Intermittent fasting and women
Q: I’m a bit confused. Some people say I should do 16 hours of fasting, while others say that you now recommend 14 hours for women?
A: Females do 14 hrs fasting by default. The fast typically lasts 16 hrs, and is usually initiated in the evening. So in practical terms you might have your last meal some time between 8 and 10 pm in the evening and break the fast around noon on the next day.
But for women my default approach is to actually start off with 14 hrs and see how they do on that before eventually moving them to 16 hrs. When you look at the studies on gender and fasting, you tend to see that women may have slightly more adverse reactions to fasting than men, such as some degree of irritability and increased attention to food cues. 16 hrs is hardly prolonged fasting, but I like to play it safe, so that’s why I have female clients fasting for a shorter time at the beginning.
Intermittent fasting and regular meal patterns: mixing it up
Q: What’s peoples experience with intermittent fasting on the week days and a “regular” diet on the weekend or something like that? I think that would fit my schedule perfectly, especially since i am much more active on the weekend and play sports/do cardio sometimes multiple times and very spread out.
A: Eating on regular intervals each day has it’s benefits. Breaking the pattern may screw a bit with the ghrelin pulse. Ghrelin is a hunger hormone which rise in anticipation of a meal and is in tune with your day-to-day meal pattern. This is also part of why you can go for 16 hrs without getting hungry once you get used to it.
Practically, this might mean that it could be a bit harder to get back to fasting when you break the pattern (weekends). On the other hand, I’ve done it personally many times and I haven’t experienced any problems at all. Fasting is still very easy after a day of more regularily spaced eating. It might take several days of a new meal pattern before a new ghrelin pulse pattern develops, so go ahead and try it.
As a general rule of thumb, if you drink something with less than 50 calories, then your body will remain in the fasted state. So, your coffee with a splash of milk or cream is just fine. Tea should be no problem either.
I believe in strength training and compound movements. I think 99% of the population could get in the best shape of their life with only eight exercises: snatch, clean and jerk, squat, bench press, deadlift, pushups, pullups, and sprints. If you did those exercises and did them well, then that’s all you would ever need.
Here’s what I’m doing right now…
I train three days per week and I pick one exercise that is my primary goal for each workout. For example, tomorrow will be squat. My only goal is to have the 5 sets of 5 reps be the best form with the best weight I can do for that day. Anything else that I do after that is just bonus time. This gives me flexibility if my schedule is tight (it often is) and leeway to add something in if I have extra energy. For example, I might add some pullups onto the end of tomorrow’s squat workout.
When it comes to training volume and intermittent fasting, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. First, when fasting it’s very possible that you can get better results by exercising less. This can either mean less frequently or less intensity. Most people will be on a calorie deficit while intermittent fasting, so it’s usually a good idea to exercise less rather than more.
That said, some people will want to train a lot and are still looking for ways to get lean and shed some fat. If this is the case, then you need to eat a lot (and I mean a lot) during your feeding window. For a brief period, I did intermittent fasting while training on an Olympic weightlifting team and I can tell you that I had to be very committed to eating to make it work. If you don’t eat a lot then your body is going to struggle to recover from intense training.
In my experience, I have never had trouble when doing strength training while fasting. As long as you’re getting good nutrition within the 24 hours before and after training, you probably have nothing to worry about when it comes to training fasted.
I workout before work at 6:30am and I’m looking to do a 16/8 fast. My last pre–training meal is at 8pm and my first meal after training is at about 1pm. Could this work or should my post–workout meal come sooner after working out?
I try to eat my biggest meal of the day post–workout. Usually this meal comes within an hour or two of working out. In my experience, this is what has worked best for me.
That said, Neville’s situation is a good lesson on choosing your goals. If fat loss is the most important thing for you, then I would probably stick with the 1pm meal. The primary benefits of fasting come around 12 to 16 hours after your last meal.
If training heavy, bulking up, and gaining muscle is at the top of the list, then I would probably scrap the intermittent fasting and get a big meal right after working out. In other words, it comes down to your priorities.
If you are in Neville’s situation and your post–workout meal comes in the middle of the workday, then it can be easy to find yourself caught up in the day’s affairs and running to the nearest Subway at the last minute. It’s probably a worthwhile investment of your time to plan out your meals in advance so that you can be sure that you can refuel with high quality nutrition after your workout.
- For best results, cycle what you eat.
Intermittent fasting works, but I didn’t start cutting fat at a significant rate until I added in calorie cycling and carb cycling to my diet. Here’s how it works…
I cycle calories by eating a lot on the days that I workout and less on the days that I rest. This means I have a calorie surplus on the days I train and a calorie deficit on the days that I rest. The idea behind this is that you can build muscle on the days you train and burn fat on the days you rest. And by the end of the week, you should have done both.
Additionally, I cycle carbs by eating a lot of carbohydrates on the days that I train and few carbohydrates on the days that I rest. This is done to stimulate fat loss. I eat high protein all the time and moderate to low fat on most days. Cycling carbohydrates has also led to additional fat loss.
For me, this is when the intermittent fasting seemed to pay off the most — when I coupled it with calorie cycling and carb cycling.
- Losing fat and gaining muscle can both be done, just not together.
If you’re looking to lose fat and build muscle mass, then the combination of intermittent fasting, calorie cycling, and carb cycling that I have mentioned here is one of the best solutions you’ll find.
You see, it’s basically impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. You need to have a net calorie deficit.
To build muscle, you need to eat more calories than you burn. You need to have a net calorie surplus.
It should be fairly obvious that you can’t have a net surplus and a net deficit at the same time. For example, you can either eat more than 2,000 calories or you can eat less than 2,000 calories … but you can’t do both at the same time. This is why it’s basically impossible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.
However, if we get away from the small timeframes and start thinking about our diet over the course of a week or a month, then we start to have more options. For example, let’s say that you workout 3 days per week. You could organize your eating routine to have a calorie surplus on the days you train (i.e. gain muscle) and then a calorie deficit on the days you rest (i.e. lose fat). That way, by the end of the week, it’s possible for you to have spent 3 days gaining muscle and 4 days losing fat.
- When fasting, I have made more gains by training less.
I’ve recently began testing a new hypothesis for strength training, which I call “Do The Most Important Thing First.”
It’s as simple as it sounds. I pick one goal for the workout and do the most important exercise first. Everything else is secondary. For example, right now I’m working out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I do two sessions each day. Upper body in the morning. Lower body in the evening. But I’m only doing one exercise each time (pushups in the morning) and squat or deadlift in the evening. If I feel like it, I’ll finish my evening workout with kettlebell work or bodyweight stuff (handstands, front levers, and so on).
The results have been very good. I’ve seen improvement each and every week over the last three months. It’s worked so well that I’m starting to think that it has very little to do with fasting, but instead is just a better way of training. I’ll write more about this in the future, but I wanted to note it here because when I compare it to the previous way I trained while fasting (snatch and clean and jerk three days per week, plus squat or deadlift), I seem to be making more progress.