Fasting. Sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Spiritual at best, anorexic at worst. But it seems there’s quite some benefits to be gained from periodic, short-term fasts. Health benefits but also mental ones.
When you’re training, you have to put a lot of effort into planning your meals, ensuring they have enough protein, calories, fiber, and making sure to spread them over 6 meals a day. Some days I leave for work with six or seven tupperware boxes filled with tiny prepared meals. Preparing them is a lot of work, and planning them is even worse. Fasting, in additional to being good for its own sake, is a way to simplify all that, and give you back some of the time and mental space you gave up.
So how does it work? Well, there’s two fasting camps: One camp likes to fast for 24 hours a day, no more than two times a week. The rest of the week they eat normally. They use it for weight loss and/or maintenance. The other camp seems to consist of more bodybuilding types, who want to go into their workouts fully fuelled. They do a daily fast – and make sure to eat before and after their workout. Martin Berkhan (interviewed by Leigh Peele here) belongs to the latter camp, and advocates 16/8 fasting. That means a daily 16 hour fast and a 8 hour eating window in which you take care to get your planned amount of calories. So you don’t eat any less or more than you would normally do. How is this going to help with fatloss or muscle gain?
Well, first off, 16 hours is enough to get most of the physiological benefits from fasting. When you fast, your body goes through a lot of changes, a lot of which are very positive. Be sure to read the six part series What happens to your body when you fast. Even more important: the bad effects you fear are not going to happen: your metabolism doesn’t slow down, your muscle doesn’t break down, you won’t starve.
Psychologically, the effects can differ. Some people overeat before their fast, suffer through their fast horribly, then overeat again once it’s done. Some people fast and use their eating time to eat junk food because ‘they’ve earned it’. For me, it’s very freeing. I’m very susceptible to the “oh a little bit of x can’t hurt” or “oh, I’ll just have one for the taste”, or “oh, i haven’t had that in 10 years!” type of argument. Little cheats. But when I fast, i have a solid reason to abstain from even the smallest cheat. So fasting saves me a lot of cheated calories, and in my eating window I get to eat real meals that make me feel full and satisfied. These days I can go to work with one big tupperware box instead of 6 (!) smaller ones. It’s a mental relief, and it helps!
If you’re looking to get started with intermittent fasting, be sure to check this article out first.