Intermittent Fasting: A beginner’s guide

Personal trainer Max Lowery explains the basic principles of Intermittent Fasting and how it has helped him and his clients achieve their goals

water intermittent fasting
You should drink plenty of water while Intermittent Fasting Photo: Flickr

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is simply a way of eating that alternates between phases of fasting and non-fasting.

How does it work?

There are many different IF protocols, but the one I use myself, and that has had the most success with clients, is a daily 16-hour minimum fast with an eight-hour ‘eating window’. For example, if you finish eating at 8pm, you fast until 12pm the following day. You can adjust this window to suit your daily schedule, and you can, of course, fast for longer. The great thing about following this IF protocol in particular is that sleeping hours count as fasting hours. In addition, you will be eating less over the course of the day despite having giant meals.

What are the benefits?

Once you get through the first few days of IF you will quickly start to see some of the many benefits, which aside from fat loss, include: an increase in growth hormone, which not only preserves muscle mass but can help to increase it. A hormone called norepinephrine is released, which boosts mental alertness and increases fat metabolism – studies have shown that low levels of norepinephrine has been associated with depression. Insulin sensitivity increases and in the short term this can benefit you by directing carbs to your muscles for muscle gains, rather than being used for fat storage. Conversely, being insulin insensitive long term can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Another benefit is that Ghrelin (‘the hunger hormone’) levels become normalised. So, you will actually feel less hungry! Studies have also shown IF to increase gene repair, and longevity. At the same time as preventing cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

Can I build muscle while intermittent fasting?

As previously highlighted, growth hormone is released whilst fasting, so muscle mass at a minimum is preserved if not increased when combined with fasted exercise. The crucial point with building muscle whilst using IF protocols is timing. Time your workout at just before the end of the fast. So: 8pm: Fast begins, 10.30am-11.30am: Workout, 12pm: End fast. If this is not possible, consume BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) before and after your workout to further prevent muscle breakdown.

Does it work for women too?

There is not much research into gender specific effects of IF. What is generally agreed, is that women should be more careful than men when adopting IF protocols. It can be beneficial for women who have some weight to lose, but those who are already lean and calorie restricted should be careful (menopausal, pregnant, and women trying to conceive should not IF). That being said, my own female clients who have tried fasting have really benefited from it. Women should try a 12-hour fast and work their way up to no more than 16 hours. The important thing for anyone attempting IF is to be cautious. Listen to your body and only do it if it comes naturally. After the difficult first few days, it should feel effortless.

Intermittent Fasting: Max’s tips and tricks

1. Start small. Begin your IF experience with 13-hour fasts, and work your way up to 16 hours or more.

2. When you do eat, eat a lot and eat until you feel full. I will often break my fast with a massive late lunch and a slightly smaller dinner.

3. Be strategic with caffeine: Drink a cup of black coffee (it must be black, as having milk or cream would break the fast), or alternatively green or herb teas at a strategic point half-way between waking up and ending the fast. Caffeine can stimulate the metabolism, blunt appetite, elevate fat utilisation, and raise awareness. Limit your caffeine intake to fasting hours so it doesn’t affect your sleep.

4. Drink lots of water (three to five litres per day). Have a big bottle of water with you wherever you go. Not only are there a whole host of health benefits from drinking water on an empty stomach, it will also help to suppress your appetite if you feel hungry.

5. Enjoy it. IF has changed my life and worked wonders for many of my clients. Everyone is different though, so listen to your body. If every day is a struggle to get to 16 hours then it probably isn’t for you.

The information on this website is intended for entertainment purposes only and does not constitute professional, medical or healthcare advice or diagnosis, and may not be used as such.

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BIOGRAPHY: Ryan Carter

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• Last updated on February 23, 2020
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