By now, you might have heard of a diet form called intermittent fasting. Some people praise it, some don't want anything to do with it.
But what's behind intermittent fasting and should you use it to lose belly fat or gain muscle? Let's find out!
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is explained rather easily. You are fasting, but not for too long (intermittently). We all fast between meals, but most of us snack here and there or have very regular meals throughout the day. The more frequent we eat, the shorter we fast.
Intermittent fasting is a somewhat general term for fasts between 16 to 36 hours. Everything longer than that is a "real" fast.
Hold your horses! You don't have to fast 36 hours straight. Nor should you.
Here's why: in times when we fast, our body does not have to spend energy on digesting food, so we can focus on other things, like cell repair. This is very important. Also, if there are no calories left from the food we ate, our bodies will switch to burning body fat instead.
But there's a point of diminishing returns. After more than 36 hours, maybe a little bit earlier, depending on your body, your body will start to burn muscle to get calories in, because it thinks there's no food in sight for a few more days. And you certainly don't want to burn any muscle, right?
The most often used version of intermittent fasting is a 16 hour fasting window, with a 8 hour eating window. This fits nicely into most peoples lives, because it could mean you simply skip breakfast: lunch at 12, dinner at 8, fast 16 hours until the next lunch. Repeat.
So is intermittent fasting a hidden secret for weight loss then? Well...
Any good for weight loss?
Yes and no. Intermittent fasting helps with creating a caloric deficit, which is needed in order to lose weight by simply eliminating a whole meal/several snacks. Since you only eat within a, say, 8 hour window, your meals will be bigger and make you feel fuller. Your blood sugar levels will also stabilise during the fasting period.
But as I said, you still need a caloric deficit. So if you just stuff your face with food for 8 hours straight, you'll gain fat, no doubt about it.
Therefore, intermittent fasting is not a magic pill for weight loss, since calorie balance still applies. If calories and macros are equal, you will not lose fat faster with intermittent fasting than with any other diet regime. It's just a different way to create a caloric deficit.
To add to that: if you want to make sure you're not losing any muscle during a longer cut with intermittent fasting: consume 5-10g of BCAAs 3 hours when you're awake and not within an eating window, to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Any good for muscle gain?
Not really. You can certainly gain muscle using intermittent fasting, but it's not optimal. Even if you eat enough protein, you are only stimulating the aforementioned muscle protein synthesis maybe twice per day, with huge amounts of protein for each meal.
Your body can certainly use all that protein by the way. The "our bodies can only digest 30g of protein per meal"-myth has been disproven a long time ago.
But, you're losing out on the remaining 16 hours without protein synthesis. So if you want to gain muscle, you'd be better off with more meals, evenly distributed throughout the day, each of which with enough protein to stimulate protein synthesis.
You can of course use BCAAs, as mentioned above. But that would only make sense if you prefer to eat this way. Real food throughout the day is the better option for most people though.
Any good for health?
Yupp. As mentioned earlier, fasting gives your body a break to repair cells. Studies also show that fasting improves longevity, insulin sensitivity, raises growth hormone levels and reduces inflammation.
More important than intermittent fasting, however, is a balanced diet, rich in nutrient-dense and unprocessed foods. So stick with that, before you incorporate intermittent fasting into your daily schedule.
And before you ask: intermittent fasting increases growth hormone levels only slightly. Not as in bodybuilder-levels!
So, should I or should I not?
As with most things - it depends. Basically, it boils down to this:
- want to lose weight
- prefer larger, less frequent meals
- feel good without breakfast or with longer periods of fasting in general
- want to try it out for the sake of it
Otherwise, just eat 3-6 meals per day and keep your calories and micros in check.
Intermittent fasting can be an effective tool for some people to have less cravings and hunger, but it's not better than any other diet or method out there. Give it a try and see how you feel with it, if you think it's for you.
Let us know about your experiences in the comments!