MAKING SENSE OF A CONFUSING TERM
In today’s health-obsessed culture we are bombarded with diets that promise increased energy, incredible weight loss or massive muscle gain (sometimes all at the same time). To discerning individuals, most are taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. Over the past few years, though, intermittent fasting has been increasingly popular with and advocated by wellness gurus who previously were staunch opponents of short form diets.
While the effects of intermittent fasting are only now being studied and starting to be understood by the medical community, there is some early evidence to point to the fact that intermittent fasting can have some fairly profound positive effects on the body – sustained weight loss, fat-burning hormones like leptin, focus and mental acuity, and lean body mass.
Here is a concise overview of what it is, how it works, and what protocols might be right for you.
The first thing to understand is that intermittent fasting is not a temporary diet. Rather, it is practiced on an ongoing basis. Fortunately, it is much less restrictive than most of what we call diets.
It is not always used for losing weight, but it can be effective for that.
Intermittent fasting can help you achieve different things. Some forms are geared toward muscle gain – most notably the leangains and similar programs preached by the likes of John Romaniello. A simple analogy is to think of it like yoga. There are many forms of yoga which suit different people for a whole medley of reasons, but they all rely on certain core principles that can be applied throughout.
So what are the different types of intermittent fasting and which is right for me?
Understand that your ideal protocol might be an aggregation of several ideas from different schools of thought. Figure out what works with your schedule and lifestyle, and keep a log of how you feel. Some people find they are energetic in the mornings and love to exercise in a fasted state, whereas others can feel irritable and foggy. Here are a few types of intermittent fasting to get you started:
ALTERNATIVE ONE: LEAN GAINS
This is the protocol that has had the most traction with people who are trying to put on muscle without much in the way of fat gain. Historically, the belief was that in any anabolic state (a period in which our body is building things) there would inevitably be some amount of fat put on alongside muscle gains. What the leangains method has done is create catabolic states on a regular basis such that the body goes through periods of extreme fat burning followed by anabolic states, such that the net fat gained is almost zero, while an individual can add several pounds of muscle. Without getting into too much detail, leangains involves fasting for 16 hours a day. Further, an individual works out at or near the end of their fast. A typical schedule ends up being something like the following:
7 AM: Wake up.
7:30 AM: Workout in your fasted state. By this point in your 16 hour fast, your glycogen stores are depleted. Your glycogen stores are the primary source of short term energy that your body draws upon when doing any strenuous activity. If they’re depleted, your body is forced to use other sources of energy – namely fat and a bit of muscle.
12 PM: Start eating. A protein shake will feed your muscles with amino acids alongside all sorts of healthy fats and carbohydrates to replenish the depleted glycogen stores.
2 PM – 6 PM: Lunch and several snacks.
8 PM: Final meal. Red meat, fish or poultry to provide a slow digesting protein alongside again lots of healthy fats that provide sustained energy. The cholesterol and healthy fat is useful while sleeping to create the ideal hormonal state for anabolic processes.
11:30 PM: Sleep. As you can see, this actually really means that the only meal you end up “skipping” seems to be breakfast. Now we’ve all heard the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – the argument being that it jump starts your metabolism. Most new research, however, suggests that the impact on your metabolism is less than previously believed, and simply having a few glasses of water or some coffee will have a similar effect.
ALTERNATIVE TWO: SINGLE DAY FAST
For those who can’t wrap their head around a daily fast or are simply more focused on weight loss, a one day cheat followed by a one day fast (a common practice is a Sunday cheat day followed by a Monday fast day). This protocol elicits similar weight loss as many conventional diets. Of course, this doesn’t mean twinkies are on the menu; generally healthy eating is necessary – but there is no need to eliminate carbs, fats, or animal byproducts. In fact, there is some research that shows having a cheat day, where you eat anything your heart desires, can elevate your leptin levels – the hormone instrumental in regulating fat loss.
Our leptin levels have a tendency to decrease as our fat stores decrease, hence losing the last five pounds is always harder. But by stimulating leptin production through a day full of naughty foods, and then following it with a fast, in which your body is ideally suited for fat burning, you are able to utilize the two pronged effect of higher leptin and depleted glycogen to create an ideal fat burning environment.
Since this only requires one day of fasting a week, making it a day like Monday where you are especially busy, the fast may pass by, hardly noticed. And, it’s not the end of the world if one incorporates a moderate cheat in the fast – having some bulletproof coffee to provide that boost you need to get through the day will not counteract all the benefits of the fast.
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