Ask almost anyone THAT is serious about their jiu-jitsu “HOW MUCH DO YOU WEIGH” AND they’ll be able to tell you in a matter of seconds. If they’re an active competitor they can probably go so far as to tell you in the morning vs afternoon. Ahh, the joys of competing in a sport with weight classes. Our weight is always on our minds, especially if there’s a tournament or fight coming up. What do you eat? When do you eat? What works best? Will this work for me? At the end of the day there are a lot of right answers to how you can diet and it’s crucial that you understand that most diets will work if you follow them.
The real questions should be: what diet is going to be the easiest for me to follow? And possibly, what diet is most suited to my training schedule? In this article we’re going to look at intermittent fasting, also known as IF, and educate you enough that you’ll be able to answer the above questions for yourself.
Fasting is simply not eating for a specific period of time. Before you start saying, “Fasting will slow down your metabolism,” remember that this is intermittent, of a relatively short duration and changes to your metabolism are based more on the amount of food that you eat, not the schedule in which you eat it. You may be wondering what the benefits are of this style of dieting. This is where IF starts to distinguish itself from other diets.
A body that is operating in a fasted state works differently than a body that has a constant stream of nutrients. When a body enters into a fasted state there are hormonal changes that occur which encourage preferential use of fatty acids for energy. This switch from carbohydrates to fats for fulfilling caloric needs increases your ability to burn stored fat during exercise and even as part of your regular metabolic needs. There are natural increases in growth hormone due to the suppression of insulin. I think we can all agree that both of these adaptations are good things.
Since this article is intended as a primer for IF, I’m not going to get into the science involved, but if you are interested, I’d recommend Mark’s Daily Apple as a website to peruse and Fast Diets for Dummies by Pat Flynn as a good book. Each of these sources go into exhaustive detail on the physiological changes and adaptations that you go through when fasting and also address common misconceptions, such as “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
Now that you have an idea of what IF is it’s time to start figuring out what version of IF is a good fit for you. There are a couple of things to consider first. With fasting, you will be hungry. Seems obvious, but not everyone fully grasps what that means or is able to adjust to it. When you are in your eating phase you should do your best to eat quality food. Again, this is common sense, but it’s very easy to tell yourself that since you haven’t eaten all day a little pizza and ice cream is OK. Resist the temptation.
The most basic version of fasting. In this version you will be fasting once a week for an extended period of time. The fasting period is usually 24 hours. The day that you fast doesn’t really matter, just do it once a week. On the days that you’re not fasting you should follow healthy eating guidelines. By cutting out 1 day of eating per week you will be decreasing your caloric intake by 14%, which is enough to lose weight at a steady and healthy rate. An additional day could be added, if needed, down the road.
The 5:2 diet is a version that allows you to eat a limited amount of food, 500 to 600 calories, on the days that you are supposed to be fasting. Initially, you’ll be “fasting” twice a week and eating your regular healthy diet 5 days a week. Based on your results, you may add more fasting days. On your fasting days you must stick to foods that won’t trigger an insulin surge. These meals should be protein dense and low in carbohydrates. This is crucial to reap the benefits of fasting. For a lot of people this is a very sustainable diet because it requires minimal changes to their current eating habits and prevents long periods of hunger.
The Warrior Diet is an example of a fasting diet in which you fast every day. This diet was popularized by Ori Hofmekler in his book, The Warrior Diet. Ori heavily emphasizes the possible historical roots of this method of IF. Putting all of the editorial information aside, the Warrior Diet has you under-eating (fasting) throughout the diet and then overeating in the evening. During your period of under-eating there are certain specific snacks that can be eaten in small quantities. Your overeating phase is unique because there are virtually no limits on how much you can eat during this time period as long you consume it all in a single meal.
We know that everyone has their own training schedule and goals. Are there options for athletes who train just a few times a week? What if they’re training several times a day? Or something in between? To answer these questions I enlisted the help of Pat Flynn. If you’re a hobbyist, and training 3 to 4 times a week, you’ll be fine with any of the IF options. The only rule of thumb is to make sure that your fasting days coincide with your rest days.
An option for athletes with a more rigorous training schedule entailing multiple sessions a day and training 5 or more days a week, is Micro-Fasting. Put into simple terms, Micro-Fasting involves fasting several times a week, sometimes every day, but only for 14 to 16 hours at a time. This type of fasting is commonly associated with skipping breakfast, working out on an empty stomach and then eating regularly, starting with lunch.
A couple of nice features to this time is that it is flexible, allows you to time your workouts and is only minimally noticeable from a social perspective. That last one may seem silly, but how often have you had to field comments about your diet during lunch or dinner? By fasting overnight and in the morning you’re able to enjoy normal, healthy meals at lunch and dinner.
Wrapping It Up
Intermittent Fasting is one of the more unique diet options out there and with dozens of versions available. You should be able to find something that fits your needs. For more variants on IF check out Lean Gains, Carb Backloading and Mark’s Daily Apple on the web. No matter what you choose for a diet, remember that it needs to be a plan you believe in and one that you can follow for an extended period of time. With this primer on IF you’re ready to make an informed decision and see if it’s right for you.