MY DEFINITION OF INTERMITTENT FASTING (IF)
The dietary practice of periodically going for extended periods of time without eating. Since we all fast every single day for 12 hours (if your last meal is at 8pm and your next meal is at 8am). This is known as a 12/12 fast. You eat for 12 hours a day and fast for 12 hours a day. It’s just one technique of thousands of fat loss techniques to contribute towards a caloric deficit – the determining factor of whether you lose fat or not.
IF IS SIMPLY ANOTHER TOOL…
Just like any other training or diet tool, intermittent fasting is simply another tool in your tool box for building your dream body. Intermittent fasting can be a tremendous addition to certain individuals and completely unnecessary for other individuals. This article will take an unbiased stance and touch on some of the pros, cons and my own personal experience, which I think you’ll find quite interesting.
Just like My Complete Opinion On Cheat Days and Fat Loss article, I do not have any emotional attachment to intermittent fasting and I’m not attempting to argue for or against the benefits of IF. I admit that it can be a very effective approach for solving a number of health and body composition related problems. However, after reviewing some research, it’s still very spotty and an approach I believe is extremely dependent on the individual. This will make sense shortly…
For me, it’s very hard to say if it’s a more superior or inferior method because I’ve experienced exceptional results with intermittent fasting and without intermittent fasting. Take a look at my results….
195 lbs & 5.5% Body Fat – 14 Weeks Of Dieting Without IF
Not Sure My Stats – 3 Weeks Of Dieting With Fast Days Every 5th Day!
WHEN HISTORY MEETS RESEARCH
(Borrowed from Dr. John Berardi’s Research on his site).
Intermittent fasting is nothing new. Humans have fasted for most of their history, whether it’s during the typical overnight period, during more extended periods of food scarcity, or for religious reasons.
What is new is that clinical research on IF’s benefits for health and longevity is beginning to catch up.
Data show that IF, when done properly, might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain (or maintain) lean mass, and more.
Rather than something we’re forced to endure – a result of poor food availability or cultural expectations – IF is becoming something that health and physique-oriented people are seeking out in order to keep their bodies in top shape.
The proposed benefits of IF in animals and humans read like a laundry list of “look better,” “feel better,” “live longer” physiological changes. These include:
- blood lipids (including decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol)
- blood pressure (perhaps through changes in sympathetic/parasympathetic activity)
- markers of inflammation (including CRP, IL-6, TNF, BDNF, and more)
- oxidative stress (using markers of protein, lipid, and DNA damage)
- risk of cancer (through a host of proposed mechanisms; we’ll save them for another review)
- cellular turnover and repair (called autophagocytosis)
- fat burning (increase in fatty acid oxidation later in the fast)
- growth hormone release later in the fast (hormonally mediated)
- metabolic rate later in the fast (stimulated by epinephrine and norepinephrine release)
- appetite control (perhaps through changes in PPY and ghrelin)
- blood sugar control (by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity)
- cardiovascular function (by offering protection against ischemic injury to the heart)
- effectiveness of chemotherapy (by allowing for higher doses more frequently)
- neurogenesis and neuronal plasticity (by offering protection against neurotoxins)
13 Insights, From Personal Experience, On Intermittent Fast Days…
1. I found I was using fast days as a band aid to a bigger problem. For example, I would blow my diet and eat like a glutton on Saturday and rationalize my thoughtless decision to pig out by saying, “I’ll just fast on Sunday.” Fasting is a powerful tool that can be used as “damage control” and to prevent “spillage” but if I had just managed my food choices better on Saturday I would not have to fast Sunday. Thinking you can “fix” a bad food day by slapping a fast day is pretty cool if you do it a few times a year but an extreme approach that can wreck your energy levels and gym performance if done too often.
2. Not eating for 24 hours is not as bad as you might think. I will admit, after 6-8 hours into my first fast day I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna die! This is not healthy. I’m losing muscle. I’m not going to be able to train. This is so stupid. I need to eat. Oh my gosh, I’m gonna die!” If you have those thoughts, that’s normal. We’ve been conditioned to believe going extended periods of time will “damage” your metabolism. If it was possible to “damage” your metabolism, I don’t think I would have achieved 5% body fat in the first picture above because I have done some crazy things with my diet. The coolest thing about not eating for an entire day was to say, “I just fasted for 24 hours and don’t feel too bad!” People looked at me like I was crazy and surprised I had survived the traumatic experience!
3. You wake up 1-2 hours earlier the next day! Your body expands about 70% of your energy each day on digestion. Imagine not eating for an entire day. I normally wake up around 7am and after a fast day I will be wide awake around 5 am. Get ready for a long productive day!
4. After a fast day, you’ll feel mentally tougher and confident to stick to your diet. My good friend John Romaniello preaches that intermittent fasting helps you distinguish between “head hunger” and the real thing. Awareness of what it really feels like to be hungry is a powerful tool. Knowing the difference will allow you to better manage your appetite, portions and cravings. I couldn’t agree more. When you go an entire day without eating foods you once thought, “I can’t live without…” you build up enormous belief in yourself by feeling victorious. The feeling of self confidence and achievement about yourself can set the tone for another day of clean eating. Fasting is a powerful experience makings you mentally tougher to sticking with your diet. Heck, if you can go 24 hours without eating bad food than why can’t you go a few hours?
5. You discover how much food influences you and your life. I had no idea how much my life revolved around food until I actually made a decision to not eat for 24 hours. Having fast days identified (stupid) reasons why I ate. For example, every time I go to the movies I feel compelled to get an extra large bag of buttery popcorn, a big bag of M&M’s and sometimes even New York Fries. When going to the movies on a fast day I realized that I really didn’t need to eat 2000 plus calories (with over 60 grams of saturated fat) at 10pm at night in one sitting! I had simply created a bad habit and fast days helped me break that habit. Every once and awhile I do go crazy at the movies though!
6. Fast days are great to break bad habits. After returning from a 30 day honeymoon in Europe, I had packed on over 20 pounds of fat from eating too many banana nutella crepes, ice cream, baguettes, pizza and late night multi-course dinners that were always accompanied by a bottle of red wine, sometimes two. When returning to reality, my wife and I needed to find our bodies buried under all this fat and knew once a week fast days for a month would mentally get us back on track. Once we got dialed into our diets and lifestyle, we dropped the fast days. They were simply a tool to create some positive momentum in our life and break some bad habits.
7. Fast days will accelerate your fat loss. It’s not rocket science. Eating 6 days a week instead of 7 days a week will increase your chances of being in a caloric deficit, the primary mechanism behind fat loss. You also burn fat instead of sugar. When you eat your body burns the sugar first, fat second. When you fast, your body has little option but to use stored body fat for energy. The question you must ask is this: “If I can achieve the caloric deficit necessary to lose fat without fasting, why should I fast?!”
8. Fast days are not OPTIMAL for physique athletes. If you hired me to get you ready for a photo shoot or absolutely shredded, there is a 110% chance we will not use intermittent fasting – assuming we have enough time to meet your deadline. I would prefer to taper your calories down gradually without any extreme caloric drops that will compromise training intensity, considering you need fuel to maximize performance in your workout. For myself, during contest prep, I train 10-12 hours over a six day period and take one complete rest day. My training volume and intensities command a daily and regular intake of carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals or else my performance suffers and when you performance suffers, your physique suffers.
Put it this way: the more you train in a fasted state, the smaller you’ll get over time. If you’re not competing in a show, knock yourself out. Now, I understand there are some really ripped and muscular guys who promote IF (for 36-hour periods every other day!) so I’ve been asked, “What about so and so? He’s still muscular and fasts 36-hours every other day…” I would simply say, “He would be even MORE muscular if he didn’t fast .” Also, I question anybodies training intensity if they are able to do a 36-hour fast every other day. The more regular you train, the hungrier you become and the greater your calorie and nutrient needs increase.
9. Fasting can help prevent spillage during a bulking program for skinny guys. I prefer not to use IF as a band aid, but many skinny guys tend to pack on more fat than muscle while bulking up and planning a fast day once every month can help manage body fat levels. Just understand, you would be better off learning how to taper your calories up gradually.
10. My favourite time to fast is from 6pm Sunday night till Tuesday morning. That’s actually 36 hours in total and that’s what I consider a true fast. Fasting from 6pm Sunday till 6pm Monday is easy. Anybody can do that. If you’re going to fast I recommend doing the 36 hour version.
11. Fast days are great to schedule on days you’re super busy or travelling. I’ll admit. I’ve abused the use of fast days by planning one on a busy work day because I’m just too lazy to cook that day. Don’t get me wrong, you get an enormous amount of work done considering you don’t have to cook, eat or clean! I also like them after a weekend trip where I blew my diet. The day I fly home is a day I’ll fast. John Romaniello refers this as the Feast/Fast and it certainly has a time and place. Just don’t abuse it.
12. Fast days combined with exercise are a deadly weapon for losing fat. If you have more than 25 pounds of fat to lose than this one is for you. If you’re already lean than I wouldn’t mess around with this, it’s not worth it and not necessary. My good friend, Joel Marion, employs fast days while training not once, or twice but sometimes even three times a day during a fast day. Very, very hardcore and he recently did this successfully to drop over 40 pounds of fat in less than 12 weeks! He told me about this method 1.5 years ago and I took him up on his challenge and fasted every 5th day while training twice a day in a fasted state. I did that for three weeks before my trip to Punta Cana where I took that 2nd picture above and learned a lot from the experience.
13. The research is still spotty…
The research study I want to see will show the results when calorie-controlled, nutrient-dense, healthy IF diets are compared to calorie-controlled, nutrient-dense, healthy diets that don’t use extended fasts. Only when these studies are done will we really know whether the magic is in the IF – or in improving food amount and food selection. It’s important to mention two things you won’t find on a pro-IF website. Here are two problems Berardi points out in his report:
Although animals (like rats and monkeys) are convenient test subjects, they’re not perfect models for predicting human response patterns. So, all the animal data suggesting strong benefits with IF aren’t necessarily helpful in predicting what will happen when humans try it.
When we look to the human data, we find – disappointingly – that experiments using IF are very limited. Also, those experiments that have been done often use poor experimental control groups. This makes their descriptive and predictive power limited.
I know this is annoying. I wish science were done perfectly every time, too. But right now, based on the available research, we’re left with far more questions about IF than answers. Nothing is definitive.
As a side note, none of this is surprising. Human subjects are notoriously hard to recruit for research projects, unless they’re well-paid, especially for projects that seem inconvenient or uncomfortable.
With IF, you’ve got a double-whammy. First, IF studies don’t sound all that attractive. (“Come to our lab so we can starve you for a day.”) Second, there aren’t many big-dollar companies lining up to fund studies that support not eating.
Whether that’s standard rat-chow (in the case of our furry little friends) or the North American diet (for our slightly larger friends), neither diet is best for health, body composition, or performance. In comparing study participants using IF strategies to those using suboptimal dietary intakes without fasting, we are actually “stacking the deck” in favour of IF.
How so? To start, the standard North American diet is often hyper-energetic – we eat more than we burn – which leads to weight gain over time. Since IF protocols often lead to a negative energy balance – burning more than we eat – the comparison isn’t exactly fasting vs. non-fasting. It’s more like a comparison between under-eating and over-eating. And that limits what such studies can actually tell us about intermittent fasting.
You see, almost all controlled calorie studies – not just the IF ones – show improvements in a wide spectrum of health and body composition markers, especially when body weight and body fat are lost in the process.
So maybe it’s not the IF protocol that’s leading to all the benefits described above. Maybe it’s just burning more than we eat that makes all the difference.
MY FINAL ADVICE ON IF
As I always preach, “Body transformation is not only a science but an art.” By the time the research arrives on the validity of IF, it’ll be too late to test it out during your golden years. There’s no reason to wait for the research to start experimenting with IF and living better.
However, if you have not mastered the essentials of nutrition, I don’t suggest jumping on the IF bandwagon until you build a strong foundation of nutritional habits to optimize body composition, performance and health. Without the foundation, IF is just another “magic shiny object” and once you stop, you’ll be screwed.
If you’re intrigued by IF and want a step-by-step program, I recommend you check out John Romaniello’s Fat Loss Forever System being released tomorrow. It’s the most comprehensive IF system that I’ve reviewed and it will give you a chance to explore some of the IF protocols and conduct some self-experimentation on yourself!
WHY SHOULD YOU SELF EXPERIMENT?
Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading as much as I can on what type of IF fasting protocol is best for different goals – whether it’s bodybuilding, fat loss, longevity or disease prevention. Essentially, everyone is just guessing and sharing their own experiences (as I have above) on themselves and with their clients and I see nothing wrong with that ASSUMING you’re not making your opinion on IF based on what you read, but rather what you tried. Before you make your final opinion on IF, as with everything, ensure you include some self-experimentation.
And as they great saying goes, “The cream always rises to the top” and I believe, in time, the best IF protocols will show themselves but until then, forget what research hasn’t yet proven. Establish the essential nutrition practices first, then add an IF protocol to your diet and wait until you have an experience to form some data. After that, tweak away!
If you want to get started with your own IF experiment, check out John Romaniello’s Fat Loss Forever System dedicated to IF.
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