Book Review: The Leangains Method

I just finished Martin Berkhan’s book The Leangains Method.

It’s a great concept. It’s simple and it works.

I’ve done it for 6 years.

if I were to follow a template for fitness, it would be based on this book.

What I do different has to do with psychology and digestion.

Intermittent Fasting:

I must have got 10-20 people to start doing IF, in real life. And a few thousand through my blog.

Out of the people I’ve been in touch with IRL (definitely more than 100 on email) I only heard of maybe 5 (only 1 IRL) who gave it a serious try and said it wasn’t for them.

In my mind, intermittent fasting should be the default for the population. It should be what we, as a society and culture, have as one of our pillars. Instead of, say, the “plate model” which I was taught in school.

What follows is a brief summary of Martin’s book – The Leangains Method

The Leangains Method is composed of many concepts. I won’t write it all out, but here are some of the most practical advice from Martin’s book.

DIT = Dietary Thermogenesis

The “Calories in vs calories out” approach is not correct. It doesn’t take Dietary Thermogenesis (DIT) into account. The implication of DIT is that certain foods are metabolized faster than others. This means that if you have two foods with the same amount of calories listed on the label, the food with a higher DIT will have less calories. Ergo: You can eat more of it without becoming fat.

Here are a few examples given by Martin in the book:

  • Fat has extremely low DIT and goes straight into fat reserves. One exception is MCT-oil and coconut fat (which I eat–because it’s also good for your digestion).
  • Protein has a high DIT 20-35%. That’s why we can eat a lot of protein without getting fat.
  • Specific foods: Cheesecake, Pears, and Flanksteak have high DIT.
  • Alcohol has a DIT of 15%. This means 1 gram of alcohol has 6.3 calories. If you drink a shot of vodka, you get 25.2 calories. This means you can keep it to roughly two units without breaking the fast.

Next, are Martin’s 7 dietary guidelines–if you want to achieve fat loss and strength gain.

The Thermogentic 7:

1) Protein – try to eat 60% calories from protein. This means 300 grams of protein on a 2000 cal diet.

2) Don’t snack throughout the day. It will spike your hunger unnecessarily (raising insulin levels).

3) Eat lots of leafy green vegetables. Low calories, high on vitamins (Recommended: Spinach and broccoli).

4) Eat whole foods, not processed foods. (Fresh, not in plastic box). “If it fits your macros” is not a healthy approach in the long-term. It’s just a noble indulgence.

5) Timing – eat carbs directly after exercising for a higher thermic effect. Try not to consume more than 100g of carbs per day.

6) Caffeine for weight loss – Martin recommends you to take caffeine pills every 2 hours throughout the day, as long as it doesn’t interrupt your sleep. This will lose you 150-200 calories per day.

7) There are three rules for drinking alcohol without gaining weight: (1) eat only protein and vegetables during the day, (2) you can eat at party, but no fat is allowed. (3) drink only pure liquor. Don’t drink beer.

Two notes on this:

Regarding 60% protein.

I don’t doubt this is possible, but for someone with a bad digestion, it will be hard. I get gassy and tired when I go over 2.5 grams per kilo. Martin’s strategy would require me to go on 5 grams/kilo.

Regarding caffeine pills:

I drink 1-2 cups of coffee per day. Sometimes I take caffeine pills (for the effect of variation and because it gives a different “high”). But I could never take more than 1-2 in a day without ruining my sleep.

If you want to lose weight real bad, this will work. Question is: Is it an acceptable price to pay? Then again, I am not trying to lose weight.

To be fair, Martin puts disclaimers on both of these things.

You might find there is no price at all to pay because (1) you have a good digestion and can consume large amounts of protein easily and (2) your body processes caffeine easily without making you stressed or ruining your sleep.

I fail on both of these counts, but I have friends who can do both. So: it’s individual. The key is to experiment for yourself.

Increase strength:

Martin’s exercise routine is called Reverse Pyramid Training.

Here’s a rough breakdown of how it works:

  1. Exercise schedule: 3 days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
  2. Each day has 2 compound exercises & 1 supplementary exercise.
  3. Put it all into every set. Don’t save it up. (after warming up)
  4. Rest 3 minutes or more between each set.
  5. Reduce load by 5-10% per set. 10% for the big compound lifts. 5% for everything else.
  6. After you can do 8 reps (or whatever your goal is) in the first set, increase the load by 2,5% for next session.
  7. Repeat!

“You need to grunt and strain under heavy pressure for this to work.”

Regarding warm-up:

Keep your warm-ups separate from your work set. No half-assed sets that aren’t challenging enough to be a real set, but hard enough to cause fatigue. I see a lot of this shit in the gym, where you can’t really tell if the person is doing a limp-dicked set or just taking his warm-up too far.

If you need rough guidelines, warm-up with 2-5 sets of 40-67% of your work set for deadlift, bench and squat. Personally, I use 2 sets for bench, the last being 2-3 x 67%. For deadlifts, I do 4-5, starting at 4-5 x 50% and ending at 2-3 x 67%. Same for squats. “

My Main Takeaways:

On Rows:

Start doing Seal Rows. It removes cheating.

On movement:

Always use full range of motion.

On deadlifts:

Stop after each lift.

Bending upper back if OK if you have the mobility, bending lower back is how you can get injured.

Don’t use straps or gloves.

Food advice.

Eating meat alone will cause the protein (amino acids) to be absorbed too quickly. Mixing with vegetables slows down absorption.

On vegetables:

Empty a bag of frozen vegetables & let it cook in its own water in the frying pan for 10 min. (I did not know this. I always used a big pot with lots of water.)

Inspiring Quotes:

“I had patience. Those who come across intermittent fasting today, don’t. Like gifting a Lamborghini to a brat who doesn’t know how to drive.”

“I can’t teach you patience, that comes with age and experience.”

“First Lesson: stop thinking in days, and start talking weeks.”

“Adherence is everything.”

“Graphs are a great tool to visualize long-term progress.”

All in all, the three big takeaways (for most people) are:

–Start doing intermittent fasting. It’s as easy as skipping breakfast.

–Do compound lifts and use heavy weights.

–Use Reverse Pyramid Training, esp if you’re low on time.

What I will do now.

Top three action points to experiment with:

  1. Fewer sets, heavier lifts.
  2. Only 3 workouts per week.
  3. Start doing Seal Rows.


If you want to lose weight, get stronger in the gym, or simplify your fitness routine, get this book. It has all the info you need.

You just need to be consistent. Once you’re ripped, it’s easy to maintain and will be helpful for the rest of your life.

The Leangains Method (IF + RPT + fewer carbs) is the closest I’ve found to a template for fitness and strength. I give the book a 5/5.

You can see my Amazon review here.

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  1. I got the book earlier this week and read it. It’s good alright. This summary of yours is good too, you should write more often.

  2. Alcohol: If you are only getting 4 grams of ethanol in a “shot”, you must be drinking at hotel bars. A “drink” is usually considered ~14 grams. Also, I couldn’t find any figures on caloric uptake from ethanol. I wonder where the 15% DIT figure came from?

    Protein: It’s a myth that you have to eat huge amounts of protein to gain muscle. A little math will show that the protein content of new muscle tissue is miniscule compared to even a moderate dietary protein level.

    Fat: Can go through your digestion without being absorbed at all, DIT be damned. When and how much this happens, I don’t know. Fat, and low glycemic, high fiber carbs satisfy hunger and are easier to eat than endless fish and egg whites.

    Counting Calories: It’s defective for more reasons than just thermogenic effects. There’s no way to measure how many calories you burn; “base metabolism” is farcical.

    Caffeine: Taking that much on a regular basis is insane.

    Reverse Pyramids: These will absolutely tear you up. If you don’t like reloading the bar every time, try 3 sets of 1 rep at near 1RM with a slow (30+ seconds, watch the clock) negative on each “set” (rep). Stop and hold a few seconds at the weakest point in the range of motion. Don’t bench or squat this way without a husky spotter – if you do it right, you will /not/ be able to rack the last rep.

    • Hi Abgrund,

      Hope you are well.

      “Protein: It’s a myth that you have to eat huge amounts of protein to gain muscle” Agreed. However, Martin says to eat protein for fat loss purposes due to DIT.

      “Counting Calories: ” — Not necessary for those in good shape.

      • Let’s say you are eating 2000 kcals per day, including 1200 protein. 500 kcals are dissipated by thermogenesis. What’s the advantage of this compared to eating 1600 kcals per day and using only 100 for thermogenesis?

        If there is any advantage, it’s adherence. It’s no doubt easier to limit oneself to 1200 kcal of protein than 1600 kcal of junkfood, for instance. But I think there are better alternatives than extreme diets of any kind (and better alternatives than counting calories). Personally if I consumed 60% protein I would be passing golf balls.

    • Side note to Abgrund: more blog posts from you would be appreciated.

    • Whatever the numbers on alcohol DIT it’s not hard to experiment and see for yourself if works or not. I’ve done it several times and I can fast for 16h or so and then go out and have 2 shots without becoming hungry or my stomach starting to growl (not with beer or drinks though). I can also drink 2 cups of coffee or tea with some milk in it. My point with all this is scientific research is only a starting point for testing, not the end.

      • This is so true, the whole process should be an experiment of one. I cannot drink any alcohol and only one cup of tea or coffee without it affecting the fast.

  3. Main society always takes a long time to embrace change, Homeostasis at its best holding people back even if it’s in their best health/fitness reasons. You can only take the horse to water, you cannot make it drink. Advice is offered backed up with scientific proof, its then up to the individual to decide to implement it or not and some people take a long, long, time to wake up. I.F. is spreading and I do not know of one person who is using it for either fitness or weight-loss that it is failing for (as long as they are consistent and not doing a half-hearted attempt then dismissing the method). I want the hard copy of this book as it spreads the word visually when most people glance over your shoulder to see what your reading especially on top of the gym bag! Martin seems to get a lot of criticism for not following the usual route/format/pace of other’s in his field I am not sure this is valid, is being different not his value??

  4. Nice review, I’m gonna start with this as soon as I finish with Super Squats.

  5. Thank you for recommending.

  6. I am a bodybuilding veteran.
    Martin was once ahead of the times but then he stopped being that and lost his age and now he is just a remnant of himself at age 30 or something. He made this but he has not understand that the Internet is moving faster than he is. My empathy is with him. Other people copy him because he is slow. He is still creator but too slow! You have to be faster. His enemies made millions. These days you cannot own a thing. It is all part of Internet. Its all part of having secret team and making money.

  7. I heard your talk on 25 min a year ago and found this guy. He has been exploited by these fitness and instagram ppl. This is how it works – social media is the power now in all the aesthetic fields.

  8. You put me on fasting and it made me lose so many pounds. I am thankful for that. It is part of Muslim Tradition to fast, we should do it more than Ramadan.

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