Martin Berkhan’s guide to intermittent fasting diet is truly brilliant in the way it challenges commonly held notions about caloric intake restrictions and dieting, yet provides an effective program to drop body fat quickly.
Some dietary aphorisms are so oft-repeated they have been ingrained in our collective consciousness. This is particularly evident in bodybuilding and weightlifting cultures. Eat a BIG, hearty breakfast. Eat every two to three hours. The body can only digest 40 grams of protein at any given meal. Make sure to eat some carbohydrates a couple of hours before training. All of these practices have been accepted into mainstream fitness, so questioning them at all can seem extreme.
So what happens when a dietary system not only questions such doctrines, but completely turns them on their heads? The result is a phenomenon that has taken the internet and fitness communities by storm and convincingly calls to question all of these authoritative assumptions.
It’s called intermittent fasting and it comes in many hybrid forms, the most popular being the Leangains method, the brainchild of internet dietary guru Martin Berkhan. The intermittent fasting diet is self-explanatory. You fast for a designated period of time, and then eat large meals during your allotted feeding times. There are different ways to approach the fast, and we’ll take a look at some of the options later. First, though, why does intermittent fasting (IF) work?
CONTROL YOUR HORMONES
The idea behind IF is to manipulate and time your intake of food in order to create optimal hormonal conditions. These hormonal conditions will have a positive effect on your body composition, resulting in more lean muscle, and less body fat. You may also notice effects such as increased alertness and positive mood changes.
By spending a significant portion of your day in a fasted state, you’ll trick your body into producing adrenaline. The powerful hormone helps your body use energy from glucose and fat more effectively. It evolved to help you flee from predators or battle with prey. When you’re full of food, your body is in relaxation mode. During fasting, the release of adrenaline will make you more alert and you may even find yourself having better workouts because of it.
Fasting has also been shown to increase levels of HGH (Human Growth Hormone). This obviously has big impacts for anyone trying to increase levels of muscle mass and drop body fat. HGH can also indirectly lower levels of cortisol. Cortisol is your enemy when it comes to maintaining a lean physique, and lowering cortisol can reduce stress and possibly even reduce abdominal fat.
The main player in IF’s hormone stage show is insulin. By properly manipulating release of insulin, you can turn your body into a fat-burning machine. Insulin is released during meals and is lowest during a fast. It regulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism in your body. When insulin is elevated, your body will be unable to utilize fat stores as energy. If you’re trying to burn fat (and aren’t we all), then this is opposite of what you want to achieve. By remaining in a fasted state and having low levels of insulin for longish periods of time, your body will be drawing on your fat stores for energy. That’s right, you’ll be using your excess body fat as energy! By workout out in this fasted state, you’ll utilize a ton of energy, and a lot of it will come from body fat stores.
BENEFITS OF IF
Besides the aforementioned hormonal benefits that can result in better, leaner, body composition, there are other reasons to employ an intermittent fasting method for fat loss, both scientific and practical.
Various animal studies have shown and some human studies have suggested that occasional fasting increases overall lifespan, reduces inflammation, reduces oxidative damage to cells, and increases immune system function.
Perhaps the most appealing part of the intermittent fasting diet is the lifestyle changes it brings. If you’re used to trying to eat six meals a day, you’ll breathe plenty of breaths of fresh air once you see the convenience that IF offers. You won’t have to spend your evenings cooking meals and then organizing them in tupperware. Eating can become fun and pleasurable again, not a fitness chore. You can spend your days working and being productive, not rushing to the cooler and microwave every three hours to get in your next meal.
With an IF diet plan, you’ll be able to go out to dinner with your friends and not order a measly chicken salad. Instead, you’ll be scheduled for your huge meal, and you can relax with a delicious dinner and beer guilt free.
Furthermore, by scheduling your eating to a smaller window of the day, you’ll naturally take in less calories than usual. By eating less frequently, you’ll eat less. Additionally, the big meals late at night really do get you relaxed and rested for a good night’s sleep.
DIFFERENT INTERMITTENT FASTING DIET PROTOCOLS
The different systems of IF are simply based on decreasing or increasing the length of the fasted state. You can formulate your own protocol based on your needs and preferences, but here are a couple of the most popular:
The LeanGains program endorsed by IF popularizer Martin Berkhan consists of a fasting period of 16 hours followed by an eight hour feast. This is an easy program to implement on a daily basis. For instance, say your last meal is at 11:00 pm. You’ll go to sleep at midnight and sleep until eight the next morning. You’ve already fasted for nine hours. Sleep counts in intermittent fasting. You’ll skip breakfast, go to work, drink plenty of water and maybe some coffee, and then have your first meal around 3:00. After work, hit the gym. When you come home, consume your largest meal. Don’t be afraid of overeating here and don’t be afraid of carbohydrates either. Eat a third or even a fourth meal later in the evening but stop the feast at 11:00. Now you restart the fast.
24 Hour Fast
Easily understood and easy to implement, at least in theory. Choose a day of the week, or even two, that you commit to a complete fast for 24 full hours. That means no food. Not an apple. Not a hot chocolate. Simply consume water and maybe some coffee. No milk in the coffee by the way. The day long fasts will be very recuperative for your digestive system and the release of growth hormone is most dramatic with day long fasts. Additionally, by not eating for two days a week, you’ll be cutting a huge amount of calories out of your weekly calorie intake. This protocol is definitely effective, but may be difficult if you can’t stand the hunger.
Other IF’ers have other protocols to suit their needs. 20/4 is popular. One huge meal a day is also effective. Some advocates even fast for two days at a time. Experiment a little to see what works for you.
WHAT FOODS SHOULD I EAT?
The intermittent fasting diet should be thought of as a lifestyle change more than a temporary diet. It’s about re-adjusting your eating habits to optimize your hormone levels, make your life more convenient, and improve your body composition by shedding unwanted bodyfat.
Therefore, food choice and calorie consumption with intermittent fasting are up to you and will vary depending on your needs. If you’re adhering to a paleo style of eating, you can make IF work, but it may be difficult to eat such large amounts of protein, fat, and veggies in a small window.
Intermittent fasting is a great system for fat loss, but it’s possible to use it to bulk up if you’re dedicated. Obviously, you’ll have to intake a caloric surplus if your goal is to gain weight. You’ll really have to force down some serious meals to succeed.
VARIATIONS ON THE THEME
There are other systems similar to the intermittent fasting diet. The Warrior Diet is popular and entails eating one large meal with light “warrior” style grazing throughout the day. Warrior Dieters graze on veggies, nuts, maybe small pieces of protein and then eat a huge meal during dinner.
Other systems utilize macronutrient timing to regulate hormonal release. These programs advocate eating small amounts of protein and fat until workout time, then consuming large amounts of carbohydrates in the evening. Though not technically intermittent fasting, these similar methods share ideas such as caloric restriction throughout the day, skipping breakfast, and small time windows to consume large meals.
Whether or not you attempt an intermittent fasting diet program to accelerate fat loss, take some time to digest the theory behind it. You may find some techniques to apply to your own dietary program.