If you’re the health conscious type or you’re looking to lose a few pounds, then you’ve probably heard of the term ‘intermittent fasting’. Also known as the ‘Lean Gains’ protocol, people claim it helps melt away body fat whilst maintaining or even gaining muscle mass. But exactly what is intermittent fasting?
Here are the key things you need to know to decide whether it’s for you and if so, what you need to do to get started.
What is intermittent fasting?
First off, intermittent fasting isn’t a diet but a pattern of eating. That means no calorie counting (or macro counting), no carb-cutting and no meal replacements. Instead you’ll simply be changing the time of day in which you eat.
Most people follow the 16:8 rule, meaning they will fit all of their meals within an 8 hour ‘eating window’ and consume nothing but water for the remaining 16 hours of the day. The science behind intermittent fasting is that when you fast, it puts your body into ‘fat burning mode’.
When you consume food, your body enters a ‘fed’ state which lasts approximately 3-4 hours. During this time it’s difficult for your body to burn fat as insulin levels are so high.
After this phase your body enters a post-adsorptive state. At this stage your body is no longer digesting food and insulin levels begin to reduce. Your body then relies on stored energy, mostly from stored carbohydrates in the liver.
If you continue to fast for 8-12 hours after your last food intake, your body will enter a ‘fasted’ state and begin to use fat stores for energy. This means that by fasting for 16 hours per day your body will be burning stored fat for 4-8 hours.
How to get started
Choose your eating window
The most popular way of intermittent fasting is to only eat between 12pm and 8pm the same day. You then wouldn’t eat again until 12pm the following day. Don’t feel as though you have to stick to these times though, it’s all about what works best for you. As long as you’re fasting for 16 hours each day you’ll be just fine.
Drink plenty of water
It’s extremely important that you stay hydrated during your fast. I personally aim to drink two litres of water during my 16 hour fast. You’ll be surprised by how much of your fluid intake comes from food and other beverages, so you’ll need to drink a lot of water whilst you’re fasting since you won’t be consuming anything else.
Black coffee is your wild card
There’s been some research to suggest that drinking a cup of black coffee in the morning can boost your body’s fat burning abilities. So long as you don’t add anything other than water to your hot drink (tea, coffee, herbal teas are fine) then you can safely consume these during your fast. Added bonus – black coffee curbs hunger too.
Avoid everything else
When you’re fasting, I mean.
People often chew sugar-free gum or drink zero calorie fizzy drinks thinking that because they are calorie-free then it won’t interfere with their fast. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Sugar-free foods and drinks with sweeteners can cause similar spikes in blood sugar to their full-sugar counterparts, so make sure you avoid them at all costs during your fast.
Be mindful of what you’re eating
As I mentioned before, you don’t need to count calories or macros during your eating window however you should still aim to make healthy choices where possible. This is because although intermittent fasting increases your body’s fat burning abilities, if you are in a caloric surplus (you’re eating more calories than you usually burn in a day) then you’re unlikely to lose body fat. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be in a caloric deficit for intermittent fasting to work for you though.