I've been meaning to write about Intermittent Fasting (IF) for a while now, but just haven't gotten around to it, but since it has quickly become a favorite way of eating for many people and myself, I figured I had to set some time aside to knock this one out.
I've been following IF protocols on and off for about 2-years now, and definitely like some aspects of IF.
Basically IF is extending the window (fast) in which you do not eat. Most people eat throughout the day, and typically stop eating around 7-8pm and start eating again the next day between 6-8am. So the typical fast for people is around 10-12 hours each day. IF extends this fast to 16+ hours.
This method has been really popularized, among others, by Martin Berkhan at Leangains, Brad Pilon at Eat Blog Eat, and also John Romaniello at Roman Fitness Systems, they basically flip the switch on what most people think of dieting. Instead of 6-7 smaller meals, every 2-3 hours to keep your metabolism sparked; they use extended periods of fasting.
First there has been no scientific support between high meal frequency and increased metabolism and studies have actually shown that resting metabolism increases during a fasting period.
The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is defined as your increase in metabolism due to the energy required to break down the food you eat. Total net TEF is the same whether you eat 7 meals a day or just 2 meals a day. For example:
8 meals at 300 cal per meal = 2400 cal
2 meals at 1200 cal per meal = 2400 cal
While the meal frequency, size, and pattern are different; the total net TEF is the same; given that you get your required nutrients.
Eating smaller meals might allow you to get a steady stream of nutrients throughout the day, but as long as you make sure you get your requirements during your feeding window it's all the same. So the whole smaller meals stoking the fire doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Add in the fact that fat is used as the main fuel source during a fast and you have a good weapon at your hands.
Why It WorksFor starters, the fact that you can only eat for a reduced amount of time in itself means you will probably eat less. This will take away all the calories you eat and snack on during the day, and most people actually snack and eat more than they think.
Most people eat between 12-16 hours a day, so by cutting off between 4-8 hours of eating time will obviously mean less opportunity to add extra calories.
One way that IF works is that your body has increased insulin sensitivity after a long fast. This means that your body can more easily and readily absorb/use the foods that you put into it, especially carbs.
Increased sensitivity = more apt to lose fat and gain muscle, so by doing an IF you get more out of your fast breaking meal and your post workout meal (if you train fasted) due to the state your body is in.
Like I touched on earlier, giving your body 16+ hours a day to not worry about digestion gives you a whole mess of benefits. Your body actually has time to focus on itself and it gets a lot of work done.
It gets to focus on "cleansing" and repairing itself at all levels. It will start repairing old cells, taking time to go to work on your stomach health, GI health, colon, liver, focus on lymphatic health, and decreases inflammation.
In fact a study by the University of Utah showed that people who fasted for just 1-day per month reduced their chance to suffer from clogged arteries by 40%. Your body is an amazing machine, and allowing it time to focus on itself allows it to become a much more efficient/productive machine.
Finally IF offers some great hormonal benefits.
One being Growth Hormone.
During a fast your body naturally produces higher amounts of GH, and this is good for whatever your goal is.
Growth Hormone helps increase the transport of amino acids, use of fatty acids, and decreases glucose utilization; so overall helps you burn more fat and increase lean muscle. IF has also been linked to increased insulin sensitivity and takes advantage of the leptin hormone cycles.
Why Do IFThere are many reason to start an IF protocol, and one of the main reasons to do so is the reduced reliance of preperation and planning.
Why go to work with 6 things of tupperware, plan meals for every 2-3 hours, and having to grocery shop for 40+ meals a week when you can stick to only 2-3 meals a day. Eating less meals will equal less time spent on planning and preperation while saving more money.
I'm not going to lie, the first couple of days you start IF it will be hard. You will be thinking about food, and counting down the minutes until you can eat again. But this quickly dies out and pretty soon your fasted time will become focused, energized, and productive.
You will have more time to focus on your work, and really you will learn to stay busy and engaged in something to take your mind away from your hunger. Each day you will save hours of time where you're not cooking, preparing, planning, and eating in which you will get more work done.
You might be thinking that not eating for that long will cause your blood sugar levels to plummet and cause you to become a walking zombie. This is far from the truth, and studies have shown that it takes about 84 hours (3 whole days) of fasting before your blood sugar levels became low enough to affect your mental state. So really it is just an adjustment for your body to become used to this state, not from a lack of blood sugar.
Following IF protocols also allow you to have more freedom in your diet.
Since you're giving your body extended fasting periods, your body is in a better state to better absorb and utilize food. So eating a poor meal will have less effect, and if planned accordinly (cheat meals) can actually be very beneficial to your diet progress. These cheat meals allow your leptin levels to reset and keep your body in fat burning and muscle building mode.
I love meat, and eating lots of meat is a must on IF. Reducing carbs is a natural outcome of IF, and while doing IF I also reduce my carbs to mostly post workout, and these carbs consist mostly of fruits, veggies, potatoes, and chocolate.
I don't eat many breads, pastas, grains, except on my big cheat meals. But it is important when on IF and on a lower carb diet to eat fat. Fat is not the enemy, and reducing fat to low levels has been shown to have adverse effects.
We need fat, it is essential for our well being and overall health and wellness. So IF allows you to eat bacon, steaks, pork chops, fatty fish as well as fatty foods like almonds, pistachios, peanuts, peanut butter, almond butter, eggs, whole milk, and cheese!
I will gladly give up pasta, bread, and grains to enjoy these foods instead and get amazing results while at it.
Finally, why do IF? Because it works. It has become very popular amongst many athletes, figure competitors, and regular people because it works. Here is a list of benefits research has shown in studies in animal models (compliments of John Berardi)
How To Do IFThere are many different ways to do IF but here are the two best and easiest ways.
The first and way I do my intermittent fasting is following a 16-8 protocol. This means I fast for 16 hours and only eat for 8 hours. So a typical day might look like eating from 1pm-9pm and fasting from 9pm until 1pm the next day.
With the 16-8 protocol, you have a lot of freedom to plan your windows of fasting and eating. For example, if you know you're going to be having a big meal or attending a party, you can plan so that it fits into your 8 hour window.
For me this protocol varies and on some days the the windows may be shorter or longer depending on my activity level, social events, and eating habits. Again I love this because it's all about flexibility and convenience.
When you ready to move up and really challenge yourself, you can try a 24 hour fast.
A lot of people who use this method will eat normal all week, and then set one day aside where they won't eat for 24 hours.
So a typical outline will look like ending a feeding period around 4-6pm and then obviously not until the next day at dinner.
People often like this method because, one it is very challenging and they like the sacrafrice. Two it allows for only 1 fasted day per week, while the rest is spent normal. I think everyone should try to do atleast one 24 hour fast each month, as it shows you how reliant we really are on food, shows you how nice you really have it, and gives you a little appreciation of what being hungry really means. Plus all the great health benefits it brings.
That's it, there's no counting calories, measuring food, eating some ancient herbal recently re-discovered super expensive special foods, or extreme restriction.
The only real guideline is that you eat enough protein. I always recommend to get your body weight in grams of protein. So if you weigh 180lbs, you need to comsume atleast 180g of protein.
That's the only guideline you really have. Of course depending on your goals you can follow others - limiting carbs to around your workouts, sticking to a paleo style, no processed foods, organic, etc, but we all know what is generally healthy and we should stick to those foods. Shying away from processed foods, refined carbs, processed meats, and sticking to a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats will get the best results.
Intermittent fasting might not be for everyone. Athletes who are geared more towards endurance competition, IF may not be for you. Prolonged aerobic exercise requires some more carbs just due to the nature of the best. You can play around with IF on different training days, but for your longer days or competition it would be wise to consume adequate carbs.
Another good recommendation is to consume 5-10g of BCAA's before working out, especially if working out during your fast. The BCAA's will help stimulate some protein synthesis and keep you in an anabolic state during your workout. Plus they are just a good choice no matter what!
So if your in a rut and need something to try, give IF a go. For even more info on IF, look into these sites below for more information and decide if it's for you.
And as always Go Get 'Em!