Could you make hunger part of your daily routine? Could being hungry actually be good for you? Intermittent fasting is becoming increasingly popular in the fitness world, promising results of increased muscle, reduced body fat, and enhanced energy. Is this just another fad diet or is this the ultimate way to build muscle, keep fit, and stay lean in the process?
Fasting Diets Through History
Fasting isn’t a new concept. In fact, throughout history, our ancestors have been fasting for thousands of years and it is a key part of many religions. From Cavemen forced to feast and famine, to hunger strikes in political protests, and symbolic religious fasts said to cleanse the soul, fasting has always been a part of our existence. Throughout the ages, fasting has been proven to affect our physical, mental and emotional needs. But what are the health implications and how could it affect our training?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, it’s a pattern of eating. Intermittent fasting is not about starving yourself. Yes you will get hungry, but you do eat, eventually. Those embarking on an intermittent fast will typically split their day between two metabolic states, the fed state and the fasted state. Whilst the lengths of fasting differ between individuals, the most popular format is the 16/8 method. 16/8 requires 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8-hour eating window, for example between 12 pm and 8 pm users would eat and then fast from 8 pm until 12 pm the next day, providing a 16 hour fast.
Fed State Metabolism
Once you begin eating, your body enters into a fed state where your metabolism begins to convert carbohydrates, proteins and fats into energy. After you eat, there are high levels of nutrients in the bloodstream and blood sugar levels are high. In order to control this, the body releases insulin. At this point, your body’s ability to burn fat is limited. Your body remains in this fed state until it is finished digesting and absorbing your food.Typically, this can last anywhere between 3 to 5 hours after eating, depending on what it was you ate. After your food is digested we begin a transitional stage before fasting called the postabsorptive state. Finally, approximately 12 hours after our last meal, insulin has significantly dropped and our bodies move from the postabsorptive into a fasted state.
Fasted State Metabolism
When you go into a fasted state, insulin levels drop and your body now has to burn fat stores for energy. When it was fed, your body wouldn’t burn these fat stores as there was glucose to use as its primary source of fuel, but since that’s run out, your body is forced to burn fat. This is why those who follow an intermittent fast often lose weight without changing what it is they eat or how much training they do, simply by adjusting the timing of their eating they design an eating pattern for burning more fat. What’s more, in a fasted state, your body's human growth hormone levels are significantly higher, due to the fact you are using fat for energy rather than food so your body increases the production of human growth hormone in order to preserve muscle. The increased levels of human growth hormone can result in an increase in muscle gains, quicker recovery, and an overall leaner physique.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can help weight loss.
Due to an overall reduction in your weekly calorie consumption, those using an intermittent fasting eating schedule are more likely to benefit from losing weight.
Intermittent fasting can lower your risk of diabetes.
Intermittent fasting is thought to lower the risk of type II diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and adjusting insulin resistance. Whilst it's difficult to find any conclusive research, some doctors have even argued type II diabetes can be cured with intermittent fasting. Weight-loss is at the forefront of treating type II diabetes.
Intermittent fasting can help your body repair.
Fasting initiates ‘autophagy’ in the body, this is a process of waste removal whereby the body starts to break down dysfunctional proteins which build up in the body. The removal of these waste products helps your body to function better and repair itself more effectively.
Will Intermittent Fasting Get Me Results?
There’s a vast array of suggested benefits of intermittent fasting which could inspire you to give it a go, however, studies with definitive research conclusions in humans are limited and so it seems the best way to find out if intermittent fasting is for you, is to try it for yourself. Keep a food and mood diary and take your weight, measurements, and photographs before and after a three-week trial to give yourself a full and fair picture of your progress. When you first start a fasting programme you may experience symptoms such as:
- Extreme hunger
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Feeling weaker
These symptoms should all fade once your body becomes accustomed to your new pattern of eating, however if you experience any more serious or unusual side effects it is best to return to your regular eating pattern and then contact your GP if symptoms persist.
Research has shown it takes 21 days to adapt to a new habit, so it's best to stick it out for 3 weeks to discover if it really works for you.