Intermittent fasting is one of the best ways to improve weight loss results.
But it’s also one of the most easily misunderstood.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through exactly how to apply intermittent fasting to your current diet like many of my clients do, and show you how to stay away from all the nonsense so-called ‘gurus’ try to tack onto it to make a quick buck at your expense.
Website subscriber Jenny wrote in asking for this piece. Check out her message below.
My friend recently started intermittent fasting, and it’s something I’ve always been curious about but some of it sounds too good to be true.
Basically, my friend says she can eat whatever she wants, as long as it’s between certain times of day?!
Can you explain how intermittent fasting works, and if you recommend using it to lose weight? Thanks!”– Jenny, USA
I sure can.
If you prefer your info on video format, enjoy. Or read on for a more thorough breakdown and recommendations below.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a time-tested method for reducing body weight.
Bodybuilders have been using it for decades. Certain cultures for much longer.
Yes, much like keto, it has been hijacked by a cult-like following of annoying folks who use words like ‘biohacking’ in sentences without expecting you to laugh… Catching on trend has seen many of its benefits become misinterpreted and greatly over-hyped but, in a nutshell, it’s really easy to apply IF to your current diet and start seeing results.
Intermittent fating is based around the simple concept of eating your allotted daily calories within a designated feeding window, followed by a longer period where no food is consumed at all.
It’s not strictly a diet, in itself, more like a tool you apply to your current diet.
This makes it very versatile, because you can apply IF to any type of nutrition plan (flexible dieting, gluten free, bodybuilding-style clean eating, vegetarian, ketogenic, low carb, etc.).
Another example of its incredible versatility are the time splits which can be used. The three listed below are the most commonly used, but there are no restrictions on what you can or cannot do here. My advice is to use the one which works around your lifestyle the best.
- 16/8 IF split
- 14/10 IF split
- 20/4 IF split
Over the years, I have found clients get the best results with a 16/8 split (that’s a 16 hour fast followed by an 8 hour feeding window).
It’s not because it opens up some extra fat burning mechanisms, but simply because it fits around the working lifestyle of most people quite easily, and creates greater sustainability.
If you’re a regular reader of my site, we know that the number 1 ingredient in a successful weight loss diet is sustainability. (1)
Who Will Intermittent Fasting Work Best For?
IF is not for everyone.
Some people hate it, and others see it as the missing piece of the jigsaw. There are two particular groups of people who tend to get great results with it every time.
Do you identify with either?
- People who need structure.
- People who want to break a plateau.
Aside the calorie control aspect, there are numerous other benefits to using intermittent fasting. But make no mistake, the calorie control aspect represents 99% of the benefits most people are looking for.
Fasting appears to increase the activity of certain genes responsible for how much fat the body can metabolize, enabling us to burn more calories (and more fat) throughout the fasting period itself. (2, 3, 4)
Some researchers believe the activity of these genes temporarily spikes even further when we begin our feeding window, causing greater fat burning. (5)
These benefits do exist, but they’re overblown and take away from the fact that IF causes weight loss by getting people into a calorie deficit more easily.
While the first few days definitely suck harder than a Nickelback concert, once your body gets used to simply not eating until a certain time of day, it becomes very simple and helps the trainee cut out so many unplanned snacks which would previously have held their results back.
Think about it… can you remember sitting at work staring at the vending machine, deliberating just how badly you want that chocolate bar?
I’ve done it myself.
Legendary bodybuilding coach Jim Stoppani is a big fan of intermittent fasting. He had this to say:
“I believe in enjoying life, but I’m also passionate about fitness. Those two pursuits can become extremely difficult to balance!
That’s why I have been following an intermittent fasting eating plan for years now.
It lets me eat the foods I want (within reason, of course!), while maintaining my physique.”– Jim Stoppani
The Dark Side Of Intermittent Fasting
Like anything which catches on trend, intermittent fating has attracted it’s fair share of bogus advice.
Take a look at social media, you’ll see all the self-proclaimed fasting experts which have sprouted up in the last few years, with fasting f**king detox plans to sell you.
How anyone can be an expert in ‘not eating’ is beyond me, but this is the fitness world… where anything is possible!
One of the biggest myths regarding IF actually features in the email I was sent by Jenny. It’s the notion that we can eat whatever we want, as long as it’s within our designated feeding window.
When put into context, it sounds as ridiculous as it is!
An old buddy of mine used to believe this myth.
He came out of an unhealthy diet to try IF, and after dropping a few pounds in the first few weeks he started to push the envelope with his food choices under the excuse that “experts say I can eat whatever I want as long as it’s between six and two.”
Fasting cannot overrule the laws of thermodynamics. (7)
Misguided coaches say this because they don’t believe anyone could overeat with such time restrictions in place.
What these fools don’t realize is that every man and woman has the ability to transform into cake eating boy from Matilda when given free reign to eat whatever they want.
Slowly but surely, my buddy piled all the weight he lost (and more) straight back on and couldn’t understand why.
But this is not how intermittent fasting is designed to work.
The closing minutes of his feeding window resembled an all-out assault on the kitchen as if he’d never be allowed to eat again. He got his entire circle of friends on the same approach, because it sounded too good to be true.
One time, I was at a barbecue with them all and I remember accidentally dropping a pack of M&M’s on the floor with about five minutes of their eating time remaining. Best game of Hungry Hippos I’ve ever seen.
8,000 calories is 8,000 calories regardless of what time we eat it.
Another intermittent fasting myth is its ability to boost oxygen supply to muscles during exercise.
Research indicates a slight increase, yes, and this created a big buzz around IF because it’s the same thing endurance athletes are trying to achieve when they take illegal substances. However, fasting won’t create anywhere near the same improvements. (6)
The final myth I hear a lot is that intermittent fasting can reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes.
A 2015 study published in Diabetes Care found that fasting (in this case, skipping breakfast) impaired insulin response.
Making your overall lifestyle healthier and getting regular exercise will reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes, not IF. (8)
Intermittent Fasting FAQ
While researching this content, I opened up the floor to my website members to send me their biggest questions regarding IF.
I figured this would be a pretty neat way to wrap up this article.
You can see the best of them below.
Can you use intermittent fasting to build muscle?
There’s a growing landscape of research supporting the use of IF for fat loss purposes, but it’s like a ghost town if we look for research using IF to build muscle.
It’s not that it can’t be done. Of course it can.
It’s simply a technique which is best applied to weight loss diets because it’s primary benefit is to limit the number of calories we eat by restricting our foods to a small time frame. If we’re trying to get bigger we’d want to be eating more calories per day, and IF may only serve to make you feel stuffed.
When is the best time to start my feeding window?
In a perfect world, your feeding window would begin the moment your workout ends.
You’d get some quality post-workout nutrition in, then consume the rest of your calories and help your body recover before the next workout.
But nobody lives in a perfect world.
Heck, I have three kids and two of them lick batteries every chance they get. You think I worry about perfectly timing a feeding window?
As a priority, schedule your feeding window to start at the time of day you feel hungriest. This plays to your strengths and will lead to greater sustainability. If you’re a nighttime eater, trying to fast here will see temptation at it’s highest.
Sometimes (maybe all the time) this may leave you training outside of your feeding window, and that’s okay.
Sustainability is more important than post-workout nutrition. That’s a fact.
What’s the best way to start my fast?
Grab some protein at the end of your feeding window.
Protein is the most filling macronutrient, so it will keep you feeling fuller for longer into your fasting period. A slow-release form of protein, like casein, would be even better.
Can I use BCAAs during my fasting period?
I was hoping someone would ask this question!
Muscle building magazines regularly advise people to sip on BCAA supplements during their fasting window to avoid muscle breakdown.
This is utter bulls**t and the reasons are twofold.
You needn’t worry about losing muscle because a fasting window isn’t long enough to cause this to happen anyway. Also, when people consume BCAAs they’re inadvertently breaking their fast.
This is a commonly made mistake, because the labels of BCAA supplements claim the product has no calories.
But, as I revealed in this post, they actually do have calories. It’s just that current food industry regulations prevent manufactures from listing them.
Now you know!
What supplements can I use during my fast?
Only those which contain zero calories.
Caffeine can be handy, especially in the first few days, but that’s about it.
Do you need to do intermittent fasting every day?
No. As the name suggests, it can be used, err, intermittently. Sure, there are extreme believers of IF who swear this is the only way and everything else is wrong.
But you get those type of people in every corner of the fitness world (CrossFit, keto, whatever bulls**t Gwyneth Paltrow is pushing, etc.).
One of the best things about intermittent fasting is that you can test the waters by applying it one or two days a week first, then noting your response. We only have to look at the popularity of 5:2 dieting to see that IF is definitely not an ‘all or nothing’ approach.
What foods am I allowed to eat during my fast?
None. It’s a fast!
I encourage you to slap any self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ who feed the flames of confusion by insisting you can eat certain ‘superfoods’ or ‘negative calorie foods’ without breaking your damn fast.
They are all trying to sell you something and, quite frankly, they are all full of s**t.
By now, you should have a good idea how intermittent fasting works and whether it’s a technique which could help you to lose more weight.
Many of my male and female clients have applied it over the year and experienced great results, but the final decision rests with you.
After all, I’m forever telling you guys (and girls) that the best diet is the one you can stick to!
If you’ve enjoyed my comprehensive guide on how to use intermittent fasting, consider hopping on my free email list below for more tips, straight outta my gym!
- Stewart, T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. (2002)
- Pilegaard, H., et al. Effect of short-term fasting and refeeding on transcriptional regulation of metabolic genes in human skeletal muscle. Diabetes. (2003)
- Hildebrandt, A. L., et al. Exercise attenuates the fasting-induce transcriptional activation of metabolic genes in skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol Metab. (2000)
- Mattson, M. P., et al. Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems. J Nutr Biochem. (2005)
- Trabelsi, K., et al. Effects of Ramadan fasting on biochemical and anthropometric parameters in physically active men. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine. (2011)
- Stote, K. S., et al. A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. (2007)
- Swinburn B., et al. Increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the US epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. (2009)
- Jakubowicz, D., et al. Fasting until noon triggers increased postprandial hyperglycemia and impaired insulin response after lunch and dinner in individuals with type 2 diabetes: a randomized clinical trial. Diabetes Care. (2015)