I am sure many of you in the fitness arena have heard of fasting or intermittent fasting, maybe you have even experimented with it. I have been doing a lot of research on it and a while back tried the lean gains protocol (back before competition prep started) but I didn’t find it suited me. Nonetheless I thought I would give my perspective on fasting protocols and how they fit or don’t fit into a fitness lifestyle.
Firstly, for women I think fasting is a lot harder both physiologically and psychologically than it is for men.
Physically, women are not made to fast for as long as easily as men. We generally have a harder time transitioning to burning fat for fuel for one. But what is more concerning is that fasting seems to have a negative impact on our hormonal balance leading to potentially negative consequences on reproductive health as well as general mood issues.
Psychologically, many women have or still suffer from eating disorders, myself included. A major concern of mine with the proliferation of fasting is that women will use this as a socially acceptable reason not to eat. It’s very convenient to say that a meal is “not in your eating window” for the day, but then just not eat at all, or not eat enough. And we don’t need more excuses for disordered eating.
So in general I think that if a woman is thinking about intermittent fasting it should either be done occasionally, or with a shorter fast or 14-16 hours only and not the 20 hours recommended by some protocols.
That being said, fasting can be a great tool to use in certain circumstances.
For instance, over the weekend I overindulged both calorically and with the amount of sodium I had. I felt very bloated and lethargic, so decided to embark on a single 24 hour fast. It’s important to note that although my fast was for a longer period of time, I have no intention of repeating it within the next few weeks. Many protocols recommend a 24 hour fast once per week… I think I would die. At the earliest I might fast again in 2 weeks, and that’s extremely unlikely.
So why would I do this?
- Firstly, I did NOT do this as a punishment for overeating on the weekend… there was ZERO negative self talk about my indulgences on the weekend, only fond reminiscences of delicious chicken wings…. mmmmmmmmm
- Fasting gives your digestive system a “rest”. It gives your system a chance to process all the food that is already in it without having to deal with the next things coming in. The is especially nice if you have eaten lots of hard to digest foods like meat and nuts (like I did).
- I took extra vitamins and BCAAs to help my body with cleansing itself, which helped my system process everything in it already as well as limiting the potential for losing muscle during my fast
- It helps to restore glucose sensitivity if you have been eating a lot of carbs as you will not have any carbs throughout the entire day, keeping your insulin low and helping to deplete some of you glycogen stores and help burn some extra fat throughout the day.
It’s important to plan your fast to have the most benefit and do the least amount of damage.
- If you plan on working out during your fast, try to workout at the end of your fast and eat right afterwards to limit muscle breakdown.
- Sip BCAAs throughout the day and especially during your workout again, to avoid muscle breakdown
- Take supplements that help to detox the body like vitamin C in order to aid in the fasting’s cleanse
- Take supplements that will help maintain electrolyte balance like magnesium
If you are smart about it, fasting can be a great tool in your diet, but you have to make sure you physically and mentally prepare for a successful fast and don’t ever use a fast as a negative.
Here is a fabulous article about fasting for women from Paleo for Women