Hey guys, it’s been a while since I wrote here, hope you are all doing fine. First of let me explain why was Lean gains so appealing to me that I had to try it. I guess the main reason was that at some point after not missing a meal for 2 years (6 meals + protein shake per day for 2 years) I just lost it and couldn’t keep up. I was basically doing what everybody in the fitness and bodybuilding industry said it was the right way to do things. Here is some of the stuff that was part of my daily life: carrying around food in plastic containers, always looking at the watch if it’s time to eat, eating even when I wasn’t hungry because it was TIME, had to eat before bed and every morning as soon as you wake up eat as fast as I can so I have time to get ready for work.
I realized I’m spending most of my free time eating and preparing food. Crazy :( After reading lean gains guide that claimed there was no difference between 2-3 meals and 6 meals first I didn’t believe it. Maybe a part of me didn’t want to admit that all of the things I believed were true and all the things that I struggled to maintain in my daily routine didn’t really matter. So after a month of deciding if I’m going to let go of my old habits I decided to finally free myself and try leangains. This article is directly a result of my experience from last 2 months of doing the leangains style of eating.
Lean gains vs. Carbo cycling
As you probably know if you read my blog carbohydrate cycling was my diet of choice for cutting and clean bulking, generally it’s very difficult to follow, results are amazing, energy levels are sky high and I’ve been doing it for 2 years. Also I’m very happy to hear regular feedback from people that followed my carb cycling diet for cutting and got great results.
If you are not familiar with carb cycling you can check out the full article here. It’s a very hard diet to keep up with and I would only advise it for very advanced people with at least 2 years of experience with following strict meal plans. When comparing lean gains with carb cycling it’s like another planet, so for most of you guys you’d want to keep reading this and you check out carb cycling later.
Basically if you are after the results they are the same. Difference is that leangains is a more sustainable system when aiming for long term. Instead of cycling 3 different days low, moderate and high carb you cycle 2 days your workout days and your off days. All though some of carb cycling lovers might argue here that for some workout days you don’t need the same amount of calories (arms vs. legs workout) but to be honest just look at it on a weekly basis and you’ll find that in the end it’s the same input and output of kcal.
I’m not gonna spend any more words on writing about carb cycling as it’s all written in the other article, all you need to know is that it’s possible to get the same great results without all the problems of carb cycling.
Basic lean gains guide principles
These are the basic concepts of the diet taken directly from Martin Berkhan (author of Leangains guide), I’m going to go through each one and explain a bit what you need to know.
8 hour eating window
This means you need to ingest all your daily calories within an 8 hours period. On typical work days I wake up at 7 AM and go to sleep at 23:00, my first meal of the day is around 12:00-12:30 and last meal is usually 20:00 – 20:30 so that is my eating window. You can sometimes push it to 13:00 – 21:00 but as long as don’t do to extreme changes all the time it’s all good. Sometimes I also end up eating at 22:00 but that isn’t my typical day, it’s all OK as long as you follow the routine.
You might be wondering how I don’t get hungry in the morning and I also thought that would be a problem but really it’s not, it’s just what you are used to. I wake up have my green tea and drink water till 12:00, funny thing about this diet is that I’ve felt hungrier when I had my breakfast as soon as I woke up.
Outside of this eating window you shouldn’t consume any calories. Things that are allowed: green tea (without sugar), water, coffee (without sugar), calorie free sweeteners and sugar free gum. Diet soda (0 calories) is acceptable too but you should avoid that in general for numerous health issues caused by artificial sweeteners and additives.
How many meals should you eat?
Personally I prefer to have 3 meals, my workout is usually around 18:30 and I like to have my second meal around 16:30. I feel like my workout is a lot better on full stomach (2h after a meal). Basically you can have as many meals as you want as long as you eat them inside the 8h window and that you fit your daily calorie intake goal. Some eat 2 some do 4 meals, I prefer 3 and I have good results and to be honest it seems the most logical to eat breakfast, before and after workout.
What about calorie intake?
Calories are all that matters, that’s the single most important thing you should know about all diets. Knowing how many calories you eat and your calorie goal is essential to reaching or maintaining your physique. There is no way around this, if you don’t count calories start doing it. The sooner you start the better.
Easiest way to find out your calorie numbers is by using a calculator to get a rough estimation of the intake and then after you set a calorie goal and eat food to match it you measure yourself every Monday morning after toilet on empty stomach on a weight scale (has to be the same scale) and see if the weight is going up or down or staying the same. I suggest you try to find out your maintenance level first and then adjust it to fit your goal, so take 3 weeks to find out your maintenance and then you have a great base to start gaining muscle or cutting fat.
As far as leangains rules, you want to consume at 50-60% of your total calories after workout. So my last meal is the biggest on workout days. On rest days my biggest meal is breakfast where I also aim to consume 50% of total calories and very high protein.
Here is a great calorie calculator designed specifically for intermittent fasting and it works great for lean gains. Link
Macro and micro nutrients
For every meal plan after you set your calories you need to split those calories into macro nutrients. I keep my protein high around 230 grams per day which is around 35% of my total calorie intake on workout days and around 40% of my total calorie intake on off days.
Carbs and fat vary depending if it’s workout or rest day, on workout days I like to have more carbs and on rest days I reduce the carbs and up the fat a bit. You can check out a sample meal plan on the bottom on this article where I’m going to show you exactly how much calories I intake and from which food.
Difference with lean gains and some other diet is that you want to consume most of your carb calories after exercise and keep the protein high in all meals so for example my last meal + protein shake have 1255 kcal out of 2620 total on workout days and the majority of calories come from protein (~120 g) and carbs (~120 g).
Micro nutrients also important but they should be passively handled if you eat a good amount of vegetables and carbs from healthy sources like Oats. If you are still worried about that you can always throw in a multivitamin and mineral supplement to cover everything.
Supplements and Leangains
As far as supplements I’m not a big fan of throwing away loads of money on them. In my opinion supplements are a nice addition if you have extra cash but most of you don’t need them and won’t feel any difference. If you are cutting with a very large calorie deficit vitamin and minerals supplements are great but I don’t recommend you do that in the first places so let’s get back to lean gains.
Supplements I use are whey protein, minerals (calcium, zinc and magnesium) and fish oil.
- Whey protein isolate is there for practical reasons, it makes my life a lot easier as I don’t have time to eat 230 grams of protein purely from solid food. If I had the spare time to prepare solid meals and chew I wouldn’t drink whey.
- The 3 minerals (calcium, zinc and magnesium) are something worth investing in my opinion, with very heavy training and no red meat I rely on these to make sure I’m not missing out on anything.
- Omega 3 Fish oil is essential for good health. This is a supplement that most people can benefit from, if you don’t eat omega 3 rich fish every day get fish oil in pill form. Your goal should be to intake a minimum of 2 grams of EPA + DHA, this amount will be enough to get all the benefits.
Benefits of Leangains and my experience with Intermittent Fasting
The biggest benefits I can think of is definitely more free time, I can’t imagine going back to 6-7 meals. I can’t put it to words how liberating it feels to switch from 7 to 3 meals. With 3 meals I’m more productive and it’s much more practical if you have other tasks in life except eating. You guys probably wonder by now what’s the difference between leangains and the typical average American diet with 2-3 meals. The biggest problem is that the average Joe has no idea how many calories he needs or how many calories he consumes. Also you probably noticed people always have snacks (they don’t have control over that) and these snacks are constantly spiking insulin which prevents all the benefits of Intermittent fasting like prolonged fat burning. Also the typical American junk food diet has very bad food choices which don’t even cover the basic protein intake, has too much sodium, lacks vegetables and fiber.
Thing I noticed about leangains is that my focus improved and energy levels are much more stable than while I was having 6 meals (which goes against what’s said in most fitness magazines and forums). Problem with many meals is that after each meal you get an insulin spike which shortly after results in a sugar drop that causes bad mood. I’ve noticed that 3 large meals give a more consistent energy flow because of the volume of food, higher fat and larger quantity fiber ingested at once.
Effects on gaining muscle and losing fat
After 2 months of following lean gains I haven’t noticed any difference in my physique after switching to 3 meals, my calories and foods are same as before and it’s only logical to assume that meal frequency doesn’t play any role in body composition. It’s all calories in and out.
Right now my main focus is building some lean muscle mass so I’m doing 150 kcal over maintenance on workout days and on rest days I keep maintenance calories. The meal frequency and style is sustainable long term and for big family events or some celebrations where I have to “cheat“ the only thing I have to do is create a calorie buffer. For example I’m skipping meal 2 and having all those calories in meal 3. This works perfect and it’s much easier to manage a social life as your meals are mostly at the same time as everyone else. It’s funny how when I first started this everyone was shocked when I didn’t turn down pizza or cake like I used to.
I was a big believer in clean diets with no cheat meals and yes it works, the results are great but now I’m testing if food choice does matter at all. I’m testing for example if I can have chocolate and reduce some rice and almonds while maintaining the calorie balance with the same end result. So far this is working great, I don’t notice any side-effects like increased fat gain or muscle loss, of course you don’t want to have entire meals replaced by snickers or chocolate. But a cheat every now and then won’t kill you and to be honest there are more benefits to this than downsides.
Leangains sample diet
Here is a sample diet for lean gains which I’ve made using my macros and calorie intakes for a clean bulk with these basic principles. Feel free to use this diet and modify the calories to fit your goal. Also the picture is my current physique, I’m very happy with my progress so far and I’m glad I can share my thoughts with your guys.
Download the sample diet: ShockingFit.com Lean gains Sample Diet
Damn, this was a long one. I’m going to continue my review in part 2 where I’ll present my personal workout for Lean gains and how intermittent fasting effected strength, pump and muscle gain. I believe for all of you that are serious about finding a sustainable meal plan lean gains is worth trying, it works great for me and I hope you’ll have the same success.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, stay tuned for part 2 and good luck with your fitness goals. – Mario
Update: PART 2 of this article is live at http://shockingfit.com/leangains-workout-review/ and it also includes a full Leangains workout routine for you to download and use.
Leave a comment with your thoughts on this and if you are willing to try it out.