I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you all want to look delicious in your birthday suit, with as little effort as possible. I’d also bet you’d appreciate more free time in your life. If you disagree with these statements you’re either an idiot or extremely sexy with impressive time management skills…either way you can just stop reading now.
The purpose of this article is to inform you of the science behind intermittent fasting, to share my experiential knowledge and to persuade you to try it.
The fitness industry is full of ignorant coaches with horrible ideas. Any bozo can get a personal trainer certification. Separating myself from the pack is fairly simple. I ignore conventional knowledge and follow the emerging science. After experimenting on myself I share my results with the internet peoples.
Intermittent fasting is one idea that’s shown compelling research. It’s also endured the gauntlet of my personal scrutiny. I live what I write. This stuff works, and it works very well. It’s also saved me a massive amount of time. In short, I think it can boost the level of awesome in your life.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is compressing all of your eating into a specific time of day, 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. for example. This time is called the “fed state.” Any time outside of that window is the “fasted state,” 8:00 p.m. – 12:00 p.m. Water, tea, coffee, salt and sugar free chewing gum are ok during the fasted state. My protocol calls for high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb paleo’ish type foods during the fed state. That’s pretty much it, friends.
As simple as that sounds, ending the article here would make me a horrible coach and a lousy persuasive writer. With the basics out of the way let’s dive into why it works.
Mankind was designed to endure cyclical famine, not six balanced meals a day. Our DNA is optimized for long periods without food, winter for instance. This fact is not really debatable, folks. Our biology thrives when given what it's designed for. Simple as that.
If you’re scarred that fasting is unsafe, or if you think 16 hours without food is too challenging, please continue reading. In the 60’s, a 456 pound, 27 year old Scottish man began fasting. 382 days later he had lost 276 pounds. Doctors monitored his vitals throughout the experiment and he remained in good health. During the fast he consumed only water, vitamin, sodium and potassium supplements. He kept the weight off too, which is awesome, considering 80% of modern diets fail in the long term.
Link to study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2495396/?page=1
Intermittent fasting has an awesome way of selecting ONLY fat for disposal while preserving and even promoting muscle growth. This means tighter abs and bigger buns and guns!
Conventional fitness denies the possibility of simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth. The popular fitness programs go so far as to separate “bulking” and “cutting” seasons. Both of which appear painful and unhealthy. Year round sexiness is possible, but don’t take my word for it…let’s see what the science has to say.
Six meals a day- The opposite of intermittent fasting
Constant eating is a popular method in the health world and one of the fastest ways to complicate your life while reducing free time. Here’s the thought process: Eating increases metabolic rate, aka metabolism, through a process called the Thermic Effect of Food. In other words, it takes energy to digest meals, and burning energy causes weight loss. Therefore, the more meals we eat, the more energy we burn and the more weight we lose. Right?! Not exactly. Metabolic rate increases proportionally to caloric intake, not meal frequency. It doesn’t matter how many times you eat, just how much you eat. If you consume 3,000 calories a day, eating them throughout seven meals will not cause more weight loss then eating them in two. In fact, the opposite is more likely to occur.
This study showed exactly that: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8399092
The number of dieters that follow the 6 meal a day modality is stupefying. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t even work, it’s ridiculously inconvenient. Take a second to imagine how much time it takes to eat 6 meals a day, over the course of a year. We must take into account the purchasing, preparing, cook time, packaging, refrigeration, eating, using the restroom, and cleaning Tupperware. At a very modest average of 20 minutes per meal, it takes 730 hours a year, or 30.4 full days. Plus cost…SO. MUCH. MEALPREP!
Keep in mind that this doesn’t include pre-meal cravings or post-meal drowsiness, both of which are not optimal for anything.
One meal a day
A study showed that by consuming all calories in one meal per day, over a six month period, subjects maintained their weight. However, their overall fat percentage decreased and their lean mass increased. Basically, they got sexier! Their cortisol (stress hormone) also decreased. Their total cholesterol did increase but this is likely explained by increased fat oxidation (using fat for energy). When we burn fat for energy, we tend to circulate more of it within our blood.
Link to study: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/4/981.short
Fasting decreases insulin levels
Insulin makes you fat…There, I said it. It literally halts lipolysis, the mobilization of stored body fat to be used as energy. It also turns sugar into fat. If you’re eating carbs all day you probably have elevated insulin. In this study, 8 men and 8 women participated in alternate day fasting for 21 days. The subjects experienced an increase in fat oxidation (burning fat for energy) and a decrease in fasting insulin.
Link to Study: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/1/69.abstract
Fasting improves insulin sensitivity
Insulin moves sugar out of our bloodstream and into our tissues. When we eat high amounts of carbohydrate and sugar, or when we eat six times a day, we place a huge demand on our pancreas to produce and secrete insulin for maintaining blood sugar. Over time this pattern of eating causes a resistance to insulin, similar to alcoholics developing tolerance to booze. In other words, the amount of insulin that worked in the past no longer does the job in regulating blood glucose. We continue to build resistance until massive amounts of insulin no longer work and our pancreas can no longer keep up. The result? Our pacreas dies of exhaustion. We develop diabetes and insidious weight gain, among other diseases. Those with insulin resistance can’t eat a slice of bread without producing massive amounts of insulin and gaining weight. Insulin resistance is why many overweight Americans have such a difficult time dropping weight.
This study shows that 20 hour fasts improved insulin sensitivity...the cheap date that gets buzzed off of two beers. Individuals with excellent insulin sensitivity can maintain blood glucose with small amounts of insulin. Remember, insulin makes us fat. This is awesome for someone like me, who on occasion, eats cheesecake for a week straight. I can splurge without worry. I also take comfort in knowing my pancreas is not working overtime. Know anyone with diabetes? Fasting is likely a cure.
Link to study: http://jap.physiology.org/content/99/6/2128.full
Strawberry cheesecake -Cheesecake factory. I ate one large piece every night for a week and actually lost weight. I DO NOT recommend this to rookies. Photocred @OGBrittanyMarie
Fasting increases fat oxidation (ketosis)
In non-obese patients alternate day fasting increased fat oxidation (using fat for energy) which resulted in a 2.5% loss in bodyweight and a 4% loss in body fat.
Link to study: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/1/69.short
Fasting improves heart health
In a study, 16 individuals participated in alternate day fasting and improved biomarkers for Coronary Artery Disease. Total cholesterol, blood pressure and weight all improved. I’m not at high risk for heart disease but I know many who are…ahem…Dad.
Doctors are quick to prescribe pills to manage cholesterol while neglecting the patient’s nutrition. I wonder if my Dads doctor mentioned alternate day fasting as an option before sending him to the pharmacy.
Link to Study: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/5/1138.short
Do you even lift BRO?!
I can hear the meatheads screaming at their computer screens now…”YOU GOTTA EAT TO GET FUKIN BIG BRO!” I can relate...I'm also a big slobbering meathead. I’m interested in hypertrophy (muscle cell growth), strength and power. Being big and strong is just more fun in my opinion. But you don’t have to eat all day long to achieve growth.
Make your own steroids!
H.G.H aka Human Growth Hormone is the holy grail of sexiness. Hollywood celebrities and pro athletes pay big bucks for synthetic HGH to look and perform, well, like celebrities and pro athletes. It’s a metabolic protein that boosts muscle repair, fat loss and is responsible for cell regeneration. It’s sold as an anti-aging, libido wonder drug. Just google it and you’ll be convinced you want more of it. Humans see a decrease in HGH production around their early 20’s…take a second to remember how you felt in your early 20’s.
One study showed that fasting for 24 hours can increase HGH production by 1300% in women and 2000% in men. Those are impressive numbers!
In another study, men who fasted for 5 days experienced boosted HGH secretion on day one and day five (the only days tested)
Another study of men who performed alternate-day fasting showed boosted HGH secretion frequency AND intensity. Their bodies were making more of it, more often.
Fasted training – Skip the pre-workout meal
Studies show that training in a fasted state stimulates the post training anabolic response. What does this mean? If you don’t eat anything prior to strength training you will grow more muscles. This study split subjects into two groups; (F) athletes fasted overnight and (B) athletes who were fed breakfast (85% carb, 11% protein, 4% fat) and had them perform exercise.
One hour after training, muscle biopsies were taken from both groups. The fasted athletes showed twice the amount of p70s6 kinase, an enzyme indicator of protein synthesis (muscle growth).
So, by initiating exercise in a fasted state, athletes can potentially DOUBLE their growth response.
Link to Study: Increased p70s6k phosphorylation
Here’s a couple more studies showing the efficacy of fasting, just for good measure.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that fasting technically does work. The science is definitely there. But let’s be real here, the success of any diet ultimately depends upon adherence. As clear as it is that fasting showed results in the lab, you or I will not have a scientist to keep us motivated. Ultimately, for a health plan to work it must be simple, easy and mostly painless. So let’s address the most obvious roadblock to fasting…Hunger.
Dealing with hunger pangs
Step 1 – fat-adaptation - ketosis
This is the cornerstone to my style of intermittent fasting and the foundation on which I’ve built my entire nutritional platform. It is the perfect companion to fasting and in my opinion the only practical approach. In short, the magic of fasting is boosted fat oxidation (burning fat for energy) which is exactly what it means to be fat-adapted. Fat-adaptation removes the most difficult piece from the equation of fasting…hunger. If you’re new to this idea I recommend taking a look at a separate article I wrote outlining this concept. It explains a lot. (Link below).
Step 2 – scheduling
The Fed-State: The trick to intermittent fasting is compressing all of your caloric intake into the most relaxed time of your day. For me this happens to be in the afternoon/evening time. My fed-state is from around 1:30 – 8:00 p.m. when I’m wrapping up my work day, spending quality time with my family or engaging in social events. No one wants to be fasting at a dinner party. I tend to eat 2-3 large and delicious home cooked meals in the fed state. My total caloric intake remains the same whether fasting or not, again, it’s just compressed. My meals are always very nutrient dense and consist of large amounts of fat, green veggies and high quality protein. They’re huge and glorious and always feel like a reward. I think eating should be sacred, a celebration with loved ones...not rushed while working or alone.
The Fasted-State: Conversely, my fasted state begins about an hour before bedtime. I sleep through the first half of my fast and work through the second half. I generally start my day with a large glass of salted water and a coffee. The fasted-state is excellent for optimal work productivity and creativity. Mental clarity and focus seem to peak while fasting (likely due to brain metabolism of ketones) and my clients and teammates agree. There’s no wasted energy given toward digestion. Fat oxidation is in full swing and flow state is easily accessed here. My most engaged writing, reading and ideas are born while fasted. This is not my time to be hungry or whine about cravings. Hunger is my bitch.
Exercise: On training days (generally 3 per week) my fasted-state ends with heavy strength training. To eliminate catabolism (lean muscle breakdown) I consume 10 grams of amino acids, 15 minutes prior to exercise. What does this mean? When initiating exercise in a fasted state we are vulnerable to muscle breakdown into amino acids for energy and cellular repair. However, by ingesting amino acids prior to exercise we provide the substrate for energy and cellular repair, blunting lean muscle breakdown.
Ingesting amino acids prior to exercise also increases post exercise protein synthesis and phosphorylation of p70s6k (as mentioned above). In other words, by ingesting amino acids prior to exercise we boost post exercise muscle growth. ****I must pay homage to Martin Berkhan of leangains for this method.
Link to study: http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/287/1/E1.full
On a perfect day my schedule is as follows:
5:00 a.m. – wake up, begin work day
12:45 p.m. – Ingest 10 grams amino acids
1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Strength training
2:30 p.m. – Largest meal
5:00 p.m. – Second largest meal
8:00 p.m. – last and smallest meal
9:00 p.m. – bedtime
***everyones schedule will look different due to work and routine restrictions. The main focus should be keeping the fasted state at least 16 hours long.
Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool for improving one’s body composition through simultaneous fat-loss and muscular development. Fasting also improves biomarkers for a number of chronic illnesses, while optimizing hormones. Scientific studies support these statements time and time again.
My experimentation with intermittent fasting has left me pleasantly surprised and excited to share what I’ve learned. The positive effects on my biology have been undeniable, whether in front of the mirror (douche alert) or in the weight room (slobbering meathead alert). I didn’t appreciate the conventional methods of fitness and by following the science was able to reap massive reward in a very unconventional way.
By compressing my eating pattern and increasing fat oxidation I’m able to devote large portions of my day to my true passions in life. I never knew how distracting hunger was until it was gone. I simply don’t have the patience or time to deal with constant cravings and eating, nor do I want to. I’d rather spend that time with my kid, playing or learning. Fasting has allowed me to regularly access long periods of flow state and I can honestly say I’ll probably be doing some form of it for the rest of my life. I recommend taking a look at this post for a better understanding of fat-adaptation:
Have you tried fasting? Would you? Are you frustrated with conventional health methods? Let me know in the comments or email if you’re curious. I can help you design a custom meal and routine that fits your goals and schedule. First coaching session is free.
Thanks for reading.