The Benefits of Fasting for Fitness

A different way to look at your nutrition plan

If you are serious about fitness, you probably follow the same standard rules when it comes to losing weight, burning fat and building lean muscle— eat six meals per day, consume a diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and work out at least five-plus times per week, including a weight-training and cardio program. You may choose to use a variation in your diet such as paleo, keto or low carb, but despite what method you choose, there is one thing that all diets have in common— calorie restriction does result in weight loss.

However, it can be difficult to retain any type of restrictive diet or lifestyle for too long. Yes, there are lots of dedicated individuals out there who can maintain and follow a very restrictive diet for 12-plus weeks, get into phenomenal shape, and rock it out onstage. And yes, there are those of us who seem to find a balance and can uphold a super lean bikini look all year round, but for the majority, this way of eating and the time it can take to prep and plan can become too restrictive and sometimes intrusive and limiting to be done effectively for any real length of time.

Enter a new way of thinking, one that goes against most of the current and accepted dieting standards we know today— fasting! Fasting is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, and sometimes drink, for a pre-determined period of time. Fasting can be used to help anyone lose weight and keep it off without any complex rules and— despite what you might think— it is also applicable for any fitness buff who is looking to not just lose weight, but also retain a lean, muscular physique. To truly understand the benefits of “fasting” for weight loss, read below.

Why Fast?

Recent research suggests that we spend as much as 20 hours a day in the fed state. We are either in the process of eating and storing the calories that come from our food, or burning these same calories we stored as energy. This energy is stored in the form of fat and glycogen, or the storage form of sugar. Our bodies are designed to eat food when food is available and use the calories we have stored as fat when food is scarce. Fasting is the simplest method our body has for maintaining its caloric balance. Store a little when we eat, burn a little when we don’t eat. We are constantly eating and storing food and we never really give ourselves a chance to burn it off. Because we were meant to be in a constant cycle of feeding and fasting, our bodies are designed to store fat when we overeat and burn it later when we have no choice but under-eat. This concept has led to the idea that fasting can be used as an effective method for weight loss.

Going Against the Accepted Standard of Dieting

Misinformation around fasting has led many to believe that it can lower your metabolic rate, deprive your body of nutrients and does not modify current bad dietary habits. It has also been suggested that weight loss from fasting is only due to water or muscle loss, not fat loss, and that fasting will make you retain fat weight! These are unfounded; there is no real evidence to substantiate that fasting could result in less than favorable results. There are many research studies to support the fact that fasting does not change or decrease metabolic rate, even on very low-calorie diets. In fact, your metabolism is almost exclusively tied to how much lean body mass you have. The more lean mass you have, the higher your metabolism, and vice versa.

Fasting and Fitness 

If you are currently happy with your chosen diet method, you do not need to make any drastic changes. Simply incorporate the fasting method into your current diet routine by utilizing a fast once every three to five days. Your daily calories will only be lower on the days you start and finish your fast. The overall effect should come out to about a 15-25 percent calorie reduction over the entire week with no negative effects on your metabolism or your lean muscle gains. The idea is that by lowering calories over the week, you would have the same effect as following a daily diet. And if you are concerned about losing lean muscle, continue to take supplements like the muscle builder creatine, which does not metabolize for energy and does not raise insulin levels. Taking creatine on your fasting days can help sustain lean mass.

Performing a Fast

According to research, the 24-hour point is right in the middle of the maximum adaptation for fat burning. A 24-hour period of fasting can easily be incorporated into your diet, once every three to five days. In actuality your body begins to burn significantly more fat after approximately the 18-hour mark. This effect begins to level off after 30 hours. It is not recommended to extend fasts by a considerable amount past the 24-hour mark.

Rate of Weight Loss Using Fasting

Just like any other diet, you should be able to lose weight at a rate of one to two pounds per week, the standard for all healthy weight-loss plans. During the actual period of time when you are fasting, your weight will be lower than normal. This is due to the fact that you have no food in your system, and your body has shed some excess water. However, with several periods of fasting, the weight loss you see is very real and it is indeed fat loss.

Breaking the Fast
When you finish your fast, you need to eat as you would normally. Do not compensate or reward yourself for abstaining from food. In other words, the minute you decide to stop fasting, you need to wipe the fast from your memory, and eat the exact way you would normally eat at that specific time of the day.

Aragon A, Zielonka R. An Objective Look at Intermittent Fasting.

Hatori M, et al. Time restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet. Cell Metabolism. 2012. 15(6):848-60.

Heilbronn LK, Smith SR, Martin CK, Anton SD, Ravussin E. Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. 2005. Am J Clin Nutr. 81(1): 69-73.

Pilon, Brad. Eat Stop Eat.

Lauren Jacobsen

Lauren is the creator of Sexy, Strong and Fit Online Coaching Services specializing in transforming women to fitness model condition. Lauren has over 15 years of experience as a trainer, supplement consultant and nutrition expert. She is also the TV show host of "Body Fuel," a competitive athlete and regular contributor to various fitness publications.

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