Intermittent fasting – everything you need to know

 

In the health and fitness industry, I see trends come and go.

 

As you read this, there could be any number of popular diets being seen as the next best thing since sliced bread.

 

Although, sliced bread is probably not the best reference when speaking about diet food.

 

Here’s a list of just some of the popular diets I’ve heard of over the years, there will be many, many more.

 

Vegan

 

Paleo

 

Gluten free

 

Low carb

 

Atkins

 

Ketogenic

 

5:2

 

Dairy free

 

Vegetarian

 

Fasting

 

Low fat

 

Fruit only

 

Juice diets

 

Shake diets

 

Meat only

 

You get the point, right?

 

I’ve missed hundreds.

 

In fact, when I typed into Google “how many diets are there?” it took me to a Wikipedia page that literally blew my mind. Have a look.

 

I’m not here to debate how many diets are out there, what works, and what doesn’t.

 

Ultimately, in some shape or form, these diets will find a way to put you in a Calorie deficit (consuming less than you burn) and that’s what makes them successful.

 

It’s not the specific method (low carb, low fat, eliminating a food type/group) that gets the results.

 

It’s the simple scientific fact that they will put you in a deficit of Calories that will make you use stored energy (body fat/muscle glycogen) as fuel and that’s what makes you lose weight.

 

Check out this research paper proving the fact – CLICK HERE

 

However, I’m not here to debate what diet is best, I’m here to talk about intermittent fasting today.

 

I’ve been doing it on/off for a while now, I’ve seen lots of press and articles about it, done my research and I’m pretty confident I’m in a good position to tell you what you need to know about.

 

So, what is intermittent fasting?

 

It can be termed as a number of things, however, here’s the basic terminology, not eating or drinking anything of any caloric value for 4-5+ hours, up to 24-48+ hours.

 

When you sleep, you are technically fasting as you aren’t eating or drinking anything (unless you’re a sleep eater).

 

It’s not surprising then, when you sleep, and you don’t eat, your body spends the most time repairing itself.

 

Here’s where the benefits of not eating start to show themselves.

 

Obviously, you have to eat to supply your body with everything it needs to fuel and repair.

 

Here’s the kicker though, when your body is digesting food, it isn’t repairing itself.

 

It’s sending blood to your gut to process that food, the repairing, muscle building and fat burning happens after.

 

Your body is a lot smarter than you think.

 

With bodybuilders and gym junkie’s a like, the fear of not eating every 2-4 hours in case all your hard-earned muscle fell off your skeleton is huge.

 

Think about third world countries or even back to the cavemen days.

 

It’s famine, then feast.

 

The body can survive when it doesn’t get fed.

 

Do you want to starve yourself often?

 

Of course not.

 

Starvation and other techniques are a form of torture or spiritual testing and enlightenment.

 

Hunger can be beneficial as long as you ensure that the “feast” is balanced and you get everything your body needs.

 

Let me list some of the benefits of fasting here.

 

Can cure the following if done correctly and as part of a balanced diet (listed above by giving your body what it needs): –

 

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Insulin resistance
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatty liver disease

 

It can also: –

 

  • Promote growth hormone production (a hormone at its highest when you’re a teenager)
  • Regulate ghrelin levels (a hormone that controls hunger)
  • Reduce inflammation levels

 

The list goes on.

 

There can be negative effects when adapting but nothing serious. A little hunger which is expected and some potential headaches and light headedness due to irregular feedings, but these can be overcome. (Tips to follow later in this post)

 

Basically, after the transition, your body (and muscles) adapt to become better at burning fat (as a consequence of limited energy and carbohydrate intake).

 

This happens by increasing the number and function of the mitochondria in your body (your bodies energy cells).

 

Exciting right?

 

This happens when you eat less than you burn. You can do that in any way you like. Small regular meals, large irregular meals, normal sized meals. As long as you make sure your energy balance is right, you’ll lose weight.

 

Something to note, just because your fasting, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll lose weight.

 

If you eat enough food when you’re not fasting, and your energy balance is on the other end of the scale, you’ll still put on weight.

 

You’ll burn fat when fasting, however, you’ll put it back on if you eat too much.

 

Have a look at the graph below.

The green means storage, the blue means burning.

 

As you can see, this is based on a 3 meal per day average, by the looks of things, breakfast is the biggest meal (green curve is largest). So, in theory, you’re storing that meal (inside the muscle and/or, as body fat).

 

However, look at your sleeping period. Big blue curve.

 

The body recovers, it digests, and most importantly, it can more readily burn fat due to the absence of food.

 

That’s great news, right?

 

Ever wake up feeling leaner and skinner than the night before? That’s why.

 

Here’s where the benefits of fasting come in. The longer you don’t eat in the morning (or any other time) the bigger that blue curve and the greater fat burning potential.

 

I’m here to give you the facts, so I’ll get deeper into this soon, read on.

Now, this is more obvious to how much you can increase fat burning potential.

For a certain period after you’ve eaten, your body is processing all that food. This take time to go through your digestion and get used and disposed.

Once that happens, you’re in pure fat burning mode. The more frequently you do this, the quicker it happens. If you’ve been chronically overeating terrible foods and aren’t used to doing anything like this, your body is going to take a fair bit of abuse while adapting.

 

You’ll feel tired, sluggish and cranky.

 

When you constantly eat, you are constantly spiking your blood sugar (check the first graph above) and with that rise comes a crash.

 

When blood sugar goes below that baseline, you can smoothly transition into fat burning if you’re healthy. However, if you’re overweight, out of shape and don’t exercise then this process isn’t as streamlined as we’d like.

 

I want you to know that whatever you choose after reading this article, you need to make sure you can see yourself doing it 1 year from now.

 

Otherwise you’re just entertaining a fad diet and it won’t last. There’s a time and place to do these things, a holiday coming up, photo shoot, or even just a quick blast to get you in a good place.

 

Take what I’m going to give you today and make it work for you. Use it as a template and adapt it to suit your life. Don’t buy into “you have to do it this way or else it won’t work”

 

To an extent, some things might not work but more often than not, you can get the benefits without being a slave to the protocol. Sometimes the stress isn’t worth the reward, sometimes it is.

 

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”

 

You’ve heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times.

 

I know, I used to be a huge advocate of it. However, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. (Who knows where that saying came from? )

 

If I had 1 approach, stuck to it for the rest of my life and never changed it then I’d be old school. Times change, and so should you, for the better.

 

The thing with breakfast is that it can set you up for success or it can set you up for failure.

 

There’s a theory called metabolic programming. This means that whatever you eat first thing in the morning sets you up for the day.

 

If you eat carbs, you are primarily using carbs for energy and you will feel the need for more regular meals as your blood sugar spikes, then crashes.

 

Carbs require a hormone called insulin to process. You’ve probably heard of this hormone as diabetics have to inject this due to genetic or lifestyle factors meaning their body can’t process them as well.

 

Basically, when you eat carbs, insulin puts them where they should go (inside the muscle or stored as body fat). The more you do this and the bigger amount of carbs you have, the bigger amount of stress on your system to process them.

 

Eventually, if you neglect all the areas that help this process, you can become Type 2 diabetic (that’s the negative lifestyle factors coming into play). That’s out with my scope of practice, however, it’s good to know the basics of this.

 

So, taking the metabolic programming theory to the other end of the scale. If you don’t have carbs for breakfast, and you have protein and fats instead then the spike isn’t as big, get it?

 

No carbs, no spike, no storage, more fat burning.

 

That’s it in its most basic of forms without getting technical. Protein and fats can release insulin and cause storage, the response just isn’t as high as when you eat carbs.

 

With that information then, if we didn’t eat, then there’s no spike in insulin (storage hormone) meaning you will burn more fat. The body can’t burn fat in the presence of high amounts of insulin. Reason being is that with insulin present, it’s focusing on storing, not burning. Remember the graph?

 

 

 

Here’s where the “little and often” theory goes down the toilet.

 

If you look at the graph above you’ll notice that when you eat regularly, you rarely go into fat burning mode.

 

Even moderate fasting will have its benefits.

 

So, let’s discuss some things you can do and the different approaches. I’ll break down the basics and explain the pros and cons. This won’t work for everyone, all of the time.

 

If you’re looking to maximise muscle building, there are probably more efficient ways of doing it, however, the lower your body fat is, the easier your body will put on muscle, so it will benefit you to lose the fluff. Fasting can help here, as long as your energy balance is right (burning more than you’re eating)

 

Quick note before I get into this, while I am giving you lots of benefits of fasting, it has to work for YOU and YOUR LIFESTYLE. There are other methods you can take, none are right or wrong, just ok, good and better. Whatever you pick, stick to it and apply yourself 100%. This will be more optimal than anything.

 

HOW TO START

 

There are 2 main ways you can start to introduce yourself to the benefits of fasting without completely destroying any kind of brain power you may have.

 

The first method is just by having your last meal of the day 1-2 hours earlier and your first meal of the next day 1-2 hours later.

 

This is probably the easiest method as it is least invasive and doesn’t involve you massively changing your life. You just get a little hungry in the morning and that’s about it. Drink a pint of water and often that hunger goes.

Remember not to confuse hunger with thirst. If you are hungry, try drinking water and waiting 20 minutes and see if the hunger persists. At times, it’s just part of the process. Remember, being hungry for 12-24 hours never killed anyone.

 

Back in the cavemen days this was a survival mechanism. Your body is designed to store energy (body fat) for use at times of need (hunger/no food). It really can do a lot more than you think.

 

The second method to do this is to fast for a full day. Probably best to pick a Sunday or a day your brain isn’t needed to be on top form, maybe a holiday or break from work.

 

You eat your last meal about 8-10pm the night before and that’s you until the following day at 8-10pm. You’ll have a light snack that’s easy to digest (not a huge meal) and return to normal eating on the Monday. Don’t try to compensate by eating more on Monday otherwise you’ll cancel out the benefits.

 

That’s the simplest forms of fasting/intermittent fasting.

 

Remember, with intermittent fasting, it means you’re doing it every now and then. Whether that’s a schedule you pick or just when you feel like it, it’s up to you.

 

There’s no need to be extremely regimented about it. Remember what I said about making it fit into your lifestyle? Yeah, that.

 

Just do what you can and be aware of it, you’ll figure out the rest.

If you try it and still have no idea then yours truly can help, just get in touch through here or my socials.

 

OTHER METHODS.

 

As this is an informative article I’d be doing you a disservice if I left out some of the popular approaches.

 

There’s lots out there, each author or method creator will preach that theirs is best. And while some are better than others as more of the fasting benefits are compounded after 16-18 hours, you just have to find something you can stick to.

 

THE WARRIOR DIET

 

Basically a 20 hour fast every day. You can have water, tea and coffee, and some BCAA’s (some building blocks of protein). While that’s not a true fast, it can help maintaining muscle mass when in a prolonged diet.

 

You are to train fasted just before the end of the 20 hours, followed by a 4 hour “feast” of moderate proportions. The biggest challenge here is getting enough, protein as well as nutrients your body needs in the short 4-hour window.

 

Most people will train around 3-5pm allowing them to maintain a healthy social and family life by eating normal dinners with friends and family and not isolating yourself from society.

 

That’s it, probably at the extreme end for active individuals as gym performance can potentially take a hit but one of the better ones for body composition.

 

THE 16/8 APPROACH (LEAN GAINS METHOD)

 

You guessed it, fast for 16 hours and eat for 8.

 

This gives you more flexibility and can be a bit easier to manage food and hunger. Last meal finishes at 8, first meal at 12. You can train 10-11 and feel good and lift heavier weights.

This will ultimately help you maintain as much lean muscle mass as possible and keep your metabolism healthy if you’re getting the right amount of food in your feeding window.

 

I’m going to leave it at that as this article is already at about 2500 words and I could easily double that.

 

My last point I’m NOT going to talk about is supplements when fasting and during fasting. This is another article altogether.

 

While they can help, I’m not here to go into geeky science and research of what works. If you want more information on these things, then you can get in touch and I’ll be happy to speak to you about it.

 

That’s it. The “basics” of fasting and probably everything you need to know about it.

 

Some key points to some up.

 

  • Fasting can help manage Calorie balance and help you lose fat by eating less than you burn.
  • Fasting can regulate hunger so that you control cravings better.
  • Fasting can help with insulin sensitivity and this can help you manage your carbohydrates better.
  • Start with something manageable and increase fasting time and/or frequency with your increased experience with the approach.
  • Fasting probably isn’t for someone looking to maximally put on as much muscle as possible. It can help gain strength and size while minimising fat gain.
  • Fasting isn’t for people whose nutritional habits aren’t in place yet. (Eating enough fruit and veg, fibre and protein for your goals).
  • Fasting can be time efficient as you’re not having to prepare as many meals and eat as frequently.

 

If you want any more information about this, send me a message and ask me anything. I can direct you further in your quest for knowledge or work with you 1-2-1 coaching you through the process of getting fitter, stronger, more energetic and healthier.

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