Sexification Note: This post won’t be heavy on the science front and will be filled mainly with notes from my personal experience. I’m happy to answer any questions that you have in the comment section, and all I ask is that you keep an open mind while reading this.
After a year of shorter duration daily fasts, I began experimenting with longer fasts, ranging anywhere from 24 to 62 hours (known loosely as Alternate Day Fasting) without eating during my longest stretch, essentially only eating on the days that I strength trained. The details of that experiment can be found here, but a quick summary is that I dropped 7lbs in 2 weeks (losing 4 more over the course of the trial), while either maintaining or increasing my strength.
My results were near effortless and I was able to maintain them with ease. Stepping back from this extreme style of fasting and going back to something more conservative (Leangains styles or simple 24 hours fasts), I want to share with you what some of the benefits were and how you use it in the pursuit of your own fat loss and maintenance goals.
Gigantic benefits such as lack of hunger while dieting, increased focus and improved mood from fasting are all discussed here, but my reasons for experimenting went beyond these reasons and I hope that you can glean something from these experiences.
The main benefit for me was purely psychological. For the majority of my adult life, I’ve struggled with food. If I’m sad, I’m eating a ton of food. If I’m happy, I’m eating a cave full of the delicious nom noms. I wanted to use this an opportunity to explore my own habits and see what I could learn from them.
With actual physical hunger taken out of the equation, I found that I ate primarily when I was under stress, bored or simply looking for a distraction from something that I was supposed to be doing. By setting a hard fasting deadline (i.e. not eating for 24-36 hours) for myself, I was forced to sit with the uncomfortable feeling and resolve it instead of using food as medicine. Sometimes I broke and ate early, but I didn’t beat myself up about it, learned from the experience and simply hopped back on.
On the actual fat loss & maintenance side of things, fasting creates a large deficit with minimal effort. It’s easy to get OCD about dieting and keeping track of your macros, so I used it as a tool to free up my mental real estate to focus on more important things while simultaneously worrying less about the eating side. Plus it allowed me to not have to even worry about stressing at social gatherings, which is a huge plus because I love food & good company.
Less food prep. Less dishes. Less money spent.
Preparing For Battle
A good relationship with food
I can’t overstate the importance of this step, both from personal experience and from that of my clients.
When I first started fasting, it exposed a major flaw within myself: I was a binger. I LURVE to eat – my mom called me a bottomless pit as a kid – and if I’m not careful I can cause dietary destruction with even the most restrictive feeding window (I went from 16/8 to 20/4 before going back to a conventional style of eating until I got a handle on things).
For some, fasting tends to intensify issues that people have with food and bring them bubbling up to the surface in a big, bad way, especially during longer periods of fasting. It’s extremely difficult to tame the beast while you’re inside it, so if you find yourself running into the same issues over and over again, take a step back and resolve them before writing fasting off completely. If it works for you, cool. If it doesn’t, then that’s cool, too. You learned something new about yourself and you can apply it to whatever you decided to do going forward.
The mindset of a boss
A boss does what needs to be done.
Let me preface this by saying that I know where you’re coming from. Having been a 6-7 (up to 8 if i was feeling particularly sassy) meals a per day dude in the past, I’ve been through periods of ravenous hunger to the point where I would actually get angry if I couldn’t eat my next preciously scheduled meal on time.
You’re the owner of the most adaptable machine in the universe – act accordingly.
You will not die if you don’t eat in the short term. If that were the case, it would’ve been game over for the human race a long time ago. You’re a lot more flexible than you give yourself credit for. Hunger is a real thing, but how we respond to it mentally plays a huge role as well. When we come face to face with hunger, more often than not we give in right away, stomping it out with food (usually way more than we actually need).
While adapting your body to go for longer periods of time without eating, expect hunger. Some will have more than others, but learn what you can from it during your transition. Each successful encounter where you power through those hunger spikes like the boss you are, the more you empower yourself. Hunger doesn’t control you, you control your hunger.
Long fasts can be a big stressor on the body, and when you throw that into the mix of an already stress-filled lifestyle you have a recipe for disaster. Before giving this an honest go, make sure you’re getting adequate sleep (fasting on little sleep can make fasting extremely difficult) while also doing your best to reduce stress in all other areas of your life – it will make the process a lot easier.
1) Choose your fasting window
For those just starting out in the world of extended fasts, 24 hours (‘ala Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat style) is a good place to start. Depending on your lifestyle, here are some examples of how that would look.
- Finish your last meal at lunch and fast until lunch time the next day.
- Finish your last meal at dinner and fast until dinner time the next day.
For someone with a family, dinner time with them is probably pretty important so dinner to dinner may be the best option. On the other hand, someone who is single and has a large degree of autonomy has more wiggle room. I’ve found that going to bed on a full stomach helps myself & my clients with compliance, but the strategy you choose is completely up to you.
To extend the fast to 36-48 hours, simply adjust and plan accordingly. Here are some examples.
- Finish your last meal at dinner on Monday and fast until breakfast on Wednesday (36 hours).
- Finish your last meal at lunch on Monday and fast until dinner on Wednesday (36 hours).
- Finish your last meal at dinner on Monday and fast until dinner on Wednesday (48 hours)
- Finish your last meal at lunch on Monday and fast until lunch on Wednesday (48 hours)
Fasting for this long is not necessary at all, but can be done and by doing so you afford yourself the opportunity to eat more when you do eat. Depending on your personality, this can be a powerful motivator.
For me, training 3x a week, I only ate on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and single meal on Friday or Saturday depending on social outings/hunger levels. This allowed me to eat essentially whatever I liked on training days without keeping track of my macros because the the large deficit that I was creating on the other days of the week.
2) Choose your feeding window
This may seem complicated, but it’s actually the easiest, and most delicious, part of the process.
All you do here is decide how long your eating window is going to be (I’ve found 4-8 hours to be best, but this isn’t set in stone by any means) and plan accordingly.
The number of meals you eat is entirely up to you, but I recommend at 2 to 3 depending on if you’re in fat loss or maintenance mode as the gastric stress from trying to fit an entire day’s worth of calories in one may leave you with a broken toilet and no friends – you have been warned!
3) Fit your training into the equation
You have a couple of options here.
- Fasted training.
- Beginning your feeding window with a small meal prior to training.
For fasted training, consume 10g of Branch Chain Amino Acids 15-30 minutes prior to training. After training, you can begin eating or if that isn’t possible, consume 10g of Branch Chain Amino Acids for every 2 hours that you go without eating until you start your feeding window. Here’s an example of this.
8:30am – 10g BCAAs
9-10am – Train
10am – 10g BCAA
12pm – Begin feeding window
Frequently Asked Questions
How much should I eat ?
That all depends.
For fat loss, I recommend that you start by eating at maintenance on your training days and 10-15% below maintenance on your off days, adjust according to your results.
If you’re following more of a 48 hour fast approach, you can eat at maintenance on training days if you’re a brave soul or 10% more than that to help stave off hunger, letting the deficit created on your off days handle the rest.
For maintaining your physique once you’ve achieved it, you can obviously get away with eating more as long as you make sure to adjust according to your results.
Again, the number of meals you eat is up to you, but I recommend at least 2 meals.
What should I eat?
For most people, the main benefit of fasting is that you can eat larger, satiating meals while dieting or maintaining. Of course this means that some junk food (any eating plan devoid of a Cinnabon now and then has no place in this world) will sneak in there from time to time, but make sure that the majority of your food intake comes from whole, unprocessed foods.
Here are some specifics.
- Protein – Eat between 0.8 – 1 gram of protein protein per pound of body weight (the fluffier you are, the less protein you’ll need to stave off muscle loss) regardless of the day. Bump this number up slightly if you’re having issues with feeling full – I’d rather have you get slightly more protein than too little.
- Carbohydrates – Eat 1 gram per pound of body weight (adjust this number down if you have a significant amount of weight to lose) on training days, and for the sake of simplicity cut them down to as low as you can handle on your off days. Play around with this number and adjust according to your results.
- Fat – Fill the remainder of your calories with this delicious macronutrient. A general rule of thumb to start by is consume less on the days that you train (because of increased carbs) and more on the days that you don’t (because of decreased carbs)
For those following the 48 hour fast, maintain protein levels for sure, but you can be a bit more flexible what you’re taking in, increasing protein, fats and carbs as long as you don’t let your overall caloric intake get out of control.
What about muscle loss?
I haven’t found this to be an issue at all as long as you’re training progressively with a combination of the big lifts (squat, bench variations, chin ups, dips, deadlift variations, overhead press, leg press). Cover your bases with these exercises, training in the 4-8 rep range. Make sure to include some fun pump work as well with your accessory work – lunges, curls, rows, dumbbell bench variations, and machine work has its place, just get your heavy stuff out of the way first.
If you find your strength levels dropping, increase your calories slightly and reassess as necessary.
From a general standpoint, the leaner you are, the more that you have to worry about muscle loss during extended periods of fasting. The more fat you have to lose, the less at risk you are for muscle loss with your fat acting as essentially the sacrificial preferred energy source before the body starts looking to break down lean body mass.
With that said, if you lose a little bit of muscle along the way and you look amazingly awesome as an end result, would you be upset? As long as you’re following the above advice most of the time, muscle loss is a bit over exaggerated and doesn’t happen all at once at any rate. Don’t let optimal stand in the way of good enough.
For more fasting myths, check this in-depth post out.
How do I deal with hunger?
- Stay busy. Go for a walk, hang out with friends, dance like a foolish mortal while listening to music. Pretty much do anything you can to distract yourself from a hunger spike. Hunger is like a bully – it pops up and demands your attention momentarily, but if you confront it proactively it goes away quick, fast and in a hurry. They usually last for 15-20 minutes in duration.
- Supplement. Caffeine has an appetite suppressing properties which goes a long way towards quieting the hunger beast – coffee & tea fiends, rejoice! I’ve also found that 5-10g of BCAAs taken during a hunger spike does a very good job of telling your stomach rumblings to “shhhhhh”.
- Sleep. If you can just make it to bed and go to sleep (or even a nap whenever you can fit one in), it acts as a bit of a reset button for your hunger.
- Eat. Sometimes you’ve just gotta eat, and the good thing is that rarely do you need as much food as your brain may try to convince you in order to take the edge off your hunger and return your sanity. Try to have on hand an “in case of emergency” scenario. This could be a protein bar in your car, a few pieces of fruit, or just a cooked meal waiting in your fridge. If you’e finding that your hunger is mainly from not eating enough prior to ending your fast, experiment with making your last meal of the day the largest and made largely of protein.
What happens if I mess up?
It’s all good! There is no “messing up”. Some days you’ll fast for long periods of time and on other days barely at all. This isn’t something that you have to do on a daily basis, although the longer that you do, the better you get at it, recognizing and dealing with patterns that may act as road blocks.
Don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself to extend the fast beyond the point where you feel comfortable, especially if it begins to interfere with your life and defeats the purpose of this being more or less a relaxed way of eating. Remember, at the end of the day fasting is just another tool in your Batman utility belt to get the job done – no more and no less.
Don’t associate any magical properties with fasting or any other protocol. Demystify it as much as possible. If it helps with compliance then use it to your advantage, but the moment it becomes a hindrance to your success, abandon it without a second thought for something more appropriate for your circumstances.
Above all else, I hope that you’re open to experimenting with your body. You’re a lot less fragile than many have convince you to believe.