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What are the Benefits of Fasting?

fasting
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Fasting is something that historically has been associated with religious practise, particularly during Ramadan. However more recently it’s gained popularity for weight loss and/or health reasons. But what is fasting, and how do you do it?

Fasting, or intermittent fasting is a method of restricting calories by abstaining from food for varying periods of time. Fasting can take up varying forms from fasting for days, or simply fasting for a number of hours each day. This makes it versatile – allowing it to suit almost any schedule or person.

Popular excuses for those who don’t stick to a diet are very demanding work lives, unsocial working hours or not enough time to prepare food. It is also common for some to struggle with the concept of restricting calories from each meal throughout the day. Fasting can be a very helpful tool to overcoming some of these obstacles, whilst still restricting calories and having a little extra flexibility with the diet. When fasting it can be quite difficult to over eat in the feeding windows as you have such a limited amount of time to make up for the large fasting periods and large calorie deficit.

If you feel you struggle with conventional diets and fasting has intrigued you, read on to find out more about fasting itself and the benefits associated.

How do you fast?

There are two popular fasting methods, each of which can be used to suit your daily routine or personal preference.

5:2

The 5:2 method has gained popularity due to exposure on television. The 5:2 method involves normal feeding for 5 days, with 2 days of fasting throughout the week (the 2 days can be taken when you please). On the two days of fasting you can consume an absolute maximum of 500kcal (women), 600kcal (men). With the dietary flexibility/freedom on the 5 days of regular eating, it is perceived to be easier to fast for the 2 days with food choices to look forward to. Taking two whole days of fasting also creates a massive deficit of calories when looking at calories on a weekly basis – approx. 4000-4800kcal depending on sex, body mass, activity level.

16:8

This is another popular method which see’s fasting take place on a day to day basis. This fasting technique is aimed at being fasted for large portions of your 24 hour day. It recommends fasting for 16 hours out of 24, with an 8 hour feeding window. This is perceived to be easier to stick to as you feed every single day and the fasting window isn’t quite so large. Again, with the fasting window being so large, and the feeding window so small, you will struggle to over eat and you may find it easier to remain in a calorie deficit.

Some helpful tips which can be used tactically on both methods:

  • Try and utilise the time you are asleep within the fasting window. Taking out 8 hours from your fasting window with sleep can be a great tactic to sticking to the fast. This can be particularly effective on the 16:8 where sleep can take up a large chunk of the feeding window – my personal tactic would be to feed from 2pm – 10pm as this meant I could wake up, get to work and keep busy until the late lunch where I would break my fast.
  • Drink plenty of water – this can help to improve sensations of fullness with ensuring you stay hydrated.
  • Black Coffee – the caffeine within can help to provide you with energy and improve mental alertness, even when hungry. The caffeine can also help to blunt appetite, making the fast a little easier.

Benefits of Fasting

Research into fasting may not be quite as extensive as other dietary methods, however there are several studies on fasting to suggest its benefits for Weight Loss. As you’d expect, Weight Loss is the most popular reason as to why people fast as it allows for a little more dietary flexibility, whilst also allowing you to restrict calories. As well as making it easier to restrict calories in general to stimulate weight loss over time – fasting can change the body’s energy preference towards fat (during periods of fasting). With this in mind, you may notice an increase in “fat burn”.

Irrespective of the weight loss aspects, fasting does come with some health benefits. Insulin sensitivity is one health aspect that is suggested to improve. Insulin sensitivity improves with fasting due to the limited changes in blood sugar levels for large periods of time. Fasting is also said to improve blood lipid levels which may have other benefits for cardiovascular health.

In addition to the specific, measurable health benefits – I personally found that fasting gives you a greater appreciation for the feeling of hunger. When your diet typically consists of rhythmic eating, you get accustomed to eating at regular intervals throughout the day – with this, you lose that genuine sensation of feeling hungry. This genuine sensation of hunger can often get taken over by the desire to eat, or mistaking thirst for hunger, or just letting eating get out of control. With an improved understanding of hunger you may find your ability to stick to other diets or lifestyle changes a little easier.

Training

One common worry for those who want to utilise fasting for weight loss, but also train frequently and intensely, is that training will be impacted for the negative. One thing to note is that when you restrict calories in order to stimulate weight loss (no matter what diet or tactic you use) you will notice a slight diminishing effect on training – you may notice that strength isn’t quite as good as when in a caloric surplus and you may not be able to handle as much volume. These effects will likely be experienced on a fasting diet, however you can take advantage of the timing of training in order to get the most out of training. Training within your feeding window allows you to have some fuel and energy pre-training whilst also supplying a source of nutrients post training to help support recovery.

I personally feel like fasting is a great method for restricting calories for those who may struggle with typical diets. Having to completely abstain from food can be easier than dealing with the restricted calories for some. Fasting can be extremely versatile and as such you can select a fasting method to suit your preference and daily routine. One negative with fasting is that some may not find it sustainable for long periods of time. As such, it could be used to great effect in order to stimulate weight loss if you hit a plateau or don’t want to reduce calories too any further. It may also be a great tool to implement if you are struggling to stick to your existing diet and want something a little different and little more flexible.

About the Author:

Rowan (BSc Hons Sport and Exercise Science) works within the BULK POWDERS® Product Team. His role includes being responsible for Product Quality as well as contributing to Product Development.

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