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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Warrior Diet

Several months ago, I mentioned to all you readers out there that back in college I gave up running in favor of strength training (here's the post in case you want to read some Classic MGBG).  When I made the switch, I gained a lot of weight.  I went from being an 165lb weakling to a 220 lb weakling by the time I was done with college.

Not all of that weight gain was muscle.  Although I worked out pretty religiously throughout college, and tried to eat right, I faced the same problem as a lot of college athletes.  My diet and exercise goals usually collided with other limitations and priorities...i.e. I was broke (limitation) and I liked to drink (priority).  When you only have about $5 a day to spend, and you have a $4 a day beer budget, it's hard to make good food choices.  So I tended to eat a lot of the standard college fare: mac and cheese, ramen noodles, frozen pizzas, and anything else that was 10 for $5 at the supermarket.

That combined with the fact that I lived in a fraternity for three out of my five (errr...five and a half-ish) years of college, and you can imagine that by the time I graduated I had an extra bit of midsection protection.  I was actually in denial for quite a while.  It's hard for a tall guy to look fat, because there's so many places that the weight can go.  Then one day I was drinking (a soda...yeah...that's it) out on the porch on a summer day when a friend of mine, who had drank a lot more "sodas" than me, pointed at my stomach and yelled, "BEER BELLY!"  It was time to lose the gut.

Dieting Sucks

Having been a strength athlete for several years at that point, I knew the drill.  A lot of people don't realize that most strength athletes don't looked ripped all year round.  They usually split the year into two "seasons": the on-season and the off-season (very creative, but hey, I didn't come up with the names).  During the off-season, they are usually eating a high-calorie, high-protein diet for the purpose of gaining muscle mass and strength.  Then in the on-season, they eat a low-calorie, ultra low-carbohydrate diet to cut the fat that they gain during the off-season in order to appear ripped for competition, swimsuit season, getting laid, etc. 

This must be the Governator during the "off-season". 

I had done the on-season diet a number of times over the course of my strength training.  I always hated it.  It was non-stop meals of chicken with no salt, salad with no dressing, and maybe a little bit of brown rice just to make sure your brain can still function.  It made me lethargic and hungry all the time.  It usually also meant that much of my strength gains, and some of my hard earned muscle would be lost.  At the same time, because you can't unring a bell, some of the fat I had gained during the off-season would decide to stick around.

Most people when they diet go through somewhat the same cycle, except normal folks call the two cycles "on a diet" and "not on a diet" (or "just blew my diet" or "whoops, there goes my diet").  Nobody is on a diet all the time, because maintaining it sucks, and it's not sustainable.  Eventually, your metabolism slows down and you plateau.  Either that, or something makes you go back to your old way of eating.  You meet your weight goal, you get bored, you get a craving.  Then a few weeks or months later after you slip, you're right back at your original weight.  Fantastic...

The Modern Diet Sucks

Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I stick primarily to a paleo or primal diet (for more information on what that is, check out this post).  In that post, I also told you folks that I generally don't get hungry or eat very much (if at all) during the day.  That wasn't always the case.  It's a learned behavior...or rather a "re-learned behavior". 

Here's the secret to gaining a shit ton of muscle mass really quickly: eat a lot and lift weights.  I mean...a lot!  As a 165 lb weakling, I began eating around 3500-4000 calories per day.  So that most of the weight I gained wasn't fat, most of what I ate was protein.  I ate 1-2 grams of protein per pound of my bodyweight per day.  Just to put that in perspective, that generally meant I was eating around 3 lbs of meat and drinking 3 large protein shakes per day.  Yes...that is gross.  And in order to maximize protein absorption, I spaced those calories over 5-6 small meals per day. 

That pretty much sums up the modern bodybuilding diet.

Although that might sound a little drastic, the "ideal" modern diet isn't much different.  Most nutrition experts recommend that you eat around 5-6 meals per day, and that those meals should consist of low-fat proteins, fruits and veggies, and low-glycemic index carbs.  The purpose of the weightlifter diet is to keep the body in an "anabolic" state.  That is, to keep the body using food energy to produce muscle.  The alternative is a "catabolic" state where your body is breaking down tissue (usually muscle) for energy.

The purpose of the 5-6 meals in a day for normal mortals is related.  It serves the purpose of regulating  blood sugar.  Among other things, eating larger meals can cause your insulin to spike, which will tell your body to start storing food energy in the form of fat.  You're supposed to be eating like a bodybuilder as well in order to make sure your body doesn't store the food you eat as fat. 

Introduction The Warrior Diet

Well sticking with 5-6 meals per day was absolutely exhausting.  I felt like I was constantly cramming food into my mouth.  I had an alarm that went off every three hours to remind me to eat.  I carried a cooler to class that had at least one protein shake and probably several small, portioned meals.  A housemate of mine used to have a joke that if my girlfriend (now my wife) wanted to find me, I was either a) napping, b) at the gym, or c) making a protein shake. 

It didn't take long for all of it to wear me down.  Not only was I sick of all the obsessing and binging and purging.  None of ever seemed to make sense.  If I have all of this excess fat on my body (according to my body calipers, I had way more than I wanted), why do I feel the need to eat every three hours?  Was I eating every three hours because I needed to, or because I had trained my body to eat every three hours?

So after my burnout I began looking to other alternatives.  In doing so, I discovered The Warrior Diet, which turned out to be the complete opposite of what I was doing.  Instead of eating 5-6 meals every couple of hours, the Warrior Diet involves around 20 hours of controlled fasting (the "undereating phase"), followed by 4 hours where you can eat most anything without restriction (the "overeating phase"). 

The Warrior Diet Book
Doesn't that fly in the face of everything I just mentioned above about the modern diet?  Sure does.  It also made perfect sense to me. 

That 2:30 Feeling

If you're the typical 9 to 5 worker, I bet your day goes a lot like this.  You wake up early in the morning.  Maybe you eat breakfast, maybe you don't.  You can maintain a pretty consistent level of productivity and alertness until about noon, when you eat lunch.  After you eat, you get sleepy, and you stay that way for the rest of the day.  Then you eat dinner and get even sleepier.  Then you're probably so tired that you just lay around until it's time to go to bed. 

Wonder why you always feel sleepy after lunch?  That "2:30 feeling" alluded to in the 5-Hour Energy commercials is just another name for an insulin spike.  Every time you eat, your body releases insulin at some level to counteract the sugars you're consuming.  Eat a little too much (which is what most people do at lunch) and it spikes, causing you to feel tired and lethargic.  So eating 5-6 meals per day essentially takes you on a potential insulin rollercoaster.  Not my kind of ride.

Liquid crack anyone?

Using your Instincts

The Warrior Diet is somewhat of a corollary to the paleo/primal diet.  Just as I think that what our bodies can best digest has evolved back in the Paleolithic, I think the way that we process food did also.  Back in the hunter gatherer days, people didn't eat a few, small meals 5-6 times a day.  They spent their days hunting for food.  If they ate at all during the day, they did so sparingly; a handful of fruit or nuts.  Once they caught their food, they had a veritable feast.  They ate as much as they wanted of whatever they had available.  After consuming that much food, they probably got a nice food coma like we all do after a big meal.  Then they probably relaxed and went to sleep.  Then they did it all over again.

The diet doesn't recommend that we only eat one meal because that's all we could get during a day though.  The creator of the diet argues that going through periods of undereating followed by overeating aligns with how we evolved.  Humans evolved to be hunters.  We are motivated and energized primarily by hunger; i.e. the urge to find and kill our next meal.  Once we killed our next meal, we could eat, enjoy, recover, and relax.

The Warrior Diet is designed to take advantage of our survival response.  When you undereat, your body has to turn to its fat stores for fuel instead of the food you recently consumed.  It also becomes more alert and energetic, qualities that would help you hunt and kill your food.  One you begin eating, your body moves into recovery mode.  It begins to focus on digestion, elimination of waste, and repair of damaged muscles and tissues.  You move into a lower energy state, because your body has what it wants and needs...food. 

Modern diet theory sees things the opposite way.  The modern diet sees food as fuel to power our days activities.  But have you ever eaten a really big meal and wanted nothing more than to go out and conquer the world?  Or did you just want to lay down?  For me it's the latter. 

My results

I began the Warrior Diet in the summer of 2003.  With the diet and exercise I was down to 195 lbs from 220 lbs within a month or so.  I had the lowest body fat percentage I've ever had, including my time so far on the paleo diet.  I never found myself lacking energy.

On the other hand, I was hungry a lot, and I'm not sure if I like that.  Nowadays, I practice a less restrictive version of the diet.  I generally have a few pieces of fruit throughout the day.  I'm not opposed to eating a meal during the day, but I usually keep it very small.   

I don't so much tell you about the diet because of it's effectiveness, or to suggest that you go on it like I did.  It more to take a critical stance on popular nutrition.  A lot of it is junk science.  I hope that this post gets you thinking about your diet, and ways that you might become more healthy.  Just remember that the way to good health might not be the most popular.

Cheers and enjoy!


  1. Interesting post, Saypay! I found that as I got into better shape, I naturally gravitated toward a more paleo diet. Right now I'm doing the 30-day paleo challenge. I've found that because I'm eating more meats and fats in the morning (say, bacon and eggs instead of oatmeal), I'm far less hungry at lunch. At first I was concerned about this but I've started getting used to it (and eating more at supper time!). Being underweight, slimming up isn't a priority for me, but I find it harder to keep the weight ON now. Did you/do you have that problem on the warrior diet? Like you, I'm not interested in being "strict" about anything I eat (who wants to pass up birthday cake?), but at the same time, if I can keep in relatively good shape with less effort, I'm all for it. :)

  2. Thanks for reading duey! Like you, I'm not really concerned with my weight right now. Since I've been doing the paleo/warrior thing, I've lost a few pounds of mostly fat. But at a certain point, I've come down to a kind of "new normal" weight, where I'm neither gaining or losing (right around 190lbs for me).

    I do a lot of strength training, which brings my weight back up slowly. You aren't going to make huge muscle gains on paleo or the warrior diet, but you will find the gains you make are easier to keep.


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