Since starting my cut at the start of June this year, I decided to take a different approach to my diet and incorporate intermittent fasting. I had heard many people saying how it made them feel and that the main benefits were not only fat loss but also simply feeling a lot better mentally and physically. With research showing convincingly that timing our meals intelligently can produce remarkable health benefits I was sold on the idea.
There are a number of ways to go about intermittent fasting, but the easiest and most popular varieties involve taking advantage of your natural overnight fast by skipping breakfast and pushing the first meal of the day forward a number of hours. This is convenient for people who do not tend to wake up with much of an appetite. Once you have passed the 12-hour mark from dinner the night before, you are truly in a fasted state and you begin to rely on stored body fat for fuel.
The longer you stay in the fasted state, the more metabolic practice you will get at burning stored body fat and the deeper your fat adaptation will get. In fact, if you can maintain this intermittent fast for 20 to 24 hours you will achieve a very high rate of lipolysis (breakdown of stored body fat into free fatty acids, available for burning in the cells) and fat oxidation (burning of fat in the mitochondria).
As a personal trainer in Northampton on a tight schedule, before starting I did research into the different ways to fast in order to decide which style would fit my eating schedule best, something I think everyone considering fasting should do beforehand.
Popular forms of intermittent fasting
This is by far the most popular method of fasting intermittently. This form of fasting usually consists of skipping breakfast every morning and pushing the first meal of the day to lunch. However the main concept is to get all of your food in an eight hour window, so if you’re not a breakfast person you could choose to start eating later in the day. The idea is to fast for 16 hours, then eat all your calories in an 8 hour window.
Eat stop eat
Eat Stop Eat, as popularized by bodybuilder Brad Pilon, involves fasting for an entire 24 hours, two days per week. For example you could eat your last meal of the day at 8:00 p.m. the day before. You fast overnight and then all the following day, skipping breakfast and lunch, and then pushing dinner out to 8:00 p.m. (for a full 24 hours with no calories). This is quite difficult and is only recommended two days per week (nonconsecutive)
The Warrior Diet, as popularized by Ori Hofmekler, consists of fasting for the majority of the day and then eating all of your calories in the evening. The goal is to skip breakfast and lunch, then eat a huge dinner in a four hour window at the end of the day. This is a 20:4 hour split (20 hours of fasting and then a 4 hour eating window). This method of fasting does allow you to eat very large very satisfying meals at the end of the day.
My Fasting Protocol
I personally follow the 16:8 protocol, however I do the opposite to most people and eat breakfast at around 6am and stop eating 8 hours later at 2pm. This works well for me because I train in the morning between 10am-12pm. This allows me to get my meals in before and after my workouts, giving me the energy I need.
I did try the warrior diet but I found that I got all of the same benefits following the 16:8 without so much restriction.
During my 16 hour fast I usually stick to only water but any noncaloric beverage is fine, including coffee (with or without noncaloric sweetener such as stevia), tea, diet drinks with no calories and any other beverage with no calories. The key is to not take in any calories, as it takes only a few calories to spike insulin and sabotage your fast.
Autophagy is an adaptive response to short-term stress. It’s a natural destructive mechanism within cells. When fasting, the rate of autophagy within the brain cells is significantly increased. What this means is that your body basically eats up the weakest cells to provide energy for the growth and maintenance of the healthier, stronger cells.
Autophagy may sound bad but it’s just a healthy recycling mechanism where the body repairs itself using the weak and degraded cells as fuel.
Reduced Brain Oxidative Damage
Oxidative stress and damage takes place when increased amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced in the body and the antioxidant systems can’t properly deactivate them.
The production of reactive oxygen species along with oxidative damage can be prevented by exercise, maintaining low body fat, increased intake of wholesome antioxidant and micronutrient-dense foods, reducing the intake of polyunsaturated fats and by following intermittent fasting, which has been shown to improve cognition by significantly reducing the amount of oxidative damage and stress within the brain of animals and humans.
Increased BDNF Levels
Brain-derived neurothropic factor (BDNF) is a naturally occurring protein in the human body that contains a gene which triggers the growth of neurons in the hippocampus.
Increased BDNF levels have been linked to improved learning and memory processing through increased synaptic activity and neuroplasticity.
Interestingly enough, at least in rodents, calorie restriction and short-term fasting have been found to significantly increase the levels of BDNF.
The mechanism isn’t fully known, but one theory says that it would be a survival mechanism to improve our ability to find food in times of starvation.
- Improves the function of cells, genes and hormones.
- Can help you lose weight and drop body fat by increasing your likelihood of being in a caloric deficit.
- Can reduce insuling resistance, lowing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
- Induces various cellular repair processes.
Initially, it was the psychological benefits that I noticed most while fasting. I would get up in the morning and feel wide-awake immediately where it would normally take me and hour or so to get get going. I also felt a lot better during the day; I had a lot more energy and focus than usual.
Fasting also helped me drop my body fat significantly, only a couple of weeks in I was noticing a massive drop in body fat.
I would also like to note that I was not fasting every day, on Friday’s and Saturday’s I would take up a normal eating pattern and enjoy meals in the evening with family and friends.
If the idea of fasting is intimidating to you, do not worry; it will almost certainly be easier than you think. Once you see and feel the benefits, you are likely to incorporate your new style of eating long term.
If you do decide to give it a try check with your doctor beforehand, especially if you are diabetic and on diabetes medications!
During your eating window try and consume nutrient dense foods. You can take any vitamins or supplements you want, but you don’t need any supplements if you are eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods every day.
You don’t have to worry about losing muscle from lack of protein during your fast, as long as you eat adequate protein at the meals before and after fasting. And it is perfectly fine to exercise while fasting, either cardio or lifting weights (lifting weights is better for body composition and I highly recommend it to everyone).
Here is an infographic from https://www.positivehealthwellness.com putting to bed 11 myths about fasting and meal frequency.