Many moons ago, I came across a book called The Warrior Diet.
It’s based on the idea that ancient warriors didn’t have time to eat during the day, because they were too busy doing all the things that warriors do. Instead, they’d eat one big meal in the evening, once all the hunting and fighting was out of the way.
Written by former Penthouse health and fitness editor Ori Hofmekler, the basic premise behind The Warrior Diet is very simple. You eat one meal a day, preferably at night, without any restriction on calories, fat or carbs.
During the rest of the day, you get to nibble on fresh vegetables, fruits and a little protein. But that’s about it. No carbs (other than what you get from vegetables and fruits) are allowed during the undereating phase of the diet.
The Warrior Diet: What Results Can You Expect?
Hofmekler makes a number of claims about the results you can expect to see on The Warrior Diet.
For one, you’re going to get leaner and more muscular. According to Hofmekler, The Warrior Diet “guarantees you a fat-burning hormone in your system for at least six to eight hours, which no other diet does.”
Hofmekler also dismisses the idea that a big meal in the evening will make you fat. Instead, he thinks that feasting at night will help you build more muscle.
That’s because growth hormone (GH) levels reach a peak at night when you sleep. Eating a big meal before you go to bed, he argues, gives your body the nutrients it needs to take advantage of this natural raise in GH.
As well as improving your body composition, The Warrior Diet is supposed to toughen you up. Learning to deal with hunger will make you tougher and stronger, to better handle life’s hardships. Hunger and fasting were considered an integral part of life for ancient warriors.
Is there any science behind The Warrior Diet? Is eating one meal a day the way to go? Or is it just going to mess up your metabolism and leave you tired and hungry?
The Warrior Diet and Weight Loss: What the Science Says
To lose fat, the only thing you need is a calorie deficit. And eating just one main meal a day is a very simple way to create that deficit.
That simplicity is one of the main appeals of The Warrior Diet – you don’t need to give up your favorite foods, or memorize any complicated diet rules.
Most of your calorie budget for the day is spent in one big meal, rather than several smaller ones. The calories that you’d normally eat during the day are saved up for dinner. As a result, that dinner can be larger and more satisfying than the sort of thing you’d normally eat when you’re trying to lose weight.
Having a big meal at night isn’t going to stop you losing fat, as was once believed . And most studies show that eating multiple small meals throughout the day has no benefits as far as fat loss is concerned [2, 3].
When it comes to losing fat, what counts is your total calorie intake for the day, rather than when or how often those calories are eaten.
There’s also research to show that reducing the size of your feeding window, with very few rules or limits on what you can eat during that window, can help you lose weight.
What does that mean exactly?
You might eat breakfast at 8am, have a few meals and snacks during the day, and finish dinner at 8pm. In this case, your feeding window lasts 12 hours.
So, there’s no good reason why you can’t lose fat on The Warrior Diet, just as long as your overall diet for the day puts you in a calorie deficit.
However, The Warrior Diet also has the potential to go badly wrong.
Some people will be so tired and hungry by the end of the day that they end up eating far more than they should. This puts them in a calorie surplus (rather than the calorie deficit required to lose fat), and they end up gaining fat rather than losing it.
The Warrior Diet is less a rigid prescription of how much carbohydrate, fat and protein you should be eating, and more a set of guidelines about how your calorie intake should be distributed throughout the day.
As such, you could take two people with similar goals, with the same weight and build, following identical training programs, and tell them to follow The Warrior Diet as laid out in the book. They could end up with completely different macronutrient intakes.
One guy could end up not eating enough protein to maximize muscle growth. The other might end up eating too many calories overall, which is going to stop him losing fat.
You can’t ignore the macronutrient composition of your diet and expect your results to be all that they could be. To improve your body composition for the better (and by that, I’m talking about having more muscle and less fat), you’ll still need to pay attention to the quality of your diet.
The Warrior Diet and Body Composition
The Warrior Diet (and other diets that focus on limiting the size of your feeding window) represent a simple way to manage your calorie intake, without the need to count calories or follow complicated rules about what you should and shouldn’t eat.
However, beyond any benefits in terms of compliance and consistency, intermittent fasting isn’t going to produce radical improvements in body composition compared to more “traditional” methods of dieting.
We know that fasted cardio doesn’t help you lose fat faster than the same amount of cardio done in a fed state. And that eating a big meal at night, even one containing large amounts of protein, doesn’t help you build muscle any faster than the same amount of protein consumed at other times of day.
There’s no secret sauce or hormonal magic about The Warrior Diet. It’s just another way to stay within your calorie budget for the day.
The Warrior Instinct
One of the other claims made about the Warrior Diet is that it triggers the so-called warrior instinct, making you “sharper, more energetic and more adventurous.”
Hofmekler does go a bit over the top when he claims that frequently feeding creates a “slave mentality,” leaving you lethargic, lazy and submissive – and thus easily controlled.
However, I am more focused in the first few hours of the morning when I skip breakfast and wait a few hours before eating anything.
Once I have some caffeine inside me, the morning is my most productive time of day. I find it so much easier to get into that “flow state” where you’re lost in what you’re doing and time seems to pass a lot faster than normal.
I usually get a lot more done in the morning when I’m deep into a fast than I do in the afternoon after I’ve had something to eat.
Many moons ago, when I used to work in an office, eating a carb-heavy lunch would usually leave me feeling sleepy and sluggish. My energy levels would plunge, my productivity went down the drain, and I was constantly fighting the urge to fall into the warm and comforting embrace of an afternoon nap.
What I found is that restricting my intake of energy-dense carbohydrates during the day, and focusing mainly on fruits, vegetables and protein, meant that I didn’t end up feeling as sleepy in the afternoon. The energy-dense carbs, such as potatoes, cereal, spaghetti and so on, come later in the day, usually after 7pm.
These days, much of the advice in The Warrior Diet isn’t considered new or controversial. But back in 2001, a lot of it went against the grain.
Intermittent fasting wasn’t really a thing, and most people were still hung up on the idea that fat loss is best achieved by eating little and often, that eating a big meal at night would put the brakes on fat loss, and that extended periods of fasting would lead to the loss of muscle.
While The Warrior Diet does contain more than its share of pseudoscientific nonsense, I don’t think there’s too much wrong with the basic idea of eating smaller meals (containing mainly fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods), during the day and a larger one (higher in carbs) at night.
It’s a pattern of eating that has worked well for me, and may well work for you too.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.