INTERMITTENT FASTING Q&A
INTERMITTENT FASTING PROTOCOL QUESTIONS
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting is where you restrict the hours you eat, rather than the amount of food you eat each day. Most people end up fasting for around 14-23 hours per day, and eating for 1-10 hours per day.
Can I Eat Breakfast And Dinner, And Just Skip Lunch?
While you may be tempted to skip lunch as your protocol, such an eating pattern doesn’t lend itself well to intermittent fasting. Eating in the morning and night eclipses any substantial fasting period, as you’ll rarely go longer than 12 hours, which is just when the fasting magic begins!
How Do I Start Intermittent Fasting?
There are quite a few IF patterns to choose from. Pick one you like, commit, and do it! You’ll see amazing benefits soon!
Is Intermittent Fasting The Same As Longer Fasts?
No. With Intermittent Fasting, you still eat each day. A 3 day water fast, for example, is not "intermittent fasting" as referred to by the IF community. Rather, that's an actual fast!
How Long Can I/ Should I Fast?
The possibilities really are endless. Fat burning and its benefits begin after 12 hours or so of fasting: a 12 hour fast is therefore recommended as the minimum. Between 16 and 24 hours is a sort of “golden time”: fat burning continues to rapidly escalate, and you typically feel more alert and energetic the longer you go. Fat burning continues to rise until 72 hours, at which point most metabolic adaptations have been fully realized, and fatty acid release plateaus. (That’s just for information purposes, with intermittent fasting, you rarely go longer than 24 hours.) The more weight you have to lose, the longer you can probably go with ease. I say pick a protocol and go with it, knowing you can always fast longer if you want! Do what feels right.
How Much Do I Eat In The Eating Window?
During the eating window, you can eat all you want! But don’t worry about “eating enough” or “getting enough calories.” Simply eat to satiety.
Can I Consume Anything During The Fasting Window?
No. Doing so breaks the fast. By the way, having “just a little bite” to ward off hunger will only lengthen the transition into fat burning, and actually increase appetite in the long run.
Do I Need To Eat Right After Exercise?
Common diet and exercise wisdom says to consume food immediately post-workout to refill muscle glycogen and ensure adequate protein synthesis. On the glycogen side of things, intermittent fasting frees you from relying on glycogen (carb) stores for energy. Your IF workouts will be primarily fueled by fat, with no “refilling” immediately after exercise required. As for protein stores, studies show that muscle synthesis occurs more on a 24-hour spectrum, rather than an acute window. As long as you consume adequate protein within a given day in your eating window, you should be good. Of course, if you want to schedule your fast so you work out and then eat, go for it! But don’t sweat it if you work out earlier in the day, and don’t eat until later. Do what feels right and natural. See this post for more!
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INTERMITTENT FASTING FOOD QUESTIONS
What Can I Eat In The Eating Window?
What you consume in your eating window is entirely up to you! In short, I wholeheartedly recommend an anti-inflammatory diet which supports health and encourages a fat-burning (rather than sugar-burning) state. In my opinion, this entails a whole foods, Paleo-type diet abundant in organic meat, vegetables, fruits, and heathy fats, which minimizes (or better yet, excludes) inflammatory and toxic foods, such as grains, sugar, and processed foods, as well other potentially inflammatory foods like legumes and dairy.
Can I Eat Unhealthy Foods Or Binge In My Eating Window?
Ehh…. yes and no. If you’re transitioning from a Standard American Diet which featured things like pizza and cookies, then continuing such eating in an intermittent fasting pattern can yield beneficial results by encouraging fat burning, decreasing inflammation, and minimizing the damage done overall. Intermittent fasting will also grant you more willpower to deal with these problematic substances for the better. However, the goal here is to ultimately free you from anything and everything which impedes your health, control, well being, and success, so I cannot advocate eating unhealthily in your eating window. But if doing so in a fasted pattern is a stepping stone on the way to a better world of diet, great! You’ll likely find that IF gives you such newfound control over your appetite, that healthy food choices will become not only easier, both actually desirable.
How Should I Break The Fast?
Some say to “lightly” break the fast with vegetables or fruit. I personally break the fast with whatever I’m feeling at the moment, be it meat, vegetables, or perhaps a glass of wine. You’ll find what works best for you, especially since fasting makes you more “in tune” with your body. And since fasting primes the body for enhanced nutrition partitioning, whatever you do eat will likely be used for fuel and repair, rather than immediate fat storage. Also consider proper food combining: protein goes well with non-starchy veggies, fruit is best eaten alone, etc.
Can I Consume Fruits Or Vegetables During The Fasting Window?
I am of the opinion that consuming any food during the fasted state breaks the fast. Even eating negligible “calories” can start the digestion process. Digestion likely halts the fasted, fat-burning state, as the body anticipates more food on the way. For me personally, a bite of anything throws off my fasting zen.
Some fasting proponents do allow light snacking on fruits or veggies during the fasting window. This is a standard part of Ori Hofmekler’s protocol in The Warrior Diet, while Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet, in The Perfect Health Diet, highlight the “fasting” habits of the Kitavans, which features light fruit snacking. I, however, recommend committing to fasting with complete food abstinence. This will ensure you enter the fasted state, and do not shoot yourself in the foot by keeping hunger present while potentially short circuiting metabolic adaptations for fat burning.
Can I Consume MCT Oil Or Other Fats During My Fasting Window?
This depends on what we mean by fasting. If by "fasting" we simply mean a fat-burning state, then ingesting pure fat would supplement this state, since fats do not affect insulin levels, and do not immediately encourage fat storage. The digestion process, however, may switch the source of such fat burning from body fat to dietary fat. If you were to consume something during a fast, pure fat or MCT oil will likely more closely mimic the fasted state than, say, a strawberry.
While most fats require substantial digestion and filtration through the lymph system, MCT oil is a ketogenic fat derived from coconut and palm oil, which requires essentially no digestion and is directly shuttled to the liver. As such, it may sustain a fast without “breaking” the fasting state, though it’s up for debate. See my post on Bulletproof Coffee for more on that!
It is possible, however, that consuming fat affects the fasted state by influencing hormone levels. For example, dietary fat can increase somatostatin and blunt growth hormone secretion, potentially negating fasting’s beneficial muscle protection benefits, and halting fat burning. Because the whole matter is quite complicated and not completely understood, I advocate starting IF completely “dry” in the beginning, food wise. After you’ve got some fasting practice under your belt, and truly know what the fasted state feels like, then you can experiment with MCT oil or other fats from there.
Should I Take Branched Chain Amino Acids During My Fast?
A vast amount of studies show that intermittent fasting, even when coupled with calorie restriction, preserves muscle. As long as adequate protein is consumed in the eating window, no protein loss should occur, since an increasingly ketogenic state further preserving muscle breakdown. Fasted exercise, in fact, may actually enhance muscle growth.
That said, some intermittent fasters, particularly body builders and followers of Martin Berkhan’s Leangains protocol, choose to consume branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) during their fast for enhanced muscle support. These BCAAs, such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine, stimulate neurotransmitter and protein synthesis. Proponents of BCAAs argue that, while fasting, BCAAs can only come from muscle breakdown, so supplementing with BCAAs may minimize muscle loss, while supporting an anabolic, muscle-building state.
Taking BCAAs during a fast can notably shut off autophagy, the process by which the body breaks down old, damaged tissues, and encourages insulin release. For this reason, coupled with my preference for whole foods over supplements when possible, I do not personally consume BCAAs. But if you have particularly good insulin sensitivity, BCAAs are less likely to fiddle with some of fasting’s benefits. Plus, if you are worried about muscle loss, simply believing you are protecting your muscle with BCAAs could be highly beneficial. (Oh hey placebo effect!) Feel free to experiment with BCAAs if you so desire, and see how you react.
How Many Calories Break A Fast?
The amount of calories which break a fast is up for debate, and goes back to what we mean by fasting. I often hear 40-50 calories casually thrown around as some sort of upper limit, but cannot for the life of me find any studies on the subject. (Anyone?) In any case, I’d wager that the type of calories matter more than the number. A smidge of pure sugar might break your fast (or even a dose of zero-calorie sweetener!) by spiking insulin, while perhaps 3 tablespoons of MCT oil (300 calories!) does nothing of the sort. Small amounts of liquid calories which do not spark mechanical digestion might also be “safer,” such as adding cream to one’s coffee.
I advocate forgoing calories entirely during the fasted state - why bother playing with temptation? Consider self experimenting with things, if such is your desire, after you’ve got a substantial amount of IF under your belt. Keep in mind that if ingesting something instigates hunger, it’s likely breaking your fast. Even if it doesn’t increase appetite, it may minimize some of the beneficial effects of fasting.
INTERMITTENT FASTING DRINK QUESTIONS
What Can I Drink During The Fasting Window?
During your fasting period, you can consume non-caloric beverages such as water, tea and coffee, without added sweeteners. While you can add artificial sweeteners, I advise against it. These compounds are inflammatory and toxic, and recent research even suggests they may negatively affect the gut microbiome, encouraging weight gain and a host of other problems. As for coffee, adding a tablespoon or so of half and half and/or cream seems to be pretty negligible. While I can find no hard science on how many calories “break” a fast, a minute amount may be ok, particularly when combined with fat-burning compounds like the caffeine naturally found in coffee.
Can I Consume Bulletproof Coffee During My Fast?
This is a debated topic. See my post on Bulletproof Coffee for all the details!
How Much Water Should I Drink While Fasting?
In the fasted state, the whole water question isn’t really an issue. Unlike hunger signals, our bodies’ thirst signals tend to function relatively well. When fasting, drink when thirsty, and stop when full. You can use your urine as a gauge of hydration - it should be a nice pale lemonade color! Dry skin, eyes, or chapped lips can be a sign of dehydration. Contrary to popular belief, being thirsty does not necessarily mean you’re already dehydrated. (That wouldn’t be a very smart system, now would it?)
Does Drinking Alcohol Break The Fast?
The relationship between alcohol and fasting is a smidge complicated. While eating a meal switches the body from a fat-burning to a fat-storing mode, drinking alcohol switches the body from a fat-burning to an alcohol-burning mode. This means alcohol during a fast does indeed halt the fasted state, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’re storing any fat per say; rather, you are simple “running on” alcohol.
Alcohol itself does not easily contribute to weight gain. In fact, controlled studies find substituting food calories with alcohol calories can instigate weight loss. And while food raises insulin, alcohol can actually regulate or even lower insulin. Weight gain problems from alcohol likely come from whatever is eaten with the alcohol, as inhibitions run loose and cravings and food consumption may rise. Check out my book, The What When Wine Diet, for more on alcohol metabolism and potential benefits.
As a big wine lover, I advocate consuming alcohol as you please during your eating window. If you do have a drink during your fast, consider that the moment of “breaking” the fast. Also know that alcohol taken with a meal may prolong digestion and slow the body’s re-entrance into the fasted state. In any case, intermittent fasting definitely liberates spirits, since you can drink and lose weight! Yey!
MISCELLANEOUS INTERMITTENT FASTING QUESTIONS
Can I Do IF If I Have Blood Sugar Issues?
Adopting a dietary approach which encourages the body to rely less on blood sugar, and more on alternative substrates like fatty acids and ketones, can help manage blood sugar problems. Studies show low carb and ketogenic diets can aid diabetes, while fat-burning exercise like high intensity interval training (HIIT) can encourage glycemic control.
Since fasting similarly regulates blood sugar, I do believe a person with pre-existing blood sugar conditions can use IF to gently nudge their body into a stable, fat-burning state. I’d suggest combining a low carb, whole foods diet with bouts of intermittent fasting, to regulate insulin. Start with a small fasting window, which you gradually increase as you feel comfortable. You can also try some Bulletproof Coffee or MCT/coconut oil supplementation during the fast to further mitigate blood sugar swings. Intermittent fasting just may be your ticket out of Kingdom Glycemia!
Why Does My Breath Smell Weird When Fasting?
Some people experience a thing called “keto breath” when fasting, described as everything from dog hair to acetone. The later is likely most appropriate, as ketosis, or even excess protein in the diet, can increase byproducts such as beta hydroxybutyrate and acetroacetate in the urine, and acetone in the breath. Fasting can also encourage detoxification in the gut, the smelly effects of which may escape through your tongue.
For bad breath attacks while fasting, you can experiment with natural compounds such as chlorophyll, parsley, cloves, and/or peppermint oil. I personally like to take a drop of pure, organic peppermint oil for frigidly fresh breath. (Though people do give me odd looks when I pull out my little vile and swiftly administer the drops onto my tongue. Whatevs!)
What If I Feel Cold During Fasting?
You shouldn’t feel uncomfortably cold while fasting, though I have personally become a colder person (in body, not spirit!) since losing body fat from IF. If fat does one thing, it can keep ya warm! If you do find yourself a little chilly while fasting, make sure you’re eating enough in your fasting window. It’s quite easy to unintentionally undereat on a fasting diet, which may or may not lead to issues for you personally. To combat cold, consider eating more, fasting less, eating thermogenic foods like coconut oil, and/or supplementing with adaptogens like ginseng, rhodiola rosea, or ashwagandha. (You’ll have to find what works best with your personal adrenal constitution.) If you can’t seem to fix your inner thermostat, consider getting your thyroid checked.
Should I Stop Fasting If I Feel Faint Or Shaky?
It depends. When first beginning an intermittent fasting protocol, your body may protest with feelings of faintness or lethargy. As you become fat-adapted, and your body learns how to #deal, such weakness should pass. If you experience random feelings of faintness or shakiness when already comfortable with fasting, it may indicate another underlying issue. Ensure you’re eating enough in your window, and consider monitoring blood sugar levels. Always feel free to stop fasting, and discuss things with a medical professional if necessary.
Can I Do IF If I Have Blood Sugar Issues?
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Who Shouldn't Fast?
Fasting is safe for most people. If there were significant health problems from fasting, we wouldn’t have been safely doing it for thousands of years. We’d also probably die between meals. (Too extreme of an assumption?) On the contrary, fasting comes with a multitude of health-promoting benefits. That said, I do not recommend fasting for children, pregnant women, and for those severely underweight.