Martin Berkhan – Scorch Through Your Fat Loss Plateau

April 19, 2010

I have never met anyone who stays as lean as Martin Berkhan does year round. In fact, most people think it is near impossible to stay below 6% body fat for more than a few days at a time. Martin has held at a steady 5-6% body fat for three years straight! Many people will immediately think it is just do to great genetics or a naturally fast metabolism, but they would be wrong. He was a chubby kid growing up and simply figured out a methodology of staying lean without depriving himself of good food. He outlines these methods on his outstanding blog, Lean Gains. Here is an exclusive guest article he wrote for Fitness Black Book.

Scorch-Body-Fat
[Yeah, I probably overdo the fire effects on this site. I just couldn't resist with the word "scorch" in the title.]


Scorch Through Your Fat Loss Plateau
-by Martin Berkhan

This article’s title was originally going to be “Food Choices That Kill Your Chance of Getting Lean” per Rusty’s suggestion. But it would be highly ironic if I, who regularly ate ice cream and cereal on my last cut to 5.5% body fat, told you that there are certain foods that would kill your chance of getting lean.

Besides that, there are about one billion articles on what foods cause fat gain or stall fat loss. You’ve seen them and it’s usually the same tired stuff. Do you guys need another article telling you to avoid white bread, fast food and hot pockets? Nope.

So I asked myself how to approach this topic and make it worth your while. There’s no food that, once you eat it, flips on a metabolic switch that completely shuts down fat burning and weight loss if you’re maintaining a daily caloric deficit. It’s a question of quantity, moderation and context.

Martin Berkhan

[Martin Berkhan at 5.5% body fat]

I believe most foods can be consumed in the right context, but should be avoided in another context, in order to optimize body recomposition and fat loss. For example, most of my clients consume a fair amount of starchy carbohydrates following a workout. This isn’t a problem because it’s part of optimizing the plan. In this context, starchy carbs are great for restoring muscle glycogen. On rest days however, my clients might skip starches, eating fewer carbs and more satiating ones. This strategy optimizes satiety, fat loss, diet adherence and performance.

That being said, there are some foods that should be ditched first from your diet if weight loss is stalling or if you want to speed things up. Same thing goes if you just want to make the diet as easy and painless as possible. Having reviewed and created hundreds of meal plans throughout the years, I know a little something about this topic.

Your diet is where you fix things first and foremost. Adding more cardio when your diet is suboptimal is an inefficient and time-wasting strategy that will result in an increased risk of burnout and overtraining.

In this article I’ll spotlight a few less-than-obvious staples that people tend to include in their diets. These are foods that people generally think of as “healthy” and diet friendly, when they can be diet killers in disguise.


Dry fruit and nut

Nuts, protein bars and dried fruit

Nuts in all their various forms are the most overrated and overhyped foods in the “health conscious” community. Just because it’s a natural food doesn’t mean it’s all that diet friendly or even healthy for that matter.

Packing a higher calorie density than chocolate, it’s no big mystery that people easily overdo it with nuts. Some people rationalize a high nut consumption by saying it’s a healthy and natural snack, but this is wrong. Nuts contain an incomplete amino acid profile and consist mostly of plant fats. The westernized diet is already highly unbalanced in the omega 3: omega 6-ratio—the polyunsaturated fats from nuts certainly won’t help.

Optimize the fat composition of your diet by kicking nuts to the curb and add more fish, that’s my recommendation. You’ll be more satiated and healthier to boot.

A protein bar is nothing more than a chocolate bar with slightly higher protein content and crappier taste. A whopping 300 calories for a bar that you’ll gulf down in a few minutes is crazy. For most women that amount makes up about ¼-1/5 of the daily total calorie intake needed to lose fat efficiently. Besides that, eating protein bars to up your protein intake isn’t a great strategy as a bar’s protein content makes up only about 30-40% of its calories. You could down half a Snickers bar and a protein shake, and end up consuming fewer calories with a better nutritional breakdown than having your typical protein bar. Protein bars are nothing more than glamorized candy. And you don’t eat candy on a regular basis if you want to optimize fat loss and diet adherence.

Unprocessed fruit is good, but dried fruit including dried apricots, dates and raisins are just sugar lumps with some extra fiber. These snacks have high calorie density and tend to stimulate hunger rather than quench it. Out of the three popular snacks discussed here, dried fruit may just be the worst of the lot. You don’t want or need them on a fat loss diet.


Protein-Shake

Shakes

Shakes, liquids and anything else that resembles baby food shouldn’t stay on menu when it’s time to shave off calories or make your diet more manageable and painless. This includes “recovery shakes” with high-glycemic index carbs and protein shakes, fruit juices, milk and yogurt. Packing a good deal of calories in proportion to the little satiety they provide, liquid calories have no place in your diet other than for convenience.

Think you need a “recovery shake” post-workout? Think again. Unless you’re an elite athlete training twice a day and need to refill muscle glycogen as fast as possible for your next training session, “fast carbs” are a complete waste of calories. Your time (and money) is better spent with whole food carbohydrates that offer chewing resistance.

Are you drinking whey protein shakes throughout the day because you’re too lazy to cook or eat real food? Well, if you’re too lazy to step into the kitchen or chew your food, you’re probably not going to reach your fat loss goals anyway. I’d rather have you learn to savour a good steak with veggies rather than rapidly chugging insulin-spiking and appetite-triggering whey protein shakes. Liquid calories should be replaced with whole foods, including your protein choices. But if you must supplement your diet with protein shakes, I recommend casein or milk protein isolate over whey.

What about those vitamin drinks, smoothies and fruit juices people are drinking to make sure they’re getting enough antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals? Another complete waste of calories Do you think you risk missing vital nutrients if you cut these “health drinks” out from your diet? It’s actually the other way around: strong evidence suggests that overdoing intake of antioxidants and vitamins can negatively affect your health and your training results. A balanced diet with wholesome foods such as meat, eggs, berries, veggies and some starches, doesn’t need vitamin or antioxidant support. It has everything in abundance. If you’re still paranoid, take a multivitamin with your first meal.


Breakfast

Breakfast

I apologize in advance to readers who were expecting a third group of food items that I think should be ditched from your diet. This is in part tongue-in-cheek. There is nothing inherently bad about breakfast. Nor is there anything inherently good about it either. But for me, skipping breakfast was the single greatest diet fix I ever made and the one that allowed me to really take it to the next level in terms of lowering my body fat. There’s a lesson in here, so keep reading even if you don’t think you can live without breakfast.

I was never a breakfast person in the sense that I wasn’t hungry in the morning and preferred to eat later in the day and evening. Yet I forced myself to eat breakfast on every diet attempt I made until a few years ago. I believed breakfast was absolutely crucial for a few different reasons.

First, sleeping supposedly leaves your muscles without a steady supply of amino acids for several hours, making breakfast crucial to keep your muscles from falling off.
Second, my poor fragile metabolism apparently couldn’t handle a few hours without food before completely shutting down.

And third, breakfast-eaters were on average healthier and weighed less than breakfast-skippers so there had to be something good about it, right?

One day I looked into all of this—the actual studies that is, and not what I had learned through fitness magazines and supplement ads. Guess what? All of those claims about the healthiness of breakfast, muscle catabolism and metabolic rate were wrong.

I’ve written a lot about this topic on my blog, but let me provide the main points.

Your metabolism doesn’t scavenge amino acids from your muscles after an overnight fast. Fatty acid metabolism is highly up-regulated, but muscle catabolism doesn’t occur in short-term fasting for up to 24 hours. If you’re still paranoid about this (I am), make sure to eat some slowly absorbed protein before bed, such as cottage cheese, egg white protein or meat with veggies (the extra fiber will slow absorption as meat is generally considered a “fast” protein). Another thing to keep in mind is the very slow absorption rate of whole food proteins. We’re talking a few grams per hour, which means that a mixed meal with 40-50 grams of protein will maintain a steady level of amino acids in your bloodstream well through the night and into the next day. The belief that a few hours without food will cause muscle catabolism is absurd.

Metabolic rate does not slow down during short-term fasting. It actually increases slightly. That’s probably the complete opposite from what you’ve heard, but this is an undisputed fact. It takes more than three days without food before metabolic rate is negatively affected via down-regulation of thyroid activity. That skipping breakfast or missing a meal affects metabolic rate, a myth still propagated in the fitness and health community, is ludicrous.

What about those studies showing breakfast is healthy and people that eat breakfast weigh less than breakfast-skippers? Those are all correlational studies. Skipping breakfast is connected to a certain dysregulated eating behavior that predisposes people to weigh more. The Average Joe or Jane breakfast-skipper is the personality type to grab a donut on the way to work, eat junk food for lunch and finish the day off with a big dinner and snack in front of the TV. Those studies have no relevance to the conscious dieter that skips breakfast as a fat loss strategy.

Summary

  • Did you see the red line with regards to what foods should be ditched from your fat loss diet in order to optimize it? Chew your calories. Generally speaking, the more chewing resistance a food provides, the slower the digestion will be and the longer and faster you’ll stay satisfied and full. Don’t half-ass your calories with calorie-dense snacks and shakes. Another factor to consider with snacks and shakes is the appetite stimulating effect they have on some people.
  • A new study shows that, if the choice stands between three big meals and six small meals, three meals come out on top with regards to appetite control. Three meals is also a meal frequency that I have favored for years. Invest some time in your meals and eat less frequently. Ditch the snacks and shakes in between meals.
  • Don’t let dogma or false beliefs dictate your meal frequency. Choose a meal frequency completely based on personal preferences. That was the lesson I wanted to teach through with my tale of skipping breakfast. If you never were a breakfast-eater like me, skip breakfast and eat later in the day. You can have lunch, dinner and an evening meal. Or whatever other eating pattern that lets you adhere the best to your diet.
  • <-----------End of Article----------->

    Make sure and visit Lean Gains and learn more tips for getting lean from Martin. He actually has one of the more entertaining posts I have ever read where he downs an entire cheescake: Cheesecake Mastery Part 2: Easter ’10 Massacre. In fact, the picture from that post is so clever, I have to post it here. All former video game geeks will instantly know what this is all about. The comments on the post are hilarious. People told him it was irresponsible, he was setting a bad example, etc. I give him props for crushing the entire cheesecake (plus being able to pull off the Fatality in style).

    Easter

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    Rusty Moore

    ----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

    { 133 comments… read them below or add one }

    Greg - Kinobody Fitness Systems June 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    This is an awesome article!

    I too have always found that nuts were soo overatted. In addition I also felt that post workout shakes with 1:1 carb protein actually increased my appetite. I also like to skip breakfast.

    These little tricks add up big time.

    Greg O’G.

    Olivia May July 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    fat loss.. hmm… i am eating nuts and chocolate for lunch, does that help?

    space jam jordans July 14, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Great blog post here. Will keep checking back for updates. Thanks

    P90X Coach July 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    VERY Interesting!

    I need to rethink breakfast and almonds, I guess – two staples in my current ‘diet’.

    I am also one of those ‘every 2-3 hours’ kind of eaters, so I am going to read this again and other information Martin provides…good stuff.

    Roger Vivier October 11, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    I need to rethink breakfast and almonds

    Personal Training Highgate November 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Great Article.
    Munching on those almonds right now, great stuff!

    John December 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Almost Every type 1 diabetic knows about the dawn phenomenon – tha hormone soup that invades our bodies each morning and raises our insulin resistance (IR). Some have minor ones, many of us have giagantic, troublesome ones.

    The key here is it increases your IR in the mornings, so when I eat breakfast, I need more insulin. More insulin means more fat storage. As far as I’m concerned, it’s simple math – skip breakfast or consume only fats.

    Destiny February 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

    I am a pescatarian and as such have a considerably smaller range of protein options, and while some say “well just load up on your fish”, seafood is a bit more expensive than a slab of cow. So that being said, I kind of need protein shakes… Why casein and not whey?

    Michael- Somebody Lied April 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    These are all great tips that I have adopted over the past year. Lean gains is a great system. I used to think it was just 16 hours fasting but after dissecting a lot of Martin’s stuff found there was a lot more to his approach.

    Mike April 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    I have a protein shake almost daily because I actually enjoy it and it fills me up, not to mention a solid source of protein. Considering the negatives you pointed out about them, is what I’m doing wrong? The shake itself is 335 cal with 45g of protein.

    isabelle marant May 7, 2012 at 6:49 am

    These are all great tips that I have adopted over the past year. Lean gains is a great system.

    roger vivier flasts May 7, 2012 at 6:52 am

    I am a pescatarian and as such have a considerably smaller range of protein options.

    Christian June 19, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Dean, Get your head out of your ass and do some research on the topic. No one is going to hold your hand for it.

    Breakfast is the most ridiculously overated thing in health.

    Wild Runner July 11, 2012 at 2:56 am

    Great article. Since I started skipping the breakfast and fasting until lunchtime, the ease of fat loss has been great. My only problem is that I teach group kettlebell classes a lot, so it is sometimes hard to schedule the meals at the times I would like to.

    Martin’s Lean Gains plan is very good IMHO, and as a trail runner too, shedding those extra pounds of fat has really improved my times and energy levels when I get off road.

    DJVege July 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Cheers for the information. Well researched an written. Though I’d also like to see an article on body building, bulking etc… with lean gains, minimal fat gains etc… (still researching so you might have one somewhere that I haven’t found yet). I’ve been a carb cycler for a while which worked great to lose the fat, though I’m interested in adding this “intermittent fast” component to see the difference.

    Mark August 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I have been doing this kind of fasting diet for about 6 so months now. I feel better on a fasting diet. I look better. I have not gotten super ripped. But that’s do it a the huge amount of Ice Cream I ate over the last couple of months. But I’m not fat. Now I’m doing the fasting diet with lower carbs for a couple of weeks to shed some fat.

    I’m not used to his 3 meals I do more of the Warrior Diet with one big meal. But I might try the Leans Gains and Also the Eat Stop Eat. Also between the 3 styles along with occasional low carbs you can eat anything you want and stay in shape. If you’re craving massive Cheese and oils cut your carbs, then go back. You can eat ice cream after workouts.

    I disagree about the nuts in moderation. Raw Almonds are very good and know to prevent cancer. 7-10 Raw almonds a day are not a problem. Roasted salted nuts are garbage. Dried fruit pretty much just sugar.

    C-Los August 13, 2012 at 5:35 am

    “In years and years this is the first person i have ever come across that is saying breakfast is not important! And probably the only person on the net saying this……I wonder who is right? this guy or the 1,000,0000,0000′s of people on the net saying how important it is!?!?!?!? Oh and nuts are bad eh?” -Dean

    “In years and years this is the first person I have ever come across that is saying the world isn’t flat. And probably the only person on earth saying this…. I wonder who is right? this guy or the 1,000,000,0000′s of people on earth saying how it couldn’t possibly be a sphere?!?!? Oh and the Sun is the center of the solar system eh?”

    Joe August 16, 2012 at 5:44 am

    I spent the fittest years of my life doing exactly what Martin describes, simply because it was natural and worked for me. Since then, I’ve spent the last 6 messing around with 5/6 meals a day, supplements, and generally neurotic eating/working out behaviours and stressed-attitudes that have never produced the same results. Put simply, most of science is misinterpreted; sometimes by the scientists themselves on a statistical basis (remember, a scientist isn’t a mathematician/statistician), or by the journalists, nutritionists, fitness experts, doctors, etc. that further snowball their conclusions. However, those petri-dish studies simply don’t port over to the full complexity of the human body, peoples’ life-constraints, nor their individual preferences and psychological barriers. Martin’s a saint for lending an authoritative, skeptical, well-researched, adapting and information-based voice to the whole debate; people like my who had it figured out, then undid it on the basis of populism and “the herd knows better logic”, have much to gain from the validation, insights, strategy and ideas this article and Martin’s whole site provides.

    intermittent fasting October 12, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Hi there, just became alert to your blog via Google, and located that it is really informative. I am gonna be careful for brussels. I will appreciate in case you continue this in future. Lots of people shall be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

    Fitz January 7, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Excellent article Martin
    I’ve always followed Brad’s 6-6 24 hour protocol, loved it for a few weeks but then it just fades out of my routine.
    I’m trying lean gains tomorrow, to see if sticks a little better.
    Skipping breakfast on brads was no problem ever but I’d start glazing over around 4pm dreaming of food for the last couple hours.
    Anyways,
    Cheers

    BlazePro February 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Martin is on the money with this one.
    I skipped breakfast and stopped snacking in between lunch and dinner and cut 15 pounds of body fat in 2 and 1/2 weeks. Plus sticking to my “Big 3″ regiment. The proof is in the pudding.

    RobH March 6, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I have to say that after starting this IF approach I have lost weight at an amazing rate, I have found that this feeding structure keeps me much more satisfied. No more starving late night or after the gym. People can believe what they want, it really comes down to something that you can stick to within your lifestyle, and works for you. This has worked for me, and has worked well. Give it a try if it works for you awesome, if not change it up. What do you have to lose?

    Chris April 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I’ve been doing IF for about a year now and I like it for the simple fact it makes it easier to keep calories in check. It’s not a magic or anything – if you continue to eat over your caloric needs, you’ll still get fat on IF. It would be a penny-wise, dollar-foolish approach to overeat on IF (like getting rid of your HBO subscription to save money, but having rent that’s 400 bucks beyond what you can afford). However, the 8 hour window makes it much easier to not go overboard with calories.

    As for working out in the fasted state, I can personally attest it has ZERO negative effect on your workout. It’s something I believe is totally psychological…thinking you’re going to be weak because you haven’t eaten in 16 hours. After you get past that, you realize its not true at all. Maybe the 1st week or so, it takes getting used to going that long without eating (again, could be mental), but once you get past that its pretty easy. Eat dinner at 8, then don’t eat til lunch the next day. Water and coffee will keep you full. I actually enjoy working out on an empty stomach. Hate that bloated feeling when lifting.

    sam May 21, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    @C-Los This guy is correct. I lost more than 80 lbs in less than six months for my show. Part of the program included skipping breakfast… and I stayed away from nuts. The pleasure of having visible abs is much greater than the pleasure of believing popular lies. Popular thought has led the majority of people on this continent to be considered obese. Living life as a thin, fit person is much more fun than when I was obese. It’s up to you. You can decide to do what works… or, you have the freedom to trust the voice of the obese majority which, for sure, has backing from the world of academia. Have fun with that.

    Komal August 22, 2013 at 8:56 am

    So there’s no hope for vegetarians to build or maintain muscle mass?

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