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Become a Modern Day Warrior: The Diet That Broke All The Rules

Can you really survive and build muscle on one meal a day? We learn everything there is to know about the Warrior Diet.

Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS

Always eat breakfast, eat every 2 - 3 hours, and avoid hunger: these are three diet rules you never violate—at least, never on purpose that is. For example, we accept that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, that eating frequently boosts our metabolism, and that hunger pangs lead to overeating.

Yet, in the late-1990s, one diet broke all those rules and encouraged you to skip your hearty breakfast, stop spacing your meals, feast at night, and, oh, under-eat all day, too.

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Surely, you can’t thrive with this diet—let alone gain muscle—right? Nutritionists have long warned us about skipping meals and starving ourselves. How can you succeed by committing diet heresy? Over time, however, something interesting happened:

The diet grew. What’s more, it pioneered a new genre of diets called “intermittent fasting.”

It’s all thanks to the Warrior Diet. Created by Ori Hofmekler, it introduced fasting and under-eating as method of fitness by itself and demanded the discipline to treat your nutrition like training. “The Warrior Diet focuses on total human fitness,” says Hofmekler, “not partial.”

The Story Behind The Diet

We need stress. (The good kind, that is.) “Every living organism has something called a ‘stress-response mechanism,’” Hofmekler explains. “It’s a system that must be exercised; if your stress response is inadequate or inhibited, you’ll be prone to health risks.“

Stressing the body, for example, builds muscle: stimulate your muscle fibers, ligaments, and nervous system and your body will respond and grow. Do that a few thousand times, and you’ll look like a Greek God.

“The fact that you are fitness-oriented and training regularly shows that you are tuned to stress,” Hofmekler explains. “But when I introduced this concept of dietary stress, it was heresy.”

The Warrior Diet introduced nutritional stress, not by restricting total calories, but by cycling periods of fasting or under-eating for over 12 hours—or sometimes 16—a day. “With these short-term fasts, you trigger stress response agents,” says Hofmekler. “These are stress protein, heat shock proteins, certain kinds of enzymes, and anti-inflammatory and immune molecules that practically search and destroy every weak element in your body.”

Eating every two hours or eating six meals a days, however, isn’t stressful on your body. Following a regular schedule and avoiding hunger is the opposite.

“If you exercise,” says Hofmekler, “you can see how physical stress benefits the body. For the Warrior Diet, I concluded that humans are programmed especially to thrive under stress, not the other way.”

How to do the Warrior Diet:

The Warrior Diet requires 20 hours of underfeeding (which includes your sleep) followed by 4 hours of overfeeding at night.

During the day, food choices shift from light-and-fluid to dense. For example, start the day with water, vegetable juices, coffee, or tea. (Anything watery and thin.) As the day continues, have light snacks like whey protein, berries, yogurts, etc. Finally, at night, have large, dense, and cooked meals that your ancient ancestors would’ve recognized as food.

“Go lower on the food chain,” says Hofmekler, “foods that existed 10,000 years ago like fruits, vegetables, legumes, root vegetables, good dairy from pasture-raised animals, eggs from free-range chicken, and wild caught fish. You just can’t go wrong.”

Finally, avoid certain food combinations. “Only protein and vegetables can mix with everything,” says Hofmekler. Everything else needs to be restricted: avoid combinations like nuts and sugar, nuts and fruits, grain and sugar, grain and fruits, alcohol with sugar, and alcohol with starch. You can, however, combine alcohol with protein. “Wine and pasta, bad; wine and fish, good.”

Why it Works

1. Matches Our Evolution

For thousands of years, “survival of the fittest” ruled the day: those who withstood extreme temperatures, starvation, and stresses lived and passed their genes; those who didn’t died. Thus, we all descended from ancestors who overcame hostile conditions without hot running water or toilet paper. (Hooray us.)

Our modern age, however, removed that stress. The hunt for food was replaced by a line at the grocery store, going hungry was replaced by vending machines, and staying warm during brutal winters was replaced by hot cocoa.

Because early humans proliferated on diets of underfeeding and overfeeding, it suggests that we are meant to thrive on intermittent fasting.

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