Much of the mainstream fitness media has been promoting the idea of eating every 2 to 3 hours until a few hours before you nod off. While this may work for some, especially those looking to bulk up, it may not be ideal for other fitness goals such as weight loss and performance enhancement. If you’re looking for a new way to schedule your meals that can have significant benefits, intermittent fasting may be the answer.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a specific way to time your meals. There are several variations of intermittent fasting that you’ll find online with different hour timetables but regardless of which method you follow, here are the common traits shared throughout:
· You do not eat any food or calorie-based beverages for a majority of the day (some systems require no calories for 24 hours)
· You have a feeding window where you take in all of your calories – 8 hours is the most common
· Water, black coffee, plain tea, and calorie-free options are allowed
· Exercise is highly encouraged, especially near the conclusion of the fast if you want to amplify fat burning, lean tissue growth, and endurance gains (e.g., last hour of the fast)
What are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Sure, it may seem counterintuitive to everything you’ve heard up to this point but the science is firmly in the corner of intermittent fasting. There have been a variety of studies published on fasting showing the unique benefits that you may experience.
· Hands down the most talked about benefit of intermittent fasting is weight loss. Numerous studies have shown that engaging in an intermittent fasting program, even one that involves fasting every other day, can promote weight loss and support long term weight management.
· For men, healthy testosterone levels are of growing concern. We live in a time when men are experiencing some of the lowest levels ever. Intermittent fasting is an effective and natural way to increase healthy hormone levels without the need for injections or costly procedures. Studies show that intermittent fasting is able to increase the production and release of essential growth hormones, even in obese individuals who are known for having very low levels of testosterone.
· While not ideal for building bulky muscle mass, intermittent fasting may be an excellent way to support lean muscle gains, making it especially useful for men and women who need to look lean year-round. Intermittent fasting helps you lose bodyweight without impacting current levels of muscle mass. Theoretically, the increase in your growth hormone levels will support muscle recovery and growth.
· One of the most incredible benefits of intermittent fasting is its ability to support cognitive health. Studies show that intermittent fasting may be able to boost cognitive functioning while helping to prevent cognitive-based illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.
· Continuing with the idea above, those who take part in intermittent fasting may have a much lower risk for disease with an emphasis on cardiovascular disease. Numerous studies have shown that fasting has a unique effect on the body, allowing for cell regeneration and promoting overall health. Fasting has been linked to lower incidents of age-related disease.
Best Intermittent Fasting Programs
While you may find different variations of intermittent fasting across the internet, here are the two most popular systems that also seem to be the most accessible for first-timers.
For 16 hours each day, you will fast. This means that you don’t consume any caloric-based drinks and you can’t eat. You can drink plenty of water, black coffee, plain tea, and calorie-free options. Once the 16-hour fast is finished, you have an 8-hour feeding window in which you can follow your normal diet.
I highly recommend following the ketogenic diet for weight loss, cognitive health, and energy levels.
While 16 hours of fasting may seem like a lot, the bulk of the fasting time is done while you are sleeping. Most people begin their fasting at 8 p.m. and then do not eat again until 12 p.m. the next day. When you’re just starting out, those last few hours can be tough. I find that coffee helps me get through the final stretch by calming my hunger pangs.
You can choose to follow the 16/8 system every day but most people find that Monday through Friday is sufficient. Once you master the 16/8 system, you may want to try the 24-hour method.
24 Hours (once a month)
The other system that you can try is the 24-hour fast, which is done once a month. Some veterans of this system do it twice per month.
The idea is the same as the 16/8 system: you don’t eat anything or drink any calorie-based beverages for 24 hours. However, I wouldn’t recommend the same start and stop time. If you begin a 24-hour fast at 8 p.m. then that means your first meal will be at 8 p.m. the next day. This may be troublesome, especially if you fall asleep early.
I recommend starting your fast either earlier in the day or first thing in the morning. For example, if you have a light breakfast in the morning around 7 a.m. then you would not eat again until 8 or 9 a.m. the next day. Again, you can utilize coffee to help get you past the rough parts if you’re new to fasting. If you're new to the 24-hour fast, I would recommend doing it on a quiet day.
Understandably, you may be worried about losing hard-earned muscle mass since you’ll be without food for 24 hours. Studies show that the only thing you’ll lose is stored body fat. Lean muscle tissue is not at risk until you reach 72 hours of fasting and even then the risk is minimal.
Everyday Reasons to Fast
Travel: When you’re flying, stuck on a train, or sitting on a long-haul bus ride, it’s not likely that you’ll have access to the healthiest foods in the world. What’s more, if you’re following a specific diet such as the Paleo or Keto diet, chances are a budget airline or train service isn’t going to be able to cater to your needs.
Instead of sacrificing your progress, try fasting. If you’re using the 16/8 method described above, try to time your fasting window for the time you’ll be traveling. As soon as you arrive to your destination, you’ll have a better chance of finding healthy foods.
Illness: Whether you’ve been hit with the latest common cold or you’re fighting off a stomach bug, your body needs all of the energy it can get. For example, the digestive system consumes energy to digest food. When you’re sick, it’s best to fast, so that your body can focus its energy on supporting the immune system, as opposed to the digestive system.
Science supports this idea; studies suggest that short term fasting can give the immune system a much-needed boost. What’s more, researchers found that the immune system responded particularly well to fasting during a bacterial infection.
Diet Fail: It happens to everyone: Those weeks of perfect eating are suddenly upset by a bad day at work or a friend’s over-the-top birthday party. Whether you’re on a diet to gain muscle or get thin, when a cheat meal becomes a cheat day (or two), consider fasting.
You can try the opposite as well: If you have an upcoming event where you know you are going to have to indulge in less than ideal foods, try a 24-hour fast the day before.
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
Focus: I’ll admit that when you’re just getting started with intermittent fasting, it’s not the most enjoyable activity especially if you’re alone with your thoughts. I’ve found that keeping myself busy dramatically helps with staying faithful to fasting.
I prefer to get lost in a fun activity where I lose track of time. Do you have a business or personal project that you’ve been meaning to spend time on? Want to learn a new language or skill? Try putting all of your attention into an activity. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the time goes by and how effectively you adapt to fasting.
Exercise: One of the activities that could take all of your attention is exercise. I enjoy exercising during my fasting hours and timing so that once I finish my workout, I enter my feeding window as mentioned in the 16/8 method.
My workouts primarily include mobility and crawling-based exercises. I also perform weight lifting exercises and diaphragmatic breathing. Let’s take a look at a sample of my fasted-training workouts.
Fasted Training Workouts
Here is a workout that you can do in a fasted state. If you want to know the amazing ways that crawling can improve your health outside of fitness, check out my book on the . It is geared toward improving your mobility, flexibility, and cardiovascular health.
One tip that I mentioned above: To get the most out of workouts, I recommend timing the exercise so that it ends at the same time your fast does. Personally, I prefer first thing in the morning, after having dinner the night before. That way, once I get home from the gym, it’s time to eat!
As always, if you have any question, please e-mail me or let me know in the comments below.
FASTED WORKOUT: CRAWLING
· Karioka 4 sets of 10 yards
Lateral Crisscross Crawl:3 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 yards in one direction then 10 to 12 yards in the other direction
Diaphragmatic Breathing: 3-5 minutes
Important Things to Note
While fasting is very beneficial, it’s crucial to fast safely. Here are some tips to follow to ensure you maximize the benefits of fasting while minimizing the risks.
Hydrate with Electrolytes: Remember, fasting means abstaining from food, not water. You’ll want to avoid calorie-based beverages but water has zero calories. With that said, you don’t want to just drink bottled water that has no minerals in it. This will flush out your electrolytes, critical nutrients for building electrical pathways between cells, and put you at risk for dizziness, nausea, and fainting.
I recommend drinking at least 64 ounces of water per day while squirting an electrolyte supplement in your glass. It’ll make your water taste great and keep electrolyte levels high. I recommend .
Get More B-Vitamins: I also recommend B vitamins, especially day long fasts. As you’re drinking water all day, you run the risk of a deficiency in one of the B-vitamins. This is because B-vitamins are water soluble, meaning they get excreted through daily diet, exercise, and lifestyle. This is the opposite of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D, which gets stored in the liver.
B12 supplements are okay, but I would say that a B-complex supplement is much better. In this way, you’re getting the entire spectrum of B-vitamins and not just one. I personally take .
Listen to Your Body: Above all, make sure that fasting doesn’t impair your ability to work, perform tasks, or drive. The best way to do this is to listen to your body and don’t overdo it.
If you are feeling sick or lightheaded, take a moment to relax. If you don’t feel better, it’s okay to stop your fast. Sometimes, people need to work up to getting used to the full 16 or 24 hours so don’t beat yourself up if you need to start at 12 hours each day then add an additional hour the following month.
Have you ever tried intermittent fasting? What benefits did you notice? Do you follow the 16/8 system or do you have your own method? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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