The way topics and trends come and go in the health and wellness space is no surprise. They always seem to come around too, like spaces and classes that are akin to discotheques. Some trends are more welcoming, though, because they’re valuable. Like intermittent fasting.
For decades, many nations and cultures have partaken in some form of fasting by abstaining from some or all food and drink for specific durations. There are obviously religious and spiritual implications, but fasting is also founded on many health benefits. The health benefits and how to’s are, of course, what we’re going to talk about.
Fasting practices have been practiced for decades, but there is a growing body of recent evidence – anecdotal and researched – in strong support of implementing some sort of fasting. Most of you consuming a more primal diet – lots of vegetables and meat, some fruit, nuts, seeds and dairy, little starch and no sugar – will have unknowingly experienced a form of fasting. Eating a diet high in protein, fats and low GI carbs strongly induces satiety. You stay fuller for longer and learn how to eat when hungry, and that might mean you miss a meal every now and then. Intermittent fasting (IF) simply is simply intentional fasting.
Let’s consider the health benefits before looking at how to.
Any regime is worthless unless it’s adhered to. Of the many dietary methods out there, IF has been proven to elicit the best adherence. Without any hindrance on physical activity, I might add!
- Blood Markers
IF improves metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk markers. Put simply, the red flags for diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, etc. are reduced when you restrict calories via IF. Fasting also significantly improves your insulin control, which on its own is a biggie.
Although some evidence suggests that IF helps to reduce the risk of and survival of cancer, most studies have been done on animals. It is intriguing, though. IF is proposed to reduce cancer cell proliferation, and fasting before and during cancer treatments is suggested to reduce morbidity, improve tolerance of chemotherapy and reduce the negative side effects of treatment. Note, more research is required to confirm this.
- Neurological Health
Fasting improves the maintenance of the nervous system. It improves brain health and promotes neurogenesis – repair of nerve tissue. It keeps the brain clear and movement sharp!
This ties into the neurological health. Autophagy is the process by which cells maintain themselves. A good example is muscle tissue – it’s damaged during exercise and is partly repaired by autophagy. Who would have thought you need to eat LESS at times to recover better?!
- Digestive Health
Fasting allows the digestive system to rest from the normal demands of processing and breaking down food, freeing up system resources to cleanse and purify the body of accumulated toxins, thereby allowing more effective healing and tissue repair.
- Metabolic Flexibility
Intermittent fasting improves your metabolic flexibility—your ability to effectively use both carbohydrates and fats for fuel.
- Body Composition
Quite simply, intermittent fasting is an effective way of losing excess body fat while maintaining (or increasing) good, lean muscle.
As you can see from the benefits to neurological health, body composition and better cell maintenance, training in a fasted state can actually improve adaptations to training. It improves protein synthesis and boosts the effects of good post-workout food. Fasting also inhibits glycogen breakdown which results in fat being burnt for energy instead. I can vouch for these results myself. When I have measured body fat and performance pre and post the month of Ramadaan in the past, I’ve improved in all markers.
There are bound to me many more health benefits, but those are the ones that jumped at me and are pertinent to you.
So how do you go about it? As noted earlier, if your diet is high in fat, protein and low GI carbs, you’re probably missing a meal regularly without much thought. That’s a good indicator of whether or not you have a good amount of fat and protein in the diet, and I like the “listen to your body” analogy. Based on years of experience, however, I’ve learnt that most of you aren’t so good at listening to your bodies. Especially when the senses are being bombarded with temptations!
Here are some basic guidelines for implementing IF into your regimen:
- Skip a Meal
Either let this happen naturally, or plan it. Rest days are a good time to practice this.
Have just two meals a day. One mid-morning and the other early evening.
- Specific ‘feeding’ Times
Only consume your daily food within set hours. The timing will depend on your schedule, but the time between your last meal and first meal of the next day becomes the fasting period.
Only eat one of the same meal a day. For example, have dinner tonight and don’t eat again until dinner tomorrow. Do this once a week, or even just once a month, or work towards doing this as your primary option.
- Alternate Days
Fast or reduce calories on every alternate day. On the fasting days, either eat less of everything or omit specific foods.
You’re going to have to experiment with it, but I highly recommend that you do some form of fasting. It works for everything that you’re training in the gym for. There is one tip, though: During your fasting periods, don’t feel like you need to eat more to make-up for the missed meals. If you’re hungrier, do eat more, but give the mind and body some time to adjust to not eating as regularly as you are now.