In an industry as competitive as fitness is, you always find new trends about diets, workouts, equipment or supplements.
In the last few years, intermittent fasting has become a really popular habit among gym fans, influencers and even some athletes. It basically consists of not eating any solids for a determined time. That means that you can still have water, coffee, tea and any other non-caloric drink as you are fasting.
Is it actually a new trend?
25th of June 1964. A 27-year-old Scot man called Angus Barbieri initiated a planned (supervised by doctors) fasting week at the Maryfield Hospital in Dundee. Angus’ weight was 207 kg at the beginning of the experiment. He felt good after the week and insisted to continue with the fasting a bit more. His next meal was the 11th of July of 1965, 382 days after! His new weight, 82 kg. This is, of course, an exceptional situation for an exceptional person. But it is just a way to illustrate that our body is able to adapt to deal with a fasting period.
Just think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They didn’t have any supermarket available to get their food. They would sometimes spend days without any meal. But we don’t want to know if we can cope with hours without food, we want to know if fasting is worth it and if it is actually healthy.
Let’s have a look at what is the science behind intermittent fasting and if this practice is recommended for everyone.
Intermittent fasting benefits
- Increases the levels of hormones responsible for muscle production and fat reduction (1) (2)
- Improves insulin sensitivity (good for preventing diabetes), blood pressure and slows aging mechanisms (3)
- Improves heart disease risk indicators (4) (5)
- Improves anti-cancer mechanisms, glucose and fat metabolism,, DNA repair,, immune system and cognitive function (6)
- It helps in the fat loss (7) (8)
- Stimulates the autophagy, a sort of cellular recycling process which, among other benefits, promotes the longevity (9)
Those are just a few of the benefits. If you dig into the scientific literature you would find plenty more.
Intermittent Fasting Methods
Despite all those benefits, it is not necessary to fast like our friend Angus did. Several advantages come just after 12 hs of fasting, so that’s a good way to start:
Intermittent fasting 12/12: Maybe you don’t know, but you might be already doing it. You basically need to create a “feeding window” of 12 hs. For example, you get your breakfast at 8 am and you should be finishing your last meal of the day by 8 pm
Intermittent fasting 8/16: Adding four more hours of fasting allows you to take advantage of the benefits a bit more. You can skip your breakfast and start eating at 12 pm instead with your last meal of the day again about 7:30-8 pm.
24 hrs and more:: After a few weeks doing the previous two you should be able to tolerate longer fasting periods. It is a good experience to try every now and then, however, most of the benefits can be achieved with a 16/12 approach.
The ideal method for you really depends on your schedule, so choose the one that requires the least changes in your daily routine. As always, the key is to be consistent.
Additionally, there are no strict rules for doing intermittent fasting. It is not necessary to do an exact 8/16, it might be 9/15 or 6/18 and still works. Just get close to the concept.
Intermittent fasting is another resource towards being healthy and may be used in a weight loss planbut is not magical. Just keep in mind: If you fast 16 hours per day but then you have unhealthy food in the other 8, and you don’t do much exercise, you won’t obtain all of the benefits.
Who shouldn’t do intermittent fasting?
- Children in growing stages
- Pregnant women
- People with a history of eating disorders
- High-performance athletes (depending on the phase of the program you are)
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