Exercise and Intermittent Fasting: is it For You?
Right Way and Wrong Way for Intermittent Fasting
If you’re tapped into today’s fitness culture, you might be hearing a lot about this hot new thing called ‘intermittent fasting’. Well, it’s actually not very new at all (fasting has been a feature of human societies and religious practice for thousands of years), but it hasn’t been until recently that fitness and health experts have begun to look at fasting as a legitimate means of improving one’s physical well-being in various aspects, including insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, fat loss, muscle growth, and preventative aging. Recent research has challenged the conventional weight loss recommendation to “eat small 5-6 meals throughout the day”, as results have shown that increased meal frequency has very little effect on weight loss.
According to experts, there are ways to do intermittent fasting wrong, and a way to do it right; intermittent fasting is not simply bingeing and then starving yourself (yo-yo dieting, anyone?), which can result in disordered eating and/or a really screwed up metabolism. But if done right, and in certain populations, intermittent fasting can take your health to the next level. And if you add a fasted exercise regimen into the mix, you can achieve explosive results with your fitness goals.
Intermittent Fasting. So, how do you do it right?
One of the most common and highly-recommended methods of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 protocol. On this protocol, you eat within an eight-hour window, and fast for sixteen hours (for most of which you are asleep). So, if you go to sleep at 10, you might eat your last meal at 6 pm, wake up at 6 am and break your fast at 10 am.
And if you are looking to lose fat, proponents of intermittent fasting also recommend engaging in some HIIT while on your fast—which usually means in the morning, before you eat your first meal (though, it should be noted that no amount of intermittent fasting will clean up a crappy diet—you can check out Infofit’s recommendations on nutrition and diet here and here). The rationale behind fasted exercise is that your fasting body will be forced to quickly turn to your fat stores for energy–as opposed to your sugar, carb-laden breakfast donut. Many claim that intermittent fasting will optimize your hormones—decreasing insulin, increasing Human Growth Hormone (which I discuss below), and priming your cells to be more receptive to the post-workout meal and gaining its full nutritional benefits. Training in a fasted state may also be effective in improving your body’s adaptive stress response; in short, the athlete’s occasional fasted training session may improve his or her performance when it comes to the main event.
And if you’re concerned about muscle loss while fasting, scientific evidence shows that fasting actually better preserves muscle while in a caloric deficit, as opposed to just dieting the old-fashioned way (ie eating less calories whenever). Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is shown to increase dramatically in a fasted state—and as you may or may not know, HGH is a protein-based hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland and which is essential for cellular repair and growth—and it is well-loved by those bodybuilders looking to increase muscle mass. Scientific (and anecdotal) evidence suggests that fit and healthy men who are already dedicated to an optimal diet and exercise regimen may have the most to gain from a fasted exercise protocol, helping them to break through a fitness plateau or dissolving fat in ‘stubborn’ areas.
But, you might say, I get grouchy and lightheaded when I don’t eat breakfast! This may very well be true, in which case, fasting might not be for you. But multiple studies have demonstrated that the effects of intermittent fasting on mood and cognition are minimal and, in most cases, actually quite positive! Many people report experiencing increased mental clarity, decreased stress, and an overall improvement in mood. Therefore, the grouchiness and light-headedness that you might initially experience may just be your body throwing a temper tantrum when it doesn’t receive immediate gratification, as it has come to expect. So, you might want to give it a couple days, and see if your body doesn’t eventually adapt.
Well, hold up.
All health recommendations come with one huge caveat, and intermittent fasting is no different: this may not be for you. Much of the research on intermittent fasting that has produced these positive results has been done a) on animals that are not humans, b) in conjunction with a modified diet and/or caloric deficit, or c) on an exclusively-male population. Plus, some experts argue that the benefits of fasted exercise do not outweigh its risks.
So, at the end of all this, should you attempt intermittent fasting?
I must ask you please to speak to your doctor, your nutritionist, or your certified personal trainer, as there are certain individuals who would most likely not benefit from an intermittent fasting protocol. Infofit offers various courses and training programs that will give you the tools and knowledge required to make the best decisions in regards to your diet and exercise regimen–and you can check them out here and here.
Stay tuned for next week’s article, as I will discuss in more depth intermittent fasting and fasted exercise and the specific individuals who have the most to gain…and those who might be better off without it.
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer (completing) and Infofit fitness blog writer.