Hop off your computer (if you’re on your phone this can be interactive homework) and take a little stroll down the street this January. Ask the first 10 people you see what their fitness goal for 2015 happens to be. I’d be willing to bet my left arm, the one that looks better flexed, that 9/10 want to lose fat. They might express it some way or another, but it all comes down to fat loss.
Does anyone have a plan for making this happen? Everyone knows what they need to do, but it doesn’t change the fact that losing weight, specifically body fat, is hard. Really hard.
The fact that it’s hard to do won’t ever change. Diet and exercise are key, but there are also other tools you can add that might be your missing piece to your unique fat loss puzzle. I present to you: fasting, intermittent style.
Yes, the fasting that people normally associate with crazy hippies.
Fasting isn’t just for tree hugging hippies. It’s for the average person out there who exercises, eats right, and still can’t figure out why the weight isn’t coming off like they want to.
What is fasting?
Fasting in its simplest form is going an extended period without food. Everyone already practices some sort of fasting. It’s what happens when you hit the sack at night and wake up in the morning to eat your breakfast. That awesome meal that usually involves bacon AND waffles.
Intermittent fasting is a program in which you plan your fasts. There’s a few different forms. Some people elect to just do a 24 hour fast once or twice per week. Brad Pilon and his Eat Stop Eat program might be the most well-known proponent of this program. John Romaniello also contributed something along these lines with his Feast Then Fast method. In other words, enjoy your cheat day to the full extent. Go hard in the paint. Then start fasting, and fast for 24-36 hours. 36 hours may sound crazy, but keep in mind a good bit of that is spent sleeping depending on when your last meal is and when you break your fast.
Others elect for a 16 hour fast and 8 hour eating window each day of the week. Leangains is a popular program that adds uses this method. This is also the method I use. I love breakfast foods, I just don’t happen to like breakfast. Most days I won’t have my first meal until around 12, and break my fast with a post workout shake.
This is a popular method for many who feel the same way about breakfast. The 16 hour fast and 8 hour eating window can be whenever you want. You can eat from noon to 8pm and then enact your fast. Or from 2pm to 10pm. What matters is that you fast 16 hours, as that seems to be the cutoff for when you really start to reap the benefits.
If the Leangains method seems tough because you are restricted to only working out in the early mornings or late evenings (keep in mind, you want to break your fast with a post-workout meal) then the 24 hour fast once or twice per week is probably your protocol.
What fasting IS NOT:
Intermittent fasting is NOT the same thing as going on a juice cleanse, or some fast cleanse. Juice fasts are a popular way for people to do a detox, but they differ greatly from intermittent fasting protocol. With a juice fast no real food is eaten, and the actual juice fast can realistically only be sustained for around a week – two weeks.
Intermittent fasting is NOT a way for you to justify binges, eating 2,000 calories above what you should be. Calories, above all else, still matter the most. If you should only be eating 2,000 calories a day, but you start the Leangains method and eat 5,000, then it won’t work.
Feast Then Fast is the only method that advocates this style of grubbing then fasting, and that is only practiced once per week, and only if the dieter is sufficiently lean enough to see benefit from it.
Granted, it may be really hard to eat that much in a short amount of time because of the small eating window. Most people find that due to that short eating window 2-3 larger meals are the way to go.
Why go about it this way?
Isn’t breakfast the most important meal of the day? Won’t I lose all of my gainz, go catabolic, and become scrawny instead of brawny? And what is considered breaking my fast?
In short, no. It doesn’t work that way.
During a fast, especially if you’re training fasted, you will catabolize some muscle tissue. That’s inevitable. That’s not the end of the world, though. You’re gainz won’t disappear. In fact, muscle protein synthesis, or building muscle, may be higher in your meals after a fast.
Breaking your fast is a bit ambiguous. Some say keep it under 100 calories and you’re technically still fasting. Others say just plain BCAA’s break your fast due to leucine signaling to your brain that you are “fed.” Regardless, it seems that coffee, water, some aminos, and maybe a tiny bite of something aren’t really going to break your fast or ruin the benefits of fasting.
Fasting brings about some pretty cool hormonal changes in your body that have awesome impacts on not only your health. In fact it seems that those who fast wind up living longer and with better health, and a better physique.
Fasting offers a way to kind of “reset” your hormones.
Specifically the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Both of which are associated with hunger. Ghrelin tends to be present more when you’re eating, and leptin the opposite. Leptin plays a big role in another set of hormones that are released from the thyroid, namely T3/T4. Which happen to be so powerful that some bodybuilders use it as a drug to get rid of fat. Yeah, it’s pretty powerful.
Fasting also helps with insulin sensitivity, which everyone can be a fan of. Just like ghrelin and leptin, when you’re sensitive to insulin that means it works more efficiently. Which helps you drop fat, build muscle, and fight off the beetus (read: diabetes).
Not so fast, Speed Racer, we’re not done with hormones yet. Fasting also prolongs the release of growth hormone. The magic hormone that you hear athletes injecting to recover faster, grow muscles that have muscles, and become generally better at everything. If that doesn’t tell you that you want more growth hormone I’m not sure what else will, except for the fact that growth hormone tends to offset cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that in high quantities can cause excess fat gain. Making growth hormone awesome in terms of recovery and gainz, but also fat loss.
Fasting only brings about very temporary hormonal changes, just like weight lifting. Just short term changes themselves won’t make a big difference. But over time after plenty of short term changes, those eventually become long term changes. Which means good things for your health and waistline.
While hormones play a big role in fat loss, they’re not the end all be all. Fasting aids in fat loss through other avenues as well.
When you fast, you don’t eat. Which means your body has to find some source of energy, usually coming from fat. The average person generally has 90,000 calories of stored fat, so good luck burning through all of that. (Even if you could burn through all of that, you wouldn’t want to. Your energy would plummet, you’d be freezing all the time, and you’d probably die. Having some fat is pretty essential.)
But thanks to the excess fat burned just to stay alive, that means that all of the sudden your workouts and diet become that more effective. Instead of a two pronged approach to fat loss that focuses on just diet and exercise, you know have a full three prongs waging war on fat for you.
A little talked-about benefit to fasting is also the fact that it plays a major role in helping deal with hunger management, which is something all dieters are familiar with. If you diet, you’re going to eat fewer calories. It’s a fact of life. Fasting provides an excellent tool in which to handle those hunger cravings, increasing the success of dieting and the struggles that may come with it.
Fasting isn’t for everyone.
There’s no hiding that fasting requires a specific kind of commitment, dedication to complete your fasts, and a little bit of craziness. It’s not for the guy looking to put on 30lbs of muscle. Nor is it usually for the triathlete who wants to qualify for a trip to Kona. If you have experienced an eating disorder in the past, you probably don’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. It does happen to work for quite a few people though. The idea may sound absurd to you… but so did sliced bread to our great-grandparents. If your diet and exercise program isn’t giving the results you want, it can’t hurt to give it a try. In the end, we’re all in this together. We all want to be happy, ripped, and healthy. Fasting just might be your ticket there.