There has been a lot of talk about fasting in the fitness and primal worlds of late so I thought I would share the few fasting protocols that I have found extremely beneficial for weight loss, performance and longevity.
Firstly, we should start with what is fasting? Simply, fasting is going without food or drink for a period of time. An absolute fast is refraining from everything, food, water, drink and supplements. There is also varying forms of intermittent fasting using bone broths, coffees and teas and supplements. A water fast, as the name suggests in drinking nothing but water for your fasting period.
There are a wide range of health benefits to fasting. These include:
- Weight loss– studies have shown that fasting is an excellent way to reduce body fat. One study in 2015 found that participants lost 7% body fat and reduced inflammation markers without sacrificing muscle mass using alternate day protocol.
- Normalises insulin levels– one of the markers for ageing, diabetes and inflammation is insulin levels. When you consume too many carbs and sugar you body releases insulin to bring the blood sugar levels back to normal. If this cycle happens too often your body’s natural production of insulin can breakdown- hence type 2 diabetes! Fasting can lower insulin levels and reduce insulin sensitivity helping to stop type 2 diabetes.
- Normalises ghrelin levels- Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for telling your body you are hungry. Being fat adapted and being able to fast for extended periods of time allows your ghrelin hormone to normalise, following its correct circadian rhythm and tell you when you are actually hungry.
- Lowers triglyceride levels– triglycerides are a indicator for heart disease. They rise in relation to bad cholesterol. Fasting helps to reduce or lower the amount of triglycerides in your blood.
- Allows cellular autophagy– Cellular autophapy is the bodies mechanism for cleaning up debris in the cells causes by oxidation, metabolism and excess consumption of carbs. Autophagy is programmed cell death. If we are constantly feeding the body with food and fuel our metabolism is high and the body thinks we need to be always making new ells. Whilst this is good to some regard if you are wanting to build muscle, being go go go all the time doesn’t allow the body to heal and repair itself through this celluar clean up. Fasting allows the body to stop, slow down and repair. Fasting is a great way to rid the body of pre-cancer cells and allow our bodies to get rid of damaged cells (which is what cancer cells are!)
- Promotes the secretion of Human Growth Hormone-according to Dr Axe HGH is naturally produced by the body and it has been effectively used to treat obesity and help build muscle mass, important for burning fat. HGH also helps increase muscle strength, which can help improve your workouts, too. Combine these together and you have an effective fat-burning machine on your hands.
So now you know what fasting is and some of the many benefits, what are some of the fating protocols you can do to get all these great benefits. The following 4 fasting protocols (and there are hundreds of others out there) are ones that I have personally used and have found to be efficacious in weight loss and management, better performance and building muscle.
- 18/6 Intermittent Fast– this protocol involves fasting for 18 hours with a 6 hour re-feeding window. This is my favourite fating type and I will do this 5 days a week. It involves eating dinner about 6pm and not eating again until bout 12pm then next day. I then will have two meals, lunch at 12pm and dinner again at 6pm. I will also have a snack in between. As you can see by the name you fast for 18 hours and then are ‘allowed’ to eat in the 6 hours between 12pm-6pm at night. I like this time frame but other people like to use 16/8 or 14 hours. This is a really good introduction into fasting and helps you get an understanding that you wont die from not eating, that it is actually quite easy to do, makes you feel like you have achieved something through self discipline and frees up time.
- 24 hour fast– As the name suggests you don’t eat for 24 hours. I do some travelling on day trips on an aircraft and I like to use this one where i know I cant get decent food. I usually eat dinner about 6pm one night, then not eat again until 630pm the next night, so as you can see you are eating every day, just 24 hors apart!
- 3- day fast– I have tried this one on several occasions but this one takes some discipline and preparation. I prepared bone broth, as well as supplement drinks as I knew this would diminish my electrolyte levels. Be very careful with this one. I found that the second day is hard but once you push through the initial hunger late on day two, you feel like you can go for ever!
- 5:2– the 5 and 2 periodic fast has been popularised by Dr Michael Mosely. I have tried this protocol and didn’t like it that much as it felt like the 18/6 IF but only for 2 days and you ate whatever you lied on the other days. It works for reducing Insulin Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) which is a marker for longevity but I feel (and I am not a doctor like he is …) you get more benefits from the 18/6 with regards to performance and weight loss. This protocol entails eating normally for 5 days a week and severely restricting your calories on 2 days a week, usually the weekend.
So there you have it what fasting is, the benefits and a few protocols to get you started. If you have any questions or comments about your own fasting protocols, I would love to hear about them in the comments section. Stay tuned for my Top Ten Fasting Tips in the coming few days!