Fasting: Another tool in the belt

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?

  1. 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 
  2. 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). 
  3. 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
  4. 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. 
    Alternate Day Fasting

    Alternate Day Fasting (Photo credit: HealthGauge)

  • 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

 

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7 thoughts on “Fasting: Another tool in the belt

  1. I agree with this. It works well once done the right way. I am sure you heard of the book Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon. I think people are scared of the word fasting but I believe it has a lot of benefits. Happy Fasting!

  2. First, I’m male so can’t comment on your female perspective, you could very well be right. I fast for 24 hours once a week and have come to enjoy the process, finding it a welcome change from weekly life. Currently I’m searching for scientific documentation on how fasting effects the human organism. If anyone is aware of such documentation, please share it with me. Thanks in advance.

    • If you go to marksdailyapple.com and search for fasting or intermittent fasting, each of his articles links to multiple peer reviewed studies regarding fasting. He just hasn’t focused as much on the gender differences which was my focus. But from the male perspective, he is spot on and links to a lot of really good sources.

  3. My parents have been incorporating fasting into their week – normally they have 2 days where they don’t have lunch and only consume a limited number of calories on that day and they appear to love it. I’ve always wondered if it is a good idea, as I’ve always been told to not go without food for longer than about every 4 hours to keep blood sugar and motabolism in check…?

    • The metabolism aspect of eating small meals frequently is a myth. The whole “stoking the metabolic fire” thing was a conclusion that was drawn from assumption from early studies, however the metabolic effect of food is only related to the amount of food you eat and the type of food (protein is more thermogenic than fat and carbs). But the blood sugar thing is true, it just probably doesn’t have the same impact you might think it does. Keeping your blood sugar level is super important for diabetics and people again drew conclusions that it was then important for other people to do the same thing. Moderated blood sugars will keep hunger at bay and make you feel a little better, but they may actually hinder fat loss by keeping insulin in the system at all times unless you are rotating your carbs at meals (i.e. no carbs at certain times which would have similar effects as fasting). So fasting should not damage your metabolism IF (big if) your metabolism is already strong and you take precautions against losing muscle during the fast. It should in fact improve insulin sensitivity and body fat metabolism. Hope that helps 🙂

      • Wow, that was really informative! Thanks heaps for that information 🙂 It’s interesting because I’ve had both nutritionists and some PT’s tell me about the “lots of small meals to keep your blood sugar from dropping”. Shows that even they had the same misconception about it all! I may do more research into this fasting now after what you’ve said and possibly look into giving it a go myself….

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