Intermittent fasting is one of the fastest (excuse the pun) growing trends in the health and fitness industry. But does it work? Is it for you?
For years we’ve been told that to fire up the metabolism and build lean muscle mass we need to be eating small meals at regular intervals. However, recent studies have shown intermittent fasting may have the potential to kick these ideas, along with the spare tire around your belly, to the curb.
To give you a better idea of how intermittent fasting works let’s take a quick look at some of the key benefits and common misconceptions you should be aware of before trying it out yourself.
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Different Approaches to Intermittent Fasting
Fasting can be done in a variety of ways, and some of the most popular methods include:
- 16/8 Method – Fast 16 hours, eat 8 hours
- Alternate-day Fasting - Fast every other day
- 5:2 - Restrict 500-600cal for 2 days
- The Warrior Diet - Fast during the day, eat at night
- Circadian Fasting - Eat during the day, fast at night
Each approach will benefit different people according to their schedules, and it is important to consider your daily routine and how each strategy might affect it.
Ok, let’s get into the science. I can hear you, and your belly groaning now, but don’t worry it won’t be boring. The current theory as to how intermittent fasting improves health relates to the mild stress that is placed on the body during a fast. This stress helps to create changes in the body improving its ability to resist and protect against larger issues like neuron damage, ischemia and oxidative stress. The common benefits include:
- Weight Loss – During fasting periods your cells switch from glucose to fat as a source of energy
- Decreased LDL Cholesterol – Fasting reduces LDL cholesterol, which is linked to cardiovascular disease, without the significant reduction of HDL cholesterol, which is vital for cellular health
- Improved Brain Function – Encourages healthy aging by slowing down oxidative stress and reducing neuroinflammation.
There are a couple of misconceptions associated with intermittent fasting that you should be aware of before starting a conversation about it at your local coffee shop or gym – you know, where all great debates take place.
- Decreased Metabolism – Bro-Science dictates that to increase metabolism, you need to be eating every 2 to 4 hours to increase the Thermic Effect of Food (energy burned to break down calories). However, studies have found that this effect is based more on the macronutrient balance in a meal rather than frequency.
- Muscle Loss – Another misconception relates to your body breaking down muscle. However, studies show that skeletal muscle will not break down in fasts lasting up to 40 hours and that brief fasts lasting 16 to 24 hours definitely won’t cause you to lose ‘dem gains.
It is important to understand that people do differ and fasting may not be right for everyone. Taking into account your current health situation (are you pregnant?), lifestyle routine (are you an athlete who trains three times a day?) or specific medical needs (consult your doctor) should be your first point of call before deciding if a fast is the right thing for you.