Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular over the past several years (especially in the fitness industry) and consequently I have been getting more and more questions from clients and readers asking if all the hype is true. That said, I decided to do my due diligence and research the hell out of IF and even start my own little fasting experiments.
First off, as crazy as fasting sounds it has been around for centuries and implemented by many different cultures in many different ways. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the observation of such fasting holidays as Ramadan and Lent (there are many more) but fasting has long been used as a method for weight management and hormone optimization dating back to roughly 5th century B.C.! In fact, the father of all western medicine, Hippocrates, used fasting and exercise as a cure for obesity (go figure).
“Obese people and those desiring to lose weight should perform hard work before food. Meals should be taken after exertion while still panting from fatigue. They should, moreover, only eat once per day and take no baths and walk naked as long as possible.” – Hippocrates circa 471 BC
^ I totally agree with this guy!
So what exactly is “Intermittent Fasting”?
Simply stated, it is a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting and, well, non-fasting (a.k.a. eating). This can be done in a multitude of ways but the two prominent methodologies that are currently being followed are the Eat-Stop-Eat method developed by Brad Pilon and the Leangains method by Martin Berhkan, both of whom are highly intelligent and respected individuals.
Here are the basics of each:
- Eat-Stop-Eat consists of one 24hr fast each week.
- Leangains consists of a daily 16hr fast followed by an 8hr
It may seem like a lot to some people but considering you fast every night while you sleep and there is a period between your last meal and when you hit the hay and then when you wake up to when you get your first calories in 16hrs doesn’t look so bad. For most people what it comes down to is a more structured way of eating.
Structuring your eating times or ‘window’ rather than haphazardly eating when you think you should be or when hunger strikes can be a much better approach for some people to keep track of their nutrition not to mention numerous other benefits when done properly.
Why do intermittent fasting?
Although IF may not be for everyone there are some serious benefits that could have some profound effects on your body composition, stress, hormones, strength, and ultimately on your life. Build more muscle, burn more fat, balance your hormones, have more sex? Sounds like a no-brainer but I’ll let you be the judge…
I won’t bore you with the sciency details and research but if you are like me and totally into that stuff I recommend reading through Leangains.com and checking out Eat-Stop-Eat. And if you are really looking for a life changing experience then I highly recommend checking out John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein’s new book, Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha. It will change your life and challenge anything you have ever known, consider yourself warned.
- Reduce blood glucose and insulin levels.
- Increase insulin sensitivity (this is good). The opposite would be increased insulin resistance which is what causes things like diabetes. Definitely not good for business.
- Increase in fatty acid oxidation (via increased growth hormone (GH), glucagon and adrenaline.
- Muscle tissue sparing.
- Lower stress markers (blood pressure, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neuro-degenerative diseases)
- Increase leptin during times of caloric restriction. Leptin is a hormone that basically allows for fatloss but decreases significantly during times of strict dieting. This is why it becomes increasingly difficult to lose fat after the first couple months or so if dieting.
- Decrease production of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 to allow for greater fat-loss.
- Decrease/control production of ghrelin. This is secreted in your stomance to signal hunger, typically during your normal eating schedule.
- Lower/control cortisol levels. Higher during your training to improve performance and lower during non-activity to prevent catabolism.
- Longevity as there are several studies that show fasting will help you live longer. Be fit and live longer, hmmm….
Other direct benefits to your personal life include not being a slave to eating all day long (face it, we all have busy schedules), having more energy and focus throughout the day, not stressing about all the crap you shouldn’t eat and actually enjoying the foods you want.
What, when and how do I eat?
Traditional or religious fasts typically exclude ingesting any substance which in some cases includes water. That sucks. So what most IF protocols allow for is the intake of any non-calorie beverages and some even recommend Green’s Powders. That means green tea, coffee and of course water are all good. Not a bad deal right?
As you can see, the fast is the easy part. So what exactly do you get to eat during your eating window? Depending on your goals and what IF method you are following you can really just eat as you normally would. I will say it again: You can eat what you want. This is NOT paleo although I do recommend eating mostly whole foods.
Obviously there are better foods that you could be eating to get unreal results but the beauty of intermittent fasting is in it’s simplicity; the devil is in the design. As always, eating the right amount of calories and the right combination of macros (protein/fat/carbs) will go a much further towards helping you reach your goal than blowing your whole load on carbs throughout your whole eating window. But that choice is yours.
Who is this for?
It may be better to start with who intermittent fasting is not for and no, it is not for everyone. This is probably not for those who have terrible eating habits and those who still crush McMuffins, Big Gulps, and whole pizzas to their face daily. For those people first things first and get your habits under control. Other than that the only other people who may not do well fasting are those who don’t believe that they can fast without murdering their coworkers and significant other. We feed those people regularly so as not end up on the 6:00 news.
That said, IF works the best for anyone with a busy life, has their nutrition somewhat under wraps, and wants to greatly impact their weightloss and fitness goals. Not to mention live longer.
Those under the above umbrella may be:
- busy professionals
- busy parents
- Mr. T
- fitness enthusiasts
- possibly you!
Since I’m already over 1,000 words I am going to cut myself off there but don’t worry, there will be a follow up to fill in some of the blanks. I’m sure the big question is what should I be eating for my meals to get the best results so I will make that my next post.
Considering there are many variables to IF I’m sure you all have some burning questions about how you can incorporate this in your own plan. ASK THEM! I will answer below