This is an article detailing my experiences with intermittent fasting and how it made me leaner, stronger and healthier.
What you’ll learn is the specific program/diet that I used that allowed me to drop significant amounts of body fat without losing muscle mass and strength.
Keep in mind that this is written from a body composition and health perspective. So in other words, the question is whether or not intermittent fasting can help to achieve greater health, fat loss and/or muscle gain.
Really quick, I have to give credit where credit is due: Martin Berkhan and Brad Pilon where the main sources of information that shattered my old paradigms and gave me a system to follow that has allowed me to get such fantastic results. All inventors credit goes to them.
So with that said, I’ve been able to personally experience major fat loss and muscle gaining results with 16 hour an intermittent fasting diet and so can you. Initially, I was able to achieve visible fat loss, and measurable strength gains simultaneously.
This surprised me.
However, since then I’ve found intermittent fasting to be a sustainable, and even enjoyable system for eating that has helped me optimize my body to be more athletic, aesthetic, and healthy. Whether you’re trying to gain muscle, lose fat, or just be a more healthful resilient person, intermittent fasting might be a lifestyle habit that makes sense for you.
November 2011 Update
It’s been about 14 months now since I originally started playing with IF. Intermittent fasting is still apart of my habit structure. I don’t stick to it religiously like I initially did however. Some days I fast in the morning, other days I make this green drink for breakfast. Some days I’ll do a 20 hour fast.
It all just depends.
Either way, I don’t eat much in the morning and my biggest meal is always timed to be post-workout.
The biggest epiphany that this journey has allowed me to realize is meal frequency simply doesn’t matter. Bottom line: there’s no benefit to eating more often. It has also allowed me to realize a simple truth: if you want to lose weight, simply eat less food.
Hate to make fat loss so simple, but that’s the reality. Eat less food. In other words, consume less energy (calories are simply a measurement of heat/energy that is contained in a food). For me, IF is the easiest way to accomplish this. Read on to find out why…
Warning: A Quick Word on Body Types
We all have different bodies. If you struggle with gaining fat and losing weight IF is probably one of the best thing you’ll ever learn about.
So in other words, if you’re naturally have endomorphic tendencies (like I do), where you have a large appetite and struggle with over-consumption, IF is a great option for dropping body fat (I would argue the best option actually).
However, if you’re like my good friend Orrin aka someone who is naturally skinny and you have an extremely hard time with gaining weight and even bodyfat (ectomorphic tendencies), intermittent fasting probably isn’t for you. This is due to instinctual appetite levels.
People who are ‘naturally’ skinny simply eat less food because they have a naturally low appetite. Read this article where Orrin talks about strategies to MAXIMIZE his ability to consume food. This is obviously the OPPOSITE challenge that most people have (including myself).
My Experiences Overview (Originally written on 11/8/2010 | Updated 11/29/2011)
About a year ago I radically changed up my eating patterns.
Before doing this I was following what I had heard from people in the gym and various magazines and bodybuilding articles. It was simple: eat 4-8 meals a day to ‘stoke the metabolic fire’ (eat to lose….haha), to avoid going catabolic (muscle loss), and to maximize muscle recovery after grueling workouts. After all, doesn’t eating inspire metabolism? Aren’t you suppose to eat many small meals throughout the day or else you’ll lose all your hard earned muscle and waste all those hours of hard work? Isn’t this how it works?! Turns out, no.
In fact, turns out that all those old conceptions are myths that have literally no scientific backing at all. This is gym-bro knowledge at work. Unquestioned inaccurate ‘knowledge’ that gets passed down and assumed to be truth. It took bumping into a few sites and learning from a few sources for me to start to question all of this ‘gym bro knowledge’ I had acquired over the many years of working out and being apart of that environment (I was a personal trainer for years believe it or not).
Well after throwing my old convictions aside and giving IF a try I could tell after only 3 weeks that I’d likely be committed to this way of eating for life. I had dropped fat while also gaining strength. I felt more energy (especially in the mornings), had more mental clarity, and finally could focus on life rather than trying to eat ever 4 hours to ‘stroke the metabolic fire.’
I just felt better in general.
After over a year of experimenting with IF it’s still apart of my habit structure and way of life.
Here’s why Intermittent Fasting Just Makes sense
When evaluating how our bodies evolved, it’s seems reasonable to think that the human body was in a fasted state a lot of the time. Maybe not by choice, but by demand.
Food is scarce in the wild. There is no tupperware, no microwaves, no packaged convenience foods. Hunting and gathering takes effort (aka exercise), and often coming up empty handed and remaining hungry would be unavoidable. This is why the human body is extremely effective at storing fat (I know from experience ;) ).
In other words, in nature food was probably scarce for most of human evolution. Human beings definitely weren’t pigging out continuously, and most likely the feeding times were irregular and erratic. So what is the point? Replicating conditions of how the human body evolved will likely provide health and wellness. Read more about this concept here and here.
So the point is, that the human body evolved to have times of being fasted. aka not fed.
Fed vs. Fasted and Why Fasting May be one of the most health promoting things you can do
If you look at modern society, we rarely let ourselves go fasted. I was under the impression that it was a muscle building sin to not have something in the stomach at all times.
I don’t know what it’s like to be on steroids, I have never done them, but it seems like most of the ‘never let yourself go hungry’ preaching is coming from the bodybuilding community (the gurus being steroided up). At one point I listened to this preaching without question or critical thought.
However, it just didn’t work for me. I found it nearly impossible to actually lose fat, I felt like crap alot of the times (especially in the afternoons), I was drowsy and un-alert, and looking back on it now I just didn’t feel vibrant and healthy.
Even if you’re not into fitness and bodybuilding, the average population (in the USA at least) is in a fed state continuously throughout their lives. Not only are we eating stuff our bodies weren’t designed for, we are eating too much, and too often.
It makes sense to me that keeping your body in a ‘fed’ state continuously is going against our evolutionary programming and could be one of the causal factors behind diseases of civilization as well as the obesity epidemic.
Summary: Intermittent fasting makes sense from both a health and fitness perspective.
But is Intermittent Fasting backed by actual Science?
There is an increasing amount of studies being done on fasting. The results are starting to compile and short-term intermittent fasting has been found to have the following health and fitness benefits:
- Decreased body fat & body weight
- Maintenance of skeletal muscle mass (you won’t lose muscle: bodybuilding gym-bros claims=false)
- Decreased blood glucose levels
- Decreased insulin levels & increased insulin sensitivity
- Increased lipolysis & fat oxidation (which leads to ABS ;) )
- Increased Uncoupling Protein 3 mRNA
- Increased norepinephrine & epinephrine levels (more energy and ‘awakeness’)
- Increased Glucagon levels
- Increased growth hormone levels
If you’re a nerd like me and want to research the studies, you can find many of them here. Or you can purchase the book that summarizes all the studies and blasted through all my preconceptions in around 100 pages here.
How to Implement Intermittent Fasting as a Lifestyle: The specific dos and don’ts
So how can you make intermittent fasting into a lifestyle/system/habit?
Well the good news is there aren’t any hard ‘rules,’ only suggestions and principles. The principle is simple: let yourself go hungry occasionally. Some people (such as the author of one of the books I highly suggest picking up called “Eat Stop Eat“) recommends fasting once or twice a week for 24 hrs. Personally, I’ve followed a program of daily 16 hour fasts. For me, this made sense as I’ve never liked breakfast anyways. Like I just mentioned, the whole ‘3 square meals’ or ‘6 small meals’ and ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ fads are conventional wisdom hogwash that has been repeated so much that we assume it to be truth. T
he only problem is it doesn’t have any basis in nature or current research.
Losing weight is simply about eating less food
So basically I have my last meal at around 9 PM. I skip breakfast, do my workout routine with weights at noon in a fasted state (taking BCAA’s before my workout), and have my largest meal of the day at around 1 PM. From 1 PM to 9 PM I follow the nutritional principles I lay out here.
How is this program any different then just Skipping Breakfast?
I’ve had alot of people say something around the lines of “so you just skip breakfast, big deal.” Intermittent fasting isn’t complicated, but getting results with it probably entails alot more than just skipping breakfast, especially to get optimal athletic and aesthetic results.
In other words, although skipping breakfast may be considered intermittent fasting, it’s not the full intermittent fasting program that has gotten me such great results. Personally, I’m interested in more than just weight loss.
I wanted to optimize my muscle gain and athleticism too.
Here are 3 added elements:
1. Fasting in conjunction with a workout routine and appropriate supplements
If you’re just skipping breakfast, it’s likely that you won’t be getting optimal benefits of an intermittent fasting program. Fasted workouts (which I’ve found can be more intense) with the right supplements is what will allow you to optimize your muscle gain and athleticism, not just skipping breakfast. Like I mentioned, after about 15 hours of not eating I do a fasted workout supplementing with 5-10 grams of BCAA’s, Glutamine, and sometimes Creatine monohydrate beforehand.
2. Nutritional timing (post workout)
The intermittent fasting program I follow is all about nutritional timing as well. Specifically what I mean by nutritional timing is eating certain quantities of food around certain times. In other words, it’s much more than just skipping breakfast; it’s also about eating large percentage of your daily calories (up to 50% of your daily caloric intake) after your workout. This is critical for maximizing the work you put into the gym.
3. Appropriate calorie consumption
This is still the basis. You can overeat on an intermittent fasting program and see minimal (if any) fat loss. You need to have a sense of your calorie consumption. If you’re trying to lose weight, you MUST maintain a caloric deficit consistently. You still have to determine, or have an intuitive sense of your calorie consumption. If you’re trying to gain muscle, optimally you’re still going to need excess calorie consumption, and if you’re trying to lose fat you’re still going to need restricted calorie consumption. Intermittent fasting is a program that allows you to follow a system that keeps you on track in this regard. It’s not magic, and doesn’t make your body defy the laws of calorie consumption.
Before Afters pictures. The results.
Here are some before after pictures of myself. Intermittent fasting, along with following correct nutrition principles, consistency and intensity in the gym, and fully dedicating myself has allowed me to achieve dramatic results.
Fear NOT, Your Muscles Aren’t Going to Run Away, and Your Metabolism Is NOT Going to Crash
A lot of people who read this are probably in the same shoes that I was in before discovering intermittent fasting.
That is, always being paranoid that if you didn’t have something in your stomach your hard earned muscles were going to rapidly disappear and your metabolism was going to crash, thus turning you into a fat blob. Probably the biggest takeaway you can get from reading this is simple: it’s okay to have an empty stomach. In fact, that’s exactly what you need in order to lose fat effectively.
Your muscles aren’t going to run away, and your metabolism isn’t going to crash.
Those claims are bullshit ‘broscience’ inspired ideas that just kept getting told (so people just naturally assume they are based in truth). They likely formed from incomplete summaries of ideas based on limited understandings. I, and a lot of other people, have found this understanding to be very liberating and helpful. For example, I no longer have to be paranoid about eating continuously. In the past I’d go pick up a candy bar if I hadn’t meticulously planned out my eating schedule to ‘preserve my muscles’ and ‘stoke the metabolic fire.’ What a bunch of horse shit.
Of course, this mentality only led to me gaining fat and not getting the results I was after. So here’s the takeaway: quit being paranoid that you’re going to lose your muscle and your metabolism is going to crash. It’s simply not true.
Knowledge without action is useless. Give IF a test run (is there really a downside to trying?)
Ultimately, I believe intermittent fasting may be one of the most beneficial and EASY health habits you can implement for yourself.
If this has peaked your interests to give it a try, I’d love to hear your feedback. Keep in mind there may be an ‘adjustment’ period initially where this may be no fun. Personally, once I got the mental belief out of my mind that I ‘needed’ food in my stomach constantly, I found that I really wasn’t hungry as much as I had anticipated I would be. In fact, I’m able to just forget about food in the mornings and I find myself more focused and productive because of it. I also find that I have increased mental clarity and ‘presence,’ as well as plenty of physical energy in the mornings and throughout my fasted workouts (I feel like an unstoppable beast lifting weights on most days).
I’ve found that one of the most motivating forces is fully understanding the implications of certain actions. In other words, if you ‘sort of’ understand how intermittent fasting has potential to help you in your fat loss goals, it’s likely that you won’t be fully motivated to give it a fair chance and reap the full benefits of it. In order to make sure you fully understand the implications of intermittent fasting I HIGHLY recommend you continue to study this lifestyle in detail.
Make it a challenge for yourself to gain a detailed understanding of how intermittent fasting works and how you can really implement it into your life. Here are a couple resources you should check out:
- Published medical studies (search calorie restriction, fasting, intermittent fasting, etc.)
- Eat Stop Eat Ebook
The book that explains all this in MUCH more depth that will shatter your old beliefs about effective dieting and healthy living
Eat Stop Eat is the book that really helped me to understand intermittent fasting on a level that got me motivated to take action (and thus experience results).
This book is probably the best condensed resource available on the subject. I am SO thankful for this book and I recommend it for anyone who has an interest in learning more about intermittent fasting. Was this whole page noting but a sales pitch? Absolutely not. Obviously my goal was to articulate my thoughts and experiences with intermittent fasting and provide value to those looking to get a more athletic and aesthetic body. However, like I mentioned above, to remain motivated toward making a lasting lifestyle change, you must fully understand and educated yourself on the implications of your actions.
This book will allow you to get the details of intermittent fasting which will likely get you to take consistent action, get results, and therefore get you closer to the healthful, aesthetic, athletic body you deserve. The book is a simple read and the author breaks down and articulates important clinical studies in a digestible and motivating way.
You can check it out by clicking the picture below.
QUICK DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind this is assuming you are a generally healthy person with no current illnesses. I’m no doctor, and this is not medical advise; just my opinions and experiences. I think I’m suppose to say something like “consult your physician before you try any diet program” here too…… ;)Comment below and let me know about your experiences, questions, or concerns. I’d like to put together a page that showcases results that various people have gotten from intermittent fasting as well, so if you have any progress pictures and feel like inspiring people, I’d love for you to email them to me at sam @ thesameffect dot com (had to do that for spammers).