So what is this whole intermittent fasting thing?
Do you remember when I wrote about Bulletproof Coffee not too long ago? I HAD to checkout bulletproof coffee because of the claims, you know; a cup of coffee that will leave you energized for hours, eliminate any crashes, help you burn fat, gain muscle, defy gravity, etc..
Well, that is what intermittent fasting is starting to sound like. Strategic meal planning (or skipping) that will help you gain muscle, lose fat and be the healthiest human on the planet…
Sounds worthy of investigation for the End of Three Fitness Army!
To drink the intermittent fasting kool-aid, or not to drink the intermittent fasting kool-aid, that is the question.
But first, what am I talking about…inter-what? fast-who?
What is intermittent fasting
The ‘F-word’ is a pretty scary word for most…Fasting.
Do you turn into Betty White when you don’t eat (watch here if that doesn’t make sense)? I know I do. So what is IF, or intermittent fasting?
Pretty simple, and call it what you want; strategic dieting, diet patterning, meal skipping, but it is fasting for an intermittent amount of time. It goes against the whole eating every two to four hours routine that you have heard for years…It’s ok though, challenging the status quo from time to time is good.
Intermittent fasting can go down a few ways. You can deliberately skip breakfast, go without eating for an entire day or look at it as eating only during certain time frames. If you skip breakfast you would not eat till lunch through the evening, about a 10 hour window, or you could do eight or four-hour windows.
Going a full 24 hours is a little more extreme, but people do that as well.
Call it crazy, but the community of intermittent fasting practitioners is growing quite rapidly. But is this just another fad or is it worth considering? Why would anyone want to try intermittent fasting?
Who doesn’t need intermittent fasting
We like to revolt here at End of Three Fitness, but trying to be different only for the sake of being different is just stupidity. So is intermittent fasting worth a rebellion?
I am going to play both sides here, but I would like to start with why you do not need intermittent fasting. You can show me all the research in the world saying that intermittent fasting works, but you can easily gain muscle and lose fat without making intermittent fasting a must in your life…and there is more research to prove that point than there is for intermittent fasting.
That’s just factual. Conventional wisdom has said EAT small, frequent meals to stay healthy. It is not untrue, but it also doesn’t disprove intermittent fasting.
To be clear, I haven’t revealed my stance yet 🙂
Anyway, if you are a pretty fit, healthy and have a well-regulated diet…intermittent fasting really isn’t necessary for you. What does this type of person look like? If you eat good quality, unprocessed foods with reasonable portions, you rely on carbohydrates for energy, you don’t have a snacking problem and you exercise regularly (and perhaps a lower body fat%)…why change?
I am not saying there is zero benefit, but if you are in that situation and seeing the results you want…why change anything? If you are in that boat and you try intermittent fasting…it is a fad diet, in my opinion.
Others who may not want to try intermittent fasting; if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic (or any blood sugar regulation problem) you may not want to dive into intermittent fasting.
So, to recap. Health and fitness are going your way or you have a medical condition…don’t worry about intermittent fasting.
How intermittent fasting works
The easiest way to explain how intermittent fasting works for fat loss is the old reserve-tank metaphor. When your body has nothing to burn it is going to burn what it currently has (it will switch to the reserves)…right? That is where the argument comes into play; that intermittent fasting burns fat.
But we need to STOP here…
This is where every other article about intermittent fasting out there gets it wrong (or at least doesn’t specify) and I feel I need to set the record straight.
If you do not eat before a workout, a.k.a you train in a fasted state…Your body WILL burn FAT, but it WILL also burn MUSCLE. Let me repeat that, you CAN lose muscle from training in a fasted state.
I could argue this one all day. Because this study says you WILL lose muscle, but this study says it’s not a big deal. But for anyone to say losing muscle in “unfounded” and they only link to one study…hasn’t done enough research or doesn’t fully understand what else is going.
The caveat to either argument…
If your body has reached the metabolic state in which is uses fat for energy as opposed to carbs, a.k.a ketosis. Your body will be more inclined to burn fat while doing intermittent fasting. You get to that state primarily by following a paleo/primal diet.
If you are NOT in this metabolic state (ketosis), your body will be hungry and will be searching for protein. To keep the gluconeogenesis process going it will break your muscles down for the amino acids…buh-bye muscles! Don’t worry, it will pull some fat too…
So you need a protein-rich meal before you workout if your current source of energy comes primarily from sugar and carbohydrates.
Paleo? You are in luck.
Intermittent fasting and working out…builds muscle?
How do YOU workout?
Long walks? CrossFit? Running? Weightlifting? Intensity?
Well, first let’s start with intermittent fasting and building muscle. The idea here is that you increase your insulin sensitivity by working out in a fasted state, you also do this if you are not in a fasted state, but it is a little more extreme when you haven’t eaten. This insulin sensitivity helps your body use the food it eats more efficiently which can lead to muscle gain and fat loss.
This all of course depends on your glycogen depletion, which is why I asked you, how do you workout? And what is your current diet?
Intermittent fasting is not a secret pill or “the answer”. Just like everything else in fitness, your body will have to adapt to training in a glycogen-depleted state.
So if you start tomorrow, and you aren’t used to it, your workout will probably suck…big time. But over time as your body adjusts, it can be beneficial. But as stated previously, keep your diet in check or IF can be counterproductive, as your muscles will be attacked for amino acids.
Some even suggest adding 10 grams of BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) to improve performance during the workout, and it won’t bring you out of the fasted state.
Intermittent fasting for the doers
At End of Three Fitness we are all about doing things; performance-based as opposed to underwear, shirtless selfies in the mirror. So how does intermittent fasting work for the performance-based trainee/athlete?
The short of it. Don’t fast on “game day”, but maybe throw some intermittent fasting in every once in awhile.
Training while in a fasted state is not meant to improve the performance of any single training session. It is the long-term adaptation that is the benefit of intermittent fasting.
So riddle me this: If you participate in an exercise program that is based solely on intensity, and intermittent fasting will lower your performance in a single training session, should you do it?
Yes and no.
You may not be at your best, but training in this state can make you better in the long run. So OCCASIONAL training in this state can be beneficial, but don’t make it a staple.
Keep in mind I am talking to performance-based athletes here. If you are curling in the squat rack or enjoying 1/4 depth squats, this does not apply to you.
In fact, if your only goal is to gain muscle, a.k.a muscle hypertrophy, and you want to get bigger and you have a pretty clean diet as discussed above…intermittent fasting is a GREAT idea! Seriously.
My take on intermittent fasting
It has its place.
Honestly, I can’t believe I have gotten this far in the article without mentioning the name Mark Sisson at Mark’s Daily Apple. This guy can teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about intermittent fasting. If you want to know how-to do it right, check that out here.
If you venture to his website you will realize that there are an incredible amount of health-related reasons to try intermittent fasting and he has the research and community to back it up.
But even Mark says [in regard to intermittent fasting], “I don’t like playing Ultimate Frisbee on an empty stomach. I can do it, but I feel like it impairs my performance – and when I play Ultimate I play to have fun and win. As far as lifting goes, I’ll sometimes do it fasted, but I’m a big fan of fasting after a strength workout….I can do sprinting on an empty stomach, but I hit the wall quicker (probably due to the depleted glycogen).”
So even the main fasting guru will be the first to tell you that it is not ideal for performance.
That’s how I train, so I am not a huge fan of intermittent fasting.
However, if you are looking for a new method for gaining muscle mass and burning fat or would like to try intermittent fasting for one of its numerous health benefits, go for it!
I am all for challenging dogma and trying new things, so if it fits for you go for it.
Me, on the other hand, I am still on the quest to do and I do not see intermittent fasting in my near future, but I am not opposed to trying it someday.
How about you??
What’s your experience? Will you give it a try?
Other resources (not mentioned in the article): American Physiological Society, Mark’s Daily Apple FAQs