Intermittent Fasting: Meal Planning

Posted January 13, 2011 in Diet, Intermittent Fasting 32 Comments »

Intermittent Fasting Part 2 – Eating To Win

In part 1 of the Intermittent Fasting series, I gave you a brief overview as to what intermittent fasting is and what some of the benefits are. Now it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of how to breakdown your meals.

I view intermittent fasting as more of a long-term lifestyle change as opposed to a quick fix, and as such it should be approached in a way that addresses health as well as body composition. Before I get into more details, I want to express to following tips that will greatly increase the likelihood of you creating an awesome physique.

Eat Mainly Unprocessed Foods

Just because you’re allowed to eat a ton of food at one sitting doesn’t mean that you should use it as an excuse to break the fast with a trip to the Chinese food buffet. It’s kinda typing with your nose – sure you could do it, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. As with any diet plan, you should get a majority of your intake from real (read: mainly unprocessed) foods while controlling your intake of the junkier stuff such as cookies, ice cream, cakes, etc.

Prioritize Protein

Anyone that’s been on a diet for a few weeks only to give up and fall victim to the hunger beast knows all too well that any tool that you can use to fight hunger must be used if you want to experience any long term success. Luckily for you, by simply increasing your protein intake you’ll be way ahead of the game since the typical American diet tends to be low in protein and high in carbohydrates and fat (mainly from processed junk), and I imagine this trend isn’t only limited to Americans these days.

Protein has been shown to be the most satiating macronutrient out of the bunch, which means that gram for gram protein will keep you full longer than carbohydrates or fat. Not convinced yet? An increased protein intake in the face of a caloric deficit will help maintain muscle mass, which should always be a primary objective when trying to lose body fat.

Want more you say? Well then, let’s have at it! Thanks to the thermic effect of food (the price of processing food after eating it), there is an inherent metabolic benefit from increasing your protein intake: you get more bang for your buck by eating more protein. It costs your body roughly 20-30% of the calories in a gram of protein to break it down,

Here is an example:

1g protein = 4 kcals
220g protein = 880 kcals
880 x 20% = 176 kcals
Total calories ingested = 704 kcals

Take note that I’m only using one day as an example. If you spread this out over the course of an entire week, everything else remaining consistent, you’ll have passively burned an additional 1,232 calories by doing nothing aside from eating more meat (or your protein source of choice).

I recommend setting protein at a minimum of 1g/lb of bodyweight as a starting point, increasing it to around 1.2g/lb if hunger is really becomes a problem or if you’re in a deep caloric deficit.

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

I’m sure your parents have been telling you this forever, but here is the question – are you doing it? If not, you’re already sabotaging yourself right out of the gate. Aside from the well-documented health benefits of fruits and vegetables, the fiber content of these foods will help slow the digestion of a meal, keeping you satiated longer than you would’ve been without them. Add fiber to a mixed meal and you have the blueprint for dietary success with minimal effort.

Calories Matter

While it sure may seem like it at times, intermittent fasting isn’t magic and anyone who tells you that calories don’t matter is most likely trying to sell you something crappy. I’ve found that, at least initially, tracking your macronutrients is necessary if you want to go beyond losing a few pounds to having visually stunning results.

A detailed look at how to track your calories is beyond the scope of this piece, so if you haven’t done it before I suggest you check out this resource to see one way of going about counting calories.

Cycle Your Macronutrients

In general, on workout days you want to increase your calories via carbohydrate intake while decreasing your fat intake. On non workout days you want to decrease calories from your carbohydrate intake while increasing your fat intake. Regardless of the manipulation of fats and carbohydrate, protein should remain relatively consistent from day to day.

Training Day Meals

Option A

You can train fasted, therefore beginning the 8 hour feeding window right after your training session.

Option A Breakdown
2pm-3pm: Workout
3pm: Post workout meal
7pm: 2nd meal
11pm: 3rd meal

Post Workout Meal 1 Post Workout Meal 2
Great Post Workout Meal Ideas

Your training won’t be completely fasted – ideally you would take 10g of branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) about 15 minutes before your workout. It’s best to go with powder form due to the fact that it’s much easier than popping a ton of tablets, but that choice is up to you. I personally use Xtreme Formulation’s ICE, but I’ve heard good things about Scivation’s XTEND as well. You can also go with a scoop of Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein if you don’t want to take any BCAAs.

Editor’s Note: Project Swole’s choice of BCAA supplements is XTEND; great flavor, great price!

Scivation Xtend
Scivation Xtend BCAAs
Optimum Nutrition Protein Powder
Optimum Nutrition Protein Powder

If you find that either of those options are a bit too sexy for you, you can experiment with completely fasted training and see how you respond. I do it regularly and haven’t experienced any consequences from a strength or workout performance standpoint.

Option B

You can begin your feeding window with one or two pre-workout meals, depending on your schedule and preference.

Option B (one meal) breakdown
12pm: pre workout meal
2-3pm: Workout
4pm: post workout meal
7pm: 3rd meal

Option B (two meal) breakdown
12pm: 1st meal
3pm: pre workout meal
6-7pm: Workout
7pm: 3rd meal

If you go this route, it’s best to keep the pre-workout meal(s) between 15-25% of your daily intake (in the case of the one meal option). For the two meal option, try to keep it between 40-50%. The idea here is to get the bulk of your calories in after your workout in order to take advantage of the fact that those calories will be shuttled towards muscle building, glycogen replenishment and recovery, decreasing the likelihood that they’ll be stored as fat.

Non Training Days

On non training days, the size and number of meals is up to you. Sometimes, when I’m pushing super low calories on an off day – think around 1300 or so – to reach my goal faster, I may only eat one huge meal a day. This naturally extends the length of my next fast if I want to keep the habit of eating during the same window everyday, but I’ve been doing this long enough where I’m ok with that now.

Off Day Meal
Great Off Day Meal Ideas

For beginners though, I highly recommend keeping your non training day and training day eating patterns fairly consistent simply from an adherence standpoint until you learn what you can and cannot get away with.

The Final Word: Lighten Up!

At the end of the day, intermittent fasting is a tool that should be used to get you from where you are to where you want to be in as stress-free of a manner as possible. If at any point you become way too bogged down by the details, do me a favor and step back, look at the big picture to gain some perspective, and adjust the protocol to find what works best for you and your life. After all, it doesn’t make sense to free yourself from one set of mental shackles only to become a fanatic about something else.

Do you have any questions, fears or concerns? Leave them in the comment section below and I’ll address them personally before we move on to the final topic in this series – how to set up your training program.

See also:
Intermittent Fasting Part 1 – A Primer

Intermittent Fasting Part 3 – Workout Planning

About the Author

Roger Lawson

A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, Roger Lawson II received his bachelors degree in English Language and Literature. His passion for writing, teaching and helping others achieve their goals while improving their quality of life, has led him to pursue a career in the fitness industry. Wanting to first ask of himself what he would ask of his clients, Roger transformed his body and mind over the course of six months, finishing as a runner up in Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program.

Roger is a personal trainer at All Access Fitness Academy in Shrewsbury, MA, and is the owner of He recently completed a three month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA under the guidance of Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore and Brian St.Pierre where he learned the fundamentals of proper coaching and professionalism in the fitness industry.

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32 Responses to “Intermittent Fasting: Meal Planning”

  1. Hello,

    I am 5’7 and recently was at 305lbs and for faith reasons went on a month long complete fast. During that period I lost 63lbs. When I started eating again I gained back some of the weight but i am maintaining at 264lbs. My goal is to get down to 180lbs. My question is i work at night from 10pm until 6am how can I plan my meals and workout routine to go with my lifestyle incorporating intermittent fasting to reach my goals?

  2. Hey James,

    Glad you found your answer and I’m sorry for the late reply!

    Easy answer: the time you eat the meal doesn’t matter at all, and overall calories & macronutrients are what matters the most.

  3. Hello Steve and Roger! Many thanks for sharing this wealth of knowledge. I plan on giving IF a try right away. Steve, great website…it has given me a lot of information!

    One question: I know its important for nurishment after a workout (thanks to this site), but my workout will be around 8PM and bedtime due to early work will be between 10-11PM. I’m worried about going to sleep so soon after a meal. Is it unhealthy to do so?

  4. Thank you for giving me permission to IF! I’m a 40 year old female and spent my life at 108 pounds and around 16% bf (I’m only 5’2″)… I looked good. Last year I started lifting weights and have tried the “bodybuilding diet”. While I have gained a lot of muscle, I also have a lot more body fat, I now weigh 127 with 22% bf. I’m constantly bloated and I’ve developed an ulcer. I found your article and I’m going back to the diet that naturally worked me! Crazy to Think of all the pain and frustration over the last year could have been avoided if I’d have found you first. Thank you for sharing the info!!

    • 22% isn’t that bad for a woman, but I see your point. Clearly Intermittent Fasting will help you reach your fat loss goals. I’ve actually got my own IF diet that I’m trying to publish soon. It’s going to be the bomb.

      • Don’t worry you aren’t inadvertently promoting eating disorders. My goal is 18%, I’d even be thrilled if I could keep the same weight!

        Two days IF and the bloating and pain is gone!!!

        I’m also cycling carbs (2 low days, 1 load). What’s your exiperience with carb cycling on IF?

        Can’t wait to see your diet! Can you email me when it’s available for purchase?

        • A couple days of IF also cures my digestive issues as well, and it helps me stay awake during the day. I’ve only eating a meal before noon maybe 4 times in the last 2 weeks.

          Carb cycling is a great idea as well and it can be used with IF for great results. Some people prefer to stick to just one type of diet to avoid burning themselves out, so I don’t normally advocate anything other than sensible, moderate eating for those new to IF. However, experienced IFers get to play around with their macros and really make extraordinary discoveries.

          The new diet is not going to be available for purchase. It is all going to be free! As of now I’m calling it XTended Fasting, but I’ve also called it the Swole Detox Diet in the past. People have used versions of it over the past year with great success, and now I’ve decided that it is time to share. Coming soon.

  5. If I’m doing option A, can I take a serving of whey protein at any time out of the eating window? Or should I take them during the window? Also is it still ok to take casein before sleeping or should I take it at the end of the eating window?

  6. Hey Oli,

    How many meals would you have typically eaten before your workout? If you haven’t gotten much in terms of food by the time you workout, my suggestion to you would be to eat all that you can post workout.

  7. Okay, I have question. I’m out in Afghanistan right now and itโ€™s hard to stay on a set schedule and diet, but I have managed so far. My biggest concern is that my only time to workout is after I get off a 12-hour shift and right before I’m getting ready for bed. Would a protein shake be substantial enough for an after workout meal? That’s 2 scoops of BSN Syntha-6; 40g of protein in about a liter of water.

    • A protein shake would be OK, but really your best bet would be a specially designed post-workout shakes consisting of 4 parts dextrose and 1 part whey protein. Since you probably can’t get your hands on that, you should opt for chocolate milk. If you can’t get that, then maybe try mixing your protein powder in anything that has a bunch of sugar.

  8. I work a swing shift schedule that is basically two-on, two-off and every other weekend. I have to change from days to nights every two weeks. There really is no way possible for me to keep eating habits consistent during my crazy sleep schedule. I’m 6’1 220 and fairly solid but I need to lose about 15 or 20 pounds to be in a place that I’m happy. What suggestions do you have about using this diet in an unreliable atmosphere?

    • Try Intermittent Fasting. Using IF you’ll only be eating for about 8 hours a day so it will be much easier to manage your food intake with a smaller feeding window. Prepare your food ahead of time so that you can take it and go. Bring protein shakes and protein bars for easy meals when it’s time to eat.

  9. Hey Rog I’m currently deployed to Afghanistan and have no certain schedule everyday so I inadvertently use IF most days! On my days off I work out on an empty stomach and then take supplements right after workout and then a protein shake about 30 mins after a workout. My question is concerning a bedtime protein shake. I usually have a shake right before bed because i have always believed thats when your body absorbs protein best. If this cuts into my fast window should I stop? Also because of the lack of healthy low fat/low carb protein options here, probably 3/4 of my protein comes from shakes. Is this unhealthy?

    • Hey SGTH,

      How much time is there between your workout and when you go to bed? If not much, then that’s fine. If there is a huge gap, and depending on when you start/end your fast, then you may be cutting into your fast. I don’t see it being a huge problem though as you have to adjust to your circumstances, so if it’s working for you then keep at it.

  10. 1g of protein yields 22.9 kJ (or 5.5 kcal) in a bomb calorimeter, which has been adjusted down to our more familiar value of 15.9 kJ (or 3.8 ~ 4 kcal); this correction already includes adjustments for incomplete oxidation and absorption.

    google heat of combustion and actual food energy

    If the number is even lower than 3.8 kcal/g that would be very good news, but I doubt it.

  11. “It costs your body roughly 20-30% of the calories in a gram of protein to break it down,”

    This is already included in the “4 kcal / g”-value, so pigging out on protein and assuming that you can subtract 20% is not the way to do things :p.

  12. I have been using the 24 hour fast cycle for quite some time, and really like it. I even have my weight loss clients using it! But now I’ve started to add in IF in the form of using an eating window. Been interesting so far = no problem with not eating until noon, just don’t love the idea of stopping eating at a certain time. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for all the great options.

  13. Nice article! I have been playing around with my intermittent fasting
    and what really works for me is lowering my carb intake all together and just eating fresh veggies/fruit and chicken/tuna/salmon. I do this Monday through Friday then I can just go CRAZY on the weekends. There really is a lot of options with intermittent fasting. Play with and see where it gets you!

  14. I’ve been doing around 2400 cals on WO days, and 1900-2100 cals on off days while on IF (reduced to the 1900 ish mark the last couple of weeks). I’ve been loosing an average of 1.5 pounds a week.

    Rog, do you find it necessary to increase cals over at least 2 weeks while on IF after reaching a fat loss plateau?

    The weight has been steadily coming off over 12 weeks. If I determine that I’ve reached a plateau, I think I’ll just eat normally over a few weeks, and then reduce my cals on my off days further.

    • Hey Kujo,

      In general I think that it’s a good practice to do a 2 week or full diet break where you eat at your new maintenance levels before getting after it again. I usually find the need for that 2 week break the most useful for those who’ve been dieting really hard (aggressive deficit on off days, less aggressive on training days), but less so with those who do take more of a carb cycling approach, most likely to do with the amount of carbs they’re taking in and the body’s hormonal response.

      Long story short: Necessary? It all depends, but it sure can be helpful to “reset” yourself so to speak after a period of hard dieting. Just make sure that what you’re calling a plateau isn’t the natural slowing of results that occurs once you start to get really lean.

  15. Hey Todd,

    Thanks for the subscribe and the comment.

    When you say swinging meals too much one way or another, do you mean in terms of the fast?

  16. Roger, thank you for breaking this down some more. While I’m not a huge fan of swinging meals too much one way or another, this looks like an interesting option. I subscribed to the updates on your site, so I’ll come by and learn more. Thanks.

    • Hey Jay,

      That all depends on a host of variables, such as your main goal, how active you are, etc, etc.

      Here is a post that I wrote detailing how to track your intake, and it will also point you in the direction of calorie guidelines for specific goals: how to track calories.

  17. I have been training for over twenty five years and spent the majority of that time working on different diets as well. I have never found anything as effective and simple as intermittent fasting. I have used IF for around a year now and plan on using it as a weight loss and maintenance tool for the rest of my life. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to cut calories while not having to be so strict with their diet.

    • Hey Kelly,

      I’m right there with you on that notion. I haven’t been training as long as you have, but I know something effective when I see it, and having been using IF for awhile now I know that I’ll never go back to standard eating.

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