What Is the Leangains Diet, and How Does It Work?
Leangains is a nutrition and training system that was developed by Martin Berkhan, a Swedish nutritionist, in the 2000s. As mentioned above, this method combines the 16/8 fasting method, a high-protein diet, and strength training with the goal of building muscle.
This system does not restrict your total calorie intake—you can eat as much as you want during your 8-hour eating window, especially if you prioritize foods high in protein. However, the eating pattern does induce a caloric deficit due to the length of its fasting window, which leads the body into a state of ketosis in which it’ll start burning fat naturally.
Due to its effectiveness, this method has been labeled as the perfect way to help you gain muscle, lose fat, and change your overall figure, as it combines fasting with a high-protein regime and strength training.
Let’s now explore all the basics of the Leangains method in more detail.
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Basics of the 16/8 fast
The only rule in the 16/8 fasting style is to refrain from eating for (at least) 16 hours a day. Depending on your habits, you can choose when to start and finish your fast, but most practicers begin in the evening, around 8 PM, and finish their fasting window around noon the following day.
After the fast, the eating window begins, in which you get exactly 8 hours to get all the calories you need for the day.
The long fasting period in this eating pattern will naturally induce a caloric deficit, as it drastically cuts the hours in which you’re allowed to eat, leading to the metabolic state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural state in which the body burns body fat for fuel instead of blood glucose. This state is usually induced during long periods without food or while following low-carb diets like the keto diet.
The Leangains system incorporates exercise into the fasting period for optimal benefits.
In this fasted state, exercise increases the amount of fat your body is already burning through ketosis, pushing you to lose even more fatty tissue and enhance muscle growth.
Weight training is the main exercise on Leangains. While following this program, you are recommended to use compound movements and powerlifting exercises, including:
- Bench press
- Overhead press
According to the system’s guidelines, you should work out for 1 hour, 3-4 days a week, ideally before your first meal.
The diet also follows the reverse pyramid training style, in which you start with the heaviest weights and the fewest repetitions, and then finish with the lightest weights and the most reps. This method is a good way of building muscles, and it can also be helpful when you are trying to lose weight.
In order to feel the progress and to promote muscle gain, it is essential that you increase the weight that you lift every few weeks or once the weights you’ve been lifting start to feel too easy.
The best way to accurately define which weights would work for you is to reach out to a personal trainer—they can help you set up the best routine for you based on your goals, current health state, and other parameters.
However, if you prefer to do this on your own, start with a weight that allows you to do the first reps with moderate difficulty. You will likely need heavier weights for leg exercises and lighter ones for your arms, but this depends on your capacities.
The nutritional guidelines for the Leangains system include several specific rules to help you lose fat and enhance muscle gain:
- Tracking macronutrients — tracking your macros means knowing how much of each macronutrient you are eating and ensuring you hit your goals for the day. To determine how much of each macro you should eat, you can use an online Leangains macro calculator or consult a specialist.
- Cycling carbs and calories — this means that you should be eating the most carbs and calories on the days when you train, and reduce their intake when you don’t. Your daily calorie intake should fluctuate depending on your exercise while on Leangains.
- High-protein foods – a high-protein intake is essential for this diet. You need to get enough high-protein foods from lean sources to ensure muscle growth, especially for recovery after training sessions.
- Fasting periods — you are not allowed to consume any calories during your fasting periods, but you may drink tea, unsweetened coffee, and water. You can also eat sugar-free gum or take a fiber supplement to reduce hunger pangs and help you feel more satiated.
The Benefits of the Leangain Diet
The 16/8 fasting method has been shown to have many positive benefits in randomized controlled trials, and these can be extrapolated to the Leangains diet. We have summarized some of the benefits below.
1. Better insulin sensitivity
Fasting diets have been shown to have a positive effect on blood sugar regulation and inulin sensitivity in a number of studies. Indeed, IF has been found to have a profound impact on insulin sensitivity and is thought to reduce insulin resistance in patients with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
2. Better nutrient absorption
The improvement in insulin sensitivity that is seen on fasting, and therefore on Leangains, also has a positive impact on nutrient absorption. Indeed, with better insulin performance, nutrients are more easily absorbed, which can have a positive effect on body composition.
3. Faster loss of unwanted body fat
Fasting diets are well known for helping you to reduce your body weight, but they also have a massive impact on stored fat. More extended periods of fasting induce a state called ketosis. In this state, the body burns stored fat for fuel, helping you to reduce unwanted fat stores.
4. More efficient weight loss
The diet combines exercise with fasting, promoting a more efficient weight reduction method. Many diets only focus on what you eat, but with the added recommendation of activity, dieters increase their calorie deficit and, therefore, their weight reduction.
5. Better appetite control
There is evidence to suggest that a fasting diet can help you regain control of your appetite—long fasting periods are thought to reduce hunger pangs, sugar cravings, and overall appetite as the body adapts to the fasted state.
This Is What a Day With the Leangain Diet Looks Like
A day in the life of a Leangains dieter will vary depending on when they choose to exercise, as all aspects of this system are focused on weight training and exercise. See what a day on this regime would look like depending on when you choose to work out.
If training in the morning
If you choose to train in the mornings, you will be doing a fasted workout. Below are the key steps you should take:
- Pre-workout (5–15 mins before your training) — take pre-workout supplements, i.e., 10g of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
- Train between 6 AM and 7 AM — focus on weight lifting and resistance training.
- One hour after the workout (around 8 AM) — take another 10g of BCAAs, and another one again at 10 AM.
- At the beginning of your feeding window (around noon) — you can now have your post-workout meal. This meal should contain the bulk of your calories for the day, as this will be your largest meal of the day.
- Last meal of the feeding period (between 8 PM and 9 PM) — it’s recommended that you have a lighter meal now, as your sleep time will be approaching and heavy meals could interrupt your sleep cycle.
If training during lunchtime
If your lifestyle requires that you need to hit the gym in the middle of the day, follow these few rules:
- Have a pre-workout meal at the beginning of your feeding period (between 12 and 1 PM) — this should include 20–25% of your total calorie intake for the day and should cover key macronutrients.
- Train a few hours after the pre-workout meal (around 3-4 PM).
- Have your post-workout meal (between 4 and 5 PM), and ensure you eat most of your calories here. This is the largest meal of the day.
- Eat your last meal (between 8 and 9 PM) — after this, begin fasting.
- Follow the same protocol as above with branched-chain amino acids. I.e., a 10g dose before the workout and two afterward.
If training in the evening
If training in the evening suits you best, your schedule will look more like this:
- First meal between 12 and 1 PM — this should include around 20–25% of your calories for the day.
- Second meal between 3 and 4 PM — this will be your pre-workout, so it should be your lightest meal of the day.
- Post-workout meal between 8 and 9 PM — you can eat the bulk of your calories here for recovery after a workout. This should be your largest meal, and it’s your opportunity to ensure your macronutrient intake covers all food groups.
- Follow the same protocol as above for BCAA supplements.
Risks and Drawbacks to Consider
Just with like any other diet, the Leangains method has certain drawbacks you should be aware of before starting:
- Macro counting — counting your macronutrients requires lots of planning and discipline. If you don’t have time to make home-cooked meals, you may find this difficult.
- Not suitable for all — this diet is unsuitable for some people, including those with a history of eating disorders, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and anyone with a health condition that could be affected by fasting. If you have any reason to believe that this diet could harm you, consult with a doctor before your first fast.
- Restrictive eating — this diet is restrictive and may not fit into all lifestyles. It may also encourage a pattern of disordered eating in some people, which can be bad for your health.
- Potential side effects — side effects of fasting include extreme hunger, headaches, heartburn, tiredness, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and irritability. However, the increase in protein intake has certain risks of its own that should be considered.
- Risk of nutrient deficiency — by focusing on your protein intake during your 8-hour feeding window, you may leave out some other nutrients or minerals essential for the body, which can cause deficiencies if not addressed.
If you are concerned about this diet’s potential drawbacks and side effects, we recommend speaking with your doctor or a nutritionist before you make any changes to your lifestyle. They will be able to give you advice on the diet and how it might impact your health.
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Overall, Is It Safe to Try the Leangain Diet?
Generally, fasting diets and Leangains are considered safe for most people, unless you fall into the risk groups mentioned above. And, if you are worried about the diet in any way, we always recommend consulting your doctor before starting.
If you intend to start following the Leangains method, it is crucial you do thorough research. You need to make sure that all of your meals have the required macronutrients and that you are nourishing your body correctly.
You also need to take your training days into consideration and ensure they fit with your lifestyle. If you have never done fasted training, speaking with a personal trainer might be a good idea to talk with a personal trainer first—they can recommend the best exercise for building muscle mass based on your current physical status.
Remember that you’ll also need to eat fewer calories on rest days. These days are crucial for recovery and must be observed on the Leangains method.
It is recommended to take a few supplements while following the Leangains or any fasting method. Supplements can help you maintain good overall health and increase fat loss and muscle growth.
Below we’ll take a look at the recommended supplementation protocol for Leangains. However, it’s important to talk to a specialist before making any purchase, as they can help you decide which supplements are suitable for you and your specific needs.
A daily dose of calcium is recommended on Leangains, particularly for anyone who does not eat calcium-rich foods. Calcium is an excellent supplement for building muscles and for fat loss, and it’s very popular in the fitness industry.
While building muscle on Leangains, calcium helps to boost fat loss and could also boost testosterone levels.
Creatine is one of the most well-researched performance-enhancing supplements on the market, and it is recommended for Leangains dieters. It increases your energy levels and boosts resilience, helping you to train harder.
It’s usually recommended to take a daily dose of creatine while on Leangains to boost energy levels and prevent fatigue.
Many people, particularly those who live in Northern countries, do not get enough vitamin D—which can be obtained primarily from sunlight. As a result, many health authorities recommend taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the winter months.
Vitamin D is also an excellent addition for anyone on Leangains. It supports important bodily functions, improves bone health, and may also boost athletic performance, helping you to train harder.
Fish oil comes in a few forms, including cod liver oil. It is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for heart health and can help to improve joint health. On Leangains, it is recommended that you take 2g of EPA and 1.5g of DHA daily.
Fiber is an excellent supplement to take during fasting, as it reduces hunger cravings and boosts satiety.
The DoFasting fiber complex is a glucomannan-based supplement that trounces hunger cravings. It is designed to prolong your fasting periods, reduce cholesterol levels, and improve skin health. It is the perfect fiber supplement for Leangains or any other fasting method.
A protein supplement helps your body recover after exercising to gain strength. This will help you continue your daily routine on training days and ensure you continue gaining strength while preventing muscle breakdown.
Lose Weight and Build Muscle With DoFasting
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to gain more muscle when on an intermittent fasting plan. To learn more about intermittent fasting and how it can help you gain strength, check out the DoFasting site.
We cover articles on multiple topics, including exercise and intermittent fasting, and offer different guides to help you get started on the fasting method of your choice. And if you can’t decide which fasting style to begin with, the DoFasting app can help you choose with its quick, free test.
This app is the perfect companion for Leangains and can help you to stay on track thanks to the multiple features it includes:
- Fasting tracker
- Progress tracker
- Timer to remind you when to start fasting
- Educational content on all different kinds of IF diets
- Thousands of recipes for IF plans
- Workouts and exercise information suitable for fasting
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The Leangain Diet: Final Considerations
Leangains is a muscle-building diet that mixes strengthening exercises, protein intake, and intermittent fasting. It is commonly thought of as the 16/8 fasting method with an additional exercise regime.
It is considered a safe and effective method of losing weight and changing body composition. Still, it may have some disadvantages for certain groups of people or if done without supervision.
Always consult your doctor, nutritionist, or trainer before making any significant changes to your lifestyle or training routine.
This is an evidence-based article that includes scientific citations. DoFasting’s professional writers and editors prepared the content, which a team of medical experts verified to be accurate.