Article last updated: September 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Intermittent Fasting is a way of dieting where you schedule fasts in your diet to promote fat loss.
The research consensus over the past 10 years is that implementing fasts can have minor positive health effects on your body.
I’m emphasising minor, because given that your overall daily food intake is the same, there are no significant metabolical or hormonal advantages to doing intermittent fasting vs. just eating more frequent meals.
Whether you should fast or not, depends mostly on your natural appetite levels, your fitness levels and training demands, and your goals.
In this article, I will outline the 2 most popular ways of doing intermittent fasting and give a breakdown of who should fast and who should avoid it.
Rather than relying on studies about fasting, I will use my own experience doing intermittent fasting for over a year.
Let’s get started:
The Two Ways of Intermittent Fasting: Leangains vs. Eat Stop Eat
The 2 Popular Ways of Fasting are Leangains and Eat Stop Eat and both can be used in combination with my basic bodyweight training program for skinny-fat guys.
The Leangains method was created by Swedish nutrition expert and personal trainer Martin Berkhan who has an amazing physique and countless success stories under his belt.
His method recommends that you fast 16 hours per day if you’re a man and 12-14 hours if you’re a woman.
Women fast a shorter time because they’re more sensitive to drops in blood sugar. (Incidentally, I also found that a lot of skinny-fat men tend to do better with 12-14 hours).
Fasting means that you only consume water, black coffee, non-sweetened tea or a VERY small snack up to 50-70 calories depending on how big you area.
50-70 calories are about the maximum amount of calories you can eat before your fast is broken so I would say it’s not worth eating anything during the fast. To give you some perspective, that’s about the equivalent of one bite of a chocolate bar and chances are once you’ve had that bite, you will want more.
Now, 12-16 hours may sound like a lot but it really just means that you skip breakfast and then you can eat more with lunch and dinner.
Instead of having a typical 12 hour eating window like most people who eat breakfast around 7 AM and have their dinner 7 PM or so, you now have an 8 hour eating window between 11 AM and 7 PM.
When I followed Martin Berkhan’s protocol, my 16 hour fast/8 hour eating window looked like this:
- 11 AM-1 PM: Start eating window with lunch.
- 7-9 PM: Have my dinner which was the final meal of the day.
So I basically skipped breakfast and ate more with lunch and dinner. It was that simple and it worked quite well for me at that time.
I lost some fat, learnt how to deal with hunger and stopped obsessing about getting in my protein every 2-3 hours.
Eat Stop Eat (ESE) by nutritionist Brad Pilon is very different from leangains and requires more discipline.
With Eat Stop Eat, you fast 1 or 2 days per week for 24 hours.
The main benefit of Eat Stop Eat is that you fast 1 or 2 days per week and then you’re done and you can enjoy your life.
Just like with Leangains, I found that I also lost fat on Eat Stop Eat, and I enjoyed this protocol more because I would fast just one or two days per week and then be done with it.
If you’re the kind of person who does “all or nothing”, Eat Stop Eat is best for you.
The secondary benefit is that Brad Pilon in general doesn’t recommend a very high protein intake.
In his other book “How Much Protein”, he sums up a lot of scientific research and recommends just 70-130 grams of protein per day depending on how big you area.
I read this book several years ago, and reduced my protein intake to his recommended amount and I found that I was better able to: 1) Stay satiated on my diet plan and 2) Build muscle mass in stubborn areas such as my arms, shoulders and upper chest.
It also meant that I had more calories allocated for the protein sparing nutrients (carbs and fats), which I found are more important for gaining muscle mass, recovering between training sessions and feeling your best.
When I was new to training and ate a lot of protein (200 grams per day), I found it very difficult to gain muscle mass and I was always constipated, bloated and felt very heavy throughout the day.
And that’s a big problem because the Leangains protocol recommends a minimum of 2.5 grams of protein per KG of bodyweight.
The Biggest Benefit of Doing Intermittent Fasting
After doing both Eat Stop Eat and Leangains, I found that their biggest benefit is your improved ability to control yourself when you’re hungry.
If you’ve been skinny-fat or fat your entire life and you’ve never gotten lean, you most likely crave food too much and too often.
You don’t know when to stop eating and how to deal with even small amounts of hunger.
A regular diet with small regular meals and snacks doesn’t do much for you because you never feel satisfied after a meal and you end up overeating or binge eating after a few days or a week.
I’m emphasising regular diet, because if you have a great diet that contains satiating meals and works for your unique body-type and situation, you will most likely feel full throughout the day and shred body-fat regardless of whether you skip breakfast or not.
Only a few of my clients follow Intermittent Fasting but the vast majority feel full on their diet, while shredding body-fat.
I personally believe that most people will do better with eating a small breakfast and now I’ll explain why.
Is Intermittent Fasting Right For You?
The main advantage of Intermittent Fasting is that you have an eating window set in stone, so you’re forced to go hungry for parts of the day and that’s actually great for you because you learn how to deal with hunger.
You learn about the importance of drinking a lot of water and how to keep yourself occupied with interesting things that take your mind off food.
Furthermore, because you eat fewer meals each day you’re able to eat more with each meal. This is great because you’re full and satisfied for at least part of the day.
The major downside of doing intermittent fasting is that it doesn’t work long-term for everyone.
From the +100 people I’ve talked with who did Intermittent Fasting, only 30-40% found it to work well for them.
I haven’t done an actual analysis, but this is just my impression on top off my head.
Those who dislike it, often feel hungry, irritable and unproductive while fasting, even after going through the 3-4 week adjustment period.
I personally crave a light breakfast with some fruits and starches to perform my best throughout the morning, and this didn’t change even after doing intermittent fasting for over a year.
Remember, carbs are the main fuel for both your muscles and brain so if you’ve been having carbs with breakfast for decades it can be hard to adjust 100% into fasting and only some people can do that.
Furthermore, some people can’t sacrifice 3-4 weeks of adjusting into a new diet plan, just to see if it works for them.
If you work on a demanding career or on a business that requires your 100% focus, you most likely can’t afford to waste a month of productivity just to see if Intermittent Fasting works for you. If that’s you, I suggest you eat at least a light breakfast with some fruits and starches so you can stay productive in the mornings.
With most of my clients who work demanding jobs or are doing more demanding Phase 2 training programs, I’ll have them eat a light breakfast and a large sized lunch and dinner using foods that provide the most bang-for-the-buck when it comes to satiety vs. calories.
The 30-40% who like Intermittent Fasting, like it because it fits their lifestyle better and not because it provides some magical benefit.
They like to wake up and get to work immediately rather than think about what to have for breakfast or spend time preparing a breakfast.
Intermittent Fasting and Indigestion?
One point I rarely see mentioned anywhere when Intermittent Fasting is discussed is digestion.
As you already know, Intermittent Fasting relies on you eating fewer but bigger meals.
The issue with eating bigger meals for a long time is that they’re harder on your digestion and that’s a big problem because skinny-fat guys tend to have poor digestions. (Your digestive system is linked to your natural body-composition so guys with great digestion tend to partition nutrients better for muscle building and so on).
So if you experience indigestion symptoms such as constipation and bloating while eating big meals during fasting, it’s a sign you should try to eat smaller meals and split up your portions because:
I personally had Irritable Bowel Syndrome my entire life and eating big meals is a big NO for me. Regardless of how clean the meal is, I simply can’t digest big meals, and the older you get, the more true this will become for you.
With that said, there are always exceptions for this.
I have a good friend who suffered from candida and he does Intermittent Fasting with great success but prior to candida and fasting he has always had a lean and strong physique and going by what he told me, it was mostly a reduction in low quality carbs such as wheat and refined sugars that corrected his candida rather than the fasting itself.
The overall conclusion is that Intermittent Fasting can work long term for a bit less than half of you reading this, and it’s a good learning tool for those of you who have a hard time controlling your appetite.
I believe that Intermittent Fasting is a great tool to at least try for a month if:
- You don’t know much about how to structure a proper nutrition plan that keeps you full.
- You have problems satisfying your appetite when eating 4-6 small meals per day.
- You can dedicate 3-4 weeks to go through the intermittent fasting adjustment period.
Right after the adjustment period, you will discover if Intermittent Fasting works well for you, and even if it doesn’t work for you, you will still learn a valuable lesson in controlling your appetite and adjusting your diet.
As with everything related to diet, it’s rarely either or. It’s more grey than black and white, and YOU have to try Intermittent Fasting on your own body to see how it works for you. Who knows, it might work for you now, like it did for me 3 years ago, but then you’ll get back to eating breakfast later once your training demands increase and you learn more about dieting.
Be proud but stay hungry,