One of the hottest concepts out right now in terms on nutrition is IF, aka Intermittent Fasting. This new idea is very controversial to say the least, as it goes against the grain of traditional eating as we know it in the fitness world. So to get started let’s answer what is intermittent fasting?
To break it down simple stupid, intermittent fasting is nothing more than fasting in a structured time format each day. This means you will be fasting – not eating – for a period ranging from 16-36 hours pending on which format you choose all having various benefits. Think of it like interval training when you are working out. Intermittent fasting is interval training when you are eating.
The most common example would be a person eats between 12 noon and 8 pm and then would fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day. They would only eat between that 8 hour window: noon and 8 pm. You eat for 8 hours, you fast for 16 hours. Sounds crazy right? Well, once you learn a little science and benefits of this method, it starts to sound less and less crazy.
If you think about your day, odds are you sleep between 5-9 hours per night with no food coming in. Well that my friends is fasting. You are eating nothing for those 5-9 hours. If you don’t eat an hour or two before bed you are adding even more fasting time into your day. Now the 16 hours doesn’t seem so insane when you think about it in those terms.
There is a lot of kick back to this method of eating. Let’s tackle the biggest issues...
Breakfast, the Most Important Meal of the Day?
“But I was told breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Now I am not saying breakfast isn’t important, and for some people it does have some benefits. However, most Americans do eat something for breakfast; close to 90% or so, according to NPD’s MealScape 2011 study.
On the same note most Americans are not in great shape. Obesity in this country is out of control. My question is if breakfast is “so important”, and almost everyone eats breakfast, why are we so out of shape? A big factor is the choices we make at breakfast. Visit your local coffee shop what are they serving... cookies, muffins, fritters, cakes. The list goes on and on.
Eating a healthy, clean breakfast can help certain people, but if you think drinking orange juice and having a bagel is a good start to your day, think again. I would much rather have you eat absolutely nothing than a sugar packed carbohydrate breakfast.
I haven’t had breakfast in over a year. I don’t miss it, and I am in the best shape of my life. The point is that breakfast is not essential, nor is it required to be in great shape. Intermittent fasting proves that.
Frequent Feeding, an Essential Eating Style?
Jumping into the next huge issue: “I was told I need to eat 7 meals a day every 2-3 hours.”
For years we believed you need to eat every few hours to raise your metabolic rate, and that you need to eat every few hours or your muscle mass would disappear. I told clients to eat every few hours for years, and for many clients I still do, but not for the reason of raising their metabolic rate.
I used to think by eating every few hours the thermic effect of this food would raise your metabolic rate. The reality is that it makes no difference if you eat 7 meals, 3 meals, or 1 meal a day, as long as your calories and macronutrients are in check.
I know this is blowing many of you away right now, but there is extensive literature on this, especially the 16-8 method. For more information research a guy named Martin Berkhan of Lean Gains. The new idea is that meal frequency makes no difference as long as you’re getting in the proper amount of calories and macronutrient breakdown each day.
At this point, the main reason I tell clients to eat every few hours is so that they avoid over-eating due to lack of willpower, or what they perceive to be hunger throughout the day. I no longer believe eating every few hours raises your metabolic rate and burns more calories.
I feel everyone should try some form of intermittent fasting just to see if it’s for them. I don’t believe everyone has to try it, nor do I believe it’s the best option for everyone. I do think it can benefit a vast majority of Americans if they were to try it out.
I personally practice the 16-8 method for a majority of the year, and at times will practice the 20-4 method or “Warrior Style” made popular by the “Warrior Diet” books. I find it works best for my lifestyle. No more living out of Tupperware, eating every few hours and worrying that if I missed a meal all my gains would be lost.
For my goals it has been amazing, and it’s made my nutrition plan much easier to manage. There are so many fasting options with tons of research behind them, all with various benefits including increased growth hormone levels and improved insulin sensitivity, to name a few.
Final Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting
I am fan of it for numerous reasons. I am currently the healthiest and leanest I have ever been. I also find it frees up time in my day, not having to prepare and eat meals every few hours. More important than this is that I feel my digestive system is not constantly working to break down food. I find I have more energy to train, and my body can focus its energy on training and not digesting.
Does eating 6 meals a day work? Yes! Can you get ripped eating every few hours? Yes! Is it necessary? No! I am not trying to upset everyone who eats 7 meals a day, every 2 hours, but I am just saying it’s not required for most of you to reach your goals.
Fasting isn’t for everyone, but it is a viable option for many people who don’t want to, or have the time to eat all day long. Based on your goals and your lifestyle, maybe the 16-8, 20-4, or 24-36 hour intermittent fasting plan might be for you.
For anyone tired of the same old eating program who is looking to shed some fat and have a little more free time, give intermittent fasting a shot!