How To Intermittent Fast

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades or so, you would have undoubtedly heard of the intermittent fasting diet. However, many people have never truly tried intermittent fasting, even though it can favorably improve your body composition and help you meet your weight loss goals.

The number one reason why people are intimidated by it? They don’t properly know how to intermittent fast. It really isn’t that hard as you are going to see in this article where we show you just how simple it is and how you too can implement it in no time flat.

Ready to learn more about intermittent fasting? Then let’s go!

What Exactly Is Intermittent Fasting?

The principle of intermittent fasting is not new, nor is it difficult to understand. Rather, to put it simply all it involves is alternating periods of eating with periods of time during which you are not eating, better known as fasting.

At this point you’re probably thinking that you do this already, every day right? After all, you eat a meal and then go about 3 to 4 hours without food and then subsequently eat again. This is not intermittent fasting, as the four hour break you take between meals can hardly even be considered any sort of fasting!

But before we specify the number of hours you need to fast for, or to which hours you are limited to re-feed, it is important to understand that there are different approaches to intermittent fasting, which may be better or less suited to helping you achieve your goals.

If you’re trying to gain muscle mass, intermittent fasting done wrong can negatively impact your progress. This means it is important to also know which is the best type for you.

Just keep in mind that intermittent fasting is not some new trendy type of diet designed to fleece you of your money. It can be argued that our ancestors regularly practiced fasting or intermittent-style eating as a result of necessity since they did not have the convenience of food at their disposal whenever they desired it.

Rather, you should consider intermittent fasting the rediscovery of nutritional strategies that have existed for millennia and which possess real potential in helping you get to where you need to go.

Types Of Intermittent Fasting Techniques/Methods

As previously alluded to, not all intermittent fasting diets are the same. To an extent they follow the same principles, but exact duration and frequency of fasting can vary significantly. The most common and effective approaches to starting intermittent fasting include:

The 16/8 Method

16/8 Method

This is by far the most common model of intermittent fasting diets, and with good reason – it is not very difficult to pull off. It is very sustainable in the sense that once you can make it two weeks into the diet, you will be able to do so indefinitely.

So what exactly does the 16/8 method involve?

The two numbers; 16 and 8 refer to the number of hours daily that you are required to fast and eat, respectively. No, we did not make a mistake. You will be fasting for 16 hours per every 24 hours. Entering panic mode? There really is no need to, especially when you understand how easy this really is.

To effectively pull this off, you need to ensure a couple things are in place:

  • You have a consistent sleep-wake pattern. This is to ensure that the 16 hours you spend fasting every day are as painless as possible, with the lion’s share of them coinciding with sleep. Having your “AHA!” moment yet? Good, then by now you’re starting to see that it can be a walk in the park.
  • You need to ensure that you keep meal times within the prescribed time frames – if you are going to be eating outside of the eight hour window, then it defeats the purpose altogether. You need to exhibit a mild degree of compulsivity during the initial couple of weeks to develop the discipline required to make a long-term dietary change.

Putting The 16/8 Diet Together

The average adult wakes up at about 6 or 7 in the morning, and goes to bed at about 10 or 11 at night. This means that the average person gets about 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily. So how should you go about planning your fasting around this interval?

Your exact schedule may differ, but for demonstration purposes let’s say that our hypothetical test subject wakes at 7 AM every morning like a ritual. Subsequently, he goes to bed at 11 PM at night. Calculating this, you can see that he spends 16 hours awake and 8 hours asleep. So how do we cram 16 hours of fasting into 8 hours of sleep?

The answer is that you don’t. Rather, by taking an additional four hours around both sides of the sleep window (which is starting at 7 PM at night, and ending at 11 AM in the morning) we are able to gather a 16 hour consecutive stretch where fasting is achievable.

What this means is that the last meal should be fully consumed no later than 7 PM every night, and you have your first meal of the day four hours after waking, or at 11 AM in the morning.

“But that’s too difficult”, or “what do I do if I’m hungry?” are common thoughts you might encounter when starting out. This can be fixed quite easily, however, by simply drinking water, and lots of it. Water is important for much more than just blunting your hunger, as it turns out, since extended periods of fasting also increase your risk of dehydration and thirst. Optimal hydration is required to facilitate enhanced utilization of fat for fuel.

Your body’s stores of glucose are not infinite. Rather, as it uses up simple glucose molecules in the blood rapidly, it turns to stored glucose in the form of muscle (and to a lesser degree liver) glycogen, and uses that for maintenance. Within a period of usually 12 to 14 hours, the body stores of glucose are depleted, causing a shift in depending on fat for the production of energy.

As you can see, the 16/8 style of intermittent fasting lends itself nicely to fat loss, especially if you decide to partake in a bit of exercise in the morning while awaiting your 11 AM feeding.

The 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet

5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet

This intermittent fasting model is significantly different from the 16/8 way of doing things, as it leans heavily on caloric restriction not based on a specific number of hours, but done two days per week while the other five days are nonrestrictive, allowing you to eat whatever you desire.

Not as popular as the 16/8 diet, the 5:2 diet is more often preferred by women or casual athletes looking for a “quick fix” for weight loss as it usually does not require a long-term commitment, being done as necessary.

The two days fasting is practiced during the week, total number of calories are limited to 500 to 600, which means that calories those days are significantly below maintenance, inevitably causing the utilization of stored fat.

The two days of fasting are to be done on separate days non-consecutively, in order to mitigate the likelihood of the body’s survivalistic “starvation mode” kicking in.

Starvation mode is a primitive metabolic adaptation embedded into our DNA that allows us to survive for an extended period of time when food supply is scarce. The body notices the decline of calories available to it, and in response start to reduce processes that are non-essential.

This means that fat loss is all but shut down, since at this time the metabolic rate plummets as the body attempts to hold on to its energy stores for as long as possible.

By limiting the caloric restriction to one day at a time before refueling, the starvation mode mechanism is not tripped and you can still safely lose weight.

It bears repeating that you should at no time restrict calories on two consecutive days while attempting the 5:2 diet or it will fail in no time flat.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the other five days per week when you’re not fasting you are allowed to eat normally – meaning that you should not compensate for the calorie deficits created on the two other days of the week or you will have a bad time.

Eat Stop Eat

Eat Stop Eat Method

The Eat Stop Eat model of the intermittent fasting diet can be considered an upgrade, or more difficult version (depending on how you prefer to look at it) of the 5:2 diet, having been created by Brad Pilon.

In contrast to the 5:2 diet where you are allowed to consume between 500 to 600 cal daily, eat stop eat requires you to fast for an entire 24 hours at a time. This fasting can be done one or two times weekly (another difference from the 5:2 diet), but allows you to eat whatever you want the other five days of the week.

Even though this “whatever you want” claim sounds great on paper, you still need to exercise common sense. Do not pig out just for the thrill of it, but instead eat enough highly nutritious food that your body needs and can convert into energy to support essential processes.

Typically, you will start fasting the moment you complete a meal, which is often times dinner. However, it may be a better option to start your fast after lunch, as lunch the next day is a fair compromise considering variables such as sleep and your overall energy levels as the day progresses.

The Warrior Diet

Warrior Diet

Developed by a former member of the Israeli special forces, the warrior diet is based on the premise that it emulates the way ancient warriors ate; they fasted much of the day and then had a large meal (or feast if you like) at night.

While classified as a variety of intermittent fasting diets, it deviates from some of the principles since low calorie foods are allowed during the fasting period, making it more like a hybrid 5:2 and 16/8 diet. It is also not based on scientific proof, but only on what the diet creator found worked best for him.

For this reason, we would not include it as a “true” IF diet type.

How To Intermittent Fast For Weight Loss

Most models of intermittent fasting lend themselves quite favorably to weight loss. But is one superior than the others? Not particularly. Indeed, the Eat Stop Eat and 5:2 models will result in rapid and significant weight loss, but their efficacy and sustainability over the long term is questionable.

Though we are not advocating binge dieting as they scarcely ever turn out well, if you rapidly need to drop a few pounds these two types are superior to the 16/8 model of intermittent fasting.

On the other hand, the 16/8 diet is better suited for those individuals with their eyes on the long goal. You will be able to consistently lose weight, and keep it off as above all else this variation helps to build your discipline. Whereas the other two allow you to choose haphazard days or when it suits you, you do not have that luxury when it comes to the 16/8 diet.

Overall, if we had to choose one it would be the 16/8 diet simply because weight loss and maintenance should be a lifestyle change and not something to just opt into when you feel like it. To be clear – a number of people do successfully pull off the 5:2 and eat stop eat diet, the numbers are just likely to be smaller, realistically speaking.

How To Intermittent Fast For Muscle Gain?

Muscle gain technically requires the opposite of weight loss – a caloric surplus and not a deficit which is what intermittent fasting diets specialize at creating.

So does that mean that you need to give up your ambitions of crafting a lean and muscular body? Not at all. However, it becomes much more important which model you choose to support muscle gain than it was for weight loss in which case any one of them was effective at it.

The cream of the crop for muscle gain has to be the 16/8 approach. Why is this so? For starters, you can move around your workout session to suit periods of time when refeeding is allowed. Using the example previously cited, you can train shortly after 11 AM, first ensuring that you have taken in a bit of pre-workout nutrition.

Subsequently, after your workout (which lasts about 60 minutes) you can have a protein/carbohydrate drink to kick start muscle protein synthesis. A solid meal can follow afterwards, which would your last meal scheduled at 7 PM.

For your last meal you can even include a slower digesting protein such as casein, which slowly liberates amino acids for several hours after it’s ingested, meaning that you will be able to recover in your sleep even after the fact that your last meal was several hours ago.

This sort of versatility is not possible with other intermittent fasting varieties since they mandate either absolute or significant calorie restriction that is simply not enough to sustain muscle growth on those two days.

There is nothing worse than the constant tug-of-war caused by allowing five days of generous calories, and two with severe restriction. The 16/8 diet offers consistency and can support muscle growth.

To Summarize

There is no one universal style of intermittent fasting that everyone must adhere to. You should first determine what your goals are (a singular goal is best, do not combine muscle gain and fat loss in the same goal). From there, also consider if your lifestyle routines are consistent enough or if you are unable to follow patterns.

Then, and only then can you choose the best method to follow. Regardless, an extended period of fasting every so often never hurt anyone, and has only been shown to deliver innumerable benefits in the short term and for years to come.

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Mike Julom, ACE CPT

Mike is an ACE Certified PT and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He is an avid lover of all sports. Basketball, tennis, athletics, volleyball, soccer, squash, golf, table tennis, even darts, you name it! He's a very active CrossFit athlete and has been WOD'ing for over 7 years. With such an intense fitness regime, Mike has learned to take care of his body physically, nutritionally, and spiritually. Mike founded ThisIsWhyImFit as a way to share his vast knowledge of exercises, diets, and general fitness advice.

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