Did you know you can feel full and have plenty of energy for exercise while only eating one or two meals a day instead of three or more? Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle change that affects when you eat but not necessarily what you eat. This eating pattern has seen a big boom in popularity the past few years in the fitness industry and can help you lose weight, and yes, even gain muscle.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is following an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Fasting has been practiced throughout time, from our early ancestors relying on what they could find, grow and catch to eat to modern-day fasting for religious or spiritual reasons. Looking back over the course of history, fasting from time to time is far more common than our current habit of eating 3 or more filling meals each day with snacks in between!
Intermittent Fasting Methods (16/18, OMAD, etc)
There are a few different patterns for intermittent fasting, either by splitting up your day between fasting and eating or splitting your week into fasting and eating. During the fasting portion you would refrain from any eating but still drink water.
The first and most popular method is the 16/18 Method. This involves restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12-8p.m., then you fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day.
Second, comes the OMAD, or “One Meal A Day” fast. Like the name says, you’re just eating one quality meal a day, usually within an hour time period and fasting the rest of the 23 hours.
The Eat-Stop-Eat method involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week. Generally you would not eat from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
Finally, the 5:2 Method requires that you consume only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week but continue to eat normally on the other 5 days. This particular method is not a true fast so you won’t reap all the benefits listed below.
The 16/8 remains most popular for being the most simple and sustainable and easiest to stick with no matter the usual detriments to dieting like vacations and holidays.
What Are The Health Benefits of Fasting?
Intermittent fasting has a myriad of health benefits not limited to weight loss and simplifying your lifestyle. Pretty amazing things start to take place on the inside when the body goes without food for a fasting period of time.
While your body fasts its blood levels of insulin drop significantly, allowing the body to work on burning fat instead of sugar. During a fast the blood levels of human growth hormone may increase as much as 5-fold, this also aids in muscle gain and fat burning.
Intermittent fasting also encourages cellular repair and has been seen to show positive changes in genes related to longevity and protection against disease. One specific disease that intermittent can help prevent is Type 2 diabetes. Because intermittent fasting helps reduce insulin resistance and reduce blood sugar levels this could possibly be a protection against Type 2 diabetes.
How Do You Lose Weight with Intermittent Fasting?
Many people who first try intermittent fasting do so in an effort to lose weight. With this type of eating method you will eat fewer meals and if you do not overeat during your eating periods you will naturally end up taking in fewer calories each day leading to weight loss. Short term fasting has also been shown to increase your metabolic rate, helping you burn even more calories so not only are you reducing your caloric intake but you are more efficiently burning what you take in.
When you first start to intermittent fast your body will run low on carbohydrates during that fasting period and start burning stored glycogen for energy instead. Because glycogen is a sugar molecule it needs water to activate so it will use your body’s water stores to metabolize glycogen for energy. This process will get rid of excess water weight (the type of weight that often leaves you feeling bloated).
Will you Lose Muscle While Intermittent Fasting?
With your body going into fat-burning mode and being more efficient then ever at burning calories, it could make you concerned that you will lose muscle while following an eating pattern like this. While recent studies have shown that muscle loss has been a problem with intermittent fasting, further study shows that the study shows the people who fasted did not do any weight training, little exercise and did not eat a high-protein diet. In order to build or maintain muscle while fasting it’s imperative that you follow the same type of diet and workout routine you would in order to build muscle — just within 2 meals a day.
How to Build Muscle and Intermittent Fast
A healthy lifestyle is the key to building and maintaining muscle while in a fasting state. Including aerobic exercise such as running, jogging, walking and swimming for at least 30 minutes a day will help preserve muscle and keep your joints strong while you are losing weight. To build muscle you’ll want to follow the same weight building protocol of weight training and targeting muscles BUT you’ll do it during your eating window.
Research shows that fasting causes an HGH increase, those elevated levels can help increase muscle mass and make your recovery easier and faster. Keeping to a properly macro/micro nutrient diet, drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fresh foods, especially vegetables is going to play a crucial role in giving your body the fuel it needs to be in muscle building mode. Bottom line: follow the same diet and exercise recommendations you were following to build muscle before, but do it during your eating window and reap the benefits from intermittent fasting as well.