Intermittent Fasting 101
In 2011, when I first started exploring the realms of physical and mental fitness, I came across Shaun T’s 60 Day Insanity and the nutrition guide it came with (click here to read) I followed it to the T for 4 years thereafter. In a nutshell, somebody who had never eaten breakfast, and grew up eating 2 big meals and 2 snacks a day made the switch to 6 portion-controlled meals per day. And before we begin the IF discussion, let me tell you this: anything works if you cover the basics like working out, eating clean 5-6 days a week, and creating a positive balance within yourself. To test my hypothesis, however, you have to give it a minimum of one year. Anything beyond this means you’re willing to go the extra mile, improve on your status quo, and above all else, understand the inner workings of your body. Before I begin to explain about and defend my choice of eating pattern, please watch the video below or read the NY Times story about cell biologist, Yoshinori Ohsumi.
Intermittent Fasting is simply about restricting your caloric intake to 8-hour (or shorter) eating windows, thereby creating a 16-hour (or longer) fasting window including sleep time. I do 16:8, but I’ll go over what it means to fast for longer than 16 hours. Terry Crews, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and a host of others are huge proponents of IF. Not that you should base your decision on theirs, but don’t dismiss it because these are all people who are watched like a hawk by their trainers, physicians, and dietitians.
THE SCIENCE (as explained by Abhinav Gangumalla):
In an ideal scenario if we eat the exact amount of calories that our body needs to maintain our day-to-day, most of the glucose is stored in the liver (as glycogen) and muscle. This storage is used up through the day and is how we maintain our weight. However most of us consume far more calories than we need and do it for prolonged periods of the day (midnight snacks!). This results in insulin being active most of the day and as it’s anabolic, it facilitates storage.
The other set of hormones which are important in this discussion are called counter regulatory hormones namely glucagon (breaks glycogen), growth hormone, cortisol, and adrenaline. These hormones are catabolic (breaking) and help us burn glycogen and fat. Now the counter regulatory hormones can’t do their work till insulin is given some rest. So the whole logic of intermittent fasting is that we give a clear instruction to our hormones whether you want the building or breaking mode to be on, and for how long. If you are fasting for most time of the day, the counter regulatory hormones start breaking the reserves for energy. Alternatively if you are eating for most of the day, insulin will keep building your reserves and thus making you increase fat storage.
HOW TO BUILD MUSCLE WITH IF:
IF can be excellent to gain muscle and lose fat, if planned and executed well. I would suggest that you don’t fast for longer than 12-14 hours if you’re trying to build muscle. I’ve been trying to gain muscle since April, so I make sure I workout an hour before my fasting ends. My first meal of the day is at 1pm, and last meal at 9pm. I break the fast with a protein shake, have a big, high-carb, high-protein meal 1, a green juice with fruit around 6pm, and a high-protein meal 2 for dinner around 9pm.
SHOULD YOU TRY IF?
• If you’re a fairly fit, healthy individual looking to “break the plateau”, or you feel like your current eating pattern is either leaving you feeling lethargic/ bloated/ is just not working, then yes, try IF.
• If you’re chasing a goal such as losing weight for a specific occasion, then DON’T try IF because its easy for fasting to turn into starvation unless you’re just as determined to eat as you are to fast.
• If you’re just getting started, practice 12-hour fasting for two weeks, 14-hour in for the subsequent two weeks, and then make the switch to 16:8.
• Use the fasting period to drink as much water as you can, so you don’t feel full due to water during your eating window.
• EAT CLEAN! Don’t use IF as an excuse to eat uncontrolled amounts of junk during your eating window. That is just counter-intuitive to good health.
• Enjoy your meals to the fullest, and until you’re able to stomach 2 big meals, break down into smaller portions throughout the day.
• Please, please maintain a log of how your body feels, body fat percentage, measurements, and regular health checkups. Observing your own body keenly through years of its fitness journey can help you become so intuitive about your own body. This way you don’t need to turn to a rando’s website to tell you what’s working and what’s not ;)