Fasting Mythology

I find in discussing the ‘Arclein‘ diet with others that a lot of rubbish exists around the idea offasting.  In my case, my ‘fast is onlyfor twenty four hours and is not a real fast at all because the body never isallowed to trigger the starvation reflex. What is unusual is that I repeat this process every second day for atotal of three days in the week.

This long article tries to makesome sense out of it all.

However, let me give you someuseful numbers that you can plug into your own understanding of your own needs.

1                   Your body is normally satiated at 125% of your actualneeds.  Any less and your body willinform you that it is unsatisfied.
2                   Thus is you had a fit weight as a young athlete of say160 pounds, a more sedentary lifestyle including moderate workouts will allowyour body to reset to its new optimum of 198 pounds.  This is no more than what seven normal daysof eating will require.
3                   For you to rise beyond this, a portion of your dietneeds to be easy to convert carbohydrates. Thus if you are way beyond these numbers, it is been supported by anexcessive intake of carbs.
4                   Understanding this, makes dieting design ratherstraight forward.  First it is necessaryto eliminate carbs from the diet as completely as possible.  The carb balloon will fall of rather quicklyand you will; come back to your natural sustaining weight of 125% of optimumbecause you are still eating all seven days.
5                   When that is completed, it is time to consider a seriesof one day fasts.  At this point you areeating properly with ample protein and fasting becomes almost natural becauseyou are no longer fighting carb cravings.
6                   In my case I use three such fasts until I reach mytarget weight, upon which I will reduce to two such fasts.  All this is without any cravings or sense ofhunger and impulses are easily imagined as tomorrow’s reward.

The miracle foranyone is that gives you a royal road to reaching your true target weight andkeeping it there while enjoying well fed days on your eating days.

I tried to make this as simple asI could and it applies to anyone living a sedentary life style who is doingmodest exercise if at all.  A physicalfitness freak needs to augment this protocol with protein shakes at the leaston fast days.  In the event he is burninga thousand calories a day in workouts and is hardly overweight.

For a chap who works out everythree days, other options are open.  Thismay include working out only on fast days toward the end of the fast orpossibly on eating days depending on the demands put on the body.

The bottom line is that if youwish to operate at optimum weight, you need to lose two days of eating.  We are mostly in the same boat on this onewith a few exceptions.

Posted by Martin Berkhan
Thursday, October 21,2010

Or "Top Ten Diet Myths Debunked".That would have fit almost as well. Ok, so in retrospect, I think I screwed upon the title. Many myths just happened to be connected to intermittent fasting(meal frequency, breakfast skipping, etc.). Well, live and learn.

November 4th Addendum: Sectionadded at the end of the article.

Everyone who learns about nutrition through the usual channels, be it fitnessmagazines, mainstream diet books and forums, gets cursed with the prevailingbelief system of what constitutes a good diet.

Though specific dietary recommendations vary slightly depending on who youlisten to, there are many common denominators and "rules" that youare told you must adhere to. Call it broscience, incompetence or ignorance,same thing. We've all been there and we've all followed these rules. Led likesheep, not knowing better. Trusting that those we listen to knew what they weretalking about. While these dietary myths run rampant in the bodybuilding andfitness community, you'll find that many are being endlessly propagated in themainstream as well.

Upon closer scrutiny, the great majority lack scientific basis. They are bornout out of half-truths, faulty conclusions drawn from poorly conducted studiesor created when a study gets cited out of context.

Sometimes, what's claimed is even in exact opposition to what really occurs ata physiological level. Many people believe that alcohol is fattening, more sothan any other macronutrient. Yet, if you look at how inefficiently the bodyconverts ethanol to fat, you'll find that it's completely backwards. I talkedabout this in "The Truth about Alcohol, Fat Loss and Muscle Growth".Also note how the proposed negative effect of alcohol on muscle growth doesn'teven exist in the scientific literature.

You'll see similar examples in this article. For example, in short-termfasting, it's often claimed that metabolic rate slows down - yet looking at thestudies, the opposite is true.

The myths I'll debunk today are being kept alive by:

1. Repetition.Repeat something often enough and it becomes the truth. If everyone is sayingthe same thing, it must be true. No need to look into it and think foryourself. The fact that bodybuilders and fitness celebrities keep propagatingthese myths doesn't help either. Most people reason that if these peopledo it, it must be great.Unfortunately, bodybuilders and fitness celebritiesmight just be one of the last people on earth you should listen to if you wantobjective and accurate opinions in nutrition.

2. Commercialforces. For example, the supplement industry benefits greatly from peoplebelieving that frequent feedings provide a metabolic advantage. People don'thave time to eat six cooked meals a day. Instead, they turn to meal replacementpowders, shakes and protein bars. The cereal and grain industry benefits bypreaching about the virtues of breakfast for weight control, health and fatloss. There's no commercial incentive in telling people that they would do justfine with three squares a day.

3. Few people havethe knowledge or interest needed to interpret the scientific evidence and drawtheir own conclusions. In order to do this you would need an academicbackground that included critical examination of studies and study methodologyas part of the learning process.

However, an academicbackground, or an extensive education in nutrition or physiology, seems tocorrelate very poorly with truthfulness and objectivity in the field ofdietetics in my experience. The advice and claims I have seen made by many RDs(Registered Dietitians) has been so shamelessly wrong that I put little stockin anything they have to say. The same goes for many "diet gurus" andso-called health experts with a solid list of academic credentials.

That people who should know better keep repeating the same myths is somewhatpuzzling and strange. Perhaps they lose interest in keeping up with research.What we know today is a bit different from what we knew twenty years ago afterall. Or maybe they're afraid that their credibility would be questioned if theychange the advice they have been giving for years. I'm not sure. I've beenthinking about it quite a bit. But I digress. Back to the topic.

The top ten fasting myths debunked
The dietaryrecommendations and advice given in mainstream media and most fora will haveyou believe that fasting is a hazardous practice. On top of wrecking yourmetabolism, you should expect ravenous hunger, fat gain, muscle loss, andsevere mental impairment. Or so you are told.

Needless to say, people who are introduced to Leangains andthe intermittent fasting diet concept have many fears that will make them thinktwice before embracing it. Fears grounded in years of a dietary indoctrinationbased on faulty ideas and lies. We've all been there.
I've listed the tenmost common fasting and diet myths that exist to make people resistant tointermittent fasting. I've explained why they're wrong and linked out toreferences and other resources for those who would like to read a more detailedreview of the issues. I've also listed their origins, or what I believe to betheir origins.

I've dealt with each myth many times before on this site but it would be goodto have everything in one place. Even if you've been following me for a while,you'll find some new information here I haven't discussed in the past. It's along read but it'll be worth your while.
1. Myth: Eat frequently to"stoke the metabolic fire".

Each time you eat, metabolic rate increases slightly for a few hours.Paradoxically, it takes energy to break down and absorb energy. This is the Thermic Effectof Food (TEF). The amount of energy expended is directlyproportional to the amount of calories and nutrients consumed in the meal.

Let's assume that we are measuring TEF during 24 hours in a diet of 2700 kcalwith 40% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 20% fat. We run three different trialswhere the only thing we change is the the meal frequency.

A) Three meals: 900 kcal per meal.
B) Six meals: 450 kcalper meal.
C) Nine meals: 300kcal per meal.
What we'd find is adifferent pattern in regards to TEF. Example "A" would yield a largerand long lasting boost in metabolic rate that would gradually taper off untilthe next meal came around; TEF would show a "peak andvalley"-pattern. "C" would yield a very weak but consistentboost in metabolic rate; an even pattern. "B" would be somewhere inbetween.
However, at the end ofthe 24-hour period, or as long as it would take to assimilate the nutrients,there would be no difference in TEF. The total amount of energy expended by TEFwould be identical in each scenario. Meal frequency does not affect total TEF.You cannot "trick" the body in to burning more or less calories bymanipulating meal frequency.

Further reading: I have covered the topic of meal frequency atgreat length on this site before.

The most extensive review of studies on various meal frequenciesand TEF was published in 1997. It looked at many different studies thatcompared TEF during meal frequencies ranging from 1-17 meals and concluded:
"Studies usingwhole-body calorimetry and doubly-labelled water to assess total 24 h energyexpenditure find no difference between nibbling and gorging".
Since then, no studieshave refuted this. For a summary of the above cited study, read this research review by Lyle McDonald.
Earlier this year, a new study waspublished on the topic. As expected, no differences were found between a lower(3 meals) and higher meal (6 meals) frequency. Read this post for my summary of the study. This studygarnered some attention in the mass media and it was nice to see the mealfrequency myth being debunked in The New York Times.


Seeing how conclusive and clear research is on the topic of meal frequency, youmight wonder why it is that some people, quite often RDs in fact, keeprepeating the myth of "stoking the metabolic fire" by eating smallmeals on a frequent basis. My best guess is that they've somehow misunderstoodTEF. After all, they're technically right to say you keep your metabolismhumming along by eating frequently. They just missed that critical part whereit was explained that TEF is proportional to the calories consumed in eachmeal.

Another guess is that they base the advice on some epidemiological studies thatfound an inverse correlation between high meal frequency and body weight in thepopulation. What that means is that researchers may look at the dietary patternof thousands individuals and find that those who eat more frequently tend toweigh less than those who eat less frequently. It's important to point out thatthese studies are uncontrolled in terms of calorie intake and are done onAverage Joes (i.e. normal people who do not count calories and just eatspontaneously like most people).

There's a saying that goes "correlation does not imply causation" and thiswarrants further explanation since it explains many other dietary myths andfallacies. Just because there's a connection between low meal frequencies andhigher body weights, doesn't mean that low meal frequencies cause weight gain.Those studies likely show that people who tend to eat less frequently have:

* Dysregulated eating patterns; the personality type that skips breakfast infavor of a donut in the car on the way to work, undereat during the day, andovereat in the evening. They tend to be less concerned with health and dietthan those who eat more frequently.
* Another feasibleexplanation for the association between low meal frequencies and higher bodyweight is that meal skipping is often used as a weight loss strategy. Peoplewho are overweight are more likely to be on a diet and eat fewer meals.
The connection betweenlower meal frequency and higher body weight in the general population, and viceversa, is connected to behavioral patterns - not metabolism.

2. Myth: Eat smallermeals more often for hunger control.

Given the importance of finding the mostfavorable meal pattern for hunger and appetite control, there's a surprisingscarcity of studies on the topic. The most widelycited study is one where obese males were fed 33% of theirdaily calorie requirement ("pre-load") in either one single meal orfive meals before being allowed to eat ad libitum five hours later (meaning asmuch as they desired).

A: One single meal was consumed. 5 hours later they were free to eat as much asthey desired, "buffet"-style.

B: Same setup as above. However, the single meal was now split into fivesmaller meals, which were consumed every hour leading up to the ad libitummeal.

The results showed that subjects undergoing "A" ate 27% more calorieswhen given the ad libitum meal. The same setup was used by the same researcherson lean males and showed similar results.However, upon closer scrutiny it's clear how little real world applicationthose results have. The macrocomposition of the pre-load was 70% carbs, 15% fatand 15% protein; given as pasta, ice cream and orange juice. The situationcreated was highly artificial and abnormal. Who sits around nibbling on pastaand ice cream, sipping orange juice, every hour leading up to a regular meal?

The latestresearch, performed under conditions that more closely resemble areal-world scenario, shows the opposite result. In this study, threehigh-protein meals lead to greater fullness and appetite control when comparedto six high-protein meals. You can read my summary of the study here: Three Meals Superior for Appetite Control.

There's no doubt that meal frequency is highly individual. However, absolutestatements claiming smaller meals are superior for hunger and appetite controlare untrue and are based on studies using methods that greatly differed fromreal-world meal patterns. Current research with a normal meal pattern andprotein intakes that are closer to what can be seen in a typical non-retardeddiet, suggests superior appetite control when eating fewer and larger meals.


This myth might have originated from thelimited data from studies on meal frequencies and appetite control. It's alsolikely that it's another case of mistaking correlation for causation fromstudies and meal frequencies and higher body weights; if people who eat moreoften weigh less, then it must mean they can control their hunger better, etc.

3. Myth: Eat smallmeals to keep blood sugar levels under control.


According to legions of diet and health"experts," eating small meals every so often will help you avoidhunger pangs, provide you with stable energy throughout the day and keep youmentally sharp. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, blood sugar isextremely well-regulated and maintained within a tight range in healthy people.It does not swing wildly up and down like a chimpanzee on meth and it doesn'tplummet from going a few hours without food. Or even a full day without food.Or a week without food for that matter.

People seem to believe they will suffer severe hunger and mental impairmentfrom not eating every so often. Consider for a second the evolutionaryconsequences for survival if this was true. Given that regular periods offasting, even famine, was a natural part of our past, do you think we'd be heretoday if we were unable to function when obtaining food was most critical? Ihave seen healthy young males, bodybuilders nonetheless, complain of lethargyand mental haze if they didn't get to eat for a few hours. It's completelyabsurd. But I digress...

Maintaining blood sugar is of very high priority and we havedeveloped efficientpathways that will make it happen even under extremeconditions. If you were to fast for 23 hrs and then go for a 90 min run at70-75% VO2max, your blood sugar after the run would be identical tothe same run performed in the fed state. It would take no less than three daysor 84 hours offasting to reach blood sugar levels low enough to affect yourmental state; and this is temporary, as your brain adapts to the use ofketones. During 48 hours of fasting, or severe calorie deprivation, bloodsugar is maintained within a normal range no measure of cognitive performanceis negatively affected.

For more on blood sugar, read my review of Eat Stop Eat Expanded Edition, which includes arelevant excerpt. Also, keep in mind that the above cited studies are allperformed under conditions that are much more extreme than the fasting protocolI, or Brad Pilon, recommends.

What about blood sugar and hunger? Blood sugar is one of many short-termfeedback mechanisms used to regulate hunger and the notion which exists to saythat low blood sugar may cause hunger is correct. Low just means lower range.This is subject to numerous confounders, such as your habitual diet, energyintake and genetics. Most importantly perhaps, it's subject to entrained meal patterns, regulated by ghrelin andother metabolic hormones. In essence, this means that blood sugar follows themeal pattern you are used to. This is relevant for those who fear blood sugarissues and hunger from regular periods of fasting, as it serves to explain whypeople can easily adapt to regular periods of fasting without negative effects.


Not sure how people came to believe thatskipping a meal would dumb them down. There is some truth to blood sugar andhunger, but this is often taken out of context. There's no need to eatregularly to "maintain" blood sugar as it maintains itself just fineand adapts to whatever meal pattern you choose.

4. Myth: Fastingtricks the body into "starvation mode".


Efficient adaptation to famine was importantfor survival during rough times in our evolution. Lowering metabolic rateduring starvation allowed us to live longer, increasing the possibility that wemight come across something to eat. Starvation literally means starvation. Itdoesn't mean skipping a meal not eating for 24 hours. Or not eating for threedays even. The belief that meal skipping or short-term fasting causes"starvation mode" is so completely ridiculous and absurd that itmakes me want to jump out the window.

Looking at the numerous studies I've read, the earliest evidence for loweredmetabolic rate in response to fasting occurred after 60 hours (-8%in resting metabolic rate). Other studies show metabolic rate is not impacteduntil 72-96 hours have passed (George Cahill has contributed a lot on thistopic).

Seemingly paradoxical, metabolic rate is actually increased in short-termfasting. For some concrete numbers, studies have shown an increase of 3.6% -10% after 36-48 hours (Mansell PI, et al, and Zauner C, et al).This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Epinephrine andnorepinephrine (adrenaline/noradrenaline) sharpens the mind and makes us wantto move around. Desirable traits that encouraged us to seek for food, or forthe hunter to kill his prey, increasing survival. At some point, after severaldays of no eating, this benefit would confer no benefit to survival andprobably would have done more harm than good; instead, an adaptation thatfavored conservation of energy turned out to be advantageous. Thus metabolicrate is increased in short-term fasting (up to 60 hours).

Again, I have choosen extreme examples to show how absurd the myth of"starvation mode" is - especially when you consider that the exactopposite is true in the context of how the term is thrown around.


I guess some genius read that fasting orstarvation causes metabolic rate to drop and took that to mean that mealskipping, or not eating for a day or two, would cause starvation mode.

5. Myth: Maintain asteady supply of amino acids by eating protein every 2-3 hours. The body canonly absorb 30 grams of protein in one sitting.


Whenever you hear something really crazy youneed to ask yourself if it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. It's agreat way to quickly determine if something may be valid or if it's more likelya steaming pile of horseshit. This myth is a great example of the latter. Doyou think we would be here today if our bodies could only make use of 30 gramsof protein per meal?

The simple truth is that more protein just takes a longer time to digest and beutilized. For some concrete numbers, digestion of a standard meal isstill incomplete after five hours. Amino acids are still being released intoyour bloodstream and absorbed into muscles. You are still "anabolic."This is a fairly standard "Average Joe"-meal: 600 kcal, 75 g carbs,37 g protein and 17 g fat. Best of all? This was after eating pizza, a refinedfood that should be quickly absorbed relatively speaking.

Think about this for a second. How long do you think a big steak, with doublethe protein intake of the above example, and a big pile of veggies would lastyou? More than 10 hours, that's for sure. Meal composition plays an importantrole in absorption speed, especially when it comes to amino acids. Type ofprotein, fiber, carbohydrates and prior meals eaten all affect how long you'llhave amino acids released and being taken up by tissues after meals.


I think this "30 grams ofprotein"-nonsense started to circulate after a classic study from 1997 byBoirie and colleagues. "Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandialprotein accretion" was the first study to quantify theabsorption rate of whey and casein protein and gave birth to the concept offast and slow protein. After that, whey protein came to be known for it'sability to rapidly elevate amino acids in the blood stream and casein for it'sability to create a sustained release of amino acids. Whey was anabolic andcasein anti-catabolic.

Given that 30 grams of whey protein was absorbed within 3-4 hours, I guess somepeople believed that meant 30 grams of protein can only be used in one sitting.Or that you had to eat every 3-4 hours to stay "anabolic."Unfortunately, people missed a few facts that made these findings irrelevant toreal-world scenarios. First of all, this study looked at the absorption rate ofwhey protein in the fasted state. On it's own, and with no meals eatenbeforehand, 30 grams of whey protein is absorbed within a mere 3-4 hours. Withmeals eaten earlier in the day, or if you'd consume a whey shake after a meal,absorption would be much slower.

Second of all, whey protein is the fastest protein of all and digests at 10g/hour. Casein is much slower; in Boirie's study, the casein protein was stillbeing absorbed when they stopped the experiment 7 hours later. Most whole foodproteins are absorbed at a rate of 3-6 grams an hour. Add other macronutrientsto that and they'll take longer.

One of my clients, showing symptoms of profound catabolism by impairedprotein absorption and daily 16 hour periods of fasting.

Further reading:

6. Myth: Fastingcauses muscle loss.


This myth hinges on people's belief it'simportant to have a steady stream of amino acids available to not lose muscle.As I explained earlier, protein is absorbed at a very slow rate. After a largehigh-protein meal, amino acids trickle into your blood stream for severalhours.

No studies have looked at this in a context that is relevant to most of us. Forexample, by examining amino acid appearance in the blood and tissue utilizationof amino acids after a large steak, veggies and followed up with some cottagecheese with berries for dessert. That's easily 100 grams of protein and atypical meal for those that follow the Leangains approach. We are left to drawour own conclusions based on what we know; that a modest amount of casein,consumed as a liquid on an empty stomach is still releasing amino acids after 7hours. With this in mind it's no stretch to assume that 100 grams of protein aspart of a mixed meal at the end of the day would still be releasing aminos for16-24 hours.

Few studies has examined the effects of regular fasting on muscle retention andcompared it to a control diet. None of them are relevant to how most peoplefast and some are marred by flaws in study design and methodology. Like this study whichshowed increased muscle gain and fat loss, with no weight training or change incalorie intake, just by changing meal frequency. While I would love to citethat study as proof for the benefits of intermittent fasting, body compositionwas measured by BIA, which is notoriously imprecise.

Only in prolonged fasting does protein catabolism become an issue. This happenswhen stored liver glycogen becomes depleted. In order to maintain bloodglucose, conversion of amino acids into glucose must occur (DNG: de novoglucogenesis). This happens gradually and if amino acids are not available fromfood, protein must be taken from bodily stores such as muscle. Cahill looked atthe contribution of amino acids to DNG after a 100 gram glucose load. He foundthat amino acids from muscle contributed 50% to glucose maintenance after 16hours and almost 100% after 28 hours (when stored liver glycogen was fullydepleted). Obviously, for someone who eats a high protein meal before fasting,this is a moot point as you will have plenty of aminos available from foodduring the fast.


An example of severe exaggeration ofphysiological and scientific fact, not relevant to anyone who's not undergoingprolonged fasting or starvation.

7. Myth: Skippingbreakfast is bad and will make you fat.


Breakfast skipping is associated with higherbody weights in the population. The explanation is similar to that of lowermeal frequencies and higher body weights. Breakfast skippers have dysregulatedeating habits and show a higher disregard for health. People who skip breakfastare also more likely to be dieting, thus by default they are also likely to beheavier than non-dieters. Keep in mind that most people who resort to breakfastskipping are not the type that sit around and read about nutrition. They arelike most people dieting in a haphazard manner. The type to go on a 800calorie-crash diet and then rebound, gaining all the weight (and then some)back.

Sometimes, an argument is made for eating breakfast as we are more insulinsensitive in the morning. This is true; you are always more insulin sensitiveafter an overnight fast. Or rather, you are always the most insulin sensitiveduring the first meal of the day. Insulin sensitivity is increased afterglycogen depletion. If you haven't eaten in 8-10 hours, liver glycogen ismodestly depleted. This is what increases insulin sensitivity - not somemagical time period during the morning hours. Same thing with weight training.Insulin sensitivity is increased as long as muscle glycogen stores aren't full.It doesn't disappear if you omit carbs after your workout.


First of all, we have the large scaleepidemiological studies showing an association with breakfastskipping and higher body weights in the population. Oneresearcher from that study, commenting on the association with breakfastskipping or food choices for breakfast, said:

"These groups appear to represent people 'on the run,' eating only candyor soda, or grabbing a glass of milk or a piece of cheese. Their higher BMIwould appear to
support the notion that 'dysregulated' eating patterns are associated withobesity, instead of or in addition to total energy intake per se."

Kellogg's and clueless RDs love to cite them over and over again, so people arelead to believe that breakfast has unique metabolic and health-relatedbenefits. In reality, these studies just show breakfast eaters maintain betterdietary habits overall.

Other studies frequently cited claiming that breakfast is beneficial forinsulin sensitivity are all marred with methodological flaws and largelyuncontrolled in design.

In one widely cited study, subjects were entrusted to eat mostmeals in free-living conditions. The breakfast skipping group ate more andgained weight, which affected health parameters negatively.

From the abstract: "Reported energy intake was significantly lower in theEB period (P=0.001), and resting energy expenditure did not differsignificantly between the 2 periods." EB = eating breakfast. In essence,people who ate breakfast could control their energy intake better for the restof the day. They didn't gain any weight but the breakfast skipping group did. Fatgain always affects insulin sensitivity and other health parameters negatively.Thus what people took this to mean is that breakfast is healthy and improvesinsulin sensitivity. Which isn't at all what the study showed.

8. Myth: Fastingincreases cortisol.


Cortisol is a steroid hormone that maintainsblood pressure, regulates the immune system and helps break down proteins,glucose and lipids. It's a hormone that's gotten quite a bad rep in the fitnessand health community but we have it for a reason. The morning peak in cortisolmakes us get out of bed and get going. A blunted morning cortisol peak isassociated with lethargy and depression. Cortisol is elevated during exercise,which helps mobilize fats, increase performance and experience euphoria afterand during workouts. Trying to suppress acute elevations of cortisol duringexercise, or the normal diurnal rhythm, is foolish. Chronically elevated levelsof cortisol, resulting from psychological and/or physiological stress, isanother thing and unquestionably bad for your health; it increases proteinbreakdown, appetite and may lead to depression.

Short-term fasting has no effect on average cortisol levels and this is an areathat has been extensively studied in the context of Ramadan fasting.Cortisol typically follows a diurnal variation, which means that its levelspeak in the morning at around 8 a.m. and decline in the evenings. What changesduring Ramadan is simply the cortisol rhythm,average levels across 24 hours remain unchanged.

In one Ramadan study on rugby players,subjects lost fat and retained muscle very well. And they did despite trainingin a dehydrated state, without pre-workout or post-workout protein intake, andwith a lower protein intake overall nonetheless. Quoting directly from thepaper:

"Body mass decreased significantly and progressively over the 4-weekperiod; fat was lost, but lean tissue was conserved..."

"...Plasma urea concentrations actually decreased during Ramadan,supporting the view that there was no increase of endogenous protein metabolismto compensate for the decreased protein intake."

In one study on intermittent fasting, the fasting group even saw"significant decrease in concentrations of cortisol." However, thisstudy should be taken with a grain of salt as it had some flaws in studydesign.

In conclusion, the belief that fasting increases cortisol, which then mightcause all kinds of mischief such as muscle loss, has no scientific basiswhatsoever.


Prolonged fasting or severe calorierestriction causes elevated baseline levels of cortisol. Thisoccurs in conjunction with depletion of liver glycogen, as cortisol speeds upDNG, which is necessary to maintain blood sugar in absence of dietary carbs,protein, or stored glycogen. Again, it seems someone looked at what happensduring starvation and took that to mean that short-term fasting is bad.

9. Myth: Fastedtraining sucks. You'll lose muscle and have no strength.


A large body of research on sportsperformance during Ramadan concludes that aerobic activities,such as 60 minutes of running, has a small yet significant negativeimpact on performance. A very large confounder here is dehydration, as Ramadanfasting involves fluid restriction. That said, anaerobicperformance, such as weight training, is much less impacted.

However, more relevant and telling studies, which don't involve fluidrestriction, show that strength and lower intensity endurance training isunaffected - even after 3.5 days offasting. New research on fasted training supports this. If you read my review ofthat study, you'll see that the only parameter the fed group did better on wasimprovements in V02max, which is likely explained by the fact that the carbsallowed them to train at a higher intensity. However, note the other interestingresults obtained in the fasted group. Also note that a review I did of another fasted endurance training study showed no negative effectof fasting on endurance or VO2max (quite the contary in fact). This can beexplained by the lower intensity.

In conclusion, training in the fasted state does not affect your performanceduring weight training, which is what most people reading this are interestedin. However, training in a completely fasted state is still not something Irecommend for optimal progress. Research is quite clear on the benefits ofpre-workout and post-workout protein intake for maximizing protein synthesis.For this reason, I suggest supplementing with 10 g BCAA prior to fastedtraining.

Another weak and frail physique. No wonder. Andreaz does most of his training fasted. Also worth mentioning,Richard Nikoley trained almost exclusively fasted (andbasically doubled his deadlift, while losing fat).

Read more about pre-workout protein and fasted training here: "Pre-workout Protein Boosts Metabolism" and "Fasted Training Boosts Muscle Growth?".

Specific protocols for fasted training are covered in "TheLeangains Guide".


It's actually intuitive that a big pre-workoutmeal would help with performance, so it's not surprising that people have theirdoubts about training on an empty stomach.

10. Myth: "Eatbreakfast like a king, lunch a queen, dinner like a pauper."


Also connected to this saying, is the beliefthat you should reduce carbs in the evening as they will be less likely to bestored as fat. While this might sound good on paper, there's nothing to supportit and a lot that shows it to be wrong.

The strongest argument against this are the numerous studies available on bodycomposition and health after and during Ramadan fasting. This meal pattern ofregular nightly feasts has a neutral or positive effecton body fat percentage and other health parameters. This isquite an extreme and telling example. People literally gorge on carbs andtreats in the middle of the night to no ill effect. And yet, in the bizarreworld of bodybuilding and fitness, people worry whether it's OK to eat 50 gramsof carbs in their last meal.

If the scientific data on Ramadan fasting aren't enough, there are plenty ofother studies showing no effect on weight loss or weight gain from eating laterin the day.

In one study comparingtwo meal patterns, which involved one group eating more calories earlier in theday and one group eating most calories later in the day, more favorable resultswere found in the group eating large evening meals. While those who ate more inthe AM lost more weight, the extra weight was in the form of muscle mass. Thelate evening eaters conserved muscle mass better, which resulted in a largerdrop in body fat percentage.


Just like breakfastskipping is associated with higher body weights in the general population, youwill find associations with late night eating and higher body weights. If youhave been reading this far, you'll understand the logical fallacy of sayingthat late night eating must cause weight gain based on such studies. People whoengage in late night eating, such as snacking in front of the TV, are likely toweigh more than others. It's not the fact that they are eating later in the daythat causes weight gain, it's their lifestyle. No controlled studies showlarger evening meals affect body composition negatively in comparison to mealseaten earlier in the day.

Sometimes studies on shift workers are cited to claim that late night eating isbad. These are all uncontrolled (in terms of calorie intake) and observationalstudies confounded by the fact that shift work has an independent and negativeeffect on some health parameters like glucose tolerance and blood lipids. Keepthis in mind. Context is always relevant.

While I normally don't cite studies on animals, Science Daily featured anarticle dispelling the late-night eating mythbased on findings on rhesus monkeys.It's worth citing since monkeys are metabolically closer to humans thanrodents.

I should have written this article post a long time ago. Would have saved metons of time.

If you found this worthwhile reading, I'd appreciate if you could refer thoseunlucky people, who have been mislead into believing some of the junk that'sout there, to this article. Based on my own and others' experiences, thesefalse beliefs lead many into an obsessive dietary pattern, which can do a lotof harm to your physical and psychological well-being. Let's try to put an endto that and save people from such misery.

November 4thAddendum

First of all, I appreciate the support and help with spreading this articlearound. I’ve received dozens of emails from people who’ve told me that this wasa great eye opener for them; a seed for a new way of critical thinking – inplace of blind acceptance of these dubious claims that are often made. So forthose who have assisted me in the fight against broscience and diet myths,thanks. Good karma will come your way.

As I read through the article I didn’t find anything that needed to beclarified further or worth changing. Well, nothing that would change theconclusions at least. Since I like this stuff I could easily devote a fullarticle to each one of the different myths and delve deeper into the nuancesand methodological problems that plague some of the widely cited data fromwhich they are born. But this article is already long enough as it is.

However, I do have a few addendums I’d like to make. I’ve added them here, sothose who didn’t read the article when it first appeared have to sift throughit again.

1. Myth: Eatfrequently to "stoke the metabolic fire".

One of the most ridiculous arguments against a low (or should I say normal?)meal frequency is the one of sumo wrestlers eating habits. Since sumo wrestlerseat two times a day it must be the best way to get fat and exactly what youshouldn’t be doing for fat loss, or so the logic goes. I wouldn’t have blamedanyone for bringing this argument into the discussion 34 years ago – because itwas actually what some researchers believedat that time.

The methods and logic used to arrive at such a conclusion was completelyretarded. For example, as a “control group” they used healthy Japanese malesweighing 105-130 lbs eating three meals a day. Brilliant. It’s fair to say thatnutritional science and research wasn't exactly stellar at that time (Ancel Keys anyone?) but this “study” was terrible even bymedieval standards. Yes, it must be meal frequency that’s to blame. Never mindthe 5000+ calories consumed on a daily basis.

The traditional dish consumed by sumo wrestlers, Chankonabe,is actually not bad at all in terms of calorie density and food composition.Seems it’s even popular among thin Japanesewomen. However, since Chankonabe is so deeply entrenched into sumoculture, wrestlers will only count a dish served with Chankonabe as a meal.Snacks eaten in between the two daily Chankonabe meals, which are events thatare treated like rituals of great importance, simply aren’t considered as mealsor reported as such. This quote is pretty telling: “…I eat hamburgers and foodsI purchase at convenience stores as snacks.” (From "Sumo mealnow what the petite eat.")

I found the tidbit about Chankonabe tradition interesting, but it's also onevery big confounder that was not considered in that old worthless study. Thereported mean intake of the wrestlers, 5100-5600 kcal is quite a lot for a 230lb male (average weight in the study,) but considering the daily training sumowrestlers go through, it’s certainly not a mind boggling amount. It’s safe tosay that calorie intake was probably significantly higher given the exclusionof snacks. There was no tracking of the sumo wrestlers diet by the researchers.It's amazing that this study passed its peer review.

5. Myth: Maintain asteady supply of amino acids by eating protein every 2-3 hours. The body canonly absorb 30 grams of protein in one sitting.

I forgot to mention one critical study that often comes up in the context of ahigh meal frequency being beneficial when dieting. In “Effects of mealfrequency on body composition during weight control in boxers.” itwas found that boxers eating two meals a day on a 1200-calorie diet lost moremuscle than the six-meal-group. There are many errors with this conclusion.Lyle McDonald summarized them nicely:

“In this study, boxers were given either 2 or 6 meals per day with identicalprotein and calories and examined for lean body mass lost; the 2 meal per daygroup lost more lean body mass (note: both groups lost lean body mass, the 2meal per day group simply lost more). Aha, higher meal frequency spares leanbody mass. Well, not exactly.

In that study, boxers were put on low calories and then an inadequate amount ofliquid protein was given to both groups and the meals were divided up into 2 or6 meals. But the study design was pretty crappy and I want to look at a fewreasons why I think that.

First and foremost, a 2 vs. 6 meal per day comparison isn’t realistic. Asdiscussed in The Protein Book, a typical whole food meal will only maintainan anabolic state for 5-6 hours, with only 2 meals per day, that’s simply toolong between meals and three vs. six meals would have been far more realistic(I would note that the IF’ing folks are doing just fine not eating for 16 hoursper day).

Additionally is the use of a liquid protein that confounds things even more.Liquids digest that much more quickly than solid foods so the study wasbasically set up to fail for the low meal frequency group. They were given aninadequate amount of rapidly digesting liquid protein too infrequently to sparemuscle loss. But what if they had been given sufficient amounts of solidprotein (e.g. 1.5 g/lb lean body mass) at those same intervals? The resultswould have been completely different.

As discussed in The Protein Book in some detail, meal frequency only reallymatters when protein intake is inadequate in the first place. Under thoseconditions, a higher meal frequency spares lean body mass. But when proteinintake is adequate in the first place (and again that usually means 1.5 g/lblean body mass for lean dieters), meal frequency makes no difference. Andthat’s why the boxer study is meaningless so far as I’m concerned. Aninadequate amount of liquid protein given twice per day is nothing like howfolks should be dieting in the first place.”

So in summary, a low calorie intake coupled with an inadequate amount of liquidprotein. Liquid protein is rapidly absorbed. This would leave the low mealfrequency-group without dietary protein available in between meals, causingDNG, de novo gluconeogenesis, of endogenous protein stores (muscle). The largeenergy deficit and leanness of the boxers are also factors to consider.

None of this is apparent if you look at the abstract ofthe study; no protein intake or protein type is mentioned. Details that arecritical to know in this context.

I should also point out that I was wrong about the origins of this myth whichseveral people have pointed out. This is what Lyle McDonald wrote in comments:

“The 30 g/meal thing has been around for decades, much older than the 1997paper. A few gut hunches on where it came from.

1. Marketing: I base this on the fact that the value has changed over theyears. When Met-RX sold products with 30 grams protein, 30 g/meal was thecutoff. When they moved to 42 g/meal, 42 grams was the cutoff. Weider probablydid it before then.

2. Bodybuilders looking to rationalize their desire to eat lots of mini-mealsafter the fact. So take an average male bodybuilder, 180 lbs eating 1 g/lb whohas decided that 6 meals/day is optimal and....

3. Even there, I think Gironda had written this. It probably came out of somebullshit paper in the 50's that was taken out of context and just got repeatedlong enough to become dogmatic truth.”

So that’s that.

7. Myth: Skippingbreakfast is bad and will make you fat.

A new study on breakfast and health came out a few weeks ago. It bringsnothing new to the table; the conclusions drawn are similar to that of olderstudies that found correlations between body weight and breakfast skipping.

However, since it’s such a beautiful example of everything that is wrong withepidemiology, I will devote a separate post to it, instead of dissecting it inthis article, which is long enough as it is. I will have a detailed analysis upsoon. Not because I believe that I need to make my point any clearer, butbecause it will be a lesson in critical thinking.

My biggestfrustration

Unfortunately, while this article might have opened a few people’s eyes, I fearthat it might be for naught when it comes to the great majority. At least forthe mainstream crowd who prefers anecdotes and muscle magazines overscience-based articles such as this one. Just have a look at the comments in this thread oncomedian Joe Rogan’s forum:

“He 'debunked' those ideas by his own logic and his interpretation of variousstudies. It wasn't very convincing.”

The only reason it wasn’t convincing enough for this clown was that he couldnot understand the abstracts my links pointed to. That’s assuming he even tookthe time to read the article (likelihood: 0.01%).

However, I’m not surprised. The Average Joe (or should I say "AverageBro"?) seems to think everything is up for “interpretation,” which is aload of bullshit. There are objective truths to be found if you look for them.But finding them takes time, requires some effort. Most people shy away fromit. Getting spoon-fed is more comfortable. That's OK, because not everyonewants to read some basic nutrition and physiology textbooks. But at least behumble enough to understand that your opinion is not one that you have formedon your own.

As i see it, the problem is twofold in the sense that outliers, the majority ofwhich have severe methodological flaws, often get all of the attention (i.e.the boxers study). The other problem is that many accepted “truths” are basedon the conclusions drawn from correlational studies (i.e. meal frequency andbreakfast skipping). This is what trickles down and is presented to themainstream and they swallow it; hook, line, and sinker.

And even then, when the mass media for once debunks a myth, some people just covertheir ears and go "lalalala," saying things like:

“I just read it. I'm still not buying it though.”

From the Joe Rogan forum thread, in response to the New York Times article thatdebunked the meal frequency myth. What a sheep.

There are plenty of more comments along those lines. Makes for some half-decententertainment. For someone stranded on an abandoned island that is. Note thatno one presented evidence that contradicted this article and the conclusions Ihave presented. Critique is fine but not when it cannot be backed by anythingelse than gym lore.
 Fortunately, some people are smarter thanthat.

This is my biggest frustration with this industry. Those that scream loudenough win - the supplement companies, mass media "health experts"and diet gurus with Magic Pills and Secret Methods to sell.

Someone who is unfamiliar with my background may easily mistake me and mywritings for the latter and believe I have presented evidence that wouldsomehow favor my methods, which I have not. This is unfortunate butunderstandable since almost everyone else in this industry tends to do it. Itleads to much confusion as laypersons think everyone is trying to sell themsomething. For them, finding objective facts is like looking for a needle in ahaystack.

But remember: never once have I said, or claimed, that I believe everyone needsto convert to intermittent fasting - or even that it is proven to be superiorto a regular healthy diet. The research surrounding intermittent fasting isvery interesting but it's too early to draw any definitive conclusions.

I am still of the opinion that the best diet is the one you can stick to in thelong term. However, the decision should be based on personal preference and notneurotic adherence to a diet built on faulty and bad science.

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