Intermittent Fasting is a topic that has exploded in popularity in the past couple of years for those looking to lose weight, improve their health, or simply become more productive throughout the day. Unfortunately this topic has seemingly created a divide between those practice it every day and swear on its health and fitness benefits, while breakfast-lovers and fitness researchers shame the idea of skipping meals and the effects of fasting on muscle growth. If you’re someone considering adopting some variation of fasting into your daily lifestyle, I highly recommend becoming educated on the pros and cons of it that are currently supported through research, before making your decision based on its practicality to benefit your personal lifestyle. In this post, I’ll break down the pros and cons of intermittent fasting, and provide some advice to figure out how you should approach it.
First, let me clarify what intermittent fasting really is, not confusing it with the conflicting information you may have come across online.. Intermittent fasting is simply a tool used by individuals for creating a smaller window of consuming one’s calories for the day. With this approach, the person elects to fast for typically a 16-hour period, and consume all of their calories in an 8-hour time gap, repeating the process each day (i.e. eat from 1PM-9PM, then fast from 9PM-1PM next day). This tool has become increasingly popular in society over the years due to the relative ease for many people to adopt not eating for an extended period of time, and allowing themselves the freedom in their caloric budget to consume larger meals at a time and feel more satiated, making weight loss easier to accomplish.
And as great as that is for a huge population of people looking to lose body fat and improve their overall health, the topic has become incredibly exaggerated and sensationalized by many people in the fitness industry, creating a false perception of what intermittent fasting really is. There are well-researched benefits to fasting in humans such as lower insulin levels (Wan et al 2003) and improved cardiovascular health markers (Ahmet et al 2005), however the research is also clear that there are no additional fat loss benefits when net caloric intake is matched with any other dietary approach (Kostevski 2014). My point here is to show you guys that intermittent fasting is not a one-size-fits-all dietary approach, and just like anything we have to assess the pros and cons of this choice. There is absolutely no need to fast if it does not work for your own preferences or lifestyle, but it may be more beneficial for those who struggle with appetite control or time management.
As stated before the primary benefit of intermittent fasting is the option to consume larger meals in a shorter period of time, and providing flexibility in your calorie intake to enjoy social situations with higher-calorie foods while dieting. A lot of people note improved satiety and adherence to their nutrition once they become adapted to not eating first thing in the morning, and are able to utilize it on a consistent (especially daily) basis. In addition to the benefits above, researched has cited reduced hunger and fewer cravings for those who practice fasting, as well as improved balance of blood sugar regulation (Seimon et al 2015). An often underrated benefit of intermittent fasting is the benefit it can provide for productivity and overall energy levels throughout the day. Instead of having to worry about taking the time to eat first thing in the morning, you can prioritize getting more work done in the morning hours so that way you have more time to do the things you enjoy in the evening. A lot of people, myself included, feel that eating breakfast actually makes them feel more tired after, and limits our energy to get things done throughout the day.
The more applicable downside to Intermittent Fasting revolves around the hunger experience and inability for many people to adhere to going a long period of time without eating food. If you’ve been accustomed to eating breakfast early in the morning throughout your life, it can be incredibly difficult to make the transition to not eating in the morning hours, which is why I recommend those who decide to adopt this approach to slowly incorporate longer periods of fasting rather than jumping right into a more extreme approach. It’s also important to consider the noted effects of fasting on your results and performance in the gym. Current research has shown IF to be a sub-optimal approach to muscle gain, with numerous studies indicating 4 protein-rich meals is most optimal to maximize muscle protein synthesis over a 24-hour period (Phillips et al 2013). But with that being said, a properly trained individual certainly still build muscle over time so long as they hit their minimum protein requirement each day (0.7g per pound bodyweight) (Aragon and Schoenfeld 2013). For most cases, I recommend those who are bulking and aiming for a calorie surplus to shy away from intermittent fasting during that period of time. This is because fasting will make it more difficult to hit your required daily calories and a less effective approach to building muscle and strength in the gym.
The reality is that the decision to adopt IF into one’s lifestyle is an entirely individual approach. If you’re someone that likes big meals and eating late at night, then sure this could work for you. But if you like eating breakfast, and if fuels you for your day ahead, then don’t be afraid to eat it. Either approach can have a positive effect on your fat loss assuming a caloric deficit is still achieved, no matter what time of the day you eat your food. Just like every nutritional approach, pick one that you enjoy and can stay consistent to over time, and I promise you that the results will be fantastic
So let me know below, what are your thoughts on intermittent fasting? I’m really curious to know who practices IF, and what are some of the benefits you personally find from it?