Part of building an effective training routing for pole dance, or any other sport, is addressing your nutritional requirements to effectively fuel your body. There are many nutritional models out there, and I’ve personally experimented with a lot of them. The nutritional model that is working most effectively for me at the moment is a slightly adapted version of the LeanGains protocol.

What is LeanGains?

LeanGains is a set of training and nutrition guidelines created by Martin Berkhan. In theory, this allows people to lose body fat or maintain a low level of body fat while continuing to build muscle. It goes against the traditional approach, seen predominantly in bodybuilding culture, of “bulking” (eating at a caloric surplus to support muscle growth while following a training program designed to increase your muscle mass) and “cutting” (eating at a caloric deficit to support fat loss, while following a training program that attempts to maintain the muscle mass you gained while bulking).

You can learn more about the classic LeanGains recommendations here on Martin Berkhan’s website.

Why make things so complicated on yourself?

While there are many, MANY nutritional models out there, most of the models that focus on fat loss boil down to calories in (the amount of calories you consume in your food each day) versus calories out (the amount of energy you burn, both through exercise, and just by existing), or “CICO”. Most CICO diets aim to have you eat at a caloric deficit of ~500 calories per day. The theory goes that at the end of the week, you should have a caloric deficit of ~3500 calories. There are ~7000 calories in a kilogram of fat, therefore, a CICO diet with a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories should, in theory, help you to lose half a kilo per week.

The problem is that losing weight, particularly losing weight so quickly, will never be purely fat loss. The weight that you lose will come from a combination of muscle loss, fat loss, and potentially water loss from the cells of your body.

But wait, does that mean calorie counting doesn’t work?

No, I’m absolutely not saying that calorie counting doesn’t work. It DEFINITELY works. However, my personal experience with calorie counting was that it was an unreliable method of weight loss. There were periods of time when I would lose NO weight for 6 weeks or more, despite restricting myself to 1400 calories or less per day! Even worse, my body composition was not changing for the better. Despite the number on the scales getting slightly smaller, my body fat percentage wasn’t changing significantly. This lead me to believe that I was losing more muscle than fat.

I’ll be honest, my workout routine was probably partly to blame. While I was working out regularly, almost daily, my routine was unfocused, and severely lacking in real muscle-building exercises. On average, I was doing BodyPump group classes twice per week, Pilates classes twice per week, and a Pole class once per week, but I’d mix this up often, and skip classes often.

The combination of a significant caloric deficit and an unbalanced training routine meant that calorie counting / CICO didn’t work for me.

So why LeanGains?

Despite the fact that I was unhappy with the results from my current nutrition plan and workout schedule, I was still very proud of the fact that I had lost a significant amount of weight. I also knew that in order to achieve my pole goals of being strong and having control over my movements on the pole, I’d need to build muscle.

When I thought of the impact that a traditional bulk would have on my body, namely, gaining both fat and muscle over a period of months, I felt physically sick. I didn’t want to have to begin the journey of fat loss all over again. I felt like I had worked so hard and come so far, and a traditional bulk felt like a step in the wrong direction.

When I thought of the impact that a traditional cut would have on my body, I was also devastated. While I would likely lose more body fat, I would also be losing muscle mass. The impact of this would make me weaker and more prone to injuries, and potentially push back my pole progress. I was already battling several injuries and this made cutting a completely infeasible option to me.

Surely, I thought, there has to be a happy medium. A way in which I could gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. I had heard good things about intermittent fasting, so I initially started with a 5:2 fast schedule. This particular fasting model was not right for my body. I felt weak and lethargic and found myself needing to skip workout sessions on my fast days. The information I had read about IF (intermittent fasting) did seem very promising, so I decided to then try the 16:8 IF model. This means you fast for 16 hours of the day, and eat your days worth of calories during an 8-hour window.  I used Reddit’s r/intermittentfasting as a source of information, support and a forum for questions, and one day, it was recommended that I join the subreddit r/leangains.

Reading through the leangains sub, and through the recommended reading for the leangains sub, it seemed too good to be true. But there were so many people in the sub getting results, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try.

How I make LeanGains work for me.

If you’re interested in experimenting with LeanGains, I highly, HIGHLY recommend that you read The LeanGains Guide. In it, Martin Berkhan outlines the original program and the various recommended options.

After a great deal of experimentation, I have found that the following guidelines are the perfect balance of effective and liveable for me:

  • I fast from 8 pm until 12 pm, which gives me a feeding window from 12 pm until 8 pm daily. I can eat a substantial lunch to break my fast, have a mid-afternoon snack, and enjoy dinner with my family. I’m able to eat “regular” sized meals, even if I’m eating at a deficit because I’m only eating 2 meals per day.
  • I start my day with 2 shots of coffee with a teaspoon of fat-reduced milk. While technically, this may be enough to break my fast, I am a much less pleasant person without it, and it helps me to make it through to midday without eating.
  • On rest days, I aim to eat ~1400 calories. On lifting days (where I also pole), I aim to eat ~2000 calories, and on days that I do mobility or flexibility training (where I also pole) I aim to eat ~1700 calories.
  • I track my macros using MyFitnessPal. It’s an imperfect solution, but it works well enough for me. I aim for a macro split of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat. Many people combine the LeanGains protocol with a Ketogenic diet, but this doesn’t work for me. If I restrict my carbs, I end up feeling lethargic and nauseated.
  • I train in the mornings 5 days per week. This means that I train in a fasted state. 3 of these days are my lifting days, and 2 of these days are mobility and flexibility training.
  • On the days that I lift, I consume 10g of whey isolate 10 minutes before I start lifting, and 20g of whey isolate in the half hour after I have finished training. Yes, this technically breaks my fast, but it makes a difference to my quality of lifting, and I’m getting the results that I want.
  • I LOVE breakfast foods, so I take one day off of intermittent fasting per week, on the weekends, so I can share breakfast with my family. I have found this to be helpful for the “sanity factor”.
  • Not technically a part of the LeanGains methodology, but I don’t drink, for the most part. I wouldn’t describe myself as a teetotaller (I really enjoy a nice gin on occasion), however, I try to limit my alcohol consumption to once every 6-8 weeks.

Since beginning this style of eating to complement my training, I’ve had a significant and noticeable increase in my muscle mass, and equally, a significant and noticeable decrease in my body fat. It’s been just over 2 months now, and I find myself really enjoying this way of eating and training.

Is it hard to adapt to?

I found the first few days of fasting until midday to be a bit of a struggle. My body wasn’t used to it, and I felt like my blood sugar levels were too low, making me a bit weak and dizzy. I countered this by simply training at a lower intensity than I normally would, and drinking lots of tea.

After that first few days, I felt like my body had adapted, and I now actually prefer training in a fasted state. I feel stronger and more energetic when I’m following these guidelines.

I recently had a friend visit for a few days from the other side of the world, and while she was here, I threw my eating guidelines out the window. After 2 days of unplanned and disorganised eating, I felt like absolute rubbish. After 4 days, I felt extremely unwell, and my stomach had bloated out like a balloon and was rock hard. I had no energy and even my emotions felt out of whack. 3 days after getting back on the LeanGains wagon I feel completely back to normal, de-bloated and full of energy.

Using LeanGains, I’ve been able to make consistent progress in my strength and physique goals, without having to feel like I’m sacrificing one thing for another. While my physical transformation hasn’t been lightning fast, it’s been steady, and I can see my strength increasing while my bodyweight goes down, making it easier to pole.

If you’re interested in following along with me as I work on my health and fitness, and train for pole, you can sign up below to get each new article sent directly to your inbox or follow me on Instagram here.

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