Intermittent fasting is used as an umbrella term for a series of ‘dieting’ protocols, based on the scheduling of meals, rather than cutting calories in order to achieve fat loss.
In fact, intermittent fasting is not really a diet at all!
It is based on the idea that undergoing a short fast allows the body to directly burn fat rather than the food consume throughout the day. In the ‘none fast’ duration, you can consume your normal diet with the flexibility to “treat yourself” rather than forcing diet restriction.
You still want to aim to eat healthily and with the correct macro-nutrient ratios for your desired fitness goals!
Intermittent fasting 16/8 |
There are several intermittent fasting protocols which are regularly used. The one which will be the focus of this article is known as the 16:8 protocol, also referred to as the ‘leangains’ method, originally established by Martin Berkhan (nutritional expert and personal trainer).
This method of IF is most commonly used by those who are looking to build muscle with minimum fat accumulation, and in some cases for both muscle gain and fat loss. Several celebrities and well known members of the bodybuilding/fitness community are known for following this protocol, due to its favourable results for those looking for a clean, shredded and aesthetic look.
The logistics behind the 16:8 protocol are very simple. You fast for a period of 16 hours a day, whilst fitting your calories into the remaining 8 hour window. The most popular means of doing this is to fast from 8pm one day, until 12pm the next.
Between these times, you eat as you normally would. It isn’t restricted to these times either; you can schedule it appropriate to your routine. Most people, me included, find it easiest to fast overnight and then skip breakfast,having their first meal around lunchtime or early afternoon.
How does intermittent fasting work?
To understand how IF works, you need to be able to differentiate between a ‘fed’ state and a ‘fasted’ state.
Typically, your body is in a fed state when it is digesting and then absorbing any food you have eaten. This usually lasts several hours, and during this time it is very difficult for you body to burn fat, since insulin levels are particularly high.
After this fed state, your body will go into a phase called the post-absorptive state, which means that your body isn’t digesting and processing any food. This lasts around 12 hours after your last meal. It is after this time that your body enters a fasted state.
It is rare that we would normally enter a fasted state, as we would typically eat after waking in the morning, having breakfast, and as the name suggests, we are breaking the fast.
When insulin levels are very low during this state, your body finds it much easier to burn fat. These is one of the main reasons people try intermittent fasting, and see results without making any changes to their diet.
Furthermore, when you fast, your body uses energy from its glycogen stores for energy. As a result, when you do eat, any excess with be stored back as glycogen, rather than in fat cells.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting 16:8?
✓ Increased fat loss
IF can help you to get exceptionally lean, and shift stubborn fat once you already have a fairly low body fat percentage, in the low to mid-teens. Those with a higher body fat percentage will also see more significant weight loss whilst following IF, and often will see results after only a short period of committing to the protocol.
✓ Less cravings
In addition to the increase rate of fat loss, IF prevents you from craving unhealthy food. It teaches you when you are physically hungry, and when you just fancy something to eat. It acts as a hunger suppressant, and you will find that you will be more satisfied following a meal.
✓ Improved insulin response
After fasting for the 16 hour period, when you do eventually break the fast, you will be more sensitive to insulin, and therefore your insulin levels will be more stable and fluctuate less. It also means improved rate of protein synthesis, since insulin is a powerful hormone for controlling the rate of it. The improved insulin response contributes to the fact you will have less cravings and appreciate your food more.
✓ Improved cognitive function
One of my main worries before trying IF was that I would be tired and sluggish in the morning. I found that in fact when in a fasted state, I felt better and performed better. Since blood is not being pumped to your digestive system, as it normally would after a meal, more oxygen is sent to other parts of your body e.g. muscles during a workout or your brain. I found I can focus more easily on tasks in the morning, that I am more alert and have a more positive outlook on life.
✓ Improved overall health
Studies have shown that IF can lead to a longer life, and also reduce the risk of cancer. It helps to cleanse your body and give your internal organs a break.
What can I consume during a fast?
Typically, during a fast you should consume 0 calories. However, there are some thingsyou can consume to help you through the fast. Most people follow the rule that as long as what you consume is less than 30 calories, you do not break the fast.
It is safer to just stick to the things in this list to ensure that you get the best out of IF:
It is crucial that you consume lots and lots of water during a fast!
Most of the time when we believe we are hungry we are actually just thirsty. Drinking water will supress your hunger until you are able to break the fast.
Try adding lemon/cinnamon to suppress hunger further!
✓ Gum (sugar free)
Many people like to chew on gum during a fast, because they need something in their mouth. It can be good when starting off IF, however it gets your digestive system ready for food, and can lead to you feeling physically hungry.
Furthermore, studies have shown the sweeteners used in gum are turned into calories in your stomach, so you could actually break your fast.
✓ Coffee/tea (black)
This is your wildcard when fasting. Most people like to start the day with a cup of coffee, me included.
A cup of black coffee in the morning has been shown to increase the fat burning potential of IF, and also stops you from feeling hungry right after waking up.
Other hot beverages such as green tea are acceptable; just make sure you aren’t adding any sugar or milk.
Some people like to have sugar-free soda during a fast; however, I am not a fan. I do not believe they are healthy even when not fasting and would avoid steering clear – but that is just personal opinion! As with the gum, the sweeteners used could be converted into calories.
Take home message
Intermittent fasting is an extremely powerful tool; however it is not a miracle diet. For best results, IF should be coupled with a good diet and a con
sistent workout routine.
IF is perfect for those looking to lose fat, especially those who have already build a foundation of muscle which they don’t want to lose. It is also brilliant for people who want to build muscle without excess accumulation of fat.
Once you start IF, it is hard to imagine going back. You will see results quickly if you follow it correctly; stick at it and you will achieve your desired physique in no time.