The Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting
You've probably heard the hype surrounding Intermittent Fasting in the last few years.
What exactly is it? How does it work? Does it help you to lose weight? Does it live up to the hype?
This ultimate guide will explain the real science behind Intermittent Fasting, and whether it will help you to meet your goals effectively.
Intermittent Fasting could be a good tool to help you lose fat, but its not as magical as the hype.
Exercising in a Fasted State could help you lose more belly fat.
Intermittent Fasting and Fasted Training isn't for everybody.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Broadly speaking, Intermittent Fasting refers to restricting your meals to a certain "window" during the day and fasting the rest of the time.
One of the more popular program calls for you to fast for 16 hours a day, and "allows" you to eat within only an 8-hour window.
Some other programs push that further to fasting for 20 hours and eating for 4 hours.
Intermittent Fasting doesn't simply mean starving yourself for 16 hours a day. By fasting, what we actually mean is to put your body into a "fasted" state.
Throughout the day, your body constantly moves from "fasted" to "fed" states. When you consume food, insulin in your body increases in order to absorb the nutrients into your body. Once it has done its job, it slowly decreases back down to a base level (between 3-6 hours) and this is where your body is in a "fasted" state.
The Myths of Intermittent Fasting
So what are some of the benefits touted by fitness gurus, influencers, and even prominent celebrities?
1. Burn more fat and store less fat with Intermittent Fasting.
Unfortunately, the notion that just because you put your body in a fasted state for longer, your body burns more fat during the day, or that it somehow stores less fat when you eat in a fasted state, has no scientific basis.
While there are definitely scientifically proven benefits to regular fasting, such as reducing systemic inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, and increasing growth hormones.
They do not, however, magically help you to lose fat without any effort.
2. Eat whatever you want during the 8-hour window, and you won't get fat.
The idea is that because you eat in a smaller window, your body processes the food differently, and you can essentially eat as much as you want, anything you want, and you won't get fat.
As good as fasting is for your body, it isn't able to violate the laws of energy balance, which we've discussed in a prior article. Summarised into this graphic below.
Nothing beats energy balance. You can spread out your meals or condense them as much as you like, your body responds according to how much calories you feed it, and how much calories you expend through exercise.
3. When you exercise in a fasted state, you burn more fat, especially stubborn belly fat.
True, but with caveats.
There are scientific evidence behind exercising in a fasted state and its reported benefits.
Studies have shown that fasted training increases both lipolysis and fat oxidation rates. Meaning your body mobilizes and burns more fat during exercise when you are fasted rather than fed.
There is also evidence that blood flow to the abdominal region during exercise increases when in a fasted state. Which helps to lose belly fat.
However, there are some major caveats to these benefits: Increased muscle breakdown and really really sucky workouts.
To put it simply, when your body is exercising in a fasted state, it not only burns fat for energy, it burns muscles as well. As we've discussed in prior articles, we want to maintain as much lean muscle mass as we can, as this helps us to achieve our fat loss goals.
The second caveat is really sucky workouts. This is understandable because you are not fueling your body adequately for the exertion, and thus, you get that nauseous feeling associated with having low blood sugar levels.
The bottom line is, fasted training can be beneficial for fat loss, but not so good if you want to maintain muscle mass or to enjoy your workouts to the fullest.
The Truths of Intermittent Fasting
Now that we have busted some of the myths surrounding Intermittent Fasting, what are some of the truths that we can take away from this to aid in your fat loss goals?
1. Intermittent Fasting COULD help you to lose fat.
As we've just discussed, Intermittent Fasting isn't magic, it DOES NOT magically burn more fat. However, what it could help you achieve is consume fewer calories during the day simply because you are restricting your time of eating to a smaller window, essentially stopping you from unwanted snacking.
This isn't magically burning more fat, it's more like tricking yourself psychologically to consume less food.
However, this form of dieting may not be right for everyone, and could easily backfire on you if you're not aware of your own body's cues.
Generally, if you don't feel overly restricted by the fasting window and you're able to eat enough to keep your body fueled for the day before your next fasting window, Intermittent Fasting could be a really good tool for you to control the calories you consume.
But if you REALLY struggle to keep to the fasting window and have a tendency to binge once its time for you to eat, this might actually negatively impact you. As we've mentioned, you can't just eat whatever you want just because of Intermittent Fasting either. Calories are still calories no matter when you consume them.
2. Fasted Training COULD help you to lose stubborn belly fat.
If done correctly, you could couple intermittent fasting with fasted training to help to lose belly fat.
By training in a "fasted state" during your fasting window, you are able to maximize your workout in terms of fat loss.
The TYPE of workouts you do in a fasted state is important as well. Hence, we recommend that you consult a qualified coach before attempting fasted training.
Try It Out!
If you managed to read through this article, congrats! That was a long one to read through.
Or maybe you skipped through all the info on top and you just want the juicy bits of how to actually go about trying Intermittent Fasting, here's our advice.
Fast from 9 pm to 1 pm the next day. Have your first meal of the day (lunch) at 1 pm, and eat during the rest of the afternoon as long as you are hungry, and stop after your last meal (dinner) at 9 pm.
We found that this is generally the easiest format to follow as most people are generally used to eating big meals for lunch and dinner. So this ensures that you are getting sufficient calories and your body is used to processing food at those times. This format also has the added benefit of stopping you from snacking during those midnight cravings.
If you work on shift and the conventional lunch and dinner times are difficult for you to adhere to, feel free to tweak it to suit your lifestyle.
Technically, Intermittent Fasting works as long as you fast for 16 hours, and eat within an 8-hour window. So look at your current lifestyle habits and your regular eating schedule and determine what timing best suits you. It's pointless for us to give you a set time, but if that doesn't fit into your regular schedule, it would be almost impossible to be consistent in it.
Try it out for 3-4 weeks, you should be able to reasonably conclude whether Intermittent Fasting is able to keep your cravings at bay, or it's just not right for you.
Even if Intermittent Fasting isn't for you, fret not! You can still reach your goals by consistently building good habits, which is ultimately what we advocate for and aim to help people achieve.