I have been "Intermittent Fasting" for over two years. I skip breakfast and eat two to three meals each day, the first around 1pm with the last starting at 8pm. I then "fast" for 16 hours until I eat the following day usually at 1pm.
To my surprise, as well as my clients, fasting is not only easy but beneficial in many ways. During my 1st year of intermittent fasting I increased lean muscle mass (up 7lbs) , decreased body fat (down 5% from 20% to 15%), increased every day performance while decreasing the amount of time I spend training (down from 7.5 hours per week to 3.0 hours per week).
In other words I'm more fit, leaner, lighter on my feet and in much better shape even though I train less and eat less. Does the phrase "quality over quantity" ring a bell?
How is all this possible? Why would anyone fast for 16 hours every day while skipping breakfast? Is skipping breakfast bad for you? What are the benefits? Is it dangerous? Is there science behind this or is this just Ray being crazy?
Slow down my friend. Yes I've been known to do some crazy and challenging things because I have been in a great white shark cage diving, jumped out of airplanes, have paddled 41-miles from on hawaiian island to another and have been in Ketosis for a full year, but I can tell you this is totally legit. Intermittent fasting is also easy to implement into your lifestyle and there are many health benefits. In this post i'm going to break down intermittent fasting, what to expect and everything that goes along with it including the benefits of fasting while training.
First What is Intermittent Fasting and Why Would You Do It?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet but a pattern of daily eating. I like to think of "IF" (intermittent fasting) as a way of scheduling your meals so that you get the most out of them. Intermittent fasting doesn't change what you eat, it simply changes when you eat.
So what are the benefits of changing when you eat? For starters its a great way to get lean and digest food more efficiently. It's also proven to help shed body fat without engaging in any crazy diets or purposely cutting calories below 1,000 per day. In fact for the most part, you'll try and keep your calories the same when you initially start intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is also a great way to keep lean muscle on (which provides shape) while reducing inches off the waist line which is the main reason people try Intermittent fasting. We'll talk about how intermittent fasting leads to fat loss in a moment.
But first let me share through my own experience, that IF is one of the simplest strategies for taking bad weight off and keeping muscle on because it requires little behavioral change meaning, its simple enough that you'll actually do it, but also meaningful enough that it will also make a difference.
So How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
First we have to understand fed-state, post-absorptive and fasted-state of eating.
When you are in a fed-state (typically starts when you break your fast and begin eating), its very hard for your body to burn fat because your insulin levels are high. Insulin, a vital hormone which plays a huge roll in the body's ability to burn fat. It's also known as the stress hormone. As your body digests and absorbs the food you just ate, the fed-state can last anywhere from 3-5 hours depending on the amount of food you consumed.
After that timespan, your body goes into what is known as the post-absorptive state which means, your body isn't processing your meal/food anymore. This post-absorptive state can last anywhere from 8-12 hours after your last meal, at which time your insulin levels drop back to normal. This is when you can now enter your fasted-state, a period when your body CAN burn body fat that was inaccessible during the fed state.
Because we don't enter the fasted state until 12 hours after our last meal, its rare that our bodies enter the fat burning state. This is one of the reasons why people who start intermittent fasting will lose fat without changing WHAT they eat, HOW MUCH they eat, or HOW OFTEN they EXERCISE. Fasting puts your body in a fat burning state that you rarely make it to during a normal eating schedule.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
1. Intermittent fasting is much easier than dieting: The reason most diets fail isn't because we switch to the wrong foods, its because we don't actually follow the diet over the long term. It's not a nutrition problem its a behavioral problem! This is where intermittent fasting shines because its easy to follow once you get over the idea you need to eat all the time. Most of my clients quickly adapt to this routine because its easy in both contemplation and execution, and its not a diet.
Many have contemplated going on a diet because it might sound appealing, but given job and family responsibilities, stress, hustle and bustle of the day and the nitty gritty of a diet, it usually becomes tougher than expected and the reason most fail at dieting. For example, I stay on a low-carb diet 85-90% of the time. But if I were to think about going on a low-fat diet, it might look easy upfront. I could eat bagels, pancakes, pasta, potatoes, corn, bread, and waffles with syrup and bananas by the dozen... but if I were to embark on such a low-fat diet I would soon tire of it because I would wish I could have steak, salmon, eggs, olives and avocados. So that diet for me might look easy in contemplation but not so easy in long-term execution. It wouldn't work for me thus I would fail!
Intermittent fasting may sound hard in contemplation because most typically doubt they can fast for 16, 18 or even 24 hours like our ancestors did. But its interesting to watch how quickly it becomes a snap once started! Fasting is liberating and easy once you get the hang of it. Your food expenditures also drop while not feeling particularly hungry. Although it may seem tough to overcome the idea of going without food at times, once you begin the regimen, nothing can be easier!
2. Intermittent fasting helps you live longer: Fact, when you're starving your body finds a way of extending life. Scientists have long known that restricting calories is a way of lengthening life (where overeating shortens life), which from a logical standpoint makes sense. There is just one problem, who wants to starve themselves to live longer? I don't know about you but I for one am definitely interested in enjoying a long healthy life. The good news is that intermittent fasting activates many of the same mechanisms for extending life as calorie restriction without having to starve oneself. In other words you get the benefits of a longer healthier life without the hassle of starving. More recently, this study found that alternate day intermittent fasting led to longer lifespans meaning, you do not have to fast everyday.
3. Intermittent Fasting makes your day simpler: I'm big on improving lifestyle, behavior change, simplicity and reducing stress. Intermittent fasting provides that much needed simplicity to my life that I really enjoy. When I wake I don't have to worry about breakfast or eating right away. Instead I have a cup of coffee, black tea or glass of water and start my day which is critical to the IF process.
I truly enjoy eating good food and I don't mind cooking for myself which is something I do all the time, so eating three meals a day was never a hassle for me. However, intermittent fasting allows for more convenience while eating one less meal and within a window of time that works for me and my schedule, which keeps things simpler and I like that.
4. Intermittent fasting can prevent insulin resistance which lowers your risk of diabetes and obesity: Today America has a diabetes and obesity problem caused by over eating, processed foods, and work stress which leads to eating disorders. For many, food is a coping mechanism and a way many deal with their emotions, work stress and lack of sleep. IF provides structure, parameters and results which then leads you to think about making better food choices.
5. Intermittent fasting is also beneficial during training: Why? Because your body will be predominantly pulling from fat storage rather than glucose in the muscle because again, after fasting for 12 hours your body automatically goes into fat burn mode. Given the fact my 1st meal usually starts at 1pm, I usually schedule my training days for 12:00, 12:30pm or even 1pm depending on my day so my body can fully take advantage of those fat burning opportunities. After working out, I'll first shower and take my time getting dressed allowing my body to further draw from fat storage before my first meal. Yes this may shrink down my window to eat that day, but I get my food calories in before 8pm.
Daily Intermittent Fasting
Most of the time, I follow (the leangains model) of intermittent fasting, which uses a 16-hour fast and 8-hour eating period. It doesn't matter where you start your 8-hour eating period, do what works for you and your schedule. I tend to find that eating around 1pm until 8pm works best for me because those times allow me to eat a late lunch or dinner with friends and family. For others who might work a 9-5pm, the 1-8pm eating period and 16-hour fast lasting until 1pm the next day might fit best, but there are other options (read on)
Intermittent Fasting and Training While Working 9-5pm
There are some who prefer an eating window from 8:00am-3:00pm (last meal starts at 3pm and ends prior to 4pm) With this fast, many enjoy drinking black tea at night before they close their eyes. Its calming and helps there stomach feel full. On training days they hit the gym at 6:00am, shower at 7:00-7:15am, and eat their first meal at 8:00am making it to work by 9am. On the flip side, those who enjoy the 1-8pm eating window may get to the gym by 6:00pm, train till 7:00pm and eat at 8pm, while fasting until 1pm next day.
10 Lessons I Learned from 1 Year of Intermittent Fasting
1. Losing body fat is easy! When eating less frequently you tend to eat less overall. You might plan a big meal in your mind but consistently eating big meals becomes rather difficult. Intermittent fasting becomes a simple way to cut down on the total number of calories you eat without changing your diet. Even if you eat 2 normal sized meals at 1pm and 8pm, you typically end up eating fewer calories than say eating 3 or 4 randomly spaced meals which provides NO opportunity for fat burn.
2. My best work is done when I'm deep into my fast. I wake at 5am each morning and find my most productive time of day to be between 8am and 11am which is about 12-15hours into my daily fast (the sweet spot). When I first started I assumed that if I didn't eat for hours then I wouldn't have any energy, but the reality was the complete opposite. My mental clarity picks up at the 12 hour fast mark, more so than in the afternoon when I am fed.
3. The biggest barrier is in your own mind. Fasting is simple, don't eat when you wake up but instead hydrate. At least thats how I do it. In the beginning I had to get over the mental barrier of thinking, If I don't eat I will get light headed? Will I feel faint? Will I be able to function normally? It's interesting to think how we've all been programmed to think in order to be healthy we must eat a certain way like breakfast, lunch and dinner. Who made that rule up?You believe it because you were told to do it, told to follow the herd, not because you actually tried it. What happened when I fasted? Life changed for the better and life continued to move along just fine. If there's is one thing I've noticed most that separates successful people from those who remain the same in life, it's not just the ability to think differently but the ability to put different thought into action as well.
4. For best results, cycle what you eat. Intermittent fasting works, but I didn't start cutting significant fat at a fast rate until I added in calorie and carbohydrate cycling to my diet. Heres how it works.. I cycle calories by eating a lot on the days that I workout (within reason) and less on the days that I rest and recover, because the body doesn't need the extra calories. The idea behind this is that you can build muscle on the days you train while burning fat on the days you rest. And by the end of the week, you should have done both.
Additionally, I cycle by eating more carbs on the days I workout (three days a week) and limit my carbs on the rest days (four days of the week). This is done to stimulate fat loss. My usual daily food intake is high quality fats, moderate protein all the time and low carbs on most days with the exception of training days (thats my meal plan which is different for everybody, but works for me) For me this is when intermittent fasting seemed to pay off most, when I coupled it with calorie cycling and carb cycling.
5. Since starting IF, I want less food. Intermittent fasting is not in control of me, I simply listen to my body and its needs and go from there. I'm not addicted to IF, I simply eat when I want because I want to, not because I'm caught up thinking I have to eat at any specific time of the day. I eat when I feel its time within my window. This is a marked change from my previous schedule and feel given the change I now have the power and flexibility over my food intake, rather than it having ownership over me!
6. If you're looking to lose fat and build muscle, then the cycling on IF, carb cycling and calorie cycling that I have mentioned is one of the best you'll find. Though most will tell you its basically impossible to gain muscle while losing fat at the same time, there is an alternative way and allow me through experience to explain why. To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you take in, meaning you simply need to have a calorie deficit (burn 2,000 cals while taking in 1,900 cals). On the other hand to add lean mass you need to eat more calories than you burn, here you need a calorie surplus i.e: take in 2,400 cals while burning 2,300. While most humans are looking to lose weight, you CAN actually do both at the same time. How? The 3 days of carb loading when training, and 4 days of low carb intake when not training makes it possible. Here and given the cycling you have spent three days gaining muscle and four days losing fat, but remember we should be looking at change over the course of time like a week or a even a month, never on a daily basis.
7. By training less days but with more intensity I have made better gains. Now, I do the most important thing first and that is to condense my training window, while adding strength and intensity to get my heart rate up. I train Tuesday, Thursday and either Saturday or Sunday. I choose two exercises each day, one primary like pushups or bench press, and the other a compounding movement like a single leg lunge/single arm cable pull combo. Another example may be a high low lat pull down, followed by a dumbbell body squat/overhead press. On my third day I may do sprints while making sure to get some core, glute and low back work in. It varies each week!
The results have been good over this past month and I am seeing improvements each and every week now that I have recovered from the Aids/Lifecycle ride. I don't know if this is because I've found a better way of training, but I do know I am "feeling" so much better intermittently fasting. I'll be sure to write more on this in the future.
8. In order to remain in a fasted state, the general rule is anything you might consume in the morning prior to your first meal must be under 50 calories. Some mornings I have black coffee, others a tall glass of water or even black tea depending on if its winter or summer. Not sure where this number came from but its been dished out by a number of reputable people so I'm sticking with it for both myself and my clients for now. It works and although I tend not to follow the heard because I prefer putting my own body through the test, in this case having a cup of coffee in the morning is fine. Its actually whats known as bullet proof coffee which allows you to add mct oil, grass fed butter or coconut oil ( just keep it less than 50 cals worth)
9. Prepare to drink a lot of water, sparkling water and/or black tea. I drank a lot of water before I began IF, but now I drink even more. I consume on average 8 tall glasses of water a
day by the time I have my first meal, even more on training days. You may not drink as much water as I do, but I recommend always having it available. Your mileage each day may vary.
10. The best diet for you is the one that works for you. Everyone falls for the trendy diet, which comes with the phrase, "just do this and you'll be set". This is why diet books sell so well, a lot of people are willing to pay for the quick fix, the cookie cutter diet, the one size fits all, or the nutritional solution to long life. You remember Acai, well now it changed to Matcha and a year from now it will be something else. Its like telling everyone to wear small sized shirts and then wondering why they don't fit all people.
While working with my clients, one size does not fit all. Sure your body is the same as everyone else's in most ways, but in some very important ways, its also different than everyone else's because we have different genes and familial disposition. Thats why working with the foods you like, experimenting with different foods, and learning what a good protein, carb and fat are from a bad protein, carb and fat is extremely important so you can see what your body responds to. This is why I enjoy Intermittent fasting, you can play with your eating schedule very easily. Choose one that fits your lifestyle and that your body responds to best.
Once you figure out when you should be eating, you can then move onto the harder part: what you should be eating.
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In good health,