Done properly fasting can be very beneficial for improving health and accelerating fat loss. There are many different types of fasts, but the most popular and practical is called intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting gives your body more time to effectively digest what you are eating and eliminate waste.
You can get most of, if not all, the same benefits of fasting, with intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting involves reducing your food intake in whole or in part, either a few days a week, every other day or daily. The most popular way to do intermittent fasting is to restrict your daily food intake to a specific window of time - typically a six to eight-hour timeframe each day.
For example, if you skip breakfast and make lunch the first meal of your day, you might restrict your food intake to the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. If you are a breakfast lover, your window could be between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The key is to eat only two meals, and to ensure you eat the last meal at least three hours before bedtime. When you eat three or more meals a day, you rarely, if ever, empty your glycogen stores (storage form of glucose – mostly in your liver), mainly because it takes about eight to 12 hours to burn the sugar stored in your body as glycogen.
By fasting about 14 to 16 hours a day, you give your body enough time to drain your glycogen stores and shift into fat-burning mode. This pushes your body to use fat as a fuel. Because fat is a slow-burning fuel, you will not only have a more balanced energy supply, but you will also avoid the typical sugar "highs" and "lows" that come with typical diets.
While you will undoubtedly feel hungry on occasion, that is perfectly normal. Once your body adjusts, you may be surprised to discover how much less food you will consume to feel completely satisfied. In many cases your food cravings literally disappear once you have regained your ability to burn fat for fuel.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting provides a number of health benefits including:
- Forces the body to become efficient at burning fat as the primary fuel which helps eliminate sugar cravings
- Increases growth hormone to help build muscle and promote overall health and wellness
- Enhances brain health and helps prevent neurological disorders like Alzheimer's
- Reduces oxidative stress and fights aging and diseases like cancer
- Lowers triglycerides and reduces inflammation
- Dramatically boosts brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons.
- Dramatically increases the process of Autophagy
Benefits of Autophagy
During the bio-energetic challenge of exercising or fasting, autophagy is increased. This stimulates stem-cells including muscle stem cells which can help prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging). So, intermittent fasting can help maintain the regenerative capacity of muscle stem cells.
There are three ways to boost autophagy: exercise, fasting, and nutritional ketosis.
Who Can Benefit from Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can benefit just about everyone, but athletes may benefit even more. A 2016 study that tracked the effects of intermittent fasting on 34 resistance-trained men found that restricting their eating to an eight-hour window positively affected several health-related biomarkers, while decreasing fat mass and maintaining muscle mass.
While additional studies need to be completed to further investigate the effects of intermittent fasting on athletes, it seems that intermittent fasting could be used during maintenance phases of training when the goal is to maintain muscle mass while reducing fat mass.
The Importance of Proper Food Choices during Intermittent Fasting
During intermittent fasting and reduced food intake, your food choices are very important. Since you'll be eating less, it's vitally important that you get proper nutrition from your food. Healthy fats are essential because intermittent fasting pushes your body to switch over to fat-burning. Particularly if you begin to feel tired and sluggish, it may be a sign that you need to increase the amount of healthy fat in your diet.
Cutting net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) is equally important. Focus on:
- High quality fat intake in the form of avocados, coconut oil, organic grass-fed butter, organic egg yolks and nuts.
- Moderate amounts of high-quality protein from organically raised, grass-fed or pastured animals, which translates to no more than 40 to 80 grams of protein per day
- High amounts of fresh, low-net-carb vegetables, ideally organic
Contraindications for Fasting
Although most people can safely benefit from intermittent fasting, it's important to take caution if you have certain health challenges. Do NOT use fasting unless approved by your physician if any of the following are true:
- You are underweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less
- You are malnourished
- Children should NOT fast! They need nutrients for continued growth; if your child is obese, consider cutting him or her back on refined grains and sugar to promote weight loss
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should NOT fast because a consistent flow of nutrients must be shared continually with the baby to ensure its well-being
- If you take medications that should be taken with food you will need to be very cautious about fasting and consult with your physician first. This is especially true for diabetics and those with gout.