Eating six small meals a day instead of three large ones is supposed to be the way to go if you want to "stoke the metabolic fire" and lose weight. But not everyone has that kind of time.
Often I get asked, "How can I eat six meals a day when I work so much?" That's where intermittent fasting comes in.
Intermittent fasting helps your body regulate leptin, a hormone directly related to fat loss that helps your thyroid work properly. Also, fasting improves insulin sensitivity, which is responsible for fat loss and muscle gain. (Learn about the benefits of carb back-loading.)
After a fast, your body is more sensitive to insulin and uses foods consumed post-fast for burning fat and building muscle. Your body is also highly insulin-sensitive after workouts. So if you skip breakfast and work out instead, you are not only tapping into more fat stores for energy, but also ensuring your post-workout meal will fuel recovery, build muscle, and burn fat. (Read Post-Workout Meal Guidelines.)
Fasting can improve your cardiovascular system; increase cell turnover (how quickly your cells replenish themselves); and decrease oxidative stress on cells. It can also promote weight loss and increase HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL (bad cholesterol).
So what's the best way to start intermittent fasting? Here are two of the most common methods:
With this method, you fast for 16 hours and have an eight-hour feeding "window." If you were to eat your last meal at 6:00 p.m. on Friday night, you would eat your next meal at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. (This timing tends to work best for men, while women do better with a 14/10 fast.)
Simply put, you go an entire day without food once a week. On your fasting day, make sure to drink plenty of water and consume 5 to 10 grams of branched chain amino acids (BCAA) three to four times in divided doses. (Learn about the benefits of BCAAs.) It's best not to train or have stressful meetings on fasting day.
Regardless which method you use, you'll want to want to consume higher amounts of protein to preserve lean muscle mass; abstain from processed foods; and eat your largest meal immediately after your workout. Ideally, your post-workout meal will be your first meal of the day.
If you're new to intermittent fasting, initially you may experience some brain fog and general lethargy. However, after a few weeks, you will find that fasting can be a rewarding and work-friendly way to balance your calories.
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