In the last couple of years, intermittent fasting has quickly become one of the most popular ways to lose weight and live a healthy life.
But fasting for health reasons is anything but new. Humans have been fasting to improve physical, mental, and spiritual health for thousands of years.
Not only does fasting play a crucial part in all major religions.
You can also find countless historical figures such as Hippocrates, Plato, and Benjamin Franklin talking about their benefits.
But why is fasting so good for the body and soul? And what is the right way to fast?
In this Intermittent Fasting for beginners, I will share everything you need to know about intermittent fasting and how to do it correctly and safely from day one.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a “diet,” but rather than an eating pattern where you don’t eat and fast between a planned time frame. During your eating window, you can eat one meal for the day, referred to as OMAD (one meal a day), or have multiple feeds.
Generally, you will eat well-balanced meals during your eating window.
Don’t be mistaken.
Fasting can help you lose weight, feel great, and have anti-aging benefits.
But consuming foods that have a low nutrient density can leave your body starved for essential vitamins and minerals, eliminating many of the health benefits of fasting.
When we practice this, our body is in a “fasted state.”
You might be wondering:
What is the fasted state?
The fast-state-body is burning or has burned most glycogen stores (Carbs) in your liver and muscles and turns to an alternative energy source.
In the energy hierarchy, the body uses the most available fuel source. Carbohydrates are the most efficient ways to produce energy. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose to use as energy.
Second in line are Lipids (fats), which are broken down into fatty acids when a limited supply of glucose is available.
Finally, we have protein, which is broken down into amino acids and is used as energy only when both glucose and fatty acids are depleted.
Most of us want to access our stored fat as an energy source, and by fasting, we will gain access to fat burning.
But first, you require a depletion in glucose from the liver and muscles before the body transitions to fat as the alternative energy source.
Here’s the thing:
To speed up this process, I like to reduce my carbs and do some type of exercise, either weight training or cardio leading up to a planned fast for the next day. It is a strategy I use regularly and see great results.
These are often referred to as extended or prolonged fasting.
It can take up to 18-24 hours of fasting to enter autophagy (Cellular rejuvenation and detoxification), with 48–72 hour mark to really access the full potential.
Although, for weight loss and muscle growth, shorter fasts are sufficient.
That’s why 16/8 intermittent fast is one of the most popular types, and it’s my favorite fast cycle.
But starting with shorter fasting periods is recommended if you have never done fasting, which will help minimize side effects, and I’ll cover those a little later on how to reduce fasting side effects.
But first, let’s get into the science behind how your body reaches a fasted state.
What is the science behind Intermittent Fasting?
To understand intermittent fasting, you must understand the process your body goes through when you eat, referred to as the fed state, and the opposite is the fasted state, abstaining from eating.
The fed state is when we consume food.
Let’s focus on carbohydrates and how it affects our body.
When we consume carbohydrates, our digestive system will break them down into glucose, which the stomach and intestines absorb and release it into the bloodstream. Your blood sugar rises and stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin. This hormone signals to cells to absorb or use as immediate energy. As this occurs, blood sugar levels begin to fall.
Excess glucose is converted into glycogen, stored in the liver and muscles for later use, typically between meals.
How excess glucose makes you fat!
There is a storage limit for our muscles and liver and the amount of glycogen stored.
In the typical overfed countries and high calories food choices, we often exceed the limit, and those excess sugars convert into fat cells for later use.
Yes, you read that right.
A person who weighs around 80 kg, can store approximately 400 grams of glycogen in the muscles and about 100 grams in the liver.
But when we fast, our body triggers a new response.
When the pancreas detects a drop in blood glucose, it releases another hormone called glucagon, the insulin counter. Glucagon is the primary hormone during a fasted state because it signals to the liver to convert glycogen back into glucose to balance blood glucose and the lack of food.
Once glucose is depleted, your body will have technically entered the fasted state. Your body has no choice but to access stored energy, your adipose tissue (fat), and begins the process of burning stored fat as the primary fuel source.
The key to weight loss is to remember when insulin is high, then your body is open to store energy and locks the key (your fat cells). Low insulin means the gatekeeper allows access to fat storage.
- High Insulin – Fat storage mode
- Low Insulin – Access to fat storage
I will note that carbohydrates and insulin are not enemies. If you have followed me for a while, you will know that you can lose weight on any diet or food group you choose. Because at the end of the day, it’s about energy in vs. energy out, pure and simple.
But there are methods with the least resistance and long term adherence.
When insulin is present, our bodies are using energy from the food and storing excess energy. If we are frequently in a fed state and overeat, we will find it hard to access fat storage.
You can only have access to one energy source at a time.
- Stored energy from food. Glycogen in muscles and liver or triglycerides in adipose tissue.
Don’t be fooled into thinking lowering your calories is the only answer to weight loss and eating low-fat bread, low-fat yogurts, low-fat milk, and the rest of the low-fat foods. Because what is not told is the sugar inside those low-fat products.
Proteins and fats trigger insulin!
It’s believed that only carbohydrates have an insulin response.
In fact, whey protein has just as much of a response to insulin as white bread, and beef has the same insulin response as brown rice.
Fat also has an insulin response but much less than carbs and proteins.
Thinking that eating just a low carb diet and high protein will help you with fat loss isn’t entirely true.
A well-balanced diet and eating at a calorie deficit will lose fat and be easier to sustain long term.
However, I do cover some variations of diets that work well with fasting, some harder to stick with than others for those looking into following a diet plan other than a balanced diet.
To wrap up this section.
When we prolong our fasting state, we begin to access various health benefits, including weight loss, and there is nothing unhealthy about fasting. It has a history dating back thousands of years.
A step into the history of fasting
Here’s a fact that might boggle your mind: Humans have been fasting for almost their entire existence.
It all started around 130,000 – 200,000 years ago with the early humans.
Food wasn’t as readily available as it is now.
Cavemen had to hunt, gather, and fish to obtain food. And they often had to go for long periods without food.
So, storing energy as body fat and maintaining physical strength was crucial for survival.
But this wasn’t just the case for early humans. The scarcity of food would go on throughout most of human history.
What the word breakfast means
The word “breakfast” didn’t exist until the Middle Ages. In those times, it wasn’t allowed to eat anything before morning Mass.
So, the word breakfast meant “break the night’s fast.”
But in the 17th century, a significant change happened: Wealth finally increased throughout all social classes. And that’s when eating breakfast started to become more common.
So, eating breakfast has only been a thing for about 400 years.
Of course, fasting wasn’t done because of a scarcity of food. Fasting plays a crucial part in all major religions. It’s used to regain or refocus spirituality.
Religions and philosophies that practice fasting include:
- And more
Intermittent fasting in recent history
It wasn’t until 20-30 years ago that people started to view fasting more negatively.
Why did this happen?
Research indicated how skipping breakfast makes it more likely you’re overweight.
That’s why a large part of the Western world started adopting the belief and still believes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
But what helped bring fasting to the mainstream was BBC broadcast journalist Michael Mosley’s TV documentary “Eat Fast, Live Longer.” And his book “The Fast Diet.”
After that, lots of other books were released on intermittent fasting.
Including Journalist Kate Harrison’s book “The 5:2 Diet.” And Dr. Jason Jung “The Obesity Code,” which would go on to become a bestseller.
When countless celebrities also started endorsing intermittent fasting, it quickly became one of the most popular health trends.
In 2019, intermittent fasting became Google’s most searched “diet” (not a diet).
Who Shouldn’t Intermittent Fast?
There is a number of reasons why people should not practice intermittent fasting and those who should seek guidance and professional monitoring.
Those who should not fast:
- Young adults under eighteen years of age
- Pregnant or breastfeeding moms
- Severely underweight or malnourished people
Although you may want to practice fasting some of the risks and drawbacks aren’t worth the benefits. Fasting can put you into some nutritional deficiencies.
Children under eighteen require nutrition for growth and development, especially for the brain. This is the follow on reason why pregnant women or breastfeeding women should skip fasting during these periods.
Although if you do decide to fast during these periods be cautious.
I asked Exercise With Styles Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Advisor, Kristin Gillispie to weigh in on the subject.
“Intermittent fasting can be done safely during breastfeeding, but it is important that it is done correctly and cautiously. Otherwise, it can be harmful as it restricts not only mom’s nutrients but also the baby’s. It is also important to note that intermittent fasting may reduce your milk supply.
You should monitor for the following signs that your baby is not getting adequate nutrition: lethargy, abnormal feeding length, abnormal stool patterns, dry diapers, or abnormal urine color indicating dehydration, poor weight gain. If your baby experiences these symptoms, you should stop intermittent fasting immediately.
It is recommended that breastfeeding women utilize shorter fasting times when practicing intermittent fasting. It is also recommended that these women work with a nutrition professional to ensure that mom and baby are getting adequate nutrients.
Personally, I think the best way to lose baby weight is simply to follow a generally healthy diet and implement exercise. Counting calories and macronutrients can be of benefit as well. By doing this, you will ensure that you and baby are both getting everything you need through the foods you’re eating while still enabling you to lose weight. Intermittent fasting is generally not recommended during pregnancy and can be harmful to both mom and baby.
If you’re practicing intermittent fasting while breastfeeding, you should eat nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, to ensure that you and baby and both getting the micronutrients you need.”
People who should consult with a physician prior to starting fasting:
- If you have a history of gout
- Have type 1 or type 2 diabetics
- Take medication
- People who suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD may worsen with fasting. This was a problem for me, however, I cured my reflux problem by doing a gut health protocol. The side effects section later in this article explains how I managed to rid myself of GERD.
Intermittent Fasting For Women
I really don’t know where it started that women should not fast or should fast differently from men. Other than when pregnant or breastfeeding.
All studies I have read show the benefits for both men and women. For centuries women and men have been fasting for lack of food or religious purposes.
The only reason why a woman may have a concern is if she is already malnourished and underweight or has low body fat. Having a very low body fat can lead to amenorrhea (no longer menstruating) and can hamper falling pregnant.
If you are a man or woman and have extremely low body fat, you should not fast. There is no reason to do this.
Finally, there is simply no evidence to show why women should not fast or change how they fast any differently from men. If you experience really bad side effects of fasting, either men or women, stop fasting.
Intermittent fasting and a slow metabolism
People also started believing that your metabolism suffers when you skip meals, more so, skipping breakfast.
Based on the belief that fasting puts your body into starvation mode and slows down the metabolism.
But, correlation does not mean causation. It was NOT the act of skipping breakfast that caused weight gain, and that was later proven by research into fasting for weight loss and its health benefits.
This research got many people interested in fasting for non-religious reasons.
Don’t get calorie restriction mixed up with fasting or time restricting your meals because, during your eating window, you are eating well-balanced meals, either one large meal (OMAD), or 2-3 meals, and more if required.
That’s why a large part of the Western world started adopting the belief and still believes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
In my opinion, I certainly could make it the most important meal of the day, but most do not. Any meal can and should be treated as the most important meal of the day, but it depends on what you eat, not when.
Health experts put cereal as a healthy meal.
Let that sink in.
And people wonder why they can’t shift their weight because they have been conditioned to believe specific health advice.
What are the health benefits of fasting
There was always plenty of anecdotal evidence on fasting’s health benefits.
But it took a long time for science to catch up.
While intermittent fasting research is still in its infancy, many health benefits have been discovered.
So, let’s go over the most important ones.
1) Fasting helps you burn more body fat.
By fasting, you will increase lipolysis: Converting of body fat into usable energy. The longer you fast, the more fatty acids will release in your bloodstream. And, ultimately, the more body fat you will burn.
3) Fasting decreases your appetite
Some people fear fasting will make them too hungry. But, in the long-term, the opposite is true.
Fasting decreases your appetite by affecting the hunger hormones Ghrelin and Leptin.
Ghrelin is the hormone that turns on your appetite. And Leptin turns off your appetite when you stop eating. People who are overweight have higher levels of Ghrelin and Leptin.
4) Fasting helps you eat less food
But fasting doesn’t just reduce your appetite. Restricting the number of hours you eat will also help you eat less food. And, ultimately, this will help you lose weight.
5) Fasting increases levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
Your pituitary gland starts producing more HGH when you fast. Research has shown that higher levels of HGH are associated with many health benefits:
6) Fasting improves insulin sensitivity and may help prevent diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease
Fasting improves your body’s ability to process carbs. Insulin becomes more effective in telling cells to take up glucose from the blood. And fasting also decreases your low-density lipoprotein (LDL – bad cholesterol)
That’s why you’re at less risk of developing metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease when you fast.
7) Fasting improves cognitive functioning, mental clarity, and energy levels
And last but not least, fasting can help you think and feel better.
Fasting improves your cognitive functioning and mental clarity because it stimulates the protein production in nerve cells called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF.)
And there are multiple reasons why fasting elevates your energy levels:
There are many more benefits to list, like anti-aging and cell rejuvenation (autophagy). But you can conclude it is a powerful way to lose excess body weight.
How to start fasting and how long should you Fast?
You now know of fasting’s powerful health benefits. So, you’re probably wondering, how do I start to fast and for how long?
There are many different ways to fast. Each with its benefits:
16:8 Fasting: 16:8 is the most popular type of fasting. And the easiest to incorporate into your life. It works by eating all of your meals within 8 hours. For most people, this can be achieved by skipping breakfast. And not eating anything after dinner.
20:4 Fasting (Warrior diet): 20:4 fasting, also known as The Warrior diet, is similar to 16:8. But you eat all of your meals within 4 hours. So, for example, if you eat lunch at 2:00 pm. You will then eat dinner at 6:00 pm. 20:4 fasting is more challenging than 16:8 fasting. But your body will be in a fasted state for a more extended amount of time.
5:2 fasting: 5:2 fasting is also one of the most popular types of intermittent fasting. What people like about it is that you can generally eat five days a week. And you only have to fast on two days that you get to choose. However, on your fasting days, you’re only allowed to eat 500 – 600 calories, usually consumed in two small meals.
Eat Stop Eat fasting: Eat Stop Eat is similar to 5:2 fasting. Like 5:2 fasting, you also have two fasting days a week. But on your fasting days, you’re not allowed to eat anything at all. So you will go for a full 24 hours without eating anything. If two days is too hard, you can also choose to fast one day a week.
Alternate day fasting: Alternate-day fasting is when you fast on every other day. So, if you eat like you usually would on Monday, you will fast on Tuesday. You’re only allowed to eat 500 – 600 calories in 2 – 3 small meals on your fasting days. Similar to 5:2 fasting.
36-hour fasts: 36-hour fasts are when you go a full 36 hours without food. So, if you eat dinner at 8:00 pm, instead of eating your next meal the next day at the same time, you skip that meal too. And eat breakfast at 08:00 am, usually once a week. But you can also do it more sporadically.
As you can see, there are many different types of fasting.
The best for you depends entirely on your experience, personality, lifestyle, health, and other factors.
But one thing is sure: No matter what your lifestyle is, you can easily incorporate fasting into your life.
What can I eat or drink during a fast?
It’s crucial to understand what you can and can’t eat during your fast.
The subject can be confusing to many people. It’s one of the most commonly asked questions.
This is the grey area of fasting and many people will have varying opinions and below is how I like to categorize it.
If you want to follow a strict fast, then you should only drink water.
I prefer to approach this differently.
I drink black coffee in the morning while fasting to provide me with a kick and help suppress my appetite, which black coffee is known to do.
That’s all I eat or drink during a fast.
Some intermittent fasting coaches will allow “loose fasting” to consume somewhat low-calorie food.
Technically you are breaking your fast and stopping some of the benefits of fasting.
If you are looking to lose weight, you still obtain this ability by “loose fasting” because fundamentally, it boils down to calories in vs. calories out with weight loss.
Do I recommend you do a “loose fast?”
Yes, if you have tried fasting in the past and find it extremely difficult and only do it for weight loss or maintaining weight.
Here’s a rule of thumb, try not to have anything above 50 calories.
Although a small number of calories, it can get you through a longer fast.
If you want to hack fat loss and “loose fast,” choosing what foods to eat during a fast can help with the fat burning trajectory.
The question to ask is, does this food activate an insulin response?
Both of these macronutrients do have an insulin response, although carbohydrates are more so.
So what’s the answer?
- Healthy fats.
As mentioned earlier, when in a fasted state, the body will use stored fat as fuel. Although you will technically break your fast, your body will turn to fats you just consumed and used as immediate energy. Once used, it returns to the stored fats.
If you induce an insulin response (eat carbs or protein), the body reverts to the energy hierarchy and shuts off stored energy burning.
But I’m a man of options, and not everyone cares about hacking fat loss or just eating a small amount of fat.
I have more roads you can take to “loose fast” and still lose fat.
Below are what you can eat or drink depending on if strict fasting (recommended) or loose fasting.
Black Coffee & Tea: (Strict)
Black coffee or black tea during your fast—no sugar or milk.
You also have to be careful of infused teas and fruit teas and always check the label.
In many cases, they contain a small number of calories.
Bone Broth: (Loose Fast)
Bone broth will break your fast due to the protein and carbs. Preferably find bone broth low in calories like Zoup Chicken Broth. One cup or 240 ml of Zoup chicken bone broth has 14 calories and 4 grams of protein.
Drink this if you require some food before exercise.
Check serving size to ensure you don’t go over 50 calories.
It’s also a great source of electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, calcium, and bicarbonate. Great snack to drink in your eating window between meals.
Healthy fats: (Loose Fast)
Many people wonder if they can drink bulletproof coffee and add coconut oil or butter, MCT oil and won’t break a fast.
Bulletproof coffee will break your fast and is a high calorie drink.
Contains much more than 50 calories. Best consumed during the eating window and if you follow the ketogenic diet.
My recommendation is to eat your calories, not drink them when intermittent fasting for weight loss.
Diluted apple cider vinegar: (Loose Fast)
Health guru’s claim apple cider vinegar is nil in calories. Unfortunately, it isn’t. But contains minimal calories and can be consumed on the loose fast
It generally contains 3-5 calories per serving.
There are benefits to consuming moderate amounts of apple cider vinegar during a fast. One of them is that it can increase feelings of fullness.
That’s why drinking this compound – such as mixing one or two tablespoons with water – might help you manage cravings during your fast.
What’s more, apple cider vinegar can also improve insulin sensitivity and aid blood sugar control.
Kombucha (Loose Fast)
Make sure to check the nutrition labels of other brands.
Stevia sweetened Kombucha or long-fermented Kombucha is ok on loose fast. Nexba Kombucha has 6 kcal per serving of 330mls.
As you can see, when strict fasting, you are very limited.
Loose fasting, you have options and can eat foods within 50 calories.
Try your best only to drink water when fasting. You can also drink black coffee.
If you struggle to get through your fasting and feel miserable, loose fasting can be beneficial.
Many people get confused about what you can and can’t eat during a fast. I have a list of foods that will clear up your questions regarding it. You can download the guide here.
What to eat when breaking your fast
You might not be aware of this. But what you eat when you break your fast is essential.
The longer you fast, the greater the chances of digestive upset like IBS can occur when you eat.
The reasoning behind this is our digestive enzymes could be low after fasting for extended periods.
So refeeding is pretty essential and learning this step will make your fasting much safer and enjoyable.
Things to consider:
Don’t combine carbohyrdates with fats.
Eat either carbs/protein or fats/protein.
Our cells are very receptive when we fast. What we don’t want is spiking our insulin high from carbs and eating fats that spike your insulin via another pathway, called the acylation-stimulating protein pathway.
In simple terms, you absorb both carbs and fats, running the risk of storing fats.
One of my best tips is to eat a pre break fast meal, before your first main meal of the day.
Something light and easy to support and stimulate the digestive enzyme.
We want the digestive system to fire back up and prepare for the upcoming heavier meal.
An avocado with a dash of olive oil, salt & pepper is a perfect option.
Wait at least 20-30 minutes to eat your main meal. This prepares the digestive system and it will stop you from overeating.
Eating a small pre break fasting meal is optional and it’s what I find works the best for me. You can just eat your first meal, but opting to drink a beef bone broth prior to eating your first meal is recommended.
How you should break your fast eat depends on your goals.
If you want to lose weight, sticking to healthy fats and lean protein is the best option.
But if you want to build muscle, a combination of proteins and complex carbs is best to break a fast.
Although they are optimal, you will still see results with weight loss if you decide to eat carbs/protein or fats/protein combination.
Here are some great foods you can eat to break your fast and first meal of the day:
Soups: Soups contain a significant number of vitamins and minerals.
Beef Bone Broth: Contains high amounts of micronutrients and electrolytes, sodium, potassium, magnesium, selenium, calcium, and more.
Cooked vegetables, leafy green lettuces & salads. Like cucumber, tomatoes and fennel.
Fermented foods: Fermented foods kimchi, sauerkraut, a good source of probiotic bacteria, which improves your gut health.
Healthy Fats: High in healthy fats like eggs, avocados, wild salmon, sardines.
Lean Protein: Organic beef, chicken, tofu, turkey and seafood.
No raw vegetables, fruits, nuts or high sugary foods. At least not in your pre break fast meal.
Here is a starter ingredient list for must have essentials in your cupboard.
Extended / Prolonged Fasting Consideration
When fasting for longer periods, 24-72 hours, how you break a fast is a little different. But for this beginner guide and for most people, what is detailed above is the best way.
I won’t go into how to break a fast for 24-72 hour and longer fasting because this is beyond the scope of a beginner’s guide to fasting.
If you plan on fasting for longer periods watch this video below to prevent the risk of refeeding syndrome.
Eat more of these foods during the eating window
But when you start fasting, how do you make sure you survive with minimal side-effects?
And even more importantly: Without resorting to binge-eating after your fasting ends?
If you plan on fasting every day for 16 hours or longer, you should choose foods that allow your body to stay full, nutrient-dense, and don’t cause huge spikes in insulin.
We don’t want cravings to occur and the morning belly grumbles may not happen if we eat right the day before.
That’s why I’ve made a list of helpful foods for intermitent fasting.
List of foods you should eat more during your eating window:
Foods high in fiber: Make sure you eat foods high in fiber like brown rice, oatmeal, beans, and vegetables and fruits.
Foods high in protein: Also, eat foods high in protein like lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and beans. Your body takes a longer time to digest proteins.
That’s why it burns more calories and helps you feel full for longer.
Foods high in healthy fats: Eat foods high in healthy fats like avocados, nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil. Healthy fats help you feel full.
But it also prevents inflammation and improves your cholesterol levels.
Water: You should aim to drink 1.5 – 3 liters of water a day, depending on your body weight and activity. It helps you replenish the water weight that’s lost from fasting. And decrease your appetite.
If you make sure 80 – 90 % of your diet consists of foods on this list, you should be just fine.
List of foods you should eat less of or avoid altogether.
- Foods high in simple carbs and sugars, like brownies, soda, breakfast cereals, and certain dressings.
- Processed foods, like microwave meals, sausages, and savory snacks
- Foods with trans-fats (Think fast-food chains)
- Alcoholic beverages
What supplements can I take during a fast?
There has been some confusion surrounding supplementation and fasting.
I only take supplements during my eating window to avoid any confusion, but I will cover what supplements you can take and which ones to avoid.
Supplements you can’t take:
- Protein powder: Taking protein powder will trigger an insulin response that breaks your fast.
- Branded Chain Amina’s BCAAs: BCAAs also seem to trigger an insulin response in the body.
- Some types of multivitamins: To improve the flavor, some types of multivitamins contain sugar. So, make sure you check the label for added sugars.
- Fish oil: Fish oil only contains a couple of calories. Take these during your eating window.
- Pre-workout supplements: Pre-workout usually contains ingredients like artificial sweeteners (Sucralose). Double shot espresso will give you the pre-workout you need!
Supplements you can take:
- Creatine: Creatine doesn’t contain any calories and, therefore, will not break your fast.
- Prebiotics: Doesn’t contain any calories or trigger an insulin response.
- Multivitamins without added sugars: Most vitamins don’t contain any added sugars. So, those will be fine to take.
- L-Tyrosine: L-Tyrosine has been proven to reduce stress.
- Other micronutrients: Supplements with specific micronutrients like Vitamin D, B1, B2, B3, B9, and calcium, magnesium tend not to have calories but always check the label.
The rule of thumb is if in doubt, take supplements during your eating window.
Fasted Cardio Vs. Non Fasted
There are many debates about whether fasted cardio is better than fed state training. Both play a great role in weight loss either way you go. But there are some beneficial bonuses when you train fasted.
One of those benefits is the increase in human growth hormone (HGH). Fasting actually stimulates a much greater HGH secretion. You will likely see improved muscle growth due to the increase in HGH during a fast.
The peak of HGH is first thing in the morning and what I like to do is complete my fasted cardio or fasted weight training in the morning to take advantage of the peaking growth hormone.
But not everyone is a morning person so exercising while fasted at any time is also fine due to HGH secretion throughout the day. One study showed 5 times the human growth hormone during a two day fast, so there is no denying a much better HGH response during a fast. You may not have the full effect doing shorter fast but you will have much better secretion fasted rather than fed.
Fun Fact: Did you know Hugh Jackman practiced 16/8 intermittent fasting to bulk up and lean out for the role Wolverine?
The more you train while fasted the better your muscle adapt to using fats as fuel (Fat Adaptation). It may take up to two weeks to hit the sweet spot but your body will switch much sooner from glucose to fats the longer you practice fasted cardio.
Thus, burning more fat due to increased fatty acid oxidation is the reason why fasted cardio is a prime way to lose fat and build lean muscle.
The best diets to combine with Intermittent Fasting
I’m often asked, what diet should I follow when fasting? As mention earlier, a well-balanced diet is the best approach in my opinion because it allows for long-term adherence rather than the restrictive diets listed below.
However there are some great diets to follow if you choose to combine the two.
The best diets you can combine with intermittent fasting include:
- The Mediterranean Diet
- The Ketogenic Diet
- A Plant Based Diet
Let’s get into why that is.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet was voted the best overall diet by a panel of respected nutrition experts in 2020.
Mainly because data suggest it’s the healthiest diet and the easiest to follow long term.
But what is The Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is based on how the people who live around the Mediterranean sea eat.
It includes lots of whole grains, healthy fats, proteins, fish, vegetables, and fruits—a moderate amount of dairy products and a limited amount of red meat.
People first became interested in the Mediterranean Diet in the 1960s after a large scale study showed that Mediterineanen people have less heart disease. However, they smoked more cigarettes than in other regions.
And, like fasting, The Mediterranean diet has been shown to decrease the risk of diabetes.
The Ketogenic Diet (Ketosis Fasting)
For years now, The Ketogenic Diet has been one of the most popular ways to lose weight.
The ketogenic diet limits carbs to 30 – 50 grams a day and replaces them with healthy fats.
But recently, there has been a lot of hype surrounding Ketosis Fasting.
Combining the Ketogenic diet with Intermittent Fasting.
You’re probably wondering what’s the use of combining the two.
As you’ve learned, the goal of intermittent fasting is to deplete your glycogen stores.
By limiting carbs to 30 – 50 grams a day, the ketogenic diet accomplishes the same goal: You deplete your glycogen stores to improve your fat-burning ability.
But by adding fasting to the mix, you will deplete your glycogen storages and enter a fasted state. When you combine keto, your insulin should stay low, and carbohydrates are limited, and you will burn more fat and expel ketones through urination.
Using the right foods and fasting, you enter the goldilocks of “ketosis fasting.”
You can read more about combining The Ketogenic Diet with Intermittent Fasting here.
My favorite way is using an element of keto for specific stages of a fast and eat balanced nutritious meals/snacks for the rest of the day.
The benefits of a plant-based diet are well researched, and although you may not be a vegetarian, you should incorporate plant-based meals into your diet:
But as people are increasingly interested in making conscious choices, plant-based diets have seen a sharp increase in popularity.
If you’re interested in combining intermittent fasting with a plant-based diet, make sure you eat a good protein source and look for foods with B12, Vitamin D, Zinc, and Iron.
What are the side effects of fasting and how to minimize them
You will minimize the side effects of fasting by sticking to these recommended foods. But it’s still possible you will experience some side-effects.
If this happens, you have to remind yourself of two things.
1) It’s normal because your body is getting adjusted to a new way of eating and switching over between fuel sources.
2) And the side-effects usually don’t last long. Because they disappear once your body is accustomed to fasting.
But, with that being said, let’s get into some of these common side effects. And what else you can do to minimize them.
Side Effect #1: Hunger Pains And Cravings
Your body gets used to eating around a specific time. Breaking that cycle can sometimes cause some problems.
Let’s say, for example. You eat breakfast at 07:00 am, and now you’re skipping breakfast because you’re on a 16/8 schedule.
At first, the hunger hormone Ghrelin will still peak around 07:00 am. Because your body is using glycogen as its primary fuel source, there’s a good chance your body will send out craving signals for carbs as the cells start to deplete sugars.
But, as mentioned, that’s only temporary until your body adjusts.
A study showed that out of 1422 participants, 93.2 percent of subjects’ hunger pains disappeared once their body became adjusted to fasting.
How to solve this?
Sip water between meals, drink black coffee and stay busy. Once your body adjusts, you won’t have morning hunger pains.
Side Effect #2: Tiredness, Mental Fog, Dizziness, And Headaches.
You may feel tired or, on rare occasions, experience dizziness or headaches.
One of the main reasons why this happens is because of low sodium levels. Your insulin level dictates how much water weight you hold.
Because your insulin levels drop when you fast, this sends a kidney signal to release water retention in your body.
That’s why you lose water weight along with the down-side: You will release more salt from your body.
How to solve this?
Add a pinch of natural salt (Himalayan or Celtic salt are two favorites) under your tongue or in a glass of water.
Drink some bone broth or vegetable soup during your eating window.
Side Effect #3 Stress And Anxiety
Fasting boosts your adrenaline level, and this can be a good thing: It increases your metabolism and makes you more energetic.
But it can also come with a downside: If you’re already stressed and anxious, it can make you even more nervous.
Luckily, you have plenty of options to lower stress.
How to solve this?
Breathing exercises or meditation can reduce stress pretty quickly.
My advice, start slowly increasing your duration of a fast and build your tolerance.
You can also take a magnesium supplement to help relax your body and improve your sleeping routine for better sleep quality.
Side Effect #4: Bad Breath
Bad breath can be an unfortunate side effect of fasting. You get bad breath because when you burn fat as fuel, acetone is the byproduct.
So, it means you’re doing everything right.
Just give it some time. Bad breath will eventually go away. And there are some things you can do.
How to solve this?
Drinking water will help with this slightly. The obvious things are to brush your teeth and tongue throughout the day. But it is coming from your gut rather than your mouth, so it may help mask it.
Side Effect #5: Digestive Issues
Your insulin level is low for long periods when you fast. That’s why more water gets released from your body, and you may experience diarrhea.
You might also experience less bowel movement during the day.
But that is very logical because your meals are spread less throughout the day.
So, if you’re not feeling an uncomfortable sensation, you should be fine.
How to solve this?
Drink more water to replenish what fluids are lost with a pinch of salt and increase your soluble fiber intake. Preferably a product with Psyllium Husk.
We did an article on Colon Broom Review which has Psyllium Husk and highly recommend you can read it.
If you are experiencing diarrhea, stop drinking caffeinated and sugary drinks and visit your doctor if it persists as fasting may not be the cause.
Side Effect #6 Acid Reflux
This last side effect rarely ever happens. But it’s worth mentioning: Acid Reflux.
Acid reflux happens when stomach acid comes back into your esophagus, and you feel a burning sensation in the middle of your chest or when you burp.
I suffered from reflux before fasting, but fasting made it worse. If you experience reflux, start with fixing your gut health. Restoring my gut health resolved my reflux problem.
The bad gut bugs feed off carbohydrates and let off-gases, you’ll notice you’ll start to burp when your stomach empties, and this is when the reflux most likely occurs.
See the product I used to kill an abundance of lousy gut bugs to restore a balanced gut flora by clicking here.
How to minimize acid reflux?
Water can worsen the reflux, at least for me. I had to drink milk to stop the burning, but you could use a liquid antacid but restoring your gut health should be number one rather than masking it.
Lower your coffee and tea intake as this may trigger it.
Intermittent fasting myths debunked
We have all the scientific research on fasting available to us by a simple Google search.
But there’s still a lot of misinformation being spread about Intermittent Fasting. And people still believe in Intermittent Fasting myths that have been disproven a long time ago.
That’s why I want to get into some of these myths.
Myth 1: Eating 6 meals a day is optimal for your metabolism
Eating six meals a day used to be the standard in the fitness world. It was believed that it helps boost your metabolism
But this belief was not based on scientific research.
Bodybuilders would eat six meals a day to get super ripped. And because this approach worked, one questioned it.
People just blindly followed it.
It also seemed to make a lot of sense: Because when you eat frequently, your digestive system and metabolism are again continually running.
But studies show that meal frequency does NOT influence the metabolic rate. What is essential is the thermic effect of the foods you eat (TEF.)
Myth 2: Fasting slows down your metabolism
Some people fear that fasting will slow down their metabolism.
The reason why?
Scientific research has shown that when your body is in starvation, your metabolism slows down.
But here’s the thing: Short-term fasting does not put your body into starvation mode. This only happens when you’re (chronically) undereating.
Myth 3: Fasting allows you to eat whatever you want
Unfortunately, some unethical businesses promote Intermittent Fasting as a weight-loss miracle cure.
And have gotten some people to believe that how much you eat is not essential. You will still lose weight as long as you eat at the right time.
But that’s not the case. Calories in vs. calories out are essential. So, you still need to pay attention to how much you eat.
Myth 4: Skipping breakfast makes you gain weight
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” You’ve probably heard this saying many times before
People started believing this after research showed people who eat breakfast tend to have a lower BMI.
But people made a wrong assumption: That this was because breakfast helps keep you full. But a review study debunked that assumption.
So, it’s more likely that people who skip breakfast are overweight because they have bad eating habits in general.
Myth 5: Fasting will cause muscle loss
Maybe you think fasting will either break down muscle. Or make it harder to build muscle. But that’s not the case.
As mentioned, fasting does not put your body into starvation mode. And your body was designed to help you preserve muscle.
That’s why the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) level rises when you fast.
Myth 6: Fasting decreases the quality of sleep
Some people have a more challenging time falling asleep when they first start fasting. This is mainly because of increased adrenaline.
But in the long term, time-restricted eating can actually strengthen your 24-hour circadian clock, which improves the quality of your sleep.
Fasting will also make it less likely you wake up during the night.
Myth 7: Fasting always causes tiredness and fatigue
You might experience tiredness when you start fasting. But this doesn’t happen to nearly everyone.
Lots of times, this tiredness is also caused by other things. For example, because you eat too many hidden sugars. Or because your body is low in b5, potassium/sodium, magnesium, and B1.
Ketones also provide more energy than glucose. That’s why, in the long-term, fasting will make you feel more energized.
Intermittent fasting is my most desired type of weight loss or muscle growth strategy that works and is super easy to do.
There is no denying it’s therapeutic effects that occur when practicing extended fasting, but it requires a little different approach and monitoring if you decide to do longer than 24-hour fasts and care should be taken with medical supervision if you suffer from a disease, heart conditions, diabetes and underweight among other illnesses.
Although this is a thorough beginner’s guide to fasting if you have any question people comment below and I’ll be happy to answer any questions not covered here.
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Hey! Ricky here, the founder of Exercise With Style. My passion is helping people achieve their health and fitness goals with over 12 years in the industry. Since starting this website over 3 years ago, EWS has gained thousands of readers each month and my commitment to you is to provide up-to-date information from myself and a group of hand-selected expert writers in their fields, so you can maintain a healthy lifestyle for the long term. Thanks for reading!