In the past couple of months, Intermittent Fasting blew up! It’s rare to talk to somebody that has never heard of it before, and if they haven’t heard of the name, they have at least heard of the concept. It seems to be happening more and more these days, where the topic of fasting is being brought up in daily conversation. If you are remotely interesting in trying IF (intermittent fasting), or at least understanding what it is, and why people do it – stick around! We are going to get down to business and discuss the benefits of fasting, and why you should give it a try.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is quite simple, and is exactly what it sounds like. It is fasting intermittently. There are a variety of ways to take part in this health trend, but they all have the end result – increased weight loss, more energy, and reduced risk for health problems.
Essentially, intermittent fasting requires that you eat for a period of time, and fast for a period of time. Depending on your fasting method, your fasting window may be several hours, or it may be several days. We will discuss all of the options.
For a more detailed description of Intermittent Fasting, you can check out the book “The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss” here.
The Lean Gains Method
The Lean Gains method, also known as the 16:8 method, is the most popular. This method requires that you fast for 16 hours straight, and can eat for 8 hours. You can shift your eating window however you like, as long as you eat for 8 hours and fast for 16. Personally, I choose to place my eating window between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. This is what works best for my current schedule, and I see the best results with this eating window. I started doing this as part of a life change that I talked about in this article, the Power of Changing Your Life.
Some people start eating at noon, and stop eating at 8 p.m. Whatever eating window works best for you, is the right eating window. That is the beauty of intermittent fasting – there’s no wrong way to do it.
This method is best for active gym attendees, that want to burn fat and gain muscle mass. Many diets/fasts lead to muscle loss, but this method is said to increase lean muscle.
The 5:2 Method
This intermittent fasting method requires you to fast for 24 full hours, twice a week. During a true fast, you are required to consume 0 calories. Some argue that you can consume up to 500 calories during a fast without spiking your insulin, and thus breaking your fast. However, I am a firm believer in “fast” meaning no calorie consumption.
This method can be quite tricky, since consuming zero calories in a day is not reasonable for an active individual. This method can be harmful to your body if not done safely.
If you choose this method, be sure to listen to your body – if you are struggling, and need to eat – please eat.
The Warrior Diet
This is a daily fast, and is done every day of the week. Essentially, you may eat for 4 hours everyday. You fast for 20 hours a day, every single day, and eat one large meal within a 4 hour window. This can prove to be difficult as you need to consume all of your daily calories in one very large meal. Depending on your age, weight, and level of activity, this can mean consuming 2,000 calories in one meal.
For this method, it is recommended that you eat your large meal in the evening, prior to going to bed. This is said to put the body into a state of calm and relaxation, which can aid in muscle recovery. This method may also assist in burning fat during the day.
During your fasted period, you may consume small snacks if need be – Note that snacks must be whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit and protein.
The Body’s Reaction To Fasting
As you know, our bodies need food to survive. Our body is smart – it converts food into energy, and we use that energy to do daily activities, like washing dishes, thinking, showering, and working out. If our body has no food to convert to energy, it still needs fuel. Lucky for us, fat cells are essentially stored energy. When our body is in a fasted state, it uses up all of the food in our system. Once our body converts that food into energy, and disposes of the waste, it still has several hours until it will get food again.
Our body’s reaction to an empty stomach is to fuel us another way – converting fat cells to energy. This is when the magic happens! Our body feeds on our fat cells, thus burning fat, and helping us to lose weight.
Aside from burning fat, and helping us lose weight, intermittent fasting has other benefits.
When trying to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit. Gaining muscle while in a caloric deficit is not impossible, however it not optimal. When dieting, or in a caloric deficit, often times we lose muscle mass. Fasting, however, increases fat burning and decreases muscle loss. This helps us to gain lean muscle mass.
Fasting is said to increase cognitive function. Often times, food leaves us feeling fatigued and lethargic. When in a fasted state, our brain isn’t focused on converting food to energy, and tends to be more capable of handling tasks.
Physical Activity While Fasted
This may scare some people because working out without fuel sounds dangerous. However, as long as you consume the correct amount of calories each day, you should be capable of lifting weights and doing cardio the next day, in a fasted state. In fact, many say that workouts tend to be more effective and focused when done fasted.
Personally, I prefer to workout fasted because of the increased energy, and feeling of “lightness”. Working out once I have broken my fast tends to be more difficult because of the “heavy feeling” from the food in my stomach.
It is important to remember, however, that if you are going to workout fasted, you should schedule your workouts around your eating window. For example, my eating window opens at 2 p.m., so I typically start my workout at 12:30 p.m. This way, I can eat when my workout is done. This method promotes muscle recovery and growth.
It may be difficult to workout several hours before breaking your fast because your body will crave fuel and calories that you just burned during your workout. For best results, schedule workouts prior to the opening of your eating window.
Intermittent Fasting is not a Magic Pill
Intermittent fasting is a weight loss tool, and must be combined with exercise and healthy eating, in order to be successful. You can not expect this method to work for you if you are eating processed, and unhealthy foods. It has been said that 80-90% of physical fitness is dependent on diet, so fuel your body with good foods.
Please remember that you must consume the correct amount of calories for your body. Even though your eating window is smaller than the standard American diet, you still need to eat the same amount of food as usual. This is an eating pattern, not a diet. Be safe, and use intermittent fasting correctly.
You can calculate your appropriate amount of calories here.