Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular over the past few years.
There are claims that it’s the perfect diet if you want to get lean without giving up your favourite foods. There are also those who swear by its health benefits.
At the opposite end, some people warn against intermittent fasting, highlighting various cons and even possible side effects.
Are you wondering what the truth is and whether you should do it when trying to get lean?
I’m going to answer all these questions in this article and hopefully shed some light on this very popular diet.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
In short, intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating where you cycle between periods of eating and periods of fasting.
Unlike other popular diets, intermittent fasting doesn’t come with strict food recommendations. You are able to eat much of the foods that you enjoy, as long as they are generally healthy and you only eat during a certain period.
There’s research proving its benefits on type 2 diabetes and it has also been shown to improve the metabolic rate. (1)
Types of Intermittent Fasting
By now you’re probably wondering how you can do intermittent fasting and how long you should abstain from eating.
16:8 Intermittent Fasting
The most common type is probably 16:8. Otherwise said, you eat for 8 hours and abstain for 16.
Keep in mind you will most likely be asleep for 8 of those 16 hours, so you are consciously abstaining for only around 8 hours.
Most people choose to eat between 12 p.m. and 8 p.m. but you’re free to play with the interval to find the one that suits your lifestyle best.
During the fast, you can drink water, coffee, or tea, all unsweetened and without creamer.
5:2 Intermittent Fasting
Another type of intermittent fasting is the 5:2 diet. Here, you’ll eat normally 5 days a week and then restrict your calories to 500 for women and 600 for men during the other two.
Usually, the fasting days are not one after the other. For example, you could fast on Tuesday and Friday, and eat normally during the other days.
A more restrictive form of the 5:2 diet implies eating no foods during the 2 days of fasting. If you feel like 2 days is too much, you can limit the fasting to one day per week.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting When Getting Lean
It makes you more aware of when you’re eating
Probably the first benefit you’ll feel practicing intermittent fasting, regardless of which type you choose, is that you’ll be more aware of when you’re eating.
It’s a simple principle if you think about it. Since you’re consciously abstaining from food for a certain amount of time, when you finally get to the eating period, you’ll pay much more attention to it.
As a result, you’re likely to be more mindful of what you’re eating.
You are more in touch with your hunger
By fasting for a certain period, you get more in touch with your body and your hunger.
You may even start to recognize unhealthy patterns such as emotional eating. That’s because in that fasting period if you get frustrated, angry, bored, you cannot resort to food as a coping mechanism.
And in time, you will start recognizing when your craving for certain foods is something other than hunger.
A lot of us resort to food at different moments.
Sad? Chocolate will pick you up. Angry? Sweets, some potato chips, or even alcohol might calm you down. Happy? Why not have something delicious to celebrate?
And so the calories pile up and our hunger cues get mixed up with our emotions.
With intermittent fasting, you have a time when, if you stick to the plan. No matter what emotions come up, food can’t be the answer.
In time, you’ll start to tell the two types of cravings apart and be more in tune with your hunger.
It can help you lose bodyweight
At the end of the day, intermittent fasting is a diet, and if done right, it could help you lose weight.
That’s because oftentimes you will naturally limit your calorie intake for the day or the week. After all, you’re skipping a meal, or an entire day of eating, depending on what type of diet you practice.
For some, that will be enough to lose excess body weight. If you add healthy eating and/or working out to the mix, you can be almost certain you’ll start melting those pounds in no time.
In fact, some studies show intermittent fasting is more efficient for weight loss than simple calorie restriction.
In one such study, participants lost about 0.55 pounds per week on the 16:8 model, and 1.65 pounds on the alternate-day fasting model.
It also isn’t a rapid weight loss solution, which means you can have more chances of keeping the weight off and avoid yo-yo dieting. (2)
Disadvantages of Intermittent Fasting When Getting Lean
It doesn’t really pay attention to what you eat to get you lean
The first disadvantage of intermittent fasting diets is that it doesn’t follow strict rules when it comes to what you eat.
In short, nothing is stopping you from bingeing on fast food in your eating window! While that may feel like a dream to some, it is very far from healthy.
The quality of the food we eat is just as important, if not more important, than the quantity. To maximize positive effects, such as reduced LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, intermittent fasting should be paired with healthy eating.
In the same manner, if your only concern is getting lean and you have no health issues, being mindful of what you eat will help maximize your results.
Otherwise, if you constantly go into unhealthy binge eating periods, the result might be the opposite of what you’re looking for.
Fasted weight training can make you sluggish
If you want to get lean, chances are you’re also training. But, training while in the fasting period can make you feel sluggish.
This usually happens for two reasons: low blood sugar and high cortisol. Because you’re working out in a fasted state – essential with no energy to fuel you – your body will start taking energy from wherever it can.
The result? It can deplete you of any energy, resulting in low blood sugar. And thus the fatigue, weakness, and irritability start setting in.
On top of that, because you’re making an effort and you haven’t eaten in a while, your adrenals go on high alert mode and start producing more cortisol.
Long-term, the high cortisol can have other side effects such as chronic fatigue, anxiety, sleep issues, and even weight gain.
Weight loss from intermittent fasting doesn’t necessarily mean fat loss
Many believe fasting helps burn all the fat and build those lean muscles. And there is indeed some scientific evidence that backs up these claims.
But there is also enough evidence to suggest the contrary. For instance, if you aim to gain lean muscles, intermittent fasting may not be the way to go, as some research suggests.
A research trial concluded that the group who did intermittent fasting maintained their muscle mass and increased their strength. However, those who ate a normal diet gained 5 pounds of lean muscle mass during the study.
Furthermore, when trying to lose weight, you must remember you might not lose fat. This is especially true for those who workout, especially those who do cardio during their fasting period.
The body needs some fat to survive. While you’re in the fasting state it feels starved, so it might be more willing to let go of muscles and keep the fat.
In the long run, you might end up with the well-known ‘skinny fat’ type of body. Not exactly the result you’re looking for, I’m sure!
Intermittent fasting can be a great diet if you want to get lean, but you have to do it smartly.
While I don’t think intermittent fasting is great for everyone, it certainly has benefits for many people as long as it is done correctly.
It can reduce your risk and improve your type 2 diabetes, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides levels.
Since it makes you more aware of what and when you eat, it will get you more in tune with your body and your hunger so that you can avoid overeating and even emotional eating.
However, you should also be mindful because intermittent fasting does have its risks, such as losing muscle instead of fat, feeling sluggish or eating unhealthy foods.
To take advantage of this diet, make sure to avoid binge eating on unhealthy foods and be mindful of how and when you workout.
Get enough protein and prioritize strength training over cardio to minimize the risk of losing muscle instead of fat.
If you want tips to find the most effective training gear for your home gym, or advice on diet and nutrition that will help you achieve your goals, check out our website.