First, if you haven’t heard about Intermittent Fasting (IF), and their alleged health benefits, check out:
fasting once in a while seems to offer many of the same benefits of calorie restriction – you know, stuff like increased longevity, neuroprotection, increased insulin sensitivity, stronger resistance to stress, some cool effects on endogenous hormone production, increased mental clarity, plus more – but without the active, agonizing restriction. You just eat Primally, focusing on meat and vegetables with plenty of animal fat, and skip meals on occasion.
Interview with Martin Berkhan (Leangains) , a shorter protocol post and his Leangains guide that has some good links on notes on his way of IF that he recommends (Martin is totally jacked, so for the layperson just starting don’t get discouraged by the long-lead on implementing anything like this)
First off, I really like IF and do it intentionally and unintentionally fairly frequently (didn’t bring lunch yesterday and forgot it today, and usually don’t eat breakfast if I didn’t work out in the morning). With that said, I think it contributes to my current weird eating habits and I recognize in my normal day I’m not “doing” it correctly.
As I’ve noted before, I eat pretty much Paleo + Dairy. No bread or flour. Occasional snacks like granola bars, but that’s really the only grains I eat besides the social function pizza or birthday cake that not immune to. I’m far from perfect though, eating ice cream probably too frequently and too frequently imbibing in my homebrew wine or other distilled spirits. But overall, I’m ok with my diet and have even and steady energy and blood sugar day-in and day-out regardless of if I IF or not. No blood sugar spikes here.
Contrast that to earlier days when I’d have low-fat cereal or some breakfast bar in the morning. Crash-city mid morning where I’d be ravenous. These days, I’ll skip breakfast entirely, unless I work out in the morning in which case I will fry up a few eggs and veggies before getting out the door. My first meal on most days is lunch. Occasionally, like yesterday and today, I’ll go from a midnight snack (more on this in a second) to dinner at 5-6:00 pm. Then I’ll fill up with a delicious roast, potatoes, and carrots (or a large amount of chicken or beef taco meat and fixins, or similar). Then I’ll probably eat again before bed as I usually am hungry again (I don’t stuff myself like at Thanksgiving dinner, just maybe a little more than usual). I don’t really count calories or carbs or anything, just sort of eat until I feel satiated.
For me, the longer fasting periods work better if I don’t work out, because if I do work out after fasting I do feel like I lose a little energy and boost in my lifts. I know the links above says that performance shouldn’t be impacted, but I find it does. I do like working out on an near empty stomach, but not eating for a while beforehand does seem to impact my workouts. And after working out in either short or long fasting duration I NEED to get a protein shake then eat shortly thereafter following the workout. That’s where I am about to crash. Even when fasting prior to a workout though, I’m able to get through the lifting or HIIT without crashing and burning, it just feels a little more lethargic than normal.
Now I fasted frequently as a high school wrestler, where cutting weight often comes with the territory. I’m used to that feeling, but honestly, fasting and feeling “a little hungry” isn’t that uncomfortable if you’re not a carb monster. If you’ve turned paleo and are eating good fats, and meat and aren’t going too crazy on the carbs, your body will have gotten used to a decent set point already using your own fat stores. I think IF further promotes this aspect as well, and the studies seem to support this.
What I find though, is that this approach to eating (skipping breakfast, occasional longer IF) has led to me waking up hungry, needing food and midnight snacking. Nearly every night I find myself eating nuts or a bowl of cottage cheese or maybe some ice cream. I think if I ate normal meal schedule I wouldn’t do this. And I’m sure this, along with the other dietary choices, contribute to me being unable to lose that last 5-10 lb of fat. My weight has been consistent for a few years now, and body composition (especially now that I have visible muscles) is still better than most, but I’m no different than anyone else in feeling 10% bodyfat is better than 15%.
So you can be strict and follow the Leangains protocol, or do like me and let it come naturally. Eating like this is very easy and I’m able to maintain my workouts and body composition with little effort. I think a few tweaks (like teetotalling and actually eating more “good” food before bed instead of leaving my midnight dieting snacks to my half-asleep brain) would leave me looking even better, but I personally really like IF as part of a long-term and sustainable healthy living approach.
With all that said, if I was trying to gain muscle and weight, like I was a few years ago, or if you were a Lift Big Eat Big kind of gal or girl, or really trying to gain strength for a competition, I would not do IF. Now Martin at Leangains may find success with this, but I think if you really want to feed more muscles for growth, you need to simply eat more.
If you’ve tried it, I’d be interested in hearing your experiences as well.