How to Use Intermittent Fasting to Eat Like a King and Keep your Abs this Holiday Season

Andy MorganClient Stories & Results, Diet & Nutrition161 Comments

…and generally how to avoid the fat gain that comes with eating delicious treats.

Intermittent Fasting Thanksgiving

(Reposted for Thanksgiving)
Drink without the fat gain: Alcohol Guide Here 

A diet should not spoil your Thanksgiving, Christmas (or any other holiday for that matter). It is unacceptable for anyone to go for a damn salad while all your family are pigging out at the dinner table. If you see anyone do this I give you permission to give them a good, firm slap. I expect and require you to stuff your face with all the delicious treats that the holidays bring. If you don’t, you’re missing out for no good reason.

Would you like to know how these ‘Leangains people’ seem to all be eating huge cheesecakes that obviously go way over daily calories? Want to know how I helped client Dick Talens (Fitocracy.com co-founder) nail the Pho Challenge 5000kCal noodle bowl this week when all his friends failed? Keep reading.

Here I’ll share with you some of the strategies that I use with clients when they have an event where they know they’re going to ‘eat big’. Though I get very specific with timing for them, you should be able to follow these ideas and employ them and have success yourself, whether you are a user of IF / Leangains or not.

I’ll start with the simplest ideas and then work towards more detailed strategies.

Important points to bear in mind:

  1. You will gain weight. This will be water weight and it is temporary. The reason is simple, your body sucks in 3-4g of water for every gram of carbs that you eat. Don’t panic, it will come off in a week. (Anyone that does IF experiences a small version of this, as their weight fluctuates 1-2kg up and down with the regular fasts in the week.)
  2. The amount of weight gain you experience due to the carbs will depend on the individual. Don’t panic.
  3. The next day when you jump on the scales, grinning like an idiot, despite me telling you not to, you will panic and want to e-mail me. Don’t. Put your scales somewhere really, really inconvenient (throw them on the roof?) and get them out only one week later.

The first two strategies I will introduce below are focused on getting the overall weekly calorie figure back in balance in a relatively painless way. The weekly figure is what is important, not the daily figure. We can do this either by pre-empting the feast (eating less before) or modifying afterwards.

Strategy 1: The 24 hour fast, twice the following week.

This is based on Brad Pilon’s “Eat. Stop. Eat.” method outlined in the excellent book of the same title on Intermittent Fasting.

I’m going to assume none of you reading this are scared about losing muscle while fasting. If you are new to this idea then let me just assure you that all the research points to no loss in muscle mass during short-term fasting (<72hrs) in individuals that weight train. I recommend Brad’s book for more details & if you’re interested in getting really detailed then Martin Berkhan’s “Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked” article is awesome. (Actually it is a must read if you are serious about nutrition fat loss and weight training. Don’t be left in the dark ages.)

What you have to do:

Fast for 24 hours, two days of the week after your feast. Simple as that. You don’t have to make it any further complicated than eating dinner one evening, and then not eating anything until the following evening and just keeping portion sizes the same.

“Ah, but what about training?” I hear you say, “What about recovery? When is optimal?”

Ok, let us use the example of someone that eats their last meal of the day at 8pm, has a Sunday feast planned, weight-trains on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and plans to go totally wild on the Sunday.

  • Fast on Sunday until the feast then pig-out. (You’ll have a big calorie buffer from eating only one meal this day.)
  • Train as usual but make Monday the heaviest lifting day. (Squats or Deadlift)
  • Eat as normal Monday.
  • Your 8pm dinner on Monday will be your last meal for 24 hours so eat whole foods and plenty of green vegetables for slow absorption/digestion.
  • Skip Tuesday’s first meal. (or two if you are a 3 meals-a-day person.)
  • Eat the usual rest-day dinner at 8pm Tuesday but do not increase the calories of it.
  • Eat as usual meals on your Wednesday training day.
  • Fast on Thursday until your 8pm dinner as with Tuesday.
  • Continue as normal from Friday.

By doing this you will be able to eat every day, and you will keep most of your calories post-workout when you need it most.

This should bring the calorie surplus you ate on the weekend into balance for the week. By how much? Well for those that eat ‘3-square-meals’ a day you will miss 4 meals out of 21 for the week giving you over a whole day’s calories back. For those that eat two meals a day this will be one day’s calories.

I do not recommend doing the two 24 hour fasts beforehand as this will encourage you to over-eat on the Sunday.

Strategy 2: One 40 hour fast.

Exactly as it sounds. Sounds scary yes, but bear with me. Why 40 hours? Well Leangains users will usually have a 16 hour fasting set-up. So this is just skipping an entire day of meals followed by keeping to the usual ‘feeding-window’ the following day.

So what would this look like if your schedule is as mentioned above?

  • Feast on Sunday and finish eating by 8pm. (Your usual ‘feeding-window’ end time.)
  • Monday, eat nothing, don’t train.
  • Tuesday, break your fast at 12pm, rest-day macros. (Your usual ‘feeding-window’ lunch time.)
  • Wednesday resume training schedule.

This is arguably mentally tougher to do than the Strategy 1, however the advantage is that you get it over and done with in one day.

Strategy 3: How to win food challenges or make Christmas dinner ‘extra-super’ tasty.

This is quite simply Strategy 2 but performed before the feast.

  • Friday training should be a lighter day if possible as the recovery needs are less. (Perhaps the ‘pressing’ day.) Finish eating at 8pm as usual.
  • Saturday eat nothing. Sip 10g of BCAAs 4 times (40g total) at regular intervals throughout the day. Note: This is me being highly conservative here. Leaner people have a higher risk of muscle catabolism during a fast. It may be a non-issue which is where I believe the research points, however if some someone has a suggestion about this, or link to a study proving this necessary/unnecessary, posting in the  comments would be appreciated.
  • Sunday, wake up and have another 10g of BCAA’s. 12pm eat the most delicious Christmas lunch ever.

This is the exact strategy I used with Dick when he asked me how he could complete the Pho Challenge without screwing up his diet. This will encourage overeating. So unless this is your goal then it’s probably best to go with strategy 1 or 2.

“Because I was used to Intermittent Fasting, the 40-hour fast was easy.  I got the occasional hunger pain, but they quickly went away, and actually the morning of the challenge I wasn’t hungry at all.  I was actually much hungrier a few hours after the Pho Challenge when I broke the fast, and that meal barely made a dent in my bodyfat levels.”

Optional modification to minimize fat spill-over would be to train the morning of the feast. Deadlifts or a Squats for maximal glycogen depletion will give you more of a calorie buffer, as most of the carbs will be preferentially shuttled into the muscles and liver. If you do this then you’ll need to drink BCAAs to stop muscle catabolism. Check the ‘fasted training’ and ‘early-morning fasted training’ guides here for timing relevant to you.

-This is the strategy I’m going to use to take Martin Berkhan’s cheesecake mastery crown this Wednesday, by eating 5 cheesecakes in a row and be crowned undisputed King Cheesecake eater of the world. Leangains people -bring it!

Strategy 4: Pig-out in a smart way.

For the feast go for meat (protein) first, then veggies to fill yourself up before jumping in on the potatoes, rice, pasta, cake etc. You’ll limit your fat storage spillover in this way.

Martin Berkhan had this to say about cheat days:

“In regards to the order which you eat your foods, I suggest mainly focusing on protein, fat and volume (i.e. veggies) first and then add carbs in later. In my personal experience, this tends to maximize both short-term and long-term satiety and reduce calorie intake later on. Fat has a latent effect on appetite-suppression, so eating more fat earlier on makes sense.”

Fasting on the day up until ‘the big meal’ is probably the easiest thing to do for those that use the Leangains approach. For those that aren’t used to this then he recommends a small protein meal, (low fat, low carbs) to ‘keep you going’ earlier in the day.

If you’re interested in reading further about the science behind this, and other useful tips I recommend his article, “Cheat Day Strategies For A Hedonist“.

Conclusion

So there you have it, three strategies to get you through the holidays without screwing your abs/diet and one to earn respect and win money off your friends.

Notice how I haven’t counted anything out here? That’s purposeful. Don’t stress things. The holiday season is meant to be fun. Enjoy it!

Update 19th June 2013:

The above strategies should only be used very occasionally. I don’t recommend you make adjustments to your diet in the days previous or post to correct a planned binge or accidental binge unless you are on a deadline. It leads to a slippery slope subconsciously where you start believing that you can correct mistakes, which encourages further indulgence and jeopardises diet adherence.

New here?

Here’s A Quick Introduction to Intermittent Fasting, Leangains and the Benefits.

Click for a full guide to setting up the Leangains diet & training by yourself.

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161 Comments on “How to Use Intermittent Fasting to Eat Like a King and Keep your Abs this Holiday Season”

  1. Chiranjeev Sharma

    Hey andy! I was wondering after a feast if im doing 40 hrs fast, i woudn’t train next day but can i train the day after and break the fast after workout? taking bcaa pre, during and post workout. for example start fast at 8pm Monday, tuesady fast and workout at 9 Wednesday and eat postworkout at 12? my main concern is the training before breaking 40 hrs fast.
    regards

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Chiranjeev. Given the updated thoughts section to this article, why are you doing a 40 hour fast? I’m not being funny, my answer depends on your reason.

      1. Chiranjeev Sharma

        yesterday i ate quite a lot of junk food pizza, cheesecake, donuts. that why im doing a 40 hours fast today. Last weekend friday and saturday was the same diet screw kind of thing. so i want to get back to my normal macros from sunday.

  2. Jake Ferrara

    Andy, in going for a 40 hour fast, do you think I would matter to train on the day you break the fast? Ex: fast one whole day and a half, then eat a preworkout meal (breaking the fast) resume training schedule

    1. Jake Ferrara

      Also, some alternate day protocols allow for 600 or so calories for men. I’d imagine if it REALLY was an issue, it wouldn’t be a big deal to do that, right?

      1. Andy Morgan

        ADF is just another way to create a sustainable caloric deficit.
        Train when you wish Jake, on that day or the next it doesn’t matter. I don’t recommend fasting for 40 hours as a way to keep your calories in check, only as a means of discovering the difference in hunger pangs vs true hunger. See my updated comments in the article.

  3. Nathan

    Hi Andy,

    I have a quick query about the feasting/drinking.
    Could strategy 1 be drawn out the cover two days and drinking alcohol?

    I am returning home for a weekend, just a Saturday and Sunday. I will be drinking and eating (heavily) on the Saturday and will more than likely have a bad hangover Sunday, not much eating and no drinking.
    I plan to employ strategy 1 plus fasted training in the morning for Saturday, and then again on Sunday minus the fasted training. I also plan to pig out smartly on Saturday, where I can.
    Should I stick to the two 24 hour fasts the following week or add in an extra fast? Or am I just getting too hung up on this altogether?

    Trying to find an even split between drinking and feasting is not that easy but if I can use the best of both I would be happy!

    Thanks again,
    Nathan

      1. Nathan

        Hi Andy,

        I have read both guides previously but read them again today. I’m still a little unsure how to approach, I don’t want to end up ruining myself completely! I know one weekend isn’t a huge blip in the grand scheme of things or that there is one perfect formula/plan but to get it right now would make it easier for future reference.

        Anyway I will try to approach both days differently. Using the alcohol guide for the Saturday and the feasting guide for the Sunday may be my best option. I could update you afterwards depending on how it goes, and for other followers!

        Nathan

  4. GG

    Hello,

    I am doing 24hour fasting 2x a week. A dinner to dinner next day fast. Sometimes however my schedule works such that I do a weight training session at 5am which is halfway into my 24 hour fast, and so I don’t eat anything post-workout, I just wait to eat dinner at 5pm, when it is time to break the fast.

    Is this ok, my goal is fat loss first. and maintain muscle and if it grows bonus.

    Thanks.

  5. Chris

    Hi Andy,

    I just started working with you on a cut. Next week is Christmas which also falls on a training day. I am able and plan on training Christmas morning (this is somewhat of a tradition for me). Would it be detrimental to eat a Christmas dinner that would obviously spill well over my macros for the day? If not, I would assume that following-up with two 24 hour fasts on the following rest days (Thursday and Saturday for me) as recommended above would get things back in order. Or would you recommend I simply stick with the plan? Obviously I’m asking because I wouldn’t mind eating Christmas dinner but if this is going to cause too great of a setback for me I would rather not.Thanks again,

    C.H.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Thanks for the question Chris.
      Train hard, enjoy your dinner, carry on as if nothing happened the next day.
      See my updated thoughts at the top of this article please.

  6. Jake Buehler

    Great read, and I had a quick question. What would you say for someone who eats between 1-9pm, on an upcoming special occasion feast, to break their fast as usual at 1pm, by eating the majority or all of their daily protein and no carbs or fats to prepare for the feast?

    I’ve been doing this, with say a chicken breast and a ton of whey powder, and it amounts to about 600 calories or so, generally leaving me satiated, and even not too hungry at the feast, with about 2000 calories give or take to spare.

    Good idea or bad idea?

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