a new tool to my nutrition tool box.
The Pros & Cons of Intermittent Fasting
As a trainer, there are times that I use intermittent fasting for certain purposes. But there are also certain people and situations that it’s not good for. There may be lifestyle stress, a new baby or a new job, and that’s not a good time to fast.
If something works for you for now, that’s great. But to suggest it will work for everyone in every situation forever, I’m dubious of that.
Abel: What sort of conclusions did you walk away with?
People who are brand new to paying attention to nutrition shouldn’t start off with intermittent fasting.
I’d actually start with more frequent eating, practicing making fantastic food choices and eating around your exercise appropriately. If you’re more advanced in your nutritional understanding, just make sure you start intermittent fasting when your lifestyle stressors are better managed.
If your lifestyle stress is out of control and you’re training 6 times a day, you may not want to start intermittent fasting. You’re just setting yourself up for adrenal fatigue.
In women there’s some caution as well. Women have a very delicate reproductive system that’s fine tuned to energy balance. If you cut down on calories too much and exercise hard, you end up upsetting the reproductive balance. It’s not just about reproducing, it’s about the feedback to the brain. It’s “crazy brain.” If it thinks you’re starving, your brain will produce any kind of thoughts that will get you to eat. You’ll end up obsessing over food and obsessing over body image.
For me it’s not a part of my regular lifestyle because I have two young children at home. My wife doesn’t practice intermittent fasting and of course neither do they. So, I can’t be like, “Breakfast? You guys are on your own. Lunch? Forget it, we’ll eat 6,000 calories at 9pm.”
Abel: On that subject of self-testing, it’s an exciting time for this because you can test all kinds of biomarkers for a relatively low price. What do you recommend for people to measure how well something is working for them?
Coaching is essential if you’re pretty new to this. If you don’t know what to evaluate, it’s awesome to have someone to check in with. They have the experience and perspective that you don’t have about yourself.
I don’t know why anyone would embark on a major lifestyle change without having someone to check in with.
I’m not talking about taking out a second mortgage to hire a daily trainer. If you don’t know how to evaluate what’s working, find someone who does.
Learn how to apply the scientific method. My kids use it every day. Will it work if I do this? We all have the scientific method in our heads.
But the key is that we have to control some variables. If you want to see if intermittent fasting is working, it’s probably not the time to also change your training program. The biggest thing is attention and awareness.
Really, it’s just paying attention to your life. If you’re trying intermittent fasting and you’re only paying attention to your abs, you’re missing the rest of the stuff. Like your mood.
In the hard core training community (crossfit, powerlifting, bodybuilding, high intensity sports), it’s common to train ourselves to ignore physiological feedback. Your body is telling you to stop, but you’re training yourself to ignore that. That’s okay in a certain context, but in the rest of your life it’s important to listen to those cues.
When someone says that if they listened to their hunger cues and ate until they were satiated, they’d be 400 pounds, they simply don’t know how to listen to their hunger signals.
There are ways of being able to cultivate this. Some people use meditation, but you don’t have to do that particular strategy. One thing we use is just purposely eating very slowly—Take 15 – 20 minutes to finish a normal meal rather than 5 minutes. You see your attention open up, and it actually takes 20 minutes for your body to reach satiety.
Once you’ve mastered that, try eating to 80% fullness. That’s satisfied, whereas 100% is stuffed.
The first thing is just find a way to get attuned to yourself so you can pay attention to all the things you need to pay attention to. And then get some coaching.
Abel: When it comes to self-testing, a lot of people (including me) are too cavalier at first. Why is it important to have a coach or a guide through the process?
It’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing stuff, wisdom is knowing what works.
We’ve coached over 20,000 people online. When you start coaching that many people from all walks of life, you start seeing some amazing patterns emerge. You start seeing these clients who are accepting info from all over the place—online, media, friends, etc. They need help curating the information that’s out there.
When people are cavalier in the beginning, it’s because they don’t know where to start. It’s because they don’t have the wisdom.
Not to find out what’s new, what’s next, what’s out there, but to figure out what works.
How to Start Your Fitness Journey
Abel: The people with your program have lost more than contestants on The Biggest Loser and other mainstream approaches. For someone who’s expert in manipulating the body, how do you combine knowing everything about that with people who fail on diets who believe they can not drop fat or build muscle at will? Most people don’t believe it.
It might be 2% of the world who take my “prescription” and apply it exactly, and they gravitate toward bodybuilding and competitive fitness, etc. The type of person who would literally do whatever I tell them to do has lofty goals and it’s up to me to give them the right prescription.
It’s the other people who really need the help. The athletes will get in shape without me. They actually don’t need me… I can facilitate, but they got it.
The others really need me, and for them I use a progressive model of nutrition. The analogy is this: If you’re new to the gym, no one would expect you to pick up a bar and do a snatch. A good coach won’t take that approach because there are a series of complicated movements and a progression that needs to take place.
Why don’t we do that in nutrition? Someone who wants to come in and start Paleo, it’s like, “Here’s what you do: Bam bam bam. Do it.” Instead, we focused on creating a progression model.
What’s the first thing a beginner needs to know or do to build upon that next?
In fitness, as in anything, we have to think in terms of a limiting factor. If there weren’t limiting factors in the world, we would just keep getting better in a linear fashion until eternity.
What’s the limiting factor? For us it begins with deficiencies. If you look at the North American population, there are deficiencies that so many people have: water (dehydration), essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
When you give prisoners fish oil and a multivitamin every day, violent incidence goes down by 60%. What if we give it to kids? ADHD and violent behaviors will improve dramatically.
It’s the elimination of a deficiency that makes a human being behave, act, and function properly again.
Once we address the deficiencies, people start feeling their motivation to workout and lose weight. Generally, the first act in our training is to take an essential fatty acid supplement. We get rid of a deficiency that’s standing in their way immediately, then we start looking at carb-protein-fat ratio.
Once you fix deficiencies, those people who couldn’t follow a diet or find the motivation to get to the gym, all of a sudden they’re getting the motivation.
They don’t need psychotherapy, they just need a properly functioning system. If we fix their vitamin and essential fatty acid deficiency right out of the gate, in two weeks they’re ready to hit the gym.
Abel: Clearly things have been getting worse in the past couple of decades, people have been getting fatter and sicker. Why are things so bad right now?
It’s because everyone’s not Paleo. Just kidding.
We can say it’s because people aren’t moving enough. We can say they have access to processed high-sugar low-nutrition foods.
It’s really because most people’s physiology doesn’t work. In the past, we had to move to do everything we needed to do. Now, we have to force ourselves to move. In the past, overnutrition wasn’t an issue. Access to the types of foods that produce health wasn’t as difficult.
Now, finding natural, healthy foods and moving our bodies has to almost become a hobby.
The problem is even bigger than the big food manufacturers. We’re voting for them when we purchase those foods. How do we fix this? We try to give people the smallest most manageable habits so they can start pushing the needle in the right direction.
Societally, though, it has to be top down stuff. But it’s not just in the playmaker’s hands. We have to start voting for things that encourage us to move and not eating things that wreck our physiology.
Abel: I know you have a keen eye for trends. What can we do to change this?
We are now in the era of Fitness 2.0.
Let me explain: If we walk through the last fifty years—It started with the BETA phase, which was going for a jog or a doing a Jane Fonda workout. In the 90’s, the health club Fitness 1.0 happened. When you wanted to get in shape, you went to a gym. If that didn’t work, you hired a personal trainer.
This next generation is what I’m calling Fitness 2.0, which is liberating fitness from the gym. How can you take fitness with you? There are apps that literally stream customized workouts.
I created an app with Georges St-Pierre. It’s called TouchFit. You answer some questions, and then it streams a workout designed for your level, for the time you’re willing to spend today, and it shows you what to do in real-time. Then you rate the exercise and it adapts to your competency. You pay for it once, $7 and that’s it.
We are in the age of the inexpensive without any geographic limitation.
Abel: What is it like to work with Georges St-Pierre?
Georges is a fantastic guy. Working with him is easy, it’s awesome. Georges is in a position in his life to create the structure for success.
What really captures him is that he’s a lifelong learner. He’s really curious and takes a great approach to his fitness. He’s always looking for things that help him improve as a fighter and as a human being.
He likes to play chess, read philosophy, and he works toward cultivating wisdom.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Where To Find John Berardi
John has a fat-loss program called Lean Eating and the Scrawny to Brawny muscle-building program – check them out.
Before You Go…
Did you know that more than 80% of your fat loss results come from what you eat, not how much you exercise?
I dropped 20 pounds in just over a month by exercising just minutes a week, making very specific tweaks to my diet and focusing on real food.
One of the most surprising reasons people fail to get results is because they’re short on time and don’t know what to cook for dinner, so they settle for junky convenience foods that sacrifice their progress.
But the truth is this – you can lose fat permanently without drugs, supplements, or crazy workouts.
Whether you need to lose 100 pounds or that stubborn last 10, you can start your transformation today without gimmicks, just real, delicious foods from your local supermarket. And we’d like to show you how.
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Have you tried intermittent fasting? Share your results and thoughts with us in the comments below.