Calorie restriction has been documented to dramatically improve metabolic health (functioning of the cells in your body) by regulating blood sugars, controlling blood fats, managing body weight and gaining or maintaining lean body mass, as well as improving other markers of health and longevity. Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a term that has been given to a form of calorie desistence. Very simply, it involves an extended period of not eating (zero food intake), followed by a specific period or window of eating.
Where the benefits of calorie restriction are well established, it is thought the adherence of IF regimes may be greater due to periodic fasting, which mitigates the battles of constant hunger and therefore, may be preferred. This has been the basis of studying various IF protocols. In addition, IF has become an increasingly popular method among individuals in the health and fitness industry to help achieve their physique orientated and body composition goals. You may have read different articles claiming wildly amazing benefits associated with IF which make it seem like an absolute no brainer to try, especially if your goal is to drop body fat. Whilst these claims may well have studies to back them up the truth is, substantial further research in humans is needed before the use of fasting as a health intervention can be recommended (Horne et al., 2015).
That being said there are a number of different way to use IF AND I have personally tried and still loosely use a particular IF protocol which involves “fasting” for 14-16 hours and eating within an 10-8 hour window. Whilst there may be numerous scientific physiological benefits to this, there can also be other, almost “non-scientific” benefits, depending on your individual life-style and preferences:
1) CONVENIENT FOR YOUR LIFESTYLE
Time is often the biggest limiting factor for many busy individuals. Eating 3-5 meals a day for some people can be extremely difficult and is not always priority. IF can introduce simplicity and reduce stress of your daily eating. It will allow you to eat one or two less meals and condense your calories into 2 meals. For example, if you have early starts and have extremely busy mornings packed with meetings, or you simply don’t have the appetite for breakfast then don’t stress. Skip breakfast and eat a bigger lunch and dinner.
2) YOU CAN EAT LARGE!
If like me, you enjoy large meals and don’t struggle to put away food, then IF will be a great choice for you. The one caveat to this is that some people take the “window of opportunity” way too far and use it as a time to gorge on as much rubbish as possible which is not productive. IF shouldn’t change WHAT you eat, but will change WHEN you eat it. So as long as you stick to your desired calorie and macronutrient goal you can enjoy two big meals and be fully satisfied.
3) YOU DEVELOP ROUTINE AND LEARN HUNGER CONTROL
IF can be an effective strategy for adapting to a routine and teaching yourself how to deal with hunger. Very often we eat when in actual fact we are not hungry, rather just thirsty, bored or faced with the tough choice to decline or resist when certain foods present themselves. This regime of IF creates a routine whereby you clearly know when you eat and when you don’t. You can learn to better control your hunger so that during the 16-hour or so fasting period you don’t unnecessarily think about food.
So above are three ways IF can play to your advantage. It will not be for everyone, but you can think of it as an alternative way to arrange your eating schedule to better fit your life schedule. You can also be very flexible with this approach and slot it into week however you feel fit. It doesn’t have to be every single day. One last thing to note, is that the time you sleep contributes to your fasting hours. Therefore, the time you spend not eating can be made to seem shorter by eating an earlier dinner and waking up slightly later. For example, finishing dinner on a Saturday evening by 7pm and waking up on Sunday morning at 9am means you will have been fasting for 14 hours already upon waking.
MY APPROACH TO 14-16 HOUR INTERMITTENT FASTING
Here are some of the situations and reasons where I would implement IF:
- I prefer larger meals, so on lower calorie day it is very useful to achieve lower calories whilst still enjoying eating big.
- I struggle to eat very early in the morning. If I have an early start I will often skip breakfast and drink coffee and branch chain amino acids until my first meal.
- Sundays will often be an IF day for me. I like a lie in and will not even get out of bed for food sometimes! This suits me fine as I can then enjoy a massive roast at lunch time and a big dinner in front of the TV Sunday night.
- If I use IF on training days and I am training in the afternoon I may allow myself to eat pure protein (e.g. chicken breast) in addition to water and coffee during the fasting period.
- I love the mental sharpness and concentration I feel in the morning whilst fasting, so will often use IF when I have lap top work to do.
For me, I would say convenience and coincidence with your lifestyle is the main and most important benefit. Very often, life gets in the way and things change that we can’t predict, which is why I have a highly flexible approach to eating and I see IF as just one of my dietary tools. When it makes life easier, I use IF. Of course, I get times where I just want to eat, so guess what, I eat! I’d never recommend IF if it is a chore, or if you have to force yourself to do it. There is more than one way to skin a cat and IF certainly isn’t the only way for you to achieve your body composition goals. There is also the obvious down side in that IF doesn’t account for or is not optimal for nutrient partitioning, but it is certainly something to think about trying and maybe experimenting with, especially if your goal is fat or weight loss, or weight management whilst enjoying eating! For some practical examples of what I would eat and when whilst IF on training and non-training days take a look at my blog post, A PRACTICAL LOOK AT INTERMITTENT FASTING: WHAT TO EAT & WHEN.
Health Effects Of Intermittent Fasting: Hormesis Or Harm? A Systematic Review: file:///C:/Users/Setup/OneDrive/JC%20Conditioning/Reading%20&%20Resources/Intermittent%20Fasting%20Review%202015.pdf