Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fat Loss Through Intermittent Fasting

It's that time of the year again. Bathing suits, beaches and barbecues abound. Personally my favorite aspect of the summer is sitting outside and searing dead animal flesh with an open flame, but all the extra sun light and the opportunities to go swimming outside really don't hurt. 

Of course whenever summer comes around everyones workout tends to shift in the same direction. It's bathing suit season folks, which means every fitness outlet and article is going to try to sell you some super secret fat loss method so you can feel better in your bikini. Now I don't have any secret to offer you nor will I ever attempt to sell you on some bullsh*t, but I figured in the spirit of the season, I'd give you my take on something that has become a popular topic in the fitness field over the last year or so. It's also something that I've experimented with so at the very least I can give you some limited anecdotal perspective, for whatever that may be worth to you. 

Obligatory CrossFit Chick 

During the course of one of my varied adventures into the seedy underbelly of the internet I came across this blog: Leangains.com. It's run by a guy named Martin Berkhan, a self-proclaimed expert on getting lean who, according to his blog, lists several oscar winning actors as clients. Obviously he can't share their names so I can't really speak to the authenticity of that statement but you can tell just from the picture on his welcome page: this dude is shredded as f*ck. 

So, what is intermittent fasting? There's a couple of different formulations of this idea that are popular at the moment.  In it's most basic form, intermittent fasting (IF) is cycling periods of fasting and feeding. Fasting means you don't consume anything caloric (typically water, tea and black coffee are acceptable) and feeding means...you feed.

The main variation between different philosophies on IF is basically different fasting/feeding ratios. The cycle on the leangains page is 16/8 hrs fasted/fed. You have an 8 hour feeding window each day in which to consume your entire day's calories. It's honestly one of the most straight forward diet plans I've ever come across. He advocates building your meals around your workouts and making your first meal of the day your pre workout meal. It should contain about ~30% of your total macronutrients for the day, with a focus on consuming the majority of the simple carbs (read: sugars as opposed to starches)for the day in this first meal. Your post workout meal should be the largest of the day and contain around 40-50% of your macronutrients. Your third and final meal should then contain the remainder of your macronutrient needs. That's it. 3 meals, done.

Of course you can't just eat whatever you want for those 3 meals. You should be getting the vast majority of your calories from clean food, the more natural the better. He also emphasizes that you should still adhere very strictly to whatever your macronutrient requirement breakdown is in order to ensure the best results.  Honestly, that's pretty much it.

One of my favorite things about this program is that it is based on a principle that is directly contrary to what is considered the most popular opinion or "fact," regarding personal nutrition. But, we're all supposed to eat 5 or 6 meals a day, right? Each meal should be small and balanced and about four hundred calories, right? Everything is supposed to be low carbohydrate because we want to prevent insulin spikes, right? RIGHT?!?

I wrote a post a while ago about breakfast. Yet another thing we've been told since the advent of the fitness magazine: breakfast is the most important meal fo' yo' gainZ! It's Science! Turned out that this claim was at best highly suspect and at worst a flat out lie. It all goes back to an optimal hormonal environment. 

When you wake up in the morning you are typically in a fasted state (unless you're a sleep-eater, I know you people are out there.) The main reason breakfast isn't so great is because (as the name implies) it breaks your fast. In a fasted state your insulin levels are suppressed and certain hormones that lead to fat loss and muscle gain are increased (HGH/IGF-1/Glucagon).  These are all good things. When you break your fast you throw this hormonal environment off, whether it's with your breakfast or your 4th cutely apportioned, tupperware sealed paleo meal of the day. 

I know, I know. I've heard it too. We've all been told that fasting is bad for your muscles and will lead to muscle loss and fat gain as your body goes into survival mode. The thing is as far as I know, most of the studies and situations that indicate this biological behavior are referring to starvation, not fasting. What I'm saying is that long term fasting can definitely have some negative effects on your metabolism and physiology but long term means several weeks, not a day or two. The more I read into it, the more I'm not entirely sure where the whole multiple small meals thing came from. Again, I'm not saying it's a terrible idea and if it works for you you should still immediately give it up; I'm simply pointing out that the science isn't really there to the extent that we've all been led to believe. At the very least, a lot of the science that has been used to back these arguments is based on loose interpretation of nebulously worded studies. Just because some study appears to show a correlation does not mean it conclusively shows any type of causation. All real scientists should know better. Problem is that there's money to made on selling this brand of truth. Unfortunately capitalism isn't the pursuit of scientific perfection.

 Go figure.

Anyway, basically what intermittent fasting does is maximize the hormonal and nutritional benefits of both states. You get to load your body up with all the proper nutritional building blocks and fuels during the feeding state, then you get to maximize the fat burning and muscle building effects of a fasted hormonal state. If I sound like an infomercial I apologize but if the theory behind this stuff is true, it's pretty incredible. 

Those are the basics of IF and how to do it. Insofar as my personal experience, I can tell you the things that I really like about it.

-Simplicity. I'm not a big food person. It may sound strange but I find eating tedious at times. I love working out and crushing myself in the weight room but when it comes to proper nutrition, which is in a lot of ways more important, my discipline can have a tendency to lag. Paying attention to and pre planning six meals over the course of a day is annoying and I hate doing it. With IMF I don't have to and frankly, that's pretty awesome.
-Hunger/appetite control. The handful of people I've told about this approach have all asked the same thing: aren't you hungry? And the truth is honestly? No, not really. When I was eating smaller meals I never felt completely satisfied by any of my frequent squirrel grazings. I was always left wanting more and as a result I felt perpetually hungry throughout the day. Now when I eat, I eat a lot and I'm very rarely left hungry. 8 of the 16 hours im fasting I'm asleep, and then fasting for 4 hours on either end of an 8 hour feeding frenzy really isn't terribly difficult. 
-Efficiency. I'm in the early EARLY test phases of this but as far as I can tell this sh*t works. I've lost a lb every two days for the last week. I have changed nothing but the timing of my meals. That is it. 

-Gorging - eating 1200-1500 calories of non-calorically dense food in a single sitting can be trying, especially when your stomach has adapted to smaller volumes of food. It took a few days to get used to but it's fine now.
-Honestly that's really all I've got for the moment. My limited experience with IF has been entirely positive and the more research I do on fasting and a fasted state the more I become a believer. This stuff is pretty phenomenal.

The one caveat I would mention is that this particular type of IF is focused on getting lean and staying lean. Berkhan states very clearly that he is an expert on getting lean, not an expert on sports training or strength and conditioning. First, I appreciate that kind of honesty, especially in someone who is trying to make money on their knowledge and therefore has an incentive to bullsh*t. Second, this is important to note if you are an athlete or you have specific dietary needs of any kind. IF would not be a great decision for a distance runner or triathlete, for example, because those types of athletes require a more steady stream of carbohydrates for their training. The type of workouts Berkhan advocates are focused around strength and power; compound lifts of heavy weights. It's pretty standard stuff as far as that goes but those types of workouts typically require fewer carbohydrates as a fuel source, and that is reflected in IF.

In addition to his website, which is actually a very solid source of information once you sift through the douchebaggery (what can I say, he's a blogger after my own heart), there are a few really good books on the subject available. Eat, Stop, Eat by Brad Pilon is the one the site references. It also mentions The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler. I've never read either of these but I have read Maximum Muscle Minimum Fat by Hofmekler which is another book he wrote on IF. Hofmekler's method is slightly different in that it is not true fasting because you are allowed to snack very lightly during your fast. It falls into the same scheme because ultimately the goal is the same, to maximize the positive effects of a fasted hormonal state. I did this diet for a while last summer and got the leanest I've been in a very long time. It wasn't until recently that I realized I'd essentially been doing intermittent fasting.

So that's it for today kids. If you're looking for something new to try check out IMF, it definitely gets my seal of approval. That being said, remember to consult your health professional before beginning any type of diet or fitness program, because I'm supposed to tell you that. So you don't die. Which would make me sad.

That... escalated quickly.

Good luck and good lifting.


EDIT: Found a pretty solid video that outlines the negatives of fasting and debunks them one by one with studies. Watch it HERE.

Todays Workout (Courtesy of my friend Katie)

Dynamic Warm Up 10-15 min

200m sprint
15 kettle bell swings (32kg)
15 Pushups

4 rounds for time

1 comment:

  1. thanks for sharing your information about intermittent fasting. I also want to share that proper dieting is very important to allow our body get the exact nourishment...http://effectivenaturalsupplements.info/