Intermittent fasting, also known as IF, is a popular method of weight loss which involves restricting the time that you eat food during the day. A full 24 hours fast involves eating nothing for an entire day, but when you fast intermittently you may spend 16 hours in a fasted state and consume all of your calories in an 8 hour window.
IF has exploded in popularity in recent years, with people touting a wide-range of benefits such as increased energy and focus, better sleep, drastic weight loss, and more.
It can be difficult for a beginner, especially if you’ve been used to 3 square meals a day for your whole life. However, by the end of this guide you’ll feel confident in your ability to start implementing intermittent fasting into you life without any worries at all.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
A lot of people like to over-complicate fasting, and they spend so much time worrying about what it really means that they forget the core principle:
Intermittent fasting, at its simplest level, is not eating for a specific time period each day.
As long as you aren’t eating, you’re fasting. You don’t need to worry about whether you can eat X or Y food as long as it’s below 20 calories, or if you can have sugar in your tea. If you’re consuming calories, you’re not fasting.
Right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into the mechanics of what intermittent fasting does to your body and why it’s so effective.
The History of IF and Why It’s So Effective
Way back when, humans didn’t have access to supermarkets and takeaway food. We relied on our hunting skills to provide food for the family.
You might think we’ve evolved since then, but humans have been farming for about 8,000 years, and hunting/gathering for 1.8 million. Not an insignificant difference.
And, if you’ve ever been hunting you’ll know that it’s not the most reliable source of food. You could go days without finding anything, and during this time you may not have any access to food at all. You’d either rely on the gathering part of the hunter gatherer era, or tough it out and fast.
So, if humans could fast for days at a time and still have the energy to run, hunt, fish, and fight, it’s not a huge leap to imagine modern humans should have no trouble avoiding food for a few hours each day.
Put simply, by doing intermittent fasting we’re getting back in touch without our evolutionary roots.
What Does Intermittent Fasting Do to Your Body?
Without getting too technical, intermittent fasting causes a reaction in your cells that increases your metabolism and results in your body flicking a switch – going from glucose being the primary energy source to ketones becoming the number one fuel.
When this happens, it can be pretty uncomfortable at the start, but that’s bascially your body going into survival mode. It knows what’s up, and your brain has to deal with the possibility that it might not have access to food for a long time. Once the brain recognises this, it will start conserving energy, and divert more focus to key bodily functions along with the preservation of muscle mass.
So, not only will your metabolism fire up resulting in increased weight loss and focus, but your muscle mass won’t be depleted as fast and you’ll have more energy for longer periods of time.
It sounds amazing on the surface, but are there any downsides to intermittent fasting? Not really.
You’ll be pretty hungry to begin with, but from my own personal experience and the wealth of scientific evidence out there, there are pretty much no negatives to restricting your calories.
The only thing I will say is that intermittent fasting can be much more difficult for women than men. It can have an effect on hormones and the menstrual cycle, emotions, and more. Going back to our roots as a species, women weren’t the ones going out and hunting. They more than likely had access to regular food sources such as berries and nuts, and adopted a grazing lifestyle. Whereas the men had to become adept at hunting for long periods of time, women were able to sustain themselves with regular eating.
3 Intermittent Fasting Schedules You Should Know About
I know I said that intermittent fasting shouldn’t be very complicated, but there are some things you should be aware of before diving head first into it – and scheduling is one of them.
What do I mean by IF schedules? Some people like to fast for 18 hours a day, some 14 hours, some people will do the 5:2 diet and fast 2 days a week, and there are many more variations on intermittent fasting that have become popular.
The reason why it’s important is because what works for one person might not work for another. No one has the same schedule, be it work, fitness, or family, and no one has the same preferences.
You can also create your own schedule, which I’ll get onto further down, but for now let’s look at some of the popular intermittent fasting schedules in more depth.
The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 diet is pretty simple, although it’s not technically intermittent fasting. For 5 days a week you’ll eat normally, and then for 2 days a week you’ll greatly restrict your caloric intake.
Some people like to consume 200-500 calories on their off days, and some people prefer to fast completely.
This can be a good option if you have a schedule that’s difficult to work with, or want more flexibility in what and when you eat.
16:8 Intermittent Fasting
This is probably the most popular method of intermittent fasting, and can also be changed to 18:6, 14:10 or 12:12, but 16:8 is a nice middle ground for ease and results.
Basically, for 16 hours of the day you don’t eat anything, and then within an 8 hour window you’ll consume your daily caloric needs. That’s pretty much it.
The reason this works so well is because there isn’t a lot of thinking or planning that goes into it. Simply choose a 6 or 8 hour window where you’re allowed to eat food, e.g. 12pm-8pm or 7am-3pm, and avoid eating anything outside this time.
Now, 16 hours might sound like a long time, but for at least 7 or 8 of those you’ll be sleeping. Add this to the time between dinner and bed, provided you avoid snacking, and you’ll find the 16 hour target isn’t too hard to achieve.
Alternate Day Fasting
Alternate day fasting is pretty much what it says on the tin. One day you’ll eat normally, the next day you’ll fast, and just repeat ad infinitum.
There isn’t as much research on alternate day fasting as there is on the other types, and in my personal opinion it doesn’t sound very appealing. However, if it sounds like something you want to try feel free to give it a go and let us know what you think!
How to Overcome Hunger When You’re Intermittent Fasting
If you start intermittent fasting tomororw, this is probably the first thing you’ll be hastily Googling in your downtime at work.
For those that have never done fasting, the hunger pains can be rough. Fortunately, millions of people have already been through the same problems you’re facing and there are some tried and true methods for beating hunger.
Coffee is a hunger suppressant, and along with tasting delicious it has also shown to have fat-burning properties. It’s a win-win.
If you’re sensitive to coffee you can try drinking tea instead, whatever works for you.
Just remember, you can’t have any milk, cream, sugar, butter, or anything else in your drink of choice if you’re fasting. These contain calories and will completely defeat the purpose of IF.
Replace Water with Carbonated/Soda Water
You’ll want to drink a lot of water while you’re fasting, so why not kill two birds with one stone. You don’t have to drink soda water all day, but adding a glass or two into your morning can massively help reduce cravings and hunger while you’re busy at work.
Also, be sure to fill up on water first thing in the morning. I usually drink 500ml/1 pint of water within 30 minutes of waking up. Not only will it keep hunger at bay, but your joints and your mind will thank you after spending 8-10 hours dehydrated.
Reduce Sugar Intake and Consume Foods with High Protein and Fat
In my experience, men that start intermittent fasting generally improve their diet at the same time. However, if you keep eating sugary drinks, processed food, and anything with 30 ingredients, you’re going to have a much tougher time than someone that eats a lot of meat, eggs, and vegetables.
You might think it won’t make any difference. “Even if I eat better food I’m still fasting for the same amount of time, so why does it matter?”. Well, the problem isn’t so much with when you’re eating food, but consuming a lot of sugar and processed carbohydrates will cause intense cravings. Sugar is especially addictive, and by restricting your body of what it craves you’re not just going to be battling hunger but also withdrawal symptoms similar to someone quitting alcohol or gambling.
Chew (sugar-free) Gum
This might not make much sense, but the act of chewing causes your body to think you’re eating food and prevents your brain from sending hunger signals to your stomach.
Not only that, but simply giving your body something to do can make a world of difference. Which leads me onto the next point…
Stay Busy and Avoid Downtime
If you ask two people to fast until 12pm, one is working outside in the garden and one is sitting in a chair staring at a wall, I guarantee the guy outside is going to have an easier time.
You might think that the man doing manual labour is going to burn more calories and burn out faster, but in fact the opposite happens. If you keep yourself occupied with a clear focus and stay busy, it’s going to be much more effective at keeping the hunger away than having to sit and do nothing for hours on end.
Suck It Up and Get Used to It
The last thing on this list of tips to beat hunger while intermittent fasting is also the simplest. Just man up and deal with it.
Humans can go 30 days without food, despite what your stomach tells you you’re not in any danger whatsoever. After a week or so of regular intermittent fasting your body will start to acclimate and eventually the hunger cravings will go away.
Until then, drink your coffee, soak up the soda water, stay busy, and push through the pain to reap the wealth of benefits waiting for you.
How to Build Muscle and Lose Weight While Intermittent Fasting
As this article is devoted to men, and beginners, learning about intermittent fasting the first time, I thought it important to include a section on how to build muscle while fasting.
Not only is building muscle possible, but if you do it correctly you’ll also be able to burn fat at the same time.
In order to effectively do this you’re going to need to dial in two things:
What to Eat When Intermittent Fasting
First things first you’re going to need to eat enough protein each and every day.
A good rule of thumb is 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight. So, for a 180lb man you’ll eat 144-180g of protein each day.
Now, there’s no denying it, that’s a lot of protein to eat in a 6-8 hour window. But, with the right exercise schedule and food choices it won’t be much trouble.
Most of your calories will come from animal products and healthy fats. This mean you can eat as much as you want of the following (within reason):
- Beef (beef is much more nutritious than any other common meat)
- Chicken, pork, fish etc.
- Eggs (make sure you eat the yolks, at least 3-4+ a day is a good place to start)
- Milk, butter, and cheese (if you have digestion issues you can look for alternatives or avoid it altogether)
- Organ meat (organ meat, especially beef liver, is incredible nutrient-dense and one of the best things you can incorporate into your diet)
- Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado
Next up are carbohydrates:
- White rice (brown rice is terrible for digestion and we can’t access any of the nutrients – avoid)
- Wholegrain or sourdough bread
- Sweet potatoes, vegetables, fruits
This isn’t an exhaustive list of foods you can eat, just suggestions for you to use to refine your food choices and make better dietary decisions going forward.
Over time, what you’ll find is that you’ll stop needing to snack and through the consumption of high protien, high fat foods you won’t have any hunger cravings or energy loss throughout the day.
Also, a lot of people will end up eating 2 large meals a day with one high-protein snack at around 3 or 4pm. This could be a protein shake, beef jerky, fruit and nuts, or any combination of the list of foods mentioned above.
How and When to Train to Build Muscle
If you’re worried about how you’re going to fit training into your intermittent fasting routine, don’t be. While it’s not the most optimal way to build muscle, and if your goal is to get jacked and become a Greek God then you’ll want to avoid intermittent fasting and go down the 6 meals-a-day route instead.
But, for those guys that just want to lean up, build some extra muscle, and look better naked – while following intermittent fasting – here’s what you need to do:
- Avoid prolonged periods of fasting after a workout
- Break your fast with a post-workout meal if possible
- Lift weights or do some form of strength training at least 3x a week
- Walk regularly – aim for 10k steps a day
If you stick to these rules then building your routines around each other becomes much more easier.
One of the most common routines I see is the following:
- Fast until 11am
- Strength training
- Eat first meal at 12pm
Alternatively, I know guys that will fast until 5pm, train after work, and then eat all of their calories between 6pm-12am.Whatever works for you.
Just remember not to go more than 2-3 hours after working out without eating, or you’ll be stifling your muscle recovery.
If you’re a man looking to get in shape after 40 and have no interest in intensive lifting routines, counting calories, or relying on willpower, check out our article on why getting shape is one of the easiest (and most enjoyable) things you’ll ever do: