Fasting. Starvation. Not Eating.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
Ever since I can remember, we have been told as trainers to recommend eating multiple times throughout the day, every 2-3 hours. We swore that this would improve insulin sensitivity, increase the metabolism, blunt hunger and guide us to the lean body we all desire.
For years we’ve told everyone that the secret to fat loss is to eat small meals every few hours, in an effort to fuel your metabolism and discourage “starvation mode.” In fact, it was almost a sin to skip a meal.
I can remember multiple times when a client would tell me they get so hungry at about 10am after I told them they HAD to eat breakfast. In addition, many clients also shared the same experience when I told them to increase their meal frequency.
Just about every client hated to eat breakfast because they didn’t have the time, or the discipline to pack and eat every 2-3 hours. Just like every other trainer, I demanded that in order to see results, you had to adapt to this lifestyle. To all my clients, I am sorry.
But as Mark Sisson put it, “But like many behaviors in the fitness and health world, there comes a point where the benefits decrease and we find ourselves on the dreaded plateau.”
After reading this quote, it explained the frustration between my clients and me. I needed to find a better method of eating to get my clients to adhere to. This was when I began to explore intermittent fasting.
Upon further research, I received and email from Precision Nutrition. It was a free E-book written by Dr. John Berardi and his team called “Experiments with Intermittent Fasting”. After reading this E-book from electronic cover to cover, I had an epiphany.
My Accidental Experiment with IF
In January of 2010, I took a risk and opened up an 11,000 sq. ft. training facility in East Lansing, Michigan. The stress of leaving a secure senior personal training position and the increased workload was overwhelming. I found myself skipping meals, eating more food later at night and having a protein shake as my first meal about 2-3 hours after I got to work. What I always made sure to do is to take greenfood supplements, cod liver oil and branched chain amino acids.
Without even trying I was integrating intermittent fasting (IF) into my lifestyle. What I was doing without even knowing it was called the Leangains method of intermittent fasting.
LEANGAINS BY MARTIN BERKHAN
(16h fast / 8h feed)
This brand of fasting is based on an 8-hour feeding period followed by a 16-hour fast. However, it also layers a few other food rules on top. The diet should be high in protein, should cycle carbohydrates, should include fasted training, and should use nutrient timing (eating the bulk of your calories during the post-exercise period). On this plan, you fast from, say, 9 PM on Monday night until 1 PM on Tuesday afternoon. If you’re going to exercise, you’d do so just before 1 PM on Tuesday, with 10 g BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) during training. After training, you eat 2-3 meals before 9 PM, with your biggest meal coming right after exercise. The fasting begins again on Tuesday evening until Wednesday at 1 PM, and repeats every day.
I stayed just as lean and muscular as before, I wasn’t hungry as often and had plenty of energy. After experiencing the benefits myself and reading all of the great literature on IF, I was sold. I was actually relieved to know that I didn’t have to eat so often. I was way too busy! Being a former competitive bodybuilder, I always stuck to the rigid lifestyle of one. See you later bodybuilding diet, hello intermittent fasting! Now it was time to share this with my clients.
Changing My Clients Beliefs and Perceptions
I was actually surprised to see that most of my clients responded well to my new school of thought. I would start out the conversation briefly explaining my own eating history. I then would give them some facts about intermittent fasting such as hunger control by not eating breakfast and frequent meals, improved growth hormone output and detoxification.
Almost every client grasped the concept without hesitation. What they were currently trying to do wasn’t working, so why not listen to another idea. They were thrilled that I was not having them prepare so many meals ahead of time or eat a large breakfast. I was actually making their life more convenient. Who doesn’t want that? I made sure to give them reading materials to back-up my recommendation and also to help educate them.
In the past year I have been promoting intermittent fasting with much success. Not all of my clients respond the same, but I would say about 50% of them who try it stick with it. If someone is not successful with IF, I let them know that it is not the only way.
Intermittent Fasting is a method of eating that can aid in losing fat, maintaining leanness, all the while increasing productivity and performance. It is a lifestyle that for some is optimal. It is NOT the only way and it may not be the method that works best for you. The BEST nutritional strategy is one that is sustainable, thereby enriching your life and promoting wellness.
Other Methods of IF
The Leangains method I described above is not the only way to perform IF. I have personally tried and recommended all of the methods I have described below. I have even done many of them in one week. Take a look at the various methods below, try them and find what works for you. One of the best things about IF is that you can tailor it to what best fits your regime.
ALTERNATE DAY FASTING (ADF) BY DR. MICHAEL R. EADES
(36 hour fast / 12 hour feed)
With this plan you simply eat every other day. So on Monday, you’d eat within a 12-hour window, say, 8 AM to 8 PM. Then you’d fast overnight on Monday, and all day/overnight on Tuesday. You’d eat again from 8 AM to 8 PM on Wednesday. And so on. Alternate day fasters are encouraged to make good eating choices, but they’re allowed to eat what they want on the non-fasting days.
Some IF proponents believe we should behave like our evolutionary ancestors did. As humans evolved to get their food and exercise randomly, so should we. This brand of IF includes eating unprocessed, “evolutionary friendly” food (think Paleo-diet type). This is paired with randomly cycling daily calorie intake, and randomly skipping a breakfast or dinner meal once or twice a week. The rules are very flexible. (It is random, after all.)
EAT STOP EAT BY BRAD PILON
(24 hour fast, 1 or 2 times per week)
On this plan, you fast for a full 24 hours once or twice per week, eating sensibly (higher protein, minimizing processed foods, etc.) the rest of the week. It’s flexible: You can choose whichever 24 hours you want. Want to fast from breakfast to breakfast? That’s cool. Just eat breakfast on Monday, and don’t eat again until breakfast on Tuesday. Want to fast dinner to dinner? That’s cool too. Eat dinner on Wednesday, and don’t eat again until dinner on Thursday.
WARRIOR DIET BY ORI HOFMEKLER
(20 hour fast / 4 hour feed)
On this plan, you fast for 20 hours each day, working out during your fasted state. Then, eat your daily food intake within the 4-hour feeding window. After that 4-hour feeding period, fast again for 20 hours. Generally, most people place their 4-hour feeding window at the end of the day, as it’s more convenient for family dinners and after-work training sessions. However, the 20 hours of fasting and 4 hours of feeding can occur any time during the day.
Benefits of IF
The benefits of intermittent fasting may be new to some of you. So I wanted to share some of the benefits you would experience when implementing IF into your lifestyle.
Intermittent fasting is the easiest way to restrict calories
Intermittent fasting is the easiest nutrition lifestyle that allows you to stay within your target calories without endless hunger pangs, and even gives you some elbowroom to make mistakes.
Intermittent fasting gives you more appetite control
Hunger isn’t driven by physical needs as much as cognitive factors. Oftentimes you’ll find yourself eating when you think you’re hungry, but it’s not when your body really needs food. In fact, your body has a tremendous capacity to store food, energy, and still work efficiently. We can negatively affect that process by stuffing ourselves with food when it’s not needed or wanted. There is no benefit to frequent eating. You are actually training your body to become hungrier. Eating frequently does not increase the metabolism.
Intermittent fasting makes you more productive
One study found that healthy young adults who ate as little as 300 calories over a
two day period experienced no decrease in brain tests and cognitive performance (including vigilance, choice reaction time, learning, memory and reasoning), activity, sleep and mood. Other research has found that long-term calorie restriction may improve memory in older populations
Intermittent fasting reduces your glucose/sugar levels
When trying to lose weight and burn fat, lowering your blood sugar is important to avoid pre-diabetes, diabetes, insulin resistance and most importantly becoming overweight. The norm in the fitness industry is that by eating 5 to 6 frequent meals a day you would regulate blood sugar levels. This has been proven to do the exact opposite. By fasting you could decrease your sugar input by anywhere from 15-30%. This improves your ability to burn fat and improve your insulin sensitivity.
Intermittent fasting increases fat oxidation
Fat oxidization refers to your body’s ability to use stored fat to produce energy. A process that normally happens during exercise. When using IF you are increasing your body’s ability to use your stored fat as energy. This means that when you are burning calories more of those calories will come directly from fat.
Intermittent fasting is the fastest way to eliminate waste from the body and lower inflammation
Short term fasting actually helps you eliminate waste in your body and can speed up the healing process by lowering your inflammation levels. Metabolic inflammation is the inappropriate activation of your immune system, which can disrupt many of your body’s systems and can have severe effects on weight retention and weight gain. This is important because nearly half of Americans have metabolic inflammation without even knowing it.
Intermittent fasting helps unleash the power of growth hormone
This is the biggest benefit that you will give yourself when adopting an IF lifestyle. You increase your ability to stimulate your fat burning hormones in an optimal level. Here, the biggest player is growth hormone (GH).
Growth hormone is a protein-based hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland. It stimulates growth of cell reproduction and regeneration in humans and animals. GH is research-proven to be the best fat burning, anti-aging and muscle building hormone your body produces. Growth hormone incinerates your fat and denies fat cells from ever forming. Growth hormone helps you build muscle and helps make you look younger.
Intermittent fasting helps you never feel hungry again
The hormone Ghrelin is another very important piece of the fat loss puzzle. As we all have experienced, hunger is one of the hardest parts about eating correctly. Many people also experience irritability and mood swings if they don’t eat. Ghrelin also affects these feelings. Every time Ghrelin is secreted in your body it creates a hunger response. The more times you delay your hunger response you train your body to handle the hunger inducing the effects of Ghrelin.
Increased production of Ghrelin also means you increase more growth hormone in your body as well. The more you are able to delay your hunger response and incorporate periods of short term fasting into your lifestyle, the more growth hormone and Ghrelin we’ll have pumping in our bodies.
So why have you not tried IF yet? You have nothing to lose, so give it a shot!
About the author:
Justin Grinnell is a strength coach, personal trainer, nutrition enthusiast and owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter@JustinGrinnell4 or check out his website grinnelltraining.com