People are willing to jump through a lot of hoops in the quest for the body they want. Some of these hoops are a waste of time like many supplements, and others like Intermittent Fasting (IF) might be worth a look.
What is IF?
Intermittent Fasting is the practice of fasting for the majority of the day and eating all of your food in a small window of time. The idea is that since you’re only feeding yourself once during the day that your body will have to rely on fat stores though out the fasting hours for energy.
Some of the concept is based on how possibly our hunter gatherer ancestors might have eaten. The chances that they sat down to 3 square meals a day are pretty low. They may have only eaten 1 large meal after the hunt or something like that. I’m not a paleontologist.
Does IF work?
My personal experience with IF is very limited. I tried it a couple years ago but didn't like fasting so I gave up too soon to see the benefits. That said, I’ve studied it a bit and it does appear to work, and there is some evidence that it is beneficial for more than just fat loss.
But, like most things in regards to nutrition it depends on what your goals are and if it fits your training requirements.
Who is IF for?
It’s sure not for me. I like eating too much and not eating all day is too difficult. So first and foremost you need to be able to fast for 12-18 hours at a time. It’s my experience that 12 hours is doable if you sleep 8 or 9 hours but 18 hours is pretty rough.
It's not for all types of athletes either. I do not know any CrossFiters that follow IF. If you want to try it timing your meals is going to be important for recovery. IF also doesn’t lend itself to fueling multiple workouts a day. For those people concerned solely with aesthetics or being very lean (ie. body builders) IF might be something worth looking into. If you are a strength athlete like a powerlifter or strongman competitor IF is probably not the best option for you to be successful in your sport. It’s extremely difficult to eat the amount of food you need to consume in that small window of time.
If I was going to IF on my schedule it would look something like this. (First I’d reduce my training volume to once a day.)
- 4:45am Wake up
- 5:30am Workout
- 7:00am Meal 1 at Home
- 8:30am Meal 2 at Work
- 10:00am Meal 3 at Work
- 12:00pm Meal 4 Home at Lunch
- 8:00pm Go to Bed
I would be consuming all my food for the day between the hours of 7:00am and noon. This results in roughly 18 fasting hours 9 of which I’m sleeping. This leaves me with only 9 waking hours to be hungry. I think it makes the most sense to train in a fasted state and eat your meals directly after training. For some people being hungry may keep them awake at night, and you may need to adjust your training time or when you have your meals so you can sleep.
Whenever you choose to eat, it’s important that you don’t over eat. You should eat the same amount of food daily but fit it in that small window of time. Your meals should include animal protein, vegetables and fruit, some starches (sweet potato) and healthy fats. Because these meals need to fuel you for the next 18 hours you’ll want to pick nutrient dense sources of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Supplements and cheap carbs (sugar, grains, etc) won’t give the micro nutrients to sustain you through out the fast.
Jumping all in to IF might be rough for some people. It was for me. You might try gradually moving your meals closer together and getting used to the fasting portion of your day slowly. I've also read that about 12 hours is the minimum amount of fasted time to see any meaningful results, but results increase dramatically up to 18 hours and then level off after that.
As always be careful when messing with your nutrition. If you have specific goals or are preparing for a competition, it's not the best time to experiment. If you're going to try IF take detailed notes on when you ate, how much, how long your fast was, how your training is being effected, how you are sleeping and generally how you feel. It may help you lean out but if you're training is suffering or you don't have the energy to get through the day, it might not be a great fit for you.
Now go move better.