For years, bodybuilders and athletes from all manner of sports have lived in fear of the mythic beast known as Starvation Mode. The only way to prevent this monstrosity from coming and stealing all of your gains and killing your metabolism, it was said, was to eat every three hours.
By doing this, you could protect your hard-earned muscle and keep your metabolic fires stoked, burning lots of calories throughout the day.
Recently, though, many people have started adopting a practice that runs completely contrary of this traditional dietary approach. Now athletes and exercisers around the world purposefully and mindfully do the unthinkable: they skip meals.
Known more clinically as intermittent fasting (IF) this eating pattern now has plenty of evidence – both from the lab and the real world – to back up many of the claims made by its proponents.
What, exactly, is intermittent fasting, though? What is it supposed to do?
What Is IF?
As its extremely descriptive name suggests, intermittent fasting is the practice of fasting intermittently. So, by carefully skipping meals, you can force your body into a fasted state. Then, after a set period, you eat again and break your fast.
Interestingly, there are many different fasting patterns out there, allowing you to pick a schedule that fits your lifestyle and works best for you. The most common and popular fasting schedule divides your day into eating and fasting windows. Generally, this consists of a 16-hour fast and an 8-hour feeding phase.
Granted, that might sound a little terrifying. Keep in mind, though, that you sleep through most of your fast. So, let's say you stop eating at 8 pm. If you go to sleep at 10pm and get your full 8 hours, you'll be awake at 6am. Already, you've logged 10 hours of fasting. To complete the 16-hour fast, then, you can have your first meal at noon. Really, all you did was skip breakfast. Which people do all the time.
What if that won't work for you? Well, there are options. First, you can use the Alternate Day technique. Instead of fasting every day, adherents of this style eat normally every other day and restrict caloric intake to under 500 the rest of the week. Or, you could go all in and simply eat nothing one day each week.
Because this is a pretty difficult thing to do, the full fasting day is normally only used in conjunction with cheat days. For example, you might loosen any dietary restraints on Saturday – eating all the things that you normal deny yourself throughout the week. On Sunday, however, you just wouldn't eat anything.
What's the point of all this self-denial, though? Won't it harm your metabolism? First off, let's talk about this idea of Starvation Mode – the concept that restricting your caloric intake will slow your metabolism down to the point that actually start to gain weight.
While it is true that your metabolism will slow down as you lose weight, it will never get to the point that your metabolism reverses. Strategically using fasting, however, has been shown to increase your body's use of stored fat and improve several other biological systems.
Muscle growth, immune function, mood, cardiovascular health and blood sugar balance have all been shown to improve during well-planned fasts.
Also, check out our article on the safe way to do a protei shake fast.