Intermittent Fasting FAQ
Just a quick one for you today. Given how prominently Intermittent Fasting is featured in my programs, and how often I discuss various Intermittent Fasting protocols it’s not surprising that I get a lot of questions about the practice. What’s okay? What isn’t? It’s even less surprising that the same questions get asked over and over and over again. This means, of course, that I should write a post to address these questions.
Certainly, it will help a lot of people, but my more self-serving reasons is that it would be much easier, in the future, to just send a link to this article, rather than continuing to type out the answers over and over, several times per week.
If you’ve read a lot about fasting, you’ll probably know the answers to a few of these. If you’ve recently begun fasting, then you’ve probably asked yourself (or me) one of these questions, or at least been curious. Definitely check my “Everything I know about Intermittent Fasting” Article.
You might be disappointed if you know little about IF so definitely check out that one first. With no further wait – HERE, WE GO:
1) Fasting for 16/24/36 ours Seems Hard; Like, Uh- won’t you starve to death?
Hunger will not kill you, being mis-informed might…..
And, honestly, it’s not that hard once you get used to it, so just man up or girl up. I don’t mean to make light of it–your first impressions into fasting can certainly bring a degree of discomfort. You’ll be a little hungry. This is normal, and it’s nothing to worry about. And, the longer your fast (as in, practice the habit of fasting, not maintain one single fast), you’ll find that you don’t get as hungry as often. And so fasting becomes easier everytime you do it. It’s kind of like doing push-ups. The more you do each day. The better you get.
The science- y version of why this happens: there’s a hormone called ghrelin that controls hunger; the production of ghrelin is dependent on when you eat. (So, producing ghrelin makes you want to munch, and munching produces ghrelin…which makes you want to munch more. More than a little annoying.) Ghrelin secretion in your body happens on a schedule based on your eating times/ schedule; meaning the more often you munch, the more often you produce ghrelin, and the more often you want to munch.
All of which explains why you’re always hungry.
Fasting will be hard in the beginning, because you’ve conditioned your body to produce ghrelin on a schedule, and so just like push ups are a skill you have to push yourself to get better at. Well, fasting is requires that you “push” yourself through that hunger.
Tips to apply when Hunger comes at you like MR. T
Chew a piece of gum
Get into child’s pose
Looks odd but it totally works to do some deep inhales and exhales.
For the hardcore peeeps. If you’re at work. Go to the bathroom, splash your face and say out loud “I’m not hungry.” 5 times
Mind over matter.
Here’s the good news: ghrelin secretion begins to adapt to new eating patterns pretty quickly. Fasting helps you because you’re eating less often, which means you’ll get hungry less often. Which means
Science- y lesson over. The half glass full positive of this is that the discomfort from fasting fades quickly, and the benefits (both longterm and short term) outweigh the acute inconvenience.
Or, as I said earlier, man/ woman up.
2) But Wait! Isn’t It Bad For My Metabolismzz?
No, it isn’t. This a myth that I could write about all day, so, again, a summary. The idea that not eating will slow your metabolic rate is based of the fact the eating increases your metabolic rate; the increase occurs when you eat due to something called the Thermic Effect of Feeding(TEF) for short. So, you expend energy to break digest, absorb, and utilize the food you eat. This part is true.
Here’s the part that’s Mr myth pants: the suggestion more often you eat, the more often your metabolism will increase, therefore not eating often can lead to metabolic slowdown.
Hmmmm? Smells fishy?
For years, you’ve been told that eating 5-6 small meals per day helps you keep your metabolism elevated. Again, MYTH.
The fact is that TEF is decided by your total energy intake, not how often you eat. So, it doesn’t matter if you have 2 meals or 8, as long as you’re getting the same number of calories, the effect will be the same.
All of which is to say that a daily fast of, let’s say 16 hours, does not decrease your metabolism.
These questions surface a lot with people who practice 16/8 fasting. (As I do) In a perfect world, that model looks like this: fast for 16 hours, hit the gym, start eating. The suggested feeding window is 2-10pm; so, ideally, you train at 1pm. That’s a problem for a lot of people who have pesky things called “jobs” “kids to pick up from school” “so yeah, lives to live.”
But, simply because you can’t follow that one specific recommendation doesn’t mean you can’t utilize fasting, or get great results from it. (I don’t do it. I workout in my eating window.) Thus to that end, here are the two most common schedule concerns that I get, and my recommendations.
3) I can only train in the evening, after work. Should I wait until then to break my fast?
Depends. You can wait to break your fast if the following apply to you:
- You don’t mind eating your first meal at 6 or 7pm.
- Your workout won’t take a plunge from the extended fast.
- You won’t have an issue getting in all of your calories and macros before bed.
- You don’t think about food as a reward system for your workout which leads to binge eating.
If those situations are not an factor for you, sure, you can wait to have your first meal until after your workout. But, you don’t have to. The second road to travel down the fasting lane: is to simply break your fast at around 1pm with a moderately sized protein rich meal, have a shake or something like it a bit later than one (up to you–if I eat too much before my workout I puke), and then have some BCAAs before training at about 5:30pm. When you finish your workout, then start eating the rest of your calories.
I’ll mention that option one is probably better suited to fat loss, while option two is better for muscle gain.
4) OH MY GOSH I can only train in the morning, before work. Should I eat after? How do I handle this?????
The obvious question here is about meal timing, meal timing, meal, meal timing, meal timing, get it? So if this person finished their workout at, say, 9am, they have to make a choice and either:
- break the fast post workout, and then have an eating window of 10am-6pm. This can work, but you’re missing out on all of the nifty hormonal stuff that comes with not eating in the morning, including increased growth hormone secretion and better insulin management.
- Don’t break the fast post workout; slam some BCAA’S during workout; simply continue fasting until 1-2pm. Much easier in terms of thinking. Probably better and more effective from a hormonal standpoint. But carries with it the inevitable question about wasting the post workout window. It’s a tradeoff – can’t have everything. (More on BCAAs below).
On Breaking The Fast
5) Will XYZ Break My Fast?
I get this one as much as Red from That’s 70’s show says “how about I drive my foot into this thing called ‘your ass.” (Grossss Mannnnnn. Taking Stinky leg to a whole new level.) So People want to know what constitutes breaking a fast, and what, if any, caloric intake is acceptable.
Here’s a list of things to DO NOT break your fast:
- Black Coffee
- Green Tea
- Greens powder
- Small amounts of sugarless gum
- Sugar free liquid sweeteners (stevia and splenda) BUT LIQUID NOT POWDER
- Diet sodas
Here’s the thing- Those things are pretty much fine. But there’s always a BUT this list of grey area stuff, with a note on why gets the official rating of sometimes.
NON-BLACK COFFEE – You can add all sorts of stuff to coffee to make it either more delicious or healthier–or sometimes both. But, adding anything to coffee that has calories can potentially break your fast. A little heavy cream makes things tasty. A little coconut oil gives you some medium chain triglycerides, and you know how delicious those are.
If you have a single cup of coffee per day, this is a non-issue; but if you need 4-5 cups to get going in the morning, and you’re adding a tablespoon of cream or coconut oil to each on, that will add up. There’s no hard and fast rule, but I say just try to keep your total caloric intake below 100, even if it’s from fat. The poison, as they say, is in the dose.
DIET SODA – I don’t have a problem with diet soda or artificial sweeteners in fairly limited quantities. However, not all are created equal, and they can emit different side effects. For example, one of the sweeteners in Coke Zero is acesulfame potassium, which has been shown to be (potentially) insulinogenic; so that’s not the best choice during a fast, because you want to minimize insulin. Diet Coke, on the other hand, doesn’t have it.
Is it going to make a huge difference? Probably not. Is drinking diet soda going to kill you and make you fat, give you night terrors or herpes? Probably not. Definitely not. Still, probably best not to make it your primary liquid of choice. Again, da poison is in da dose.
BCAAs – Branched Chain Amino acids. (This ones a dooozey) A Mind blow for a number of reasons, and when it comes to fasting, most people consider them necessary. BCAAs can blunt hunger, help you build muscle and retain LBM, and allow for better workouts over all. So, why are they in the grey?
Very simply, they’re extremely insulinogenic. The production of insulin shuts down the production of growth hormone, so dosing with BCAAs may negate some of the benefits of fasting. Whether this is actually TRUTH is open to debate. Many experts recommend this; for example I’ve heard that the position of BCAAs not breaking a fast referred to as Berkhan’s Law, named for Swedish nutritionist Martin Berkhan, one of the godfathers of the IF movement.
My personal position is this: if you’re focused on insulin management (for example, during an Insulin Reset, which appears in Phase I of Engineering the Alpha), I would skip the BCAAs until after your workout. If you have good insulin management or are trying to gain muscle, go for it. It really doesn’t matter because your goals are muscle gain not fat loss.
More QUESTIONS, MOARRRRRRRR!!
I’m looking to keep this post dynamic and update it as time goes on, so feel free to drop any Q’s about fasting below, and I may write a post on them.
For now, hopefully, this post will help you as much as I know it will help me–whether you learn from the information or just refer people to it so you don’t have to keep answering these questions when people say “I heard fasting will kill you.” And then you smirk and you say “Aren’t we all gonna die??” (HE-HE-HE-HE)
Second Rule of Intermittent Fasting
We don’t talk about Intermittent Fasting because of this very reason!
Final thoughts: don’t make your diet a Religion. Be smart, be a self-experiment, and ALWAYS consult your family care doctor when making radical changes.