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An in depth conversation with my friend Frank who just did a four day water fast fast a few weeks ago was part of the inspiration for this.
Intermittent fasting for fat loss is a subject thats come up a lot recently with people, and the interest seems to be at an all time high so I wanted to address the subject and how it relates to your fat loss goals, and explain some common mistakes and myths on the subject.
In fact I have a client who’s fasting every day from sun up to sundown following Ramadan this month from May 26th through June 24th and we’ve arranged her nutrition according to this practice to help her better manage her energy and appetite during this phase.
Before we get too far I wanted to explain the different variations of fasting that people commonly use, and give my experience with the ones that I’ve used.
I actually used the Eat Stop Eat fasting (24 hour fast) once a week for 8 weeks to drop body fat and fuel my training for two powerlifting meets this past April.
I'll get into that a little later, but lets take a look at the most popular methods people use when fasting.
Most Popular Methods Of Fasting
There’s some debate over what constitutes breaking the fast. Many experts say that anything other than water including black coffee breaks the fast.
Jeff Rothschild an expert in the area explains that coffee even if it does break the “fasted” state can be beneficial because it helps to set the biological clock in our bodies, and kickstarts a number of different organ functions and enzyme production.
From a technical standpoint and to keep things simple any calorie free beverage, and even a splash of cream in your coffee while technically breaking the fast is not the end of the world, or something to worry too much about.
This method of fasting is what many people will find to be the easiest to follow. You simply just skip breakfast and then have lunch as your first meal of the day and stop eating after dinner.
This is very similar to the Leangains protocol but doesn’t require counting the fasted and fed hours or higher and lower calorie and carb days. It allows for greater flexibility.
I believe that skipping breakfast is a great place for people to start with fasting, and makes for an easy transition to the 16/8 Leangains method.
I like the Leangains method because it provides more structure to the fed and fasted times, and can work very well when adhered to.
This style of fasting was popularized and brought to the mainstream by Martin Berkhan. It’s one of the most popular protocols in the health and fitness world.
With Leangains you use a 16/8 fasting and feeding schedule. You’ll fast for 16 hours each day, and then consume all your food in an 8 hour window.
With this style of fasting you would stop eating after dinner around 7-8pm. When you wake up in the following morning, instead of eating breakfast, you would have coffee, tea or water and wait until lunch time at 11am-12pm to have your first meal.
I find the 16/8 fasting and feeding structure has a natural flow to it that’s done easily, and isn’t disruptive to everyday life. This used to be the style of fasting that I used the most in the past, but recently started playing around with another method I talk more about below.
Eat Stop Eat (24 Hour Fasts)
This protocol of fasting was popularized by Brad Pilon. His approach is very simple; you do one to two twenty four hour long fasts per week; and eat normally the other five to six days of the week.
You eat normally on non fasting days, and during fasting days you go a full twenty four hours without any calories just drinking water, coffee, tea or any other calorie free beverage.
The way that the ESE style fast is structured it still allows you to eat every day, even though you are fasting for a 24 hour period.
For example if you wanted to fast on Wednesday, you could eat breakfast at 8am, then not eat again until breakfast at 8am on Thursday still eating each day.
My Recent Experiment With 24 Hour Fasts
As I trained for my powerlifting meets this last April my training was far more intense than it had ever been before.
As a result of training sessions that took upwards of two and a half hours sometimes I was ravenous, and needed to eat more to perform in the gym and recover.
My main concern during this period was performance, not fat loss or body composition.
As I got stronger I also gained weight which was entirely expected, however I still needed to drop around ten pounds to make the 74kg (163.1 lbs) weight class.
I had to find a way to eat enough to fuel performance on a daily basis, yet create a calorie deficit to drop body fat for the powerlifting competitions.
I tried cycling calories and macros on training and non training days but it was more effort than I felt like was necessary, and was more difficult for me to stick to.
After having the pleasure of getting on skype with a researcher and all around great guy who I greatly respect named Alex Ritson I told him I'd rather fast for 24 hours than diet a little each day.
As a result Alex helped me figure what my intake should be on the non fasting days to make weight for the 74kg weight class.
I would consume zero calories on Mondays, and then eat 2,400 calories the other six days out of the week so I had the necessary fuel for recovery and performance in the gym.
I’m a bit of an extreme person in this regard, and would rather fast for a full day than have to diet a few days out of the week so this approach actually worked really well for me.
I know this is a little extreme to some, but there's some insight into my mindset/personality type for any of you wondering.
Using this approach I actually came in lighter than projected and weighed in at both meets right around 158 pounds.
Fasting isn’t the right approach for everyone, and there is nothing magical about it however it can help some folks.
I also wouldn’t recommend trying to start off fasting with a twenty four hour fast either, start smaller and work your way up if you’re curious.
Next week we're going to cover why you don't have to fast to lose body fat, and who fasting might do more harm than good for. Thanks for reading!