Last week we dove into Intermittent fasting a little bit and it generated some really interesting emails and comments on “The Book.”
“…yeah, there are actually some major health benefits from doing so. Davu and I used to do it on our mission in Southeast Asia… it requires some major mental hardening, but like all of fitness, the goal outweighs the means.” –Kendrick Som
“Definitely! It’s weird how much mental clarity I have between the 24-40 hour period. And I feel so cleansed and not so driven by having to eat at certain times. I used to think I’d utterly die of starvation without food in a 24 hour period. Now it’s no biggy! I am not as much of a slave to food as I thought I had to be.” -Steffi Radnan
In the post we covered what fasting is, why you would actually want to do it, why it works or doesn’t work, some of the benefits, and who should possibly abstain from doing it. There is so much great information out there now like my buddy Brad Pilons Eat Stop Eat, and research discussing the subject that I felt it needed a hot-shot part deux.
An example day of fasting
I ended up getting a few emails about what a day of fasting might look like. Luckily, intermittent fasting is something I have been playing with a little bit this past year. At first, it started as a bit of an accident. Saturdays had always been extremely busy for me and I would often not eat until about 2PM that day, a full 16 hours after my final meal on friday night.
Intermittent fasting was a concept I was already familiar with but never really gave much thought to it. It was something that was a little against the grain and didn’t really run with the status quo. Those who don’t really understand it may consider it “starving yourself.” This really couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s sort of funny but around the same time I started this site and began practicing mindfulness I started to become more aware of my actions, emotions, physical ailments; it simply seemed that I was actually taking notice of everything going on in my life.
This all played into the saturday fasting as I noticed my energy, digestion, mental clarity, and mood were all better. I also realized that I was never really hungry from the time I woke up on saturday until my first meal at 2PM. Even when hunger did rumble my tummy I started to notice it would go away within about 30 minutes. That’s when I realized I was fasting by accident. But because I was feeling great and staying strong I decided to stick with it. Added bonus that I did not have to prep any meals or worry about when I could eat, what I was going to eat, and all the jazz. As I got more into, started reading up, studying, and actually became aware of what I was doing I discovered some ways to better perform intermittent fasting. Below is a typical day:
LAST MEAL: Friday night at 10PM
7:00AM: Up and Adam, Adam Ant
7:05AM: Cold Shower
7:30AM: After de-thawing, 5 grams of branched chain amino acids(BCAA’s)
8:15AM: Interval training or alternating 100 meter sprints and simple gymnastic practice (handstand walking, muscle-ups)
9:15AM: 5 more grams of BCAA after exercise, and on with my day
2:00PM: About 16 hours after my last meal on friday night I would sit down to have my first meal on saturday
Protein: Wild Salmon (about the size of my hand)
Carbohydrate: Large handful of blackberries
Carbohydrate Veggie: Shredded brussels sprouts
Fat: Coconut oil, 1tbs.
* I usually had a big glass of unsweetened green tea right before this or a cup of black coffee and water
6:00PM: I would have my second meal of the day. Very similar to the one above except no fruit
10:00PM: 1 cup of goat milk yogurt with cinnamon and macadamia butter, 1tbs.
Midnight: Off to count some sheep and back to normal come sunday
This is an example of a 16 hour fast with an 8 hour eating window. Essentially you are fasting for 16 hours (most of which is during sleep) and then eating for 8 hours. This is a popular method used over at Lean Gains.
There an all kinds of variants on fasting. Eat Stop Eat has you fast until dinner (a full 24 hours) 1-2 times per week.
The Warrior diet uses a 20 hour fast with a 4 hour eating window. The four-hour window is really used to sit and eat up big time!
If performed correctly these three examples work great as fasting strategies. Primarily due to them all addressing four primary functions of optimizing your health. Those four things being:
Quantity: Calories in verses calories out. I know it’s pretty hot now in the health and fitness world to say that calories don’t matter it’s more about the quality over the quantity. You won’t hear me argue that. I definitely focus on and try to improve the quality of calories consumed by clients first. Once healthy eating habits have been established, together, we then look at how many calories they are consuming. More often than not when you focus on eating higher quality foods that are more nutrient and mineral dense you will end up eating less anyhow. These foods are typically more satisfying, maintain satiety, and control blood sugar better.
For those looking to add a little muscle this can sometimes be a bit of a problem. When eating quality foods higher in nutrient density it can sometimes be tough to take in enough calories as you often feel full. Provided that protein is adequate (1 gram per pound of body weight, 145lbs = 145 grams of protein per day) increasing calories through healthy fats like coconut oil and avocado can help add enough calories to support muscle growth while not filling up your gut.
Quality: All three of these fasting options call for high quality foods. None of them ask to fast 24, 20, or 16 hours of the day and then load up on junk and highly processed foods. Each one calls for highly nutritious foods that supply vital vitamins and minerals to keep you running optimally.
Exercise: Each fast also calls for exercise. Most often in a fasted state or on an empty stomach. You might have heard that this is very effective for fat loss. You may have also heard that this can also cause muscle loss. In my honest opinion I have not seen either way. I love working out first thing in the morning or about 3 hours after my last meal. I like the feeling of not having something in my gut while I’m running up Mount Everest (or the hill near my house 😀 )or dead-lifting the kitchen sink. This is one of those things you should play with and see what works best for you. If muscle gain is a primary goal I would suggest eating something easily digestible an hour or so before exercise (this differs from person to person so experiment with foods). If fat loss is a goal try getting in that interval training in first thing in the morning before any food has come in.
Regardless, each three of the fasting options addressed here ask you to exercise at least moderately intensely, and with free-weights a 3-5 times per week. Most of them suggest exercising on the day you fast as well.
Food timing: I’ve personally found that food timing is one of the most important things in determine body composition. After exercise your body is at a heightened sense for nutrients and literally will suck up anything you put in there pretty effectively so long as you exercised with some intensity…key word INTENSITY. It doesn’t count if you walked on the treadmill for an hour holding on to the bar in front of you for support…Some of you just looked to the side as you know what I am talking about.
You’ve probably heard that there is a “magic window” when it comes to eating post exercise. Truth is, the magic window does not really have a specific time. The window is open until you eat your next meal. Wether it be 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or two hours after your workout. Your body is still at a heightened state to accept nutrients and continue to burn fat as fuel. Now there are a few studies out there that say up to 90 minutes is ideal but in all my years of training I honestly can say it doesn’t matter a lot. This is one of those times we over complicate things. Personally, I have no desire to eat after doing a Crossfit workout. It feels like it would come right up. So I usually slug some water, wait an hour, shower of course (no BO allowed), and then sit down to eat.
If you are following the healthy habits and have been eating mostly meats, veggies, and healthy fats during the day no is a good time to sneak in that sweet potato or other starchy carb. It will be more readily used for energy for tomorrows workout and not contribute to any added fat loss. Provided you’ve been keeping the rest of the day legit of course.
A few lessons learned from fasting
I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting using the 16/8 method above every saturday for quite some time now. As weeks have gone on and I have started to pay attention to how I feel doing it as compared to the rest of the week this is what I have noticed.
Fasting is awesome at managing hunger: Intermittent fasting really helps you understand what true hunger is. What I mean by that is we all experience two types of hunger; body hunger and head hunger.
1. Physical hunger (your body): Often can be a headache, lightheadedness, empty feeling typically 3-5 hours a meal depending on size and nutrient quality.
2. Psychological hunger (in your head): No real physical symptoms. Can be triggered by a number of things like the smell of a food, eating by the clock, sitting down to watch TV, boredom, hanging with a certain person. It’s more of a reactionary response to a given stimulus.
Fasting really gives you a sense of what being hungry really is. We’ve been so conditioned to eat at specific times of the day, or to consume so many meals, or that if our tummy rumbles that must mean it’s time to eat. This is really not so much the case.
Sense are heightened: No joke, it’s super hero status. Or at least that’s what it feels like to me. I’m not just talking about physical senses here either. Awareness of personal habits, lifestyle choices, and personal goals all come to the forefront. Those days I am fasting I’m not thinking about what I am going to eat next or how to prepare it are better spent taking action towards endeavors I have been looking to accomplish.
Your physical senses may experience an upgrade as well. The cinnamon bun might smell a bit sweeter, and that pizza might smell a bit tastier so be careful. There are a few studies out there as well that report better vision and hearing. Personally, I have not noticed those benefits but my sense of smell does seem to get an upgrade.
You being hungry does not mean you will die: It goes against everything you may have been taught about eating. When building the healthy eating habit I recommend that clients eat every 3-5 hours. But this is for those that need to build the habit of making healthier food choices. If you are already making healthier choices and decide to try intermittent fasting you’ll realize that after 24 hours (or whatever plan you run with) with no food you are actually still alive…go figure! Yup, that rumble in your belly doesn’t mean you are going to die. Hunger is not an emergency…no it could be if you haven’t eaten in a few days but I have fasted with nothing but lemon water, cayenne pepper, and grade b maple syrup for up to a week and I am still writing this post.
In 1992 James Scott was without food for 43 days in the Himalayan mountains and managed to survive. Not sure how many of you will be venturing to the Himalayan mountains anytime soon but if you happen to get trapped under you bed or something for a few days just know that you will be fine 😀
It puts the food you eat into perspective: It really makes you appreciate the opportunities we are afforded here. The ability to shop at farmers markets, get grass-fed meat, organic produce, and clean water. Not so many are fortunate and taking a few hours or even the full day to fast is a great reminder of that. Many out there have to do this on a daily basis and not by choice. When they do have the opportunity to eat it is more often than not low nutrient dense foods that barely supply, if any, vitamins or minerals for the body to run optimally and water they drink is dirty and contaminated.
Feel privileged regarding the food choices you have readily available to you. Pay attention to how what you eat actually makes you feel and build a nutrition plan around that which affords you the most energy and vigor.
Should I take supplements when fasting?
This is totally up to you. In an earlier post we talked about the only three supplements you really need But how much?
Vitamin D at around 2000IU per day. Most of the population is deficient in this vitamin due to a lack of sun exposure. On trick you might want to try is eating lunch outside everyday for 30 minutes. Watch what happens… I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just try it for 2-4 weeks.
Fish oil at around 3-5 grams per day but more importantly EPA at 2 grams and DHA at 1.5 grams per day. I love Nordic Naturals liquid and Stronger Healthier Fasters fish oil as well. A little tip most are unfamiliar with is eating a pound of wild salmon a week. It will provide you with enough omega-3 to balance out your Omega-3 and Omega-6 ratio and keep you body from inflammation.
Probiotic really vary depending on your gut health and digestion. But for the most part look for brands containing Bacillus coagulans (BC-30) or Lactobacillus GG. Also read labels to make sure that the probiotic you are taking contains colony forming units (CFU) in the billions. Lastly, make sure it is gluten-free please.
Aside from that I recommend branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) when practicing intermittent fasting. About 5-10 grams 10-15 minutes before training should create a very friendly environment for your body to preserve lean muscle tissue and pull from body fat stores for energy.
What you just read was the 16 hour fast. Consider this the 8 hour feeding and wrap up.
One thing is for sure there is a ton of information out there on fasting, hell, people are creating sites dedicated solely to it. If it is something you are really interested in learning more I advise you to look beyond these past two posts and dive into some of the sites out there as mentioned earlier.
Remember that intermittent fasting is a form of hormesis and a natural stressors on your body. If already under a tremendous amount of stress via work, school, or lifestyle choices really take time to think about the risk and reward to giving fasting a shot. It may provide an extra stressors that is not needed based upon your current situation but it also might provide a nice days break and stress relief form having to prepare food and digest it.
Aside from all the research that is out there that shows some correlation between intermittent fasting and decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, reduced oxidative stress, and better blood sugar management, increased fat burning and growth hormone production, and better appetite control the biggest benefit I received from intermittent fasting once a week is the peace of mind of not having to think about what I am eating or the time needed to prepare it. My sole purpose that day is to fully enjoy it and that is it. A pretty awesome feeling to give yourself once a week.
As anyone tried intermittent fasting or are you thinking about it?
If so, what was your experience like?
Anyone indeed of some healthy eating advice don’t hesitate to give me a shout. 30 minute consultations are free.
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