By Rob Smith
Over the last few years intermittent fasting has become incredibly popular as an effective way to lose weight quickly, but it has also started to gain traction among fitness enthusiasts looking for a flexible way to get and stay lean.
It’s best to think of intermittent fasting as a lifestyle choice rather than a diet, and change your way of thinking about food altogether. You may find it a challenge initially, but you’ll soon settle into a rhythm, your body will get accustomed to it and it’ll be easy to maintain.
What is Intermittent Fasting? Intermittent fasting (IF) is simply eating at different times of the day than you’re used to. Instead of eating every few hours, you eat within a specific time frame and then fast, or heavily restrict your calorie intake, for the rest of the day. Within reason, it doesn’t matter how many meals you eat within the non-fasting phase.
IF works by making use of your body’s cycles. After you eat a meal, your body will process what you just gave it and use those calories as energy. Your body uses glucose from the bloodstream or glycogen from your muscles and liver.
While digesting food, your body also produces more insulin. When you haven’t eaten in a few hours, your body will burn energy from your fat cells. The longer you spend in a fasting state, the more fat you will burn. Also, while in the fasting state, your insulin levels will fall.
IF is a way to take what your system does naturally and make it work for you. You have to eat anyway, but if you take in all your calories in a short period of time, you’ll spend a longer time fasting and give your body more of a chance to burn fat.
Instead of burning muscle, your body is burning through your fat stores, encouraging weight loss without losing muscle mass.
Different Types: There are many variations of intermittent fasting but most of them are more focused on drastic weight loss, with little consideration for muscle mass.
Here are a few examples:
· Alternate Day Fasting – Eat normally for 24 hours, and then fast for 24 hours. This is a good way to reset your metabolism and limit your calorie intake.
· Weekly Fast – Choose a day once a week and fast for that 24 hour period. This way is better for people who have weight loss as their main priority and don’t mind losing some muscle mass.
· 5:2 – The 5 represents eating normally on 5 days of the week, and on the other 2 days, eating only 500-600 calories. These calories can be ingested at any time during the 24 hour period. This may be a good one to start with to get used to fasting.
· Lean Gains – The Lean gains diet has built on these principles to make it more applicable for people who want to work out and get a really lean physique. Started by leangains.com, in this pattern you fast for 16 hours, and then eat during an 8 hour period.
Usually, most people fast for 12 hours or so from after supper until they eat breakfast the next morning. You’re just extending this fasting period by a few more hours. The majority of people who use the lean gains model will skip breakfast, and then take in all of their calories from between 12pm-8pm or 11am-7pm.
It doesn’t matter which fasting method you choose, or what time period you eat in. If you do what works for you, you’re more likely to stick with it.
The Primary Benefits of Intermittent Fasting: Intermittent fasting is unlike dieting because you don’t have to count calories or grams of fat and used properly, it will help you to lose weight, without losing muscle mass.
Some of the other benefits are:
· Practicing IF will lower your insulin levels. When insulin is low, your body burns its stored fat quicker. Having lower insulin levels will help lower your risk of getting diabetes. When you fast, you will have a higher insulin sensitivity, which creates the perfect environment to have lean muscle gains. This is why intermittent fasting has become so popular among body builders
· Over a period of three to twenty four weeks, IF can cause a weight loss of between 3-8% (article here). Intermittent fasting helps you to lose belly fat, which will lower your risk for certain diseases
· IF increases testosterone, which will in turn elevate your levels of growth hormones. GH will help you to gain more muscle quickly.
· You will be more energetic, alert and focused while intermittently fasting. When you eat, you enter the ‘rest and digest’ phase, also called the parasympathetic mode. But, during a fast period, you enter the ‘fight or flight’ phase, also known as the sympathetic mode. In sympathetic mode, blood is rushed to your brain and muscles instead of your digestive system. Being in the rest and digest phase can make you sleepy and groggy, so therefore fasting makes you a more efficient worker or student.
· IF reduces inflammation (1) and oxidative stress (2) in the body. Inflammation can cause arthritis and tendonitis, and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Oxidative stress is one of the things that causes aging, and could play a part in developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s. Intermittent fasting may help your body to be more resistant to both.
What are the Problems With it? There are a few things that can make IF unsuitable for people who are working out.
· It can be really difficult to work out during fast periods, because you may have too little energy. It’s suggested that you work out during an eating block of time, so that you can eat before and after your workout
· If you have a high BMI, you may find the caloric restrictions too much. You’ll need to experiment to find a level that works for you.
· There is a small chance it can result in muscle loss or breakdown. This usually happens when people go over the 16 hour fasting mark. Sometimes when you fast for longer than 20 hours, it will deplete your liver glycogen (https://kinobody.com/intermittent-fasting-guide/) which puts you into a catabolic state. There will be more on that later.
How to Make Sure You Don’t Get Too Skinny: Intermittent fasting was started by people who wanted to lose weight, so weight loss will be an outcome. But, what are some of the things you can do to make sure you don’t get too skinny?
To avoid muscle breakdown, you should make sure to have the right balance between anabolic and catabolic states. Anabolism is your body’s process of using smaller molecules to build up more complex ones. Catabolism is what happens when muscle tissues are broken down. When your goal is to lose weight and not muscle, you’ll want to spend more time in an anabolic state and avoid the catabolic one.
Here are some types of exercises you can do to prevent catabolism and sustain anabolism (Source: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/catabolic_crushers.htm). This workout will help you gain muscle, without leaving you too hungry afterwards. Workouts that are under 20 minutes are best for fasters, that way you will build muscles without burning too many calories in the process.
· Day 1. For chest and abs: do a bench press, both incline barbell and flat dumbbell; 3 sets of 15. Follow it with 3 sets of 15 cable crushers, then 3 sets of 25 crunches.
· Day 2. For legs: do 3 sets of 15 of the following exercises: standing leg curl, lying leg curl, standing machine calf raise, dumbbell lunges, incline leg press, leg extension and barbell squat.
· Day 3. For arms: 3 sets of 15 of standing bicep curls, lying triceps extension, seated dumbbell shoulder press, and reverse fly.
· No matter which workout you choose, you must keep up with your exercises to prevent muscle loss from happening.
The best times to workout are early in the morning, or in the evening.
Late night workout sessions are convenient because you can eat a snack before working out, and then have your last meal of the day afterwards, before you go to bed. It’s good to take in the majority of your day’s calories after your workout. Doing this will make for an easy recovery, and you will use those calories to make lean muscle before they can be stored as fat. If you’re using the alternate day or one day a week method, it’s recommended to exercise on the days that you eat.
Leangains.com suggests working out on an empty stomach, and gives an example of training from 12-1pm, and then having your biggest meal of the day right afterwards. No matter when you decide to work out, the general consensus seems to be to eat a big meal after training to achieve the best results.
Why not give fasting a shot? If you’ve tried other methods of losing fat and haven’t had much success, or you’re looking for a diet that flexes with your lifestyle, then intermittent fasting could be a great option for you.
Author Bio: Rob Smith runs 500 Calorie Fitness, where he shares exercise advice and fast diet success stories to help inspire people to a happier and healthier lifestyle.