This guide will take a beginner through the basics of why to start intermittent fasting, how to start an intermittent fasting diet, and incorporating it into your routine.
I’d like to preface this article by saying that I’ve recently received my own personalized DNA report from 23andme, and then submitted it to Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s Genome Analysis Tool for another comprehensive report which comes from querying one’s DNA through a large research database.
The report actually showed that my DNA favors the use of Intermittent Fasting 16+ hours, in conjunction with the use of Resveratrol (Grape Seed extract, Red Wine and other sources), and an exercise regime which includes High Intensity Interval Training, and low repetition heavy weight lifting.
Funny – that’s exactly what I have felt naturally included to do over the past 5 years! I’ve simply begun supplementing Resveratrol, and needless to say I’m super excited to learn that Intermittent Fasting, HIIT Cardio, and heavy weight lifting are encoded into my DNA – as being shown with emerging genome research and technologies.
Now let’s learn more about what intermittent fasting is.
Table of Contents
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Quite simply, Intermittent Fasting (“IF”), also known as Time Restricted Eating, is a method of consuming food within a certain time-frame (“window”) each day. The application of IF essentially puts your body into a ‘fasted state’, in turn a catabolic state — a state of breaking down larger molecules into smaller ones within the body.
You may be breaking down fats into fatty acids, proteins into amino acids, even glycogen or other sugars down into glucose. Generally speaking the goal of IF is to optimize catabolic activity and anabolic activity. During the fasting window, you are in an elevated state of fat burning.
Other benefits include increased growth hormone, meanwhile insulin levels are low and fat handling is optimized because in theory, fats in the body are transported and stored as triglycerides (the break down of fats into fatty acids).
How To Start Intermittent Fasting
Firstly, let’s cover the basics of IF and how to start intermittent fasting effectively and make it sustainable starting by addressing the typical problems people face.
It’s important to note that a staple of intermittent fasting is hydration! You absolutely must hydrate throughout the day and while fasting, beyond the amount of water you would normally drink.
When fasting, a good rule of thumb is if you feel hungry, drink some water, or chew some 0 calorie or no sugar gum and you’ll start feeling better.
3 Major Problems People Face with Fasting
1. Difficulty scheduling fasting time and eating window due to work or other life circumstances
I suggest starting the fast just before bed time, or a couple hours before bed, because it affords that 6-8 hours of sleep time that you won’t be eating.
Often, people reach out to me and raise the concern of scheduling due to shift work (police, nurses, doctors, firefighters, and more) or a hectic family life. Trust me, I understand it takes some planning to make IF work, but it’s always workable into the schedule.
When your schedule isn’t always the same, such as shift workers, I suggest adapting two or three types of fasting schedules.
For instance, you can focus on fasting at least 18 hours on the days when it works best for your schedule, and back-off to 14 hours, or 16 hours on days when it’s not convenient. You can setup fast-day-A which is according to a certain shift time or family time, then fast-day-B, and fast-day-C; each with a different scheduling approach.
What I’m getting at here is not to throw the baby out with the bath water! Just because your fasting days aren’t always the same, don’t give up hope on IF with the notion that it doesn’t work for your schedule — make it work!
If you’re serious about getting results, you will find a way, and after all it is called ‘Intermittent’ fasting.
2. Difficulty consuming adequate nutrients (macro-nutrient and micro nutrients) during the eating window
This happens either due to lack of readily available food or simply feeling too full to eat (not spacing out meals).
To tackle this download calorie and nutrient tracking apps such as MyfitnessPal to keep yourself honest and hold yourself accountable.
I especially like apps because if you are undertaking something like weight loss, you can get friends involved and support each other. Simply put, leave the guess work out and make sure you set goals and stay on track to getting the desired results.
Next, I suggest meal preparation either 3 days, 5 days, or 7 days in advance. You can choose a day of the week such as Sunday, and spend an hour or two preparing bulk meals for the week that you can store in the fridge with ease.
Don’t leave yourself scrambling last minute each day looking for something to eat, that will almost always leave your timing off and your calories under for the day.
Remember the goal with IF isn’t to starve yourself; it’s to eat your meals and required calories within an eating window.
3. Not knowing whether to eat before or after training, or how soon after training
Firstly, if you are looking to lose weight, then absolutely eat after your workout. In fact for your workout, I suggest warm-up fasted cardio, and cool-down cardio to really burn that excess fat!
There’s a few opinions about how soon after a workout you should eat, ranging from some bodybuilders claiming it’s important to replenish the muscles (which may have been depleted of lactic acid during the workout) with quick digesting carbs such as a banana or pineapple slices.
This approach may work for some bodybuilders, however for IF newbies, I suggest dragging out that period of fat burning (riding the Thermagenic wave caused from your workout), and potentially boosting the production of human growth hormone (HGH) by waiting up to 90 minutes to eat after a workout.
I know you may feel like you’re starving at that point, but trust me, the benefits are worth the wait!
HGH critically influences everything from bone density to muscle mass and organ reserve to general cell reproduction in the body’s systems, so waiting a little longer to eat will yield an even bigger return on your IF investment.
My Typical Intermittent Fasting Day
I’ll explain more with an example of my typical day which has me fasting (stop eating) at 11:00pm, or on days when I need more calories 12:00am, which is approximately the time I go to sleep.
I’ve actually been working to cut that back to an earlier bed time for added REM sleep benefits — which I’ve touched on in my previous article. Now back to a typical fasted day, which upon waking between 7am-9am still has me in a fasted state as I hadn’t been consuming food during sleep time.
Now you may be thinking “duh, you don’t eat in your sleep!”.. However there have been times when I wake up in the middle of the night (on non IF days) and consume easily digestible proteins, such as cottage cheese, which digests very easily (for me at least) while sleeping and offers up many benefits in terms of protein synthesis.
For the purposes of this article, we need not get into this particular regimen, so let’s get back to the typical day!
I continue in the morning fasting by either consuming only water, or if I do have morning coffee, it will be black if I want to be 100% sure I remain in a fasted state.
Before moving on, I would like to address the fact that this is a HOT topic in the intermittent fasting/time restricted eating and biohacking community. The debate is whether or not having something such as MCT (Coconut) oil in coffee would bring one out of a fasted state, and it goes beyond that to whether or not even black coffee would kick someone out of their fasted state.
My personal opinion is that the body evolves over time, and if one has been practicing IF for several years their body has adapted to certain learned/programmed behaviors.
In my case, I’ve gone the route of just water when I began fasting, to then a few years later applying the MCT Oil approach, to several years later being able to have small amounts of butter, cream, or cane sugar and not having a feeling that I’ve broken fast. This is highly debated in the weight loss, biohacking community as I have mentioned, and I believe this is something that isn’t fixed for every human being.
The general rule that floats around is to remain below 35 calories to remain in a fasted state, however again this is up for debate as our genetics vary as I indicated at the beginning of this article. The take away here is to start intermittent fasting strictly with water to be sure you aren’t breaking fast, then stay in tune with your body and refine your mind-body connection as time goes on to determine how you feel and what your body requires.
Back to the day! I will either have just water, or some form of coffee until I break fast at either 3pm, or I’ll often wait right up until 6pm. If you recall my fasting begun from when I stopped eating the day prior (11pm or 12am same day), and begun eating between 16 hours to 18 hours later.
I’ve made a couple videos on YouTube explaining that the ideal starting point for fasting is 16 hours, however if you’re really new to IF, it’s fine to start with 14 hours for the first few days to a week.
During my eating window on a fasted day, the amount of calories varies depending on if I’ve exercised that day or not. It’s also important to note that my goals are not to lose weight at this point, but to gain lean muscle.
If one is looking to lose weight, the best use of intermittent fasting is to exercise fasted in order to burn up those fat deposits as energy. If I have exercised for the day, it’s crucial that I eat an extra meal or two in order to ensure my calories are not in a deficit and that I’ve reached my macro-nutrient (protein, carbs, fats) target.
If you’re looking to lose weight with fasting, it’s not just a good idea to exercise fasted; but when you reach your eating window, avoid junk food and sweets!
Your aim should be clean meals that aren’t too difficult for your body to process/break down, that way when you reach the time for your second meal (still within the eating window), you aren’t backed up still digesting the first meal.
I usually recommend a lighter first meal such as salad and salmon, or even a vegetable soup. The second meal can be a bit more heavy, as can the third if you are squeezing three meals within your eating window.
On my typical fasting day I will have between 2 to 4 meals, again depending on whether I’ve exercised.
The biggest takeaway from this article is that you should:
- Fast minimum 14/16hrs to start and work your way up to 18/20hrs if you can, and make sure you hydrate!
- Use apps and technologies to track progress and food/nutrient intake.
- Workout fasted and do cardio or HIIT (high intensity interval training cardio) for maximum weight loss resulted.
- Prepare meals in advance so you aren’t scrambling last minute!
There’re many other points we could cover with regards to building muscle, and timing fasting around certain types of workouts, however this guide is merely to get your feet wet with intermittent fasting and I believe you should now be confident in doing so!
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me — where I post holistic health content, and more!
Featured photo credit: 21 swan via unsplash.com
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