I struggled for much of my life with food cravings, carb binges, losing weight and putting it back on. Almost getting the body of my dreams, and then screwing it up with a month-long carb fest which added inches to my waist. Intermittent fasting changed everything for me, I think it can change things for you too.
With nothing more than a little tenacity, a set of super low cost kitchen scales, a measuring tape, a skinfold body fat caliper and a bottle of MCT coconut oil to add to my coffee, I was able to get as lean as I have ever been, and strength gains at the same time.
I had always been interested in fitness, nutrition, and health, but could never quite find an eating plan that allowed me to build small successes, successes which then reinforced success in my mind, and allowed me to get closer to my goals.
With obesity at epidemic levels around the world and millions of people struggling to maintain a healthy weight and body fat levels, it is hardly surprising that governmental bodies and nutritional organizations are telling us we need to ‘eat less and move more’.
This has been the advice for 30 years or more. Simple? Yes! True? Yes! Easy to understand and implement? Well, if we consider that the advice is simple to understand, why are obesity levels, type 2 diabetes, early mortality, and a wealth of other health problems not going away?
The change in eating habits, and in particular, food types, over the last 20 years is most likely the major cause of this increase in obesity and related illnesses. The items in the supermarket that are referred to as ‘food’ has expanded beyond belief, and most items would not be recognizable as food to our great-grandparents.
I am a keen experimenter, I like to know why, and how things work, and why some things work for some people, and not for others.
Since I became a personal trainer and nutrition coach, I’ve worked with a lot of people. Some looking to claim back their health by losing excess weight. Some who are already lean, but want to gain more muscle and look awesome on the beach.
Others, well, they just want to be healthy, avoid the slow but steady increase in waistlines that seems to occur for most people in the western world these days, to keep hold of their youth and just feel vibrant, excited by life, and not fear the future. Of course, illness can happen, even to the fittest and healthiest person, but by managing body fat levels, enjoying whole, nutritious foods, and moving every day, you are providing the best insurance against illness and disease that you can.
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Intermittent fasting has a role to play, I’d love you to join me on the journey.
- An Introduction To Intermittent Fasting
- What Is Intermittent Fasting And Why Would You Try It?
- History Of Intermittent Fasting
- The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting
- The Breakfast Myth Debunked
- Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
- Physiological Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
- Psychological & Lifestyle Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
- Drawbacks Of Intermittent Fasting
- Why Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
- Styles Of Intermittent Fasting Diets
- Daily Intermittent Fasting Schedules
- Is Intermittent Fasting A Good Way To Lose Weight?
- Which Intermittent Fasting Style Should YOU Choose?
- Intermittent Fasting And Training
- You Might Like These Articles Too!:
An Introduction To Intermittent Fasting
If you are looking for a way to improve your health, shed body fat, and become leaner, fitter, more vibrant, and able to eat a range of foods without fear of becoming fat again, intermittent fasting (IF) could be the thing that will catapult your results to a new level.
The IF approach is not rocket science. Fasting has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but the reasons for fasting were very different back then. Foods came from unprocessed sources, obesity and weight gain were likely the exceptions rather than the norm. Fasting was for religious and spiritual reasons and is still practiced in many cultures for these reasons.
The intermittent fasting we are going to discuss is for health and body composition, not religion. IF has gained a lot of traction and media attention in recent years, with a spate of books emerging, each one espousing the benefits of intermittent fasting.
I tend to find a lot of these books somewhat disingenuous, the authors more interested in making a fast buck by jumping on the IF bandwagon, than trying to help people gain control and balance in their nutrition and physique goals.
There have been a spate of high profile celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Liv Tyler, Beyonce, and Ben Affleck who tell of their success with IF, but there are millions of ‘normal’ people around the world who have also seen awesome results, and at last, found an eating plan that fits their lifestyles and cures their bulging waistlines.
This article is going to explore the concepts behind intermittent fasting for accelerated fat loss, muscle gain, improved energy levels, calorie control, and more.
In contrast to most diet books, I am actually going to provide you with a system to calculate your daily calorie intake, how to set your protein, carbohydrate, and fat (macro-nutrients) targets, and how to integrate that with your new intermittent fasting plan. I must emphasize that, although it is certainly possible to get lean eating crap, whole foods, high-quality fats like coconut oil (this is the one I use from Amazon) and butter, and non-processed carb sources are really what we should be aiming for.
I also want to emphasize that a strength training program using bodyweight, resistance machines or a barbell set can make a huge difference in your health and body composition over time. Diet is likely to be 90% + of your results at the start though. Even picking up a couple of kettlebells like these on Amazon can get you strong and capable. I recommend it!
I’ll also explain in easy to understand terms, how you should be measuring and recording your progress for maximum success, and using that data to evaluate and adjust your food intake to meet your goals.
What Is Intermittent Fasting And Why Would You Try It?
If you have been keeping any sort of an eye on the media or health and fitness press over the last year or two, you will have noticed that a growing number of experts are claiming that the whole, ‘3 square meals a day’ or ‘eat little and often’ paradigm is perhaps, not as appropriate, or essential for weight loss, or indeed, health, as people previously believed.
They are suggesting that short fasts, the type I will be discussing in this article, can accelerate fat loss and actually make you healthier.
For years, top professionals and researchers in the nutrition field were convinced that frequent meals and snacks, spaced just a few hours apart was the holy grail for weight loss and health. And for some people, this still works. But more recent research, as well as the personal experiences of thousands of people across the globe suggest that eating this way is not the only way to eat, and in many cases, hinders their progress.
Proponents of intermittent fasting (IF) suggest that fat loss is accelerated, health benefits are enhanced, and that simple lifestyle changes, such as deliberately skipping meals, can, and is, the best and most effective way to eat.
IF research is still quite young, any ‘new’ eating approach can take many years to be recognized as a mainstream idea, but for many, the benefits of IF are here NOW, and helping them to achieve health, vitality, and a body that they never thought possible.
Research may be lagging a little, as it always does, but there is certainly enough scientific study and anecdotal evidence to make an intermittent fasting diet plan one well worth considering.
Intermittent fasting is a way of eating, plain and simple. It’s not necessarily a ‘diet’ in the modern sense of the word, but a meal timing strategy that happens to, if followed correctly, be exceptionally effective as a fat loss protocol. I mention ‘fat loss’ and will use it interchangeably with the term ‘weight loss’, but for pretty much everyone who is overweight, fat loss is what we are looking to achieve.
Many people become fixated with the scale weight, which I’ll discuss later, and then live or die every day by the number that they see ominously glaring up at them from between their feet. Weight and body fat levels DO have a correlation, but fat loss is what you should be aiming for. Enough said for now.
Intermittent fasting is an eating style that involves periods of eating, and not eating. We all do that to varying extents every day. Unfortunately, more and more of the population are doing the ‘eating’ part to excess, and forgetting about the ‘not eating’ part. This turns the whole ‘energy balance’ equation on its head, and slow but assured weight (fat) gain over weeks, months, and years is the outcome.
Human beings have fasted for an eternity. Some cultures, in more recent history, have fasted for religious and spiritual reasons. Since the beginning of human existence, human beings have had periods of overeating, after a kill, during periods of food abundance, and a lot of this was extremely seasonal. Fruit, roots, tubers, and vegetation were not always readily available, especially in the more northern parts of the planet, and animal migration meant early humans had to follow the herds, or live by the sea, and hunt on a daily basis.
To suggest that these humans were unable to function unless they consumed ‘3 square meals a day’ AND snacks is laughable. We survived, and evolved, to be adaptable to a wide range of environments, and environmental factors. Food supply was one of these factors.
I’m not going to bore (or excite) you with the complex mechanisms the body has to deal with food scarcity, but suffice to say, once you ‘get into it’, it’s just shockingly spectacular how sophisticated an organism we are.
If regular meals, spanned at specific times during the day were a prerequisite for good health, and more importantly….survival, you might be coming to the entirely rational conclusion that human beings would never have got this far, and become the dominant species on earth if breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon were essential. If you have come to this terribly rational conclusion, you’d be right!
Fasting occurs for ‘hopefully’ all of us, every day. Ever wondered why breakfast is called BREAK-FAST? For most people on the planet, apart from the late night bingers and the video games junkies who just never sleep and nibble 24 hours a day, those living the ‘normal’ lifestyle of being awake during the day and asleep at night (sorry shift workers, I worked shifts for many years, not great for health I’m afraid), tend to eat their last meal in the early evening, watch a bit of TV, and go to bed.
That nocturnal period, when you are only dreaming of food, is a fast. Most people ‘fast’ for around 10-12 hours most days. Some are in the fridge until way past 10 pm, so their fast is probably around 9 hours if they have breakfast at 7 a.m.
Fasting is normal, but for the purposes of aiding weight/fat loss, and getting a number of other funky healthfulness (is that a real word?) benefits, intermittent fasting is going to extend that fasting period. Not by much you may be surprised to hear. I’m not going to ask you to fast for 24 hours or eat ‘whatever you want’ for 5 days, and then eat 500 calories a day for the other 2 days. This eating plan is far more sensible, user-friendly, and results driven than that.
There are, of course, a number of fasting possibilities, and I’ll certainly discuss them in a moment. I’ve tried plenty, I’ve worked with clients who have tried many IF options. And they can ALL work. The issue is, that unless you can stick with it, the ‘BEST DIET IN THE WORLD’ is ‘THE WORST DIET IN THE WORLD’ if you stick to it for a week and then drop out of the program.
There is no doubt that intermittent fasting can offer some really useful health benefits, with most of these benefits being available during the ’shorter’ daily fasts that we will be using. And an intermittent fasting diet plan is easy to implement, is proven to be one of the easiest eating plans to stick too, and the fat loss benefits can be outstanding. But you still have to do it. Just reading this article and then carrying on as usual just is not going to cut it. But you know that?
Before we get too embroiled in the benefits of fasting here, let’s get moving, and take a look at fasting over the centuries. It’ll be a short chapter, but everyone enjoys a little historical background from time to time. We’ve got plenty of time to discuss OUR fasting method of choice, so read on and enjoy the journey.
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History Of Intermittent Fasting
Fasting has no beginning or more to the point, it is impossible to hypothesise about when human beings first fasted. Fasting has been around since the beginning of time, perhaps not intentionally, or with the aim of improving health or body composition, but human beings and animals have been immersed in periods of eating and ‘not eating’ forever.
Fasting is a natural process in many situations. We don’t eat when we feel under the weather or unwell. Animals too, will not seek food when stress or illness exists. It is a very natural process, perpetuated through our millions of years of evolution.
Although the fasting we discuss in this article is primarily focused on body composition improvement, and of course, the health benefits that fasting can bring, there is a long history of organized fasting, going back hundreds, in fact, thousands of years, practices that are just as important today as they ever were.
Fasting has been used by some of the very early religious and spiritual groups as a part of ceremonies and religious rites. The spring and fall equinoxes are important times to many religious ideologies, and fasting is at the centre of these important times.
Just about all of the major religions practice fasting to some extent. Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhists, and the North American Indian traditions all used, and still use fasting.
Yogic practices, many of which have been around for many thousands of years have fasting within their structure. Fasting was considered a “natural method of healing”.
Many of the early great philosophers and thinkers espoused fasting as a method for restoring health and also as a therapy. The benefits of fasting have been praised by the likes of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle.
“Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within”, or so said one of the three fathers of western medicine, Paracelsus.
In more ’recent’ times, Herbert Shelton (1895 – 1985) oversaw fasting in over 40,000 people. The physician wrote, “Fasting must be recognized as a fundamental and radical process that is older than any other mode of caring for the sick organism, for it is employed on the plane of instinct.”
As you can see, ‘organized’ fasting is as old as the hills, and is revered for its therapeutic and spiritual greatness, but it’s important to remember our pre-history past, when fasting was a result of food scarcity rather than a search for spiritual enlightenment.
Human beings and animals, for most of our existence on the planet, have never had the food availability that we have now. Before the advent of agriculture, some 10000 years ago, food was often scarce to the point of near, and actual starvation for our ancestors.
Human beings, and animals evolved with incredible systems and mechanisms to survive, with a number of energy systems, the ability to convert one type of fuel to another to ensure survival, to slow metabolism when energy intake was low.
One example is the bodies ability to convert amino acids from dietary protein, and eventually, muscle, into glucose to fuel brain function and supply glucose to organs and tissues that cannot use other substrates. This process is called gluconeogenesis (new glucose synthesis) and is a mechanism to ensure we survive for as long as possible. We are built to survive, even under extreme, life-threatening conditions.
In modern times, healers and physicians with a more holistic approach to health also recommend fasting for improving health. They understand the connection between the mind and the body, and as knowledge grows, it is inevitable that fasting for health and improving the waistlines of the nation will re-enter modern medical thinking. Sooner rather than later!
The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting
This is going to be quite a short science lesson because I am sure you want to get on with learning how to get started, but I am a strong believer in starting from a position of a little knowledge. When things throw a curveball, or the results are not quite what you expect, jumping onto the ‘next best thing’ is the typical approach of many people.
If they were to just stick with their plan, make the necessary corrections if necessary, and sometimes, just give things a little more time, they would end up making much better progress.
I believe that to really become effective at doing anything in life, you need to know WHY you are doing it, not just believe the ‘experts’, and follow their directions without question.
I’m not going to produce a boring science lesson for you here. I have tried to create a balance between some basic principles of human metabolism, physiology, and psychology, and added in a few references to useful and relevant studies for you to look up if you choose.
I want you to know that what you read in this article is not based on quackery or ‘smoke and mirrors’. Nothing you will learn here is outrageous or foolish. Sure, it may fly somewhat in the face of what the ‘traditional’ view is on meal frequency and timings, but hey, if you’re reading this article you are probably someone who is, at the very least, somewhat skeptical of the status quo.
Let us spend a short time exploring intermittent fasting, what it does, why it works, and how it can help you.
But first, what about breakfast? Surely that’s one meal we should never miss?
The Breakfast Myth Debunked
Since this is an article with the concept of skipping breakfast at its heart, and with ‘most’ people still being fed the hype about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, now would appear to be the perfect place to kick that age-old dogma into touch.
Before I get too involved in the technicalities of breakfast, I have a view, perhaps a cynical, or conspiracy theorists view of why we are still being sold the whole ‘breakfast is essential’ thing. Bear with me, and I’d love to hear your views on this too.
Since the early 1970’s when the US Senator George McGovern headed a Senate committee to ‘decide’ the US government’s advice to the nation on what they should, and should not be eating, with the main enemy at that time, saturated fat, getting a bad press globally, we in the western world, the USA, UK, Australia, in fact, in all the ‘developed’ nations, have been told that fat consumption should be kept low, protein moderate, and carbs REALLY HIGH, around 50-60% of daily calories.
So, if we take their ‘stellar advice’ on carb intake, and also their ‘not so stellar’ advice on calorie targets for men and women, we are going to be eating a LOT of carbs.
Slight tangent time.
The apparent ideal calorie target for a female is 2000 calories per day. That is the general rule of thumb handed out, with males at 2500 calories per day.
Other than the fact that most females will gain weight at that daily target intake unless super active, the 50% carbohydrate advice will require you to eat 250grams of carbs per day (4 calories per gram of carbs – 4×250=1000 calories). Not good for the waistlines of all but the most active?
For most people, cereal grain-based products are the mainstay for breakfast. Breakfast cereal, bread in the form of toast, croissants, bagels, the list goes on.
With cereal grain farmers across the world, but particularly so in the USA, being HEAVILY subsidised by government to the extent that most of them make no profit, but subsidies make it up for them, I find it wholly unlikely that any government, in the face of farming lobbyists and vested interest, is going to tell their population to cease eating breakfast forthwith, for the sake of your health and waistlines.
Perhaps they also subsidize the rubber industry, so the growth in the production of elastic waistbands is also to the benefit of government and industry, who knows?
Back to breakfast, and the facts about how and when we eat.
Calories Matter, But Does The Timing Of Them?
This is where there will always be conflict, but the research speaks for itself. Daily calorie intake, and even more relevant and useful (more on this later), weekly calorie intake is what is the important and over-riding factor on whether or not we gain weight, stay the same, of lose weight. The human body does not work in isolated timeframes, fat gain or loss operates on a continuum not a daily stop-start.
I definitely agree that food quality is important for long term health etc, but to break it down to the basics, if you eat less over a day, or a week, than you burn, you are going to lose weight, hopefully fat.
What About Firing Up The Metabolism With Lots Of Meals?
Doh! Not that old cherry? Metabolic rate is increased when you eat, the body requires energy to break food down into the base constituents that it can shift around the body to store or use as fuel, or to repair cells and tissue etc. But think about this for a moment….
Eat a little…. Small rise in metabolic rate, for a relatively short time.
Eat a lot….Greater rise in metabolic rate, for a longer duration.
Trying to suggest that eating little and often, or even 3 times a day, is somehow going to fool the body into some metabolic advantage is ludicrous. I guess it fits in with that age old (and very true) rule of the universe that ‘energy cannot be created or destroyed’. Food is energy. If you eat the same food over 1 meal or 10 meals, the required energy to break it down remains the same.
Breakfast In The News
Let’s move on a little, and get this chapter done. There have been a lot of stories in the press lately about breakfast, none of them providing anything other than flawed research which can be debunked by anyone who knows a bit about research methodology.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t, so we just believe the hype.
One recent report looked at health outcomes for people who ate breakfast, compared to people that did not. Shock horror, it discovered that those who skipped breakfast had worse health outcomes than those who ate it. On the surface, most people would say, ‘Yay, I knew it’, in fact, quite a few people did say that to me. I managed to resist going into an ‘ungovernable rage’, and just smiled sweetly!
This was a study of 16 years olds and their parents, that actually took place back in the early 1990’s in Finland. What it failed to look at was cause and effect. The study, as it was reported in much of the press, implied that not eating breakfast CAUSED unhealthy lifestyles, when in effect, they failed to consider the other alternative.
That people with unhealthy lifestyles are often the people who skip breakfast. Can you see the difference here?
Consider the ‘types’ of people that you would imagine to skip breakfast. For me, I’d create this list:
- People who stay up late, or go out drinking and are rushed in the morning, or don’t even get up until lunchtime.
- Busy, stressed, rushed parents who have to get the kids to school before heading to work.
- People who come from a low socio-economic background, living on the poverty line.
- Adolescents who just can’t be bothered with breakfast, come to think of it, I was one of those!
- People who work ungodly hours, nightshifts, early morning workers who are up and out before breakfast.
Now, this is supposition, but can you see where I am going with this? If you took a look at this group of people who skip breakfast, it might be fair to say that their lifestyle may not be overly healthy, and because of the way they live, they tend to skip breakfast.
‘Cause and effect’ again. Skipping breakfast does not cause the poor health, lack of breakfast is a by-product of their unhealthy and perhaps stressful lifestyle.
This is fundamentally different from people who care about their health, want to lose some fat from around the middle, who are going to be eating nutritious food, improving their movement and exercise levels, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and enjoying their lives to the full.
The above study would lump you and me into the ‘unhealthy because we skip breakfast’ group, which is just not appropriate.
A study from The University Of Missouri, in which 27 obese men were placed on a 12 week diet plan, an increase in protein consumption definitely helped to improve satiety and reduce hunger, but meal frequency had no affect (3 meals per day vs 6 meals per day)
In this study in the Nutrition Journal, breakfast consumption was associated with greater overall daily calories in both normal weight, and obese subjects.
Other studies have had other outcomes, it’s always relatively easy to find something that supports one’s claim. But if we really consider our evolutionary past, how meal availability would not have been as immediate as it is now, consider the mechanisms our bodies have developed to deal with lack of food, and that there is really no definitive evidence that humans MUST eat breakfast, it tends to make sensible, well considered, well planned daily intermittent fasting to facilitate improvements in health and body fat quite a viable option.
If you are interested in learning a bit more about how scientific studies are carried out, and how you can be better informed and educated about whether to attach any credence to them or not, there is a great video on youtube by Tom Naughton ,the guy who made the Fat Head movie. It explains a lot in a fun and captivating way. Check it out a little later in this post.
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Surprised? How To Move Forward.
There is a simple message in all this, but one that goes against what you have probably been told for your whole life: Breakfast is OPTIONAL
Not to sound condescending, but to re-phrase that … breakfast is not the most important meal of the day.
- If you love to eat breakfast, and your body composition is good, you’re thriving on it, and your health and fitness goals are being met, then good on you, keep it up. You might not want to fast, but there are still a stack of useful ideas in this article that you can integrate into your life, to make things even better.
- If breakfast just ‘isn’t your thing’, you function well without it, and you’re meeting your health and fitness goals, that’s great, you can now tell all the naysayers and critics in your life to stick it, and send them links to the research. Even better, tell them to read this article!
- If you have been eating breakfast, but it just isn’t working, or you’ve found this article in the hope of finding a new strategy that might work for you, then that is awesome, now you can move forward knowing that skipping breakfast is not going to kill you, in fact, it might just be good for you.
Let’s move on and look at some of the potential benefits of intermittent fasting.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has gained popularity recently, due in the main, to the effortless weight loss that people experience, but also because there have been many reported health and longevity benefits to this system of eating. Many of these have been studied in controlled experiments, some on humans, some on animals, including mice and insects.
Whether ALL these studies stand up to scrutiny when considered in the human context is not completely clear, but it is fair to say that if these benefits do cross the animal/human divide, IFing is likely to be an extremely beneficial eating system to use.
I’m going to place these benefits in a bullet point list, and add a few scientific references for you to look at, if that ‘floats your boat’. Many people just want to lose weight and feel great, so although research is important to consider, don’t feel you have to read them. You can get great benefits from fasting without knowing the science behind it.
Although intermittent fasting won’t turn you into a superhuman, beach body, fitness model overnight, there are some definite benefits. Here are some to go and get your teeth into:
Physiological Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
There have been some pretty good studies into IF, and the benefits to the physical body.
Rapid Fat Loss – Well, fat loss can occur with intermittent fasting, as with any other diet, if you take in less calories per day than you expend, and research carried out and the University Of Leuven showed that exercising in a fasted state helped to accelerate fat loss. For the non-exerciser, IF may provide accelerated fat loss over other diets, but much of this will be due to the increased compliance to the diet that many IF-ers experience.
Increase In Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – This study demonstrate a 5-fold increase in HGH at the 40 hour fasting mark. For those fasting for a shorter period, one would expect there to be some beneficial increases in HGH.
Increased Energy Levels-after a short adaptation period, many IF- ers report improved energy levels, and importantly, a reduction in energy swings throughout the day. Stable energy levels tends to prevent snacking and binge eating through the day.
Ability To Control Hunger – this is a big one, in fact, one of the biggest benefits for those looking for weight loss after perhaps, years of yo-yo dieting and failures. With conventional eating plans, 3 meals a day consisting of a carbohydrate based breakfast (cereal, toast etc), 6 small meals a day and the like, many people find that when they are in a calorie deficit to lose body fat, hunger is always in the background.
With intermittent fasting, particularly the daily, shorter fasts of 16-20 hours, hunger is often not an issue. I work with a range of clients in my capacity as a personal trainer and nutrition coach, and many people are just astounded how hunger is absent when they convert from their old eating habits. This benefit alone is worth considering if you struggle with diets.
Improved Sex Drive – this is particularly relevant to males, as intermittent fasting is shown to raise the male sex hormone testosterone. There are many other ways to increase this, exercise, diet etc, but combining these with IF is a good way to improve sex drive.
Longevity – who doesn’t want to live a bit longer eh? You may have heard of the super low calorie advocates who eat well below their calorie requirements with the hope of living to 140? Well, we are not going to be doing that, but IF has been shown (in tests on fruit flies) to extend life. This study showed that fasting on alternate days increased lifespans
One of the primary anti-aging mechanisms in the human body is called autophagy, a process where the body is able to repair cells and remove waste material. IF induces autophagy, and although we may not live to 140 (check out this article), it definitely seems that inducing autophagy is good for our health and the anti-aging process.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity – This is a commonly cited study into the benefits of IF, and it demonstrated an improvement in the insulin sensitivity of males whilst fasting. The evidence was not so positive for females, but, one should consider all factors when considering fasting, the net benefits will often outweigh the disadvantages in one area.
Reduced Biomarkers Of Inflammation – Inflammation in the body is linked to all manner of diseases and poor health outcomes, such as auto-immune diseases, cardio-vascular disease and more. A study at Maltepe University showed that IF reduced systemic inflammation. This could have a positive impact on the lives and health of so many people, it definitely needs to be looked at in greater depth, and with more comprehensive trials.
There have been a number of analysis, like this one, that suggests that fasting can reduce the risk on cancers and heart disease, I would suspect partially by reducing systemic inflammation in the body.
Lean Muscle Gain – There has been a lot of talk, and some research into the benefits of fasted training in the retention and synthesis of lean muscle mass. It appears that working out in the fasted state could see some improvements in the ability to build lean muscle. IF you do train fasted, then many advocate the use of branch-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) to aid in muscle retention. I’m not convinced that this is a fundamental requirement, when a small carb and protein based meal after training can prevent muscle breakdown and aid recovery and muscle building.
If you want to learn more about the potential exercise-related benefits of IF, then here is a nice study for you to take a look at.
Muscle protein synthesis and gene expression during recovery from aerobic exercise in the fasted and fed states.
Many people worry about losing muscle if they fast, a study shows that the body absorbs protein over many hours, and that, providing adequate protein is ingested over the day, when that protein is eaten is not an important factor. Read more here.
Psychological & Lifestyle Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Now, if all the physical benefits didn’t hit the interest cells in your brain, then the lifestyle and psychological benefits of IF might just get you there. And, to my mind, for the general population who want to lose some weight, improve their bodies, free themselves from the shackles of restrictive and miserable diets, these are the ‘icing on the cake’.
Easy To Implement & Follow – This is a biggie! Most diets can work to some extent, for some length of time, but the problem with most of them is compliance. If you find the greatest diet in the world (if such a thing existed), but it was so miserable and boring, that you fell off the wagon with a week, then that diet, however scientific, clever, forward-thinking and revolutionary it is, is a WASTE OF TIME.
A diet, or ‘eating plan’ of any kind needs to be one that you can stick too. Of course, it needs to consider things like calorie requirements, protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake (macro-nutrients), and we will discuss those later, but once that is sorted out, you need to NOT feel like you are hungry, on the verge of caving, fed up, food obsessed, and p*ssed off for the whole time.
Intermittent fasting wins here on so many levels. We’ll be looking at 2 or 3 IF plans, and you can set up your diet, choose the plan, and try it for a few weeks. If the meal timings don’t suit you, then these can be modified to suit you better. Nothing is written in stone. If you start on a 16:8 IF plan, but find that extending that fasting window to 20 hours helps, then do it.
Better brain health – this research was carried out on animal subjects, but the Gerontology Research Center showed that brain health improved as fasting periods between meals was extended. On a personal level, I certainly find that I have the most clarity, and am at my most productive during a fasting period.
Improved Hunger Management – As per the first bullet point in this section, a diet you can stick to is a winning diet, and hunger is the main negative factor in conventional dieting. Have you ever woken up in the morning, skipped breakfast, has a coffee or two and been quite happy up until lunchtime? I certainly have, and I, like many others, find that hunger really becomes a non-issue in the mornings, and eating from lunchtime onwards has no negative affects, and is easy to sustain.
A short adjustment period of just a few days can see you going through till noon or further with no hunger, and no reduction in your physical or cognitive abilities. The short version is that sleep function, physical and cognitive abilities are not affected by fasting, even up to two days, as this study showed.
Less Food Preparation Time – Imagine, having to be near to a kitchen, or carry a lunch pack around all day to make sure you have six pixie-sized meals (the size meals a pixie would eat, not meals the size of a pixie) to eat. This becomes a pain in the butt, and in my opinion, is why people who think that grazing is a better method for weight loss tend to slip up. Unless you have great planning skills, it is very easy to find yourself with nothing to eat, and guess what, you end up making poor food choices or stuffing a Snickers down the pie-hole!
When you get into fasting, your meal frequency is reduced, either every day, or a few times a week. Sure, you might end up eating proportionally larger meals on the evening, but you avoid having to plan, plan, plan. For myself, fasting every day makes for a really simplified eating plan, in fact, at the moment, I’ve pushed my 16 hour fast out to around 20 hours, so I only have one main meal per day, or occasionally, split that large meal in two. More on 20:4 fasting later.
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Drawbacks Of Intermittent Fasting
As someone who has practised IF for 3-4 years now, and as a diet coach who advocates fasting to many of my clients and website readers, I have found no real drawbacks to this style of eating.
I’ve become leaner, I have increased my strength in my training, I have mental alertness and clarity, and at 46 years young, I look and feel better than I have for years.
One of the biggest negatives I find with people considering IF is their perceptions that, because fasting is not the conventional view espoused by all the mainstream health and nutrition bodies, that is is somehow, dangerous and not appropriate. The reality is, when you take a closer look at what the mainstream organizations are saying, most of it is not backed up by anything other than ‘we’ve always done it this way so it must be correct’.
I believe that having an open and enquiring mind, trying new things, seeing what works for you, giving things time to work, and measuring, evaluating and adapting your approach is the best way to make progress.
So many people say, “I could never skip breakfast, I would faint”, without EVER having tried a few days without breakfast and eating a diet with the appropriate nutrition, it astounds me. A recent study which of course, made headlines, showed that people who skipped breakfast had poorer health outcomes than those that did not. What this ‘observational study’ failed to account for was that the majority of people who skip breakfast do so because of poor lifestyle. Out late, drinking, smoking, stressful mornings with kids to get to school / busy jobs , etc. A lot of these people also eat junk food.
This is not the same as the sensible, nutrition and health conscious individual who avoids crap food, exercises, takes care of themselves, and chooses to skip breakfast as a health choice to maintain low levels of body fat. These studies almost NEVER account for the confounding factors that they should.
If you’d like to learn a little more about how to evaluate scientific research and reports, there is an awesome video that will amaze you, and shock you at the same time.
Science For Smart People – Tom Naughton
The transition from your normal eating style to intermittent fasting can take a few days, but once you’ve got through the ‘adaptation stage’ you may never want to go back.
As you can probably gather, there are a whole raft of potential benefits to intermittent fasting, and not a lot of obvious drawbacks. One thing that does need to be mentioned is IF for those with eating disorders. I personally believe that IF can be useful for these folks too, BUT I am not in a position to recommend fasting if you suffer from diagnosed, or suspected disordered eating.
Experience and a lot of research has shown me that for binge eaters, emotional eaters, and even those who struggle to maintain diet compliance, fasting CAN be super beneficial, but if you struggle with anorexia or some sort on binge/purge issue, then I strongly advise you to do some more background research and chat with your health professional before making the jump.
I am a huge fan of personal empowerment and self-reliance, I urge you to take control of your own life, nutrition and health, it is unlikely that the health, fitness, and nutrition ‘industry’ is going to do it for you!!!
Note: If you are pregnant, have uncontrolled diabetes, or some other health complaint, it’s important to discuss fasting with your healthcare professional before starting.
Why Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Let’s get briefly into the reasons and science behind fasting. I’ll keep it short!
When you place your body in a fasted state, there are a number of hormonal reactions that take place, that don’t occur in the fed state. As I mentioned in an earlier paragraph, as the body moves further into the fasted state, human growth hormone (HGH) is released, as well as testosterone. There have been a few studies that looked at this, one showing that an increase in HGH of up to 2000% in men and 1300% in women
These hormones play a big role in muscle gain, as well as fat loss, and at elevated levels, fat is utilized as fuel at increased levels. HGH is often referred to as the ‘fat burning hormone’. Testosterone too, is linked to increased fat utilization at elevated levels, which starts to explain why men tend to have an easier time shedding fat than women.
And if you are a guy with man boobs, little muscle mass, soft and puffy, and you struggle to shed fat, then it may be worth getting your testosterone levels checked.
So, combine the hormonal effects of fasting, with a weight training routine, and you can see some nice improvements in muscle gain can occur. But, let’s be realistic, all these potential benefits are relatively small in isolation, but it may be the whole package that makes IF so effective and worthwhile.
Another benefit that fasting produces, one I didn’t mention in the ‘benefits section’ is the decrease in insulin levels when fasted. This is worth a brief discussion as the presence of insulin in the bloodstream slows, or reduces the body’s ability to target fat stores as fuel (lipolysis).
Without lipolysis, you can wave goodbye to fat mobilization for the time being, which is another reason why the toast and cereal for breakfast is a dubious idea. Carbs in the system, insulin is raised, fat burning ceases.
Styles Of Intermittent Fasting Diets
Ok, so we’ve covered many of the prerequisite ‘need to knows’ regarding intermittent fasting, so let’s take a few minutes to look at the most popular IF eating styles. We’re not going to cover multi-day fasting, as, although there may be some additional benefits to that, it’s not easy, not what most people want to do, and to that end, we are going to consider the IF methods that can easily be integrated into anyone’s life.
There are, of course, a few different ways to skin the IF cat, but to simplify things, you are really looking at:
Eating regularly within specific time windows. So, as an example, you will be fasting daily with and eating window of between 14-20 hours, and an eating window for the remainder of the day, so between 4-10 hours.
You may skip two meals a day, twice a week. So eat your last meal at 8pm on one day, then skip breakfast and lunch the following day, creating a 24 hour fast during that period.
So, there are a number of options for you to choose at the start, and they all fall into the above categories. Let’s look at each option, it’s for you to decide which to start with, but I will make some recommendations, based on your experience with IF, from total beginner to experienced faster.
John Berardi of Precision Nutrition did an excellent series of self experiments with fasting. He wrote a pdf on it, grab it here.
Daily Intermittent Fasting Schedules
As the name implies, we will be carrying out a fast on a daily basis. Here are some options:
16:8 – AKA The 16 Hour Diet
We will start with, what I believe to be the easiest of fasting protocols, and the one that most people should start with. Why? Because the daily fast is simple, and it’s probably something you have done before anyway. Here’s a video about 16 8 that is closing in on 100,000 views on Youtube.
Daily fasting involves little more than skipping a meal, generally breakfast, and then eating your first meal at lunchtime of some time thereafter. Essentially, instead of breaking the overnight fast in the morning (break- fast), you extend the fast out for longer. This allows the body to utilize fat stores during the fasting period, it gets some of those funky hormonal advantages working, and, because you are compressing your daily food intake into a smaller ‘eating window’, the ability to reduce calories gets a lot easier.
What would a 16:8 fasting plan look like? Well, let’s put it into a real life example, and we’ll begin the night before your first day of fasting.
8 p.m – Eat a good sized evening meal as normal.
10 p.m – Bed, sleep, and whatever the hell else you do in there? Sleep is important, aim for 8-10 hours of good quality sleep per night.
7 a.m – Wake – Water, coffee, tea? Ideally without milk or cream, but a splash of milk is unlikely to have any significant effects on your fast.
Morning – Go about your usual business, keep hydrated of course.
Noon – Moderate lunch, I like to keep it protein and fat based, unless I’m training that afternoon, when I’ll have some carbs with my lunch.
5 p.m – Dinner. This can be the largest meal of the day. Try to stick with whole, unprocessed foods, good nutrition is important, your body will thank you for it.
8 p.m – Supper. This can be a small meal to ‘keep the wolf from the door’. Try to keep a couple of hours between the last meal and bed.
10 p.m – Bed, sleep etc etc. Rinse and repeat the next day.
So, it’s pretty straightforward. Nothing you haven’t done before, but now you are building the extended period without food into your eating habits.
There are a couple of variations you can add in here, and they are really more satiety and lifestyle related, they are not going to make a significant difference to your fat loss.
- If you are training hard late morning, you could make lunch the biggest meal of the day, with carbs a la Lean Gains 16:8 fasting.
- You could have a single large evening meal, at 5-8pm, your call.
- You could do a large meal at 5pm, then fit in a desert of some sort a little later. There are definitely options for a treat or two with IF, probably not every night, but certainly a couple of times a week.
I still like to evaluate and estimate the amount of food I am taking in, and use a simplified method to estimate daily intake. If you want to just eat intuitively using the 16:8 diet, that is fine, and you will likely see some great results. If you don’t, then comes the time to dial things in a little.
I’ve written about my ‘simplified approach to macro counting’, it’s worth a read, and you’ll be able to use it in conjunction with the calorie and macro estimates we will look at later.
The bottom line – no essential need to count calories or anything else (other than the time), but if you have specific goals / deadlines to lose weight, then a counting and weighing approach can get you there quicker.
Up/Down-Grading From 16:8 Intermittent Fasting
16:8 fasting is very popular, it works, it’s easy to implement, it is a long enough fast to get many of the benefits of fasting, but short enough to avoid some of the pitfalls, like muscle loss , etc.
However, 16:8 does not suit everyone. Many women report better results when shortening the fasting period to 14 hours, with a 10 hour eating window. Women respond to fasting slightly differently to men, and a shorter fast like 14:10 can work well.
For some people, and I count myself in this category, extending the fasting period beyond 16 hours is relatively easy, and it has been a move that I have transitioned to with ease over the last 3 weeks or so.
I’ve been fasting on and off for a few years now, but it has only been the last 6 months or so that I have made an effort to get really lean, I mean below 10% body fat. I’ve become much more structured in my weight training routine, and although I only lift 3 times a week, I’ve seen some nice physique changes as I have lost body fat.
One thing that I did notice with my 16:8 fast was that, even after having a lunch, I would often become fixated with food by mid-afternoon, occasionally resulting in a bit of a pig out on cereal, biscuits, in fact, any carbs at all.
I decided that, as the fasting period till noon was not a problem at all, I was totally compliant there, if I extended the fast, would I still be able to avoid eating over the lunch period?
The answer was a resounding YES! I have recently moved my first proper meal to around 5pm, with a piece of fruit at 3pm. On training days, I hit the gym at 5 ish, and eat at 6.30pm, a huge meal with protein, carbs and fat, and then another smaller meal at 8pm.
This has, well for the last 3 weeks, resulted in total compliance with my diet, something I had been struggling with 16:8 eating.
20:4 IF Protocol
So, I’m offering this to you, not as a start point, I recommend 16:8 IF to start. You may find it perfect for your lifestyle, but if you find yourself binge eating, falling off the wagon, but find the period during the fast easy to do, then consider stretching the fast period out a little. You get more of the benefits of the 16:8 diet, a longer period of fat mobilization and oxidation, increased HGH and testosterone production.
Still, don’t try to push things out any further than 20 hours. Whatever your size and energy needs, you will struggle to squeeze a days worth of calories into a 1-2 hour eating window, trust me 🙂
Well, we’ve covered the daily fasting options. I am convinced that this way of eating is something that is going to continue to grow in popularity over the coming years, and when governments and nutritional bodies eventually admit that breakfast is NOT ‘the most important meal of the day’, and highlight the benefits of fasting, the sooner people with significant weight to lose can get on-board and improve their health and bodies.
For those who want a less regular fast, then a regular, but non-daily intermittent fasting plan can work.
Longer Duration Fasts
One of the forefathers (hell, he’s not even old) of intermittent fasting is Brad Pilon. Brad wrote one of the first books on intermittent fasting for weight loss and body composition, a book called Eat Stop Eat (ESE) in which he provides an incredible perspective on fasting for weight loss in a safe and methodical manner.
Although this guide will get you as far as you choose to go, if you want the ‘bible’ of intermittent fasting from a modern renaissance man, you can get the book online. Here is a little more information on ESE
Eat Stop Eat
Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat (ESE) fasting system is pretty much the forerunner to most other recent fasting systems, particularly 5:2 dieting.
ESE is based around fasting just once or twice a week. The fast is a 24 hour fast. You eat a normal evening meal on the day prior to the fast, then eat nothing until the next evening. Coffee etc are allowed.
Brad advocates eating good quality food, and I see a lot of people struggling with their fasting due to the incorrect assumption that they can just scoff anything they want on the non-fasting days. If you create a weekly calorie deficit, you will lose weight irrespective of what you eat, but nutritional, calorie sparse foods (read whole, unprocessed foods) will be much harder to overeat, and should make up the bulk of any eating plan.
The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 diet has really gained some traction recently, and thousands (millions?) of people have fallen in love with the idea of a little ‘suffering’ a couple of days a week, with normal eating on the other 5 days. Again, as above, poor food choices can derail any eating strategy, eat REAL food.
The principles behind 5:2 are that you eat ‘normally’ for 5 days if the week, and on 2 days, preferably spaced out through the week (e.g., Tuesday, Friday) you consume very low calories. The plan suggests 500 calorie days for females, with men eating 800 calories on the fasting days.
In theory, this could put a female into a 3000 calorie deficit per week (if her weight maintenance calories were at 2000 cals per day), providing she ate at ‘maintenance’ calorie levels on the other 5 days of the week.
For many women, they maintain weight at much lower calorie levels, so a couple of 500 calorie days would not create such a large deficit.
The problem with these non-daily fasts, and to be honest, any defined eating strategy in general, is that modern foods give us the ability to grossly over-consume calories. I could consume 3-4000 calories in an hour or less with processed food, and many IF beginners eat away their deficits on their non-fasting days. FASTER BEWARE!
On this basis, if YOU want to genuinely lose body fat in a progressive, sustainable, and successful manner, then managing your daily food intake, at least until you get closer to your goal, can be a good idea. No-one wants to spend months with good intentions and great motivation, to see less than stellar results. We’ll look at setting daily calories and protein,fat, and carbohydrate targets in a moment.
Check Out This Easy Intermittent Fasting Infographic
Is Intermittent Fasting A Good Way To Lose Weight?
This is the question that is on everyone’s lips at the moment, with the flood of fasting books that has hit the market in recent months.
As I have already alluded to, weight loss or weight gain is a function of energy balance, calories in versus calories out. Some people want to tell us different, and it is true that ‘a calorie is not JUST a calorie. Why? Because although the energy produced by two similar foods may appear the same when tested in a ‘bomb calorimeter’, nutrient density is important. Some calorie sources nourish the body better than others.
Whole, unprocessed foods tend to have a lot of nutrients per unit of weight, processed foods less so. The well nourished body can function much more effectively with good nutrition.
So, although you can of course, lose weight eating Twinkies, doughnuts, biscuits and chips, you are going to be hungry, malnourished, and unable to sustain the diet.
Intermittent fasting, at its core, if used appropriately, should allow you to maintain a negative energy balance, still feel satisfied, enjoy larger meals (if that is what you like), still eat out occasionally, enjoy a treat or two, and still lose weight.
It is definitely possible to put on weight whilst intermittent fasting or eating a whole food diet, it’s just a lot harder.
This is why I like to follow a daily fasting diet. It just works better in my experience. You can skip breakfast, eat a moderate lunch, and a larger evening meal or two, and still remain in a calorie deficit. This is how you are going to lose weight over time.
I must reiterate, and I’ll be harping on about this all through this article:
“The best ‘diet’ is useless unless you can stick to it for a prolonged period of time, long enough to meet your goals”.
Fasting certainly may provide some additional fat loss benefits over the 6 small meals a day diet, accelerated fat burning during the morning when in a fasted state is one, but for most people, you can lose weight with any diet providing the calorie deficit is in place. IF provides a meal frequency and timing plan that just makes it easier to stick with.
So, yes, IF is good for weight loss, but you’ve still got to execute the plan, if you don’t you’ll make no progress. If you do, you may find it to be the easiest dieting plan you have ever practiced.
So whether you want to call your unit of food intake a calorie, a monkey, a zim-zam, or any other made up name, if you eat less monkeys than you expend, you’ll lose weight. Eat extra, and you’ll gain, simple as that.
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Which Intermittent Fasting Style Should YOU Choose?
Any of the fasting methods discussed above can work, but finding the one that suits you the best, one that you can achieve on a consistent basis is the one you should stick with.
For most people, and in particular, for guys and gals looking to improve their body composition, lift some weight, get leaner, develop a beach or bikini body, I would wholeheartedly recommend you start with a 16:8 fast.
I’ve written about ‘Why The 16 Hour Diet Works’ and ‘Fasting To Lose Weight With The 16:8 Diet’ on my blog, take a trip over their for additional ideas.
If you want to take advantage of the possible therapeutic benefits of longer fasts, then Eat Stop Eat or a 5:2 protocol might suit you. Be aware that these extended fasts (20+ hours) can be hard going for many people, I advise starting with something that you can be successful at, and then consider longer fasts further down the road.
Ok, let us investigate the options for anyone who wants to dial their fasting in to a new level of efficiency, and work out some food intake guidelines that will get you in that calorie deficit and get the fat shifting.
Setting Your Daily Food Intake Targets
How much you eat in comparison to how much energy you expend is the critical factor in weight loss or weight gain. It’s called the ‘energy balance equation’ and will determine whether you lose weight, gain weight, or remain the same weight.
We all know this, but unfortunately, modern foods have made this very difficult to manage. Pastries, cakes, microwave dinners, crisps, chocolate, confectionery of all sorts, are not real food, they are manufactured to be easy to over-consume.
Have you ever noticed how you can eat a huge bowl of cereal, or a couple of croissants for breakfast, and then be hungry by mid-morning? Processed food tends to be full of sugar and fats that have huge calorie density, with little nutrients to feed your body and keep it happy.
Compare that to eating a 4 egg omelette with salad for breakfast, which would fill you up for longer? If you can eat real food, you’ll find it a lot easier to maintain that calorie deficit.
In addition to that, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, eat reasonable amounts of protein and you are fuller for longer.
With myself, and my nutrition coaching clients, I strongly believe in setting some targets to aim for. For beginners, I will often advocate using a phone app to count food intake, but I focus on the protein, fat, and carbohydrate numbers rather than the calories themselves.
If you would like to put together your own personalized plan to see some REAL progress, read on. I have no secrets, everything you read in this e- guide is what I use with my clients, and on myself.
Step 1. Calculate Your Calorie Needs For Your Goal
Sorry, arithmetic alert, but don’t worry, it’s not that hard. Any sort of fasting can help to reduce food intake, and if you are not worried about adding in a timeframe to meet your goals, then just implementing the 16:8 fasting to lose weight may well be enough.
To determine how many calories you should eat to lose weight takes some tweaking, some recording of weight and weekly food intake, and a cool head. Please note that my system of ‘weight loss’ involves maximizing fat loss, whilst preserving all the muscle you can, take this as a given, it’s the only sensible way to proceed.
There is a very simple equation that most people should be familiar with when it comes to losing weight.
Calorie Burn – Calorie Deficit = Target Calorie Intake
So, before we continue, let us quickly define these things. I am sure you probably have a good idea, but for the sake of completeness, I think it’s worth doing.
Calorie Burn – The amount of calories burned (in this case, on a daily basis) to support your essential body function AND exercise and non- exercise related activities.
Calorie Deficit – The reduction in daily calorie intake below your calorie burn level. This can be unplanned, and often is, but for our purposes of managed fat loss, it’s going to be planned and calculated for.
Target Calorie Intake – A simple one. Once calorie burn is calculated, and the calorie deficit is set, what remains (a number) is your target calorie intake.
That’s pretty simple, and all this is intrinsically involved in your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), the calories you burn during your day.
Just for completeness, here’s a quick rundown. You can read the full post here, ‘Zen And The Art Of Bodyweight Maintenance’. This has ALL the info you could possibly need to empower yourself in your weight loss process.
TDEE has a number of components which are:
Basal Metabolic Rate – the energy required for your body to perform all its life-preserving functions, organ function, respiration, cellular functioning, you get the gist. It’s often considered the calories you need to stay alive, if you were lying in bed and not moving.
NEAT – Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (heat production) – includes moving about, fidgeting, walking, housework, gardening , etc.
Thermic Effect Of Exercise (TEA) – the energy utilized during organized exercise – This is not just everyday low intensity movement, this is when you are partaking in constructive, planned exercise.
Thermic Effect Of Feeding (TEF) – The energy that is utilized to breakdown your food into its constituent parts for circulation around the body.
So, you can express Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) as BMR + TEA +TEF + NEAT
OMG! That just sounds TOO simple. Surely there is a way we can ‘dress it up’ to make the whole thing more scientific? The more complicated it is, the better it will work…surely?
I’m a fat loss coach and trainer, so I have to make some calculations and put a plan together for my clients, here’s what I do, you can use it for free. There is often a little more involvement than this, but if you implement these ideas and monitor yourself along the way, you will definitely see results.
Here is a small table to show you the calorie requirements for a variety of goals. If you are very overweight, either use your goal weight to do the calculations, or use an intermediate weight and adjust as you lose fat.
As you can see, it can be done in your head or on a phone calculator. Let’s assume I want to lose fat, and I weigh 200lbs. I could start by setting calories at 10×200 = 2000 calories per day and see how that goes for a couple of weeks. OR, if my target healthy weight is 170lbs, I could set them at 1700 calories per day (170×10) and monitor. If I lose too much, I can up the calories. Not enough, decrease calories and/or increase activity.
Once that’s done, you can, and I’d recommend it, set your target protein, fat, and carbohydrate numbers for each day. We have the calories sorted out, here they are again just to confirm what we are doing, and an example.
Targeted Fat Loss – 10 – 12 calories per lb of bodyweight (if you are very overweight, use target weight as a guide)
Weight Maintenance / Body Recomposition – 13 – 15 calories per lb of bodyweight
Weight / Mass Gain – 16 -18 calories per lb of bodyweight (or even higher)
If we use a 200lb , 30-year-old, 6 ft tall male as our example, who exercises 3 times per week and run him through the TDEE calculators above, his TDEE comes out at around 2600 calories per day. To maintain his weight, he would need to eat 2600 calories. Eat less, he loses weight, more he gains…simple eh?
If we use the simplified method above and plug him into the start of the weight maintenance numbers, so 200lbs * 13 calories = 2600 calories a day, exactly the same as the more complicated calculator formula.
If we say he wants targeted fat loss, so 200lbs * 10 calories per pound = 2000 calories per day.
The calculator comes up with 2098 calories per day for fat loss with a 20% daily calorie deficit.
So, as you can see, the simple number system above is quite accurate, and certainly accurate enough to allow you to start your diet.
If you are going for fat loss, and start at 12 calories per pound of bodyweight and see little change over 2 weeks or so, drop it to 11 calories per pound, 2 more weeks then reassess. It really is THAT simple, contrary to what a lot of the fitness and nutrition press will tell you.
You are also going to need to set your daily calorie deficit to an appropriate level for your fat loss goals, but also base that on your size. Smaller people have lower daily calorie requirements so are unable to trim as large a percentage off as a 6’8! rugby player.
Small: <15% below maintenance calories. Medium: 15-25% below maintenance calories. Large: >25% below maintenance calories.
Plenty of folks can tolerate a slightly larger deficit at the start of their diet, a good loss each week adds confidence and compliance, but for the medium to long haul, it is far better to take things steady and within the guidelines above.
This suggestion of deficits can be used in line with the simplified calorie estimates I just talked about. If you are large and overweight, start with 10 calories per lb of bodyweight per day, if you are a smaller person with less fat, start at 12 cals /lb and go from there.
Ok, moving on. Once you have your daily calorie numbers in order, you have to look at how you are going to slice and dice that when it comes to macronutrient ratios, so how much protein, carbohydrate and fat are you going to eat. I an in favour of counting macros rather than calories, the end result is the same, but it’s quicker and easier, and takes away from the obsessive approach that calorie counting can bring out in some people. Others love it, no big deal how you get there.
However, getting an appropriate macro ratio for your daily intake is a good thing. Calories probably are the overriding factor, but if you are eating a diet that is really low in protein, fat or carbs, there could be some repercussions regarding energy, muscle loss, hormonal status etc.
To clarify the caloric status of macronutrients.
Protein – 4 calories per gram Fat – 9 calories per gram Carbohydrate – 4 calories per gram
The body also has to use energy (calories) to break down these foods. T.E.F (thermic effect of feeding) shows protein to be the hardest to break dow, fat being the easiest, and carbs being in the middle. So you never really get the total calories from the food you eat as energy is needed to process them within the body.
We are going to ignore that anyway, the numbers are relatively small, but it’s worth a mention.
Depending on your activity levels and goals, protein, fat and carb ratios need to be varied, but I’m going to consider the sedentary person for this example, someone who is overweight, wants to lose fat, does a little exercise and walks a bit, but is not involved in high intensity activities.
Female – 175lbs – needs to lose a lot of fat (body fat over 30%)
Daily calorie requirements = 175lbs * 10 calories = 1750 calories per day. With someone who is substantially overweight, using lean mass (if you have accurate body fat measurements) or even target bodyweight can be a better starting point.
So. let’s change things up. This person spent a lot of their life at 130lbs, that was their usual weight until the last couple of years.
So, we can use that as our initial starting point.
130lbs * 10 calories = 1300 calories per day. This can be changed if weight loss is too quick.
Maintaining muscle mass is important when dieting, so we are going to set protein levels at 1 gram per pound of target bodyweight = 130 grams of protein per day.
We will then set carbohydrates at a level that is appropriate to support brain and nervous system function, 100-150 grams per day is adequate, lets use 100 grams for ease of calculation.
So far we have the following:
P = 130g per day * 4 cals/g = 520 cals per day C = 100g per day * 4 cals/g = 400 cals per day Fat is the remaining macro we need in the equation. and it will make up all the rest of the daily calories. So where are we so far?
P = 520 cals
C = 400 cals
1300 calories per day – 520 – 400 = 380 cals remaining for fat intake.
380/9 cals per gram of fat = 42 grams of fat per day
So we have our daily intake set up.
Protein = 130g Carbs = 100g Fat = 42g (you could call it 40 or 45 to round, not going to have a significant impact)
Simplified Counting Method For Macro Intake
Now, of course, if you love counting calories, be my guest, the apps and online software make it pretty simple, with barcode scanners and all that jazz. But there is a simpler way, where you assign averages to food stuffs and then do a little weighing to hit your targets. I wrote about that in more depth in my 90 days to 6-pack abs article, but here is the quick and dirty low-down.
Generalised Macro-nutrient Counting – I use this method to estimate all my food, using only a pair of electronic scales and a diary. It’s quick, simple, and undoubtedly close enough.
I eat most vegetables freely and don’t count them, other than peas, carrots, corn, other starchy roots and tubers etc.
Meat and Fish – 100 grams of raw animal protein contains 20 grams of protein approx. Fat varies.
Eggs – Medium Egg – 7 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat.
Rice, Pasta, Noodles – 100 grams dry = 70 grams of carbohydrate. 14 grams dry contains 100 grams of carbohydrate.
White Rice Cooked – 1 cup = 50 grams of carbohydrate approx. Fruit – Medium sized apple, banana, pear = 25 grams of carbohydrate.
Potatoes – 100 grams raw = 15 grams of carbohydrate (some contain a little more, check your variety)
Butter, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil etc – 1 teaspoon (5 grams) = 5 grams of fat.
1 tablespoon (15 grams) = 15 grams of fat.
The above recommendations for setting calories are a starting point. Any online calculator that tells you it is anything more than a starting point is not telling the truth. You could in fact, set almost ANY number as a daily calorie figure, stick with it for a couple of weeks, see how much weight you lose (or indeed gain) and then ‘reverse engineer the result to get a daily target that WILL be exact for you.
This is an appropriately cool link to being able to evaluate your progress and make adjustments are required.
Evaluating Progress With An Intermittent Fasting Diet
‘What gets measured gets managed’ or so the saying goes. In the context of creating a fat loss plan that will actually work, we need to have some simple ways, other than just the scales, that will help us measure what is happening with our bodies.
Assessing progress can, and should include the following:
- Regular photographs taken under the same lighting conditions
- Body measurements at key points, recorded in a spreadsheet
- Weekly weigh in on the scales (not a definitive guide to progress but useful nonetheless)
- Skin-fold testing with calipers if you want to get an estimate of body fat percentage
- An item or two of clothing that allow you to assess body composition, jeans feeling looser?
If you’ve chosen a ‘food counting method’, stuck to it rigidly for a fortnight, kept exercise consistent (if you do any), you can then use the scale weight to evaluate your TRUE maintenance calories.
Use a calorie and food recording app like MyFitnessPal or my simplified macro counting method, and eat at that calorie level for two weeks, trying to keep your macros (protein, fat, carbs) approximately the same each day. Eating similar foods but just rotating meals makes it quick and simple to get close to your daily targets without too much fuss.
Weigh yourself daily, at the same time and under the same circumstances (in underwear after using the toilet in the morning) and record this, combine these at the end of the week and divide by 7 to get an average weight loss for the week.
Do this for two weeks (three is better), and at the end of the period, calculate your average weight loss per week, over the 2/3 weeks.
So, you have a definitive record of your calorie intake over 2/3 weeks, and you have a definitive, averaged weight loss over the same time period. What does this tell us? Well, we know that to lose 1 lb of fat, we need to expend (or not take in) 3500 calories less than we expend. If we take in equal calories to those we expend, we stay in a neutral position, we neither gain, nor lose weight.
Overeat by 3500 calories, and we gain 1 lb. Things are not quite so straightforward in the human body, hormones, metabolism, stress, and a host of other factors ‘could’ impact on this, but for the most part, we are pretty much ‘on the money’ if we use these numbers.
So, you get to the end of the period, having eaten 2200 (for example) calories per day for 3 weeks, giving you an average weekly intake of 15,400 calories. The scales have shown, that on average, per week you lost 1.5 lbs.
We know that a loss of 1.5 lbs per week would require a calorie deficit of 5250 calories in the 7 day period. So what could be happening, you set TDEE at 2200 calories, which should have allowed you to maintain your weight over the trial period.
It tells us a lot. It tells us that to maintain your bodyweight, you would need to actually consume 20650 calories per week, rather than the 15400 you were consuming. Break that down into a daily number 20650/7 and you get 2950, your actual TDEE for your current metabolism and activity levels.
If you wanted to maintain weight, you would have to either:
Reduce activity levels until energy balance was equal OR
Increase food intake by 750 calories per day to allow energy intake to match energy expenditure This is a simple yet somewhat long-winded way to get a good idea of your TDEE. It involves a couple of weeks of careful counting and recording, but it will allow you to pinpoint how many calories you need to maintain weight, and from that figure, you can extrapolate the numbers required to lose weight accurately.
Things change, but when you are recording data effectively, and are able to analyze results, changing things up becomes very easy.
Next up, I thought it was important to cover intermittent fasting and training, in particular, IF and those that do any form of resistance training, be it with free weights, machines, or even body weight.
Intermittent Fasting And Training
Although it is perfectly possible to lose weight without exercise, exercise is, in fact, a pretty poor strategy for weight loss due to the relatively low calorie burn whilst exercising.
I’ve written about that in my popular post, ‘Why Cardio Is Poor Value For Money When It Comes To Weight Loss’.
That said, exercise has many good benefits, from maintaining and increasing lean muscle mass, increasing strength, mobility, maintenance of bone density as you age, lowering diabetes risk, improved mood, and cardiovascular fitness to name but a few. If you want to fast, get lean, and have a half decent looking body emerge from beneath the ‘fat cloak’ you have been wearing, then strength training is a strategy that pays off time and time again.
Ladies, panic not, you are not going to bulk up like a guy with weight training, and if you are the type of gal who does put on some mass, then adding some additional cardio into your training program can hold the muscle gain at bay.
At the start of this article, I mentioned some of the celebrities that use intermittent fasting to get in, and stay in shape. For many of them, their bodies are their business. For us mere mortals, using a 16/8 fasting pattern to get in, and remain in the best shape of your lives is a real strategy that can be used right now.
Exercise can be, and is generally carried out in a fasted state. Sounds scary, but many people report massive surges in energy levels when training fasted, and report some of their biggest successes, personal bests, whilst training on an empty stomach. Men and women respond differently to fasting, and to exercise whilst fasted, so there are a few guidelines to consider.
Men – If you are already fairly fit, working out fasted is not usually a problem, but it will depend on the intensity of your workouts. If you are going into extremely arduous training first thing in the morning, then ensuring you have eaten adequate carbohydrates the night before can help to ensure muscle and liver glycogen (glucose) reserves are at least partly replenished.
Fasting is popular amongst men who lift weights, and are looking to build strong and aesthetic bodies. For these guys, training is generally followed by the largest meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
I wrote a guide on meal timings for my LEAN GAINS clients, and I am publishing it here for your reference. Ladies, this is worth reading for you too, but feel free to skip down to YOUR section if you prefer 🙂
Meal & Nutrient Timings For The LEAN GAINS Protocol
Although all the information about following a Lean Gains (LG) protocol is available over on the Lean Gains blog here, I thought it was better to put together a guide to what to eat and when, if you are working with me using the excellent LeanGains system.
When to Fast
This is the pretty obvious one, but I may as well spell it out again. Martin Berkhan always considered that fasting is carried out overnight, from the last meal in the evening, until roughly, the following lunchtime. This would give a 16 hour fasting window if you ate your last meal at 8pm and had lunch at 12 noon the next day. This then gives you an 8 hour feeding window from noon until 8pm, when you eat your last meal.
There is some flexibility in this, it’s not going to really matter if you don’t eat until 1 or 2pm, or perhaps at 11 am if it is easier, and for women, a 14 hour fasting window can work better, with a 10 hour ‘window of opportunity to eat’
Fasting overnight and through the morning is generally easy for most people, and the ability to eat plenty in the evening ties in well with social events, family dinners, and going to bed feeling full and satisfied. Martin did discuss how he worked late into the night, and often broke his fast as late as 4-6pm.
These things are minor details in the scheme of things, but find what works for you, and to stick with it. Building consistency is key to good results. If you are all over the place with your fasting times, then other things are prone to slipping too. A plan that you implement earnestly is as much a psychological benefit as a physical one.
4 Protocols To Rule The World
With Lean Gains, there are 4 basic scenarios that you could be in, and Martin covered each of these. I’m not going to plagiarize his writings, but will spell them out here so you can decide where you fall.
Training fasted is one of the well known facets of the LG protocol, but it’s not essential. Even if you train before your first meal, the ingestion of 10g of branch chain amino acids (BCAA) technically breaks the fast. If you have fasted through the morning, and train at 12 noon, the BCAA intake would be your pre-workout meal.
He discusses a few sample setups in the site, you can go over and take a look here, but I’m going to cover all bases anyway. I will use Martin’s sample setups directly from the site, and they are in italics .
Fasted Lunchtime Training Setup
11.30-12 AM or 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA 12-1 PM: Training 1 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal of the day). 4 PM: Second meal. 9 PM: Last meal before the fast. This then, recommends your largest meal immediately after training (or within a shortish timeframe) with a smaller meal in the evening. So, large lunch, lots of carbs, and a smaller, lower carb evening meal or two. You might be looking at 70% of your daily calories at lunchtime and 30% at night. Choose what works for you and don’t get hung up on the minutiae.
If noon training is not appropriate for you, then an early morning training time can also work. This is often the case for people who spend all day at work. I find that although I’d love to train early, I’m just too stiff at that time, I need the day to loosen up 🙂
Training Fasted – Early Morning Routine
6 AM: 5-15 minutes pre-workout: 10 g BCAA. 6-7 AM: Training. 8 AM: 10 g BCAA. 10 AM: 10 g BCAA 12-1 PM: The “real” post-workout meal (largest meal of the day). Start of the 8 hour feeding-window. 8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
As you can see, this early morning training requires some additional BCAA in the lead up to lunchtime.
Next comes the schedule that I tend to use, it works well for me, although one needs to be disciplined to get out and train after a busy day, which is why I LOVE the idea of morning training.
PM Training With One Pre-Workout Meal
With this schedule, you train around 3-4pm in the guide, but if 4-5pm suits you better, just adapt and move the timings around accordingly.
12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Pre-workout meal. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake. 3-4 PM: Training should happen a few hours after the pre-workout meal. 4-5 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal). 8-9 PM: Last meal before the fast.
Steve’s Note: I often just do one large post workout meal, and get in around 80% of my calories there. If that suits you, cool! but I have definitely found that 2 evening meals as per the protocol will keep me out of the fridge later in the evening, it’s your call.
Evening Training With Two Pre-Workout Meals
If you work a normal 9-5 job, this is probably going to be your best option. It needs some dedications and planning to make sure everything is in place to allow you to eat at the right time, pre-planning is key.
12-1 PM or around lunch/noon: Meal one. Approximately 20-25% of daily total calorie intake. 4-5 PM: Pre-workout meal. Roughly equal to the first meal
8-9 PM: Post-workout meal (largest meal).
The good thing about training after lunch is that you don’t need BCAA’s, and anything that keeps you money in your pocket is cool IMHO. But needs must, so do what you’ve got to do.
Notes – Please Read
Although there can be quite a bit of flexibility in Lean Gains, Martin did give some key points at the end of his guide. I personally believe that some of these are ‘the icing on the cake’ and just following the basic protocols will get you most of the way, but as you home in on your single digit body fat goal and six-pack abs, you’ll need to take a bit more notice of the intricacies.
No calories ingested during fast, although calorie free sweeteners and diet drinks can be used, but I prefer not to, all that crap can’t be good for you? A small splash of milk in coffee is permitted.
Get most of your calories in the post-workout period. If you train fasted in the morning, then virtually ALL your calories will be post- workout. If a single pre-workout meal is consumed, then around 80% or so of your calories will be post-workout. @ pre-workout meals would result in 60% of daily calories post-workout.
Calories and macronutrients are cycled through the week. High carb, higher calorie on training days, lower carb and lower calorie on rest days.
I’m not going to regurgitate everything. If you want to really delve into everything Martin discussed, the Lean Gains Guide is worth reading. It also covers brands of BCAA etc.
I think this covers most of the fundamental points about meal and macro timing.
Any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ladies – I’m sorry to say it girls, but no-one much has done any research on how you react to fasted training. This study found that the enzymes that support the metabolism of fat actually increased more when training was carried out AFTER eating, rather than before.
This implies that for women who are trying to maximize the fat burning effects of fasted training, you are actually better off training BETWEEN meals. So, for the 16/8er, skip breakfast, eat lunch, and then train later afternoon or early evening BEFORE your dinner.
Intermittent fasting can, and does work well when combined with exercise, but exercise is not essential for weight loss. I strongly advocate increasing your activity levels for the multitude of benefits that it offers, but if that’s not your thing, or you are extremely overweight, then sometimes, just finding an eating style that works for you to get some of the weight off is the best idea.
Simply share to download this entire guide as a pdf to read at your leisure
I really hope this short guide has offered you some valuable insights into intermittent fasting for weight loss, body composition, and performance. It has been invaluable to me, to my clients, to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It can be invaluable to you too. Try it, play with it, adjust things as you go, and find an eating plan that is fun, sustainable, fits your family and social life, and gives you the body your dreamed of.
Thank you for reading, I am honored that you have downloaded this guide. Please stay in touch.