Paleo Plan

Intermittent Fasting Part 3 – FAQ

This post was kindly written by Max Shippee, owner of CrossFit 1440 in suburban Los Angeles, and fitness guru extraordinaire. Learn more about Max here


Max Shippee, Paleo Plan's fitness guru“So this fasting thing – is it like my friend who drank lemon & cayenne water for 10 days?”

“No, no, no special concoctions.”

“Just don’t eat?”

“Yeah, just don’t eat.”

Welcome to the third post on Scheduled Eating/Intermittent Fasting! We’re going to delve into some of the most common questions in this post. If you’re reading this first, you may want to check out our previous posts here and here. 

Here we go!

Is this the same as “Detoxing”?

In general a “detox fast” is one where people feel their body is full of toxins (heavy metals, pesticides, for example), and they need to spend a certain amount of time either refraining from food, or having special concoctions (cayenne lemonade anyone?) to assist their bodies to do so. This process is generally embarked on for a set time (usually 3-10 days, depending on the fast), and then the person tries to make better food choices from then on. As far as I could find, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of scientific research proving that people had these desired “detoxing” effects. For example, I found no studies showing that detox fasting individuals lowered their cellular concentrations of Round-Up Ready Pesticide. However, there does seem to be a LOT of anecdotal evidence to suggest that people feel more alert, have better energy, have “brain fog” lift, and things of this sort that they attribute to “detox” fasting.

Some people swear by detox fasts, but I’m still searching for peer reviewed studies showing actual documented detoxification. If anyone reading has some that aren’t linked directly to a product, let me know!

In contrast, Intermittent Fasting is a way of eating that has many real scientifically observed benefits, but it is also something that is practiced on a regular basis, usually daily or weekly. It’s seen as a way of scheduling your calories continuously, rather than a yearly “detox.” 

What about going into “starvation mode” & losing muscle?

Aha! The dreaded “starvation mode!” On any of the current generally recommended  protocols, you won’t be fasting long enough to get into the dreaded “starvation mode.” Unless you’re running a marathon every day, it takes, on average, around 2-3 days for your body to use up its stored sugar (read: glycogen), and go into super fat-burning mode (a “healthy” ketosis), then it can take up to several weeks (link), depending on your body composition, to get to the place where your body will start to break down muscle to use as fuel, usually 5-6% body fat. If you’re not doing extreme fasting for 40 days, and if your body perceives the need to keep that muscle on you (see next question), you have nothing to worry about! (link) The longest intermittent fasting protocol (which we’ll go over later) is 24 hours, well within this timeline of several weeks. It will also help tremendously if you periodically lift heavy things.

So, I should still workout during a fast?

Yes, but be aware of the timing of your workouts (see more on this below). The most effective way to maintain that sweet lean muscle mass that we’ve worked so hard to acquire, or to put it another way, the best way to stay “toned,” is to pick up some heavy stuff, repeatedly (and with good, safe form!). There must have been a time in cave-people’s lives when food was scarce, or at the very least, not as plentiful. Imagine if our ancestors, after only a few days without eating, were eating up their muscle mass. When that bison herd came back through, they wouldn’t stand a chance of chasing one down and killing it! Sure, that ultimate survival/starvation mode would turn on eventually (see above), but for the fasting protocols that we’re talking about (24 hours or less), we are well within the “safe” window to be getting the good effects from our bodies, without too much worry about the negatives.

Should I train fasted or fed?

Ideally, you’d be training in a fasted state, then break the fast after your workout, though this may not be practical for everyone (don’t obsess about this!). For most of us, this will take a bit of getting used to. If you’ve never trained hungry before, go easy the first couple of times. You may find that you don’t have as much juice as you usually do. I wouldn’t try to hit my 1 rep max deadlift, or beat my mile time the first day out. After an adaptation period of a week or two, however, you may find that you prefer to work out in a fasted state, and studies like this one have shown that working out in a fasted state (before breakfast in this study) keeps your insulin sensitivity primed and can keep you from putting on weight, even on a surplus of calories.

This can be highly individual, so play with it. For sure, working out in a fasted state can be really tough, especially for people prone to hypoglycemia, but some people prefer it. And actually, breaking the fast after a workout makes paleological sense (very hungry, track bison, chase bison, eat bison). I’ve found personally that working out fasted fits me well, and when I refuel, I feel amazing. You may or may not find the same for you. You may find that you like to train during your eating windows after a meal. Or you may prefer to train while fasting on “heavy days” but have a little something on your “cardio” days, or vice versa.

What kind of workouts should I be doing?

Something like CrossFit is good, but by no means necessary, though focusing on heavier weights, instead of traditional long drawn out “cardio” will do more to maintain muscle mass and keep “starvation mode” in check, rather than simply depleting the energy stores you have in place. Working the big, major muscle groups is a good place to start, movements like deadlifting, squatting, bench press & chin-ups, are the big 4 that activate the most bang for the buck as far as your lean muscle mass goes.

You can drive yourself crazy here trying to make up the perfect workout, but as a basic guideline, you want to push with your legs, and both push & pull with your arms. Using heavy enough weights that you find you hold your breath, or make a face for a second to lift them (if you’re making a face, you’re probably holding your breath too :) A good trainer/coach can be very valuable here. Complete articles have been written on breathing and lifting, but for here, lets just make sure that you’re pushing with the legs for a full range of motion (read: squatting), and pushing and pulling with your arms with a full range of motion (read: bench press or push-up, and chin-ups). We could really make an exhaustive list here, with weights and protocols, but individual needs can vary greatly. That’s what your local trainer is for, or hit us up in the comments, and we’ll see if we can get you started. You could always go hang with Neely for a session or two of full body climbing goodness. ;)

Let me just say here that you need to be doing something, as far as weight training. If you’re not using you muscles, your body has no reason to keep it. Have you ever had a cast on a part of your body? What happened? It got way smaller and weak. This was from non-use. The rest of your body is the same way: if you don’t at least give it a little challenge now & then, it’s like having a cast on your entire body. Find a way to move your body through a full range of motion that involves added resistance at some point. Not just a “body pump” class, but some kind of weights, machines, whatever!

Should I worry about calories?

I know that we don’t make a huge deal about calories here at the Plan, but I want you to just bear with me for a second (caution…math ahead). The basics of “calorie counting” can be beneficial when looking at the general effects of weight loss, or body maintenance when fasting.

You can imagine that if we’re closing the eating window for a period of time each day, we’d also be cutting a few calories. Though that may happen, cutting calories isn’t necessarily the goal. The full 24 hour fast, however, is a very efficient way to cut out calories without making yourself crazy counting them at every meal.

If we shrink your eating window each day, it may even feel like you’re eating more, since you’re eating the same amount in a shorter period of time! Try getting in that 2,000 calories a day in only a few hours instead of the 14-15 we usually do!

If you skipped a full 24 hour period of eating each week (more on approaches in the next post), and ate “normally” for the rest of the week, you’d be at a 2,000 deficit at the end of the week! That’s getting close to the caloric equivalent of a pound! Now, we all do realize that weight loss is NOT linear, but you CAN see how this math can work in your favor, and over time, can have some pretty sweet, and perhaps even dramatic, effects. The trick, if fasting for weight loss, is to not “reward yourself” with food. As in, “I made it through my fasting, now I get to eat two full batches of carrot banana muffins!” 

How about caffeine?

Be careful. If having green tea helps you delay breakfast and gives you something to sip on in the morning, I’d say you’re fine. But as Neely warned in this post, don’t use it as a way to enter the world of eating disorders. If used like a crutch, caffeine can be just as bad as diet pills. Sure, it doesn’t raise your insulin (by itself), but it’s really not doing you a bunch of favors either. 

Once again, if your green tea happens to have caffeine, no worries for most people. If you’re popping Exedrin and washing it down with an espresso and Diet Coke, maybe you really just need a nap. 

How do you recommend starting again?

Our previous post suggested a 12/12 split, meaning 12 eating/12 fasting. You should head over there to check it out! 

As always, comments are always appreciated!

 

 

 


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16 Comments

  1. Max, thank you so much for the posts! I’ve read all three IF posts and they are very informative and I’ve learned a lot. I have been doing IF for about a week now and I love it! However, I have been fasting from about 7 at night to a 12 30 lunch the next day. Most IF schedules recommend working out immediately before breaking the fast with lunch. However, my schedule doesn’t really allow this. I am forced to workout around 530 to 630 with my current schedule. I tried changing my feeding window so that I would fast at night and eat a good breakfast and lunch but I found this extremely difficult even for one day and not feasible for a long term plan for me. My question is, if I workout in the AM (5 30 to 6 30) and wait to eat til 1230, is that doing more harm than good? Especially with lifting weights I’ve been taught for so many years that in order for your body to not eat away muscles for protein you have to have a good source of protein before and after you lift. Would it be beneficial to add a whey protein shake before or after a lift? I’ve also heard that BCAAs are the best. Is that true or would whey work? Sorry for the long question but I’m really curious and can’t seem to find a good answer anywhere else. Thanks for your time!

    • Hey Kyle!

      So glad you’re making a try of things, dude! Well done!

      Giving the IF thing a go canbe a little challenging in th beginning, and especially with people different schedules,finding something that works smoothly can take some time.

      Even if you don’t eat until 4-5 hours after your workout, it’s still your post-workout meal. And honestly,the research doesn’t find a HUGE difference in getting those calories in in some magic time frame after the workout (i.e. 20 minutes), vs waiting a little longer, even hours. So, is it something you should be having a bunch of stress about? Not really. Do the best you can.

      Also, as long as your doing weight training, and lifting some kind of weight with your workouts a couple times a week, you shouldn’t lose any muscle mass. If your using or muscle, your body shouldn’t use it for fuel. From what I’ve read, that only really becomes and dues at really low body fat, like 5 or 6%. Think of when you have a cast on, after you don’t use those muscles for a while, take that cast off and your arm/leg is smaller and atrophied. It has nothing to do with what you eating (in this case) and every thing to do with whether or not you’re using it. It truly is “Use it or lose it!”

      If you want to, and u still feel stressed about it, you CAN do the BCAA’s to help with muscle repair after the workout, and every 2-3 hours while “fasting” to maintain that repair. This will turn off some of the other health benefits associated with fasting, like apostasy, but it should not affect weight loss. (I have a client who did your schedule exactly, with BCAA’s post workout & every 2 hours after, and still saw weight/fat loss 1.5-2kbs a week, while getting stronger)

      This is really all kind of personal fine tuning, and trying a month with BCAA’S, and month without might be good. I’d love to hear how you’re progressing! Keep us updated!

      PS this was typed oNmy phone, so please forgive typos!

  2. Awesome thanks for the prompt reply. And on your phone too… I’m impressed! Thanks again!

  3. Max

    I train doing judo 3 times a week and weights 3 times a week always in the evenings because I can’t train during the day due to my job. Which leaves me having to start my eating at approximately 10pm and finishing at 6 am so I can fit in two meals. Because I finish training at around 930pm in this case I have to have two meals to meet my calorie intake. One at 11pm and one at 630am to 7 am. Then fast again for 15 to 16 hours. Is this has for me to be doing intense cardio fasted? And also iis it bad for me to be eating just before bed?

    Thanks for your help

    • Wow dude….

      Kudos for trying to make this work for you…let’s see here.

      What bothers me a little, is that you’re ind of fasting twice. Once while you’re sleeping (I’m assuming from after your 11pm meal till 6:30am or so). Most people make their sleepy time also their fast time. What seems to play more of a key is consecutive time fasting.

      So…if this is working for you, and you’re not a crazy person. Then go ahead and keep it up. Otherwise, I’d say go ahead and start eating later, like a small snack before your workouts, then tear it up until a bit before bed. Depending on your age, you’re right on the edge of overtraining, which means you either need more food, or more sleep, and probably both.

      You may be better off doing a 24 hour fast instead. Pick 24 hr period that won’t be too crazy/hectic and give that a go. Say, eat breakfast at 6:30am, then don’t eat until 6:30am the next day.

      Then, if you’re goal is to bulk up, you HAVE to eat more calories than you need. Take your body weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 15, then add 500, that’s your daily calorie requirement. If you’re skipping a day of eating, you have to add those calories to the other days, don’t leave them out!

      Update us as you go through it!!

  4. My goal is to bulk up while staying lean

  5. Max

    Thanks alot mate. All the way from Australia.

    I just wanted to know is there any benefit loss whilst not training fasted because I’d like to maximize my fat loss.

    If I do eat before training I would probably eat at 430pm and have my last meal at 10pm and then fast for the rest of the night till 430pm the next day that would give me an approx 18/6 fast/eat. What would the ratio of calories be for me before and after training?

    I do eat well and good wholesome foods I don’t eat junk and I have lots of fresh fruit veggies and clean unprocessed proteins. I was also wondering if doing this 18/6 fast be OK all week with one 24 hr fast one day of the week. Or wwould that be too much as I would be able to make up the calories on the days I do eat without gorging on junk.

    Thank you for your time and effort.

    • Hey Niku!

      Sounds like you’ve got a good start to things!!

      There is evidence that working out in a fasted state peaks both growth hormone and testosterone, both of which play a role in fat loss. This being said, you do have to find what works for you.

      My concern for you, is if you waited until after your training you’d probably be right on the edge of a 20/4 pattern. There’s nothing wrong with this, but you’ve got to spend those 4 hours eating quite a few calories to keep from dropping weight.

      The other option is to try the 24 fast two days a week, separated a bit. Like fasting Monday & Thursday. You’d have to just see what works for you.

      If you really want to geek out, head over to LeanGains.com ,and check out the goodness over there. And depending on where your body fat is right now, you may even want to consider a refeeding phase of the diet. There are a LOT of factors to play with. Start with the most simple one that fits into your lifestyle and see what happens. Just make sure you’re eating enough!

      Keep the questions coming!!!

  6. Thanks Max. Could you suggest some ways of maximising calories in one meal without eating junk?
    I can think of healthy fats like avocados, salmon, nuts nut butters.

    Also if I ate before an interval type training like on the days that i have to have a meal before i train. do u suggest low carbs and high fat. Or the other way around to maximise fat loss.

    Because I read somewhere thaton gym days I should be eating high Carb low fat and on interval cardio days it should be low Carb high fat. http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/build-lean-muscle-intermittent-fasting-carb-and-calorie-cycling

    If I did have to eat before training how much should I eat before like is there a specific quantity to maximise fat loss but still give me an opportunity to meet my daily requirements.

    Thanks for your great info

    • Wow…Niku…

      Just realized I never replied to these follow-up questions….So sorry!

      Big calories come from fat, the easiest way to do this is to add butter. Or other fat source. I’ve people in my gym get at a weight they like, and they want to stop losing, so I tell them exactly that. More butter. So far everyone’s leveled out. Your list of avocados, salmon, nuts and the like is a good one.

      Upping your carbs a bit on your more intense gym days can be a good idea for both performance reasons and for strength reasons as well. If you’re looking to maximize weight loss, you may want to work out on “empty” and wait until after the workout to “replenish.” Once again…it depends on your goals.

      As far as how much, in general, you don’t need as much as you think. Something as small as 20 grams of carbs, with a little protein thrown in can make a difference. Think some apple slices with almond butter, something along those lines. Depending on your digestion, usually about an hour to 45 minutes before the workout.

      It’s a balance you’re trying to strike. On the one hand, you want to be able to go “hard” in your workouts and perform well. On the other, you may actually get a little better fat loss by having a workout where you bonk a little. Maybe even alternating in the same week. That article over at BreakingMuscle, seems a little similar to the stuff Lyle talks about over at BodyRecomposition.com.

      On a total side note, some guys in my gym have found that taking some BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) before a workout, seems to give them a little boost in energy without a significant caloric bump.

      Let me know how it turns out for you, more personal experience is always useful!!

  7. Max,

    I asked you a question back in June. Since then I’ve lost about 10 pounds of doing daily IF for most of July and part of August then a once weekly 24 hour fast because of track and me feeling like I need breakfast in order to stay operational and recover in a timely manner for the track season. I’ve gotten pretty lean but still not quite as cut as I want to be. However, maybe I’ll be able to touch base again in a couple of months with even more good news.

    However, I have two more questions that for me are daunting. One, my buddy just said, “I wish I could stay as big as you and eat as little as you do.” My friend is trying to gain weight, eating a ton of food, and is still lean and cut. How does that work? He eats as much as he wants of whatever he wants basically. All he does is lift and run occasionally yet he stays lean. How can this be? Is the only answer genetics? Some of my the guys on my track team are the same way. They can eat whatever they want and stay lean (and outperform me too unfortunately haha). It is interesting to note that my friend eats as much as he wants, but that’s not very much usually. For me, if I ate as much as I wanted of whatever I wanted, I would eat a ton of food, bulk up and lose any leanness in no time.

    One more question. I still don’t understand how whole grains such as steel cut oats and brown rice are unhealthy. It seems to me like most athletes eat plenty of whole grains and are quite healthy. Maybe I’m misunderstanding a performance based diet vs. a strictly health based diet (seems to me like they should be synonymous).

    Sorry for the long post! If you get around to answering this, thanks a bunch but if you’re too busy, don’t worry about it!

    thanks again!

    • Hey Kyle!!

      Thanks for writing in, and I’m glad to here you’ve made such great progress using the fasting!! Well done!!

      Genetics does play a big role in what your default settings are as far as insulin sensitivity is concerned. You sound like you’re naturally more insulin resistant (meaning you put on weight easily) while your buddy is very insulin sensitive (it seems like he can eat anything he wants).

      Of course, like many things in life, the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. You want to get more cut, like him; but he wants to put on size, like you. Be mad at your ancestors, not your friend :)

      A quick note about calories. In this particular situation that you’re asking about, calories are the on/off switch. If you’re trying to gain weight, you must hav a surplus. If you’re trying to lose it, you need to be in a deficit. What those calories are made of (protein/carb/fat) as well as your training will determine how the weight is gained or lost. Your buddy needs to eat more (has he tried GOMAD, yet? It always works :). You, with the 1 day of IF in your week, are successfully eating less.

      Also, people who are naturally lean just tend to eat less than they think, while people who are naturally heavy tend to think they eat less than they do. I had one guy in my gym who was literally eating 4,000 calories a day at a bodyweight of 150lbs (that’s almost double his requirement) to put on weight. Metabolisms upgrade and down grade, they change just like your body does.

      The oats and brown rice, while not nearly as bad as wheat, are still grains. They get your insulin all riled up. People who are REALLY good about counting calories can make it work, because they are correctly food combining with protein. See if you can find a body builder/fitness practitioner who eats JUST brown rice with nothing else. It’s very, very rare.

      And yes, there is a difference between performance based diets and health based diets. They are related, for sure, but they are not always the same.

      Have I managed to ramble on long enough?

  8. Hi Max,

    I’ve been researching on IF recently an have found your posts really helpful and informative.

    I started IF two weeks ago and have been following the 16/8 schedule. I usually work out within the 8 hour window but i want to change my schedule and work out in the mornings. I read your answer to one of the questions saying that it was ok to take bcaa’s post workout even while in the fasting state. Is it ok to take whey protein instead of bcaa’s or will it affect my results?

    Hope you can help. Thanks!

  9. Hey Harvey!!

    So sorry I’m way behind on this! I haven’t been getting notified of comments to older posts for some reason!

    From what I’ve read, the BCAA’s will have minimal effect on insulin, while the whey may. (heh heh)

    There are also studies supporting the taking of whey after workouts to help with uptake of protein and to help put on muscle.

    So it kind of depends on your goals. I would say that some BCAA’s followed by a bit of coconut oil would be good. Since you’d get the amino acids in there, and then, theoretically, keep the fat burning stoked with the coconut oil.

    Just my thoughts, like you asked!!

  10. Hi Max, I consider myself as skinny fat and I want to try IF. When do you think is the best time to go to gym: morning or afternoon, considering that i’ll be having the feeding window from 12 – 8 pm. Also, should i eat at maintenance calories or above to gain muscle while losing fat? Thanks!

  11. Michelle

    Hi,
    Thanks for the really informative posts. I’ve been doing IF (16/8) for about 6 weeks now. I feel like it’s a sustainable way of living, but I’m not really seeing the fat loss I was hoping for so I’m not sure if I should continue. What’s your experience with women and IF? I’ve heard there might be negative hormonal regulation that happens when women try IF but then I couldn’t really find any evidence to back that up. Have you seen women have success using IF to lose body fat?
    Thanks!!

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