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Intermittent Fasting

Why it Works and How to do it

Intermittent fasting is a nutritional habit that involves periods of time throughout a 24 hour period where no food is consumed. To clarify, a period of fasting involves the consumption of nothing but water and electrolytes, with no calories being consumed. This includes the elimination of liquid calories from juice, coffee, milk etc, and calories from lollies or any other foods that may not be considered a main food item. During a period of fasting you consume nothing except water and electrolytes.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Later we will look at the research on intermittent fasting and what the scientists have found. We will also look into anecdotal evidence that supports the benefits. Here we will look at the proposed benefits of intermittent fasting, as found throughout the research and by taking a look at the health, medical and performance profiles of people that practice fasting.

1. Increased Insulin Sensitivity: Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. This is a good thing for everyone. The higher your resistance to insulin the more fat you are likely to store on your body. In addition to this you are less able to access fuel stores and blood sugar for energy during periods of physical exertion. This has implications for both health and physical performance. Fasting increases insulin sensitivity, making you less resistant to insulin and more efficient at accessing fuel for useable energy.

2. Longevity: The jury is still out on this one. Research conducted with various animals such as fruit flies and rodents has shown that caloric restriction increases average lifespan in the calorie restricted animals. In other research the same results have been concluded for animals that have been placed in an intermittent fasting group, even when overall daily calories are not restricted. Anecdotal evidence in humans looks promising, however research in primates, namely rhesus monkeys has shown that caloric restriction and intermittent fasting have negligible impact on average lifespan. However, as a secondary observation of this research it was shown that many diseases are prevented by caloric restriction and intermittent fasting.

3. Increased Protein Synthesis: Some small amounts of research are starting to emerge that indicate that consuming a large serve of protein after a period of fasting increases the body’s ability to absorb it. The same is true for carbohydrates, in that they are more readily available to absorption into muscle cells. One practice that reflects this is carb back loading.

4. Greater Control: It’s very hard to control calorie consumption and the types of foods you are eating when you’re eating all day. Gone are the days of six small meals per day. This is no more effective than any other meal frequency. By limiting calorie consumption to a 6, 8 or 10 hour window and a small number of meals (2-4) you are better able to control the number of calories, the quality of food and the balance of macro-nutrients.

5. Indulgence: Many people struggle to eat small meals throughout the day, it takes a great level of control. With intermittent fasting you are able to consume greater portion sizes without the same impact on overall fat storage. This also works well for those that like the occasional splurge of junk food once a week.

6. Increased Human Growth Hormone Production: There is some evidence, mostly anecdotal, that supports the notion that fasting helps to increase the production of human growth hormone.

7. Reduced Inflammation: Inflammation is a major cause of many illnesses and even aging. A reduction in systemic inflammation is conducive to overall greater health, better immune function and longevity.

8. Increased Fat Burning Efficiency: Training in a fasted state helps the fat cells and other stored energy to be released for use as fuel more immediately. This is mainly due to the blunted blood-insulin levels that are the result of fasting. With insulin less active in the body and levels low, stored energy is released to the surface of the cell where it accessed by the blood and transported faster to the working muscles for use as fuel in the current activity.

Myths

Ok, before looking at some of the proof, lets take a look at some of the myths and your concerns with fasting.

1. You Will Lose Muscle Mass: Despite popular thinking with the gym-going public, you will not go into a catabolic state and start eating your own muscle stores through intermittent fasting. In fact, due to an increase in growth hormone you are likely to actually gain muscle mass more easily by fasting for a given period of time each day or week. It takes a lot longer than 16 hours for the body to bypass fat stores and start breaking down muscle mass for fuel.

2. It Will Lead to Eating Disorders: If done properly, intermittent fasting requires less denial and obsession over food than eating six tiny meals per day. Once a person gets used to fasting they rarely think about food within their fasting period. In addition to that, fasters are able to eat larger serving sizes due to the less frequent meal times. Keep in mind though that fasting must be practiced properly in order to be effective and not lead to psychological problems related to eating.

3. You Will Perform at a Sub-Par Level in Training: It is believed that people that train in a fasted state will perform at a lower level than those that have consumed enough readily available calories within a certain timeframe of the training session. This is true in the beginning as the body adjusts. However after a few weeks of fasting something really cool will happen. Eventually your body will become more efficient at accessing and using stored energy such as glycogen in the muscle cells and liver and fat itself. Eventually you become better adapted to release energy stored in the body and utilise it as energy for the given training session.

Intermittent Fasting Methods

There are several methods posted on the internet about intermittent fasting and how to do it for best results. Different methods work for different people, depending on the goal and genetics. Here we will cover just three methods that Unleashed Training supports and has found to be most effective.

1. The 16-hour Model: The 16-hour model involves fasting from dinner time throughout the night and part way through the next day until lunch. Your period of sleep is included within the fasting period. So you will consume your last meal at 9pm for example and then eat again at 1pm the next day. So essentially your lunch at 1pm becomes your breakfast. My recommendation is to schedule in 3-4 meals within your 8-hour eating window.

2. The 20-hour Model: This model is for more experienced fasters and is the longest period of time I recommend for intermittent fasting. In similar fashion to the 16-hour model you will cease eating at night, however it is recommended to stop eating later, as in shortly before bed. You will not again until dinner time the next day. I recommend scheduling in 2-3 meals in your 4-hour eating window.

3. The Warrior Diet: This is the method recommended for the person that is just starting intermittent fasting. It can also be used indefinitely. Essentially, contrary to popular nutritional recommendations, you will eat very light throughout the day time and consume one main meal at night. It is not fasting as such, but it contains many of the benefits.

If you’re like me you may like to incorporate all of these methods throughout an average week. Choose the right method for you and tread carefully if you have ever suffered an eating disorder or if you are pre-disposed to such disorders.

Intermittent fasting only works if you plan it and you do it properly. Your meals will be larger and all of your eating will be condensed into a smaller portion of the day. Ensure you are getting all the required nutrients. caloric restriction is not required to a large degree, if at all,  in order to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting.

The Proof

Now lets look at the anecdotal evidence and some of the research pointing towards the effectiveness and benefits of intermittent fasting.

In a 2003 mouse study overseen by Mark Mattson, head of the National Institute on Aging's neuroscience laboratory, mice that fasted regularly were healthier by some measures than mice subjected to continuous calorie restriction; they had lower levels of insulin and glucose in their blood, for example, which signified increased sensitivity to insulin and a reduced risk of diabetes.

Religions have long maintained that fasting is good for the soul, but its bodily benefits were not widely recognized until the early 1900s, when doctors began recommending it to treat various disorders—such as diabetes, obesity and epilepsy.

Here is an article on intermittent fasting from the LA Times…

Feast, fast and reduce risks
An irregular eating cycle worked for ancient humans. Small studies show benefits in such calorie restriction.

ALTERNATE-DAY FAST: The effects are now being explored. Some results have been lower triglycerides and insulin sensitivity. (Los Angeles Times / December 6, 2007)
By Susan Bowerman
Special to The Times
December 10, 2007
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors spent hours each day searching for food that was only intermittently available. They'd fast, and then they'd feast. These ancient humans developed a "thrifty" genotype that helped them adapt to these cycles of want and plenty.

Today, we carry this same genetic makeup with us, and several animal studies and few small human trials indicate that there may be, for us too, health benefits to alternate-day fasting -- a regimen that somewhat mimics the irregular and unpredictable food intake pattern on which our ancestors evolved.

Evidence has been accruing for some time that chronic calorie restriction, in which daily intake is reduced to between 60% and 85% of an individual's daily needs, appears to have significant health benefits. Such restriction has been shown to reduce risk factors for several chronic diseases in animals and humans and to increase life span in rats, mice, fish, flies, worms and yeast.

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But the effects of alternate feast and fast days on body weight and health have only recently been explored.

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005, scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center examined the effects of alternate-day fasting on heart disease risk in 16 subjects.

Subjects ate whatever they wanted on feast days but consumed only calorie-free beverages and sugarless gum on fast days. After three weeks, blood levels of triglycerides fell in men, but not in women. Women, but not men, experienced increases in "good," or HDL, cholesterol.

There was no clear explanation for the differing results between men and women, but the same group of scientists have observed other sex-specific effects. In a different report, they measured the rise in insulin and blood sugar levels in response to a meal before and after three weeks of alternate-day fasting.

Men -- but not women -- had increased insulin sensitivity so that they cleared sugar from the bloodstream more efficiently after three weeks on the regime, suggesting that alternate-day fasting may be more beneficial to men than women in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Similar improvements in insulin sensitivity were observed after two weeks of alternate-day fasting in a small study of eight male subjects at the University of Copenhagen, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2005.

The effects of alternate-day fasting on body weight differ according to the study (and none have been reported in overweight people). Men in the Copenhagen study maintained a stable body weight over the two week period -- but they were specifically instructed to attempt to do so.

In the Pennington study, subjects were informed that they would need to double their usual intake on non-fasting days in order to maintain their weight. But taking in enough food on the feasting days to avoid weight loss proved difficult. The participants lost about 2.5% of their initial weight and 4% of their initial fat mass.

All in all, the few human studies on alternate-day fasting have been small in size, short in duration and have lacked control groups so more studies are warranted. Still, the animal studies suggest that the effects of alternate-day fasting on chronic disease prevention are similar to those reported for chronic calorie restriction.

How such dietary calorie restriction may impart its benefits is not clear, but it may include increased resistance to stress, a reduction in free-radical production (which in turn reduces cellular damage) or the slowing of certain metabolic processes that might damage the body.

From a practical standpoint, it's unclear whether people could stick to an alternate-day fasting regimen for any length of time. Researchers have suggested that the regimen is easier than daily calorie restriction, but is it easy enough? Many subjects in the Pennington study reported feeling hungry and irritable on the days they fasted -- and that would probably limit the number of people who could sustain this pattern of eating for very long.

Anyone wishing to attempt either chronic or alternate-day calorie restriction needs to remember that consuming nutrient-dense foods is key. There are no extra calories to spare, so every bite of food needs to be packed with nutrition.

But a carefully planned diet based on vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, a few whole grains and small portions -- rather than a continuous and abundant food intake -- may be a better nutritional match for those "thrifty" genes.

Susan Bowerman is a registered dietitian and assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

An article here that reports the benefits of fasting. The following is an excerpt.

Mark Sisson discusses the merits of using fasting—in whatever form—to achieve weight loss. Overall, the research is very favorable for this goal. He lists three studies from recent years into fasting for weight loss, all of which showed positive results:

Non-obese patients lost an average of four percent of their total fat with alternate-day fasting for 22 days. Their fasting insulin also decreased.i
Alternate-day fasting was also effective for obese patients in a 2009 study. On fasting days, participants consumed 25 percent of their daily calorie needs. On average, they lost just over 5.5 pounds in eight weeks, and about three percent of their total body fat. Total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol decreased, while HDL ("good") cholesterol remained unchanged. Systolic blood pressure also decreased.

In young, overweight women, alternate-day fasting was just as effective as calorie restriction for promoting weight loss and improving metabolic markers.

One of the mechanisms that makes fasting so effective for weight loss is the fact that it provokes the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), which is a fat-burning hormone. It also plays an important role in muscle building. Fasting also increases catecholamines, which increases resting energy expenditure, while decreasing insulin levels, which allows stored fat to be burned for fuel. Together, these and other factors will turn you into an effective fat-burning machine.

Hence, if like many tens of millions of people, your goal is to shed excess fat, fasting can be both effective and beneficial for improving many disease markers. The type of fast you choose appears to be less important, so pick whichever one fits your lifestyle, schedule, and temperament the best.

Conclusion

Intermittent fasting can be used in a number of ways to produce several benefits that span weight loss, longevity, general health and even athletic performance. Try the three methods mentioned here and see what works for you. One thing I can guarantee is that if you stick with it you will find it easier to maintain than six tiny meals per day or trying to control what you are eating and when. Intermittent fasting means you can still enjoy the pleasure of the feast and you’re not feeling denied.

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