This is a brief article on intermittent fasting. I’ll talk about some of its history, its different methods, what “matters” to be known about it, how it works and all that jazz. In the first part of the article I will talk about the history of IF, while in the second part I’ll simply explain how and why it works.
Personally, I’ve been doing this for the past 7 years and I can safely say that when I first discovered IF, it changed my life for the better.
What is IF ?
In a nutshell, “Intermittent Fasting” (or IF) is a nutritional strategy in which you fast for the majority of the day then eat during your “feeding window”.
It is not a “diet”, it’s just “the way” you’re eating your diet.
While today there can be many different methods, IF was first made popular by Martin Berkhan (author of LeanGains.com) and then modified in other methods like Brad Pilon’s ESE (Eat Stop Eat), Ori Hofmekler’s “The Warrior Diet”, the 5:2 Diet, Gregory O’Gallagher’s Kinobody, and finally the way I personally do it. Yes, I think I can give you a few tips on it aswell.
Each of these approaches are basically a slight modification of the main one, and each of them would probably require their own articles. However, because I’m pretty sure everybody’s here to know how IF works in general, I’ll just talk about the “main” approach, which is Martin’s 16/8 IF strategy.
This was (and is) the most popular, and it’s been the one I’ve come across back in the days, applying some modifications here and there for better adherence purposes of mine. Martin Berkhan’s 16-8 is an IF approach in which you fast for 16 hours and then eat your food during the 8 hours eating window. Here are its main recommendations:
– Be active during your fasting window, don’t spend your time thinking about food.
– The hours you spend sleeping are included in your “fasting” window.
– When fasting, you can drink zero calorie beverages such as Unsweetened Tea, Unsweetened Coffee and obviously water to blunt hunger. You can also chew sugar free gums.
– If training fasted, it’s recommended to drink 10g of BCAAs pre & post workout.
– The post workout meal has to be the largest of the meals
– Have 2-4 meals through out your eating window.
– Calories and macros STILL matter so don’t pig out on your eating window.
“Why 16 hours fast?” “Couldn’t it have been 15 or 17?”
Two are the main answers. Adherence and Ghrelin (Hunger Hormone).
Research shows that people tend to get hungry around the same time of the day  due to the fact that some cells in the stomach that regulate the release of the hormone ghrelin, are controlled by a circadian clock that is set by mealtime patterns.
This is the reason why fasting for 16 hours and keeping it somewhat like that every time, is a good compromise for getting all the benefits of the approach while not making it feel too hectic and stressful. (e.g. fasting for longer)
Back in 2011, when I first discovered IF (hell, I was 16) I was very skeptical on trying it because this approach was basically going against every other belief that was being pushed in the mainstream. On the other side I was extremely happy to know something like this existed, because having been chubby for all my youth and then discovering I could still get abs by eating “giant meals”, really didn’t made me think twice about starting it.
What discouraged me was the typical bro-science.. wasn’t breakfast “the most important meal of the day”? What about our Metabolism? Aren’t I supposed to eat every 2-3 hours? Can I actually eat carbs after 6PM? What about Catabolism? Doesn’t my body go into starvation mode after a prolonged period without food ? What if I gain fat because of that, rather than lose it? Will I even survive not eating for such “a large” time frame?
Oh God, I used to ask myself all those questions, and I know some of you still do. At the time, there wasn’t much on the internet, so besides actually “trying” and “getting my hands dirty”, I had no idea whether it worked or not.
How does IF work?
I’ll start by saying that Intermittent Fasting is one of the most powerful tools for fat loss, and the main reason why it works for weight loss is that it helps you eat fewer calories. Period. IF is not magic, but it makes it hella easy to stick to your diet.
This happens because since your fasting window is greater than your eating window, you’re spending more time not eating than eating, and when you eat, you’re getting fuller faster, increasing the chances of not eating more WHILE still feeling full and satisfied. Which is exactly what you need to do when dieting.
Is it for everyone?
I don’t think so. Just like the many benefits it has, for some people it just isn’t worth it. I’m talking about those who stress over the timing of the “feasting & fasting” windows, trying to be meticulous on when the windows start and when they end, for those who get extremely hungry and anxious during the fast, for those who can’t think about anything but food, and for those who tend to over eat on their eating windows. Just don’t.
Just like I mentioned earlier, IF is not magic. It’s simply a way to keep your caloric intake low while still being able to enjoy higher caloric meals.
You don’t “deserve” to eat more because you fasted, you simply get to eat bigger than normal portions to reach your required food intake in a decreased number of meals. Intermittent Fasting should make you feel “free” – that’s its whole goal. If instead you feel “trapped” when doing it, like you’re actually making an effort to just sticking to the fast, drop it. Stick to whatever approach you enjoy more and don’t force yourself to do things that you don’t like doing, especially since it’s not any superior to the other approaches (if the caloric & macronutrient intake is matched). 
When does it make sense to do it?
Personally I like to do it year round, even when bulking. I’m a big eater like that and I can definitely skip breakfast if that means having bigger meals throughout the day.
However, it would make the most sense to do it when entering a period of caloric restriction. When dieting, your caloric expenditure has to exceed your caloric intake: this means that you’re going to eat less calories than the ones your body requires to sustain its current bodyweight, for it to access its internal energy storages (body fat) and burn that for energy. The main problem with this is that when body fat drops, hunger increases up to the point where it makes people quit. And this is where IF comes into play.
Leptin & Ghrelin
Several hormones influence hunger, and two major ones which tip the balance between hunger and fullness are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is a hormone released from the body’s fat stores and its job is to suppresses hunger, while ghrelin causes stomach rumblings as a physical reminder to eat.
Since Leptin is primarily produced by body fat cells, this means that decreasing the amount of body fat will also decrease the amount of Leptin produced. Less leptin will mean decreased fullness. On the other hand, Ghrelin will increase, making you end up feeling hungrier and less full over time, therefore simply making it harder for you to stick to your diet. The fact that being in calorie-deficit makes you feel hungrier is one of the most challenging things about attempting to diet for weight loss. Add to that the fact that if you start eating your calories very early in the day you’re going to “run out of them” very quickly and there you have the reason why you can’t stick to it. Fortunately, however, it’s been found that certain types of dietary habits can help to control ghrelin, like IF for example.
On a classic “6 meals/day diet”, basically having smaller but frequent meals throughout the day will never satiate you up to the point where you’ll feel satisfied with your meals (while dieting), hence the reason you’ll quit.
On the other hand, less frequent but bigger meals will help you feel fuller and satisfied for longer, increasing the chance of adhering to the program for a longer period of time, which will ultimately bring the results you were looking for.
Practical tips to keep in mind when trying this approach:
The number one ingredient of a successful diet, is Adherence. Whatever you can do to keep doing “your thing” for longer is what will make your intent successful. Since I’ve been experimenting with this approach for 1 third of my living existence already, I’m pretty sure I can give y’all some tips to remember, when first approaching IF.
- Don’t mind the eating window, just skip breakfast. On a practical standpoint, it doesn’t matter how many hours you fast throughout the day. What matters is that you have your meals in the fashion YOU enjoy while staying within your caloric goal.
- Drink Coffee and also zero calorie beverages such as Coke Zero, maybe Monsters or whatever you like drinking. Even if they contain a small amount of calories, there’s really no reason to avoid them and they can definitely help you push your eating window later.
- If managing hunger is an issue, eat your foods following this scheme: veggies first, then lean protein, then carbs, then dessert. This is an awesome tip that comes from Ori Hofmekler’s “The Warrior Diet”, a book I read ages ago with very awesome insights. The reason behind eating this way is simple: Veggies are full of fibres and very low in calories, they will help you get fuller without consuming too many calories. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so combining them with fibers will only double the effects of satiation. At this point come carbs but you should already feel full, therefore you can avoid over-indulging in these very easily. If you’re not satisfied yet, you can have your dessert which comes at last. Here you should feel good, satisfied, and not hungry, while still having done “your homework” in terms of calories eaten.
- Plan your meals ahead and save most of your calories for the night. If you’ve got a party, you can still go there and enjoy yourself. If you know that there’s going to be foods mostly rich in fats and carbs, eat your proteins throughout the day and save the rest for the night.
Before we wrap up this article, another thing I would like to talk about is Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Muslim year during which strict fasting is observed from dawn to sunset.
From a nutritional standpoint, it’s a form of Intermittent Fasting that depending on the location people live in, varies in the hours spent fasting.
Ramadan & Fitness
The main differences between a “normal” IF approach and Ramadan Fasting is the fact that during the religious fast it is not allowed to consume any food or beverages, making it very difficult for people who want to keep up with their fitness journey.
Luckily for us, there are a few studies done on bodybuilding and Fasting, which can help give us a better understanding on how to approach this time of the year. The main topics I will mention here will mostly be around specific considerations in regards to muscle retention and muscle building, but also fat loss.
But anyway, the main concern in regards to training when fasting is the increased risk of dehydration and hypoglycemia and poor training performance as a result of that. This can potentially result in muscle loss in the long run, and basically give a major set-back for those who havve been training their arses off for the whole year.
However, this mostly occurs because during the nighttime eating of Ramadan, people tend to eat based off of their habitual way of eating: therefore eating “until full” (personal perception) rather than eating “until done” (total daily energy requirement). What I mean by this is that people who are not able to train as they should during Ramadan, do so because they tend to under eat and not drink enough to hydrate themselves during the “eating window”, therefore ending up losing strength, muscles and overall weight.
A study done in 2013 by Trabelsi et al.  had the aim of analyzing the effects of resistance training in a fasted versus a fed state during Ramadan on body composition and metabolic parameters in bodybuilders.
Sixteen men were allocated to two groups: Eight practicing resistance training in the late afternoon in a fasted state (FAST), and eight training in the late evening in an acutely fed state (FED) during Ramadan. All visited the laboratory in the morning two days before the start of Ramadan (Bef-R) and on the 29th day of Ramadan (End-R) for anthropometric measurement, completion of a dietary questionnaire, and provision of fasting blood and urine samples. Worth to mention that the dietary intake was similar in both caloric & macronutrient composition, and did not change in both groups, before and during Ramadan.
The hypertrophic training in a fasted or in a fed state during Ramadan didn’t affect body mass and body composition of bodybuilders, besides some changes in urinary and some biochemical parameters in the Ramadan group.
In terms of a practical application, bodybuilders didn’t show any difference in body composition. Worth to mention that people should make an effort to properly hydrate during the nighttime in order to compensate for the dehydration that occurs during daytime within the month Ramadan and also stress the importance of adopting a nutritional protocol similar to that of the normal non-fasting period to maintain/build muscle during this month.
Another important thing to mention is that resistance training (weight lifting) in a fasted state affects the post-workout anabolic response to weight training more favorably than training after a fed-state, but only when a carbohydrate/protein/leucine mixture was ingested following a heavy resistance training session . There is also an ample amount of evidence that ingestion of protein after exercise will stimulate net muscle protein synthesis , so even fasting for the whole day won’t really be a problem for you.
If instead, muscle building is not your goal but you’re still trying to maintain your hard-gained muscle, but for whatever reason some days you just feel sluggish and tired, remember that you can always cut up your total volume to 1/3 and still maintain your muscle mass. [16, 17]
Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- You can build and maintain muscles during Ramadan, provided that you continue eating according to your goals (tracking your caloric & macronutrient intake).
- Training at night (at least 1-2 hours prior to Iftar) makes the most sense so that you don’t end up waiting too long before you eat.
- If you have access to a 24h Gym, I would train after the first meal for overall better performance, but if that’s not the case, studies show that you can do just as well in a fasted state.
- If training starts becoming difficult to manage, you can cut your total volume up to 1/3 of its total while keeping intensity high. Make sure you’re training heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth/retention. (75%+ of your 1RM)
- The only way you’re going to lose body fat, even on Ramadan, is by reducing your total caloric intake.
I think that’s pretty much it for this article: I’ve covered many things that I think could help out lots of people. I would like to read what are your thoughts on the matter, so please leave a comment! Until next time,