Fat Loss Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Over the past week, I’ve received a number of inquiries regarding intermittent fasting. It was due to my recent blog “My Training Principals” that got a few people interested. Read that here.
I figured it was appropriate to delve more into the world of intermittent fasting and enlighten you guys on what it all entails. I wanted to go a bit deeper on this one…
Intermittent Fasting isn’t a diet. You aren’t counting points. You don’t cut food groups from your diet and you don’t need to reference any era (i.e. Paleolithic, or the mythical era during the reign of Morador and Gondor). In the most simple explanation all you’re doing is eating during a specific time frame throughout the day/week and choosing not to eat during the remaining time.
There are a couple of ways to do this.
The first would be considered the Lean Gains approach (16 hour fast, 8 hour feast) which was pioneered by Martin Berkhan. Simply put, all you do is eat during a specific time period of the day . For example you start eating at noon and finish eating at 8. That is an 8 hour feastingwindow. The remainder would be a 16 hour fasting window.
Just so we are on the same page you technically already do this, just in reverse. Here’s an example
- 6:00 am: You wake up
- EAT ALL DAY
- 10:00 pm: You go to bed
You were in a feasting window for 16 hours. You fasted (slept) for 8.
(It’s also acceptable to have a 6 hour or even a 4 hour feasting window.)
The second would be the Eat Stop Eat approach by Brad Pilon. He simply suggests that you take 1-2 24 hour periods off from eating throughout the week.
The 24 hour period doesn’t mean you will miss a whole day of eating. If you finish eating at 7 pm on Monday you can eat again on 7 pm Tuesday. This method will give you the benefits of fasting without the need to stop eating for an entire day.
Brad provides you with in-depth research about metabolism and overall general health in his book. I highly recommend you read it.
How does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Think of it this way. When you eat food your body spends the next couple of hours processing that food. Due to the fact that it’s immediately available in your blood stream (sugar) your body uses that as energy rather than your fat stores.
If you’re fasting your body doesn’t have any “food” or energy to use so it pulls it from your fat stores rather from the glucose in your blood stream or the glycogen from your muscles and liver.
Here’s a great write up from Steve over at NERD Fitness
Why does this work? Our bodies react to energy consumption (eating food) with insulin production. Essentially, the more sensitive your body is to insulin, the more likely you’ll be to use the food you consume efficiently, which can help lead to weight loss and muscle creation.
Along with that, your body is most sensitive to insulin following a period of fasting.
Your glycogen (a starch stored in your muscles and liver that your body can burn as fuel when necessary) is depleted during sleep (fasting), and will be depleted even further during training, which can further increase insulin sensitivity. This means that a meal immediately following your workout will be stored most efficiently: mostly as glycogen for muscle stores, burned as energy immediately to help with the recovery process, with minimal amounts stored as fat.
Compare this to a regular day (no intermittent fasting). With insulin sensitivity at normal levels, the carbs and foods consumed will see full glycogen stores, enough glucose in the blood stream, and thus be more likely to get stored as fat.
Not only that, but growth hormone is increased during fasted states (both during sleep and after a period of fasting). Combine this increased growth hormone secretion, the decrease in insulin production (and thus increase in insulin sensitivity), and you’re essentially priming your body for muscle growth and fat loss with intermittent fasting.
This in a nutshell is why you would IF.
Why were we told to eat 5-6 meals a day?
You, your parents, me, Tim Tebow, and even the guys from The Hangover were all told that you must eat 5-6 meals a day or eat every 2-3 hours.
Here are some of the main reasons why we were taught this:
- It will keep the body’s metabolism up, thus increasing thermogenesis (fat burning), resulting in weight loss.
- Eating 6 small healthy meals a day you will decrease your appetite and hunger. This may help some dieters control hunger and calorie intake.
- It helps balance your blood sugar.
Sooo, these all seem to be pretty valid points. Right?
Not so fast my friend
Let’s Tackle These One by One
#1. Supposedly eating 5-6 meals a day will rev up your body’s metabolism thus creating a fat burning furnace allowing you to lose weight.
Sounds good in theory and I believed this for a very long time. As more time has gone by and more studies have been done it just doesn’t have much validity.
Here’s one study that states that it’s not true and here’s another study that shows no evidence that eating 6 meals a day increases metabolism, thermogenesis or weight loss.
This last study further proves the point.
Simply put, if eating 6 meals a day were to put you in a fat burning zone it would be so minuscule that it really wouldn’t make a difference.
#2. Eating 6 small meals a day will decrease your appetite and hunger.
Once again it sounds great. From my understanding: If you frequently eat you’ll be fuller throughout the day so the next time you eat you won’t eat as much because you just ate and now you feel full? Is that right?
Here’s a study that shows no hunger suppressing affect.
Hopefully more research is done in regards to hunger and appetite as it’s pretty scarce.
#3. We have been told that it can help balance your blood sugar levels. Now this, my friend, would probably be the biggest, most important one of them all.
The theory is your blood sugar levels spike so eating quality foods frequently will keep them level throughout the day. This in turn would help keep you lean and functioning properly.
Here’s a study discussing your blood glucose during a run after a fed state and a fasted state. And another interesting study showing that blood sugar is maintained during a 48 hour fast.
This study shows that it takes roughly 84 hours of fasting before our glucose levels are adversely affected.
Disclaimer: This doesn’t mean people can’t be lean, look good and feel healthy if they eat 6 meals a day. It’s just stating what you’ve been taught or told might not really be true or there are easier ways in which you don’t have to obsess over packing your meals or spending every 2-3 hours eating.
Why Intermittent Fast?
Well, here are a couple of reasons why you should take a look a this approach
1. It’s easy. You don’t have to worry so much about always eating. You can still pack food and prepare like you normally would but you won’t have to stress about eating every 2-3 hours.
2. There is a high probability that you will lose weight and body fat. These approaches have provided phenomenal results for thousands of people looking to get rid of body fat.
3. All of these reasons from my previous blog and read this:
- It increases growth hormone production. Studies have shown it raises growth hormone levels in both men and women.
- It normalizes your insulin and leptin sensitivity. Insulin and Leptin are hormones that play a crucial role in energy production and fat storage. If both of these are normalized it can regulate your blood sugar levels, which can prevent type two diabetes and potential weight gain.
- It reduces inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Inflammation is your body’s natural response to threats from germs, harmful toxins, environmental pollutants, injury, stress, and other things.
- It helps with appetite control. Ghrelin is an enzyme produced by stomach lining cells that stimulates your appetite. By fasting ghrelin becomes more stable helping you keep your hunger in check.
- It can possibly improve gut bacteria. A healthy gut is one of the most important things you can do to improve your immune system so you won’t get sick, or get coughs, colds and flus. You will sleep better, have more energy, have increased mental clarity and concentrate better. A healthy gut can also help you get lean.
Intermittent Fasting Guidelines
- Do the best you can to avoid calories during a fast. Drink coffee, green tea or water and avoid calorie filled drinks i.e. gatorade, soda, juice during the fasting period
- BCAA’s can be beneficial during your fasting periods to help with muscle growth and repair.
- Try and keep your feeding period consistent. If you eat from 12-8 do your best to keep that regular.
- Be active, don’t sit and think about food. You shouldn’t do this anyways but while fasted keep busy.
- Cycle your macronutrients. For example, some days you might go higher carbs other days you might go lower carbs. Base it off of your activity during that particular day (more activity more carbs)
- Don’t binge. When your feasting window is open this doesn’t give you the green light to shove anything and everything down your throat. Eat quality food and eat until you are full.
Where to Start?
This is the million dollar question.
Figure out which works best for you. Some people like the Lean Gain approach because it fit’s there overall lifestyle while others love the simplicity of Eat Stop Eat. Either way figure out a feasting window that will give you an opportunity to eat a few meals. Once you have the schedule set start by making small changes.
Slowly work your feasting window down to an eight hour window and see how your body feels. Everyone is different as some people have a difficult time initially. Others, jump right into it without much of a problem.
Remember this is a lifestyle and something that you can do the rest of your life. You still need to eat clean, exercise often and most importantly get plenty of sleep. If you don’t do these three things then intermittent fasting won’t be effective.
Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!
About the Author:
Dave Dreas is a certified personal trainer in Phoenix, AZ. He is the creator of ModestlyRefined.com and co-owner of Arizona Training Lab. As a former All American College basketball player, he spent years in the strength and conditioning world working with collegiate and professional strength coaches. He is currently a MuscleTech Sponsored Athlete and Reebok Ambassador. For more information he can be found at modestlyrefined.com.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE
People who have issues with blood sugar regulation, suffer from hypoglycemia, or have diabetes should speak to a doctor before Intermittent Fasting. Other categories of people that should avoid Intermittent Fasting include those living with chronic stress and those with cortisol dysregulation. If you fit into these categories I highly recommend you check with your doctor or dietitian before adjusting your eating schedule.
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