Introducing Intermittent Feast

*Warning — this is a LONG post geared towards those who are looking for a streamlined approach to my nutrition philosophy.  It is going to stay up as a tab on the site, so you can always access it for reference easily.  No pictures, no fluff, no bullsh*t.  Just straight up education on this one.

I-Feast

Gung fu is based on simplicity; all techniques are stripped down to their essential purpose without wastage or ornamentation, and everything becomes the straightest, most logical simplicity of common sense.  Being wise in gung fu does not mean adding more but being able to remove sophistication and ornamentation and be simply simple — like a sculptor building a statue not by adding, but by hacking away the unessential so that the truth will be revealed unobstructed…The height of cultivation is really nothing special. It is merely simplicity, the ability to express the utmost with the minimum. – Bruce Lee

Give me 10 minutes of your time, and I can get you going in the right direction.  Here is a comprehensive guide to my nutritional approach.

I.  WHAT IS THE INTERMITTENT FEAST?

A dietary approach that combines principles from Caveman Nutrition Theory with Modern Sports Nutrition Science in order to accomplish your two main goals:  improve overall health and ruthlessly slash body fat.  You don’t have to live and look like a goblin, or join a cult with an aura of mysticism, in order to improve bio-markers of health.  Nor do you have to destroy your health, give up your career and social life, live in the kitchen, or be obsessively controlled by your diet to look good at Da Beach.

II.  I-FEAST OVERVIEW

THE CAVEMAN TEMPLATE

“Caveman Nutrition” is a simple educational tool you can easily remember and apply, and should serve as the base foundation of your diet.  If it was around in caveman times, you can eat it.  If man made it, don’t eat it. If you can cut its head off or pluck it from the ground, it’s probably good to go.  If it’s neon blue and comes in a bag or box, or is a Pop Tart, it’s probably not great.

Moving away from modern Y2K eating by cutting out processed, man-made foods (including self proclaimed “health” foods, Miyaki proclaimed bullsh*t foods); and returning to our evolutionary pasts by eating real, natural foods (wild animals and plants) will take you 90% of the way in achieving your goals.  It cuts through over-complication, confusion, misinformation, and slick marketing, and gives you a simple base template you can follow.

THE FAST & FEAST DIET STRUCTURE

Choosing the appropriate meal frequency and food distribution pattern — FOR YOU — is about making your plan as realistic and functional as possible.  There is no one Right Way.  Multiple approaches can work.  Modern fitness approaches (eat 6 small meals every 2 hours, starve at night, wanting to gnaw off your significant other’s arm, etc.) can work great, as many professional fitness athletes have proven, and often write about in the magazines.  I have followed such plans myself with great results.   But these plans are impractical for most in the real world, and are based more on spandex tradition rather than scientific necessity.  There are equally effective alternatives.

Human beings evolved on a fasting and feeding cycle.  We spent the majority of our existence fasting or eating lighter during the day while actively tracking, hunting, and gathering our food.  We spent the evening relaxing and feasting on the majority, if not all, of our daily food intake.  Following this type of structure is an easier plan to stick to for most people, because it goes with our natural instincts and social patterns.

THE ATHLETE’S MODIFICATION

If you are an athlete or regular exerciser that has higher-level performance or physique goals, and engages in high-intensity, anaerobic-based training (strength training, sprint sports, bar hopping, etc.), you should add back in a select few starchy carbohydrates to support the unique physiological, metabolic, and hormonal demands of this modern activity.  Caveman ate to survive, not to build a beach physique or perform like a World Champ.

III.  HOW TO INTERMITTENT FEAST

STEP #1 – HUNT FOR ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS

Make unprocessed, wild, hormone-free, anti-biotic free, natural animal proteins the foundation of your diet.

They provide the essential amino acids we need for building and maintaining lean muscle mass, the essential fatty acids and “good” fats we need for normal functioning and natural hormone production, and vitamins and minerals (B-vitamins, zinc, selenium, iron, etc.).

STEP #2 – GATHER MICRONUTRIENTS & PHYTONUTRIENTS

Make non-starchy vegetables and whole fruits (melons are my favorite, get it?), the second foundation of your diet.

They provide natural fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals (vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc.), and disease-fighting phytonutrients.

STEP #3 – GATHER ENERGY NUTRIENTS

Animals and plants provide us with the essential nutrients and micronutrients we need for survival.  Everything else is about providing us with the energy we need to fuel our daily activities.

For added energy nutrients, eat whole food fats or low fructose, gluten-free, natural starch foods.

A. The Paleo Diet

This is a good template for sedentary, obese, insulin resistant, type II diabetic populations:  animal proteins, vegetables, whole fruit, and whole food fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut).

B.  The Traditional Japanese Village Diet

This is a good template for athletes and regular exercisers, which is basically a Paleo-style Diet with the re-introduction of some rice and root vegetables to support anaerobic training.  The Irish Farmer’s Diet (meat and potatoes), Okinawans (pork, vegetables, and sweet potatoes), and Kitavans (fish, fruit, and root vegetables) are other good examples and templates.

STEP #4 — INTERMITTENT FEAST

Fast or eat lighter during the day, feast on the majority of your calories and energy nutrients at night.

A. Physiology

This structure controls insulin/blood sugar levels and maximizes fat burning hormones and cellular factors during the day (growth hormone, cAMP), while simultaneously improving nutrient partitioning and maximizing muscle building hormones and cellular factors at night (insulin, mTOR).

B. Psychology

Our brains work on a sacrifice/reward pattern.  Most people find it relatively easy to cut calories and make better food choices during the day, as long as they know they can eat a larger meal at night, and get to end the day satiated and satisfied (at least in the kitchen, the bedroom is your own responsibility).  This is way more effective than large lunches that lead to rebound hypoglycemia and energy crashes, and tiny dinners that lead to starvation-induced, junk food binges.

C.  Anecdotal

Instinctually, socially, and in business settings, this is one of the easiest plans to follow.  You are no longer a slave to your diet.  Thus adherence and success rates are very high amongst a wide variety of demographics.

IV. SEDENTARY I-FEAST TEMPLATE

*BREAKFAST

Water, black coffee, plain tea

LUNCH

**4-8oz lean protein

non-starchy vegetables

1 piece whole fruit and/or 1-2 servings of whole food fats (nuts, avocado, coconut)

DINNER

*4-16 oz lean protein

non-starchy vegetables

1-2 servings whole food fats

1 piece whole fruit for dessert.

*I like to pair the intermittent feast with a version of intermittent fasting (skip breakfast and eat all of your calories at lunch and dinner.  Thanks to Ori Hofmekler and Martin Berkhan).  But I also hate dogma and systems.  If for whatever reason you feel better with breakfast — I think that’s mostly placebo effect and being tied to tradition — but nonetheless, I think you should do what works best for you.  Just keep sugar and refined starch out of your breakfast.  Eat a light protein-only breakfast, a whole fruit snack, or something similar to the suggested lunch.  But my “gun to your head and tell me what to do for optimal results” stance is to skip breakfast.

**Serving sizes based on body weight.

Cheat once a week at dinner, probably on the weekend for social reasons, for psychological relief, and for long-term sustainability of your plan.

V. ATHLETE/REGULAR EXERCISER I-FEAST TEMPLATE

*BREAKFAST

Water, black coffee, plain tea

LUNCH

**4-8oz lean protein

non-starchy vegetables

1 piece whole fruit and/or 1-2 servings of whole food fats (nuts, avocado, coconut)

DINNER

**8-16 oz lean protein

non-starchy vegetables

***natural starch foods (root vegetables or rice)

*See what I said about breakfast above.

**Serving sizes based on body weight.

***Serving sizes based on body weight, activity levels, individual metabolic factors, and physique goals.

VI. I-FEAST SUMMARY

I wish I could tell you it is more complicated than that, but I don’t believe that it is.  Eat lighter while “hunting” during the day, feast on real foods at night.  Sleep tight.

Athletes may need detailed numbers (calories and macronutrients), nutrient timing parameters, and advanced calorie and carb cycling protocols to attain higher-level physique goals.  We will cover this in more detail in future posts.

VII.  WHAT TO CUT

I believe the true value of a caveman or ancestral approach to nutrition is what it cuts from the average person’s diet (concentrated fructose including high fructose corn syrup and table sugar, trans fats, high n-6 vegetable oils, etc.), rather than a religious-like dogmatic adherence to one specific macronutrient distribution pattern regardless of individual activity levels, metabolic condition, or goals.

There are cultural diets that are very low carb and high in protein and fat (Inuit), and cultural diets that are relatively low fat and very high carb (Okinawan, Kitavan).  The commonality amongst them, which is the true key to their immaculate health and low body fat percentages, is what they are NOT eating.

Modern refined, processed, packaged, man-made foods, including self-proclaimed “health foods”

The over-consumption of refined foods — foods that are not aligned with our genetic make-up — is a root cause of many of our modern diseases: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and the man boob & muffin top epidemic.

Most of us know that crap is crap.  And on that note, organic crap is still crap regardless of the marketing tagline (organic sugar, cookies, muffins, etc.).

In addition, many of the foods we’ve been raised to believe are “health” foods, are really not that great for us (whole grains, pro-biotic yogurts, snack bars, etc.).

A.  Level I – Foods to Cut.

  • Concentrated sources of fructose (high fructose corn syrup and sugar) have been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, type II diabetes, and elevated triglycerides.  That does NOT mean whole fruit, which does contain natural fructose, but in relatively small amounts.  It means refined crap.
  • Transfats (in packaged and processed foods) have been linked to belly fat, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
  • High Omega-6 oils (vegetable oils, fried foods) lead to whole body inflammation, aggravate autoimmune diseases, increase risk of cardiovascular disease, decrease insulin sensitivity.
  • Gluten (in wheat and processed foods) can lead to chronic fatigue, impaired immune system functioning, cortisol elevation, water retention, bloating, and abdominal pain.

* These are foods I would say most nutritionists and coaches, regardless of camp or system, would agree should be minimized in the diet.

B.  Level II — Foods to Cut

  • Phytic acid (in whole grain cereals and breads) can cause digestive stress, inhibit the absorption of minerals, and may adversely affect protein digestibility.
  • Lectins (in wheat and legumes) can damage the digestive tract, compromise the immune system, and may adversely affect protein digestibility and amino acid availability.
  • Dairy allergy or sensitivity can lead to mucous production, histamine production, digestive stress, cortisol elevation, stubborn fat, water retention, acne, overall inflammation, and has been linked to diabetes.

* These foods are more debatable, with coaches, camps, and systems on both sides of the fence.  Many will include some of the above foods in their diets and are just fine — from both a cosmetic and health standpoint.  Many believe that cutting out one, or all of these foods, was the true key to their success.

If you are struggling with your health or body weight, my advice is to test and assess in the real world.  Cut out these foods for a few weeks, and see how you look and feel.  Add them back in and see how you look and feel.  In an era of mysticism and blindly clinging to dogma and gurus, this advice brings back some simple dietary common sense. 

Beyond science and theory or systems, the real world results FOR YOU provide the real world answers FOR YOU.  My experience, and that of a large percentage of my clients, has led me to my current hypothesis that these foods should be excluded from the diet as well, for ideal results.

VIII. APPLICATION

If you get healthier and ripped on this plan, you are female, and want to walk around with just a leaf covering your goods as a thank you to me, I’m cool with that.  If you’re a dude, that’s really not a thank you to me, but hey, feel free to swing away man.

Either way, please go out and tell the world our story.

IX. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

You have more questions?  What are you, The Riddler?  Just kidding.  Here are some common ones.

1. Hey, aren’t animal proteins bad for us?

No.  Commercially raised, hormone and anti-biotic injected meats and processed crap like bologna may be.  But how can the wild animal proteins we evolved on, that provide us with the essential nutrients we need for survival, and have been eating for hundreds of thousands of years, suddenly be poison?

Cordain et al.  2002.  The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets:  meat-based, yet non-atherogenic.  Eur J Clin Nutr Mar;56 Suppl 1:S42-52.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11965522

2. Are refined foods really that bad for us?  Is that just a scare tactic?

Listen, we can all joke around about how bad we eat and how we need to lose some weight, but the reality is we’re killing ourselves slowly.  We’re eating foods that aren’t aligned with our genes, and it is having disastrous effects.  So no, I don’t think you should sh*tload, crapload, just fit your diet to your calories/macros, or whatever else you crazy kids are calling it these days.  Take it from someone who has worked with clients of all ages, and former athletes who have jacked themselves up with uninformed, extreme methods.  Its the cumulative effects of your diet over a lifetime that matter, not any 10-week time frame.  But I’ll let you be the judge.

O’Keefe et al.  2004. Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer.  Mayo Clin Proc 2004 Jan;79(1):101-8.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14708953

3.  Won’t eating a big meal with carbs at night make me store fat?

Fitness hogwash.  Eating at night doesn’t make you fat.  Eating too much/too many calories makes you fat.  If you’ve eaten large and/or frequent meals throughout the day, and then eat another large dinner on top of that, chances are you will overshoot your daily calorie needs and gain fat.  It’s the total food intake not the distribution that is the problem.  If you eat lighter during the day and are active, chances are you enter dinner in a relatively large calorie deficit with depleted energy reserves, and even a large meal with a significant amount of carbohydrates will be used to restore energy reserves first, before spilling over into fat stores.  You need to look at this recommended diet structure as an entire big picture (fast AND feast), not at isolated topics.

Sofer et al.  2011.  Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner.  Obesity (Silver Spring) Apr 7. [Epub ahead of print].  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21475137

4. Isn’t breakfast the most important meal of the day?

Not really, but again you have to look at this diet structure as a whole.  If you eat a big meal the night before, you will have plenty of energy reserves stored to fuel your body and brain throughout the next morning.  If you are starving yourself at night, then yes, maybe breakfast becomes more important.

And besides, the body naturally wakes up in a fat burning, energy production mode.  Eating food, particularly sugar and refined carbohydrate-loaded breakfast foods, gives your body an immediate fuel source, and shuts down those prime fat burning hours. By skipping breakfast, you prolong the amount of time your body is burning stored energy reserves as its primary fuel source, thus optimizing your ability to maximally burn body fat.

That’s why I believe in pairing the intermittent feast with intermittent fasting.  They work together in perfect harmony.

Martin et al.  2000. Is advice for breakfast consumption justified? Results from a short-term dietary and metabolic experiment in young healthy men. Br J Nutr. 2000 Sep;84(3):337-44.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10967612

Samra et al.  1996. Effects of morning rise in cortisol concentration on regulation of lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue. AJP – Endo December 1, 1996 vol. 271 no. 6 E996-E1002.  http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/271/6/E996.abstract

5. Shouldn’t everyone, everywhere be eating a low carb diet?

Not necessarily.  Low carb diets are great for certain demographics — sedentary, obese, insulin resistant, etc. — thus they should be the default status for probably 70% of our population.

However, exercise creates a unique metabolic environment, an altered physiological state, and changes the way your body processes nutrients both during activity and for up to 48 hours after completion of a training session.  If you exercise intensely 3 or more days a week, than your body is virtually in a recovery mode 100% of the time.  It is in an altered physiological state beyond pure resting conditions 100% of the time, thus its nutritional needs are completely different than sedentary populations.

And low-carb diets combined with consistent high intensity activity can have a lot of metabolic, hormonal, and physiological drawbacks including impaired thyroid production, low testosterone and sex drive, decreases in metabolic rate, muscle loss, skinny-fat syndrome, insomnia, depression, irritability, and general foul mood.

What good is a six-pack if you have a lifeless noodle hanging between your legs (or whatever the female equivalent would be), and then you’re a big d*ck to everyone else around you because of it?

Baba et al.  1999.  High protein vs high carbohydrate hypoenergetic diet for the treatment of obese hyperinsulinemic subjects.  Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord Nov;23(11):1202-6.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10578211

Kimber et al.  2003.  Skeletal muscle fat and carbohydrate metabolism during recovery from glycogen-depleting exercise in humans.  J Physiol May 1;548(Pt 3):919-27.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12651914

McCoy et al.  1996.  Skeletal muscle GLUT-4 and postexercise muscle glycogen storage in humans.  J Appl Physiol Feb;80(2):411-5.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8929577

6. Don’t I need to eat 6 small meals a day to get ripped?

You can, and that works well too, but it is not necessary, and it’s not practical for most. Numerous scientific studies have shown that if you control for food choices and total calories, meal frequency is irrelevant in terms of body composition change, metabolic rate, and the thermic effect of food.  That’s really just a fancy way of saying that despite what you’ve heard in the fitness industry (that clings to dogmatic systems), you can get equally good fat loss results eating 6, 3, or even just 1 main meal a day.

Since that’s the case, you can build your diet plan around your lifestyle, natural tendencies, career demands, time and food availability, calorie needs, digestive tolerance, etc. You can make the diet fit your life as opposed to the other way around.  Free at last…

There is more than one way to skin a cat, or more appropriately, peel off body fat.  I promote the fast and feast structure simply because I think it is the easiest plan to follow, not because I think it is the only plan that works, and not because I really give a damn about cavemen.

Cameron et al.  2010.  Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet.  Br J Nutr Apr;103(8):1098-101.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/943985

Verboeket-van de Venne et al.  1993.  Freqeuncy of feeding, weight reduction and energy metabolism.  Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord Jan;17(1):31-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8383639

7. This sounds like a fad diet, is this a fad diet?

Yes it is, and I’m totally trying to scam you into buying Intermittent Feast snack packs.  Wait, I don’t sell those.  I believe in real food over packaged crap…

I think traditional nutrition advice is the fad, influenced by the refined foods industries, geared towards selling you a bunch of boxed breakfast cereals, “low calorie” snack bars, refined oils, and other bullsh*t that you don’t really need.  But I’m kind of a hippie like that.

How could basing your diet on the food choices and eating structure of our evolutionary past be considered anything other than common sense, unbiased truth?

But I’ll let you decide.  Try it their way and see how you do.  Try it my way and see how you do.  Either way, if you reach your goals, we’ll both be happy regardless.

Posted on October 16, 2012, in Nutrition. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. 1-2 pieces of fruit post workout, back to protein + fat lunch, protein + carb dinner, vegetables with either. See more detailed answer below (or above, not too sure how my blog posts up answers, hahahahah

  2. Personally, due to Asian-bias and leaning towards Loren Cordain’s stance and research, I’m not a big fan of dairy. but I realize there are other coaches and camps that advocate (Primal, etc.).

    The best advice is to remove it, see how you look and feel, then add it back in and see how you look and feel. Test and assess in the real world. In an era where people cling to gurus and systems, this brings back some simple dietary common sense. The real world results FOR YOU provide the real world answers FOR YOU.

  3. Robb Wolf is the man. See the answer to James’ question.

  4. I prefer to keep all starchy carbs at dinner.

  5. Split it up into 2 dinners, one early one at say 5-6pm, one later at 7-8pm. At that point if you still can’t eat enough, you might have to move towards a more traditional spread

  6. Nate, you are the man. Your way of stripping away the BS and letting the simple truth shine through is remarkable. Thanks for that!

  7. Great Article Nate
    You are one of the only guys who promotes looking good, performance and health as part of a nutritional protocol.

    One question: What is your feeling about diary? I have seen conflicting studies and I know with paleo it’s a no-no Of course the good kind, grass fed raw milk, butter and cheese.

    -Doug

  8. Does the ATHLETE/REGULAR EXERCISER I-FEAST TEMPLATE assume training in the afternoon/evening? I am in the military and have to train in the morning. Same template or any modifications?

  9. I heard about you from listening to Robb Wolf. I’m really interested in giving the protocol a shot. I do have a question in regards to early morning workouts and restoring muscle glycogen post workout. Based on your proposed schedule, I wouldn’t be able to to a post workout recovery meal. Do you feel this would have an impact on recovery? I’m curious to see what kind of impact this would have especially if the workout where a METCON type workout early in the morning. Great blog! Keep up the great work!

  10. awesome post. oats for breakfast with my damn coffee. what you say to that?

  11. I’m a believer in fasting and feasting on my last meal. Only issue I have is if you are wanting to grow it’s VERY difficult to get the required calories into your system in the feast. Also, eating as clean as recommended makes it nigh on impossible.

    Do you have any thoughts on Ecto’s wanting to get bigger and your diet recommendations?

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