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What Is An Intermittent Fasting Diet

October 9, 2015 | 0 Comments
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Intermittent fasting is a popular bodybuilding and fitness dieting method that is often used specifically for weight loss.

Not unlike followers of the Low Carb Diet, users of the Detox Diet, or advocates of the Paleo Diet, hardcore followers of Intermittent Fasting around the world are preaching the benefits and results of this method of dieting.

Related Article: How Much Protein?

Related Article: Carb Cycling

Related Free Plan: Free Nutrition Plan

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What Is Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a diet and method of eating that alternates between a "fasting" period and a "feasting" period; it has also been described as a self-contained cut-bulking cycle. There are three main methods of intermittent fasting as follows:

  • The Lean Gains Method: this involves fasting for 16 hours and feasting for 8 hours;
  • The Warrior Method: this involves fasting for 20 hours and feasting for 4 hours;
  • The Eat.Stop.Eat Method: this involves fasting for 24 hours followed by 24 hours of feasting. 

 

"Fasting" in its own right, is defined as the avoidance of consuming food and its nutrients. If we consider that the majority of people typically consume dinner or their last meal of each day around 8pm with the following day’s breakfast not being consumed until around 7am, in reality most people already practice a mild version of intermittent fasting for around 11 hours without even noticing or intentionally practicing this dieting method.

Intermittent fasting, like many other celebrity and fad diets, has continued to grow with popularity thanks to social media, bodybuilding and fitness advocates, and countless "before and after" success stories. However, with this popularity has also come the typical backlash from skeptics in the bodybuilding and fitness community along with fabricated stories of success and consequent unrealistic expectations of the typical results that intermittent fasting yields.

How To Implement Intermittent Fasting

Technically, during a fasting period no food, nutrients or calories are to be consumed. However the Lean Gains method takes a flexible approach to keep up with contemporary dieting trends, allowing coffee, calorie free sweeteners, BCAA supplements, diet soda, and sugar-free gum.

Using a typical 16 hour intermittent fasting diet for example, if the last meal or feeding is consumed at 8:00pm the idea of the fast is to consume no nutrients until at least 12:00 noon the following day. In the beginning this can be difficult to adhere to for many people, particularly those following bodybuilding and fitness lifestyles who are accustomed to regular meals. Intermittent fasters are therefore encouraged to be productive and stay ‘busy’ to help pass time during a fast.  

Meal spacing and the total number of meals consumed during the ‘feeding’ phase are not of particular importance. Typically the feeding phase will last 4 – 8 hours so it is most practical to consume between 2 and 4 meals during this time. However, many people following intermittent fasting will generally consume their largest meal at the end of the day (dinner), as not only does this allow a lot of freedom and flexibility to eat out with friends and attend social events without sacrificing results, but it can also enhance sleep quality and recovery.

If intermittent fasting is not for you, check out our Free Nutrition Plan for weight loss and muscle gain diets.

The Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting

At a basic level intermittent fasting is simply a form of calorie restriction, as most individuals looking to use intermittent fasting for its weight loss benefits are unlikely to consume enough calories in the condensed ‘feeding’ periods to put them in to a sufficient caloric surplus required for weight gain. Although it is possible, it is rare to find people using intermittent fasting to gain weight or build muscle.

Caloric restriction of protein, carbohydrates and fats, be it through intermittent fasting, low carb dieting, or through using a calorie counter, has been continually proven to improve a plethora of fitness and health related markers including improved longevity, increased insulin sensitivity, reduced fat mass, improved body composition, and resistant to stress and disease. 

If implemented correctly, intermittent fasting is certainly a viable method of caloric restriction, but what appears to be of most interest are the metabolic and hormonal changes associated with intermittent fasting that can positively impact long-term health, control eating habits and improve body composition.

Increased Hormone Function For Weight Loss

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a hormone that plays a major role in the development of children and teenagers. It is also deemed important for adults to maintain favourable body composition as HGH deficiencies can lead to increased body fat, reduced lean muscle mass and decreased bone density. A study conducted by Ho et al (1988) is often cited within the intermittent fasting community, claiming that fasted humans produce a far greater amount, and a more frequent release of, HGH which promotes an anabolic response leading to increased protein synthesis, greater lean body mass and a reduction in the breakdown of protein.

Additionally, intermittent fasting appears to be a powerful tool for improving insulin sensitivity and reducing blood sugar levels. A recent human study by Barnosky et al (2014) looking specifically at intermittent fasting protocols compared to typical calorie restricted diets showed the fasting group experienced a 3%-6% reduction on fasting blood sugar levels and a 20%-31% reduction in fasting insulin.

Reduce Inflammation And Oxidative Stress

Increased oxidative stress and high amounts of free radicals in the body prevent cells from effectively repairing themselves and essentially speeds up the ageing process. Interestingly, obese patients suffering from asthma following alternate day calorie restriction similar to intermittent fasting experienced significant decreases in cholesterol and triglycerides, two markers of inflammation and oxidative stress (Johnson et al 2007).

Control Ghrelin Secretion

Ghrelin is the hunger inducing hormone that effectively signals when to eat.  Ghrelin is typically satisfied by most people by following higher frequency feedings of 4-6 meals per day. For someone looking to lose weight, one of the biggest benefits of intermittent fasting is the reduced dependence on frequent and often unsatisfying meals. By skipping the standard breakfast it allows more flexibility to consume larger more satisfying meals later in the day. Furthermore, adapting to a fasting period will eventually lead to less hunger in the morning and possible greater mental focus and concentration.

Some studies suggest that adapting to regular feedings not only make it difficult to curb hunger cravings, but may also mean missing out on the powerful muscle building and fat burning effects of Ghrelin. Once individuals have adapted to lower frequency feedings through intermittent fasting they are directly increasing the presence of Ghrelin and potentially taking advantage of its possible muscle gain and fat loss benefits.

Increase Leptin

Put simply, Leptin is the anatagonist hormone to Grhelin; it effectively stops feelings of hunger and is responsible for the actions of thyroid hormones that regulate fat loss and metabolism. Interestingly, Leptin is spiked through the process of feeding and fasting, so not unlike carb cycling, individuals can potentially use intermittent fasting to their advantage to spike Leptin and help burn more body fat.

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Incorporating Intermittent Fasting Into Training Programs

As it seems undeniable that intermittent fasting is an effective method of calorie restriction, and hence weight loss, the question then turns to determining whether intermittent fasting is effective for building muscle. And perhaps even more importantly, by consuming calories and nutrients in such a short timeframe, is it adequate at providing enough energy to fuel performance during training?

A lot of research supports consuming adequate amounts of macronutrients around high intensity training, be it bodybuilding, team sports or crossfit. Therefore individuals who typically train first thing in the morning may find intermittent fasting problematic unless they are willing to fast during the day and wake for feedings during the night, which is impractical for most. For fasted training, bodybuilders and athletes are highly advised to consume a high quality branch chain amino acid (BCAA) both pre workout and during training. A dose of 5-10 grams will help to reduce the risk of muscle loss whilst also promoting muscle protein synthesis following the training stimulus.

For bodybuilders, strength and crossfit athletes doing early morning fasted training, the following intermittent fasting diet protocol is recommended:

Fasted AM Training Intermittent Fasting Protocol












Time Of Day

Food & Nutrients

Supplementation

8:00pm (Begin Fast)

Final Meal / Dinner

 

5:30am (Pre Workout)

Fasted

10 Grams BCAA

6:00am (Fasted Training)

Fasted

 10 Grams BCAA

7:00am (Post Workout)

Fasted

10 Grams BCAA + 5 Grams Creatine + 5 Grams Glutamine

10:00am

Fasted

10 Grams BCAA

12:00pm (End Fast)

Meal 1 (Post Workout Meal)

 

3:00pm

Meal 2

 

8:00pm (Begin Fast)

Final Meal / Dinner

 

 

Ideally intermittent fasting works best for individuals who train in the evening; The fasting period can be broken at noon which will allow for an adequate meal containing bulk nutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fats to be consumed prior to training to help fuel the workout.

Switching on protein synthesis to increase muscle growth and recovery is vital for bodybuilders and performance athletes, therefore when using intermittent fasting the biggest meal of the day should be consumed post-workout. Because there are no ‘rules’ regarding the type of foods that must be consumed during the feasting period, competitive athletes would be best suited consuming a post-workout shake containing whey protein, dextrose, BCAAs and creatine that will maximize muscle growth and recovery, followed by a large nutrient dense whole food meal.

For bodybuilders, strength and crossfit athletes who train in the evening, the following intermittent fasting diet protocol is recommended:

PM Training Intermittent Fasting Protocol











Time Of Day

Food & Nutrients

Supplementation

8:00pm (Begin Fast)

Final Meal / Dinner

 

6:00am

Fasted

 

10:00am

Fasted

 

12:00pm (End Fast)

Meal 1

 

3:00pm (Pre Workout)

Meal 2

 

7:30pm (Post Workout)

Post Workout Meal

Whey Protein + Dextrose + 10 Grams BCAA + 5 Grams Creatine + 5 Grams Glutamine

8:00pm (Begin Fast)

Final Meal / Dinner

 

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The Disadvantages of Intermittent Fasting

Decreased Athletic Performance

Athletic performance is most effectively fueled by glycogen and blood glucose. The more endurance based and metabolically demanding the activity (such as competitive sports or crossfit style training), the greater the demand for glycogen and simple sugars such as glucose and dextrose. Athletes are generally concerned more with performance than weight loss or aesthetics alone, so from an athletic performance stand point it is never a good situation for an athlete to be completely deprived of nutrients before any training session or competition. 

Lethargy & Inability to Concentrate

Many people who practice intermittent fasting, especially those new to this dieting method, will often feel lethargic and find it difficult to concentrate towards the end of long fasting periods. The lack of nutrients being provided to both a person’s body and their brain can have a negative effect on energy and mental focus levels. People whose work is quite physical, or demands a high level of concentration, may find intermittent fasting very difficult without the heavy use of stimulants and psychoactive supplements or drugs.

False Sense Of Unlimited Eating

It commonly thought that following a long period of fasting, the feasting period is effectively a free ticket to each whatever a person desires in excessive amounts. This is terribly misguided. The basics of good nutrition, along with calorie counting and energy expenditure still apply. The laws of thermodynamics cannot be circumvented by intermittent fasting – a person is still required to be in a caloric deficit in order to lose weight. Although incredible hunger at the start of a feasting period may block all rational thought and lead to a person consuming empty calories, it is important that a well rounded eating protocol is still followed as is required with any other form of dieting.

Not Consuming Enough Calories And Nutrients

In polarity to eating too much during a feasting phase, the other extreme is not eating sufficient calories and bulk nutrients within any 24 hour period. This is especially true for people with poor appetites who feel “full” rather quickly. Instead of replacing the calories missed during a fasting period, some people will just eat as normal during a feasting period, thus coming drastically below their required level of calories. This is especially dangerous if the person already has an unhealthy relationship with food and can lead to gross under eating, which consequently can lead to metabolic damage and other serious metabolic related issues.

For guidance on how many macronutrients and calories you should aim to consume to reach your health & fitness goals, check out our Free Nutrition Plan Here.

Intermittent Fasting For Women

Typically women are more sensitive than males to the hormonal changes associated with intermittent fasting. In particular, the signals of starvation associated with longer duration fasts. When the female body senses starvation it will drastically increase the production of Ghrelin. When women break their fast, it is not uncommon that they may experience an insatiable appetite due to the primal biological instinct of providing adequate nutrients for a potential foetus.

Women are therefore recommended to be a little more flexible when it comes to intermittent fasting by shortening the length of time spent fasted, or by only using 1-2 fasting sessions per week. An appropriate form of Intermittent Fasting for women is the 5/2 diet, which recommends incorporating only 2 fasting days into each week, with 5 days of "normal" dieting and meal timing.

Does Intermittent Fasting Work

If you have realistic weight loss goals and have a good understanding of how many total calories you require each day to be in a caloric deficit, there is no doubt that intermittent fasting will work and help you reach your weight loss goals. Whether or not the studied hormonal changes associated with fasting diets actually result in improved health and fitness outcomes over the long term is still up for debate, however many people will find the biggest takeaway from intermittent fasting is learning the difference between real biological hunger and simply eating for leisure or boredom.

No matter what diet regime you choose to follow, it should improve your quality of life, not damage it. 

As with all dieting regimes, "time in the game", or consistency, is what matters most. You need to find a dieting method that not only fits your macros, but most importantly, fits your lifestyle. If you can’t eat multiple smaller whole-food meals throughout the day, then bro dieting/clean eating is not for you. If you can’t stop at one pop-tart or once scoop of ice cream, then flexible dieting is not for you. And of course, if you can’t concentrate well enough to perform well at your job while fasting, or can’t perform at your peak during training when fasted, then intermittent fasting is not for you. 

We encourage everyone to explore the different methods of dieting, try them, see which one fits your lifestyle best, and then utilise it to help you reach your health & fitness goals.

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Related Article: How Much Protein?

Related Article: Carb Cycling

Related Free Plan: Free Nutrition Plan

REFERENCES

 1. Ho, et al., Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. Journal Clinical Invest, 1988, 81(4):p.968-975.

2. Barnosky, et al., Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine 2014, 164(4):p302-311.

3. Johnson, et al., Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Journal of Free Radicals in Biology & Medicine 2007, 42(5):p665-674

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