The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting – 2017 Update

“…But Tony the Tiger tells us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Grrrrrreat!”

And Tony the Tiger would NEVER lie…

Right?

This adage about breakfast has become commonplace that it’s readily and unquestionably accepted as fact:

“Want to lose weight? Make sure you start off with a healthy breakfast, so you can get that metabolism firing first thing in the morning!  “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

“Want to lose more weight? Make sure you eat six small meals throughout the day so your metabolism stays operating at maximum capacity all day long.”

There are even studies that show those that eat earlier in the day lose more weight than those who ate later in the day or skipped a meal. [1]

So, eat breakfast to lose weight and obtain optimal health.

Case closed…right?

Maybe Not.

Maybe there’s way more to the story: what if there’s science and research that shows SKIPPING BREAKFAST (the horror! blasphemy!) is can help with optimum human performance, mental and physical health improvement, maximum muscle retention, and body fat loss?

After firmly being on “Team Breakfast” for 28 years of my life, I’ve skipped breakfast for the past 3.5 years and will most likely never go back!

I want to share with you a concept about skipping breakfast (and other meals), and how your health can benefit as a result.

I’m typing this from a secure location, just in case Tony the Tiger, The Trix Rabbit, and Toucan Sam come to beat me up.

After all, I’m going to rain on their breakfast parade with science today.

This is a topic that is controversial (which is funny – you’re just skipping a meal) as it turns a LOT of conventional wisdom on its head.

This is why this article is filled with more sources and citations than the normal Nerd Fitness article.

Let’s gooooooo!

What is intermittent fasting?

Seal

Intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather a dieting pattern.  

In simpler terms: it’s making a conscious decision to skip certain meals on purpose.

By fasting and then feasting on purpose, intermittent fasting generally means that you consume your calories during a specific window of the day, and choose not to eat food for a larger window of time.

There are a few different ways to take advantage of intermittent fasting:

16/8 PROTOCOL

What it is: Fasting for 16 hours and then only eating within a specific 8-hour window. For example, only eating from noon-8 PM, essentially skipping breakfast.

Some people only eat in a 6-hour window, or even a 4-hour window. This is “feasting” and “fasting” parts of your days and the most common form of Intermittent Fasting. It’s also my preferred method (3 years running).

Two examples: The top means you are skipping breakfast, the bottom means you are skipping dinner each day:

You can adjust this window to make it work for your life:

  • If you start eating at: 7AM, stop eating and start fasting at 3pm
  • If you start eating at: 11AM, stop eating and start fasting at 7pm
  • If you start eating at: 2PM, stop eating and start fasting at 10pm
  • If you start eating at: 6PM, stop eating and start fasting at 2AM.

24 HOUR PROTOCOL

Skipping two meals one day, where you are taking 24 hours off from eating. For example, eating on a normal schedule (finishing dinner at 8PM) and then not eating again until 8PM the following day.

So you would eat your normal 3 meals per day, and then occasionally pick a day to skip breakfast and lunch the next day.

If you can only do an 18 hour fast, or a 20 hour fast, or a 22 hour fast – that’s okay! Adjust with different time frames and see how your body responds.

Two examples: skipping breakfast and lunch one day of the week, and then another where you skip lunch and dinner one day, two days in a week.

Note: You can do this once a week, twice a week, or whatever works best for your life and situation.

By the way, both those weekly charts above come from our free Intermittent Fasting Starter Guide (with printable worksheets).

Most people struggle with knowing exactly when to eat and when to stop eating, and actually sticking with it. We address all of that in the Nerd Fitness Intermittent Fasting Guide you get free when you sign up for our email list in the box below:

Those are the two most popular intermittent fasting protocols, and the two we’ll be focusing on, though there are many variations of both that you can modify for yourself.

Some people eat in a 4 hour window, others do 6 or 8. Some people do 20 hour fasts or 24 hour fasts. You’ll need to experiment with them, adjust them to work for your lifestyle and goals, and see how your body responds.

Let’s first get into the science here behind Intermittent Fasting and why you should consider it!

How does intermittent fasting work?

Cog

Now, you might be thinking: “okay, so by skipping a meal, I will eat less than I normally eat on average (2 meals instead of 3), and thus I will lose weight, right?”

Yes, by cutting out an entire meal each day, you are consuming fewer calories per week – even if your two meals per day are slightly bigger than before. Overall, you’re still consuming fewer calories per day

However, as we already know that not all calories are created equal, the timing of meals can also influence how your body reacts.

Intermittent Fasting can also help because your body operates differently when “feasting” compared to when “fasting”:

When you eat a meal, your body spends a few hours processing that food, burning what it can from what you just consumed.  Because it has all of this readily-available, easy to burn energy (thanks to the food you ate), your body will choose to use that as energy rather than the fat you have stored.  This is especially true if you just consumed carbohydrates/sugar, as your body prefers to burn sugar as energy before any other source.

During the “fasted state” (the hours in which your body is not consuming or digesting any food) your body doesn’t have a recently consumed meal to use as energy, so it is more likely to pull from the fat stored in your body as it’s the only energy source readily available.

Burning fat = win.

The same goes for working out in a “fasted” state.  Without a ready supply of glucose and glycogen to pull from (which has been depleted over the course of your fasted state, and hasn’t yet been replenished with a pre-workout meal), your body is forced to adapt and pull from the only source of energy available to it: the fat stored in your cells.

Why does this work?  Our bodies react to energy consumption (eating food) with insulin production. The more sensitive your body is to insulin, the more likely you’ll be to use the food you consume efficiently, and your body is most sensitive to insulin following a period of fasting [4].

These changes to insulin production and and sensitivity can help lead to weight loss [2] and muscle creation [3].

Next: Your glycogen (a starch stored in your muscles and liver that your body can burn as fuel when necessary) is depleted during sleep (aka during fasting), and will be depleted even further during training, which can lead to increased insulin sensitivity.

This means that a meal following your workout will be stored most efficiently.

During that period, the food you consumed will be used in a few ways: converted to glycogen and stored up in your muscles or burned as energy immediately to help with the recovery process, with minimal amounts stored as fat.

Compare this to a regular day (no intermittent fasting):  With insulin sensitivity at normal levels, the carbs and foods consumed will see full glycogen stores and enough glucose in the bloodstream, and thus be more likely to get stored as fat.

Not only that, but growth hormone is increased during fasted states (both during sleep [5]and after a period of fasting). Combine this  increased growth hormone secretion:[6], the decrease in insulin production (and thus increase in insulin sensitivity [7]), and you’re essentially priming your body for muscle growth and fat loss with intermittent fasting.

The less science-y version: Intermittent fasting can help teach your body to use the food it consumes more efficiently, and your body can learn to burn fat as fuel when you deprive it of new calories to constantly pull from (if you eat all day long).

TL/DR: For many different physiological reasons, fasting can help promote weight loss and muscle building when done properly.

I know this Intermittent Fasting stuff can be overwhelming, so I created a free guide and worksheet to help you get started on the right foot. 

Sign up for the free Intermittent Fasting Starter Guide and Worksheets when you put your email in the box below:

But why does every health book say “6 small meals?”

small plate

There are a few main reasons why diet books recommend six small meals:

1) When you eat a meal, your body does have to burn extra calories [8] just to process that meal.  So, the theory is that if you eat all day long with small meals, your body is constantly burning extra calories and your metabolism is firing at optimal capacity, right? Well, that’s not true.

Whether you eat 2000 calories spread out throughout the day, or 2000 calories in a small window, your body will burn the same number of calories processing the food [9]. So, the whole “keep your metabolism firing at optimum capacity by always eating” sounds good in principle, but reality tells a different story.

2) When you eat smaller meals, you might be less likely to overeat during your regular meals. I can definitely see some truth here, especially for people who struggle with portion control or don’t know how much food they should be eating.

However, once you educate yourself and take control of your eating, some might find that eating six times a day is very prohibitive and requires a lot of effort. I know I do. Also, because you’re eating six small meals, I’d argue that you probably never feel “full,” and you might be MORE likely to eat extra calories during each snack.

Although grounded in seemingly logical principles, the “six meals a day” doesn’t work for the reason you think it would (#1), and generally only works for people who struggle with portion control (#2).

If we think back to caveman days, we’d have been in serious trouble as a species if we had to eat every three hours. Do you think Joe Caveman pulled out his pocket sundial six times a day to consume his equally portioned meals?

Hell no! He ate when he could, endured and dealt with long periods of NOT eating (no refrigeration or food storage) and his body adapted to still function optimally enough to still go out and catch new food.

A recent study has done a great job of challenging the “six-meals-a-day” technique for weight loss [10]:

There were [no statistical] differences between the low- and high- [meal frequency] groups for adiposity indices, appetite measurements or gut peptides (peptide YY and ghrelin) either before or after the intervention. We conclude that increasing meal frequency does not promote greater body weight loss under the conditions described in the present study.

Factor in the potential physiological benefits listed in the previous section, and you got yourself some damn good science-backed evidence to consider trying Intermittent Fasting if you want to decrease body fat and build muscle.

Why intermittent fasting?

IF fast plate

Now that we’re through a lot of the science stuff, let’s get into the reality of situation: why should you consider Intermittent Fasting?

Because it can work for your goals. Although we know that not all calories are created equal, caloric restriction plays a central role in weight loss. When you fast, you are also making it easier to restrict your total caloric intake over the course of the week, which can lead to consistent weight loss and maintenance.

Because it simplifies your day. Rather than having to prepare, pack, eat, and time your meals every 2-3 hours, you simply skip a meal or two and only worry about eating food in your eating window. It’s one less decision you have to make every day. It could allow you to enjoy bigger portioned meals (thus making your tastebuds and stomach satiated) and STILL eat fewer calories on average.

It requires less time (and potentially less money). Rather than having to prepare or purchase three to six meals a day, you only need to prepare two meals. Instead of stopping what you’re doing six times a day to eat, you simply only have to stop to eat twice. Rather than having to do the dishes six times, you only have to do them twice. Rather than having to purchase six meals a day, you only need to purchase two.

It promotes stronger insulin sensitivity and increased growth hormone secretion, two keys for weight loss and muscle gain.  Intermittent fasting helps you create a double whammy for weight loss and building a solid physique.

It can level up your brain, including positively counteracting conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. As explained here in this TEDx talk by Mark Mattson, Professor at Johns Hopkins University and Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging fasting is grounded in serious research and more studies are coming out showing the benefits:

Plus, Wolverine does it:

And so does Boy George (who apparently reads Nerd Fitness!)

What are the drawbacks with intermittent fasting?

refrigerator

In my own experimentation over the past three years, I have found very few negative side effects with Intermittent Fasting. 

The biggest concern most people have is that Intermittent Fasting will lead to lower energy, focus, and the “holy crap I am hungry” feeling during the fasting period and ruin them. People are concerned that they will spend all morning being miserable because they haven’t consumed any food, and thus will be miserable at work and ineffective at whatever task it is they are working on.

The following are my thoughts and experiences, and your results may vary:

Yes, the initial transition from EATING ALL THE TIME, to intermittent fasting MIGHT be a bit of a jolt to your system; it was for me. However, once I got through the transition after a few days, my body quickly adapted and learned to function just as well only eating a few times a day.

Although I fast for 16 hours per day with no issues, the following might help assuage your fears that skipping breakfast will cause your body to eat itself and your brain to implode:

After 48-hours of fasting in a recent study [12], “cognitive performance, activity, sleep, and mood are not adversely affected in healthy humans by two days of calorie-deprivation.” You’ll be fasting for less time than that.

“So why do I feel grouchy and lethargic when I skip breakfast?” 

In this nerd’s humble opinion, a good portion of the grumpiness is a result of past eating habits. If you eat every three hours normally,and normally eat as soon as you wake up, your body will start gets hungry every three hours as it learns and becomes used to expecting (and receiving) food every three hours.

If you eat breakfast every morning, your body is expecting to wake up and eat food.

Once you retrain your body to NOT expect food all day every day (or first thing in the morning), these side-effects become less of an issue. In addition, ghrelin (a hormone that makes you hungry [13]), is actually lowest in the mornings and decreases after a few hours of not eating too. The hunger pains will naturally pass!

Personally, I found this grumpiness subsided after a few days and now my mornings actually energize me.

It’s important to understand that Intermittent Fasting is NOT a panacea. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that if you skip breakfast and then eat 4,000 calories of candy bars for lunch and dinner that you will lose weight.

If you have an addictive relationship with food and you struggle with portion control, track your calorie intake in your meals to make sure you’re not overeating. If you skip breakfast, you might be so hungry from this that you OVEREAT for lunch and this can lead to weight gain. Again, the important thing here is that with intermittent fasting you’re eating fewer calories than normal because you’re skipping a meal every day.

Think about it in caveman terms again.  We certainly found ways to survive during periods of feast and famine, and that remains true today. imagine if you needed to eat in order to be active and alert: what would hungry cavemen do?

They would go find food, and that probably required a ton of effort. It actually takes our bodies about 84 hours of fasting [14] before our glucose levels are adversely affected. As we’re talking about small fasts (16-24 hour periods), this doesn’t concern us.

AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT: Intermittent Fasting can be more complex for people who have issues with blood sugar regulation, suffer from hypoglycemia, have diabetes, etc. If you fit into this category, check with your doctor or dietitian before adjusting your eating schedule. It also affects women differently (there’s a whole section dedicated to that below)

Can I build muscle and gain weight while intermittent fasting?

muscle hypertrophy

You’re damn right you can!

In fact, I have been intermittent fasting for the past three years while building muscle and decreasing my body fat percentage:

I still eat roughly the same number of calories I was consuming before, but instead of eating all damn day long, I condense all of my calorie consumption into an eight hour window.

  • 11 AM Work out with heavy strength training in a fasted state.
  • 12 PM Immediately consume 1/2 of my calories for the day (a regular whole-food meal, followed by a calorie-dense homemade shake.)
  • 7 PM Consume the second portion of my calories for the day in a big dinner.
  • 8 PM – 12 PM the next day: Fast for 16 hours.

In a different method, my friend Nate Green packed on a crazy amount of muscle while fasting for a full 24 hours on Sundays – so it is possible. [15]

I’m not kidding when I say this has revolutionized how I look at muscle building and fat loss.

Ultimately, this method flies in the face of the typical “bulk and cut” techniques of overeating to build muscle (along with adding a lot of fat) before cutting calories to lose fat (along with some muscle) and settling down at a higher weight.

I prefer this method to the bulk-and-cut technique for a few reasons:

  • There’s far less of a crazy swing to your weight. If you are putting on 30 pounds and then cutting 25 to gain 5 lbs of muscle, your body is going through drastic swings of body mass. Your clothes will fit differently, you’ll have different levels of definition, and your body will wonder what the hell is going on.
  • You’re consuming less food and thus spending less money. Rather than overeating to put on 1 pound of muscle and 4 pounds of fat in a week or two, you’re aiming to eat exactly enough to put on 1 pound of muscle without adding much fat on top of it.  Yeah, it’s a delicate balance, but there’s far less swing involved. You are just slowly, steadily, and consistently building muscle and strength over many months.
  • There’s never a need to get “vacation-ready”: we all want to look good naked, right?  When you are just adding muscle, you don’t need to worry about getting your body ready before by drastically altering your diet (going on a miserable crash diet for a month). [16]
  • You can make small adjustments and stay on target. Keep your body fat percentage low, build strength and muscle, and if you happen to notice your body fat creeping up, cut back on the carbs. Within two weeks you should be back at your preferred body fat percentage and can continue the muscle building process.

A note on BCAA consumption. Martin from LeanGains [17] recommends consuming Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) as a supplement with regards to fasted training to aid your muscles through your workout.

Personally, I used BCAAs for about 6-8 months during my initial start with fasted training (consuming them before training), though haven’t used them in the past 2+ years. I did NOT notice any adverse affects to not taking them with regards to my performance.

Remember that Intermittent Fasting is a piece of the puzzle.

We have our online course, The Nerd Fitness Academy, that digs into the rest of the puzzle: how to properly strength train, how to structure your diet, and build a solid mental attitude with regards to getting in great shape.

You can combine this information with Intermittent Fasting to turbocharge your results! If you’re curious about how to get started and worrying about following through, check out free Intermittent Fasting Start Guide with printable worksheets to stay on track when you join the NF email list below:

Does intermittent fasting have different effects on men and women?

boy girl

The quick answer is: “yes, Intermittent Fasting can affect men and women differently.” Anecdotally, I know many women that swear by Intermittent Fasting, while others have had adverse effects. Let’s dig into the science and studies.

A recent PubMed summary concluded that “fasting can be prescribed as a safe medical intervention as well as a lifestyle regimen which can improve women’s health in many folds [18].

Now, in that extract, many of the studies cited are focused on specifically calorie restriction (and not just fasting), and they also say that “future studies should address this gap by designing medically supervised fasting techniques to extract better evidence.”

Digging into the PubMed Archives brought me to the following conclusions [a]:

One small study (with 8 men and 8 women, all non-obese) resulted in the following: “Glucose response to a meal was slightly impaired in women after 3 weeks of treatment, but insulin response was unchanged. Men had no change in glucose response and a significant reduction in insulin response.”[19]

Another small study (8 women) studied the effects on their menstrual cycles after a 72 hour fast – which is significantly longer than any fast recommended in this article: “in spite of profound metabolic changes, a 72-hour fast during the follicular phase does not affect the menstrual cycle of normal cycling women.” [20].

Yet another study tracked 11 women with 72 hour fasts (again, longer than we’d recommend) and it found that “Fasting in women elicited expected metabolic responses – included increased cortisol (a stress hormone) – and apparently advanced the central circadian clock (which can throw off sleeping patterns). [21].

Those studies above, in working with small sample sizes, and different types of fasting than recommended here, would lead me to believe that fasting affects men and women differently, and that many of the weight loss benefits associated with intermittent fasting (that affect insulin and glucose responses) work positively for men and negatively for women.

There are also a series of articles[22] out there that dig into the potential reproductive health issues, stress challenges, induction of early-menopause [23] associated with fasting (and calorie restriction) for women.

Precision Nutrition recommends not attemption Intermittent Fasting as a woman if:

  • you’re pregnant
  • you have a history of disordered eating
  • you are chronically stressed
  • you don’t sleep well
  • you’re new to diet and exercise

The challenge associated with all of this is that there aren’t enough long-term studies, with large enough sample sizes, specifically targeting female humans, with relation to the different types of Intermittent Fasting.

ALL OF THIS TO SAY: It does appear that men and women will have different experiences with intermittent fasting; we’re all unique snowflakes (yep, especially you), and your body will be affected by intermittent fasting differently than the person next to you.

There is enough evidence as cited in the articles and studies above that would give me pause to recommend Intermittent Fasting for women, especially if you are considering getting pregnant in the near term.

If you are looking to attempt intermittent fasting for weight loss reasons, my research has shown me that Intermittent Fasting could be less effective for women than men with regards to weight loss, and thus you would be wise to keep your efforts elsewhere:

  • Focusing on the total calories and quality of your food (here’s how to eat better).
  • Start exercising regularly!
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.

Now, if you’ve read the above warnings, you are still curious about Intermittent Fasting, and you want to give it a try as a female, that is your choice! You know your body best.

So, get blood work done, speak with your doctor and get a check-up. Give intermittent fasting a shot, track your results, and see how your body/blood work changes as a result of Intermittent Fasting and decide if it’s right for you.

Your milage may vary, so speak with a doctor or find a doctor versed in intermittent fasting protocols and treat it like an experiment on yourself!

Questions about intermittent fasting

kiwi

1) “Won’t I get really hungry?”  

As explained above, this can be a result of the habits you have built for your body. If you are constantly eating or always eat the same time of day, your body can actually learn to prepare itself for food by beginning the process of insulin production and preparation for food.

After a brief adjustment period, your body can adapt to the fact that it’s only eating a few times a day. The more overweight you are, and the more often you eat, the more of an initial struggle this might be.

Remember, your body’s physical and cognitive abilities aren’t diminished as a result of fasting.[24].

2) “Where will I get my energy for my workouts? Won’t I be exhausted and not be able to complete my workouts if fasting?” 

This was a major concern of mine as well, but the research says otherwise: “Training with limited carbohydrate availability can stimulate adaptations in muscle cells to facilitate energy production via fat oxidation.”[25].

In other words, when you train in a fasted state, your body can get better at burning fat for energy when there are no carbs to pull from!

I’ll share some of my experiences, now doing heavy strength training for 3 years in a fasted state: For my first “fasted” workout or two after starting an IF protocol, it was very weird to not eat before training. However, after a few sessions, I learned that my body could certainly function (and even thrive) during my training sessions despite not eating a pre-workout meal.

Here I am pulling 385 lbs. at 175 BW after a 16 hour fast:

3) “I like the idea of fasted training, but I work a regular 9-5 or a night shift and can’t train at 11AM like you do. What am I supposed to do?”

Depending on your training schedule, lifestyle, and goals, go back to the portion above where I talk about the 16/8 protocol and simply adjust your hours of fasting and feasting:

  • Don’t overthink this. If you can’t train until 5pm, that’s okay. Consume a small meal for lunch, or shift your Intermittent Fasting window to eat all of your meals in the 8 hours post workout. Better to do that than abandon it as a lost cause and have 0% compliance.
  • If you are an elite athlete, speak with a coach or nutritionist about your specific concerns and expectations. Otherwise, make intermittent fasting work for you Consider trying the 24-hour protocol below instead of the 16/8 protocol.
  • If you train later in the day (say, 7pm) but break your fast before training (aka Lunch), make it a smaller meal focused around fats and protein – which should be a solid goal even if you aren’t Intermittent Fasting! Try to time your carb and big meal consumption to happen AFTER your workout.
  • If you exercise BEFORE work, but then don’t eat until lunchtime: consider a protein supplement immediately after your workout, or simply wait until lunch to start eating. See how your body responds and adjust accordingly.

Do what you can, and don’t psyche yourself out! Get started and adjust along the way.

“Won’t fasting cause muscle loss?”  

Another big concern of mine, but it turns out this fear was unfounded. We’ve been told by the supplement industry that we need to consume 30 g of protein every few hours, as that’s the most amount of protein our body can process at a time. Along with that, we’ve been told that if we don’t eat protein every few hours, our body’s muscle will start to break down to be burned as energy.

Again, NOT TRUE! Our bodies are quite adept at preserving muscle even when fasting [25], and it turns out that protein absorption by our body can take place over many many many hours. Protein consumed in a shorter period of time has no difference on the body compared to protein spread throughout the day.    

4) “What about my body going into starvation mode from not eating?” 

Now, the thought process here is that when we don’t feed ourselves, our bodies assume calories aren’t available and thus choose to store more calories than burning them, eliminating the benefits of weight loss with fasting. Fortunately, this is NOT true.

Starvation mode is real, but it is significantly overblown and sensationalized these days. It takes a dramatic amount of starvation, for a long time, before your body kicks into “starvation mode”. We’re talking about 24 hour or 16 hour fasts here, and starvation mode takes significantly longer than that.[26]

In other words: starvation mode should not be factoring into your decision here.

5) How much should I eat while intermittent fasting? 

Simple: eat for your goals! If your goal is weight loss, you still need to consume fewer calories than you burn every day to lose weight. If your goal is bulking up, you’ll need to consume more calories than you burn every day. Intermittent Fasting isn’t a cure-all, it’s a PART of the puzzle.

To start, begin intermittent fasting and eat your normal sized meals and track your weight and performance. If you are losing weight and happy with the progress, keep doing what you’re doing! If you are NOT losing weight, you could be eating too much – track your calories for a week, and then target a 10% reduction in calories and continue.

If you’re worried about all of this stuff, or aren’t sure when to eat and stop eating, check out our free IF Guide (sign up in the box below) that tackles these questions and makes it easy for you to get started and track your first month doing Intermittent Fasting!

Tips and tricks about Fasting 

hungry ant

Don’t freak out! Stop wondering: “can I fast 15 hours instead of 16?” or “what if I eat an apple during my fasted period, will that ruin everything?”  Relax. Your body is a complex piece of machinery and learns to adapt. Everything is not as cut and dry as you think.

If you want to eat breakfast one day but not another, that’s okay. If you are going for optimal aesthetic or athletic performance, I can see the need to be more rigid in your discipline, but otherwise…freaking chill out and don’t stress over minutiae! Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Consider fasted walks in the morning. I found these to be very helpful in reducing body fat, and also gave my day a great start to clear my mind and prepare for the day. Simply wake up and go for a mile walk. Maybe you could even start walking to Mordor?

Listen to your body during workouts. If you get light headed, make sure you are consuming enough water. If you notice a significant drop in performance, make sure you are eating enough calories (especially fats and protein) during your feasting window. And if you feel severely “off,” pause your workout. Give yourself permission to EASE into intermittent fasting and fasted workouts. This is especially true if you are an endurance athlete.

Expect funny looks if you spend a lot of mornings with breakfast eaters.  A few weeks back I had a number of friends staying with me, and they were all completely dumbfounded when I told them I didn’t eat breakfast anymore. I tried to explain it to them but received a bunch of blank stares. Breakfast has become so enGRAINed (zing!) in our culture that NOT eating it sounds crazy.  You will get weird looks from those around you…embrace it. I still go to brunch or sit with friends, I just drink black coffee and enjoy conversation.

Stay busy.  If you are just sitting around thinking about how hungry you are, you’ll be more likely to struggle with this. For that reason, I time my fasting periods for maximum efficiency and minimal discomfort:

  • My first few hours of fasting come after consuming a MONSTER meal, where the last thing I want to think about is eating.
  • When I’m sleeping: 8 of my 16 hours are occupied by sleeping.  Tough to feel hungry when I’m dreaming about becoming a Jedi.
  • When I’m busy: After waking up, 12 hours of my fasting is already done.  I spend three hours doing my best work (while drinking a cup of black coffee), and then comes my final hour of fasting: training.

Zero-calorie beverages are okay.  I drink green tea in the morning for my caffeine kick while writing. If you want to drink water, black coffee, or tea during your fasted period, that’s okay.  Remember, don’t overthink it – keep things simple! Dr. Rhonda Patrick believes that a fast should stop at the first consumption of anything other than water, so experiment yourself and see how your body responds.

If you want to put milk in your coffee, or drink diet soda occasionally while fasting, I’m not going to stop you. Remember, we’re going for consistency and habit building here – if milk or cream in your coffee makes life worth living, don’t deprive yourself. There are MUCH bigger fish to fry with regards to getting healthy than a few calories here and there during a fast. 80% adherence that you stick with for a year is better than 100% adherence that you abandon after a month because it was too restrictive.

Track your results, listen to your body:  

  • Concerned about losing muscle mass?  Keep track of your strength training routines and see if you are getting stronger.
  • Buy a cheap set of body fat calipers and keep track of your body fat composition.
  • Track your calories, and see how your body changes when eating the same amount of food, but condensed into a certain window.
  • Sign up for the NF Email list in the box below and get your free Intermittent Fasting Starter Guide and Worksheets to track your progress.

Everybody will react to intermittent fasting differently; I can’t tell you how your body will react.  It’s up to you to listen to your body and see how making these adjustments change your body.

Don’t expect miracles.  Yes, intermittent fasting can potentially help you lose weight, increase insulin sensitivity and growth hormone secretion (all good things), but it is only ONE factor in hundreds that will determine your body composition and overall health.  Don’t expect to drop to 8% body fat and get ripped just by skipping breakfast.

We cover all of this in the NF Academy, but you need to focus on building healthy habits, eating better foods, and getting stronger.

This is just one tool that can contribute to your success.

To sum it all up

Grass

Intermittent fasting can potentially have some very positive benefits for somebody trying to lose weight or gain lean body mass.

Men and women will tend to have different results, just like each individual person will have different results.  The ONLY way to find out is with self-experimentation.

There are multiple ways to “do” intermittent fasting:

  • Fast and feast regularly: Fast for a certain number of hours, then consume all calories within a certain number of hours.
  • Eat normally, then fast 1-2x a week: Consume your normal meals every day, then pick one or two days a week where you fast for 24 hours.  Eat your last meal Sunday night, and then don’t eat again until dinner the following day.
  • Fast occasionally: probably the easiest method for the person who wants to do the least amount of work. Simply skip a meal whenever it’s convenient. On the road? Skip breakfast.  Busy day at work? Skip lunch.  Eat poorly all day Saturday?  Make your first meal of the day dinner on Sunday.

After that, get started. Take photos, step on the scale, and track your progress for the next month. See how your body responds. See how your physique changes. See how your workouts change.

And then decide if it’s something you want to keep doing!

3.5 years later, I have no plans on going back to eating breakfast. Sorry General Mills and Dr. Kellogg!

I’d love to hear from you:

  • What are your questions with intermittent fasting?  
  • What are your concerns?
  • Have you tried intermittent fasting?
  • Have you had success with it, either with muscle gain or weight loss?

Thanks for leaving your comment, I’m excited to get the conversation started.

-Steve

PS: You just read 6,000 words, and for that, I applaud you. If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to go a little further?

I’ve found a lot of people struggle with knowing exactly when to eat and not eat, and keeping track of their fast and feast windows, so I made a Intermittent Fasting Starter Guide that tackles all of those challenges.

Sign up in the box below and get it free. 

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  • https://nerdfitness.com NerdFitness

    thanks for sharing your story Jocelyn, and congrats on the progress!!!!!

  • Grace Ventura

    Super helpful! Thanks!

  • Vince

    This is an absolutely amazing article and I especially love the worksheets you offer. It’s a long read but for anyone wanting information on IF in one place, this would be the piece I recommend, hands down.

  • tombotvez

    I mean you can technically still have breakfast right? As long as it fits your schedule, I typically will have coffee, excercise and than eat breakfast at 930, then my next meal around 4 and maybe a snack, than fasting the rest of the night.

  • Lior

    If it’s 2000 calories over 6 meals or in one window and it all metabolizes and takes the same amount of calories for both, doesn’t that contradict the whole part about your body pulling from the fat in the fasted state?

  • Carl Wimmer

    I just read this old article. I have been doing the standard (EOD) every other day diet for about 2 years. I eat whatever I want on one day, and nothing on the next day. It worked wonderfully for losing weight for the first year, and it has now stopped working. I am busting my butt in the gym, but the fat belly hangs around. I figure my body is simply used to it now, so it may be time to change something up. I was thinking two things: 1. Stop eating “whatever I want,” on my feast days, by being more cautious with they types of calories I consume. 2. Start eating every day within a 6 hour window. What thoughts do you have on this?

  • Dorian

    Hey tried a couple of fasts before but nothing consistent. Been on a ‘real food diet’ for some time now and ok to go for periods without eating. Just started IF doing a 18/6 split. Mornings feel great. However, feel full and bloated when I eat. I’m eating roughly a 1.5 meal then a Normal meal later. I’ve come off a 3 x meal whole thirty type template and eating a lot at once is uncomfortable. Is it ok to reduce intake even though my goal is strength and ,uncle building?

  • Kevin Brill

    This article in regards to intermittent fasting is so important and accurate. Ever since I started this type of fast, my body has changed immensely. It took some time to adjust to this but in the long run it’s been totally worth it especially when looking at my results. All my numbers in the gym have improved and I feel amazing. I recommend this to all people who are looking for a change in their health!

  • Taylor Elston

    Steve,

    You’re hilarious! Thank you for this article it answered my questions regarding IF. Although I’m a little bummed regarding the woman aspect as I’m a woman and have really enjoyed IF for the last few weeks. I have felt so much better. But you explained it well and how we are all different and will have different results. The snowflake comment made me laugh and feel good too haha!

    Thanks again!

    Taylor

  • Todd Edwards

    Great article. Congrats on the Boy George plug! My question is, if my first meal is at 11am (lunch hour at work) and my last is at 7pm. Get off at 4pm, would I work out and eat between 4 and 7pm?

  • Meg

    Thanks for a very informative article. I am on day 2 of IF. I am training for a half marathon and do 30-40 min workouts everyday. So if I am consuming 1200 calories, should that be inclusive of the calories burnt during workouts.

  • Makenna Lauren

    Hi there! Just finished my first intermittent fasting day yesterday! I weighed myself this morning and dropped a pound in a day. I also worked out yesterday after completing the fast and felt pretty comfortable doing so (i.e, not sluggish or tired). I am fasting again today. I am curious about consecutive fasting. Also I have been researching like a total nerd 🙂 and found that there is conclusive evidence that the 18-24 hours of fasting is considered the most optimal amount of time to fast or LONGER if you can. I think 16 hours is a great place to start. Yesterday I stopped at hour 18 and had my first meal. Just curious. What can you tell me about intermittent fasting two days in a row?

  • Richard

    Thanks for your wonderfully detailed article on fasting. I have a question that perhaps you might have an answer for regarding mealtimes.

    With the 16-18 hour diet people usually write how you finish up dinner around 8pm, skip breakfast and then have lunch, maybe 12-2pm.

    With the 24-hour fasts people keep mentioning having dinner then not eating until dinner the following day.

    But I wonder is there some unexplained physiological reason why you should be eating dinner? Couldn’t you eat breakfast then skip lunch and dinner, then do a workout in the morning before eating again?

    I thought that might really maximise the autophagy effects while sleeping and be less likely you’ll grab a snack at 4am than 4pm, since the last eight hours of the fast you’re asleep. From what you report above, there’s no adverse effects on sleeping for these short fasts.

    Do you know if there are choose to eat dinner rather than breakfast?

  • Edward Barry

    Its much easier to fast once your body is in ketosis your body is already burn ketones for fuel.

  • Gracious Strong

    Great post! I started IF myself and planning on writing about it on my blog as well. I will make sure I put a link to this!

  • Ryan

    Thanks for the article, I learned a lot. One question though…
    If I eat my first meal at noon and last meal at 8pm, am I allowed to have a small snack in between those two meals if I am super hungry?

  • NATASHA

    Would anybody lose weight in a scenario like this one? Last caloric intake to enter mouth at 7 or 8 pm then fast till 6 pm the next day (9pm – 6pm = 21 hours)? I’ve been eating like this for weeks or years (making sure I eat under 1500 kcal), I’m not overweight (140 lbs at 5’8″) and I am not losing weight either. I think I / we should fast for at least 24 hours to see a difference. OR is it the diet itself? I mean, once breaking the fast, do we continue to stay away from a cookie or two? 🙂 Oh! here is a big one: I struggle to fall asleep and I sleep b/w 3 am and 7 am during working week. Any GOOD advice? Don’t give me a BAD, werewolf advice. I won’t read it, but will bless you with a blessing.

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  • Lenay1217

    Hi, thanks for the information very helpful I started my IF just yesterday.. But I’m a little worried if it’s okay to start if I just started weaning my daughter from breastfeed it’s been a week since I’m off to breastfeeding. I wonder if it’s okay.
    Any response would be so much apreciated

  • Tyson Brown

    Just realised i started this around the same time as you 4 years ago!

    This is the best lifestyle

  • Tyson Brown

    You said you have stopped breastfeeding.

    Are you sill giving her a bottle with your breastmilk or is she completely off?

  • Tyson Brown

    you sure can, it just depends on your goals.

    If you eat too much you won’t lose weight.

    If you find this is the case make your lunch or dinner smaller and have your snack

  • Tyson Brown

    whats your blog?

  • Tyson Brown

    why do you say that?

  • Tyson Brown

    you want to be careful with longer term fasts as a female.

    I suggest you do your bloodwork, monitor energy levels and test to see how you feel

  • Tyson Brown

    1200 seems very low if you’re very active

  • Tyson Brown

    you can workout whenever suits you best.

    as long as you’re finished your eating at the planned time

  • Tyson Brown

    nice one Kevin!

  • Tyson Brown

    Dorian, if you’re trying for strength and muscle building I’d suggest blending food to get enough nutrients and calories.

    I sued to experience the same problem because eating so much whole food was making me feel full and caused bloating

  • Tyson Brown

    they are perfect action steps, especially number 1!

  • Tyson Brown

    why would it?

  • Tyson Brown

    if its all within 8 hours all good 🙂

  • Tyson Brown

    could you eat more meals in that time?
    Or use milk and greek yoghurt and make shakes

  • Rogé Mar

    Thanks for all your help. Quick question! Let’s say my window is 2-7! Right now I am doing 19 hours! But Tuesday night I have a big dinner that will start at 7 pm can I go to 13 midnight and then fast 19 hours and slowly go back to my regular routine? And I am a drinker, what are the pitfalls?

  • Lenay1217

    Aw, thanks for reply nope I completely off breastfeeding she is on follow up formula for almost 2 weeks

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  • BrianDamage

    I’ve been doing the intermittent fasting for about a month along with a diet that’s somewhere between keto & paleo and love the results! I was fairly slim to begin with but wanted to build a little muscle while losing any excess padding I had left. Basically to look slightly ripped but still slim. It worked!
    I’ve been doing about 8 hours, sometimes less, on (eating) and 16 hours off, (fasting). Sometimes I’ll lose track of time and get to my last “meal” of the day late then the next day I’m worried about taking my pre-workout supplement before the 16 hour mark. My question is, does a pre-workout supplement, including BCAAs break the fast? I’m assuming anything my body has to process will break the fast.
    Great article BTW!

  • GogiRegion

    For people curious, starvation mode doesn’t exist in the way that people think it does, and to enter starvation response (the closest thing) while fasting, it takes about 62-64 hours. That’s about three full days. If that’s what you’re doing, then yeah, you’re metabolism will drop (though only by about 10-20% max, 30% if you go for a couple weeks and completely starve yourself). Now, does that work better? Actually, yes. Is it healthy? Not at all.

  • Lisa Pritchard

    I’ve been trying this, but have a concern. I have always been told to eat protein shortly after a workout. I wake up around 4:15 and work out immediately – typically HIIT training for 30-40min. Then I’m not eating anything until around 1:00pm. Could I be causing an adverse affect on my muscles or should the protein from my dinner the night before (usually eating around 8pm) still fuel my muscles?

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    It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us.

  • Alana Hughes

    Great article. I want to give it a try, but I’m a little concerned about lack of energy with my workouts.

    I workout at 6am every day, and my feasting window would like be between 11am and 7pm. I currently take a pre-workout called Oxyshred. It’s 20kj in each serve. Is that enough to “break fast” or is that the same as having black coffee?

    Looking forward to kicking this off!

  • Anita

    I’ve been 16/8 intermittent fasting for about 5 months maybe? But I’m worried because I’ve been trying to lose weight, so I’ve been calorie restricting. I’ve had a bit of success (lost almost 8kg!) but I’m a bit nervous I’m going to slow my metabolism down too much. My question is, should I take a break of maybe a week from my fasting? Or should i just keep on keeping on?

  • Javier

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. it was very easy to read and easy to understand.
    ive started 16/8 intermittent fasting about 3 weeks i was surprise to se how quick i got used too around 3 day.

    my question is are the hours rigid or they vary depending on the time i had my last meal. i choose a 19.00 to 01.00 as my feasting time reason being i indulge in a nice big bowl of authentic tonkotsu ramen late at night in my fav japanese restaurant (open 24/7).
    but most of the time i would have my last meal at 22.00.
    would it be ok if a break my fast earlier the next day?
    ive been rigid with the time bracket in this last 3 weeks because i asume that was the rule.

    thanks again.