The ultimate goal for many gym-goers is to be able to burn fat while building, or at least maintaining lean muscle. It's long been believed that it's impossible to do both at the same time. However, a growing number of people are flocking towards the method of Intermittent Fasting as a way to lose weight, while holding on to that hard-earned muscle.
Proponents of Intermittent Fasting (IF) claim benefits including decreases in blood pressure, improvement in insulin sensitivity, as well as decreases in fat, while maintaining lean muscle mass.
What is it?
IF is a pattern of eating that alternates between fasting and feeding, for up to 24 hour periods. Protocols vary, sometimes calling for 16 hour fasts, followed by 8 hour feeding, or 19 hour fasts, with 5 hours of feeding.
When following an IF protocol, you are by default reducing calories, because you are simply unable to eat as much in the shortened time frame.
From an evolutionary perspective this protocol seems to make sense. Our distant ancestors would often go for periods where food was lacking, or periods where food was abundant. Our bodies adapted to this instability and developed mechanisms to make sure we'd survive. Perhaps this is why some people see success.
However, while Intermittent Fasting (IF) has shown to be effective in some anecdotal cases and animal studies, it hasn't been the subject of any long-term human studies, and it will be at least another decade before peer-reviewed studies prove it to be either effective or ineffective, but that doesn't prevent people from trying it.
What results do people see?
For many regular people trying to burn fat and lose weight, it isn't turning out to be any more effective than normal reduced calorie diet. This may be attributed to a lower caloric burn throughout the day. Simply put, when you aren't eating calories, your body slows down the metabolic fire, so it can conserve energy until the next feeding time. This often puts people in a "starvation" mode, which stores body fat instead of burning it.
IF can be helpful for already in-shape people trying to maintain a very low body fat percentage (below 10%). To these people, IF is being used as a tool to maintain low body fat, while having a little more freedom in the foods they choose to eat, which would typically be very limited.
So how do I get the results I'm looking for?
If you've been paying attention to Fusion's 10-Step Eating Program, you've seen that we advocate eating moderate-sized portions every 3-4 hours. IF is pretty much the exact opposite of that, going long periods without eating. Without a lot of hard evidence to prove it's effectiveness, we can't advocate eating this way. Frankly we look to what people have more compliance with. Starving for periods of time isn't enjoyable which makes it hard for people to keep doing. Focus on the following 3 critical points and you will see results:
1. Control calories. When you eat the proper amount of calories for your goals you will make progress
2. Focus on food quality. Eat fresh, nutrient-dense, whole foods
Intermittent fasting can work for some people, but it's not for everyone.
In the end, IF is just one approach, among many safe, effective ones, for improving health, performance, and body composition. People have been getting into amazing shape without the use of intermittent fasting for years, and will continue to do so for years to come. Do your research, don't just latch onto the next hottest diet. Experiment and find what works for you and your body.