Intermittent Fasting (also known as IF) is a diet and wellness strategy that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, particularly with athletes and those dedicated to optimizing their overall health. In addition to being a powerful weight loss tool, IF offers a range of health benefits including natural boosting of HGH, insulin and diabetes management, decreasing the risk of certain diseases, and improving overall wellness and longevity. IF is more than just “not eating” for a set period of time though; it represents a dynamic nutrition system that can be tailored to fit your lifestyle and fitness goals, whether you’re an elite competitor or simply looking to take your diet to the next level.
The Science of Intermittent Fasting
In layman’s terms, IF is simply abstaining from food and drink for a set period of time. From a scientific perspective, there are a variety of factors at play. There is the natural decrease in caloric intake due to less food being consumed, as well as the corresponding health benefits that accompany caloric decreases. Benefits include the balancing of hormones like insulin, and increases in fat burning hormones like norepinephrine/noradrenaline. Additionally, at least one study has found that by alternating periods of extreme energy deficit with periods of energy balance, IF may prevent some of the metabolic valleys (also called “down-regulation) that can normally accompany weight loss. Because of this, IF may also help athletes with more sustained fat loss, and easier weight maintenance afterward, compared to other diets and methods.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
As we mentioned, IF involves not eating/drinking for a set period of time, but how, when, and for what period is where the strategy lies. There are a variety of strategies out there and they’ve all been shown to have results at similar levels, so choosing what the type is mostly a matter of what works best for you and your lifestyle.
The 16/8 and 19/5 Methods
As the name suggests, the 16/8 Method (also sometimes called The Leangains Method after the man who popularized it, Martin Berkhan of Leangains) involves fasting for 16 hours each day and then eating within an 8 hour period. This method is popular because it strikes a good balance of restriction and flexibility of schedule, making it easy for most people to adapt to their schedules. Most people skip breakfast and observe an eating window of 12-8pm (or thereabouts), giving them a solid window of time to accommodate eating and training. 16/8 is a great place to start if you’re new to IF and are looking for an adaptable plan. Another variation, the 19/5 method, works in a similar way but features a smaller eating window that can further boost caloric decrease and weight loss.
One Meal A Day (OMAD)
Another very popular form of IF involves eating one meal each day, typically in a 60 minute window, and consuming only non-caloric beverages outside of that one hour. Theoretically you can eat whatever you want during this window, though experts recommend a healthy approach and not all-you-can-eat burgers and fries. OMAD works like other diets in that the small eating window allows only so many calories which then results in a natural deficit. While significantly more extreme than other methods, many swear by this program and enjoy its simplicity. After an adjustment period, many fans love the extra time and focus that comes from not having to worry about preparing multiple meals each day, allowing them to focus on other aspects of their health.
For more experienced fasters or those looking to test their limits, longer-term 24 hour fasts performed in regular intervals are also popular. While requiring even further discipline, many proponents love the physical cleansing properties they feel on a fast of this type, as well as feelings of mental and physical restoration. Obviously these types of fasts take more planning and preparation but it’s hard to ignore the potential benefits that can come with a well-planned and healthy reset of the body. Just make sure you inform yourself of the potential pitfalls and preparation that’s needed to try this type of fast, including seeking the advice of a medical professional.
Outside of weight and fat loss, many athletes have found better health, recovery, and performance through the use of intermittent fasting. With proper planning and a dedication to execution, IF can be an important tool in an athlete’s overall arsenal for achieving peak performance.