Meal Plans

The Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting

Everything you need to know about this diet strategy.

Grilled Chicken
sf_foodphoto / Getty

WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular weight loss methods, and for good reason—it works! Many studies have shown that it has powerful effects for your body and brain, and it may even help you to live longer. Intermittent fasting is not actually a diet but rather described as an eating pattern. It's an approach where you go a certain period of time during the day without eating (water and black coffee are allowed during this period). Typically this is a 16-hour window, followed by an 8-hour feeding window (a period of 8 hours where you consume all your calories for the day).

There are many variations to these alternating eating and fasting windows. Some examples are two days of a full 24-hour fast (not recommended, especially if your goal is building or maintaining muscle), 18-hour fast with a 6-hour eating window or a 20-hour fast with a 4-hour eating window.

BENEFITS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING

Intermittent fasting has cellular and hormonal benefits. When we fast, certain hormones skyrocket. Human growth hormone (HGH) is the main hormone that's affected via intermittent fasting. HGH has muscle-building and fat-burning properties. Insulin sensitivity and circulating insulin levels also drop. When you're in a fasted state, your body makes changes to genes that effect longevity.

Research has also shown that fasting for certain periods may result in increased fat burning even when daily calories are the same versus typical dieting.

Aside from the health and fat-burning benefits, you'll experience getting leaner and being able to maintain it easier. Since you're cramming all of your calories into a shorter eating window, you'll experience a feeling of fullness. You can finally be full while eating for fat loss!

In addition to that, because you'll have more calories available for your eating window, you'll be able to fit in more fun, "cheat" foods than on a typical diet. Imagine being able to eat ice cream or pizza every day while getting ripped!

POTENTIAL DOWNFALLS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING

One of the biggest downfalls of intermittent fasting is that it's not optimal for maximum muscle gain. If your goal is to get as big as humanly possible, you'll need to be in a caloric surplus, consuming protein every 3-5 hours. You'll need to spike protein synthesis throughout the day. With intermittent fasting, this can’t be achieved. While this may sound like a bad thing, it'll only equate to a 1% difference in the amount of muscle you'll gain in a year. It might not be a big drawback, but it's better to have all the cards lined out in front of you so you can make an educated decision about intermittent fasting.

Another downfall is that being in a caloric surplus with intermittent fasting is difficult. Intermittent fasting works best during a cut because you get to save more of your calories for your eating window. However, when you're trying to add muscle mass and in a caloric surplus, it can be extremely tough to get down all the calories you need to grow in a eating window. If you are an ectomorph and you require a ton of calories to grow, this may not be the plan for you. However, if you can gain weight on a lower amount of calories, then this can work for bulking.

HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR FASTING AND FEEDING WINDOWS

I recommend utilizing a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window for beginning intermittent fasting. You will begin with a 16-hour fast. The good thing is that the hours you are sleeping count toward your fasting window. If you sleep for 8 hours, that’s half your fasting window done. What has worked best for me is ending my eating window 2 hours before bed, sleeping 8 hours a night, skipping breakfast, and not eating my first meal until mid-afternoon. I like that approach because I am not a breakfast person and my hunger levels are higher after work. The best way to determine your windows is to look at your daily schedule and see what times would work for you.

WHAT TO EAT

During your fast, especially in the first week or two, you may experience hunger pains. This feeling is normal because your body is used to eating during the day and not used to fasting. After you get past the first two weeks, you'll find your fast will get easier and easier. However, here are some things you can do to help you get through your fast:

1. Black Coffee

For some reason, black coffee acts as an appetite suppressant. Remember during your fasting period, you're not suppose to be consuming any calories, so keep the coffee black with Splenda.

2. Zero-Calorie Beverages

I prefer sparkling waters. The carbonation helps with feeling full.

FASTED WORKOUT

A common question I get asked when explaining intermittent fasting is, “Should I work out while fasted?” I have had many workouts fasted and it can be rough transitioning from a full belly to an empty stomach while training. Working out fasted should have no effect on your gym performance, especially once you get used to it. Training while fasting can even give your pre-workout a boost. With nothing in your system, your pre-workout will hit you harder.

One thing I recommend doing if you plan on training fasted is to consume 5-10g of BCAAs before training. BCAAs will help to prevent any muscle from being broken down during your session.

If working out fasted really isn’t for you, you can schedule your eating window during a time that you train. That’s the beautiful thing with intermittent fasting: it can be implemented whenever it works best for you and your schedule!

SAMPLE INTERMITTENT FASTING MEAL PLAN

2500 FAT-LOSS DIET:

6:00 a.m. Wake up:

Cup of black coffee

11 a.m. pre-workout BCAAs

2:00 p.m. Break the fast:

8oz grilled chicken
5oz whole-wheat pasta
1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup string beans

5:00 p.m. Meal 2:

8oz lean steak
8oz sweet potato
1 cup broccoli
1 apple
1 cup ice cream

9:00 p.m. Meal 3:

2 scoops whey protein
1 cup berries
1 cup oatmeal
2 tbsp peanut butter

10:00 p.m. Begin fast

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