First and foremost, intermittent fasting is not a specific diet, but rather a dieting pattern. Intermittent fasting (IF) does not advise any specific foods – although it’s not going to help you much if you fuel your body with Twinkies (RIP) and Twizzlers. It simply means making conscious decisions to have your meals at certain times. There are various ways to make the most out of intermittent fasting:
– You can eat regularly within a given time period (e.g. you can eat anytime between noon to 8PM, so you skip breakfast). Some use a six-hour window while others prefer a four-hour window.
You can skip two meals on a certain day, which takes a whole 24-hour period of not eating (e.g. finish your dinner at 8PM, and then do not eat until 8PM of the next day).
It is completely up to yourself when you schedule your eating and fasting windows.
Now, when you are fasting, the body doesn’t have access to a Many of you will probably think that skipping a meal equates to simply eating less than you usually do, and this being the way you achieve fat loss. This is true to some extent – but not all of it. By cutting out an entire meal, you get to eat MORE food on your other meals and still create a caloric deficit, which is essential in fat loss. But as most of us know, not all calories were designed equal, so the timing of these meals can affect how the body reacts. What’s even more important are the beneficial hormonal aspects that play a huge role when on an intermittent fasting regimen that allow you to lose fat while still eating the same amounts food. So basically it allows you to have your cake, I mean steak, and eat it at the same time.
How does intermittent fasting (IF) work?
The body works differently in a fasted state as opposed to when it is in a fed state. After a meal is eaten, the body processes the food for a few hours depending on the kind of food you ate. Since all of this is immediately available to burn for energy in the blood stream, the body uses this energy instead of the fat stores. If you consumed sugars or carbohydrates, this becomes especially true, since the body prefers burning sugars before any other source of energy. Especially if you’ve been living off toast and Frosties for most of your life, as opposed to protein and fats – more on this later.
recent meal to burn as energy. So instead, it pulls energy from the fat stores in the body instead of the sugar in the blood, muscles or liver. At the end of it all, you burn fat. The same principle is applicable when you exercise while in a fasted state.
Again, without an instant source of sugars (glucose and glycogen) to pull from, the body adapts instead and gets its energy from another source: the fats stored in the body’s cells. Reverting your body to run on stored fat as opposed to carbs in your belly will be tough in the beginning and you’ll probably be feeling sluggish, but this will pass once your body gets “fat adapted” – good at using stored fat for energy. Controlled fasting “teaches” your body to do this.
If you incorporate resistance training into your lifestyle the benefits of IF will multiply like Mogwai thrown in a pool. Exercising at the end of your fast and having your main meal right after, will make sure that as much of that food goes straight to your muscles as opposed to either being used up as energy or stored as fat. So you’re really maximizing the effort you put in to your training as well as the food you consume.
Why does intermittent fasting work so well?
The answer is simple – the body reacts to the consumption of energy (food) with insulin production. The higher the body’s sensitivity to insulin is, the more likely you can use the food you ate more efficiently, leading to muscle gain and fat loss. Basically insulin is a storage hormone, when insulin levels are high you store muscle and fat more efficiently. So naturally you want those peaks to happen at the right time.
So what do you reckon would be more beneficial; having a insulin spiking meal of steak and potatoes when you’ve been watching Cops all day or right after an intense resistance training session? That’s right, the latter. You want all that energy taking up prime real estate on your biceps, not your abs.
Glycogen – a form of starch, which is stored in the liver and muscles, is burned as a source of energy when needed. It runs out while you are asleep (during fasting) and will be depleted further when working out, which heightens insulin sensitivity.
What does this signify? This means that the next time you eat a meal after you work out, the calories will be stored more efficiently: muscles will store the glycogen, burned as energy to aid the body’s recovery process, and only minimal amounts will be stored as fat. Again, this is body recomposition at work; muscles in, blubber out.
In comparison, a typical eating pattern (no intermittent fasting) consisting of 3-6 meals a day will have normal levels of insulin sensitivity; loads of spikes in insulin throughout the day. This is fine and dandy if you just want to put on a bunch of muscle as quickly as possible. But naturally this comes with a significant fat gain as well – bodybuilders call this bulking, or dirty bulking if they’re pigging out. By the way, there’s a bunch of great YouTube videos on this. This means the food consumed will see that there is plenty of glycogen stored, plenty of glucose in the blood, and will instead be redirected and stored as fat or muscle, depending on whether you’re training or not.
Also, the growth hormone, more on this later, is increased during fasting states. Together with increased insulin sensitivity (which also equates to decreased insulin production), this will essentially prime the body for muscle gain and fat loss. Without question, this is the ideal setup for body recomposition, partnered with regular training and ample amounts of sleep and recovery.
In summary, intermittent fasting teaches the body to utilize what it eats in a more efficient way. For many reasons revolving around fitness and health, this can help facilitate fat loss and improve muscle gain if done properly.