“It’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war” is a Chinese proverb about the merits of overpreparing. As a fitness enthusiast, that kind of ethos can help you reach your goals a little bit quicker in the gym and, especially, in the kitchen.
Despite sounding like it was inspired by ancient fighters, Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet bears no relation to the proverb. However, you may have seen the Warrior Diet advertised as a no-frills dietary approach that can improve your health, bolster your performance, and prepare you for anything life throws your way.
It’s an enticing premise for strength athletes, bodybuilders, and everyday gym rats. But are the tenets of the Warrior Diet as sharp as the swordsmen after which it is named, or is it something of a farce?
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource.
Despite the evocative and gritty name, the Warrior Diet has nothing to do with surviving on scraps of food on a battlefield or eating only what you can find in the wild.
In fact, the premise of the diet is quite simple — practitioners are encouraged to partake in a 20-hour daily fast, and then use the remaining four hours as an “unlimited” feeding window.
A portion of your fasting time would be taken up while you’re asleep, so you’re essentially fasting for 12 of your 16 waking hours every day.
Through various books, blogs, and online content, Hofmekler purports that this approach to meal planning can make you a more robust athlete, improve your biological resilience, improve your hormones, and a whole lot more.
Understand, though, that the Warrior Diet is not a set-in-stone diet plan meant to help you gain or lose weight. It’s more of a generalized approach to eating that could have some benefits.
Beyond Hofmekler’s claims about the merits of his diet, the Warrior Diet itself is really just an enhanced intermittent fasting protocol.
Intermittent fasting has enjoyed some prominence in the health & fitness industry, but the jury is still out about whether or not controlled fasts are truly beneficial for your health or performance.
Special diets are all the rage when it comes to satisfying the goal of shedding fat. Paleo, the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, and a host of others all claim to have “cracked the code” on energy balance.
Interestingly, one-meal-per-day protocols do have some backing in the literature for their potency as fat loss tools when compared to diets containing multiple daily meals. (1) Regardless, this kind of finding hasn’t been widely replicated.
Diets work differently for everyone. Some papers have noted the increased efficacy of dietary interventions on overweight or obese populations specifically, compared to those at “healthy” body weights who may not receive comparable effects.
This phenomenon has been attributed to intermittent fasting as well, having been shown to effectively curb uncontrolled eating habits and other negative behaviors associated with obesity. (2) However, these claims are far from comprehensive.
The foods you ingest, how you eat them, and when you choose to do so affect a whole lot more than just your body composition.
Some researchers have examined the neur.al effects of an intermittent fasting protocol on animals and found that restricted feeding windows might stave off deleterious effects such as cognitive function, recall, and even Alzheimer’s disease. (3)
However, note that many of these studies are conducted on animal subjects and thus may not be directly applicable to your needs as a human being.
While not all inflammatory responses are strictly negative — localized inflammation is a beneficial part of healing certain tissues — there are certainly downsides as well.
Prolonged fasts might have some beneficial effects regarding curtailing inflammation in the body, specifically by limiting the accumulation of markers like IL-6 (interleukin-6) and homocysteine. (4)
These biomarkers can indicate an increased propensity to inflammation or even cardiovascular disease.
Note, though, that this study was conducted on subjects who practice the religious holiday of Ramadan, during which participants fast for multiple days at a time, which is quite distinct from the protocol of the Warrior Diet.
There’s no getting around the fact that meal prep takes time. If you prefer to eat three or more whole-food sourced meals per day, time in the kitchen can add up and amount to minutes (or hours) taken away from other areas of your life.
One of the strongest assets of the Warrior diet lies with its simplicity. By relegating your feeding window to only four hours, you’re likely to have more free time elsewhere during your day.
This could mean using your lunch break to smash a quick workout rather than ordering takeout, or hitting the gym in the early hours instead of making breakfast from scratch.
If you’ve ever run a restrictive diet for a long period of time, you know that it is just as rigorous mentally as it is challenging physically.
The Warrior Diet picks up some points here as well. Limiting your intake window to just four hours may help you feel like you’re “indulging” in more food, simply by having it all packed together at once.
If your standard dietary approach of “grazing” or eating many small meals leaves you hungry or frustrated, sitting down to feast instead might make it easier to stick to your caloric goal.
Eating like a warrior might not make you look like one. More realistically, the Warrior Diet comes with its own set of purported benefits — but it doesn’t live up to all of them.
While there are heaps of papers discussing, theorizing, and studying the acute effects of intermittent fasting protocols like the Warrior Diet, the scientific community has yet to reach a consensus on the matter.
More specifically, research reviews on the subject describe most of the collective literature as “suggestive.” Many echo the importance of conducting more comprehensive, science-based experimentation before you can take something like the Warrior Diet at face value. (1)(5)
The Warrior Diet isn’t exclusively marketed as a weight loss tool. That said, a large portion of the conversation in the scientific community involves studying the effects of intermittent fasting on weight loss.
Thus far, little credible evidence exists backing the idea that eating once per day works any better for weight loss than eating thrice or five times, provided caloric intake is consistent between both styles. (5)
As such, the purported body composition-related benefits of a fasting protocol such as the Warrior Diet are theorized to be the result of better adherence to the schedule of the diet, rather than anything strictly physiological.
Everyone responds to nutritional protocols in their own way, and what works for you might be intolerable for your gym partner, coach, or spouse.
Some studies have noted that fasting protocols like the Warrior Diet lead to strong acute increases in blood cholesterol and blood pressure, (1) which you may want to avoid depending on your overall health status.
Feasting to your heart’s content is all well and good, but you still have to go without a calorie for roughly 12 waking hours.
Depending on when you like to hit the gym, this might make the Warrior Diet incompatible for you. Energy requirements vary by sport, but whether you prefer weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, or something else, you probably understand the importance of eating before (and after) your training session.
If you’re forced (for whatever reason) to train in the middle of your waking fast, your capabilities in the weight room could suffer.
This isn’t a guarantee, but it’s worth considering whether you can get all the micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need while following a diet like Warrior.
One of the smaller (but nonetheless important) benefits of a balanced meal plan is that it allows you to include a large variety of foods into your daily diet.
If you restrict yourself to eating your entire day’s worth of calories in only a few short hours, you might find it difficult to put down enough physical food — especially if you usually eat hearty, organic, or fibrous foods that are quite filling.
This may encourage you to turn to nutritionally vacant alternatives instead, since they often taste better and are more quickly eaten. In such cases, it would be wise to keep a multivitamin at the ready.
It’s definitely not for everyone, but the Warrior Diet might be appropriate for you in the right contexts.
Bodybuilding devotees sometimes have to put down inordinate amounts of calories to add muscle mass. If that describes you and you fall into the so-called “hardgainer” camp, a Warrior DIet-esque protocol might be appropriate.
In the event that a fourth or fifth daily meal makes your stomach churn, you might be able to stomach your bulking needs better if you pack all your meals into one extended sitting. You just probably won’t be able to get it done on chicken and brown rice alone.
A meal plan is meant to improve your quality of life so you can focus on what matters — your workouts.
If you spend more time cooking in the kitchen, slaving away before stacks of Tupperware to the point that it affects your workouts, home life, or recovery habits, it’s probably doing more harm than good.
The Warrior Diet might come in clutch in such cases as a no-nonsense way of getting your daily required calories in. If you only need to eat once, you only need to cook once.
Dieting — particularly if your personal goal is losing weight — is a mental battle, and no warrior wins every single battle. Recreational lifters and pro bodybuilders alike are prone to lapses in willpower.
Fortunately, a structured time-based dietary plan like the Warrior Diet could serve as a band-aid fix if you find yourself snacking uncontrollably.
By firmly establishing “feast” and “fast” windows, you might adhere better to your caloric limit due to having firm boundaries in place. You may be less tempted to hit the pantry if it’s outside your allotted eating hours.
So, what’s the word on the Warrior Diet? Is Ori Hofmekler’s approach to eating the best way to reach your fitness goals, build strength, or gain muscle?
Strictly speaking, it depends. Since the diet is less of a diet and more of a philosophical approach to eating, it could technically work for just about anyone — provided they can adhere to the somewhat extreme 20-and-four protocol.
However, just because it can work for you, doesn’t mean it’s worth trying. There’s some compelling research behind fasting as a practice, but there are also risks in equal measure for certain populations.
Trying the Warrior Diet isn’t likely to do you any harm, but bear in mind that there’s nothing wrong with being a gardener in peacetime.
Featured Image: xmee / Shutterstock
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