I’ve been very open with documenting my journey with intermittent fasting over the last 6 months on my social media (@enhanced physio), and I’ve become increasingly aware of more people trying it and asking to share my experiences with it.
I’m slightly hesitant though and need to frame this very carefully. Not long ago, South Africa saw Tim Noakes hauled over the coals for giving advise over the radio regarding the Low Carb High Fat diet, which is a sign of the crazy times in which we live – without reliving this example, the irony that a decorated scientist cant share research publicly, while there are hundreds of social media “experts” selling diets and supplements without anyone regulating them. With this in mind, I need to point out that this is in no way shape or form, dietary advice or scientific fact. This is my experience, my thoughts and suggestions for why things have worked or not worked for me. There is a wealth of information out there to read, so educate yourself before trying this out.
Intermittent Fasting is the planned restriction, or abstinence from consuming calories for periods of time. The theory behind this method is based on humans and animals have been adapted to survive without periods of food and our nervous system, metabolism, hormones and muscular-skeletal system can all adapt to help us perform normal bodily functions in the absence of food. This was great for the hunter gatherer who may go through extended periods of time before finding food, but as we evolved, food became easier to find and over-feeding actually has become a problem for us as humans. This is fairly obvious, just look at lifestyle diseases and obesity rates – over eating and feeding is a real problem and on top of that we’re eating too much of the bad stuff, processed, refined sugars all the junk and deliciously addictive poisons (a whole other rabbit whole of discussion).
From my experience and in talking to people who have tried IF, a primary driver for the use of IF is generally weight loss. In terms of the research there is good support for IF reducing weight in individuals with obesity and who are overweight, whether this comes from the IF itself, or the reduced calorie intake associated with restricted eating periods is unclear. My main interest in IF was with its proposed benefits for fighting cardiovascular disease, slowing down neurological disorders, managing cholesterol and diabetes as well as its proposed ‘anti-cancer’ benefits. The science here tends to get intricate, and it has not been proven that these proposed benefits are actually true in humans, although there are some promising studies in animals thus far.
I’ve become aware that I have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol and other lifestyle diseases which I wanted to address and manage before if get stuck into my 30’s – it’s also been an opportunity to get a full blood count done and to see what’s happening inside my body.
Where to start?
There are different ways of doing IF:
· There is the 5:2 method, which is not strictly speaking “fasting” as it involves having calorie restriction on 2 days of a 7 days week and eating ‘normally’ for the rest of the week. This was popularized by a book 5;2 method, by Michael Mosely – look it up, it’s worth a read and was influential at the time and made some waves in the weight loss realm. There’s various well priced 5:2 spin-off books as well on Takealot.com (just FYI)
· There is alternate day fasting which is one day fast, one day feed, which I haven’t tried myself. I’ve heard this referred to as the warrior diet, there are some interesting Youtube videos of people documenting and explaining their experimentation with this format.
· There is also time restricted fasting which is what I’ve used and still use. It involves a certain number of hours fasting per 24h and the remaining hours used for feeding. I use a 16h fast, which involves eating my last meal at 19.00 in the evening and eating my first meal at 11am the next day. I started doing this in a 5:2 pattern (5 days on 2 days off), which most likely caused a weekly calorie deficit compared to my physical activity energy expenditure. In my own case, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of my weight loss or the physical body changes that I’ve seen since the beginning of 2017 because I’ve tried several training types, slowly changed my eating and now have experimented with IF – what I can say is that my focus was always health and never aesthetics. I’ve never wanted to lose weight or gain muscle – I committed myself and still do, to lifelong health and advocacy of positive and sustainable lifestyle changes that empower people with education, don’t break your bank account, and are long term (vs. short term gimmicks).
A Typical Day:
During the fasting period, no calories should be consumed – I drink lots of water, have black rooibos tea, and other teas I’ve learnt to enjoy, I have a black americano in my aeropress or plunger, and if I’m really struggling with hunger, I use a 0 calorie BCAA drink which tends to tie me over for another hour or so (Nutritech just came out with one, which has made this much more affordable). I moved from 2 days on, 5 days off, to 5 days on, 2 days off, to 7 days a week now, and I’ve progressed from eating three meals in my ‘feeding period’, and now only eat 2 with a snack in-between. I’m contemplating extending my fasting period to 18 perhaps in another 5:2 split with the 5 days being my now normal 16:8 hour fast and the 2 days being a 18:4 – reasons being the 16:8 is now feeling very comfortable for me and I’ve got a feeling that the benefits lie in pushing your fasting, as a stimulus for adaptation (I’ll let you know how that goes).
But how can you exercise without food?
My exercise schedule is also an ongoing experiment. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a die-hard Crossfit fanatic and have only been doing it for just over a year, twice/week (tons of fun!). The rest of my 4 training days involve cardio (rowing, cycling, running, swimming, skateboarding!), strength and resistance exercise, agility and plyometrics, Pilates and accessory strength training. My training is also structured in blocks with different focuses – sometimes my 4-week goal is strength, sometimes improving my cardio base, sometimes it will have a Crossfit focus if there is an event coming up, other times (like as I’m writing this post) I will unload completely and start a new block again.
I’m generally a morning exerciser, because my daily work finishes after 5pm on the best of days, as well as the fact that exercise is incredibly important to me, so I like to do it first! I generally train either at 5am or 8am and it is always without eating (I’ll explain later) – depending on what my focus is, I will either STAY FASTED post exercise and just drink water etc., or sometimes I will add BCAA’s post exercise, or I will consume protein and creatine monohydrate immediately after training as well. These variations depend on my training goals, block goals, how I’m feeling and are EXTREMELY personal and anecdotal, they may not even be working for me the way I think they are, but that’s why this is an experiment! I believe that I’ve shifted my preferred macronutrient energy source towards fats opposed to carbs although I have a mixed macronutrient diet. Look up “The crossover Concept” for nutrition and it explains that eating that banana a minute before training might not be fueling you the way you think it is…
The first thing I’ve noticed is that I’m mentally more alert and now work, study, and am more creative in the mornings while I’m still fasted. I try harness this by being productive and getting through as much important work as possible.
There is a link between the restriction of calories and weight loss. I also feel that the 5:2 Mosely method is great for beginners as it will slowly reduce calories week to week without going cold turkey. Slow gradual changes are always more sustainable if you’ve planned it out and have a good idea of what you’re aiming for.
Personally, I’ve been exposed to exercise physiology and have a new-found respect for the nervous system and endocrine system which are both largely influence by exercise and feeding. I’ve tried to manipulate and time my eating/exercise these to increase my growth hormone and testosterone levels naturally. Again, I can’t say with certainty that it’s only the IF, or only the training, because I’ve been applying myself consistently for over 2 years, but I have experiences a decrease in body fat, lost weight and feel pretty good.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwCRjwDs1Ek – Dr Eric Berg has some great videos explaining IF.
Take home message:
The most important take home message for me is that regardless of your fitness or health goals, even if you just want to “feel better” and have more energy – we need to look at the food we’re putting into our bodies. There’s levels to this, and I feel the biggest successes happen when the process is undertaken as a journey and a commitment to a sustainable lifestyle. If chips and coke are holding you back, you need to decide how badly you want to make this change, and if the will is there, the journey will unfold. I recommend extreme caution – we are such an instant gratification generation and are often duped by the many products and opportunists out there, remember there are never any quick fixes. Any worthwhile change will be hard, and you will need to educate yourself – the good news is, if you’re willing to be disciplined and learn along the way you will reap the benefits without breaking the bank. IF is essentially a non-diet diet – there are no products to buy, teas to drink, or supplements to take. You need to be doing some sort of physical activity. You need to be eating foods that make you feel good and start to become aware of how your body reacts to refined carbohydrates and process foods – going cold turkey may not be the solution but looking at your habits, practices and being honest with yourself about your goals could be the first step to some powerful lifelong changes.
If you’d like any other resources or journal articles relating to IF, feel free to mail me on Nick@enhancedphysio.co.za – thanks for reading, we hope you liked this piece and share it with others who may be interested.