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Intermittent Fasting - a lazy way to burn fat
I recently finished my first Ironman triathlon, and despite it being an unbelievable experience that I will never forget, it also taught me a lot about other elements of fitness I had previously overlooked and not been particularly interested in.
Because of the sheer volume of training required, my energy expenditure, as you would expect was HUGE, and I got down to leanest I have ever been - despite the fact that I was not watching my diet at all!
To be honest, I have never been a huge one for diet.Of course it is critical for being in great shape, but I have always been blessed in that I can, for the most part, out-train a bad diet, so I have been able to get away without being as strict as I should have.
Anyway, now that I am done with the Ironman, my energy expenditure has dropped down to more normal levels, but I want to maintain my newly-acquired super lean-ness.
I had read previously about intermittent fasting and its benefits in weight-loss and weight-maintenance, and even its ability in promoting lean muscle growth.
Because I am generally lazy when it comes to my diet, I thought I would give it a go. I have been at it for a few weeks now. I am now a believer.
I have lost a further 3lbs since my Ironman, and I haven’t noticed too much of a problem now that I am back at the weights and more conventional training. My plan is to add some more muscle, but stay as lean as possible.
So here's a brief low-down on the latest fad in the fitness and nutrition world, Intermittent Fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
Essentially, it is alternating between periods of "fasting" and "feasting". It is not a diet, but rather a feeding-pattern of sorts.
The schedule I am following, is a daily 16 hour fast (8PM - 12PM) followed by an 8-hour feeding window (12PM-8PM).
So essentially all it means is that I am skipping breakfast. But what about "Breakfast being the most important meal of the day," or "eating 6 small meals per day"?
We have been indoctrinated into thinking these things, but these are largely old-school ways of thinking.Breakfast supposedly kick-starts your metabolism and eating many small meals "feeds" your metabolism, making it faster.
Another reason behind the 6 small meals approach was because of the "starvation response," whereby if your body went without food for a little while, then when it did receive food again, it would suddenly store it as fat.
There is however, a lot of new evidence showing this not to be the case.
In fact short-term calorie restriction or fasting has the ability to:
- Reduce blood glucose and insulin levels
- Increase Fatty Acid oxidation, by increasing lipolysis hormones, GH, glucagon and adrenaline
- Spare and preserve lean muscle tissue
- Lower inflammation, blood pressure, reduced oxidative stress and increased protection against many neuro-degenerative diseases
So how is Intermittent fasting actually gonna help me get in shape?
By skipping a meal such as breakfast, you are more likely to use your fat stores for energy, because your blood-glucose is depleted in the morning.
In addition to this, by removing one of your meals, it also makes it easier to maintain a caloric deficit, although this is not necessarily our primary objective. Your aim is to still try and meet your caloric goal of 2000, 3000 or however many calories per day, (to work out how many calories you need per day, download my free nutrition guide, below) you are just forcing them into an 8-hour window.
Another benefit is that your body is more insulin-sensitive after a period of fasting, so when you do eat, your food will be used more efficiently, making it much less likely to be stored as fat.
If you do a workout in a fasted state, when you eat after your workout, you are maximizing that optimal window of opportunity, as the meal will be processed far more efficiently and the increased Growth Hormone and insulin sensitivity will result in most of the meal being used in replenishing glycogen stores and fueling muscle growth. The chances of it being stored as fat are almost zero.
If you're still not convinced..
If the compelling scientific evidence still doesn’t have you convinced, think about it this way:
In the times of primitive man, they would not have had a constant supply of food, or have been able to eat "6 small meals per day".
It also would have been a tad inconvenient and not exactly conducive to survival, to have to stop and eat every 3 hours when chasing down a wooly-mammoth. Yet, they were able to maintain athletic performance without a constant supply of food, and they were likely stronger, faster and leaner than most people today.
The truth is, our bodies are designed to handle going without food sometimes, and missing a meal is not all of a sudden going to make you start cannibalizing your own muscle or storing fat when you do eat again.
Other benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Apart from the health and metabolic benefits listed above, one of the major benefits I have found is that it is convenient, and in many ways cheaper than a conventional feeding pattern.
It is convenient because I don’t have to worry about preparing one of my meals, breakfast is now no longer a concern of mine. I also don’t have to worry about eating every 3 hours, as the “6 small meals a day” approach has one doing.
I always found it quite stressful and restrictive in some ways, you are not always able to drop whatever you doing and eat a meal quickly, not to mention the hassle of having to prepare all of that food and carry it around with you for the day.
To be honest, I also found the “6 small meals per day" approach had me never being properly satiated and satisfied with a meal.Eating a little bit, but often never had me feeling full.
I find that now I am much more satisfied with my meals, because once my “feeding-window” starts I can eat a big meal if I want. If I want a big steak for dinner I can have it, I don’t have to break everything down into small meals. I am definitely happier for it and enjoy my food more.
Are there any drawbacks?
Well yes, there are a couple.
Firstly, Intermittent fasting may cause complications in people with diabetes, people who suffer from hypoglycemia and those who have issues with blood sugar regulation. For these people, always consult with your doctor or dietician before modifying your eating schedule.
Secondly, intermittent fasting has been shown to increase glucose tolerance some women. This is what you don’t want, as glucose tolerance can lead to fat storage!
Truth be told, the benefits of Intermittent fasting have largely been found in men, and not women.
I am by no means an expert on this subject, and definitely not an expert on the difference between the sexes, but this article explains the differences between the effects of fasting on men and women in great detail.
Won’t I get hungry?
Possibly, but I have not found this to be much of an issue for me personally.
Using the 16 hour fasting, 8 hour feeding pattern makes it much easier. Basically, if you have a large dinner, you should not be hungry for the rest of the evening. Then you sleep for 8 hours (kinda hard to feel hungry when you are dreaming).
That takes care of maybe 10-11 of the 16 hours. If you keep busy until 12PM at work, you will hardly think about the fact that you didn’t have breakfast.
Our bodies have been conditioned to expect food at certain times, and the fact that you always get hungry and expect food at the same time each day is more psychological than physiological. Once, you “un-learn” this expectation, skipping breakfast is not a big deal at all.
Other feeding patterns
The one I have been using is the 16hour fast, 8 hour feed schedule. It works really well for me, I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. I have read about a few other patterns, although I haven’t tried them personally.
The other fairly common pattern is the 24 hour fast once or twice per week.
For example, you would have your last meal on Saturday at 7PM, and then you would not eat again until Sunday 7PM. Personally, that sounds a bit unpleasant to me, but I know it works for some people.
Is there anything I can have during the fasting period?
Yes, drink as much water as you like.
Some sources will say only water is permitted, but I personally still drink tea and coffee, with a tiny bit of milk and sweetened with Stevia - I can’t function in the morning without my coffee
I would say that limited amounts of zero-calorie, sugar-free drinks are also probably fine.
This is a fairly controversial subject and I know it flies in the face of conventional thinking, but the truth is, there are a lot of people who swear by it, and a growing body of scientific work shows there are several health and metabolic benefits to Intermittent fasting.
I have found it extremely effective at helping me stay lean, and it fits into my life and schedule very well. For someone who is lazy when it comes to their diet, I find it ideal.
Give it a try, you have nothing to lose.
For more information check out these articles:
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, registered nurse, dietician or other healthcare provider. The information I have provided is based on my personal experience and thorough studies on the subject matter. The possible risks of using any nutritional regimen should always be discussed with your doctor. For more information, please see the full Disclaimer page.
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