What it is/How many variants:
No matter what your fitness goals might be, whether you’re trying to put on some more muscle or trying to lose some weight, the biggest part of achieving those goals is maintaining a proper diet. Most diets focus largely on making you change what you eat. However, intermittent fasting isn’t like most diets. Rather than changing WHAT you eat, intermittent fasting changes WHEN you eat. In fact, there are five different forms of intermittent fasting:
- Simple Fast, which involves fasting for 12 hours a day. This means that if you’ve finished your dinner at 8 in the evening, you don’t start eating anything again until 8 in the morning the next day (so no dessert). This makes the simple fast a great place to start at, and ease into more advanced forms of fasting.
- Cycle Fast, the most popular form of intermittent fasting, consisting of 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8-hour feeding window. This means that if you’ve had your dinner at 6 or 7pm, you’ll have to wait until 12 or 1pm the next day before you can start eating again. Because of its generously sized feeding window, this form of intermittent fasting is well suited for those who are new to the diet. Your body may need some time to acclimatise to these changes, but if you continue to push on through, you’re guaranteed to start seeing results after a little while.
- The Strong Fast, which consists of 20 hours of fasting followed by a four-hour feeding window. This form of intermittent fasting is similar to the 16/8 diet, except a bit more intense due to having a shorter feeding window. This makes the warrior diet more suited for healthy, strong men that want to push their performance to the next level. This form of fasting is not recommended for women, as they typically have trouble with longer fasts.
- The Warrior Fast, which gives you a 3-hour eating window following a 21 hour fast. This fast is generally only recommended for the hardcore, navy seal type of individual, due to its more intense restrictions. It does, however, give you the best anti-aging benefits, the best boosts to mental acuity, and helps them better build lean muscle mass. Since this form of fasting is more intense than the others before, its recommended that your body’s in a healthy state (no chronic diseases or symptoms) to avoid any possible complications.
- Alternate Day Fasting (ADF), where you fast for about 24 hours 1-3 times a week. This diet is definitely more suited for those who have plenty of experience with fasting diets. At the most, you’re allowed to consume water while you’re fasting, but no calories are allowed beyond that.
While this diet might sound difficult to some, there are a number of benefits to be gained from following through with it. The first, and most obvious, of these benefits is better fat/weight loss. As you know, when you eat anything at any time during the day, you’re taking calories into your body. Simultaneously, your body is also burning any calories you have stored in your body as fuel throughout the day. If you want to burn fat, the rate at which you burn calories should be higher the rate you take them in, which results in what is known as a calorie deficit (We've provided a link to a calorie deficit calculator HERE to make achieving this deficit easier). When you’re following the intermittent fasting diet, provided you’re not gorging yourself during your 8-hour eating window, you’re limiting the amount of calories you’re taking in daily, which makes it easier to achieve a calorie deficit.
Intermittent Fasting also raises your cortisol levels, a hormone made in the adrenal gland that regulates metabolism, controls blood pressure, and reduces inflammation, among other things. Cortisol is normally at its peak when you wake up, to help get you out of bed, and starts decreasing as the day goes on. Since one of its properties is that it regulates metabolism, cortisol also helps you burn fat. So when you’re fasting, not only are you reducing the number of calories you’re taking in, but you’re also increasing the rate at which you’re burning off the calories you already have in your body. If you’re also taking a fat burner supplement during this time, you’ll be seeing even more results.
Intermittent Fasting doesn’t just improve your ability to burn off fat, though. There are also plenty of benefits to your workout that can come from this. Firstly, you won’t be losing any muscle mass when you’re fasting, only fat. This means that intermittent fasting is great for building lean muscle mass. Secondly, intermittent fasting has also been shown to help improve mental clarity. According to Mark Mattson of the National Institute on Ageing, when you participate in intermittent fasting, you're putting your brain under some mild stress, forcing it to adapt by enhancing the minds ability to cope with stress, much the same way that strength training puts your muscles under stress in order to force them to grow stronger. Speaking of which, a clearer mind means you can focus more easily on your workouts, which will lead to better muscle growth.
And thirdly, intermittent fasting helps to raise your body’s ability to produce human growth hormone. Human growth hormone is produced in the pituitary gland, which is responsible for growth in your body, and the hormone itself is responsible for growth in children and adolescents, as well as regulating fat metabolism, heart function, and muscle and bone growth. And studies have shown that when you’re doing intermittent fasting, your body’s growth hormone secretion rate gradually starts to increase. This increase in growth hormones means that your body can more effectively build muscle. It helps that human growth hormone can also be a powerful anti-ageing hormone, turning on the genetic repair mechanisms in your body to give you clearer skin, reduce joint pain, and burn fat more easily, all things that can greatly benefit you during your workouts.
However, for all of its benefits, there are some drawbacks to taking part in intermittent fasting. The biggest of those drawbacks is that some people may find it hard to actually get started. For some, the idea of not being allowed to eat anything for 16 hours can sound pretty intimidating, and could potentially turn the off of the idea of even trying the fast. However, you can reduce this difficulty by drinking sparkling water during the fasting period, as it acts as an effective appetite suppressant, and fasting will become easier to do the more you do it. Similarly, social gatherings could be a turn-off for those considering doing intermittent fasting. If your fasting period ends up coinciding with your friends inviting you out somewhere, you might start worrying that you’ll be tempted to eat something before your eating window rolls by. It doesn’t have to be that difficult. The thing about intermittent fasting is that you can change it to fit your schedule. If you can’t eat anything during your eating window because something’s keeping you too busy for it, move the start time of your eating window back. If you and your friends are going out for lunch during your fasting period, don’t fast that day. You don’t have to feel like you have to stick to a specific 16/8 routine every single day.
Another drawback is that intermittent fasting makes it difficult for you to build bigger muscles. When you’re fasting, you’re taking in fewer calories. However, one of the biggest factors of building muscle is your carb intake. With a reduced carb intake, it will be more difficult to increase your muscle size, which makes intermittent fasting better suited for cutting rather than bulking. And finally, fasting could raise your blood sugar levels. As we’ve mentioned earlier, intermittent fasting increases your cortisol levels. While cortisol does regulate things like metabolism and blood pressure, it also has the effect of raising the blood sugar levels in your body. While it might not be a problem for most people, for those with existing health problems tied to blood sugar, intermittent fasting could actually make these problems worse. So if you have any sort of blood sugar related problems, it’s recommended that, instead of fasting, you eat every 2-3 hours to normalize your blood sugar levels.
That concludes our rundown of intermittent fasting. Overall, it’s entirely up to you if you want to try this diet. Not everyone can successfully pull off a fasting diet, so don’t get discouraged if your attempt at intermittent fasting isn’t showing results. If you do it right, though, you’ll find that there are many benefits to be gained, from fat loss, to lean muscle growth, to improved mental and physical health. As with any diet or supplement, be sure to consult your doctor or dietitian if you have any questions or concerns before starting.