Intermittent fasting has become intensely trendy in the past few years. We’ve seen every fad; low fat, high carb (because heart disease is made from fat); skinny tea for promises of a smaller waistline and a happier you; cabbage soup for a supermodel bod (and the part they don’t tell you: super bad gas).
AND then, there is my favorite. “Eat 6 meals per day, one every 2-3 hours… because when you cross that 3 hour line, your muscles instantly begin to shrink and shrivel, and you’ll inevitably negate the efforts from your daily booty burn workout and/ or gnarly biceps pump.”
But what if the secret to not only maintaining, but expanding your gnarly pump while actually getting leaner, was skipping meals? Also known as intermittent fasting.
In order to understand the benefits of fasting, let’s put down the weights (and the breakfast sandwich) and check out the technical details. The word, “fasting,” indicates the meaning of “to fast,” traced back to the old Germanic word, “fastêjan,” meaning: “to keep, to observe.”
Intermittent fasters need to observe an absence of food within a specified time window. Now, understand that all of us observe this to some point when we sleep; observing typical American habits, we may take our last bite of food around 7 pm, and then we do not eat again until 6 am to 12 noon. Unless you’re one of those folks on the Oprah show, who sleepwalk with face- plummeting Dorito consuming intent, it is generally true that all of us fast for around 8 hours. The fast begins once food from your last meal have been absorbed or passed through your intestines, which can take 3- 8 hours, depending on the content of the food.
Within the practice of intermittent fasting, outside of that necessitated by sleeping, fasters observe a larger window, though part of it may be during sleep, it is usually a window of about 16 hours, which leaves an 8 hour window in which to consume your calories for the day.
Contrary to popular belief, research studies do not clearly favor eating several times per day to “keep your metabolism firing.” Skipping meals and working out without eating won’t make you fat or cause a significant loss of muscle gains. So you can stop having anxiety attacks about missing out on meal 1. Here is why intermittent fasting rules:
Intermittent Fasting Reduces…
- LDL (“bad” cholesterol)
- Blood glucose
- Inflammation markers
Intermittent Fasting Increases…
- Insulin Sensitivity
- Fat burning due to increased in fatty acid oxidation
- Growth hormone
- Metabolic rate
- Protection against neurotoxins
- Decrease Insulin Levels for greater fat loss: In the fasted state, where circulating insulin levels are very low, fatty acid oxidation is also occurring. This is a fancy term to explain that more fatty acids have been released into your bloodstream. When “fat burner” supplements are boasting their metabolic benefits, this is what they are referring to; the increase in liberated fatty acids.
- What it means to have improved insulin sensitivity: When we eat, the body releases a hormone called insulin to help shuttle the nutrients from our food into our bloodstream. Insulin takes the sugar from our bloodstream to use as energy by our liver, muscle, and fat cells.
- Sounds good so far, right? Of course! However:… eating too much, too often, especially when foods are high in carbohydrates, causes large and frequent spikes in the release of this hormone, which can cause our bodies to become more resistant to insulin’s effects over time.
But WAIT! Don’t reach for that cabbage soup just yet.
Insulin resistance = higher risk of heart disease and one heck of a tough time losing body fat.
- Increased Growth Hormone Supports Fat Loss: Simultaneously with this hormonal benefit, studies have demonstrated increased levels of growth hormone during a fasted state.
- Fasting DECREASES appetite: We can’t leave this part out. The benefits of decreased circulating insulin levels include fewer cravings and minimal appetite, ultimately contributing to overall fat loss.
Intermittent fasting creates an ideal state for fat burning by decreasing insulin levels, increasing fatty acid oxidation, and increasing levels of growth.
- Growth hormone to promote muscular development: Meatheads rejoice; intermittent fasting yields good news for those seeking muscle growth! A period of fasting increases growth hormone levels anywhere between 5 and 29 percent. In a study by Cahill et al., a 29- fold increase in growth hormone levels was observed after 5 days of fasting, rendering this a muscle supporting state.
- Fatty acids for fuel: One of the concerns about intermittent fasting is that muscle loss may occur as a result of fasted resistance training. However, it is well established that exercise prevents, not amplifies, protein degradation. (Kasperek. 2006) Basically put: don’t worry about losing your hard earned muscle by training without your typical 60 grams of whey protein, 50 grams of slow digesting carbohydrates, 2 grams of creatine, 8 ounces of unicorn tears and 2 mcg of concentrated rare African Pandanus candelabrum, perfectly and scientifically timed 45 minutes prior to MASSIVE LIFT EXECUTION!!
The concentration of circulating free fatty acids and glycerol in the blood increases during fasting. Fatty acids are then available to use as energy and fuel for muscles in the absence of incoming food.
- Autophagy to prevent muscle loss: Fasting turns on a process by which cells recycle waste, eliminate or reduce wasteful processes, and repair themselves. These processes are required to maintain muscle mass, and inhibiting them will cause muscle loss.
Because exercise does prevent the increase in the rate of total protein degradation caused by food restriction, training during a fasted state can be beneficial for both weight loss and muscle building.
Think More Clearly
- Fasting creates more brain power proteins: Whoever came up with the concept of “big dumb jocks,” clearly never heard about BDNF (unforgivable, right?) Fasting is capable of inducing many of the same benefits as exercise- it’s actually good for brain health. Both of these practices increase the production of certain helpful proteins in the brain, namely BDNF, brain derived neurotrophic factor.
BDNF is well known for its association with exercise and cognitive functioning benefits, but it is also induced by intermittent fasting. BDNF is a protein that helps neurons make connections with other neurons, increasing your capacity to learn and make new connections. Low levels of BDNF are linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Autophagy= Spring Cleaning for Your Cerebrum: Fasting causes your nerve cells to repair DNA. Neuronal autophagy is the same cellular recycling process as mentioned above, whereas unwanted waste products are eliminated and cellular repair occurs, specifically with nerve cells. A recent study shows that when a gene necessary for this process to occur was deleted in fetal mice, their metabolisms suffered; body fat increased, glucose tolerance suffered, and neuronal development was impaired.
Intermittent fasting, and bouts of exercise, are beneficial for increasing brain power. Try performing some of your most meaningful cognitive tasks in the morning before eating breakfast and find your newfound clarity, unaffected by a cloudy shroud of pancake flour.
Improve Cardiovascular Health
We know you just came here to find out about the LEAN GAINZ that can result from the practice of intermittent fasting. However, we still want to remind you that there’s more to life than big biceps (or so we hear).
Fasting reduces inflammatory markers and improves heart health: Periods of fasting can limit inflammation, reduce pro-inflammatory molecules and immune cells, improve circulating glucose and blood lipids, and reduce blood pressure.
There you have it. Try simply extending your post sleep fasting period before breakfast to start. Attempt some of your most thoughtful work in this fasting period, and even attempt a workout. It can take some getting used to, but once you begin to experience the benefits of intermittent fasting, you’ll leave your 6 meal habits long behind you.
And finally… break your fast with low carb pasta:
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