If you’ve been in the health and fitness game for a while, especially in the last 5 years you had to have heard about intermittent fasting.
Coming from a background in natural bodybuilding, I of course thought it was simply a new weight loss fad that would gain a bit of popularity for a while and then die back down and cease to exist. And also due to my bodybuilding background, I was worried that if I changed things up from the norm and started eating differently it would cause me to lose the muscle that I worked so hard to gain over the course of 8 years or so. I mean, it’s worked for so long so why change it!? So despite all of the research that backed up the claims of the many benefits of infrequent eating, I chocked intermittent fasting up to a waste of time and continued with what I knew had worked for me in the past and threw any ideas of missing meals (especially breakfast!!) on the back burner.
That was at least until the summer of 2015 when doing research on how to increase my body’s natural testosterone. I was showing some of the signs and symptoms of low T and a blood test showed that my body’s levels were on the decline, so I turned to a few trusted sources on the internet to get some information on how to fix my problems without the use of drugs. I stumbled on a very informative men’s health blog called anabolicmen.com, and much to my surprise amongst many other diet and lifestyle changes, intermittent fasting was one of the methods promoted to stay lean and get your testosterone back in working order!
After a little more research on the subject, I found that a lot of other reputable guys in the fitness industry were still using this method of eating so I finally gave in and decided to give it a try. It was hard at first of course as it was a big change from the way that I was used to eating, but over time it only became easier. And the results it had on my body composition blew me away! Getting and staying ripped was now so simple it was almost stupid, and I hadn’t lost one bit of muscle. I actually wish that I’d tried it during my competitive bodybuilding run, as it would have made leaning out just a bit easier.
*Note: I’m no doctor or medical expert, just a guy who’s into health and fitness sharing experiences. So anything published on SweetMachineFitness.com is not meant to be taken as medical advice or a substitute for it. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before making any changes to lifestyle in regards to health, fitness, eating, or supplementation.*
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is less of fad diet or get ripped scheme and more of a change in eating patterns. Rather than the typical 5-6 small meals spaced evenly apart day in and day out as many fitness gurus suggest, you’ll go through periods where you’ll eat nothing at all, followed by a period of eating. This can be done in many ways, depending on personal preference and lifestyle needs.
One of the most popular methods of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 method made popular by Martin Berkhan of Leangains, as well as Greg O Gallagher from Kinobody. It’s what I follow personally, and have found to be the easiest and most enjoyable. With this style of intermittent fasting, you’ll fast for 16-18 hours (which does includes sleep thank God!) followed by an 6-8 hour eating window where I’ll take in all of my daily calories in 1-3 large meals before going to bed for the night. Some people follow the clock and wait to eat their first meal of the day exactly 16 hours after their final meal the night before, but in my opinion watching the clock like that can be rigid and stressful. What I’ve found best for me is to just skip breakfast and not eat anything until lunch time. If I get hungry before that I’ll eat something low in calories, such as a piece of fruit or a couple eggs.
Another popular method is Brad Pilon’s Eat-Stop-Eat method. With this eating pattern, you’ll eat like normal for a few days followed a full 24 hour fast once or twice a week. So if the last meal of the someone’s day was finished at 7pm, they won’t eat again until 7pm the next day. Pretty simple! I’ve only tried this method personally a couple of times just prolonging my normal breakfast skipping fast, and I can tell you from experience you will be hungry during the last few hours! It’s a test of mental toughness for sure. I haven’t carried it out for any extended periods of time though, but I’d imagine just like anything else the body would adapt and it would get easier as time goes on.
A third way to fast is to just skip a meal if you aren’t hungry. It doesn’t matter whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, just so long as meal frequency is reduced to twice a day with ample time between the two. This won’t hold all of the benefits of the other methods, but will still allow greatly reduce food intake for the day and still allow for a couple big meals leaving you feeling full and satisfied even on a calorie deficit.
A few benefits of intermittent fasting
Now that I’ve covered some the hows of intermittent fasting I’d like to talk about a few of the whys.
- Fasting increases growth hormone. A 24 hour fast even shows a 2000% increase! That’s crazy! Growth hormone is definitely a good friend to have when weight training. Despite what we’ve been told about catabolism, fasting is highly anabolic. (study)
- Fasting can increase testosterone levels. One study has shown an increase in serum testosterone levels by 180% after a fast! That’s huge for something that’s requires as little work as holding off breakfast till noon. Add this to a nutritious diet, plenty of sleep, and a solid training plan and you’ll be well on your way to higher testosterone levels. (study)
- It’s much easier to stay full on a calorie deficit. By pushing your meals later in the day and eating one to three big meals rather than a bunch of small ones, you’ll be able to eat more per sitting without going over your daily calories. This is especially true if you eat a lot of potatoes, which tend to keep you fuller longer than other sources.
- Intermittent fasting makes it super easy to maintain that low body fat percentage year round. Forget bulking and cutting, get ripped easily with intermittent fasting and then bulk up slowly with a slight increase of calories and resistance training or calisthenics.
- It gives the digestive system a nice break. A lot goes on in the body when digesting food so eating less frequently gives the body a chance to rest.
- You don’t have to get up early to stuff your face before work. This is one of my personal favorite benefits of intermittent fasting because a little extra rest can go a long way. Plus rushing around to clean up a breakfast mess before work sucks.
- Filling up with carbs later on in the day will help you sleep deeper and more sound. When following the common bodybuilding style six meals a day, it’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night starving!
- Once you do break your fast, you can eat almost anything and stay within your daily calories. Not saying here that I advocate filling up on a bunch junk that’s void of any real nutrients, but if you’re craving the occasional pizza and ice cream you’ll be able to indulge without having to worry about throwing your diet completely to the wayside. Just track macros if you do that sort of thing and be smart about it.
- Short fasts are a great way to practice self discipline. There’s nothing like being willfully uncomfortable for a period of time to learn patience and self control. If you can deny yourself food when you are hungry and it’s available, you can deny yourself of just about anything.
Sample day of eating
The following is an example of what I may eat on a given day of fasting. I’ll have two large meals followed by a snack around an hour before bed if I’m hungry in the evening. For protein I shoot for the minimum of .8-1g per pound of bodyweight, with the rest of my calories coming from a good balance of carbohydrates and fat. Oh and I’m also pretty flexible with what I eat, so things like condiments and cheese aren’t restricted in my daily diet.
Eggs scrambled in a bit of grass fed butter topped with cheese and hot sauce, potatoes or rice, piece of fruit or glass of juice.
8-10oz meat (grass fed beef/chicken/pork), a few baked potatoes or a few cups of rice, maybe an avocado, fruit smoothie with pomegranate juice, mixed berries, and a banana.
Greek yogurt or cottage cheese mixed with gelatin, piece of fruit, maybe an egg or 2
My wife follows Intermittent fasting as well, but rather that a couple big meals she splits her meals into smaller, more typical bodybuilding style meals once her fast has been broken. Here’s a sample of what she might eat in a typical day.
Greek yogurt mixed with stevia and a banana
97/3 turkey patty, 2 caramel rice cakes, 2 tbsp sunbutter
Chicken breast, rice, veggies
Cottage cheese, fruit
Is intermittent fasting for everyone?
The purpose of this article (or this website as a whole) isn’t necessarily to promote any one way of eating versus another, but to share some of my own experiences with different ways of training and dieting.
With that being said, no, intermittent fasting may not be for everyone. Certain medical conditions such as diabetes and blood sugar issues, adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems, low metabolism, amongst others may require you to eat more frequently so as with anything else on this site don’t blindly take my word for it! Do your own research, follow the links to studies, and check with a qualified health care professional just as I did before starting on my journey. Everything has it’s downsides. I’ve talked a lot about the benefits of eating this way in this article, but to be fair I’ll share some of the stumbling blocks I and other people have come across when trying out intermittent fasting.
- If you’re trying to bulk up and add a lot of muscle, intermittent fasting can make this difficult. Of course it is possible to grow while eating like this, but if you don’t have a big appetite it’s next to impossible to put on and sustain any weight eating this way. But if you enjoy pounding down huge high calorie meals like I do it can still work.
- You will be hungry especially starting out!! I found it helpful to ease into it when I started out, doing a couple weeks of a 12 hour fast, then a couple weeks of 14 hours, before finally getting to the 16-18 hour mark.
- There’s been a couple times when I’ve gotten hungry early and fasted anyways, resulting in feeling lethargic and irritable. To combat this I make sure to always have a couple pieces of fruit or a few scrambled eggs handy in case I get hungry before lunch time.
- If I have to train early in the day fasting just doesn’t work out. Physical activity spikes my appetite and depletes the body of nutrients so I’ve found that at least for me I need to eat within an hour of working out.
- Like any other dietary advice it’s easy to become dogmatic in the approach and feel like you’ve messed up. This can come from not being absolutely perfect on meal timing, not hitting your macros 100%, etc. Becoming that obsessive about anything in life isn’t healthy so be sure to not to be controlled by it.
Thanks for the read! If you have had any experiences with intermittent fasting good or bad be sure to share them in the comments below!