Intermittent Fasting Part 1 – The Theory Behind it
When I was growing up, everyone was always repeating the same thing when it came down to eating in the morning – “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. I used to hear this so much that I couldn’t start my day without a good old “breakfast for champions”. And since I was a huge believer in this rule, I would even go into arguments with people who were skipping breakfast. This is why you can probably imagine my surprise when I first learned about Intermittent Fasting.
What Stands Behind Intermittent Fasting?
When we hear the word “fasting” some of us automatically think about starving. However, intermittent fasting means eating as much as you’d like but in a specific timeframe.
Most frequently, we associate Intermittent Fasting with weight-loss and that makes sense since we are skipping a meal. This leads to, of course, fewer calories. However, that’s not all that it takes to lose fat and it’s not the only benefit of Intermittent Fasting.
After finishing a meal, our body begins processing the food. It starts with sugars and carbohydrates, which may be good for less active people, as carbs might be their biggest source of energy. However, if we are aiming to lose body fat, then the science behind Intermittent Fasting seems like the obvious choice. When we are fasted (haven’t eaten for at least 10-12 hours), then our bodies won’t have any carbs and sugars to process. That’s when we start to burn fat for fuel.
The Importance of Insulin
Not many of us might be aware of insulin’s power and its importance for our body and food consumption. Insulin controls our blood sugar levels. It also allows the body to use glucose from carbohydrates for energy. Usually, Insulin is safe for us unless we let it loose.
When we are fasted we control the insulin levels better. This way we allow our bodies to use and burn the stored fat for energy. This also means that we must be extra careful when we are about to break the fast (when we start eating). As common sense will tell us, junk food should be off the table, even though we might be feeling quite hungry at that point. Here is where I would recommend Food Consumption Planning (a combination of preparing meals and scheduling when to eat them). We should also try to avoid sweets and even dairy for breaking the fast. They increase our insulin levels to a point where our bodies start storing fat again. We should stick to natural foods such as fruits low on fructose like berries, and vegetables.
It might sound strange in the beginning but a good green salad could be the perfect start of the day. After we have broken safely the fasted period (and allowed at least 30 minutes for our bodies to process the food), then we can go for our protein (especially if we have worked out earlier in the day).
Intermittent Fasting and Working Out
You can use fasting for many different goals – weight loss is only one of them. However, with the proper consumption of calories, we can build muscle or just stay in shape. Most experts strongly advise to work out when we are fasted (before eating), especially if we are doing cardio. However, here we can see a common mistake. Most people will embrace this as working out exactly before breaking the fasted. This way they can start eating right after that. After all, weren’t we all told that we should eat after a good work out?
Science does not agree. As mentioned before, when we fast, we burn fat for fuel. This means that for however long our work out is lasting, our body burns muscle fat (which is later restored by body fat) and we get better results in a shorter time. Cardio becomes 2-3 times more efficient when we are fasted as the insulin levels are regulated. When our insulin levels are high, cardio does not have such an enormous effect on us. Also, a study done in Denmark shows that when we fast, our abdominal part is burning more fat as well.
When it comes down to weightlifting, most people think they will lose muscle as they lose fat. The truth couldn’t be further from this. When we are fasted, our levels of HGH (human growth hormone) are exhilaratingly getting higher. When the HGH is higher, our body operates on a different level – diet, working out, even resting, are more effective.
Another study that when we fast for 20-24 hours, the Human growth hormone is increasing from 1300% (for women) to the astonishing 2000% for men. When we combine those numbers with the regular increase of HGH when we are weightlifting, the results are incredible.
So, back to the timing. When we are weightlifting, our bodies experience a great increase of HGH. If we delay the breaking of the fasted period with a few hours, we exaggerate the effects. The same goes for a good cardio (or HIT) session where our bodies start using the stored fat for fuel. Simply put, if we start eating at 12 p.m., then we might consider working out around 8-9 a.m. and take advantage of a few more hours of fasted benefits.
Different Types of Fasting
You can do fasting in a few different ways, depending on your willpower and goals. The most popular one is 16/8 (16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of feeding time). This is also the one that experts recommend you begin with. It might sound extreme to some people, especially to the believers of “eat 6 small portions of food per day” for a healthy and lean life. It sounded quite difficult for me when I first started, as it may to you as well. Eating from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. is the “gold standard rule” here. But you can modify it per your specific needs – from 8-4, 11-7, 2 p.m. – 10 p.m. The flexibility of intermittent fasting is one of the most compelling parts of it. You can shape it your own way, depending on your schedule, working hours, etc.
If this does not sound extreme enough and you want to take your fasting to another level, you can try the “warrior diet” – 20/4. You have 20 full hours of fasting and 4 hours of food consumption. You should be careful with the calorie intake, as you need to recover most of the burned ones.
Then we have the most extreme ways of fasting – 24/36/48 and even 72 full hours of no food. Yes, it does sound crazy, especially in the beginning. But science actually shows that 24+ hours of fasting can be good for your health. Of course, you shouldn’t do it often (once per month is enough).
Do’s, Do not’s and Side Effects
Most experts advise to drink only water during the fasting hours but there are some exceptions. Most people have coffee or tea on a regular basis and the good news is that you can still do it. Black coffee (without milk, sugar or cream) does not break the fast nor does the green tea. I drink water with lemon in the morning, so had to dig deep in researching and it has a green light as well. Almost everything else should be avoided when we are fasting as it will break it.
Even though fasting has immense benefits, we might experience some side effects. Before you decide to quit, please be aware that those effects will disappear quite rapidly.
It will be difficult to fight hunger at first. If we are used to eating every few hours, then having 16-20 hours of fasting might be hard in the beginning. A great way to suppress hunger is by drinking black coffee/green tea.
You might also experience some headache in the fasting period. However, it goes away soon and drinking lots of water helps.
Conclusion and Challenge
If you have come to this part of the post, you might be feeling a bit confused about all the information. If you have read/seen other posts/videos about Intermittent Fasting, then you might be even more confused as pretty much everyone has his own takes on how the program should work. Most of the research that I did prove to me that the basics work the same way but the specifics are different for every body type, which actually makes sense. The 16/8 protocol sounds pretty simple – 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating.
When it comes down to what to eat, then it differs subliminally – gender, activity, goals, work, workouts, sleep, stress. So, I decided to challenge myself (and my girlfriend) and I am challenging you. Do it for 30 days and see how it works for you. Do your own research to see how it would fit best your goals and aspirations and make it happen. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, to eat a few hours before the official fasting is over or to take it easy – after all, it’s not worth it if it’s not fun and healthy.
I will post my results after my 30 days are through to help you understand better the practical part behind the Intermittent Fasting.