The Warrior Diet/ Intermittent Fasting for Mountain Biking

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 –

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  1. Martin says:

    Hello James,

    I just started with intermittent fasting about two weeks ago. So far it goes really well, i have a ton of energy. This weekend i went for the first backcountry-ski-tour, as we have plenty of snow here in Austria.

    We were hiking up for three hours, the first two hours went perfect, but in the last hour i had an energy-low. I only drank coffee that morning, so i might try your smoothie next time.

    One question: why do should i “avoid milk”? Kefir and milk have nearly the same macros
    (kafir: Calories: 60, Total Fat: 3g, Total Carbs: 4g, Protein: 3.3g VS. milk 64 cals 3,3 fat, 4,7 carbs, 3,5 protein)?

    Thanks for the info,

    ps: I really enjoy reading your blog, keep up the good work!

    Reply • December 19 at 12:14 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I have no idea on the milk thing, I don’t avoid it. Like anything else I try not to overdue it but I don’t think some dairy will kill you. I do know that the fermentation process used to produce yogurt and kefir changes the “bad stuff” in dairy which makes it easier to digest and utilize in the body which is why they are alright even if you are trying to avoid dairy.

      Reply • December 20 at 10:24 am
  2. Paul says:


    I have to say I am completely skeptical of anything based on or justified by someone’s notions of how primitive/prehistoric/cave-people. Seriously – look around the world and you’ll see that humans have adapted to a huge variety of ecological niches – some with food almost constantly available and some where this type of intermittent fasting (or even longer multi day intermittent fasting and feasting) would have been the norm.

    I’m impressed that you gave it a go and sensibly adjusted the diet when you found it wasn’t working though.

    See also for excellent information on intermittent fasting and other nutritional stuff. Lyle who runs the site does proper lit reviews before writing so you know the info is legit.

    Reply • December 19 at 4:12 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the link, there is a lot of great resources out there and thanks for sharing. I agree that using primitive man’s behavior a sole justification is not smart but it when taken in context of other info it can provide an interesting backdrop.

      Reply • December 20 at 10:18 am
  3. Joe says:

    Very interesting James. It turns out I’ve been on the warrior diet without knowing it for a long time. I eat a little breakfast (some oatmeal) and maybe snack little (not every three hours) and have my biggest meal after 4PM. This diet allows me to go long periods without eating anything but be totally fine. It’s very evident when I go out with a group of people, either hiking or running errands for most of the day. Most if not all of these people crash and we have to stop somewhere to get something to eat. They are unable to function without eating something. These people I’m referring to are the ones that eat every 3 hours or have a big meal in the morning.

    I have tried the “recommended” diet of eating a good breakfast etc etc, but found it only left me starving by lunch time. I would get hungrier !! The eating every 3 hours also gets your body accustomed to that.. and when you don’t’ have it your body is unable to function as well. Not sure I like that dependency. The “warrior” diet has actually worked for me for a number of years. It probably works for me because I tend to eat when I’m hungry and that’s not early in the morning or mid day. I’m not following anyone’s “you need to do this regimen”.

    I’m just glad you posted this because all this time I thought I was odd man out. The thing I do find helpful if you include heavy workouts during the day is good natural energy bars etc. to supplement. The other thing is the I wonder if the Warrior diet may actually train your body to burn more fat during the day. If you eat every three hours and have a bit breakfast you could be training your body to burn only carbos etc. But, your the expert on that..

    Reply • December 20 at 11:23 am
  4. kyle says:

    No way! My metabolism is way to fast, I would starve to death

    Reply • December 20 at 12:22 pm
  5. Heath McCombs says:

    I tend to go by how my body feels. I’ve never been one to try any type of diet. Having wrestled for many years and doing what amounts to intermittent fasting with dehydration which is worse and stupid, when I’m hungry I eat. I’ve also noticed when I do long races or rides I am hungry shortly after I eat. It’s just the way my metabolism works so this sort of diet would not be one I would enjoy.

    Reply • December 20 at 4:13 pm
  6. Susan Marchitti says:

    Hi James,

    Your article was really interesting! Although I’ve never heard of this diet before I’ve developed a diet for myself that has some similarities. I basically just eat a lot of bananas and fruit in the morning and skip breakfast. I just don’t really seem to feel like breakfast generally and decided to listen to what my body was telling me instead of what everyone said to do. Since everyone is different, it’s hard to incorporate someone elses diet for yourself. I’ve been doing a lot of bike training and have listened to several successful athletes, but sometimes thier diets are too complicated or expensive for me or they just are not what I want to eat.

    I love bananas, so I just eat as many as I want every day (sometimes a whole bunch)! I cut out all snacks that are not healthy and just load up on fruit. I eat a light lunch, and then whatever I want at dinner, although I cut out rice and pasta (I love these things but thought I didn’t need the carbs generally) and bread. I like to eat tortillas with fat-free turkey, a little cheese and veggies and make wrap sandwiches (for dinner or lunch). I find that by not eating so much during the day, my stomach seems to shrink up a bit by dinner time and I don’t need so much.

    Anyway, my techniques probably sound pretty chaotic and I didn’t really write this all out and just make it up as I go along. I have managed to lose 66 pounds though (I was pretty over-weight and was worried about diabetes) and have been able to get more agressive with my biking and racing (I like to do about 4 hour bike rides on the weekends). I did start working out at the gym regularly although I didn’t lose any weight for the first 3 months until I changed my diet.
    It really works for me to just listen to my body and figure out what I need and don’t need.

    Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you!


    Reply • December 20 at 7:31 pm
  7. andu says:

    After I became completely vegan a few years ago I noticed how my eating habits changed over the course of that time. I started listening to my body a little bit more and I found that I really don’t feel like eating much in the morning. And it’s quite natural to me to have a big meal in the afternoon or even in the evening. I don’t know what is meant by the term ‘overeating’ in the evening, but I would say: eat as much as your body would need – not eating too much so you can only lay down on your couch. So my thought are: listen to your body and don’t follow some traditional habits just because they say it’s the way to do it – and we often find out that our ‘right’ habits are very unnatural.


    Reply • December 21 at 3:50 am
  8. Heather says:

    My husband has followed the “warrior diet” naturally for years. I thought it strange and unhealthy. But he works all day long, physical, hard labor. Then only eats one meal at night. He’ll snack, like you mentioned, throughout the day on lighter fare. He’s always been very fit, healthy, and full of energy. I’ve been trying to get him to eat a good breakfast for years, sounds like I should stop nagging him about it already.

    However, I like to eat a large breakfast. I have a feeling it has to do with our schedules. The morning is the only time I have to myself where I can make a nice meal and enjoy it.

    Reply • December 21 at 7:28 am
  9. Sune says:

    Interesting … I’ve been following the “warrior diet” for the last 2 years without even knowing there is something called the “warrior diet”. It’s a life style I’ve adopted for myself to keep my weight in check and it works well for mountain biking, since I do not like to eat breakfast before a race and I’m usually not hungry after a race … only several hours later I’m hungry and will eat a good meal; the timing of this all fits in great with the “warrior diet” concept.

    I usually gym in the mornings, go to work, skip breakfast but have tea and coffee, then a very small something for lunch … like fresh tomatoes, or a small yogurt, or a smoothie, fruit juice, or milk. And then a proper meal in the evenings. I do find, however, that sometimes I do not have enough energy for a mtb ride in the afternoons after work due to the very small lunch. I’ll then have to eat something more during lunch if I’m to go for a ride in the afternoons.

    Reply • December 22 at 1:25 am
  10. WhiteTrashMan says:

    I have inadvertently been following the warrior diet (more or less) for years. At age 57 I can still do 15 good clean pullups and 75 clean pushups. I do fudge a bit at times, but generally speaking, I just graze during the day, rarely ever eat a big breakfast or lunch, and eat a monstrous amount in the evening. According to common doctrine I should be at least a bit overweight, but I’m not. I’ve done mountain bike centuries both ways, eating a big breakfast, and conversely eating a small breakfast, and snacking every hour on cliff bars, or whey protein bars, or spiz, and found I had tons more energy, when I didn’t eat the big breakfast. Have no idea if this would work for everyone, but I just naturally gravitated towards this diet.

    Reply • December 29 at 5:58 am
  11. Wayne says:

    What are your thoughts on intensity while in the fasted state? My understanding is that intensity should be around 60%-70% of Max HR.

    Reply • January 11 at 9:10 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      That 220- your age formula is actually very flawed so unless you have done a true max HR test it is tough to tell what 60-70% really is for you. I just train hard and observe my HR rather than try to keep it in a certain zone.

      Reply • January 11 at 12:03 pm
  12. Rodney says:

    The trick with this type of diet is probably that you force your body to burn fat for energy during the fasting window. This probably takes some time for your body to adjust to, but it does makes sense to train your body to access this energy store more directly. I would also think that being to use fats more efficiently when necessary would help with endurance events. For instance, in a marathon we have the famous ‘wall’ where the glycogen stores are depleted and the body has to switch to burning fats. Suppose you train your body to use fat stores more easily, continuously, this might prevent this ‘wall’ effect altogether?
    Dr. Di Pasquale offers another approach to fasting:

    Reply • February 23 at 10:15 am
  13. Anne says:

    James, I love your writing, really, BUT I will also tell you that fasting is treading into dangerous territory for others by recommending fasting.

    There are no warnings you provide about checking with your doc, etc about this. Training, sure, you have to be careful… but fasting diets in particular can be dangerous–especially with those with blood sugar issues. Even fasting for a day could be a bad scene and some serious consequences.

    Reply • January 24 at 9:08 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I really appreciate your concern and agree that those with serious health issues need to consult with their doctor but I don’t think that there is anything inherently dangerous about fasting. In fact, there is some evidence that occasional fasting has health benefits and many religions have had fasting as part of their traditions.

      People have been fasting since the dawn of time and some could argue that the lack of it is actually contributing to the health issues some people face today. Again, taken to an extreme or done by someone with serious metabolic issues it can be dangerous but I don’t think that done the way I’m talking about here is dangerous. Thanks for the concern though.

      Reply • January 24 at 9:34 am
  14. Wacek says:

    How is fasting working for the performance outside the bike life? For example if you study or perform mentally intensive work in the office, if you do stuff where brain uses a lot of energy at hook? Product design meeting with brainstorm after whole day work, just before setting to the woods? Can the brain readjust itself if you choose such diet and follow it consequently?

    Reply • January 24 at 12:08 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I think it can to some degree. We train out bodies with how we feed it and the patterns we use and if we answer every twinge of hunger with food then our body’s can lose the ability to use its own fuel sources.

      Reply • January 24 at 1:41 pm
      • WAKi says:

        Thanks for reply. I was considering such diet lately, I will start gradually and observe how am I doing at work. I imagine it being good for my body. Cheers!

        Reply • January 27 at 2:33 am
  15. Ned says:

    Thanks for putting this out there again James. You mentioned it a while ago, on Pinkbike I think, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I did give it a go and really only struggled with it the first week but felt better the longer I ran with it. Life got hectic for a while and I stopped following the plan. I’ve since put on some weight and have struggled to lose it despite a regular training schedule. This has encouraged me to get back at it and see what I can get out of it. I am headed to a 24hr race next month, I won’t be doing it solo and will likely only put in 3-4 laps personally. From your experience do you have any suggestions to keep to roughly the same schedule despite being up and riding bikes at all hours?

    Reply • January 24 at 7:28 pm
  16. Howl says:

    James, this is intriguing for sure. Based on comments, it seems people naturally adjust their dietary intake based on their daily bio-rhythm. Thanks for sharing your experience with it.
    For those of us who naturally wake up early, are hungry and can eat a big breakfast twice before 10 am, it doesn’t seem quite feasible.
    I’m not averse to reading more about it, though.

    Reply • January 25 at 6:48 am
  17. dave says:

    good stuff , i have also used “bullit proof coffee”early morning, it really helps curb appetite

    Reply • January 25 at 1:26 pm
  18. Tom says:

    I started Dr Michael Mosley 5:2 Fast Diet late last year where you fast 2 days per week. I was very sceptical but after reading his book I gave it a go and never looked back.

    Reply • January 25 at 1:42 pm
  19. Gary Moser says:

    I’m very skeptical about this. It does not matter when you eat, the most important thing is how much you eat. If you eat more than you burn you will get bigger likewise if you eat less than you burn you will get smaller. Your body will adjust to eating once a day or 8 times a day. Now there are foods that you should avoid but that is for another day, but eating a sensible diet of non processed foods is the best way to stay healthy

    Reply • January 27 at 4:53 pm
  20. Will says:

    I’ve been on intermittent fasting for about 2 months. My brother 2 years. He’s sports is rogaining. It’s a supergood way to control your body. The main idea is to teach your body to take energy from your body fat. Basically eating everything you want, but not eating sweets 🙂 The idea is to eat more real, natural food. It’s a long story 😉

    When I’m doing longer trainings like 1 hour or more, I take amino acids mix before, during and after training, to keep your muscles fresh and to get faster recovery which helps to grow muscles more efficently.

    I’m XC racer, my races last 2-3 hours. Before the race, I eat some eggs and that. During the race my body uses fat and on really tough parts, the body uses muscle glycogen. And amino acids of course.

    Sucking the energy gel’s during races isn’t actually giving more than a short boost. But, that’s my opinion. At the end of everything, it’s important to listen to your body.

    Reply • September 19 at 8:48 am
  21. Julie says:

    This sounds like a reasonably healthy option. In a healthy individual, it stands to reason that the body can adapt over time to whatever diet/lifestyle you choose, within certain limits. (obviously, eating nothing but McDonald’s will cause serious harm). There is not a one-size-fits-all method of eating, so why not choose whatever method works for your particular lifestyle and hunger patterns? The fasting part is very brief, and within normal bounds. There is nothing radical about eating when you are physically hungry and not eating when you are not physically hungry. We’re not talking about extended fasting here. The “raw until 4” method is gaining popularity, as well. I am skeptical about the “big breakfast” necessity as well, unless you have a morning workout where it make sense to eat afterward.

    Reply • September 19 at 11:36 am

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