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You’ve probably heard it thrown around fitness circles online, or in the gym, but a lot of people aren’t totally sure what intermittent fasting is all about. Here’s a brief overview of what intermittent fasting is, some popular intermittent fasting schedules (there are quite a few), and who it is, and isn’t, good for. *Note, there are a lot of reasons some people should avoid intermittent fasting. Make sure you consult with a physician before starting any new diet regimen. The idea is to get healthier, not make any conditions worse!
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is the process of alternating between a narrow window of consuming food, and an extended period of not eating. We are technically all fasting from our last meal in the evening, until our first meal the following day. There is nothing too crazy about intermittent fasting. It is just purposely extending the length of this period.
You will undoubtedly have done a moderate length fast in the past, simply as circumstances dictated. Perhaps you forgot to eat breakfast and next thing you realize it’s the middle of the afternoon and you’re having your first meal. That was a fast.
Of course, the idea behind intermittent fasting for fitness is to do it consciously and purposely.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Some of the benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- Increased insulin sensitivity, important for weight loss, muscle gain and good health.
- Increased usage of fat as an energy source, mobilizing fat for energy makes it readily available to burn off and lose weight.
- Improved relationship with food and hunger. You come to understand that you can survive for a few hours without food and that hunger is just a mild feeling that actually goes away pretty quickly. This makes dieting easier, and food is less of a hassle in your life when you know you can go a few hours without it.
- Cutting down on time spent preparing and eating food, for easier scheduling. Especially if you tend to eat a lot of small meals. Switching to a couple of large meals can be liberating.
- Increased satiety, after a small adjustment period many people report actually not feeling hungry until they begin to eat. Large meals then leave them with a sense of satiety and satisfaction.
- Research – at least in animal models – suggest intermittent fasting can reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke), reduce blood pressure and inflammatory markers, reduce cancer risk; while increasing metabolism and growth hormone levels.
Intermittent Fasting Schedule
There’s a bunch of different intermittent fasting schedules. Some of the most famous are detailed below, along with their pros and cons:
‘Eat, Stop, Eat’ is a 24 hour fast, once per week. The benefits of this schedule include being able to eat normally for the majority of the time and the ease of scheduling just one 24 hour period without food.
Downsides include 24 hours being a long time to fast for and it having an impact on your ability to socialize through that day. While you could attend a meal and not eat, being around food and other people eating is likely to make you hungry.
‘Lean Gains’ is a daily fast of 16 hours, followed by an 8 hour eating window. Lean Gains is devised with bodybuilding in mind – with a workout in a fasted state, immediately followed by the first meal. This differs from other fasting regimes which are more focused on weight loss. Lean Gains is also concerned with maintaining muscle mass.
Downsides include having to time your workouts around your feeding window and the associated scheduling requirements.
‘The Warrior Diet’ is a daily 20 hour fast, followed by one large nightly meal. However, this diet allows for a limited amount of consumption during the fasting period of raw fruit and vegetables, and protein. The small snacks throughout the day may make this style of fasting easier to follow.
The drawback of The Warrior Diet are that the instructions on what to eat are strict and for some people, one large meal at night will not sit well and possibly interrupt sleep.
‘Alternate Day Fasting’ as you might assume, rotates between a fasted day and a fed day. The fasted day is not really fasted, but rather a very low calorie day, followed by a normal eating day. The focus is purely on weight loss and it will induce a heavy caloric deficit.
The downside is that it can be hard to eat a little, it’s often easier to not eat at all than it is to eat something small and then stop. Couple this with being able to eat whatever you wish on the normal days, so long as it stays within your calorie limit, it has the potential for binge eating.
‘Eat, Stop, Eat’ is likely the best option for people interested only in general health and wellness. ‘Lean Gains’ and ‘The Warrior Diet’ are designed with athletic oriented people in mind, to maximise muscle mass and strength. These are also the best options for body re-composition – getting lean, while maintaining muscle. ‘Alternate Day Fasting’ will lead to the quickest weight loss, though may not be the most sustainable plan.
Who Should, and Should Not, Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting might be a good option for you if:
- You want a simple way to get a better handle on what you’re eating without having to weigh and measure food, or be overly strict in what you can eat.
- You want to reduce calories, but struggle with hunger throughout the day.
- You want to increase focus and concentration throughout the day.
- Your schedule or job makes it difficult to eat consistently, or for a long period of time.
- You are naturally inclined towards eating more at night and do not feel like eating much or at all earlier in the day.
- You workout later in the day and want to keep the bulk of your calories around/after your workout.
- You prefer to eat a couple of large meals, rather than more frequent smaller meals.
- You have limited time to prepare or cook food and eating less meals will make it easier for you to eat in the way required to achieve your goals.
Intermittent fasting is likely not a good option for you if:
- You have any kind of medical condition, are on medication, are pregnant, or are otherwise unhealthy.
- You have diabetes, or a problem with blood sugar control and have energy dips if you do not eat consistently.
- You have a history of any kind of eating disorder.
- Feelings of hunger lead you towards binging or indulging in foods you are trying to avoid.
- You don’t like to eat later in the day, or it affects your sleep pattern.
- You can’t function in the early part of the day without food.
- You’re trying to gain weight and struggle to eat large meals, finding it easier to consumer more calories split over many smaller meals.
- Hunger or not eating negatively affects your mood.
- You have commitments to breakfast meetings or other functions that would conflict with fasting.
Wrapping It Up
Intermittent fasting can be beneficial for many people, improving their focus and energy, and making weight control a more conscious effort. However, it is definitely not for everybody. If you are interested in giving it a shot, I would choose the regime that resonates with you and your goals, and test it.
Give it time to adjust. If you’ve never fasted, it may take a little while to get used to it. Then assess your outcomes. If it works for you, great! If it doesn’t, no worries. There’s plenty of other styles of eating available that will fit better with your unique needs.
*Medical Disclaimer: Always see your physician before starting any new diet or fitness regimen. The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.