At 6'4, 220lbs, I am not just hungry, I'm RAVENOUS. Every day. All day. So when I first read about Intermittent Fasting (IF), not only did I scoff at the notion with indignant arrogance, but I dismissed it with closed-minded ignorance. After reading a few journal articles about its benefits, and implementing it in to my life, however, I'm marching to the beat of a new drum.
"So you basically just eat like a teenager", exclaimed my wife with tongue firmly planted in cheek, after a lengthy discussion about IF and the techniques used. Yes...and, no. She was referencing a routine of a 16 hour fast, followed by an 8 hour window where you can eat (and I say this very very carefully, because I am only referencing the manner in which your consumption is conducted) without structure (ie. there is no 3-meal strategy). Unlike the typical teenage diet, however, you still have to be mindful of what and how much you are putting in to your face.
Intermittent Fasting is not necessarily a new concept, however, given its growing popularity within the sports, fitness, health, and body-building community, more and more studies have been conducted on this method of nutritional practice. The fasting period is included in your time asleep, and fasts generally last from 12-24 hours (depending on your strategy). Those who employ this method still drink liquids during this period (yes, coffee is ok if the amount of milk used is under 50 calories) but do not eat anything.
Studies have shown that fat-loss begins at about the 12 hour mark or a fast and plateaus at around the 18 hour mark. Taking this strategy one step further, it is recommended to make your last meal, before you begin your fast, a meal consisting of complex carbohydrates with proteins.
The Benefits (and there are A LOT)
1) A massive boost in the production of Growth Hormone (GH). Studies have shown that GH production in the human body is at its greatest during fasts. A daily fast will help produce regular boosts in GH which aids in muscle growth and repair, ultimately assisting in fat loss! There is additional research illustrating the ability of the body to regulate its hormones more effectively during periods of fasting.
2) In your body, blood flows to the areas it is needed most. Convention says that when you are exercising and recovering from exercise, blood should flow maximally to your muscles. BUT (big but!) if you just ate (and "just" can refer to eating within the last 12 hours, as some macro and micro nutrients can take this long to metabolize and digest fully) and you have food in your digestive system, the blood will be divided between your muscles and your vital organs. Exercising during a fast will give you more energy to put towards your workout and speed up your recovery period!
3) Cancer cells feed on glucose; it's not a secret. The constant influx of glucose in a normal diet (of eating regularly throughout the day) will feed cancer and pre-cancerous cells. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting has been effective in starving metastasizing cancer cells and pre-cancerous cells. There is even some evidence to show that ketone cells released from fat during a fast can help protect against age-associated conditions like Alzheimer's as well as some forms of Autism and Epilepsy.
More energy, more muscle, increased longevity, less fat, less recovery time...there is really no downside to intermittent fasting. Research has shown that those who already have a good diet (ie. low level simple-carbohydrate ingestion) have an easier time switching over to IF, however, barring medical restrictions, anyone can do it at any time, and the results can be staggering. The one major pitfall that proponents have highlighted, is that those who currently include many simple-carbs in their diet (white bread, wheat pasta, any processed foods with sugar, etc.) often reach for simple-carbs and binge on the them when the fast is over. The key is to go for complex-carbs and proteins. If your "eating window" is anything like mine, you will find yourself pretty full and not really intent on binging during your window at all.
- It is recommended that you start with a 24 hour fast, for 2 reasons: 1) It cleanses the body 2) It gets you used to the feeling of hunger, and makes you ok with it (because nothing bad comes of it)
- You can choose when your "eating window" is (it doesn't matter how late you eat, a calorie is a calorie at any point of the day)
- For optimal weight loss, fat-burning peaks at the 16 hour mark of the fast and stops at the 18 hour mark. So if each day you did an 18 hour fast, followed by 6 hours of eating, that would be the optimal strategy for weight loss, however, a common fast is 16 hours, followed by 8 hours of eating
- Your first meal of the day should be high in protein and low in carbs. You last meal of the day should be high in carbs (because you and I love breakfast so much, I suggest eating breakfast then!). Anything in between is up to you
- Portion size is not important during your eating window, you don't have to restrict yourself, HOWEVER, you should still try to eat healthy foods (ie. lots of veggies, whole grains, fresh fruits, etc)
- Drink lots of water throughout the day. Start your day with a glass of water, and end your day with a glass of water. You can have coffee or tea if you wish at any time of the day, though it is recommended not to have anything with caffeine
- Get lots of sleep. This is more important than it sounds. When we sleep it gets rid of Cortisol (stress hormone) in our body. High levels of Cortisol have been linked to weight-retention
- You get one cheat day per week (I like to make it Saturday), and you can eat, literally whatever you want during your eating window. In fact, you are SUPPOSED to have something like a pizza, pasta, and ice cream, etc. This will help spike your metabolism
For more information on Intermittent Fasting, leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible, or tweet me @BrendanRolfe