There are three guys that I follow in fitness.
- Tim Ferriss - NY Times Best-selling author of Four Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman (that I have used to great effect).
- Dave Asprey (Bulletproof Exec) – co-author of The Better Baby Book: How to have a Healthier, Smarter, Happier Baby – and biohacker focused on mental performance
- John “Roman” Romaniello – c0-author of the recently released NY Times Best-seller Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha: A Real-World Guide to an Unreal Life. Build More Muscle. Burn More Fat. Have More Sex (along with Adam Bornstein).
All three books are FANTASTIC and I highly recommend them. Four Hour Body is the most ‘universal’ and is very much geared towards getting whatever result you want. Better Baby Book is, obviously, geared towards pregnant women and couples that want to become pregnant. And Man 2.0 is clearly for men who want to be awesome.
Anyway – all three of these guys really know their stuff, and they all agree on 90% of fitness related topics. But there’s one area where they don’t agree – breakfast.
- Tim recommends a ‘slow carb’ breakfast with at least 30 grams of protein (that’s a TON of protein!) within 30 minutes of waking up.
- Roman recommends skipping breakfast and having a late lunch, referred to as Intermittent Fasting (or IF).
- Dave recommends a slight variation of Roman’s IF, where you consume some high quality fat with coffee for breakfast then skip lunch and just eat dinner.
I’ve tried all three. In fact, I’ve tried more than that because there are a ton of variation on IF. There’s the Warrior Diet, Eat Stop Eat, Lean Gains, etc.
- By the way, this is infuriating to my wife… One month I’m proclaiming how important a big protein breakfast is, and the next I’m saying that I’m no longer eating breakfast. We will get into that more later.
For the uninitiated, IF is all the rage in the Paleo and Crossfit communities. There’s a lot of science behind it, and a lot of people have had great success with it. But the same could be said of a slow carb breakfast.
Quick disclaimer: Most of the science backing Intermittent Fasting was done on rats and monkeys, and very little on humans (but what has been done on humans is almost all men). Because these animals’ hormonal system is somewhat similar to us, the benefits are assumed to carry over to humans. However, the dissimilarities are enough that I believe the benefits of fasting have been overstated.
Despite all the research and other’s success, Intermittent Fasting hasn’t worked well for me, but a slow carb breakfast has worked wonders.
So why didn’t IF work for me?
IF hasn’t worked for me primarily due to psychological and societal reasons, but I believe there are also some physiological and hormonal factors at play here as well.
Here’s what my experience is like with Slow Carb Breakfast vs Intermittent Fasting:
- With a big protein breakfast, it is easy to turn down that box of doughnuts that the ladies in HR offer up. It’s comfortable to order the grilled chicken for lunch. You barely notice the Jolly Ranchers you have to walk by 20 times a day. And when you go home after work where there’s a big tin of pasta waiting for you – it’s not hard to decide you’d rather some steak and a salad.
- When you don’t eat breakfast, your blood sugar levels drop and it requires extreme will power to make the right choice. Turn down the doughnuts once? No problem. Stare down the Jolly Ranchers for 10 minutes before convincing yourself that you are “being good today”? Got it. And maybe you even make it all the way to dinner without eating, but then that will power you’ve been relying on all day is GONE. You don’t have the strength to say No anymore, so you let go – eat three plates of pasta (you don’t want to have it staring at you tomorrow and don’t want it to go to waste, after-all) and what the Hell you’ve already come this far, let’s get some ice cream for dessert too!
- Adding some grassfed butter like the Bulletproof Exec suggests makes fasting easier – you don’t feel starving, but you still feel like you are depriving yourself (or at least I do). In fact, I love bulletproof fasting on occasion but when I try to do it consistently I always end up failing.
So why do some people succeed with Intermittent Fasting, while I haven’t?
I believe that your environment plays the biggest factor. If you live and work in an environment where you aren’t constantly tempted, you don’t have to use will power to make the right choice.
Willpower is limited. Researchers call this decision fatigue, or ego-depletion, and it’s what happens when you have to make several disciplined decisions in a row.
Another important factor is your hormones, things like your blood sugar levels and leptin-resistance. If you are not in moderately good shape and have your hormones in line, you will feel worse while fasting, which makes it harder to make the right decisions.
And lastly is your psychological relationship to food. I have issues with wasting food. I hate throwing away food. And so I ended up eating food that is bad for me just so that it doesn’t go to waste.
A slow carb breakfast helps me have a healthy relationship with food, while Intermittent Fasting makes me a bi-polar roller coaster.
For whatever reason, it seems that Intermittent Fasting works best for men over 35. Women and younger guys tend to not do as well on it.
So back to my flip-flopping on the importance of breakfast, the conflicting science, and how I drive my wife crazy… This is where the importance of testing comes in. You can read all the reasons in the world why something is supposed to work, but you don’t know what works for YOU until you try it.