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Intermittent Fasting Explained: Plus 5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Fast

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Intermittent fasting explained blog header

Have you ever tried not eating for a period of time?

Maybe you’ve been running late and had to run out the house without breakfast or been so busy you’ve forgotten about lunch.

Maybe you’ve purposely not eaten during the day because you knew you had a big meal in the evening.

If so then you’ve been doing something called intermittent fasting without knowing it.

Intermittent fasting refers to an eating pattern characterised by periods of eating and fasting. It doesn’t always put restraints on the foods you can eat but instead dictates when you should eat them.

There are a host of health benefits associated with fasting and this article will explore 4 of the most popular fasting set ups, along with the benefits, effect on metabolism and 5 tips to help you get the most out of your fast.

What Are the Different Fasting Protocols?

There are various different applications of intermittent fasting that differ in the way they split the day or week into periods of eating and fasting.

The 16:8 Protocol

Popularised by Martin Berkhan and more recently Greg O’Gallagher this is arguably one of the most popular set ups which sees you split each day into a 16-hour fasting period and an 8-hour eating period.

It’s commonly set up with the fasting window starting late evening after dinner (8-9pm) lasting until around midday (12-13pm) to complete the full 16 hours with the bulk of the time spent asleep.

During the 8-hour eating window your meal structure is up to you. A lot of people opt for either a small snack and 2 large meals or just 2 meals depending on calorie allowance.

However, the fasting and eating windows can be set up in whichever best suits the individual using the protocol, if you prefer to eat breakfast and skip dinner then that can also work.

If you’re training during the fast then get yourself some BCAAs to sip before/during the workout to help prevent muscle breakdown.

16:8 IF protocol

Pros

  • Eating can be structured to one’s preference within the eating window
  • A large chunk of the fasting is done whilst asleep
  • Fasting and eating schedule is more lifestyle friendly

Cons

  • May be difficult for breakfast eaters

For more information on Martin Berkhan’s 16:8 setup, click here.

The 5:2 Setup

Another popular set up is the 5:2 diet created by Dr Michael Moseley, which sees you fast for two 24-hour periods per week. During the non-fasting days you’re advise to ‘eat normally’ and during the 24-hour fasts men are instructed to eat 600 calories and women 500 calories.

The 5:2 diet places no restrictions on when you do the 24-hour fasts or whether or not they are carried out back to back.

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Pros

  • Allows small meals on fasting days which can make the fast more bearable for some
  • No restrictions on when the fasts are carried out
  • Participants are advised to ‘eat normally’ which places no restrictions on their diet
  • A large chunk of the fasting is done whilst asleep

Cons

  • Some people may find it difficult to fast for full 24-hour periods
  • Lacks structure for those who need/want more guidance than ‘eat normally’

For more information on the 5:2 diet, click here.

Personally, I don’t like this incarnation of intermittent fasting as I feel an unstructured eating window i.e. ‘eat normally’ is ineffective for proper weight control particularly when it comes to fitness and body composition. Additionally, 24-hour fasts can be very tough mentally, not to mention the effect and strain it can put on your social life.

Eat Stop Eat

Created by Brad Pilon it works very similarly to the 5:2 diet and by incorporating one or two 24-hour fasts into your week. During the 24 hour fast no food can be consumed but calorie-free drinks are ok.

Eat stop eat is flexible with no foods being off limits, no calorie counting or food weighing being prescribed and no restrictions set in place. Although you are advised to eat mindfully and not treat your non-fasting days as a free for all.

Eat Stop Eat Fasting Protocol

Pros

  • More guidance given for non-fasting days with recommendations to eat mindfully
  • A large chunk of the fasting is done whilst asleep

Cons

  • Some people may find it difficult to fast for full 24-hour periods
  • No food can be eaten during the 24-hour fast
  • May lack nutritional guidance for some people with recommendations only to ‘eat mindfully’

For more information on Eat Stop Eat, click here.

The Warrior Diet

Created by Ori Hofmekler this fasting protocol has you fasting for 20 hours every day and eating one large meal each evening. During the fast you’re allowed to eat a few small portions of raw vegetables or fruits, fresh juice or some protein.

During the four hour eating window Ori Hofmekler advises you to eat your food in a particular order starting with vegetables, followed by protein, with fat coming last. It’s only once you’ve eaten these food groups in this order that you can think about having some carbohydrates and that’s only if you’re still hungry.

Warrior Diet Fasting Protocol

Pros

  • A large chunk of the fasting is done whilst asleep
  • You can eat a few small snacks during the fasting window, which can make the fast easier

Cons

  • Has an extended fasting window that will most likely impact lifestyle
  • Food has to be consumed in a particular order

For more information on The Warrior Diet, click here.

What Are the Benefits of Fasting?

There are numerous benefits of intermittent fasting:

  1. Fasting was shown to increase fat oxidation after both 12 and 36-hour fasts. (1) Fat oxidation is essentially the name for the metabolic process the body goes through to make stored fat usable as energy.
  2. Research (2, 3) has shown to increase both total and pulsatile (4) growth hormone concentration in the body after fasting. Note: Growth hormone is responsible for facilitating fat burning, muscle gain and more. (5)
  3. Intermittent fasting (6, 7) has also been seen to increase metabolism by up to 3.6 – 10%, this means more calories burnt across a 24 hour period.
  4. Research (8) also shows the intermittent fasting may be superior to standard calorie restriction when it comes to the retention of muscle mass when eating in a calorie deficit.
  5. Reduced hunger in the mornings once your body adapts to fasting
  6. Easier to plan and prepare meals, particularly if you still currently eat 3+ meals a day
  7. Greater satiety from meals as you’re eating a bigger lunch and dinner daily

Sounds Good…But What About Breakfast?

We’ve been told since childhood that breakfast is a must, with it often being touted as “most important meal of the day”. However, a look at the research that supports the idea you ‘need’ to have breakfast “lacks probative value” and involves “biased research reporting.” One study (9) shows that the belief we need breakfast outweighs any scientific evidence pointing to the same conclusion.

Additionally, a review paper (10) shows that existing evidence in favour of eating breakfast is weak and that research shows that studies show no cause and effect link between skipping breakfast and energy balance.

The point is this; some people get hungry in the morning and function better with breakfast whereas others can forego breakfast to eat later in the day and function just as well.

Regarding weight loss or gain, your total calorie intake across the day will be the determining factor, not whether or not you ate breakfast.

I never really been a big breakfast person, I rarely wake up feeling hungry and besides who can be bothered with having to make something when all you’re really after is that first hit of fresh coffee?

So not eating breakfast was a natural and welcome choice for me. However, I recognise not everyone feels the same way and it can be hard to let it go. If you’re one of those people that feel like you can’t function without breakfast then maybe intermittent fasting isn’t for you. However, before you close this tab and leave my site give the rest of this article a read and then make up your mind.

Won’t I Mess Up My Metabolism by Fasting?

Let’s get this out of the way from the beginning…for normal people, in normal circumstances fasting can be beneficial and at worst it’s just going to be a different style of eating with no negative effects.

Research (11) shows that after fasting (not eating anything) for 60hrs, resting metabolic rate (RMR)  is reduced by only 8%. Think about that, if after eating nothing for 60hrs your RMR is only decreased by 8% then missing a meal or fasting for a day will not put you anywhere near starvation mode or mess up your metabolism.

In fact, research (12, 13) shows that short-term (36-48hrs) fasting can even increase metabolic rate by 3.6% - 10%.

What’s the Best Way to Use Intermittent Fasting?

In my opinion, the 16:8 intermittent fasting protocol is the best way to incorporate fasting into your lifestyle without placing restrictions on your social life. Let me stress that this is just my opinion based on my own experiences, along with that of friends and clients.

You see, if you fast for 24 hours either once or twice a week you put yourself in the position of not being able to eat or drink (limited selection of calorie free drinks) for up to 2 days a week.

That means no brunches, no social drinks, meals out, date night dinners or anything else. Combine that with the fact that for 2 days a week you won’t be eating anything at all and you should be able to see why the 16:8 set up is much more lifestyle friendly.

However, I find it always worth repeating that whatever eating protocol is easiest for you to stick to long term is going to be the most successful one for you.

How Strict Do You Have to Be When Fasting?

I’m tempted to say that there’s no point doing anything unless you’re going to do it properly, so my first thought would be to say that if you’re going to try intermittent fasting then follow the guidelines of your chosen protocol in full.

This will allow you to get a full understanding of how it works, how you feel and if it’s going to be something you can keep up long-term.

Now having said that, there is also no need to be 100% strict 100% of the time, particularly if it’s going to stop you from attending and participating in any kind of one off event like a celebration or occasion of some sort.

Remember, not fasting for the full 16 hours on one day is not going to make or break your progress, nor is fasting for only 4 days of the week. The bottom line on this is, stick to it as strictly as possible when you can but if there is the odd occasion where you need to break your fast early then don’t sweat it.

The Number One Benefit of Intermittent Fasting

We’ve already covered the various benefits that the use of an intermittent fasting protocol can bring when used in conjunction with an appropriate diet for your goal. However, regardless of where you land on your belief in the power of intermittent fasting there is one other benefit that in my opinion trumps all other reasons to use this style of eating.

This benefit is the dietary flexibility that intermittent fasting provides you.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Friend’s birthday dinner in the evening? No problem! Skip breakfast and have a protein filled lunch to leave you with lots of calories to enjoy the evening without going over your daily calories.
  • Going on holiday or travelling? Great! Skip breakfast, do lots of walking and eat two big meals, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.
  • Eating in a calorie deficit? Sure! Stop eating breakfast and using up calories which could be used to eat more satiable meals later in the day and help you avoid feeling hungry all the time when trying to lose fat.
  • Any other type of social occasion? Enjoy yourself! By using intermittent fasting, you can always save calories for any type of occasion where you anticipate you’ll eat more than usual.

You can use this way of eating as a tool to never have to worry about eating out. No longer will you obsess over calories and run the risk of undoing all your hard work. Instead you can eat out with confidence knowing that you won’t blow your calorie limit for the day.

How Do You Make This Work?

Briefly you would aim to have a piece of protein with each meal (i.e. chicken breast, turkey steak, etc.) to help ensure you reach your protein goal whilst leaving lots of spare calories for the big meal later in the day.

Eating 1 or 2 small high protein meals and including lots of vegetables will help keep you satiated whilst ensuring sufficient protein intake for the day.

I talk about this in more detail, including how to distribute your calories when using intermittent fasting and how to include the foods you like, here.

5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Fasting

Some people can fast for prolonged periods with very little problem, others can find it a bit more difficult particularly when first starting out. However, there are a few strategies you can use to get the most out fasting and make your journey a little easier.

1. Stay Hydrated

We all know it’s important to stay hydrated regardless of how you decide to set up your diet. However, when fasting drinking lots of water also helps to stave of hunger whilst keeping you nice and hydrated. Other good drinks to supress appetite during your fast are sparkling water, black coffee, black tea and 0 calorie drinks.

2. Control Your Nutrition

Fasting doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want, yes you can eat more when you do eat but this is because you need to eat your usual amount in a smaller period of time i.e. you need to include breakfasts calories within your lunch and dinner.

As with all diets, fasting will only work if you still continue to hit your calorie goal and macronutrient ratios.

3. Continue Working Out

As we said above, fasting doesn’t give you a free pass you still need to work out regularly to achieve the full benefits. However, you will need to bear in mind that if you are working out in fasted stated it is recommended that you take some BCAAs prior to working out to help prevent muscle breakdown.

Alternatively, you can structure your day so that you eat one of your meals after your workout.

4. Commit To The Process

As with anything you have to commit to the process to get results. A good fasting ‘hack’ to make things easier is to be busy. You see, if you’re sat around watching Netflix or feeling bored you’ll find it infinitely harder to stick to your fast.

The solution is to try and be busy during your fast, use this time to get things done and keep your mind off food.

5. Give It Time

Intermittent fasting is not a quick fix, it won’t solve all your problems or bring you the results you crave. As with any other diet you need to stick to a calorie and macronutrient goal and train appropriately for your goal.

Intermittent fasting is purely another tool you can use to help you reach your goals.

Summing Up

There we have it, the low down on intermittent fasting along with 5 useful tips to get the most out of your fast and a look at the different fasting protocols.


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