In health and nutrition, there are always trends that are more or less popular. One of the things that has gained popularity recently has been intermittent fasting. Fasting is by no means a new concept, many will tell you that our ancestors used to feast and famine as hunters and gatherers. In today’s society though, it has become the norm to eat and snack up to 5 times a day. This has turned the term ‘fasting’, into a bit of a bad word. People automatically think starvation. In truth, fasting can be an effective tool in your health and fitness plan.
WHY INTERMITTENT FASTING?
There are a number of reasons why people fast, but the number one reason in my opinion is to enter a state of nutritional ketosis. In that article, you’ll recall that I mentioned fasting as one of the 3 ways to enter ketosis. For those who didn’t read it, ketosis is a state where glycogen is absent from the body and we produce ketones for energy instead of glycogen (carbs) from fatty acids. This means that we’ve begun burning fat, either from body fat or an external fat source. In the case of fasting, it is obviously from our own body fat stores. There are a number of other people who can explain fasting really well, including:
Precision Nutrition: Guide to Intermittent Fasting
Essentially, we pick a block of time where we stop consuming all calories. If we are continuing to live and not consuming calories, we will most definitely deplete our glycogen stores. Remember, if we constantly take in carbohydrates, we’ll never have a reason to convert to fats for fuel. We already discussed how being fat adapted is more efficient for performance, but could also lead to higher brain function.
According to Mark Mattson, fasting has a number of neural advantages,
“fasting does good things for the brain, and this is evident by all of the beneficial neurochemical changes that happen in the brain when we fast. It also improves cognitive function, increases neurotrophic factors, increases stress resistance, and reduces inflammation.” [Moneylife]
As we can see, the neural benefits are vast, but you’d be surprised at the physiological benefits as well. In this study, evidence suggests that training in a fasted state (vs carbohydrate pre) led to higher fat oxidation and prevented drops in blood glucose. So basically they burned more fat and avoided crashing. This study, showed that following aerobic exercise, mixed-muscle fractional synthesis rate was increased in the fasted state and that eating did not increase that at a measurable level. So there are a number of physical advantages to being fasted and I’m sure there are a number of anecdotal examples to back it up.
Overall, intermittent fasting could be an effective way to temporarily switch on ketosis if you’re not following a ketogenic diet full time, or you can use it to supplement your ketogenic diet as well.
HOW DO I FAST?
Firstly, there are some people who already fast without realizing it. Many practitioners preach not to eat after a certain time, which creates a period of fasting before the first meal of the next day. They just don’t call it fasting. That being said, there are a few protocols you can follow. The protocol that I use and I’ve seen work for many, is to follow a 16 to 8 ratio (I’ll write more on my experiences later). This means that I go approx (I never count exactly) 16 hrs without eating, then I consume ALL of my daily calories within an 8hr period. If my last meal of the day was at 8pm, I will hold out and wait until 12pm (noon) the next day to break my fast. According to some, at roughly 12 hrs we should have depleted our stores of glycogen, possibly less if we’re following a low carb diet. This means that each day, we will be spending at least 4hrs in ketosis, burning fat for fuel. Of course the type and amount of your last meal could have a huge bearing on this time period as well as exercise. In fact, fasted exercise would deplete glycogen faster and put you into ketosis earlier (exercise was the third way to enter Ketosis).
Another way, is to do a 24hr fast, one time per week. This means, you fast a full 24 hrs from the time you finish eating. Coffee, tea and water are all generally acceptable during a fast, as long as added calories are reduced (use stevia instead of sugar).
What you can do for added energy and brain activity without breaking your fast, is to add MCT Oil as a supplement to your fast. Since MCTs actually accelerate ketosis, they will actually allow your brain to receive more ketones earlier in your fast.
Whether you’re the type of person to experiment with new things or not, it’s probably a good time to look in the mirror and assess your current health. Judging by what I see on a daily basis, there’s no justifiable reason to continue making excuses for issues pertaining to your health. It doesn’t take much to start living a more optimal life, it could be as easy as NOT EATING. Why don’t you give intermittent fasting a shot?
If you’re looking for an easy tool to help, I suggest something like the LIFE app, which helps track your fasts and also has a library of material and community function as well.
It’s About Getting Better.
** Here is a great ted talk which was quoted above on fasting and brain power**