Intermittent fasting has been around for decades but in recent years interest has been picking up again with a few new twists to this eating habit. If you’ve been thinking about it to start off your new year, and wondering if it’s something you should try, let me break it down for you.
Basically, intermittent fasting (IF), also known as time-restricted feeding, is not a diet but an eating schedule. Theoretically it doesn’t restrict any food type but it’s meant to restructure your eating time and fasting window. There are different types of IF, here’s a few:
16:8 hours: The most popular kind and known as the “lean gain” in the fitness industry. It’s a 16-hour fasting with an 8-hour eating window.
20:4 hours: A 20-hour fast with a 4-hour eating window, known as the “warrior diet”.
Alternate day fast: In this fast, you eat for 24 hours and fast for the next 24 hours, then eat again and repeat fasting.
5:2 days: Eat normally for five days and then restrict calorie intake to 500-600 kcal for two days within a week.
Which type of fasting should we choose? What’s the benefit of each protocol and how can we follow these eating schedules without too much discomfort, like hunger, low blood glucose, sleeplessness or even dizziness?
What’s the possible benefit of IF on weight loss?
Many people do IF because it has become a trend as an effective way for weight loss. However, some studies comparing intermittent fasting to caloric restriction show no difference. Although IF restricts the time to eat, in theory it should allow us to eat fewer calories. But some people will still gain weight when they are in the calories surplus as they take in too much processed food.
What’s the possible benefit of IF on health?
In my point of view, IF has much more benefits than just weight loss. For example, IF has been shown to increase plasma levels of norepinephrine which can increase metabolic rate by 3.6-14%. This allows us to burn more calories. Also, controlling insulin production during the day will allow our body to utilise fat as fuel more efficiently from improved metabolic flexibility.
IF also increases Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which can prevent muscle loss and activate autophagy for anti-aging, improving cell regeneration and reducing inflammation.
What’s the possible benefit of IF on sport performance?
There are some studies on the effects of IF on sport performance including high intensity, endurance and resistance training. Some studies show it can help muscle growth, reduce body fat, increase muscle mass, increase strength and power.
However, there have been reported side effects, such as reducing testosterone level, and affecting sleeping patterns and moods. More scientific research and studies are needed. To improve your physique, body composition and sport performance, only fasting won’t help much, unfortunately. Training programmes, nutrition, sleep and recovery all are important elements.
How to pick the correct IF schedule
It’s not hard to pick a correct IF protocol to start, remember it’s all about consistency. If you pick a 24-hour fast but in reality you are not able to successfully do that, what is the point? Personally I suggest you to clarify your goal and ability without blindly following. Start and try the easiest kind to see how you feel and how your body reacts.
Some supplements will help your fasting easier without breaking a fast, for example apple cider vinegar, high quality mineral salt, black coffee without creamer or sweetener, green tea and electrolytes, etc.
Personally I’m doing 16:8 fast for five days a week and a 36-hour fast once a month. My reason for doing a 16:8 fast for five days a week is because I’m a Crossfit athlete. I do want to get the benefits from IF without dropping my testosterone level. At the same time, I want to improve my athletic performances with enough nutrients and good recoveries. I do a 36-hour fast once a month to boost my growth hormones for longevity.
Going on a fasting regimen is a very personal decision and one you should take in consultation with your doctor. Good luck!