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?

This seal does Intermittent Fasting by just eating...whenever it can catch fish.

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:

Intermittent Fasting Schedule

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.

How to Schedule Intermittent Fasting

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 of sausages - eat it on YOUR schedule

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?

Intermittent Fasting Apple 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?

Fasting can leave you HUNGRY.

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?

Intermittent Fasting Encourages 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:

Intermittent Fasting Helped Steve!

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?

Run fast - on a fast

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:

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

Eat the right foods when practicing intermittent fasting!

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

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

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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  • raging catfish

    What if I want to skip dinner instead of breakfast? I’d like to eat normally throughout most of the week but maybe skip lunch and dinner Monday and skip breakfast and lunch Wednesday. I know you said don’t stress, but I wanna know if the fasting is as effective if I don’t load my cals up before sleeping and just shift my fasting window occasionally.

  • Buracho

    does the 24 hour fasting has a feast window also, 30 min to 1 hr or just consume all the calories you need in just 1 meal? – eat 2000 cal in just 1 meal.

  • Marcia New

    Steve, would taking meds required on an empty stomach first thing in the a.m. then ruin a fast that skips breakfast as the one meal to eliminate?

  • Nick Geiser

    Why do you consume two big meals during your 8 hour feeding time? Are you opposed to eating every 2 hours in the feeding window? Do you feel like one is more effective than the other?

  • Michelle

    Question: I wake early up and go to the gym in the morning in order to get to work by 9 am. I’m used to having a protein drink after my workout. What do I do about this? Wait three hours after my workout to eat my first meal? Thanks!!

  • Kelvin Sharp

    Great post. It’s always nice to see people out there defending intermittent fasting. Sure it’s not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Most people that bash it know nothing about it.

  • Philip Natale

    Doing a ‘before and after’ in full clothing… Doesn’t make a good point.
    You’re an idiot.

  • Philip Natale

    And, nobody gives a fuck about Boy George’s opinion.

  • Ree

    Yeah IF is brilliant. It’s important to know that it’s not a magic weight loss solution though. Its just a way of getting all your calories in a small eating window so food is more satisfying. Simple but effective.

  • Ree

    It’s crazy that myths still float about that IF has negative effects. It’s literally just skipping breakfast. That is it in a nutshell.

  • Sean Doh

    Any recommendations for intermittent fasting while working the night shift? Ideal time to eat/workout and when to fast?

  • Richard Stokes

    Im on a cut at the time, and eatting 1900 calories a day. Now I know that this will change that, but my question is, how many calories should I be shooting for on a daily basis with this diet schedule?

  • Catherine Chellen Torrey

    I went from eating 5 to 6 meals to fasting 12 hours and now 16 hours in one week ! Is it. Or al that I’m always bloated and don’t feel much hungry ?
    i have a hard time eating that much at once , what should I do ?

  • ShaunMarie

    I always (used to be) relatively thin, and an intermittent faster by nature (I HATED eating when I was a kid… ). It was normal for me to eat one meal and one snack a day (I have never eaten breakfast) Then, I married someone who likes to have lunch. And have gained 15 KILO in three years – and as I am approaching ‘the pause – have managed to put on 7 of them in the last few months – as well as having sub-optimal thyroid scores. Will IF screw with my *already f*cked thyroid ? (t4 @ 100 mg caused me to GAIN weight!)

  • Roman Peshkov

    Very nice article. Thank for sharing the information. I will turn some of this into my life.

  • Monika Zsofka

    Should there be a specific way to “come down” from intermittent fasting? If I did the 16:8 for several weeks and then decided to go back to eating regularly, would I need to work back into a regular diet?

  • XY

    WOW! I didn’t know that what I have been doing for the past 2 years have a name let alone that others are doing it! Question though: does coffee in the morning “count” or just FOOD?

  • harold reynolds

    Have a question about 24 hr fast, is it ok to do this everyday. I have read that you should only do a couple times a week but then people comment on doing it everyday. Is there any draw backs from doing it everyday i cany find much ibfo about doibg it everyday

  • This article is very helpful. Thank you!

  • Treat Peterson

    So my typical schedule is 7am to 4pm for work with a mandatory lunch break at 1130 (military life) so my workouts usually start at 430 maybe 5pm and end around 730. Is fasting after your workout really the best way to go about that? I usually hate eating a coupe of hours before a workout because a full stomach and high intensity training don’t mesh well. Tldr: should i get similar results having my window between 11-7 and skipping breakfast?

  • Sean Giles

    This article is great so firstly, thanks. I am very interested in IF but more for the health benefits than the weight loss side of it.

    I don’t actually actively train at all, mainly due to work/small children ruling my life but I do cycle 4 miles into work and home again every morning and evening. I was wondering do you actually have to train along side IF or is that just if you want to build muscle too?

    Thanks.

  • Windy

    What does everyone recommend in my situation? I get lifters low blood sugar. Only on squats or things using weights with lower body. It’s weird but its a thing. I HAVE to work out at 5am. Im off to work a few hours later and I eat around lunch. I’m fine on the fast, only I can’t get through my lifts. I’ve been breaking the fast with a protein shake but its not working. Everyone has said a few weeks should do the trick and my body will stabilize. Two months in and I’m still having the issue. So recently I’ve just been pushing through but good grief it’s killing me to get through my sets! Let me state that this is the only time during the day that my blood sugar plays up. I can do cardio for hours if I wanted to, or upper body lifting with no problems. Anyone want to take a stab at this? I am on Keto if that helps. And sadly this is the ONLY time during the day I can work out. fingers crossed someone helps me with this problem. I want to fast but I really want to squat too 🙂

  • Thanks for the awesome guide. but we are all different, and some diets work for some one but don’t for the others, even if an dietary approach works for the majority, not sure work for all.

  • Yashni Jhaveri

    I have pcos and thyroid borderline and when I started this, within two days I lost 1.5kgs.. also a minus point is dealing with acidity, heartburn and some weakness in the body.
    Is this normal for all if one fasts?^

  • blake davis

    It’s worthy mentioning I’ve always struggled with eating a lot of food fast. Growing up I was taught to eat a lot of food fast because you didn’t know how long it would be until your next meal and you did not want to complain saying you were hungry like you were a baby.

    Now combine this with the stress of being an adult and I found myself constant eating all day to make up for the stress. With IF I now can comp my habits in a way that works for me. Instead of constantly eating a lot of food fast all day, I can still eat a lot and fast but in a small time frame that is feasible for me. I’ve noticed I eat less now simply because I have a smaller time frame to stuff my face and have more energy to work out since my body is not breaking down the 10 tacos I ate along with saving money on food.

    My reason for saying this of course it would probably be ideal to eat smaller amounts in the time frame but for a lot of people that try to get healthy they probably hit the strategy hard right off the bat, thereby going into something that is completely different from what they did before thos rushing too fast trying to get fit instead of a slow lifestyle change which is what is needed in order for your body to change. A lifestyle; not just simple meal adjustments or taking the stairs, which while those are nice you wouldn’t get the results you are looking for which will result in you getting discouraged when you completely change you’re lifestyle but don’t see results.

    The key is making small adjustments that work for you and will stay around day to day as you change both mentally, physically and willingly.

  • Danielle Scott-Bell

    this was a fantastic read and am going to apply it! Can I ask what is ok during the fast times I choose? (i.e. water, bcaa’s, protein shakes, green tea)

  • Christian

    I am still wondering if I’m doing it right. I am on my 2nd week by the way. And I’ve been tracking my calorie intake thanks to the My Plate App. Anyways, I know that during the feasting period I have to consume the amount of calorie I intended to take. So I portion them all throughout my day. Eat a whole meal for lunch. Grab a few snacks in between. Then, dinner. (YES, as I have mentioned, i’m tracking my calorie. So I’m very strict as to what I ate during snack time. If ever I give myself a treat, I eat less than I usually do for dinner.) But most of the articles that I’ve read, especially this one, it only says two meals. No SNACKS in between. So am I doing it right? Is snacks even allowed? Or do I need to cut them down and just have half of my calorie intake during lunch and the other during dinner? THANKS!

  • Vinita Sappington

    Through the years I have been on several diets for short term and was successful.However , when I became disabled I put on weight hence lots of pain meds and maintience drugs ( which I found were killing me) so I went to Alternitive Meds.. Problem is my body didn’t want to lose weight..So … I got a Treadmil, started on an aggressive diet ( boiled eggs, grapefruit , salads, fruit, vege’s and etc, ) I lost about 25 lbs in a couple months ,, Then I stoppd losing weight,, I lost inches but no weight,,,( I gained 4 lbs back ) This month July 18,2017,, I went on this diet,, I have lost 7 lbs, in 8 days..I don’t know how except that I stay with the fasting 16 hrs and I eat normal in the 8.. Nothing major, regular food,, My concession for myself is I drink my coffee with stevia but I like my French Vanilla Creamer,, I drink water for the rest of the time ,, As soon as i rise I drink a big glass of water and later my coffee , then I’m good till my first meal ,, which is whatever everyone else is eating,, If I feel hungry I eat fruit or something and I’m good till the last meal.. I stop eating and don’t think about food,,, ( A first for me ) So,,,I am excited for however long this will last ,, But This can’t hurt you unless you are a diabetic or something.. I researched this and I think I can live with it.. Thank you for your post and I will try to check back in a few months ,,

  • Maureen

    I am unclear of how long to fast for (48 hours or 72?), then how many days in between before starting another fast? I’m definitely interested in this method of eating, and am very curious to see how it will impact and affect me.

  • Elena

    Thank you for this article. It’s such a relief to understand that it’s not a problem to skip breakfasts! For our family it’s just natural, we don’t feel hungry till lunch. But the society around would make a big deal out of it, especially school teachers. I felt always ashamed when people reveal my child doesn’t have a proper meal in the morning, now I can show this article! We’re females though, but I think, as fasting feels good to us, and it what we always did naturally without seeing negative effects, it’s actually good!

  • Mike Ipsen

    Actually you will burn a small amount of muscle no matter what you do. If very fat you will also have excess skin because it does take time for skin to snap back if it will at all. it really is different for each person.

  • rudy

    Great post! Thanks 🙂

  • Rose

    I LOVE breakfast and I have tried many times to skip it; however, i cannot bring myself to do it. I have found that eating after I workout… at about 9:30am-4:30pm has worked the best for my schedule and body. I just skip dinner or eat it early. If there are days where I eat later than I just adjust the time i start eating the next day and lower my eating time frame to get back on track. Can someone let me know if this is a good method to IF? Like why does everyone skip breakfast?? Does it have to be breakfast that you skip to be considered IF? I skip dinner and I consider it IF because it’s still about a 16/8 split

  • Brigida Reichert

    Check guide from WooPep diet website blog.

  • Brassfield Zendejas

    This is nice movie I think. However, You should take WooPep diet if you want to learn more about diet.

  • Noelle

    I was soo excited … until I got to the part about it not necessarily working the same for ladies. Whomp, whomp.

  • Phase Nonapp

    I don’t buy the caveman argument. Cavemen probably died by the time they were 40. They would have had all sorts of dire health issues so they aren’t a good example to follow. The macro dieters also use the cavemen example. We have evolved and learnt a lot since the caveman days so it’s not a good analogy.

  • Sab

    Hey Uhmm wanted to ask, whats better if i skip breakfast or dinner?

    I eat at 12:00 and at 16:00 I wake up at around 11:00 so technically i eat breakfast. I get about 9 to 10 hrs of sleep every day.

    Is it best if I wait with breakfast till later or it doesnt matter?

  • Ash

    Hey everyone, I just wanted to say that I’m mid thirties, 5ft 10 and pretty healthy weight of 80kg. I’ve been doing IF for about 4-6 weeks and already down from 84/85kg. I fast twice a week as well as exercise. I walk 3-4 times a week on my lunch break. Get a good 6km done each time. Then 2 days a week I’ll use my exercise bike too. On my fasting days it’s pretty much just water and the occasional tea or coffee.

    I chewed gum the first couple of fasts to keep the hunger away and help my body forget. This week my body was that well trained I actually fasted afterwards my lunch on Friday and my body had not cared that it was soon Saturday evening.

    I’m in no rush to get too low in weight terms. I’d like to reach 75-76 kg but I can be a little more rigid if necessary with fasting days.

    I usually find on days where I don’t fast I still eat under my calorie total and pay attention to the levels of protein/carbs and fat you consume.

  • Ashna

    Quick question: Do I need to lower my carbs when intermittent fasting?

  • AJx

    Ashna, cutting down on carbs isn’t necessary. It’s more about timing rather than lowering your carb intake altogether.

    The great thing about intermittent fasting is it gives you plenty of freedom. It’s a sustainable lifestyle rather than a restrictive diet. Calories in vs calories out still remains true, but IF makes this so much easier. It’s really worth checking out Nate Miyaki’s ‘Half Day Diet’ – His method is basically a tweaked version of intermittent fasting to maximise fat loss. Here’s a link to his plan:

    HalfDayPlan.Com

  • Great article

  • Tj Huffer

    Ok I’m going to throw everyone off here. I do have a diet supplement business so here’s my thoughts. I’m a FULL believer in they help you with appetite control energy etc. for sure, but you can’t do it alone. You can’t pop a pill and eat at McDonalds every day. You need to work at anything you do. So I have been reading about this IF and I think this is a very good choice for me along with many of my customers. Would there be an issue of adding this to this way of eating? It’s usually hard to eat anyway, but with this IF I think this would really be a plus!

  • This article is very informative. Keep up the good work!

  • jasmine quiroz

    I’ve been IF for about 2 months now, but I’m curious if the exact hours I fast for matter. For example, if I usually stop eating at 10pm and don’t eat until 12 noon the next day, does it mess up my progress if I stopped eating at 8pm one night and eat the next day at 10am?

  • Karen

    Just read your article and was keen to start my fasting journey…….then BOOM! My bubble was burst. I am a 57 year old woman, post menopause, who doesn’t sleep well! Do you really think fasting is not such a good idea for women? I gotta get rid of this arse somehow………..help!

  • Okay, call it fate, luck, vision or whatever. I’ve been weighing up (no pun intended!) which diet to try, as I want results over a long term rather than cycles, and kaboom! I found this post, even when I wasn’t consciously searching. You’ve inspired me to try this IF, as I feel it’s doable as well as clearly productive. Thanks for all you do, and keep up the great work

  • Jocelyn Genevieve Jacobs

    I have been doing this for close to 7 months now, mainly eating one resonable meal a day and taking a mutli vitamin (Centrum Silver). and have lost 60lbs. I have heard nothing but complaints from all of my family members and am so thankful to have found this article! I feel great! And after the initial mild hunger in the morning, usually cured by a cup of tea, I feel energized for the rest of the day. When I get really hungry I eat but my portions have become very small because I am full really fast. Then no more hunger for the day. It deos take a while to get used to but my body is thanking me daily!

  • lex

    hi, good article, very helpful.
    my question, im a vegetarian and work out 3 times a week to gain muscle. my proteins mainly come from beans lentils chickpeas and all the others that complete the list of high protein but also high carb nutricion. if i have to eat only 2 meals a day my meals are way to heavy. (especially if you dont want to be completly full but only 80% as the japanese swear by) ((the japanese known to become the oldest people in the world))
    do you have any tips on meals for vegetarians that fast?

  • lex

    hi, good article, very helpful.
    my question, im a vegetarian and work out 3 times a week to gain muscle. my proteins mainly come from beans lentils chickpeas and all the others that complete the list of high protein but also high carb nutricion. if i have to eat only 2 meals a day my meals are way to heavy. (especially if you dont want to be completly full but only 80% as the japanese swear by) ((the japanese known to become the oldest people in the world))
    do you have any tips on meals for vegetarians that fast but still want enough protein that fit in 2 meals?