Let me first say that I fast for a number of reasons that I will get into as we go through this article, with that said fasting is not for everyone, I believe in it, I think it has some serious advantages but make no mistake about it the hallmark of what I do is based on eating a anti-inflammatory diet (meats, vegetables and some fruit).
Also I would like to point out that I am not a doctor, nutritionist or dietician. These are my experiences based on self experiments and research, hopefully it gets you farther along in your health and fitness journey.
The Protocol I recommend, I call it “Delaying Breakfast”
There are many ways to intermittent fast and you can make arguments for and against a lot of them. For me personally I fast on a 16-18 hour schedule, that basically looks like having dessert at about 8pm and then not eating until noon or 2pm the following day. There are various adjustments that you will need to make related to workouts and nutrient timing but for my money the easiest and best protocol has me delaying breakfast every day.
I thought breakfast was the most important meal of the day?
I suppose technically I should call my protocol something different, like, “I Eat Breakfast Later” because that is what is actually happening. I love eating steak and eggs with sweet potatoes as my first meal, I guess it just depends on your definition of what that first meal is called. Certainly I am “breaking my fast” with that meal. So I do eat breakfast and I do think the first meal of the day is very important and should be very nutrient dense, I just disagree on timing which is a minor point in my opinion but a major point for some. I try not to be in the business of judging people’s personal decisions unless it affects me directly, so I am not trying to convince anyone of anything, I am simply putting out there what I do, why it works for me and people can make their own decisions. For most people that start fasting and then stop it their criticisms are not often related to it being unhealthy (cliffs=they do not get past the adaption period in most cases).
What the “Delaying Breakfast” protocol does
Intermittent fasting is basically a short term detox for your body by maximizing you natural hormonal tendencies Firstly and likely the biggest benefit to fasting is the increased Human Growth Hormone, HGH (or Growth Hormone, GH) affect. Human growth hormone in the body primarily deals with inflammation in your tissues and organs as you age, as well as it’s most obvious function when you were young it helped you grow. HGH is known to increase bone density, aid in building lean muscle mass, decrease body fat and help exercise capacity. Let me be clear though, I am not talking about synthetic HGH you would get from a doctor, I am referring to the natural HGH that your body produces daily. Humans with healthy amounts of natural HGH are believed to be able to live longer and healthier lives.
Delaying Breakfast and Acne
I have had bad skin my whole life, once I started eating clean and fasting that all changed. Certainly eating better foods and less sugar is helpful as it relates to most skin conditions but when you add in the HGH affect and the detoxification effect you get sort of the perfect storm of healthy glowing skin. Or at least I do.
Why “Delaying Breakfast” works for some people and some people struggle
Your body releases HGH throughout the day in small pulses. While everything I have said so far sounds miraculous it does not happen rapidly. The benefits take time and can often be negated by other factors. Basically when you eat anything it stimulates your insulin which is a storage hormone, insulin and HGH do not work well together so your HGH pulses are often blunted in the presence of insulin (except when you sleep but I will address this in a bit because it is the misinterpretation that has caused this one thing to be misused by nutritionists, doctors and “bro-scientists” everywhere). This is why we fast, so we do not blunt the HGH response which heals our body or detoxes it in various ways.
As awesome as this sounds it has some consequences and those consequences vary from person to person. As a general rule you can fast roughly for about 20 hours before the benefits start to go away. This varies from person to person so keep that in mind. For some people being hungry is just too stressful to receive benefit, that stress can stimulate their cortisol response and whatever small benefits they would receive from the added HGH could be negated. Similarly you can not just fast your way to being skinny, at a certain point your body will basically revolt on you and you could possibly risk losing some muscle. So while 20 hours is the approximate window, it varies depending on how you handle the hunger and other factors that cause your body and mind stress. For most people however the body adjusts and the hunger is not a big issue, especially if you stay busy and do not obsess over your upcoming meals. This is where planning can be really helpful.
Fasting is not a Diet!
Most people are familiar with the concept of calories in and calories out, that principle is based on the laws of thermodynamics. It really is a very simple idea that gets over thought. If you eat fewer calories then your body requires on a daily basis you are said to be in a “negative energy balance”, similarly if you eat more than your body requires you are said to be in a “positive energy balance”. Fasting affects neither of these when you consider that you can eat the same exact foods and calories with similar bodily responses from day to day whether you are fasting or not. The devil is in the details however, because fasting allows your body to detox better it is better prepared for the time you start eating again (the refeed period). This is why I recommend you have a very healthy nutrient dense meal consisting mostly of proteins and fats with hearty nutrient dense vegetables like a Kale salad. Certainly if you have worked out there could be a strong case for taking in some starchy carbohydrates to restore your glycogen reserves so you do not feel fatigued but that somewhat depends on how hard you work out and what you did. Basically what I am saying is that the energy balance does not change, what changes is your bodies capacity to effectively process those nutrients, even bad habits are processed better though I would not recommend testing this out.
“But I was told I should not eat Carbohydrates late and how to I get my six small meals in a day in such a small window”
The reason you are not supposed to eat carbohydrates late is because you get your biggest influx of hormones that heal your body a short time after you fall asleep. The conjecture basically goes like this, if insulin blunts HGH then you should not have carbohydrates late because they tend to spike your insulin. Never mind of course that all foods spike your insulin somewhat and many cultures live very healthy lives eating right before bed. How can this be? Once again the details matter, when you fall asleep your body regulates your insulin to a point where you are able to get the “healing hormones” for our purposes we are discussing HGH. Are there instances where this might not be the case, for sure, are those instances because you had a banana 30 minutes before bedtime? In almost every instance that answer is no. The fact is that eating carbohydrates later tends to be a better bodily strategy because they are not very nutrient dense and tend to leave you hungry hours later, if you have all of your carbohydrates early they will leave you hungry and possibly craving more carbohydrates, even if you are eating fruit. Eat carbs late, or eat them early from a thermodynamics standpoint there is no difference. The difference in my opinion is that carbs do not keep me full (short term however they do give you a feeling of being full), so I prefer to have them later in the evening. They also make my brain happy so I sleep better.
Similarly people have been told that five to six small meals stokes your metabolism. The science on this is murky at best and probably the work of some really good supplement marketers. Once again the laws of thermodynamics do not lie, 2000 calories over 6 meals can have a similar bodily affect as say 2 meals or even 1 meal. Personally I question how well my body would digest so many calories in one meal but I do in fact eat 2 meals a day and I am pretty thin and I eat a good amount of calories. I will however make an argument that my style of eating is better simply because I can eat real foods and I eat until I am full. If you eat 6 small meals it is sort of hard to make all 6 of those meals hearty so they tend to leave you hungry quicker and they are not always convenient, for a lot of people this means eating six small meals that are not nutrient dense which leaves them hungry in the long term. Many people rely on supplements to fill the gap, I have some bad news for those people, most supplements by the nature of them not being real foods do not get absorbed well mostly because they are not chewed and get digested too quickly, google it.
Let’s be clear about this
I am not giving you medical advice and you are certainly welcome to google anything I said, I hope you find an opinion that differs from mine because that perspective often helps when making decisions related to health and fitness. Additionally, what my experience has been is that this works best with proper workouts, mostly clean eating (meats, vegetables and some fruit) and good rest. If you did all of those things without fasting your life would also be significantly better. So keep that in mind. This is just one guys opinion, I wish you all good health.