Posted on 2018-11-03
Here’s my beginner’s guide to fasting – don’t do it!
No seriously, if you’re a beginner, don’t, it’s not for you. I define a beginner as some who is overweight, has never managed to stick with any kind of exercise and has just made a few attempts in their life with trendy crash diets they've read in magazines. If this sounds relatable then this will just be another phase for you. The likelihood is that at present your body isn’t capable of operating in the fat-burning state that is required for you to function properly when fasted. You also probably have an unhealthy relationship with food and no concept of how many calories or how much sugar is in what you eat, so, when you come out of each fast you’re likely to binge, and actually make fasting detrimental. You’ll likely view periods without eating as “starving yourself” in a desperate attempt to lose fat and fix your health-sins thus far as opposed to fasting.
However, if you’re someone who appreciates food as something our bodies need to operate optimally, and not just a means of setting off receptors and giving you a feel-good kick; if you’re someone who is capable of removing carbohydrates from their diet as and when they wish, and doesn’t presently consume simple sugars regularly; if you’re doing it to enhance your health, as an experiment with eating and your relationship with habits, self-restraint and meal regularity… Then read on.
Let me tell you why I did it. I hit puberty late and have never had particularly high natural testosterone or growth hormones (GH) levels. Putting on muscle has always been tough, and so has burning subcutaneous fat in areas like my arms and legs. I was spending way too much time and money on prepping / buying food. I was looking for something that would shock my system and help make me more efficient.
I was also a bit sick of being so food-dependent. From years of attempting to put on mass through a calorie surplus and 4-8 meals a day, I had conditioned my system to need food constantly, and my mood was usually shocking if I had to go more than 2 hours without food. This was fine when I had a desk job, employed for someone else, but it was affecting my productivity as an entrepreneur and a PT coaching back-to-back sessions.
But really, aside from everything else, I wanted to try it out. As a PT you can’t experiment on your clients with stuff that’s fairly new and doesn’t apply to everyone, so I used myself as a dummy.
Other reasons to do it:
Insulin is commonly referred to as one of the predominant hormone in your body and, surprise surprise, it’s mainly triggered by your food intake – particularly your carbohydrate consumption. In order to ensure your body removes excess sugars from your blood stream, your pancrease releases insulin to tell your cells to accept glucose for conversion into energy and ensure that any fats consumed are stored for later. However, if you constantly have sugar being digested and pumped into your blood stream your body becomes “bored’ of this process and only releases insulin when your blood sugar levels are reallllly high – which is unhealthy, and bad for energy management. Optimal health consists of your insulin release being as sensitive as possible, removing toxic sugars from your system as efficiently as possible, and prolonged periods without any food whatsoever re-sensitises your body to dealing with blood sugar.
Put simply: Not giving your body ANY carbs by not consuming calories makes it more sensitive to managing them when you do.
Fasting supercharges your brain activity and results in the production of a protein called BDNF which effectively stimulates neural hypertrophy. Not only that, but it increases your focus due to a reduction in the constant stimulus that your receptors are subjected to with food (and for many, alcohol & drugs, including caffeine). You can literally feel it. The overdrive feeling of having to think harder than usual to “survive” can be channelled into your day-to-day life.
Put simply: Let your brain focus on development as opposed to food processing.
Human Growth Hormone
HGH breaks down glycogen to increase blood glucose, pumping it into the blood stream for immediate energy in the opposite effect to what insulin does. When one eats all the time and glucose is abundant in the blood stream, this isn’t necessary, so it only tends to be released just before waking when one has been asleep (fasted) for several hours and needs an energy boost to wake up. However, during fasting, this process takes place throughout the day, giving you constant bursts of HGH when glucose levels have been low for too long. In terms of muscle building, naturally stimulated HGH levels aren’t sufficient for a noticeable difference but, as I’ve found myself, slight increases have been proven to assist in fat burning and shortening your recovery time. It has also been shown to strengthen your joints and ligaments and heal damaged tissue.
Put simply: Forcing your body to convert stored sugars into energy is good for you.
Live Longer, and Less Inflamed
When your body enters a more of effective cannabalism called "autophagy" your cells create membranes that hunt down scraps of dead, diseased, or obsolete cells, break them down and use their molecules for energy or to make new cells. This is a brilliant renerative process that has also been shown to have a knock-on effect in lab tests with regards to reducing inflammation, cancer risk & life expectancy.
Put simply: When your body isn't busy dealing with digesting your food it sets about doing some spring cleaning.
So what qualifies as fasting? For most one enters a “fasted state” after not consuming calories for more than 12 hours. That’s right, no food, protein shakes, green juices or cappuccinos. NOTHING with CALORIES in it.
This article is exploring “wet fasts” ie, no calories, but you can (and are encouraged to) drink water.
16 : 8 – Mr Consistent, great for weightloss
Great for those with a pretty regular lifestyle and routine. Eating through an 8 hour window of your day, and fasting for 16. You can tailor that window around what meals you value the most, and when you tend to have the most time to eat, but most people tend to skip breakfast and start eating at lunchtime, finishing up with dinner – it just sits in line with when our hormone levels are designed to make us hungry. The reason most people eat breakfast is purely habit that stems from a lifetime of marketing that has told us it’s the most important meal of the day, a lie created by Nestle and Kellog’s to sell you as much of their turd-in-a-bowl as possible.
This doesn’t work for me for a few reasons though. Firstly, I don’t have enough control over my schedule. I often teach throughout the day and don’t have time to break fast at a regular time, or I don’t finish until 10pm and that’s when I have to eat dinner. Secondly, I drink too often. Alcohol is still calories and these usually are consumed outside of what my eating window would be – after 8pm.
5 : 2 – If you can’t do NO food, but are ok with nibbles.
The numbers now refer to days, not hours. 5 days a week you eat as per usual, then for 2 days a week you eat only 500 calories. I’m not really going to go into this 1, because I don’t really see how it works for anyone, and if you’re going to eat only 500 calories I don’t see why you wouldn’t just do 24/7. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked for people and is nonsense. If you think you can keep your calories at that level without finding it intensely frustrating and it fits your lifestyle, then try it! I’d love to hear what you think.
P.s. Make sure you know EXACTLY how many calories you’re eating and have planned out (even prepped) your consumption for these two days. You can’t guesswork 500 calories or I guarantee you’ll end up significantly over it.
24 / 7 – For the erratically busy, or the bulkers
Once a week, 24hrs. I usually do this on Mondays and I think it works an absolute charm. First day of the week, no need to waste 3hrs of my day on making and eating food (you’ll be surprised how many hours we waste if you really take the time to tally it up), and a great way to reset the gut after the weekend – especially if it’s included a fair bit of booze. You really feel the brain effects of the fast 20hrs in, and for me this comes on Monday afternoon; which is primetime. The only thing I would say about doing 24hrs this way is that, having tested it, I often don’t see the point in eating dinner on Monday, when you can just smash a load of water, go to bed, and eat when you wake up on Tuesday morning – having killed a 30-36hr fast (depending on what time you wrapped up on Sunday. Sleeping is the best way to get through the tough hours of a fast and this is a prime example. Maybe every 2 weeks you’d be keen on attempting to hit the same calorie deficit by doing 48hrs… or you could build even further to…
The Big 7.2. – For the healthy fatties who don’t train that hard
Popular amongst those that aren’t obsessively active and have a fair bit of extra body fat stores to burn through, or are generally bad at sticking to regular fasting… we have 72hr fasts. Again, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this, nor is it something that should be done as regularly as weekly, but it can be an equally effective monthly reset. If you’ve already got a good diet and have managed 24 and 48 hour fasts well, but are shifting a history of being overweight then give this a go. I’ve not tried this, but I know a couple of people who have to good effect.
Anecdotally, this is also used for bodybuilders who have fried their systems with long periods of food and drug over-usage. I’m not a doctor and am in no position to prescribe such things, but if you’re in that box then do your research and give it a go.
So, just don’t eat yeah?
Pretty much… But you need to build to it slowly. I’d recommend just starting with eating breakfast later and later until you don’t eat until lunch, 16hrs after the previous dinner. And then start eating dinner the night before earlier and earlier and… hey presto! You’ve taught yourself to go 24hrs without eating. From here on the process of extending any further than that is up to what works for you and your life / tummy.
Tips & FAQs
Lots of it. It keeps you full, and you’ll need to stay hydrated because when you’re fasting you piss like a freaking racehorse. I like to add lemon to it, just for a bit of taste to get rid of hunger pangs.
Does black coffee count?
Honestly, I’m not a massive fan of coffee in general, and I feel most are wayyyy to dependent on it (just like food). If you’re only doing 16:8 then it probably works well to boost your metabolic rate and make the most of that 16hr period, plus it helps you keep that element of “breakfast” to your mornings. However, if you’re going longer than this then I’d recommend taking it as an opportunity to learn to do without coffee and take advantage of the natural alertness that fasting for long periods gives you. Past 16hr you may also not want to be getting coffee involved – it could make things more difficult. The point of fasting is to let your body rest from dealing with food and hit reset – there are still digestable enzymes that need to be dealt with in black coffee and you’re sending your brain into overdrive. Let’s address two addictions at once shall we?
How do I fight hunger?
Brush your teeth. Seriously, it proper kills your appetite. Don’t go ham 5 times a day with a full brush – we’re not trying to kill anyone’s gums or enamel here – just a wee scrub.
I’ve got a headache! I’m dizzy!
Calm down, your electrolytes are just low. A pinch of pink Himalayan Rock Salt under the tongue will address this, watch your mood suddenly perk up. Remember that brain hypertrophy we talked about? There's also some fairly complex stuff going on upstairs so have a nap if you need to; there’s some serious spring cleaning going on in your body at the moment.
So I’ve fasted, how do I not mess it up by eating wrongly when I break fast?
FATS. Yo! When you haven’t eaten for a long period of time, your insulin is sensitive af (that was part of the point of this, remember??) so don’t go throwing sugar at it! If you’re using fasting as a means of resensitising your insulin response after a lifetime of sugar abuse and your ONLY goal is to lose weight… then we need to stick to fats at breakfast and bring in slow-release carbs later in the day – preferably before bed to facilitate sleepiness. Honestly, now’s not the time to teach you what foods are fat based and what carbs are. Google it. Or I’ll cover it some other time.
HOWEVER. Anyone who’s trying to build muscle needs to understand that a driven insulin response is a good thing, especially if you’re using it to facilitate nutrient replenishment in your muscles post-workout. Provided you’ve not done an exxxxtreeemely long fast I’d recommend training with bare minimum Amino Acids (overdo these and your body will convert them into sugars, breaking fast accidentally), finishing up 30-60mins before your lunch meal… and LOADING it with carbs. Ever wondered why bodybuilders inject themselves with insulin? A post-training spike is beneficial and only lasts for a few hours. Use it to your advantage.
One thing I didn’t tailor my fasting to was my activity levels and bodyfat percentage. When I moved up to 48hr fasts it actually became detrimental. At 9% bodyfat, I don’t have the easily accessible bodyfat stores to tap into when I run low, and I run low much quicker than most with teaching for up to 4hrs a day and training very hard for over an hour a day. In the space of a 48hr fast I can easily get through 6-8hrs of medium level exercise and 2-3 hours of intense training - more than most do in the space of a week. As a result, my calorie deficit was tough to recover and my systems weren’t able to cope. I didn’t understand this at first as, mentally, I felt amazing; it was like some sort of natural drug… But when my muscle mass started dropping despite getting stronger and I started getting injured, I looked back at the pattern and made the connection. You need to bear this in mind when deciding when to time your fasts and how long to do them for.
Lastly, please chill out. If you can’t do 16:8 one day because of a social commitment then just don’t. If you were meant to do your 24 hour fast on Monday but you can’t then find another day that week. I like to count my fasted hours (those from 12 onwards) and try to just ensure I get my weekly total in somehow if I slip up.
And listen to your body. If you’re in a slump and are tired but need to be in the gym in half an hour then break your fast with some brain-fuel. Sometimes it’s not worth having a shit session just to stick to a fasting number. Make up the hours some other time when it feels right.
Good luck, and feel free to message us on instagram if you've tried it and have questions!