Intermittent fasting means having short cycles of not eating (i.e. fasting) followed by eating, repeatedly. It’s often 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.
Intermittent fasting is based on the principle that undergoing a short fast allows the body to access the fat stores that have previously been inaccessible on a regular eating schedule. During the feeding part of your day, some versions of intermittent fasting allow you to consume your usual diet with the flexibility to treat yourself, rather than forcing diet restriction.
To maximise results, however, you should still aim to eat healthily and with the correct macronutrient ratios for your desired fitness goals.
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Intermittent Fasting 16/8: Leangains
There are several intermittent fasting (IF) 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 and 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 to your own routine. Most people 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, the body is in a fed state when it is digesting and absorbing any food you have eaten. This usually lasts 3-4 hours, and during this time it’s very difficult for the body to burn fat as insulin levels are particularly high.
After the 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. During the post-absorptive state, insulin secretion declines and levels of the hormone glucagon increase. The body generally relies on stored energy during this state, mostly from liver glycogen (stored carbohydrates in the liver).
If you continue to fast for approximately 8-12 hours past your last meal/snack, your body will begin to enter the fasted state.
This is when the body’s supply of readily available stored glucose begins to dwindle and fatty acid oxidation contributes much more energy than stored carbohydrates. Increased fatty acid oxidation is one of the main reasons that people carry out intermittent fasting.
What Are The Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting 16:8?
✓ Increased fat loss
IF may be able to help you to get exceptionally lean and shift stubborn fat if you already have a fairly low body fat percentage (in the low to mid-teens). Those with a higher body fat percentage may also see more significant weight loss whilst following IF, and it’s thought that people see results after only a short period of committing to the protocol.
✓ Reduced cravings
In addition to the increase rate of fat loss, some people say that IF can prevent you from craving unhealthy food. This is thought to be because it teaches you when you’re physically hungry (versus when you just fancy something to eat). It may act as a hunger suppressant, and you could find that you’re more satisfied following a meal.
✓ Improved insulin response
When you do eventually break the fast after the 16 hour period, it’s thought that your body will be more sensitive to insulin, and therefore your insulin levels could be more stable and fluctuate less. This potentially means improved rate of muscle-protein synthesis, as insulin is a powerful hormone for controlling the body’s rate of protein synthesis.
✓ Improved overall health
Some studies suggest that IF may lead to a longer life and also reduce the risk of cancer.
What Can I Consume During A Fast?
Typically, during a fast period, you shouldn’t consume any calories. However, there are some things you can consume to help you through the fast. Many people follow the rule that as long as what you consume is less than 30 calories, you do not break the fast. Here’s a list of foods and drinks to help you get through the fasting period:
It’s crucial that you consume plenty of water during a fast.
Often, 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 make things more interesting.
✖ Gum (sugar-free)
Many people like to chew on gum during a fast because they feel need to chew on something. It can be good when starting off IF, however, chewing gum gets your digestive system ready for food, and can cause you to feel physically hungry.
✓ Coffee/tea (black)
This is your wildcard when fasting. Most people like to start the day with a cup of coffee.
A cup of black coffee in the morning may increase the fat-burning potential of IF, and it also prevents 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, as this will break the fast.
✖ Sugar-free soda
Some people like to have sugar-free soda during a fast, however, they’ve been shown to cause a similar spike and crash in blood sugar levels to that of regular soda causing subsequent overeating, so best to avoid these.
Take Home Message
Intermittent fasting is an extremely powerful tool, but it’s not a miracle diet. For best results, IF should be coupled with a good diet and a consistent workout routine.
Once you begin IF, it can be hard to imagine going back. You may see results quickly if you follow it correctly – stick at it and you may be able to achieve your desired physique in no time.
Remember to talk to your doctor before you embark upon any restrictive eating or exercise plan.
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