Nutrition experts generally hate extreme diets—the type that limits you to certain kinds of foods only for a period of time. The body, they say, needs essential nutrients coming from a variety of sources. Limit the source and you're bound to miss out on things that help facilitate body processes like fat burning and muscle repair.
If you're trying to change your physique, there's literally a ton of meal plans that promise to help boost your gains at the gym. The kind of food you'll eat will vary but meal intervals are often regular. Who doesn't like to eat regularly, right? But then there are diets that are on the extreme. One that caught our eye: intermittent fasting.
While it's not really new, intermittent fasting asks you to go without food for a certain period of time, from a minimum of eight hours up to the extreme of 36. The practice goes back to ancient times when food was usually scarce.
Numerous studies have been done to test the benefits of intermittent fasting and in his Tedx Talk, Mark Mattison, Ph.D. a neuroscience professor from Johns Hopkins University, shares that going without food for a period of time boosts brain power and induces ketosis, the state in which the body uses fat for fuel. This is generally good if you’re trying to boost muscle mass and lose weight.
Watch his talk here:
While there are scientifically proven benefits, intermittent fasting isn't something you should dive into fast. You can't just go on a self-imposed hunger strike just like that. For it to work, you need to arm yourself with the right knowledge and a bit of testing on your part.
It's imperative that you first get an an all-clear from your doctor before giving intermittent fasting a try. Going without food for hours on end can be a problem if you have conditions like diabetes and acid reflux. Once your M.D. clears you, here are 5 things you must do so you can reap the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Test the optimum gap for you
Going on a 36-hour fast without prior experience is just plain foolish. You need to test your body's limit first. "Bottom line is, you have to test what gap works for you since it's your body that will be doing the work," advises Alex Callanta, P.N., a fitness trainer and Precision Nutrition Certified coach from 360 Fitness Club in Ortigas, Pasig City.
Try intermittent fasting on a day where you don't have much on your plate. From your last meal the previous night, try a minimum of 8 hours and from there you can gauge whether you can go longer. "You will notice that this program is more of a psychological challenge. There will be a lot of physical demands, but to fight the urge to eat that piece of your favorite food, it'll be more of a mind game," says Callanta.
You're not allowed to eat, sure, but you need to be hydrated to survive the fast. Plus, it helps you conquer the hunger pangs. "Often the solution for wanting something to eat is having something to drink. The same area of the brain that controls hunger—the hypothalamus—also controls thirst," writes David Zinczenko and Peter Moore in The 8-Hour Diet: Watch the Pounds Disappear without Watching What You Eat.
You can also drink a variety of teas. Green tea specifically helps promote fat burning which could boost your fast further. Just remember to keep your water intake up.
Smoothly break the fast
Going on a food trip after your fast isn't the best idea. For one, it might shock your digestive system and make it go out of whack. You need to ease your body before having a full meal. "Usually you break a fast with liquids like a fresh fruit shake or coffee, something that can be absorbed by the body fast that's low in sugar and fat," advises Callanta. Wait another hour or so after breaking your fast before having a full meal. Keep your meals balanced with a variety of proteins, veggies, healthy fat, and carbs.
Longer isn't necessarily better
Fasting longer than 24 to 36 hours might no longer be that beneficial. "You will have no fresh fuel to keep your body functioning the way it was made to function," warns Callanta. "After the body has depleted its glucose from muscle and liver, the body will then have to get energy from fat in the form of ketone bodies. After that, the body will get its energy from your muscles itself."
You'll just lose muscle mass if you fast longer than normal and that will just hurt your gains. Plus, there's also the decrease in brain function and you'll have hallucinations. Deliks, pre!
"The body is very efficient in adapting to stimulus that's why intermittent fasting should be cycled," advises Callanta. Once the body adapts, you won't reap as much from the fast as you initially did. According to Callanta, you should allot for a lay-off week or even a month where you go back to regular spacing of meals, roughly 4 to 5 small meals a day. Then once your body gets used to that, you can then go back to intermittent fasting.