INTERMITTENT FASTING For Beginners
INTERMITTENT FASTING For Beginners
INTERMITTENT FASTING For Beginners
SHOULD YOU BE TRYING THIS NOT-SO-NEW diet EATING-PLAN?
We’ve all heard those famous words before, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. As kids, it is one of the happiest memories we have, running through the grocery stores to pick out our favourite boxes of cereal. As we grow older, we often indulge in Sunday brunches and stuff ourselves with dozens of carb-loaded goodies like donuts, muffins, waffles and pancakes doused in huge quantities of sugar-filled decadent maple syrup. MMMM….
Want to look skinny and fit?
“Never skip the most important meal of the day, always begin the day with a heathy breakfast and your metabolism will be raging like an uncontrollable wild fire.”
Want to avoid losing muscle mass and still lose body fat?
“Eat 5-6 small meals every 2-3 hours!”
But wait, imagine if that had never existed? What if the secret to kicking that dad-bod to the curb was as simple as avoiding that morning drive-thru line to pickup the widely “accepted” version of a healthy breakfast?
You Can’t Be Serious!
Let’s take a closer look at why intermittent fasting has quickly become one of the most talked about topics in the health and fitness industry.
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Firstly, intermittent fasting is NOT a diet plan, but rather a period of strategically planned eating and well, not eating.
Intermittent fasting also known as “IF” or as the LeanGains method, was first popularized by Martin Berkhan. It is said to be able to increase energy levels, improve cognitive function, increase cellular repair, growth hormones, metabolic rate and decrease body fat. IF is even believed to help fight against certain types of cancers.
Intermittent Fasting is a period of not eating (fasting), followed by a short period of eating (feasting). Although there are many different forms of fasting, one of the most popular is the 16 / 8 Method. This consists of approximately 16 hours of fasting and an 8 hour window of eating, followed by another 16 hour fast and so on. This method can be done by simply not eating after dinner and not consuming breakfast until later in the day. An example of 16/8 IF might look like this:
Wait Just a Minute!
Not eating breakfast? That goes against EVERYTHING I’ve been told about eating!
Well not exactly. You’re still eating breakfast, just not eating it at the traditional time, first thing in the morning. You see, the word ‘breakfast’ simply means “breaking the fast” and the word itself implies that fasting is a part of everyday life. Fasting for 16 hours and then eating your first meal at 2 pm, essentially indicates you will be eating breakfast at 2 pm. Keep in mind that breakfast doesn’t have to consist of the traditional bacon and eggs or sugary cereals and toast and it doesn’t have to be consumed the minute you wake up! Breakfast is referred to as the first meal that you consume to break the fasting state. The majority of us already do a modified version of IF and we don’t even realize it! Adding a bit more structure and length to your current fast may help you take your fat burning goals to the next level!
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Fat is stored food energy, it does not exist for looks! Anytime you are not eating, you’re fasting. You’re either storing food energy (feasting) or you’re burning food energy (fasting). If you consume food the minute you wake up to the minute you lay down to sleep, you’re signalling your body to continue storing food energy. Lengthening the time of feasting results in telling your body to burn some of that stored energy. The human body is incredibly intricate and is designed to withstand short periods of feast and famine. It is a human responsibility to control the amount of food we are putting into our bodies. While excess food is not universal, the majority of us treat it like it is and we experience great anxiety if we go 5 hours without eating. It is normal for our ancestors to go one, two or even more days without food!
Blame it on Insulin! (Well, Not really)
Let’s take a look at the role insulin plays in the body. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is considered to be the main anabolic hormone of the body. It regulates the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and protein by promoting absorption in the form of glucose (carbs), free fatty acids (fat) and amino acids (protein).
Following a meal, blood sugars rise in relation to the amount and type of carbohydrates that you eat. Processed carbohydrates are absorbed faster, and tend to cause faster and greater rises in blood sugar levels (avoid these ones!). The pancreas releases insulin, which tells the muscles, liver and fat cells to take up the blood sugar and remove it from the blood. This is a normal process that is essential because elevated blood sugar is toxic for the body.
When a steady amount of carbs are consumed each day (this is what we want!), the pancreas can easily communicate to the muscles, liver and fat cells to ‘grab’ the sugar. The pancreas is happy because it doesn’t have to work too hard to deliver it’s message and the sugar in the blood is removed quite easily. The muscles, liver and fat cells are also happy because they have enough room to store the moderate amounts of sugar. When this process runs smoothly, energy levels are maintained throughout the day and we are able to stay relatively lean.
If an excess amount of carbohydrates (particularly processed) are eaten, eventually the muscles and fat cells will stop listening to the pancreas and cause what we refer to as insulin resistance. Our muscles and liver have a limited capacity to the amount of glucose they are able to store; once they are full, they shut their doors. Since the blood sugar levels are not brought down to a normal level, the pancreas becomes angry and thus releases more insulin to get it’s message across. With more insulin being released, glucose levels in the blood can eventually be brought down to a safe level by sending what is left in the blood to the fat cells to be stored. However, over time fasting blood sugar levels start to increase. (A fasting blood sugar level less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) is normal.)
When an excessive amount of carbohydrates are eaten, the pancreas is forced to release more insulin to control the higher amount of sugars in the blood. As the months and years go by and excessive carb intake continues, blood sugar levels continue to rise and the pancreas continues to release more insulin than normal. Eventually insulin receptor cells stop listening to the pancreas or the pancreas gives up and stops secreting insulin. This is also more widely known an as insulin sensitivity or even diabetes. (A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) is considered pre-diabetes) As insulin receptors continue to ignore the pancreas, blood sugar levels rise and type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed. (If 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or higher on two separate tests, you have diabetes).
Like most diseases, the majority of the population will wait until it’s too late to create a change and the disease is diagnosed. Someone with this state of insulin resistance will have a poor insulin response, meaning that when they eat a small amount of carbohydrates, they will release a high amount of insulin. They will continue having a high amount of insulin in their blood throughout the day and their fat cells won’t be able to release fat to be used as fuel. Remember, you’re either burning food energy or your storing food energy, not both!
To simplify, excessive carbohydrate intake causes higher insulin levels and insulin locks fat in their fat cells.
The key takeaway is the word “excessive”. Typically, too much of anything is considered to be a bad thing. If you’re consuming too many carbohydrates throughout the day, this generally will lead to an increase in insulin secretion and eventually insulin sensitivity and diabetes. By strategically using fasting and feasting windows through IF, you may be able to better control your insulin release and sensitivity, therefore allowing more stored food energy to be released, decreasing your body fat percentages.
Keep in Mind!
Insulin is known as the most anabolic hormone in the body and is responsible in assisting muscle growth and the storage of muscle glycogen. When insulin levels are high, the rate at which protein is broken down decreases. This is what we want in order to either build lean muscle mass or preserve the lean muscle we already have. If your focus is to build lean muscle mass, higher insulin levels may be a good thing. Strategic planning when your insulin levels are high and when they are low is how you can build muscle while burning body fat in the same day. Keep reading to find out when this should be done!
Should I Eat Before I Workout?
Well no, not exactly, many experts actually believe the exact opposite. If you are new to IF, you’ll typically find the first few days you may feel a bit tired and energy levels may seem to drop. This is because you are transitioning into something different that the body is not used to it. We are creatures of habit and the human body does not typically fancy change. While it is normal to feel this way for the first few days, once your body begins to adapt to your new eating habits what you’ll notice is the complete opposite. Your body will become very efficient at burning stored energy (fat) during times of not having food readily available (fasting) and even more efficient at using the energy from food that we are eating as we digest it (feasting). I prefer to wait till after my workout but the choice is yours, if you feel like you need food to help you get through your workout, then have a small meal.
I’m not sure I believe you, tell me more!
When you sleep, your body depletes your glucose (carbs) storages in your muscles and liver. When you train, it will be depleted even further. Imagine that your body is like a car in which contains a gas tank. Let’s say the gas tank is similar to your muscle storage and can hold 50 L of gas or for this sake, let’s call it glucose. When you sleep, this muscle storage is fairly full (you just finished your last meal of feasting). As you sleep throughout the night, this storage very slowly begins to deplete as glucose is needed to keep your brain functioning and keep you alive as you sleep (phew!). The glucose storage in your muscles and liver goes from say 50 L down to 40 L. As you continue to fast, this storage continues to deplete. As you begin to train, especially at a high intensity, this storage tank depletes even further. By now, your workout is complete and your muscle storage tank is almost completely depleted. Good thing it’s now time to begin the feasting portion of your day and the majority of food you’re finally about to consume is going to go back to filing up these storage tanks. The food you consume will be used in a few ways. It is converted to glycogen and stored in your muscles or burned as energy immediately to help with the recovery process. Minimal amounts are being stored as fat. Your muscles are like a dried up sponge that was just replenished and feeling better than ever!
Compare this to a normal day of eating small high carbohydrate meals throughout the day where your body would continuously see full glucose storages in your muscles, liver and a stream of glucose throughout the blood, thus causing you to be more likely to store it as excess food energy (FAT!)
What does the research say?
The Research Centre for Exercise and Health concluded that “training with limited carbohydrate availability can stimulate adaptations in muscle cells to facilitate energy production via fat oxidation.”
So, if eating too many carbohydrates raises insulin levels, and insulin increases fats storage and decreases the amount of fat being burned, why don’t I just eat a low carb diet?
Cutting out carbs isn’t the key to controlling your insulin sensitivity. Controlling the amount and type of carbs you consume is. By consuming too little carbs, your performance in the gym will begin to suffer . Carbs are all about energy and are naturally found in foods like fruits, vegetables, breads, and pastas. Your body uses these foods to make glucose, which is your body’s main source of energy. Glucose is a type of sugar that can be used right away for energy or stored away to be used later. Remember the storage tank you have in your muscles and liver – we need to make sure that it is continuously being replenished as glucose is your body’s preferred source of energy!
Most people’s lifestyles are not active enough to justify the high amounts of carbohydrates consumed on a daily basis. Carbs are everywhere, and while they are not all ‘bad’, we just eat too many of them way too often! Some body types will respond really well to low carb diets and some will respond very poorly.
What does the research say?
Precision Nutrition says “keeping carbs too low for too long can have disastrous consequences.”
DID YOU KNOW MEN ARE DIFFERENT THAN WOMEN?
You have got to be kidding me!
Men are different than women in many more ways than one. IF may affect women much differently than it can affect men and here’s why; fasting could lead to hormonal imbalances and potential fertility issues, irregular periods or amenorrhea (complete loss of period), metabolic stress, shrinking of the ovaries, anxiety and depression. Women are extremely sensitive to signals of starvation, and if the body senses that it is being starved, it will increase the production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. Many women have reported seeing great results while following an IF meal schedule, however many have also reported experiencing many of the symptoms listed above. Before you decide you want to try this method of eating, make sure you consult your physician.
What does the research say?
Pub Med says “fasting can be prescribed as a safe medical intervention as well as a lifestyle regimen which can improve women’s health in many folds.”
What else can it do for me?
I mentioned earlier that IF may be able to help you build muscle while still being able to burn body fat. Remember, you’re either burning food energy or your storing food energy. Strategically manipulating these two windows may help you pack on the lean mass, while shredding that unwanted body fat.
“Growth hormone is typically secreted during sleep and is one of the so-called counter-regulatory hormones. HGH along with cortisol and adrenaline increases blood glucose by breaking down glycogen – so it counters the effect of insulin, hence its name. These hormones are typically secreted in a pulse just before waking (4 am or so) during the ‘counter-regulatory surge’. This is normal and is meant to get the body ready for the upcoming day by pushing some glucose out of storage and into the blood where it is available for energy. When people say that you ‘must’ eat breakfast to have energy for the day, they are completely wrong. Your body has already given you a big shot of the good stuff and fueled you up for the day ahead. You don’t need to stuff your face full of sugary cereals and toast with jam to have energy. This is also the reason why hunger is lowest first thing in the morning (8 am) even though you have not eaten for 12 hours or so.”
What does the research say?
The Journal of Clinical Investigation says “Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man.”
WHAT IS ALLOWED DURING THE FAST?
The goal is to restrain from consuming any calories. That means it is recommended you only consume calorie free items such as the following during your fast:
- Black coffee
Many experts also suggest consuming BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) while in the fasted state. While technically these do contain calories, I recommend consuming them either during your workout or immediately after. Branched chain amino acids get personally escorted into muscle cells by insulin, which we know is essential if you want to build lean muscle.
Okay, Break it down one last time!
In my opinion, the problem that we as a society now face with regards to excess weight gain or obesity is that we eat way too much way too often – unimpeded access to food at all times. Not eating as frequently aligns us more with our ancestors who did not have access to food 24 hours a day, but rather dealt with periods of feast and famine. The truth is the majority of us have many meals stored on our bodies right now. If we don’t have food readily available, your body will find it on your body in the stored form. As Dr. John Berardi once said, “Hunger is not an emergency! When you don’t eat for 24 hours, you are not going to die. There is a big difference between mental and physiological hunger.” IF has many benefits that could help you lose that stubborn belly fat, but more importantly it may help to teach you about your body and how to deal with cravings and overeating. Once you are able to control those two important factors that lead to unwanted weight gain, you’ll be well on your way to maintaining the body you’ve always dreamt of!
My personal experience with Intermittent Fasting
A little over a year ago I took on Intermittent Fasting for the majority of 90 days. I consumed approximately 4 meals per day during an 8 hour eating window. The first week was difficult, but after that it was a breeze. I felt an increase in energy, my workouts never depleted, and I looked forward to every single time I ate. I was exercising on average 5 days per week and I slowly created a caloric deficit by approximately %10-15. I consumed one “cheat” meal per week and yes, I ate carbs, every, damn, day. These were my results;
– To increase muscle and shred body fat on the same day, prioritize carb consumption around your workout time.
– Eating too many processed carbohydrates may eventually lead to excessive weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
– Higher insulin secretion may lead to the storage of body fat and the inhibition of fat burning. By controlling your insulin, you may be able to allow your body to build muscle and burn fat daily.
– IF is only part of the weight loss process. Caloric balance is an important factor when trying to lose body fat and meal timing is only part of the battle (calories in vs calories out).
– Everybody is different – we have different routines, work schedules, careers and sleeping patterns all in which could affect the type of IF that may be best for you. There are many different types of Intermittent Fasting; the 16/8 Method, the 5/2 Method; Eat Stop Eat Method, the Warrior Diet to name a few.
– It is a human responsibility to control the amount of food we are putting into our bodies. Excess food is not universal. However the majority of us panic and freak out if we go 5 hours without eating. You will not go into starvation mode if you don’t eat for 16 hours!
– In reality, we all experience a version of IF as we refer to it as sleep. When you stop eating at 9 pm and wake up and have breakfast at 7 am, you have been fasting for 10 hours. Once you eat breakfast, you “break the fast = Breakfast”
– During the fast, you want to avoid from taking in any calories. You can drink water, black coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages during the fast to help reduce hunger levels. BCAA’s may also be beneficial.
– Eat carbs, just don’t eat too many of them throughout the entire day. Keep in mind carbs aren’t the only food that may increase insulin secretion, (Whey protein may also be linked to blood glucose and insulin response) . To make sure you aren’t secreting high levels of insulin and aren’t in “storage mode”, try using an IF technique.
– People have been getting in great shape and staying in great shape for years with and without the use of intermittent fasting. IF is still in the early years of research and we are years away from knowing the true full effects and benefits of it on humans. Consult a physician before trying any of the above techniques.