I have a confession to make.
For the past 2 years, I have been skipping breakfast.
I don’t usually have my first meal until about 12PM, even though I wake up at 5AM almost every morning.
Whenever people ask me what my diet is like, I tell them that I don’t diet. Instead, I tell them that I am an advocate of intermittent fasting, and that I don’t eat for about 16 hours straight until early in the afternoon.
The responses I get are usually along the lines of…
“But isn’t breakfast the most important meal of the day?”
“Aren’t you supposed to eat every 2-3 hours?”
“Don’t you get hungry in the morning since you’ve had nothing to eat?”
“Don’t you lose muscle for not eating after a certain number of hours?”
“Why do you do it?”
The answer to the last one you’ll find out in a little bit. And the short answer to all the other questions is “no”.
If you are curious about this (super unconventional) way of eating, let me break it down some more.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
One of the biggest misconceptions about intermittent fasting is that it is a diet. It is actually just a nutritional lifestyle in which you are alternating intervals of fasting and eating. There are no restrictions to the foods that you eat, whether it’s carbs or fats. Unlike diets like Atkins (low-carb), Paleo (if cavement didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either), or even clean eating, IF doesn’t require you to give up anything whatsoever.
That’s not to say though that you can eat whatever you want. It is still your responsibility to eat mainly whole foods, staying around your calorie requirements, and balancing your macronutrients — proteins, fats, and carbs. The only difference is the timing of when you are eating your meals.
Intermittent fasting has many different protocols, all of which are based upon an individual’s lifestyle. They all differ from the length of the fast and the frequency during the week. One protocol, for example, is a 24-hour fast that is done once a week. Another protocol — the one I’ve been doing for the past 2 years — is a daily 16-hour fast.
But Isn’t Fasting Bad For You?
That’s another common misconception.
Think about this for a second. Every day you are already practicing a variation of intermittent fasting. Whenever you go to sleep at night, you fast. When you wake up, you eat.
Every night, you go hours and hours without eating. If fasting was so bad for us, we’d all attempt to wake up in the middle of the night just to eat something.
Also, ever wonder where the word breakfast came from? (Hint: break…fast)
The unfortunate thing is that we’ve been misled all these years. Magazines, television, and even books have all told us wrong information.
For instance, we’ve been told by dieticians, physicians, nutritionists, and personal trainers that we have to eat every 2-3 hours in order to keep our metabolism going. Not true. The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is directly proportional to the amount of calories you consume. What this means in English: whether you eat 2,000 calories and divide it up into 6 meals, 3, or 2, you still get the same metabolic effect at the end of the day.
Others also claim that eating smaller meals is superior than eating bigger meals. This study debunks that.
Another myth — that late night eating leads to weight gain. Again, not true .
The list of myths goes on and on.
IF completely goes against these non-sense nutritional “rules” and allows anybody to transform their bodies without having to stress out about unnecessary details. Because it is essentially just an extension of the nightly fast you are already doing, it is very easy to sustain once your body get used to it.
With that, let’s get on to the good stuff.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
This is what you’ve been probably been wondering about.
Some of the benefits of IF include:
- Reduction of insulin levels
- Reduction of blood pressure
- Reduction of oxidative stress
- Reduction of inflamattion
- Reduction of risk of cancer
- Increased metabolism during the fast (a lot of people think it’s the other way around)
- Increased burning of stubborn fat during the fast
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Increased energy levels
Other than the health benefits, intermittent fasting also has great lifestyle benefits. These are actually the main reasons why I started doing IF.
- Appetite suppression. A lot of people do it for this reason alone. The lack of hunger and cravings in the morning while following IF allows for a calorie deficit to occur much more effortlessly.
- Increased mental focus during the fast. The body releases more catecholamines during the last few hours of a fast, resulting in increased alertness and…
- Increased productivity.
- No need to worry about bringing tupperwares of food with you all the time.
- Spend less time prepping food.
- Spend less money buying food.
Overall, IF simplifies your eating lifestyle without having to obsess about foods every single day.
How It Works
Intrigued? Here’s a quick breakdown.
- No calories are to be ingested during the fast. No-calorie drinks like coffee, tea, and water are okay.
- The majority of your fast is spent during sleep. On a 16 hour fast, for example, you are essentially just skipping breakfast. If your last meal is at 7PM, then you wouldn’t have your first meal until 11AM the next day.
- Food choice still matters. It’s okay to have pizza and cake, but most of your calories should still come from good sources of whole foods.
- Meal frequency is irrelevant because it all comes down to your total calorie and macronutrient intake, but as I tell all my clients that follow IF, you still want to aim for about 2-3 meals a day. The lesser number of meals, the bigger they will be.
- On workout days…
- Your meals will be high protein, high carb, and low fat.
- Calories will be +20% your maintenance (read this to find out what your numbers are)
- On non-workout days…
- Your meals will be high protein, low carb, and high fat.
- Calories will be -20% your maintenance
- You can lift weights fasted if you work out in the morning, but make sure to take in at least 10g of BCAAs a few minutes before your workout. This amino acid intake is crucial when lifting weights without a pre-workout meal.
- If you like eating before a workout, the pre-workout meal (eaten about 1.5-2 hours prior) should be about 20-25% of your day’s calories.
- The first meal of a workout day will typically be high in protein and include both complex and fibrous carbs (think green vegetables).
- The first meal of a non-workout day will typically be high in protein, healthy fats, and fibrous carbs.
- The last meal of the day, whether on workout or non-workout days, should be high in protein and include both complex and fiberous carbs.
- Oh, and did I mention that all your meals should be high in protein?
If these things don’t sound too bad, continue reading to learn about the different protocols and see which one is right for you.
3 Most Common Intermittent Fasting Protocols
There is no one single way to do IF.
There are many different protocols out there. The best one for you, though, will be the one that best fits your lifestyle. It is completely dependent on your work schedule, preferred time of training, and/or your preferred length of fasting.
Below are the three most common protocols, all of which you can find great resources on all over the internet.
Leangains Method — 16 Hour Fast
Popularized by Martin Berkham from Leangains. Here are the key points:
- 16 hour fast, 8 hour feeding window
- Appeals to people who are mainly interested in body composition
- High carbs/low fat on workout days, and low carb/high fat on non-workout days
- Your meals post-workout make up more than 50% of your daily calorie intake
The Warrior Diet — 20 Hour Fast
Popularized by Ori Hofmekler. Key points:
- 20 hour fast, 4 hour eating window
- One or two large meals/feasts a day eaten at night
- Snacking on fruits and veggies throughout the day is okay
- Workout is done in a fasted state during the day
Eat Stop Eat — 24 Hour Fast
Popularized by Brad Pilon. Key points:
- 24 hour fasts once or twice a week
- Appeals to people who are mainly looking to reap the health benefits
- Easiest to do in the weekend
It Is NOT For Everyone
It’s a great approach to eating, but it is not for everyone.
Out of all my clients, I only have a small number of people who do it. Why? Because I want to make sure that they have some knowledge about nutrition first, and that they have developed good eating habits before introducing something like this into their lives.
Another thing is the concern a lot of people have about IF leading to lower energy levels. Because they’re right. You will be hungry. You will be tired. And you will probably hate everyone you come in contact with. But this only happens for the first few days. After this initial phase, your body will adapt to the new eating lifestyle. You will actually have more energy and focus by the time your body gets used to it.
To put it simply, IF is a more advanced way of eating. There is a little more to it than just skipping breakfast. If a person can barely hit their daily macronutrient goals with a “regular” diet, then there is no reason for them to be doing IF.
Wrapping It Up/Further Reading
I can’t stress enough that intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is merely just a way of eating in which you are incorporating intervals of fasting throughout the week.
On top of its health and lifestyle benefits, it’s a great strategy for fat loss, maintenance, or even muscle gain. But it isn’t for everybody. If some of the things I talked about scared you, I would hold off with trying it out.
My advice, though, would be for you to continue on with your research on it. This was just a quick overview of the topic, so I’ve put together a list of extra resources you can look into. You can even do a little Googling yourself just in case I’ve missed a few things!
- Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked
- Meal Frequency and Energy Balance
- Intermittent Fasting with Precision Nutrition
- Intermittent Fasting & Leangains – Step by Step Guide
- LeanGains FAQ
Questions? Leave yours in the comments below!
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