Woman running in morning

Introduction

What if we told you that the most sought-after dietary regiment in the fitness world today wasn’t even a diet at all? Let’s dive into Intermittent Fasting – the hormonal control mechanism that’s become insanely popular among athletes and fitness fanatics alike.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that rotates between eating windows and fasting windows. Unlike food restricted diets, intermittent fasting (IF) doesn’t necessarily specify which foods you should eat but rather, when you should eat them. While the concept of fasting is difficult to grasp for individuals who are trying the approach for the first time, leniency in food selection provides a bit of comfort.

Intermittent Fasting – Origins & Today

Intermittent fasting dates all the way back to the hunter-gatherer days and has been practiced throughout human evolution. Thought not always by choice, these hunter-gatherers were fully dependent on grazing periods for their prey as well as availability of local food sources such as nuts and berries, which could be impacted by natural elements such as weather. As a result, it was not uncommon for hunter gatherers to go days without feeding. While this sounds like a brutal environment to survive in, it is important to note the existence of the circadian clock and circadian rhythms.

Daily sleep–wake cycles, or circadian rhythms, drive the ebb and flow of human life; they control much more than just our sleepiness levels. Our 24-hour cycles involve metabolic, physiological, and behavioral changes that impact every tissue of the body. Fasting is a natural phenomenon for most animals, since food is not always readily available. In times of forced fasting, certain metabolic changes occur to allow the body to adapt. For instance, when glucose is scarce, the liver begins to create ketones from fatty acids, which the body can use as an emergency energy source.

A host of fasting-induced transcription factors drive these metabolic changes. These transcription factors also seem to influence circadian rhythms. In conclusion, recent research is targeting to what extent intermittent fasting helps support the many healthy mechanisms that exist within us today.  

How it works – The Basics

There are many different versions of intermittent fasting that exist today. Some practitioners fast for multiple days at a time but the most common method is known as the 16:8 method. This method represents 16 hours of fasting followed by 8 hours of an ‘eating window’ on a day to day basis, repeated over and over. The 16:8 method is believed to improve blood sugar control, boost cognitive/brain function and enhance longevity.

It is important to note that you can adjust your 8-hour eating window to whatever window best fits your schedule. A common window is from 12PM-8PM as it allows for a well-timed lunch and some leniency on timing for dinner – but these hours can be set to whatever you prefer.

During your fasting window, you only intake water, black coffee, green tea, black tea and basically anything with zero caloric value. Non-caloric supplements such as pre-workout, vitamins and BCAA’s are also fine to take in your fasting window.

Getting into the Groove – Seeing the Benefits

After 2-3 weeks of consistently following your intermittent fasting schedule, you’ll start to notice differences in both your physical appearance as well as your cognitive ability. This is the reaction of your circadian clock recognizing the alignment of your food intake schedule. While intermittent fasting specifically targets weight-loss, it is also used by active bodybuilders to promote a lean figure and keep body fat % down. Despite claims, intermittent fasting is not detrimental to muscle composition and can actually promote muscle growth assuming proper macro-nutrients are being consumed on a daily basis. During the fasting period (16 hour window), insulin levels remain low and growth hormone levels climb as your body starts mobilizing stored body fat from your fat cells and burns it for energy (rather than glucose).

Feasibility: The Pros & Cons

While there may be some obvious challenges that come with intermittent fasting, specifically alcohol consumption. Socialites find this eating method difficult as it is a zero-tolerance system and late-night drinks or eats can break the eating pattern, rendering the process less effective.

With that being said, intermittent fasting is one of the easiest diets to follow as it gives you full leniency on your food intake selection. It’s commonly considered less restrictive and much more flexible than other diet regiments and seamlessly fits into pretty much any lifestyle.

We hope you learned something new today! If you have any follow-up questions regarding the blog, feel free to leave a comment below.


Sources:

Gunnars, Kris. “Intermittent Fasting 101 - The Ultimate Beginner's Guide.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 July 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide#what-it-is.

Newman, Tim. “Intermittent Fasting Boosts Health by Strengthening Daily Rhythms.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 18 Jan. 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324207.php.

Burn Fat Not Sugar (2019). Benefits of Intermittent Fasting. [image] Available at: http://www.burnfatnotsugar.com/assets/if.pdf [Accessed 29 Jul. 2019].

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