We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day... duh!
This rule has become so commonplace throughout the health and fitness community that it’s readily accepted as fact.
“Want to lose weight? Make sure you start off with a healthy breakfast, so you can get that metabolism firing first thing in the morning!”
“Want to lose more weight? Make sure you eat six small meals throughout the day so your metabolism stays operating at maximum capacity all day long”.
There are even studies that show those who eat earlier in the day lose more weight than those who ate later in the day or skipped a meal.
So, eat breakfast to lose weight and obtain optimal health. Case closed…right?
Maybe you’re not getting the whole story. What if there’s science that promotes SKIPPING BREAKFAST (blasphemy!) for optimum efficiency, maximum muscle retention, and body fat loss?
We want to share with you a concept about skipping meals, and how your health will benefit as a result.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather an eating pattern.
Now, there are a few different ways to take advantage of intermittent fasting:
Regularly eat during a specific time period. For example, only eating from noon-8 PM, essentially skipping breakfast. Some people only eat in a 6-hour window, or even a 4-hour window.
Skip two meals one day, taking a full 24-hours off from eating. For example, eating on a normal schedule (finishing dinner at 8PM) and then not eating again until 8PM the following day.
Now, you might be thinking: “okay, so by skipping a meal, I just eat less than normally overall, and thus I will lose weight, right?”
Well, that’s partially true.
Yes, by cutting out an entire meal, you are able to eat MORE food during your other meals and still consume a caloric deficit (which is an important for losing weight).
However, as we already know that not all calories all created equal, the timing of meals can also influence how your body reacts.
How does intermittent fasting work?
With intermittent fasting, your body operates differently when “feasting” compared to when “fasting”:
When you eat a meal, your body spends a few hours processing that food, burning what it can from what you just consumed. Since it has all of this readily available, easy-to-burn energy in its blood stream (thanks to the food you ate), your body will choose to use that as energy rather than the fat you have stored. This is especially true if you just consumed carbohydrates/sugar, as your body prefers to burn sugar as energy before any other source. During the “fasted state,” your body doesn’t have a recently consumed meal to use as energy, so it is more likely to pull from the fat stored in your body, rather than the glucose in your blood stream or glycogen in your muscles/liver.
Burning fat = winning. Why does this work? Our bodies produce insulin when we eat. Essentially, the more sensitive your body is to insulin, the more likely you’ll be to use the food you consume efficiently, which can help lead to weight loss and muscle creation. Along with that, your body is most sensitive to insulin following a period of fasting. Your glycogen (a starch stored in your muscles and liver that your body can burn as fuel when necessary) is depleted during sleep (fasting), and will be depleted even further during training, which can further increase insulin sensitivity. This means that a meal immediately following your workout will be stored most efficiently: mostly as glycogen for muscle stores, burned as energy immediately to help with the recovery process, with minimal amounts stored as fat. Compare this to a regular day (no intermittent fasting). With insulin sensitivity at normal levels, the carbs and foods consumed will see full glycogen stores, enough glucose in the blood stream, and thus be more likely to get stored as fat. Not only that, but growth hormone is increased during fasted states (both during sleep and after a period of fasting). Combine this increased growth hormone secretion, the decrease in insulin production (and thus increase in insulin sensitivity), and you’re essentially priming your body for muscle growth and fat loss with intermittent fasting.
Why does every health book say “eat 6 small meals?”
There are a couple main reasons why diet books recommend six small meals:
1) When you eat a meal, your body does have to burn extra calories just to process that meal. Whether you eat 2000 calories spread out throughout the day, or 2000 calories in a small window, your body will burn the same number of calories processing the food. So, the whole “keep your metabolism firing at optimum capacity by always eating” sounds good in principle, but in reality, it doesn't make the damnedest bit of difference.
2) When you eat smaller meals, you’re less likely to overeat during your regular meals. I can definitely see some truth here, especially for people who struggle with portion control or don’t know how much food they should be eating. However, once you've taken control of your eating, I would argue most people find that eating six times a day is very prohibitive and requires a lot of effort. Remember, the type of food you eat matters. Meal frequency is not nearly as important as the quantity and quality of food consumed.
Why fast intermittently?
Because it works. Although we know that not all calories are created equal, caloric restriction plays a central role in weight loss. When you fast (either for 16 hours per day, or 24 hours every few days), you are also making it easier to restrict your caloric intake over the course of the week. This will give your body a chance to lose weight as you’re simply just eating less calories than you were consuming before.
Because it simplifies your day. Rather than having to prepare, pack, eat, and time your meals every 2-3 hours, you simply skip a meal or two and only worry about eating food in your eating window.
It requires less time (and potentially money). Rather than having to prepare or purchase three to six meals a day, you only need to prepare two meals. Instead of stopping what you’re doing six times a day to eat, you simply only have to stop to eat twice. Rather than having to do the dishes six times, you only have to do them twice. Rather than having to purchase six meals a day, you only need to purchase two.
It promotes stronger insulin sensitivity and increased growth hormone secretion, two keys for weight loss and muscle gain. A double whammy for weight loss.
What are the drawbacks with intermittent fasting?
In our own experimentation, we have found very few negative side effects with Intermittent fasting.
The BIGGEST issue, and the biggest concern most people have, is that intermittent fasting will lead to lower energy, focus, and the “holy crap, my stomach is eating itself” feeling during the fasting period. People are concerned that they will spend all morning being miserable because they haven’t consumed any food, and thus will be ineffective at whatever task is needing accomplished.
Yes, the initial transition from eating all the time, to intermittent fasting can be a bit of a jolt. However, once you get through the transition, your body can quickly adapt and learn to function just as well: a recent study explains that in participants after 48-hours of fasting, “cognitive performance, activity, sleep, and mood are not adversely affected in healthy humans by two days of calorie-deprivation.”
“So why do I feel grouchy when I’m not eating breakfast?” A good portion of the grumpiness is probably a result of your current eating habits. If you eat every three hours, your body will start to get hungry every three hours as it learns and becomes used to expecting (and receiving) food every three hours. If you eat breakfast every morning, your body is expecting to wake up and eat food.
It turns out... it's all mental. Once you retrain your body to NOT expect food all day every day (or first thing in the morning), these side-effects become less of an issue (thanks to a substance our bodies produce called Ghrelin). It actually takes our bodies about 84 hours of fasting before our glucose levels are adversely affected. As we’re talking about small fasts (16-24 hour periods), this doesn’t concern us.
IMPORTANT: Intermittent Fasting can be complex for people who have issues with blood sugar regulation, suffer from hypoglycemia, have diabetes, etc... If you fit into this category, you should check with your doctor or dietitian before adjusting your eating schedule.
Questions about intermittent fasting
“Won’t I get really hungry?”
As explained above, this is generally a result of the habits you have built for your body. If you are constantly eating or always eat the same time of day, your body can actually learn to prepare itself for food by beginning the process of insulin production and preparation for food. After a brief adjustment period, your body can adapt to the fact that it’s only eating a few times a day.
Remember, your body’s physical and cognitive abilities aren’t diminished as a result of fasting.
“Where will I get my energy for my workouts? Won’t I be exhausted and not be able to complete my workouts if fasting?”
This was a major concern of ours, as well. And for our first workout or two, it was tough to push as hard... however, after a few sessions, we learned that our bodies could function during training sessions, despite not eating a pre-workout meal.
Mark Sisson states:
"Fasted training can actually result in better metabolic adaptations, improved muscle protein synthesis, and a higher anabolic response to post-workout feeding" Meaning - you’ll earn your meal and make more muscle out of it if you train on an empty stomach, plus you'll attain better performance down the road.
“This sounds crazy, I’m not gonna do it.”
Are you losing body fat and building muscle? If your answer is yes, AWESOME! Keep doing what you’re doing!
However, if what you’re doing ISN’T working, or you’re not getting the results you were hoping for, why not give it a chance? Self-experimentation is the best way to determine WHAT methods work for you.
Tips and tricks for Fasting
Don’t freak out. Stop wondering: “can I fast 15 hours instead of 16?” or “what if I eat an apple during my fasted period, will that ruin everything?” Relax. Your body is a finely tuned piece of machinery and learns to adapt. Everything is not as cut and dry as you think.
If you want to eat breakfast one day but not another, that’s okay. If you are trying to get stage or field-ready, I can see the need to be more rigid, but otherwise… don't sweat the small stuff.
Stay busy. If you are just sitting around thinking about how hungry you are, you’ll be more likely to struggle with this. For that reason, we would time fasting periods for maximum efficiency and minimal discomfort:
Your first few hours of fasting should come after consuming a huge, nutrient-packed meal, where the last thing you want to think about is eating.
When you're sleeping: Ideally, 8 of the 16 hours are spent sleeping.
When you're busy: when you wake up, 11 or 12 hours of your fast is already over!
Zero-calorie beverages are okay. If you want to drink water, black coffee, or tea during your fasted period, that’s okay. Remember, don’t overthink it – keep things simple! Track your results, listen to your body: Everybody will react to intermittent fasting differently... we can’t tell you how your body will react. Don’t expect miracles. Yes, intermittent fasting can potentially help you lose weight, increase insulin sensitivity and growth hormone secretion (all good things), but it is only ONE factor in hundreds that will determine your body composition and overall health. Don’t expect to drop to 8% body fat and get ripped just by skipping breakfast. You need to focus on building healthy habits, eating better foods, and getting stronger.
To sum it all up
Intermittent fasting has potential for some very positive benefits, especially for someone trying to lose weight or gain lean body mass.
Men and women will tend to have different results, just like each individual person will have different results. The ONLY way to find out is with self-experimentation.
There are multiple ways to do it:
Fast and feast regularly: Fast for a certain number of hours, then consume all calories within a certain number of hours. My preferred method is an 8 hour eating window and a 16 hour fast.
Eat normally, then fast 1-2x a week: Consume your normal meals every day, then pick one or two days a week where you fast for 24 hours. Eat your last meal Sunday night, and then don’t eat again until dinner the following day. I loathe 24 hour fasts!
Fast occasionally: the easiest method. Simply skip a meal whenever it’s convenient. On the road? Skip breakfast. Busy day at work? Skip lunch. Eat poorly all day Saturday? Make your first meal of the day dinner on Sunday. Make sure you're still giving your body what it needs, by eating nutrient-dense foods!
Remember: Rule #1 is listen to your body. If this seems like something you’d like to try, give it a shot. If it sounds crazy to you, ask yourself why you think it sounds crazy, and do your own research before condoning/condemning it. Reach out to us if you have any questions, or if you'd like to discuss methods. We'd love to hear how your fast is going!
Yours in health,
Calvin and Sarah
PS: If you are somebody who has blood sugar regulation issues (diabetes, hypoglycemia, etc.), I strongly recommend you discuss with your doctor or medical professional before making changes to your diet!