Intermittent Fasting & The Fitness Guru Bandwagon

(Off-Topic Note: Wouldn’t this also make a great title for some really strange children’s book?)

The concept of fasting has been around forever in various forms and for various reasons (weight loss, health, religion, etc.), and the concept of intermittent fasting (IF) for the purpose of improving body composition (more muscle, less fat) has also been around for quite a while.

However, it wasn’t until the last few years that IF really began to grow in popularity in the diet and fitness world. Why the sudden surge? Well, for starters:

Anyone using any sort of intermittent fasting approach right now for the purpose of building muscle, losing fat or anything similar is likely doing it as a result of someone on that list. Of the group, Martin Berkhan’s version is definitely my favorite. Although, I don’t actually use it myself.

Intermittent Fasting Isn’t For Me… But Maybe It’s For You

It’s not that I have any problems with intermittent fasting. It’s just that it doesn’t really appeal to me or fit my personal dietary preferences or needs. But if it fits yours… then by all means, use it.

Because honestly, IF’s true benefits (especially Martin’s version of it) appear to lie mostly in diet adherence and helping you stay happy and full while improving your body composition.

Not to mention, it’s often the perfect change of pace for people who feel inconvenienced, unsatisfied or just generally annoyed as a result of forcing themselves to eat EXACTLY 6 small meals per day EXACTLY 2-3 hours apart to get benefits that don’t actually exist. (More about that here: How Many Meals A Day?)

But beyond that, there’s really nothing magical about IF. It’s just one of a bunch of effective methods of eating that will better suit some people more so than others.

So, long story short, intermittent fasting isn’t something I currently do because it just doesn’t appeal to me or fit my preferences. If that describes you as well, then you probably shouldn’t bother with it either. But if it DOES appeal to you for whatever reason, then I highly recommend giving it a try. Again, Martin’s “Leangains” approach is the one I like best and recommend most.

As for everything else I have to say about intermittent fasting, that will have to wait for its own full article. This article, despite what it looks like so far, isn’t actually about intermittent fasting.

Why I HATE Intermittent Fasting

Again, I don’t actually hate IF at all as a diet method. What I hate however is that it has become the new cool bandwagon every dumb-shit fitness guru has jumped on.

And if there’s one thing I truly hate, it’s dumb-shit fitness gurus. IF is just guilty by association.

You see, even though many of us were well aware of intermittent fasting and certain approaches to it for quite a few years now, it wasn’t until very recently that it became more mainstream and viewed as this new cool diet method.

And since fitness gurus always tend to be WAY behind the curve of what’s actually new and cool (and often correct and accurate) in their own industry… they are just now getting around to jumping on its bandwagon. It’s not a coincidence that this jump happens to coincide with IF’s recent rise in popularity.

Fitness gurus may be dumb as a rock when it comes to diet and fitness, but when it comes to making money from diet and fitness, hell… they are borderline rocket scientists.

Welcome To The IF Bandwagon, Baby!

So what have these fitness gurus done exactly as part of this jump? Well, most have done a complete 180 in terms of their meal frequency recommendations. They are now in full support of intermittent fasting and fully against the higher frequency 6-small-meals-per-day stuff.

They went from being all about super strict meal schedules and diet organization to a more relaxed, laid-back and all around flexible approach to eating that the rest of us sane people have been using and recommending for years already.

Many others have taken their bandwagon jump a big step further and actually “created” their own version of an IF diet.

Granted, they don’t all actually refer to it as intermittent fasting. Many have given it their own gimmicky brand name and proceed to lay out what is essentially just their version of intermittent fasting (which is often just a rip off of someone else’s version).

Why Does This Bother Me So Much? I’ll Tell You…

What annoys me about all of this is that every single one of these fitness gurus are the same idiots who (incorrectly) swore that 6 meals per day eaten once every 3 hours exactly was an absolute requirement for getting the results you want.

These are the same idiots who (incorrectly) claimed that an extremely rigid OCD-like eating format (you MUST eat these foods in these meals at these times!!!!) was the key to muscle growth, fat loss, health, performance, becoming rich, picking up hot chicks (or dudes) and taking over the world.

These are the same idiots who (incorrectly) said your muscles would fall off and every calorie you ate would magically turn into fat if you skipped breakfast, ate less frequently than every 3 hours, ate less total meals than 6 or dared to color outside the lines of some ultra strict form of diet organization.

And now? HA!

Now these are the very same idiots who are completely ignoring everything they’ve been saying for the last 100 years (some as recently as a few articles ago) and jumping on the “laid-back” intermittent fasting bandwagon because it’s the new cool thing and that means there is new cool money to be made from it.

And in case you didn’t know, it’s all about the money. That’s requirement #1 of being a fitness guru.

The Difference Between “This” And Just Changing Opinions

Now, it’s one thing to change your opinion or recommendations on something based on new knowledge you’ve gained over time through research and experience.

For example, prior to 2007, I used to mention “6 small meals per day” as my default suggestion for the same reasons everyone else did. It seemed to make sense, and I had success eating this way as did the countless others who took my advice (not to mention the likely millions of others who took this same advice from someone else).

But then for me, things changed. Various research and the experience/advice of certain people I highly respect made it seem like meal frequency may not actually matter (it doesn’t) and that frequent meals may not actually provide magical body composition benefits over less frequent meals (they don’t).

Since I’m not one to just blindly agree with the things I read or hear, I decided to test out this theory for myself.

I ate less frequently, more frequently, big meals, small meals, 3 meals, 6 meals, 4 meals, 8 meals. You name it, I tried it. Do you know what I found? That as long as your total calorie and nutrient intake remains what it needs to be for your goal… there is no difference. In terms of fat loss, muscle growth, not gaining fat, not losing muscle… the results were always the same.

Really, all that truly matters in terms of any of this intermittent fasting VS 6 meals per day stuff (or just strict VS relaxed in general) is diet adherence and doing whatever is most convenient, enjoyable and sustainable for you.

That’s my official “diet method,” and everything I’ve written about meal frequency or diet organization since early 2007 reflects it. For example, these: When & How Often Should You Eat? and The Best Foods For Your Diet

If any new research comes out or I discover anything different through my own first-hand experience, my advice will again change to reflect it. That’s how learning happens, folks.

Here’s The Difference…

But what I’m talking about here with fitness gurus jumping on the intermittent fasting bandwagon is something completely different. This isn’t a case of learning something new and changing their opinions and recommendations to reflect it.

These are people blatantly jumping on a bandwagon (in this case, IF) solely because it’s the new cool thing everyone is talking about and interested in… and that’s where the money is.

So what if doing this makes all of your previous advice, recommendations and products look completely wrong and stupid? As long as your NEW advice, recommendations and products support this new cool thing, the money will keep on rolling in.

And as soon as intermittent fasting becomes less new and cool and some other diet method replaces it as the newer and cooler thing everyone is talking about? It will then be time to jump on over to that bandwagon instead. Just rinse and repeat and you too can become a dumb-shit fitness guru!

So What’s Your Point?

Well, other than that most “fitness gurus” are idiots/used car salesmen who should be avoided completely in general… just be wary of whose advice you take.

Once again, if intermittent fasting doesn’t really appeal to you or suit your dietary needs or preferences, don’t do it. You won’t be missing out on anything. But if it DOES appeal to you for whatever reason, then I’d recommend you try it out and see if it’s right for you.

But before you do, just keep in mind that the person making it seem like intermittent fasting (or whatever else) is the most amazing thing in the world today may be the same person who yesterday made it seem like 6-small-meals-per-day was the most amazing thing in the world.

And you can bet they’ll be the same person tomorrow making it seem like some other diet or fitness method is the new most amazing thing in the world.

In reality of course, it’s just the newest bandwagon they’ve jumped on to capitalize on its popularity and somehow get your money. Consider this my friendly reminder to keep that in mind.

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47 Comments

      • NATOSHA says

        Wow this is a great website. I am so tired of getting dumb websites that tell me if I don’t eat super foods or six times a day then I won’t be skinny. Truth is, I am wayyy to lazy to make myself six meals a day. I have dieted on and off before and I found that even if I eat one or two meals a day and do cardio and little weight training, while using the calorie deficit, I lose weight fast and easily. Not that I am heavy at all, most people think I am crazy for dieting because i’m really athletic but we all have our little quirks! Love the website keep it up! :)

  1. Bryan says

    Jay,

    Great article and observation as always you are spot on.

    I like Jason Ferruggia and he does have some good advice, but he does not blog about something unless it has relevance to something he is selling or someone he knows is selling or some company that has “X” that you need to buy. He is such an expert at this now that he could probably teach his own class on search engine marketing.
    Also, if you read/subscribe to other fitness gurus, one thing I started noticing is that they all round robin you, tell you to check out their friend program and he recommend them and then that friend in turn recommends them and all of them recommend each other and it goes round and round. It’s all a bunch of crap if you ask me. There are those that aren’t as bad like Christian Finn but even he does it from time to time.

    The other thing I noticed is Jason is coming out with some new killer diet/training routine every month or so, which cost about $30 to $40 and is amazing. How does he even have time to test it out in such a short time? He adopted a minimalist approach about a year ago relaxing on the meals and was touting it, just like you talk about in your article.

    However, I like Martin. The thing I liked most is that Martin is not selling anything except consultation and most people cannot get on that list. He puts the information out there for you for free, he does not charge a monthly site fee, he is not selling a training program, diet, etc. He mentions his book from time to time, but he still has not made it available and he has been talking about writing it for years now. I could be wrong but he seems like he is actually genuine and not trying to just make money. It’s good to know that you like Martin and respect his approach and advice.

    Thanks for the article and all the information you provide.

    • says

      Yup, Martin is definitely one of the good guys in the diet/fitness world (I’d put Christian Finn in that category as well). But as you already know, there is a VERY small number of people in this group, as most are just doing whatever needs to be done to make as much money as possible.

      We all need to make money somehow, it’s just that when that becomes the primary (or only) reason you do or say certain things, it’s pretty scummy… and this is what 95% of all “fitness gurus” do.

      Regarding Ferruggia, I think his info is usually quite good (and his MGS ebook is one of the best ones out there for muscle growth despite its silly title and, in my opinion, a price that’s probably double what it should be). But like most people who write about diet/training, when it comes to the way they sell/market/promote, there’s a lot I’m not in love with.

      And yeah, I know exactly of the “round robin” stuff you speak of. I’ve seen others refer to it as the fitness guru “circle jerk.” Just a big group of people who promote each others products via pre-planned blog posts, tweets, emails to their email list, etc. so that they’ll return the favor when they have something new to promote later on.

      Again, we all need to make money, and it’s one thing to recommend a product because you genuinely believe in it, but when it’s done just as a favor to help your buddies make more money and so they’ll do the same for you in the future, it’s pretty F-ed up when you consider the amount of unsuspecting people biting on it.

      I plan on doing an entire post explaining this shit in the future. Should be fun. :-)

  2. Rayca says

    I was just thinking about IF. I always think about it, actually. I do the female version (somewhat) of Martin’s take on it. BTW, I don’t consider any of this stuff true fasting, not even Pilon. I call it “meal skipping.” What it has taught me is to know how to not freak out just cuz I’m a little hungry. I can go a little longer with hunger and I can skip a meal and not worry. I still stick with my frequent meals, too. I also don’t do that cuz of what people say about it, you know, increased metabolism, etc. Sure, it stabilizes blood sugar and that’s a good thing but I do it cuz I don’t like having a lot of calories at once. I like my digestion over with in a couple of hours, not 5 or 6. Even if I eat just before full, on 3 meals a day, I’m still full for too many hours. So…I stop eating around 4 p.m., and start eating anywhere from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m., depending on what type of workout I’m doing. —Another great article. Thanks a bunch.

    • says

      Yup, it’s definitely more just moving all of your meals to a specific time period as opposed to straight up fasting. Then again, that’s why the I in IF stands for intermittent.

      And I agree with you about the not freaking out part. Not just in terms of managing hunger, but I love how IF has helped alert people to the fact that they don’t need to drive themselves insane trying to eat a specific amount of meals on a specific time schedule for no real reason.

      Instead, they can just eat in whatever manner best suits their needs/preferences, exactly like you’re doing.

      For me personally, since I’m a big fan of cycling calories I tend to eat 3-4 meals per day on my lower calorie days and 5-6 on my higher calorie days. It just works out better for me that way.

  3. Anthony says

    Jay;

    I am a little bit confused and would love an answer to the below queires, please?

    Do you think that I.F. overwhelms the conventional dictum…to build more muscle you have to eat more or have a slight calorie surplus?? (would be difficult to have a calorie surplus if you r fasting at least twice a week)

    Do you think that the dictum at least 1 gram of proetin per pound of bodyweight is to be discarsed as well?

    Thanks.

    • says

      Nope, there is nothing about IF that changes the fact that you need a surplus to build muscle and a deficit to lose fat. IF is just a useful and effective diet structure that may suit certain people perfectly (others not so much). But even then, it doesn’t change the fundamental principles of what needs to be done.

      So while any form of intermittent fasting may make it a lot harder for people to get all of their calories in when trying to build muscle, it’s still possible. As long as you still end up in a net surplus at the end of the week, it’s certainly doable.

      It just may be harder for a lot of people, which is a perfect example of when IF becomes a lot less ideal.

      And regarding protein, I’m not sure how this relates to IF, but generally speaking, 1g of protein per pound of body weight remains a pretty solid starting point for most people doing any form of training or trying to improve their body composition.

  4. CHC says

    The Bryan guy above hit the nail on the head. I just unsubscribed from the Vince Del Monte mailing list and his steroid buddy’s mailing list and it feels great. All those guys care about is selling their next great shortcut workout plan.

  5. kayenne621 says

    You mention in one of your replies that you are a fan of cycling calories. Can you explain, or is there info on this topic already on your site? Thank you!

  6. kayenne621 says

    By calorie cycling I mean throughout the week, i.e., eat more on workout days than non-workout days. Or is this just another over thought idea? “As long as you meet your weekly calorie needs, blah, blah, blah…”

    • says

      Meeting your daily/weekly calorie and nutrient requirements always matters more than everything else. Calorie cycling is one approach to meeting those requirements that I (and many others) have found to be beneficial for various reasons.

  7. Mohamad Atef says

    Hey Jay, I’ve heard/read before that body goes into catabolic mode if you don’t have protein for eight straight hours. Is that true? If not, is there a specific period where if you don’t eat protein body goes catabolic?

    • says

      No to the first question. If that were true, the people doing IF (or really anyone sleeping 8+ hours a night) wouldn’t be doing very well. Martin Berkhan’s version of IF involves fasting for 16 hours every day. They do just fine.

      An eventual yes to the second question. I mean, if you restrict protein/starve yourself long enough, you’re going to start losing muscle. Although at that point, you’re likely to have bigger problems than muscle loss.

  8. Mohamad Atef says

    Hey Jay, what do you think about the claims that fasting decreases Insulin and incereases Glucagon making the body in a better state to burn fat? And as long as you’re in the fed state you’re metabolism will remain Insulin dominant and not likely to burn any fat?

    On a cut, I probably do IF unintentionally everyday for 12 to 15 hours? But in Brad Pilon’s book, he claims that staying 24 hours fasted will make you multiply your fat burning capabilities by 5. If so, I could probably extend my fasting period.

    • Mohamad Atef says

      sorry again another thing I read that I found interesting.
      While cutting, surrounding your workout with 60 % or more of your caloric intake of the day, makes it possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
      What do you think?

      • says

        Nope, bullshit. There may be some slight calorie partitioning benefits to getting a good amount of your calories in close to your workout, but total calorie intake and surpluses/deficits dictate muscle growth and fat loss.

        So if you are in a net deficit for example, you can surround your workout with 100% of your calories and you still won’t build much/any muscle due to the lack of a net surplus.

    • says

      Regarding the first question, none of that will ever be significant enough to matter.

      As for the second question, I honestly wouldn’t worry about it at all. As long as your totals end up where they need to be, that’s all that truly matters. Eat in whatever manner (IF, no IF, whatever) makes this most likely to consistently happen. The exact number of hours you fast or don’t fast isn’t going to make a difference with all else being equal.

      • Mohamad Atef says

        Thanks for both answers, I probably knew that but reading that book got me a bit doubtful, the guy is quite convincing honestly.

      • Aaron says

        Ha yea they are. I’ve wasted entirely too much time at work watching their vids. I take their advice with a grain of salt as I do anything found on the internet, but I like their stuff and think for the most part it’s pretty good advice.

        Anyway, I have a question while we’re at it.
        Just got my BF% measured the other day. I am currently 170 pounds and 12.9% BF (assuming the guy at the gym knew what he was doing). I’m in muscle gaining mode right now so I’m eating heavily and all my lifts are going up, so I’m not too worried about the 12.9 being kinda high-ish (although I hate that my abs are gone).
        I would like to be 170 lbs but with maybe 10% bf or lower instead of the 12.9 I’m at now. Is this a realistic short term goal? Eventually I hope to be much bigger than this, but I’d like to shoot for something within reach short term.

        As always, thanks for all your great advice and guidance.
        Aaron

        • says

          Reaching the goal you outlined is going to be a matter of building more muscle, and then losing fat. If you’re truly at 12.9%, continue with the muscle building phase until you hit about 15%, then switch to fat loss until you get to around 10%.

          If you’ve built enough muscle and you’re at 170 at that point, awesome. But if not, you just need to repeat this process again until you are.

          • Aaron says

            I shall do that! My body has never seen a BF% higher than this so, this should be interesting.

            Just found a record of my weight from 2009. I weighed 141 lbs! Wow. I feel dumb for getting discouraged as much as I do. 30 pounds in 4 years I’d say is decent. And I’m much more dedicated and wise now than I was in the past.
            Hopefully good things to come.

            Enough about me. What about you man? I’m not even sure who you are ha. You stay pretty rogue, probably on purpose I assume. Are you at your genetic potential and now just share advice with others? What’s your story bud?

                • T says

                  One time I became so frustrated with eating that I said screw it, I’m just gonna eat 1 monster meal per day and be done with it. That is when I discovered the Warrior Diet. It was all downhill from there… it took me months to undo the damage caused by that B.S. Starving all day then attempting to execute the super-hardcore Controlled Fatigue Training workout is actually the very best way I can think of to induce a heart attack.

  9. Brad says

    I’ve been eating on an intermittent fasting schedule for a couple weeks now. Since I started my fat loss journey a few months ago I noticed I have a hard time with snacking and grazing throughout the day and ending up with too many calories. But since I’ve started IF with a 6 to 8 hour feeding window it’s almost impossible to overeat and so far my workouts havent been affected.

    • Aizat says

      I dont really know the science behind my claim but skipping breakfast controls my hunger(tried it so many times,if I eat bf esp now I tend to eat more at the end of the day),and i lost around 14kg in 3 months(a year ago) applying the concept of IF indirectly(but I didnt do any weight training(biggest mistake,I know) just casual walks around 30-60 minutes a day sometimes fasted or not)

      I usually wake up and eat around 1pm(biggest meal of the day or not sometimes) then eat again around 5-7pm and a snack at night before 10pm(just maybe milo with some biscuits/or chocolates or eggs or vegetables depends but small in terms of calorie maybe 200-300 cal)

      I ate healthy mostly with occasional chocolate/sugary drinks sometimes but I ensure calorie deficit everday

      I even ate rice about half a plate at 1pm and 6pm meals(no problem whatsoever)

      Occasionally I will “fast” from 9/11pm untill 2-3pm and then eat a lot and then eat at 8pm a lot also and repeat for the next day(again at that time I have no idea what the hell IF is,I just feel less hungry not eating bf then I try it for 3 months)

      I think IF certainly works for me(and some people) and there is some sort of advantage with IF when it comes to hunger binges,hormonal response,and other side effects that helps with fat loss psychologically and physically

      Walking seems to help with the fat loss, I dont know why but I remember didnt do any high intensity cardio at all!, just walking everyday 30-60minutes

      Eventualy I shrink but body fat percentage is still quite high at 18%(chest fat & belly fat problem),lost muscles,and now looking to try IF with weight training and see how it goes

  10. Dani says

    I’ve been doing IF for about three years (female, 23), and in the first 6months-1 year I lost 38lbs, which was exactly what I was going for! I don’t think it had anything to do with the “science” stuff like burning 5x more fat if you fast for longer, but it was simply that if I don’t eat, I don’t get as hungry – sounds weird, but it’s true. If I have breakfast I end up eating constantly throughout the day. Whereas when I’m fasting, I don’t. It’s probably all just to do with mind set, but it worked for me! I tend to eat 500-600 cals at dinner on one day, and then a normal lunch and dinner the next day (probably about 1800 cals) and then a 500-600 cal dinner the next day and so on. It’s really not as difficult as you might imagine and it sorted out some digestive troubles I was having (I think basically because I was overeating!)

    I didn’t start it based on any of those people you’ve mentioned, but based on a TV programme shown in the UK which claimed that the IF diet would cut your chances of cancer. Probably not true, but at least I lost some weight, which must be good!

  11. Bonita says

    I dabbled with IF every (basically, the skipping breakfast method) but don’t do it anymore. I have found that there isn’t any magic to it, other than you end up eating a bit less than usual.

    For me the pros were:

    Not having to plan or make breakfast = a less rushed morning.

    A longer period of time without food seems to “reset” my appetite, making me less prone to grazing/snacking.

    Feeling less bloated (because I was eating less frequently).

    But the cons were:

    Sometimes in the morning I just wake up really hungry, denying that feels wrong.

    Less energy for a morning or pre-lunch workout.

    After a couple of weeks, feeling anxious/jittery – some “gurus” say this is because women are not suited to IF due to some hormonal reasons, or because women are magical unicorns or something. I think it’s just because I replaced food with more coffee/tea than usual, and some days I was just not eating enough calories during my eating window to fuel a full day of activity, my stomach doesn’t take well to large meals.

  12. Mike says

    Jay,
    Building on the premise that one should eat a surplus to build muscle and a deficit to loose fat, what appraoch would someone take who is 20% bf and pursuing a muscle building workout program? Would that person alternate between growing muscle by eating a surplus for a couple months, then cut back to a deficit for a few weeks to trim down? Or is it possible to grow muscle while leaning down, in this example to mid teens of bf%

  13. Casie says

    Only a teen, so forgive me if I’m missing something blatantly obvious… awesome blog btw. How does fasting make you lose weight? Is there really any point to not eating? Isn’t it just another way to reduce your overall calorie intake? For example if someone was eating 500 calories a day,(1100 calorie deficit already) I mean at best if they were to stop eating completely they’d lose a pound extra a week, on top of whatever else they’re doing right?… which isn’t much anyway and probably won’t even lose anything near a pound a day. So… when fasting you’re essentially limited to your bmr and whatever else you do, right? But it makes me wonder how people fast for 30 days and lose 32 lbs. That’s over a pound a day with little to no exercise. That’s 3500 calories burned a day (lets assume their bmr is 1600 (5 ft 7 180lbs)) how on earth do they burn that many calories a day? And how on earth do they not kill themselves doing it? With exercise and diet the average person (me) can’t even get to a 2000 calorie deficit let alone over 3500. I’m confused. So sorry if this is a little off topic.

  14. a.j.killer says

    Regarding cycling, how low would you say it is ok to go on non-workout days while bulking? I personally prefer to eat below maintenance (10%) and then eat a shitload on 3 training days, especially in the few hours after workout. Would you consider that close to optimal for calorie partitioning, or it would be wiser for building muscle not to spend 4 out of 7 days in a deficit?

  15. John says

    Im just a TINY bit confused. I understand the whole caloric deficit thing, it all makes PERFECT sense. But howcomes people like the hodgetwins say that at the beginning you should lower your calorie intake, then once that stops from losing weight, you should switch to IF, then when that stops, you should start to manipulate your macros (e.g. go low carb, high protein)…. But, why would you need to any of that when the ONLY requirement is a caloric deficit? Why would any of the methods above stop working if you’re constantly creating a caloric deficit?

  16. Joe says

    Hi,

    Is there a maximum amount of calories one can have in one meal? I have been doing IF and for my first meal/post-workout meal I get around 1500 calories then I have a second small meal right before my fast begins. Is 1500 too much in one sitting?

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