James Clear: Intermittent Fasting, Carb Cycling, and Behavior Change

James Clear

Today’s show is with James Clear, a former All-American baseball player, avid weightlifter, and expert in behavior change. It’s a content-packed smorgasbord of geekery, so grab your notebooks and saddle-up.

We cover:

  • How you can build muscle and lose fat using intermittent fasting
  • The importance of environment design in habit formation
  • How carb-cycling and calorie-cycling enhances body composition
  • How you can teach yourself to actually floss every day

If you’d like to check out the resources James mentioned on the show, hop on over to his download page at JamesClear.com. Here’s the show!


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  1. Another great podcast Abel. My two take aways from this podcast were indentity based habits and environmental design in habit formation. Really super ideals. There is such a big difference between being an athlete or being someone who is doing a workout. I like the new identity that is growing more than ever, the geek athlete. Its like the best of both worlds, smart and healthy.

    • Brian — I’m glad you found the interview useful and I love your two takeaways.

      If you’re interested in more on identity-based habits, I wrote about the whole process here: http://jamesclear.com/identity-based-habits

      And for an example of environment design, you can give this a look: http://jamesclear.com/habits-visibility-method

      As always, feel free to shoot me any questions you have (there is a contact form on my website). I’m happy to help.

    • I definitely agree with you Brian – we’re in the age of the geek.

      And athletics is no different. And I especially like how it’s becoming less and less of a stigma to actually take health seriously. I remember when it used to be “cool” to not really care and act as though everything came easily.

      Now it’s cool to educate yourself and use science get healthy and fit. Pretty cool.

  2. Great interview. Interesting to hear that someone has an MBA (JC) but is using it in the area of health sciences. Interesting to hear someone use the term “Geek” in disciplines other than technology. I use fasting as a lifestyle. I have for years. I appreciate the points reinforced in this podcast.

    • Leigh — glad you enjoyed the podcast. I had a blast doing the interview.

      Feel free to drop me a line anytime if you have questions or suggestions of your own. I always love hearing from people who are putting ideas into practice.

  3. Amy Valentino says:

    Hi! I just found your podcast and love it!

    The only problem is I now have another diet to think about and don’t know which way to turn. I am a 39 year old female who is 30lbs over weight. the best sucess I have had at losing weight is on Atkins, but gained it back immediatley when I fell off the wagon and it really depressed me. However, I loved the way it made me feel while I was doing the low carb thing. I have ADHD (diagnosed in the ’90’s) and on Atkins I never felt more focused in my life.

    The problem is I do not know who to listen too. Jillian Michaels, Atkins, Engine 2, Kris Karr, Joe the Juicing guy? Im really, really stuck.

    I drink Kale and fruit shakes everyday and keep a balanced diet up until around 8pm and then I feel famished.

    Im writing you because you said in one of your podcasts that you felt hungry all the time too and finally found a way of life to eat where you don’t feel hungry all the time. Make sense? HELP!!!

    I have never written to anyone about these issues

  4. Do you believe that there is a difference for men and women when it comes to IF? I’ve tried skipping breakfast and while I find that it’s true it lowers my appetite, it also makes me super gassy and I experience gas / bloating throughout the afternoon. I eat mostly Paleo and try to make sure I’m eating enough healthy fat. I also lift and do sprints in the afternoons. IF makes sense to me and I think it’ll help me with my weight loss goals but the gas / bloating is really embarrassing and uncomfortable. Is this normal?

  5. Good conversation, fellas.

    Would like your input on a 2 things.

    1. Dave Asprey. Yeah, impressive guy, but I remain unconvinced about his diet and bulletproof coffee (coffee + butter + coconut oil). His idea about grass fat saturated fat being good defies a lot of science/studies. (This doc’s video makes the case with several studies: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/does-coconut-oil-clog-arteries/). For 2 mos I tried the coffee regime. The good: not hungry till the afternoon so intermittent fasting is easy. The bad: Gained body fat, not a lot but this is the wrong direction. What isn’t widely known about Asprey is that he takes a lot of supplements — including testosterone — and this might make the difference for him.

    So, where do you come down on “bullet proof coffee”?

    2. Protein in the morning. Tim Ferriss et al says that 30 grams within the first 1/2 hr of awakening is important if doing resistance training and/or wish to lose weight, due to satiation and other things. In the morning, I mix a bunch of powders (whey, sprouted protein powder, spirulina and more) w/ pure water and chase down a gulp of fish oil. Eat next between 1 and 2. So, not purely intermittent fasting, but…

    How do you feel about protein in the morning, and if think it’s unnecessary, do you think no nutrition is necessary during the fasting period? I have my doubts if lifting hard and frequently, or doing high intensity interval training.

    Thanks for your input.


    – Joe

    P.S. Green plate … very clever!

    • Hey Joe,
      Thanks for your thoughts.

      1.) I’ve been drinking my own “Fat-Burning Coffee” (with heavy cream) for a few years now, doing a ketogenic fast in the mornings as part of a IF regime. I avoid carbs/protein typically until 1 or 2 pm when I have my first meal. MCT oil is interesting, as is butter, and I add them to my coffee from time to time to mix it up. If you’re using it as a “meal replacement” or as part of a IF regime, I think it works well. However, people can’t expect to slug down a cup of butter/heavy cream/coconut oil and expect to lose fat if they’re ADDING it to their diet. So it’s not silver bullet, but I do find fatty coffee an enjoyable part of my IF routine.

      2.) Never cared much for protein in the morning, or protein powders in general. If you feel and perform better choking down protein in the morning, go for it. But there’s no need to if you don’t enjoy it. Going without food (specifically carbs and protein) for a few hours a day is healthy, can feel great, and isn’t difficult. It’s certainly something I do almost every day and encourage others to try.


    • Joe — glad you enjoyed the interview. I had fun doing it.

      1. I’ve never drank coffee, so I don’t think I’m a good person to ask about this one.

      2. I think what you’re hinting at with this is, “Should you train fasted?” I’m guessing that (among other things) you enjoy taking the protein in the morning because you feel that it prepares you for your workout. Honestly, I think it comes down to finding the right combination of what science says and what you believe.

      For example, you mentioned struggling with losing weight with IF while doing the coffee thing. I would imagine that you were also taking your protein shake as well. It’s possible that this combo is enough to take you out of the fasted state in the morning. And typically, the prime fat burning time for intermittent fasting is about 12-16 hours into the fast. So if you cut it off in the morning, then you’re losing your best fat burning hours.

      However, the flip side of this is that science also tells us that what we believe can dramatically impact our results. For example, we know that in general it’s good to have protein when you’re training and if taking protein in the morning makes you feel like you’re prepping and results in a better workout and mental outlook, then there are significant health benefits to that as well. Many people might call this a “placebo” effect, but what we often forget is that placebo effect actually yields results. (It just yields them because you believe it works and not necessarily because of the science. But they are still real results.)

      All of that to say, I don’t typically take protein in the morning. You will find many people who train fasted and while I don’t do it often, I have done it multiple times with no real drop in performance. What is more critical, I believe, is to make sure that you get good nutrition during the 24 hours leading up to training, rather than just thinking about the morning before.

      Long story short: there’s always a trade-off. Experiment with different things, find what works best for you, and stick with that.

  6. James,

    Do you have any peer-reviewed research to support your thesis for identity-based habits? One of the reasons I was attracted to the low-carb/paleo diet was the soundness of the support for it. Since I generally live my life in an evidence-based way, I want to see some research behind your idea.

    • Jake — that’s a great question. I also respect the science behind ideas, so I’m right there with you.

      If you haven’t read my full explanation of identity-based habits, you can check that out here: http://jamesclear.com/identity-based-habits

      In addition to studying the scientific research, I also try to be a heavy practitioner and experimenter of ideas. I believe that not every question needs to be answered before I try something out. In other words, I’m happy to get results even if I don’t totally understand how something works. I value research and science, but I also understand that many of the things that we believe to be true today will be proved wrong in the near future. (Although, like you, I firmly believe that ideas that are proven by research are better than conjecture and opinions dished out as facts.)

      Long story short: I do my best to find proof for everything I write, but I also try to balance that with my experiences in getting results. Identity-based habits is one of those things that came from my real life experiences and not as much from research papers. I didn’t quote any research in my explanation of identity-based habits, but rather gave examples of how it has been proven to be true in my own life.

      I doubt that was the answer you were hoping for, but hopefully that helps clear things up.

  7. Greetings.
    It is so cool to be at this stage of intermittent fasting and listen to this Podcast. I found myself nodding in agreement all throughout. I have been intermittent fasting for about a year and half now and have lost about 40 pounds of fat. While researching IF initially, I did find that starting was the hardest part because of the amount of information and a nagging voice in my head telling me that I can’t miss breakfast. To this day, I am lectured at least once per week on how bad it is for me to skip breakfast. When I tell a particular lecturer how much fat I lost, an inquisitive look appears and they start asking a bunch of questions.
    I love how simple IF is and how seeing it as a lifestyle rather than a diet with a specific ending point, is freeing and makes my day so much easier. I would say that strength training was vital. I deadlift and do dips on one day and front squats and pull-ups on another. I suppose one could lose fat without weightlifting while intermittent fasting but there is nothing like strength training to improve overall appearance and confidence. The idea of identity based goals was a game changer for me. To see myself as one who never misses a workout made it so I now don’t have to wait to get motivated to go to the gym. Not going to the gym is out of the question.

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