Intermittent Fasting

Yes I do <3 <3 Doctor Who.

Yes I do ❤ ❤ Doctor Who

So this post was promised quite a while ago. But then I have been suffering from a severe bout of laziness and basically haven’t been writing or doing anything much except watching the new episodes of Sherlock, Doctor Who and Merlin and basically flexing my anglophile muscles. Yes I am in fact a huge geek and very proud of it. I have proudly converted my sister and brother to Whovians. But that’s not why you are here (but do go explore BBC and become obsessed with these shows), you are here to find out more about fitness.

If you follow me on instagram you may have caught that a little while ago I did a N1 (self) experiment with intermittent fasting. I had a couple of reasons for this (1) I had been eating a lot at night and naturally was drifting away from eating as much in the morning (2) it seemed like a good cutting tool and I wanted to do a “dry run” before actual cutting season to see if it suited me.

Before I get in to how the week went, here are some resources if you are thinking about giving it a try yourself.

 IF’s impact on women

Bulletproof Coffee and how it improves hormone response (especially in women)

Mark Sisson’s take on IF

Precision Nutritions “How To” on IF

Based on the reading I had done, intermittent fasting (IF) seems to work better for men than it does for women for a few different reasons. But most of the problems seem to come from extended fasting windows. So I chose to only do 15-16 hour fasts.

There are different ways of structuring your days on IF. Ideally, I would have worked out toward the end of my fasting window and then ate the biggest meal right after that. But I work and stuff haha, so that was not really an option. Instead I tried to stop eating between 8-9 pm and then just had coffee in the morning  (more on that later) until 12ish. I would eat based on my macro and calorie goals during the 8 hour window. I worked out after work 3 of those days and in one case it was a late workout and I did not eat after… the horror!

Because I`m a huge nerd (as well as the aforementioned geek) I actually took notes on how I felt and what happened each day so I could take you through it.

Day 1

This was not too hard of a day. I had lots of distractions at work until 12 when I broke my fast with a large meal including a fair amount of carbs. I did limit my total calorie intake this day to about 1500 as I had over eaten the day before. I found that my brain was not quite as quick as it normally is, especially throughout the morning. I don’t think it got the signal to “wake up” and things were just a little harder to process than normal. After work I went to the gym and had a good workout, not my best, but I definitely didn’t feel that I had less energy or anything. I had a meal after I worked out and stopped eating around 8 PM.

Overall this was a good day and I felt good for the majority of it.

Day 2

I woke up and was not particularly hungry but was feeling very fuzzy headed. I tried to make do with a cup or 2 of coffee with some 10% cream (which should not affect your fasted state), but I was still really struggling to think straight. Again, I broke my fast around 12, a little after 12 as I was in a meeting and had a large meal with some carbs. I had about 1800 cals today, but even with the increase food my brain felt a little lethargic. My boyfriend and I planned to go to Muay Thai this evening which is from 8 – 9:30 so I decided to not eat afterwards to keep my eating window consistent. I was surprised that I did not feel particularly hungry afterwards and went to bed no problem on an empty stomach. This is NOT ideal and I would recommend trying to avoid this if you want to retain as much muscle as possible.

This day was significantly harder.

Day 3

Enjoying my Bulletproof Coffee before work

Enjoying my Bulletproof Coffee before work

In order to combat the “fuzzy brain” feeling of the past 2 days I had a bulletproof coffee (really just coconut oil and coffee and noticed an immediate improvement. I also noticed that I was even less hungry through the morning. I would HIGHLY recommend using this if you plan on trying IF. I did not work out today, but instead saw my family. I was able to eat a bigger meal as you are fitting all of your calories into a smaller time frame. So it was nice to be able to eat a sizable portion with family.

This was the easiest day so far, but as there was no workout, it was hard to tell what my energy levels would have been.

Day 4

I again had a bulletproof coffee and felt amazing all day. I had about 2000 calories as I had lost about 1.5 pounds at this point and did not want to continue losing… it is the building season after all! I did a leg workout after work and wasn’t really feeling it, but more likely from lack of sleep that a disruption in my normal eating habits. I did find today a little hard to fast until 12 and because I got home later my eating didn’t end until around 9. I still consider that a successful day.

This day was about on part with Wednesday, thought the morning was a bit harder.

Day 5

The final day of my little experiment. My boyfriend and I had to drive to Ottawa that night which made the evening a little difficult, but nothing too bad. I just made sure to pack food for the road and stop eating at 8. I also made sure not to eat anything once I got to our destination which is a bad habit of mine. The morning of this day was the easiest by far. I had another bulletproof coffee and loved it, and had lots of energy. I think my body had started to adapt at this point and expect that food was coming, just not yet.

In total I think it was a very successful experiment. I feel that with more consistency, my body would get used to that eating schedule and it would not be a mental struggle. But the first 2-3 days were quite difficult. It would definitely be a good cutting strategy as it’s a lot easier to avoid overeating with a shortened eating period. I have not decided if it’s a tool I will be using, but it’s nice to have in the arsenal.

An added perk was that I could sleep in because I didn’t have to worry about breakfast in the morning… which is very appealing to me!

Overall, it’s NOT something I would recommend to someone who just wants to lose a few pounds or shift to a healthier lifestyle. This is really something I would recommend to a person who wants increased control and is already well educated about diet and exercise and how those things affect their own body. I think you need to have an awareness of your own needs first so that you can evaluate whether this is helping you reach your goals WHILE having a happy life. No one wants to say “Oh I can’t eat right now, it’s not my eating window”.

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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

 

Nutrient Timing

If you are new to fitness you might be asking what the heck nutrient timing is, let alone how to do it. But if you’ve been around the gym a little while and seen someone frantically smash a banana in their face between swig of a protein shake before they even step out of the gym, you probably have some idea about nutrient timing.

Nutrient timing is simple in concept – all it is, is eating certain types and amounts of food in a scheduled way around you activities in order to maximize their effect on your goals. Actually, even that definition sounds complicated, I take it back. It’s complicated. But it boils down to “when should I eat for maximum effect?”.

Well you are going to have a heck of a hard time finding a simple answer to that questions, lots of people have different approaches including fasted cardio, carb only in the morning, stopping eating before 7pm etc. But there are a few approaches that most people can follow and improve their results dramatically. I’ll lay them out for you based on the goals you might have.

Goal: Get big muscles, fast!

– Eat many small meals a day to keep your body anabolic (storing calories).

– Eat the majority of your carb intake in the form of a moderate to slow acting carb 60 mins prior to working out (think fruit or a potato) – this should be 30-40% of your daily carb intake

– Eat a portion (10 – 20% of daily intake) of fast acting carb like a banana or even gatorade can work WITH a fast digesting protein like whey powder within 30 minutes post workout

Goal: Get Lean, keep muscle

– If you choose to, do 20-30 mins of steady state cardio before eating anything. Pre workout supplements and BCAAs can be taken prior to the cardio session to improve energy and recovery. This is a method that works well, but is not for everyone as it saps your energy pretty fast.

– Eat the majority of your carbs around your workout, but overall carb intake should be lower than maintenance levels.

– Eat a moderate acting carb 60 mins before your workout

– Eat a fast acting protein like whey within 30 mins post workout – carbs at this point are optional and can help recovery if you had a really tough workout, but if you are looking to lean out, leaving out the cars at this point is beneficial

Goal: Get really strong and/or fast

– Eat carbs… like all the time. But particularly eat carbs before a tough workout.

– Eat a large serving of carbs before bed the night before a hard workout

– Ensure that you are getting fast acting carbs before AND after a workout within 30 mins of each

– May be beneficial to supplement with carbs (sugar) during long workouts

– Eat a fast acting protein within 30 mins of a workout

The PWO meal

The PWO meal

You may have noticed the carbs are the main nutrient that is involved with nutrient timing, and protein is really only mentioned post workout. This is typical, but can be confusing. Many people get into the trouble because they take these guideline ON TOP of their existing diet. Well that’s NOT how this works. This is about timing only, you should be deciding you total calorie and macro intake separate from all this stuff and in line with your goals. After you have those number you should allocate the macros and calories to fit into the nutrient timing for the particular goal. For instance, I want to lean out slowly while maintaining muscle, first I should determine my calories and macros for that goal. Currently that is as follows:

Calories – 1800-2000

Protein – 130-150 grams

Carbs – 100 – 180 grams (varies depending on workout or rest day)

Fat – 50 – 100 grams

Now that I have those numbers, I take into consideration my nutrient timing. I don’t like fasted morning cardio, so I don’t worry about that. I usually workout after work so a typical day would looks like this:

Breakfast – Cals 300-400, P 20g, F-10g, C 25-40g

Snack – Cals 250, P 20g, F 5g, C 20g

Lunch – Cals 400-500, P 30g, F 5-15g, C10-40 g

Pre WO – (banana or other fruit) 100 cals, C 20-30g

Post WO – (protein shake) 150 cals, P 25g

Dinner – Cals 400-500, P 30-40g, F 10-20g, C 10-20g (mostly from veggies)

Of course there is lots of variability, but you can see I am within my calorie and macro targets as well as hitting my nutrient timing and that is the key. You should not be adding or subtracting anything in order to hit the timing goals, only moving things around within your existing framework. That’s where the magic happens! 🙂

 

Post birthday effects

Well my birthday weekend was amazing! It was fun-filled and not very healthy. I believe in moderation and treating yourself reasonably… but when it’s your birthday it’s hard to apply even a little bit of moderation. This was my weekend:

Bailey’s was my favourite until I discovered Coureur des Bois, it’s maple flavoured Irish cream liqueur!

Friday: Bowling with friends – sounds innocuous, but of course there was drinking. Nothing too bad, a couple Bailey’s and some spiced rum and diet coke (a favourite combination of mine). I was good with eating all through the day and even had a big salad for dinner. But come 11:30 I was starving and wanted nachos… because nachos are the best. These particular ones were smothered in cheese and I ate probably more than my fair share.

Saturday: This was my boyfriend’s day with me to himself. We attempted to make these diet pancakes, but they were sticking to the pan like crazy until with switched to butter instead of coconut oil. That seemed to work better. Then I got surprised with going to see War Horse, which was super sad, followed by dinner at Brassaii. I had Oysters to start, Bison Tenderloin with a wine reduction sauce, fingerling potatoes, broccolini and king oyster mushrooms as my main and a chai pot de cream for dessert. The Dessert was nothing spectacular, but the rest of the meal was to die for! The bison had a bone marrow crust that gave it the perfect amount of saltiness, cooked to perfection and oh so tender! We then went to the Sheepdogs’ concert and met up with my family. Such a wonderful day, and not that unreasonable as far as the diet goes.

Happy Birthday to meat!

I also got the meat that I ordered from Brooker’s delivered Saturday morning… happy birthday to me!

Sunday: This was the kicker. It started out with some gluten-free French Toast made with what is left of the loaf from this post, accompanied with some pasture raised peameal bacon, so that was good. Then we went to Ikea and picked up a wardrobe for our new apartment which was my birthday present/housewarming gift from my wonderful parents. Then out to Bowmanville for apple picking! I love apple picking, it’s such a very fall thing to do, and they had Honey Crisp apples which are my absolute favourite… they are huge and sweeter than most apples. Back to my parents house with my uncle’s family and my Grandma for an absolute feast of guacamole, steak, corn on the cob, roasted sweet potatoes, grilled veggies and some wonderful red wines including Amarone. For dessert, as always, I requested Angel Food cake… this is not gluten-free, but it is my favourite all time dessert, airy and sweet and moist. My Grandma’s been making this since the 1940’s and my Mom uses the same amazing recipe. I think I ate half a cake and lo and behold, I had a major stomach ache because of it. I don’t recommend huge doses of gluten even on your birthday, if you are sensitive to gluten, but it was heavenly (pun intended).

So that brings us to today. I am a little less than 6 weeks out from my competition and have just had a majorly unhealthy weekend which has upped my weight by about 4 pounds (yes, this is mostly water). Should I feel guilty? I don’t think so, it was my birthday, and I indulged more than I ought to, but that’s life. So what should I do about it?

Well for starters, I am getting right back into eating clean. I am lowering my carbs a lot this week as I ate a lot of carbs over the weekend. Today, I am fasting until I feel properly hunger, I woke up still absolutely stuffed from last night, so I just took my vitamins, Bio K (probiotic), and had some water. I am writing this with a coffee in hand and still am not in the least bit hungry at 10 am; considering I usually eat at 7am this is unusual. If you look at my Tips and Tricks you will see I never recommend skipping meals to make up for overindulging. Feeling guilty about eating will make you resentful and you will probably enjoy those indulgences less. But fasting can be useful if it is not tied to guilt.

I have been doing some research on different fasting protocols, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s a lifestyle I want, there are some definite benefits. A major reason I am fasting today is because of the amount of gluten I ingested over the weekend. My organs are actually in pain (not exaggerating) because I was basically giving them poison. Fasting can be very therapeutic and cleansing in a case like this where you have just taxed your digestive system. Giving it a break from processing anything, even good food, allows it to deal with all the crap you just fed it and reset. Then when your next meal is full of nutrients, your body will be ready to handle them and will process it much more effectively.

If you want to learn more about different fasting protocols there are lots of websites out there, but I found the Precision Nutrition summary to be particularly well researched and informative. An important thing to mention if you are going to try intermittent fasting is that nutrient timing around exercise to still very important. Typically, people following a fasting protocol will exercise either fasted, or with a small meal before exercise near the end of the fast, followed by a large meal right after the exercise. This limits muscle wasting and makes the best use of calories in that magical hour after exercise where your body processes food like a machine.

So to summarize:

  • birthdays are for indulging and I did;
  • feeling guilty about food is bad and leads to problems down the road;
  • gluten is evil and makes my stomach hurt when it should be enjoying angel food cake afterglow;
  • fasting can be beneficial for getting rid of evil gluten and helping to get your body back on track if you don’t link it to emotions.

That’s all for today folks!