“You’re telling us avoiding eating will get us jacked?”
In a way, yes. Hear us out, because this level of science gets exciting. Human undergoing periods of fasting (voluntary or otherwise) is nothing new, however, when coupled with exercise modalities it’s a bit less popular than it should be.
What Is Fasting, and How Can It Help Me?
We’re glad you asked. To make a long story (reams of peer-reviewed articles) short, we’ll outline the major benefits first.
“The effects of fasting on hormones are multi-faceted. Fasting has a dramatic impact on human growth hormone levels. Increased HGH results in greater endurance with faster muscle repair and growth as well as a slowing of the aging process. One study showed that interval training while fasting increased HGH by 1300% in women and 2000% in men.” This exquisitely anabolic information was from an article on the website of Dr. Josh Axe.
However, that’s a far cry from all that differing lengths of food restriction do to the human physiology. Multiple studies have also shown drastic increases in fat oxidation, enhanced metabolic rate, and detoxification.
Fasting is simply a period of time when one consumes nothing but water. To be on the safe side, avoid most everything but water even if it claims to be “zero calories”. Despite seeming non-impactful, these substances still must be metabolized by the body and could knock you out of your fasted state. The idea is giving your body a break so it can deal with “cellular housekeeping” that it keeps being distracted from when you’re constantly throwing food down your throat.
The Science Behind It
Once anything rises in popularity it runs the risk of being deemed a fad, and with fads come inevitable abuses of its original protocols. In light of this, before some wide-eyed gym bro collides with you in the weight room and asks if you’ve heard the good news of fasting, let’s outline the science of exactly what we’re talking about.
Fasting comes in many forms, but what we’re delving into has been labeled Time Restricted Eating. This also can be delineated into different lengths, although currently, we see two lengths as the most useful — 14-18 hour windows, and 24-hour bouts.
From an evolutionary standpoint, the state of hunger keeps you productive, hence the previous hunter state of mind. Similarly, the human body is adapted to endure lengths without nutrients seeing as the rise in growth hormone has a protein sparing effect, preventing the loss of muscle mass (to a point). Just don’t fast for too long as this can lose its effect over time.
Cellular Custodial Work
Autophagy is defined as “self-eating”. In other words, it’s your body cleaning out old and dysfunctional cells. The most beneficial aspect of this is significant cancer prevention. Aged and degraded cells foster a much higher likelihood of becoming cancerous; therefore, they need to leave. Autophagy is triggered by exercise and reducing carbohydrate intake, but fasting is most definitely a surefire way to detox at a cellular level.
An article by Mehrdad Alirezaei, et. al stated, “Our observation that a brief period of food restriction can induce widespread upregulation of autophagy in CNS neurons may have clinical relevance. As noted above, disruption of autophagy can cause neurodegenerative disease, and the converse also may hold true: upregulation of autophagy may have a neuroprotective effect.”
Simply put, food restriction (as well as carbohydrate restriction specifically) can keep you younger, fend off cancers, and improve the function of your mitochondria, which are responsible for the body’s energy production. Mitochondria are the organelles to thank for your weight room and cardio progress, so take care of them.
When you’re “fed” there’s not going to be any fat burning occurring. Eating triggers a response of insulin production to lower blood sugar levels, and during this time your glycogen stores are being filled. Glycogen can be great for energy levels, however, your energy pathways are going to draw upon that before they move to attack your stored adipose tissue. Once fasted for a period of time, your glycogen stores have been depleted, so what do you think gets cannibalized for energy?
Unless you’re fresh out of being stranded on an island you probably have enough fat to sustain you for countless workouts. Training fasted may seem difficult or unfruitful in the beginning, but the human body is an adaptation wonder. Time restrictive eating may very well be the most effective method for stripping away fat while preserving muscle.
How Do I Implement This?
In fact, it’s much easier than it sounds. There are many resources on the web for styles of fasting, ways to organize it, and tips for planning it around your unique schedule. Whatever your situation, we would encourage giving time-restricted eating a test run.
A fast anywhere between 14-18 hours is the most popular style (we recommend sleeping for half of it), but one can also choose a 24-hour fasting window for a general good health practice. Fasting for 24 hours once a month can still deliver lasting effects on longevity and cellular health.
As always, dig into the science and equip yourself. Don’t just keep taking advice from the mildly off-putting veiny guy at the gym.