The Warrior Diet has been the subject of a lot of controversy in the fitness world. From the first time its creator Ori Hofmekler first started writing about it several years ago nutritional experts have been lining up to take shots at it and discourage people from trying it. It was, and still is, nutritional heresy.
What is it that makes it so controversial? In a nutshell, the Warrior Diet has you use controlled fasting during the day and controlled overfeeding at night. In other words, skip breakfast and eat little to nothing all day and then follow that up with a large meal at the end of the day.
This breaks every rule in the book – everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you shouldn’t let yourself get hungry and eating a big meal before bed is a sure way to get fat. I sure believed the naysayers and steered clear of it.
However, over the last year or so I keep coming across smart people whom I respect who use or advocate the Warrior Diet. After reading more about it in the excellent training book The Purposeful Primitive I had to admit that my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to give it a go.
Several things about the diet make a lot of intuitive sense to me. I’ve never been hungry in the mornings and would gladly skip breakfast if I wasn’t told I needed it. I naturally don’t like to eat during the day, preferring to stay focused on my tasks and not have to stop every few hours to eat. I also prefer to eat a big meal at the end of the day and only skimp on it because I’m told it is bad for me. All in all, it seems like if I just ate the way I wanted to without external influences I’d follow something similar to the Warrior Diet.
So, I bought the book and spent a few weeks implementing it. In the book Ori makes a compelling argument for the need to fast during the day and how ancient warriors and hunters would subsist on a similar eating pattern. In fact, the term Intermittent Fasting is becoming more popular as more research identifies the benefits of controlled under-eating and the Warrior Diet is simply a type of Intermittent Fasting.
You are allowed to graze on things like fresh fruits and vegetables and eat some light protein sources like yogurt or kefir during the day if you get hungry but you can’t eat a meal until the 2-4 hour overfeeding period starts at the end of the day. As you do it longer you can eat less during the day and have a shorter overfeeding period but I stuck with grazing a bit during the day and letting from 5-9 pm be my overfeeding period.
While I was apprehensive at first I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to diet. I thought that hunger would be a huge issue but in reality it was not a big deal. If I got hungry I would eat half an apple, some carrots or some nuts and be good to go. My energy levels were pretty good and I actually enjoyed not having a post-lunch urge for a nap or having to think about how long I’d be gone and how much food I had to bring with me when I leave the house.
After a couple of weeks, though, I went through a period where I was training hard and riding almost every day. I found that I simply was not able to keep up with my energy demands and that I was crashing later in the day. About that time I read John Berardi’s excellent Special Report on Intermittent Fasting and learned a few more approaches to the concept, including fasting 1-2 days a week or following a 16 hour fast/ 8 hour feeding schedule. I didn’t want to have to go back to eating “normal” a few days a week and so I decided to try the 16-8 plan and simply shorten the fast.
I kept up my morning fast and started my eating period at lunch instead of dinner. I put my own twist on it by sticking with “live” foods from lunch until dinner and saving my processed “dead” foods for a small window around dinner. So far this plan has worked pretty well for me, although I will say that I would recommend planning your training for later in the day during your feeding period. If you do train or ride in the morning then eating a small to moderate protein smoothie with kefir/ Greek yogurt, fruit, whey protein and juice (avoid milk) beforehand will help keep you from crashing.
Overall my experience has been good and I now see an alternative eating strategy that lines up better with my normal rhythm. While the “eat every 2-3 hours” approach is very effective for those that can adhere to it, the truth is that a lot of people struggle to really take advantage of it. Intermittent Fasting and the Warrior Diet may offer another way to achieve nutritional success that would be worth looking into.
– James Wilson –