My intention was to write about intermittent fasting (IF) on Friday but there was quite a bit about it so I decided to break it up in two posts. It’s an up and coming method that will probably hit the mainstream media pretty soon. I’d like to at least have some solid information out there not tainted by the cherry-picking media (I know that was a stereotype…sorry.)
There are quite a few proponents of IF out there Martin Berkham, Brad Pilon, and Ori Hofmekler. Before you jump in and start reading their sites, read through this first to get a feel for what IF entails.
Having not tried IF myself (given my history it would be a baaaad idea. Ha, there’s your first lesson of IF: Know Thyself!) I checked out John Berardi of Precision Nutrition. He’s very solid and PN is a trustworthy and comprehensive nutritional information source (I’m also certified through them as a PN Coach). Berardi tested a few different IF protocols on himself and gave an excellent and objective run-down on IF.
What I’ll do is lay out some of the benefits and common practices and then on Friday we’ll delve into what Berardi found and if IF would be something you could try.
Briefly, what’s so good about IF? There’s quite a bit of research on hypo-caloric diets (less calories than we might need; not necessarily IF) that it can help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids and cholesterol and mange body weight. The IF sites delve more deeply into the benefits of IF. IF adherents also anecdotally talk about increased fat-burning, muscle protein synthesis (via growth hormone release) and increased metabolic rate. They’re all very emphatic about the pros to IF and will often site hypo-caloric studies. Awesome! Seems like IF is perfect right?
Now, what’s the other side of the research coin?
Most of these IF oriented experiments have been done on animals with very few done on humans thus making it hard to concretely say that humans will benefit the same way. Also, most experiments seem to compare IF to the standard Western diet (which equals crap) so IF looks much better in comparison. For a more comprehensive overview check out Alan Aragon‘s review (hint: he’s a pretty smart dude).
IF certainly seems promising, both in the preliminary research and in practice, and for some it probably will be very beneficial. But I don’t think it’s is the BEST way. Nothing in this world is perfect.
On to common Protocols:
36/12- alternate day fast for example: 8AM-8PM Mon you would eat and then from 8PM Mon to 8AM Wed would be a fast.
Meal Skipping (Random)-often goes hand in hand with Paleo eating. It’s “evolutionary” so you don’t know what meal you’re going to miss (in prehistoric days) so there’s a random skipping of meals throughout the week.
Eat Stop Eat- This has been promoted by Ori Hofmekler (link above). Essentially, you would fast 1-2x/week for 24 for hours (doesn’t matter when); emphasizes that all meals should be of high quality and sensible foods. (Which you should be doing anyway, nothing new there.)
16/8- This one is been explored and perfected by Martin Berkhan. There’s a lot involved outside of the basic fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours (including drinking 10grams of BCCAs (branched chain amino acids), skipping breakfast and carb-cycling strategies). You can check out the link above for a more detailed description.
12/12- fast 12 hours and eat for 12 hours. Most people, unknowingly, come close to doing this everyday. It’s called sleeping. It may not be exactly 12 hours (if you sleep for 12 hours… I’m jealous) but it’s not hard to stretch it to be 12/12.
Those are the basic protocols of IF. Now, Berardi made an excellent point that, while each protocol offers health benefits, if you can’t adhere to it (I know I couldn’t fast for 36 hours, especially if while working out regularly) then it’s useless. If you want to try IF, ease into it and gradually adjust your eating schedule to one that YOU think you can succeed in.
Honestly, I think IF is another tool in the toolbox to try. It’s not the end-all-be-all of weight loss or athletic performance. Thousands of people remain healthy (including myself) by eating when they’re hungry and EATING REAL FOOD and not eating too much. IF isn’t a fool-proof way to a healthy diet. You still have to make quality food choices and make sure you’re not overcompensating for the fasts by overeating during your “fed” time.
Next time, we’ll go over Berardi’s self-experiment results and some practical advice for those who may want to implement IF.