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 (the 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.
This is by far the most popular method of intermittent fasting. This often involves skipping breakfast every morning and pushing your 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 or alternatively, eat breakfast and start your fast early in the afternoon. The objective is to fast for 16 hours, how you choose to do it is up to you.
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 nonconsecutive days per week.
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 intermittent fasting does allow you to eat very large very satisfying meals at the end of the day, which some people may find appealing.
I personally follow the 16:8 method, however, I do the opposite to most people and eat breakfast at around 6 am and stop eating 8 hours later at 2 pm. This works well for me because I train in the morning between 10 am-12 pm. This allows me to get my meals before and after my workouts, giving me the energy I need.
I have tried the warrior diet but I found that I got all of the same intermittent fasting benefits following the 16:8 without so much restriction.
During my 16 hours 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 sabotages your fast.
Autophagy is an adaptive response to short-term stress. It’s a natural destructive mechanism within cells. When intermittent 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.
Oxidative stress and damage take 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, particularly 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.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a naturally occurring protein in the human body that contains a gene that 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.
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 an hour or so to get going. I also felt a lot better during the day; I had a lot more energy and focus than usual.
Intermittent fasting also helped me drop my body fat significantly, after only a couple of weeks I was noticing a massive drop in body fat. Here is what my physique looked like one month in.
I would also like to note that I was not intermittent fasting every day, on Friday and Saturday I would take up a normal eating pattern and enjoy meals in the evening with family and friends. Fasting also gave me more time to focus on things other than my next meal, or tidying/washing up after cooking an evening meal. I didn’t document it, but I almost certainly saved on my food bill too.
During times of hunger, I would usually just sip on some water and the feeling would soon pass, and you soon realize that just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean you have to eat. If you struggle with weight loss and maintaining a lean body, then turning this into a lifestyle could be an easy solution, if you’re considering it then run it for a month and see your results.
If the idea of fasting is intimidating to you, do not worry; it will almost certainly be easier than you think, and once you see and feel the benefits, you are likely to incorporate your new style of eating long term.
During your eating window try and consume nutrient-dense foods. You can take any vitamins or supplements you want, but you shouldn’t need any supplements if you are eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods every day.
And don’t worry about losing muscle while intermittent fasting, as long as you’re eating adequate protein at the meals before and after your fast you will be fine. And it is ok to exercise while fasting, either cardio or resistance training.
If you do decide to give it a try please consult with your doctor beforehand, especially if you are diabetic and on diabetes medications.
Here is an infographic from Positive Health Wellness putting to bed 11 myths about fasting and meal frequency.