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Sunday
Apr252010

How do I get lean? Part 3 - Intermittent Fasting

Today I started a dietary adjustment called Intermittent Fasting (we'll refer to it as IF moving forward).  There is a TON of information available through Google so I'm going to stick to the broad strokes here. 

 In simplest terms, IF (as used and coached by Martin Berkhan) consists of 16 hours of fasting, with an 8 hour "eating window".  Most people completely freak out when the topic of fasting for fat loss (or cleansing for that matter) comes up, so I won't spend time trying to dispel any of your previously-held concerns or fears.  What I'll stick to here is (1) sharing some of the information I've found on the topic (2) the points of interest I've discovered and (3) my plan. 

Here are a few points to consider when you either think about (or immediately dismiss) IF as a tool in your plan to get lean for the summer.

 1 - There are cleansing benefits to small-to-moderate periods of fasting.

Since I am not a scientist, I won't attempt to boil down the mountain of evidence and studies to this point.  I'd invite you to perform your own Google search on keywords like "fasting health benefits", "fasting detox", and "fasting+colon+intestines".

2 - It's not unheard of for active people to remain active during periods of fasting

I never considered this originally, but many times of active people inadvertently go through periods of Intermittent Fasting while still remaining active.  Surfer Laird Hamilton awoke me to this fact when outlining his training habits and diet on an episode of "Insider Training" on FitTV.  Paraphrasing, he basically said that he only has a shot of espresso before leaving the house in the mornings before his surfing and mountain biking.  He said that digesting food requires energy from the body (true) and whatever foods he attempts to scarf while headed out the door for training won't be absorbed by the muscles fast enough to be of use anyway.

I also have a marathoner friend who told me she rarely eats anything before hitting the road in the mornings as well.  She places a much greater emphasis on eating a nutritionally substantial dinner the night before. 

In this same context, think about young teenage athletes who play hours upon hours of basketball during the summers without stopping for a PowerBar or a protein shake.  I also recalled my own experience as a college football player when breakfast would be at 7-8am and I wouldn't have a touch of food (save for a few gulps of Powerade) until close to 5-6pm that evening.

3 - Psychologically, IF is easier than grazing.

 I have tried nearly every diet and fat loss "philosophy" out there.  Many are more similar than they are different.  But the one consistent between IF-style philosophies like Eat-Stop-Eat and The Warrior Diet when compared against the traditional 5-6 meals per day grazing philosophy is psychological ease.  When I've been focused on "portion control" and monitoring the amount of calories in each individual meal, things are not as difficult as one might think.  However there is a substantial difference in the mental relaxation that comes with knowing I can (within reason) forget about meal size during my 8-hour eating window. Silly example, but I don't have to weigh a "handful" of almonds to make sure it's cut off at 1oz.  I don't need to measure each peice of salmon or chicken or cup of oatmeal.

4 - Calories in vs Calories out STILL matters

        This is perhaps the MOST important point, and needed to follow the points made in #3.  One of the biggest mistakes people make in any diet philosophy (low carb, low fat, Atkins, Warrior Diet, etc) is that periods of fasting mean they can throw all regard for caloric intake out the window.  I made this same mistake with my first trial of the Warrior Diet.  I forgot what is perhaps the first rule of dieting for fat loss - calories in versus calories out ALWAYS matters.  If you are eating more than your body needs, you won't lose weight.  You will possibly gain weight.

5 - Food choices still matter

This shouldn't be a necessary point to make, but I'll make it anyway.  You'll get much further in your quest to have the body you want when eating clean foods (lean proteins, tons of vegetables/fruit, healthy nuts, seeds) versus junk food with lots of white starches, sugars, fried things, and artificial elements.

There are a number of other sources available online that can help you educate yourself about the benefits of intermittent fasting, both for fat loss and overall health.  Rather than re-word some of the writings myself, I'd rather steer you to sources like Martin Berkhan's Leangains website that have helped me tremendously.  Pay attention to the sections about topics like leptin (basically the hormone that serves as the thermometer for your metabolism) and fat mobilizing hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.

 As for my approach each day, it will look something like this:

5am-12noon - Fasting

12pm - some combination of almonds, sunflower seeds, grapefruit, apple, salad, green beans

2pm & 4:30pm - same as above (goal is less than 1/2 of daily caloric amount)

6pm - Workout and/or group fitness instruction

8pm - Largest Meal: salmon or chicken, brown rice, blended protein drink with spinach/berries

Tomorrow is day 2 in my second trial with IF, I'll be sure to log progress and follow-up with successes, failures, and key learnings.