Intermittent Fasting. What is it? Does it work? What are the methods?
What is intermittent fasting?
Quite simply it is not eating for long periods of time. Everybody fasts every day. When you are asleep, unless you are very talented, you aren’t going to be eating. So most people have around an 11 hours fast each day. However, some studies have been thought to show that spending more time in a fasted state helps the body with many different functions.
Part of the original idea comes down to the thought that our bodies are naturally used to fasting and feasting. The cave man illustration comes to mind, perhaps going long times on very meagre amounts of food, then hitting the jackpot when someone spears a wildebeest, and everyone gets to eat their fill. This does seem fairly reasonable, however it doesn’t tell us if this is the optimal way to lose fat, stay in shape and be healthy. So intermittent fasting can be in a number of ways. We will explore these, and analyse a few of the health benefits that are claimed by this method.
Does it work?
Yes. But it might not be for the reasons that are claimed. So let us look at the health benefit claims first. It has been claimed that fasting gives you many health benefits, but one that is beyond argument is the triggering of the process “autophagy”. This process is to do with the destruction of cells in the body, and thus gives way to new cell creation. This process reduces the effects of aging, and helps muscle growth. Another bunch of benefits that are associated with Intermittent Fasting are the reduction of inflammation, oxidative damage, and helps improve insulin sensitivity.
However, many people will also claim that it can help with a variety of other things, such as your body composition, your hormone levels etc. While it is true, this has also been observed in people following completely different diets that provide a calorie reduction. So while fasting does have some unique benefits, they are not to be overstated. For example, insulin sensitivity is seen to be increased on both a fasting diet, and a healthy calorie controlled diet. So the conclusion is that a healthy, calorie regulated diet will yield similar benefits to a fasting diet. However, this does mean that intermittent fasting is an effective diet for your health!
So what about the benefits for your physique? Will Intermittent fasting help you build that smoking bod you’ve been dreaming of?
An ideal physique is usually split into two requirements. Fat Loss, and Muscle growth. Let’s deal with Muscle growth first. Perhaps detractors might feel that not eating meals every 3 hours is going to be damaging to your muscle growth. The predominant theory has always been to have many small meals spaced throughout the day, since it is meant to keep your metabolism high, and to stop your body eating its muscles.
New evidence is mounting to prove these long held beliefs might not be correct. For instance, there has been shown that there is no effect on metabolism in subjects who fasted compared to regular eaters. Your metabolism is actually affected by the amount eaten rather than the frequency of feeding.Secondly, the body will not turn to your precious muscles for food for approximately 12 – 16 hours. The liver store glycogen which needs to be used up before your merciless body begins to feast on your biceps. So in short, yes, you can build muscle and use fasting.
What about losing fat?
Again, many studies and anecdotal pieces have been written about the weight loss of participants who used intermittent fasting. And it is clear that weight loss will occur if this diet is used. However, as mentioned previously, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about intermittent fasting compared to a normal calorie controlled diet. But the benefits of fasting might be argued to be more physiological than physical. Now, this is not implying that there is a placebo effect, it is in the implementation of a diet.
Be honest with yourself, if you have the sole responsibility for managing your diet, and it must be the same every single day, how likely will it be that you slip up once in a while? As humans, we are always finding ways to justify breaking our diets, maybe not counting that chocolate bar, or ignoring the sugar in our coffee. The truth seems to be that if we are told that one day 1 we cannot eat, then on day 2 we can eat normally, the brain finds it easier to cope. It is easier to cope with one day of misery, than to be condemned to an endless long diet with no relief. So in this sense people find that intermittent fasting works for them astonishingly.
The bottom line is simple. Intermittent fasting still relies on the right macro and micronutrients in your body. You still need to control your calorie intake, and obviously you must be training regularly too! So it is a great idea to try, so long as you have all the other boxes checked. Get fasting!
16 or 14 hour fast. (LeanGains)
This method is as simple as it seems. For men you fast for 16 hours of the day, for women you fast 14. The way to time this would be perhaps eating dinner a little early, and delaying breakfast. This way you will feel mostly normal, eating your calories within the 8 or 10 hour window.
This was popularised through several books and TV shows, and seems to be the most common among the general population. It is essentially, you eat normally 5 days per week, but on two non-consecutive days you consume less than 300 calories. So if you are regularly exercising (which you should be) it would be recommended that you eat on your training days.
This diet follows the pattern.
- Eat Normally
- 500 calories
- Eat Normally
- 500 calories
So essentially ad infinitum, you repeat this process. Also an interesting idea, that will drastically reduce calorie intake over the week. Intermittent fasting is a great idea. Get your nutrition in check, give it a go and shred your fat!