Intermittent Fasting 101 – Beginner’s Guide

You have probably heard of intermittent fasting, one of the most recent trends in fat loss.

While some people might see it as just another fad diet, the truth is it can make a big difference in your results. I know, I used to be overweight.

When I chose to eat healthy, one of the principles I followed was intermittent fasting. Let me tell you it’s not just another fad.

If you’ve considered trying this approach, our intermittent fasting 101- beginner’s guide can help you get off to the right start.

Let’s check it out!

What Is Intermittent Fasting? 

Intermittent fasting, also known as IF, can be defined as: “a specific period of going without eating”.

So, for a specific time frame of your choosing every day, you don’t eat.

Then, when you get to a predetermined time frame, again of your choosing, you ingest all of your day’s calories. 

Types Of Intermittent Fasting

This concept first hit in 2010 when its originator, Martin Berkhan, wrote a blog entitled “Leangains” and suggested a 16-hour fasting period followed by 8 hours of eating. This is how you would eat every day.

Berkhan has written extensively on the topic and his “Leangains” version is the most popular. This approach is also known as the Time Restricted Method, and the 16/8 Method.

Of course, since 2010, there have been numerous variations of this concept. Here’s a few of the most popular:

  • Leangains Variations – As discussed above.
  • Alternate Day Fasting – In this method, you fast for 24-hours every other day. 
  • The 5-2 Method – In this method, you eat normally for 5 days and then fast for 2. 

Let’s take a look at each one:

Time-Restricted Method (or the 16/8 Method, or Leangains)

With this method, you fast for 16 hours each day and then eat during the next 8 hours.

This is the most popular type of time-restricted fasting, and it’s easy to see why – it can be easily adjusted to fit your schedule.

You can choose to fast during your work hours, and then eat when you get home, or you can begin to eat during the day and finish your last meal in the evening. As with any type of IF, you’ll want to choose your fasting window and then stay with it consistently.

Time-Restricted Examples

As noted above, Leangains is the most popular version of this style, and the original IF method. Here’s an example of how it works.

In this example, training while in a fasted state is suggested. Given that requirement, you could set it up as follows:

  • 11:30-12 am or 5-15 minutes pre-workout: You will train on an empty stomach. You can take BCAAs, the suggested amount is 10g. You are also allowed black coffee. 
  • 12-1 pm: Your workout
  • 1 pm: Your post-workout meal (this will be the largest meal of the day).
  • 4 pm: Your second meal.
  • 9 pm: Your last meal before you begin your 16 hour fast.

Reduce your calories and carbs throughout the day. Your last meal will be your smallest and should be a high protein meal.

Here’s another example that follows a slightly different eating approach: training in the morning.

  • 7:00-7:30 am: Coffee or the unsweetened beverage of your choice
  • 8:00 am, or 5-15 minutes before workout: 10g BCAAs
  • 9-10 am: Your workout
  • 10:00 am: Your post-workout meal. This will be the largest meal of the day. 
  • 12:00 pm – Your second-largest meal of the day
  • 3:00 pm – Snack
  • 5:00 pm – Your last meal before fasting. This will also be your smallest meal and should be high in protein but low in carbs.

As you can see, you may have to add snacks to reach your daily calorie requirements. 

Alternate Day 

Alternate-Day fasting means one day of fasting, followed by one day of normal eating.

This approach represents the idea of the “Every Other Day Diet”. The strict version of this approach is to eat zero calories on your fasting day, and then eat your normal diet the next day.

It needs to be noted that this should not be an excuse to pig out, rather your eating day should consist of a clean, healthy approach. Of course, most bodybuilders and athletes eat this way anyway. 

Some variations of this diet allow your fasting day to include roughly 25% of your daily calories, so you do get to eat a little. For most followers, this should consist of high protein snacks or light meals.

Regardless of which approach you choose to follow, this method can be effective.

However, the strict version is generally harder to follow than Leangains. This is because it’s hard for some people to go a full day without eating.

The 5:2 Method

This method allows 5 full days of normal eating followed by a 2 day fast. Some variations may allow a 25% intake, which should, again, be high protein snacks or light meals.

Your eating plan during the 5 days should be clean. This can also be a hard method to follow because you eat absolutely no food for a full 2 days.

The Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting

Here are some benefits you can expect from following an intermittent fasting program:

  • Increased Stimulation Of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – This is one of the body’s’ most anabolic natural hormones and promotes muscle growth as well as fat loss.
  • Improved Cellular Repair Cells (Autophagy) – This is the body’s method of cleaning damaged cells. This process may seem catabolic, but it appears to clean out toxins and other negative agents.
  • Enhanced Fat Loss, Especially Belly Fat – Excess fat in the belly is a problem even among lean individuals. IF can help enhance fat loss overall, and seems to target belly fat.
  • Improved Blood Lipid Profile – IF may help reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, lower LDL, and increase HDL.
  • Reduced Whole Body Inflammation – Body inflammation is signs of aging and illness. IF can help prevent inflammation.
  • May Support Heart Health – By reducing the risk factors of high cholesterol, as well as high blood pressure, IF promotes heart health.
  • May Support Cognitive Function – By reducing inflammation, IF supports brain health. It may also play a role in reducing depression. 

IF can provide a wide range of impressive benefits that can improve your overall quality of life. Additionally, by stimulating HGH release and enhancing fat loss, IF can help bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts achieve their goals. (1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Food Timing 

Food timing is important no matter what type of eating plan you choose to follow.

If you’re a bodybuilder or athlete, you’ll want to eat in the hours around your workout. This will help stimulate recovery and growth.

If fat loss is on your list of goals, eating right before bedtime may not be a good idea.

The Leangains method makes sense here because you taper your calories and carbs downwards as the day progresses.

This means that as your eating time frame comes to an end, you should be eating mostly protein.

That makes the most sense as far as supporting muscle preservation as you head into your fast. This also means your biggest meal is your post-workout meal, which also makes sense.

All of this leads to one important question, what about off-days?

On rest days, your first meal should be your largest, with each following meal progressively smaller. 

What Are The Downsides?

We’ve looked at three IF methods as well as the benefits of IF in general. We’ve also looked at food timing.

What about the downsides? 

If you’re a bodybuilder or athlete, you may wonder if training in a fasted state will negatively impact your workout. You aren’t going to hit any new PR’s if you train this way.

You also will not have as much energy.

If you are not a bodybuilder or athlete, you may find it difficult to exercise on an empty stomach.

While it can help with fat loss, how well you do depends on how long and how hard you train.

Getting Started 

Now that you understand the basics, including the potential downsides, let’s look at the steps you’ll need to take to get started on an IF program.

Step 1: Choose When You Want To Fast

Most people start with the 16/8 (Leangains) plan.

As noted above, this is a plan that can be easily customized to fit your schedule.

You’ll fast for 16 hours every day and then eat within an 8-hour window. It’s important to note that the time you spend sleeping counts as time spent fasting.

One example of a 16-hour fasting window could go from 7 pm to 11 am the next day.

Following this plan, you would eat your last meal at 7 in the evening. This is the smallest meal of the day.

You would then have your first meal at 11 am the next day. This should be your post-workout meal, which is always your largest meal of the day.

Of course, this is just a suggestion, you can set up your fasting and meal times however you want, as long as you fast for 16 hours and eat the next 8.

Remember that if you decide to eat your last meal at night, it should be a few hours before you go to bed.

Step 2: Set Your Eating Times

Regardless of your goals, you don’t want to set unrealistic expectations. Think about how you currently eat.

Let’s say that right now you eat 3 times a day.

If you currently eat soon after waking up and have your last meal around 6 pm, this would be a 12-14 hour eating time frame.

Depending on your chosen IF program, you may need to consider waiting a few hours to eat your first meal. Then you could eat your last meal at the end of your eating period.

Remember to allow a few hours before going to bed.

If you decided to follow an alternate day, or the 5:2 method, you won’t have to worry as much about food timing. You would eat normally while making sure you follow a diet clean, high protein diet.

As we have noted, you’ll want to taper your calories and carbs as the day progresses. It’s assumed that most IF followers want to lose fat. A bulking diet may not work well with the time constraints of IF.

Step 3: Measure Your Progress

It’s always a good idea to measure your progress. IF can help stimulate muscle growth, so you may find that you’re gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time.

Therefore, the scale will not change much. In light of this, you should use a mirror, and also take advantage of the following measurement tools:

Photos

Take progress photos every week. A good set of photos can be a great motivator. You can see changes and improvements in your physique very easily. You’ll find that photos will show the progress your scale doesn’t. 

Appetite & Energy

You should find that you’re not as hungry as you used to be leading up to your first meal of the day. You may also find you have plenty of energy during the day and sleep better at night. These are all the positive side effects of a good IF program.

Measurements

Taking regular measurements is like taking photos. They can tell you a lot about your progress. Maybe you’re a bodybuilder tracking your progress as you prepare for your next competition.

Perhaps you’re a fitness-minded individual on a successful fat loss journey. Either way, measurements matter. By following all of these examples, you can see and accurately track your progress. 

FAQs

Here are the answers to the most FAQs about intermittent fasting.

What Can I Drink?

It’s OK to drink unsweetened, calorie-free beverages. These include water, black coffee, or unsweetened tea. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important for good hydration. Of course, you should drink water liberally even during your fast. 

What Supplements Can I Take?

You can take BCAAs or creatine during your fast to help promote muscle preservation. Otherwise, take everything else you use during your eating period.

For example, a multivitamin is absorbed better with food. Of course, a pre-workout is used close to your training session.

Protein powder can only be used during your eating period. Any tablet or capsule product should be taken with food to promote better absorption.

Should I Work Out While Fasting?

Yes, you should, but remember your strength and endurance will be limited. However, you will burn more fat if you train in a fasted state. Use BCAAs to preserve muscle, and stop if you begin to feel light-headed or dizzy.

Will I Lose Muscle Mass While Fasting?

You may, but if you do not ingest BCAAs and keep your meals high in protein during your eating period, you can minimize muscle loss. Studies indicate that intermittent fasting leads to less muscle loss when compared to regular low-calorie diets (8).

Will Fasting Slow Down My Metabolism?

You may have heard that going without food for too long can lead to a slower metabolism. Studies indicate that this typically happens if you fast for 3 days or longer. A few studies have indicated that short-term fasting, as used in IF programs, may speed up your metabolism (9).

Can I Fast While On a Diet?

The type of diet you should be following anyway is a clean, low carb, high protein approach. Many diets of this type cycle carb intake. IF is not so much a diet as it is an eating pattern. That means it can be combined with specific diets like Paleo, Keto, or other low carb diet. Intermittent fasting can increase the effectiveness of these diets.

Conclusion

Of course, as with any eating strategy, the best choice is always the one you can live with long-term.

Intermittent fasting can be an effective investment in your overall health and well-being.

It can be an effective eating plan for bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts. It can also be a good choice for any health-conscious person looking to eat better and live a better life. 

If you decide to try IF, we suggest the Leangains Method. It’s easy to start and easy to follow.

Chances are, you’ll stick with it.

Give it a shot and see how it works for you!

References:

  1. Hartman, ML, et al. “Augmented Growth Hormone (GH) Secretory Burst Frequency and Amplitude Mediate Enhanced GH Secretion during a Two-Day Fast in Normal Men.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, vol. 74, no. 4, 1 Apr. 1992, pp. 757–765., academic.oup.com/jcem/article-abstract/74/4/757/3004645.
  2. De Bont, R, and N van Larebeke. “Endogenous DNA Damage in Humans: a Review of Quantitative Data.” Oxford Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 May 2004, academic.oup.com/mutage/article/19/3/169/1482185.
  3. Johnson, James B., et al. “Alternate Day Calorie Restriction Improves Clinical Findings and Reduces Markers of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Overweight Adults with Moderate Asthma.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Pergamon Press, 14 Dec. 2006, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S089158490600801X.
  4. Zauner, Christian, et al. “Resting Energy Expenditure in Short-Term Starvation Is Increased as a Result of an Increase in Serum Norepinephrine.” Oxford Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 June 2000, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/71/6/1511/4729485.
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095528630400261X
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S193152441400200X
  7. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.0022-3042.2001.00747.x
  8. Varady, K A. “Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss?.” Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 12,7 (2011): e593-601. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00873.x
  9. Zauner, C et al. “Resting energy expenditure in short-term starvation is increased as a result of an increase in serum norepinephrine.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 71,6 (2000): 1511-5. doi:10.1093/ajcn/71.6.1511
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