Ready, Set, Fast: How Strategic Meal-Skipping Can Help You Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, and Get Healthier

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When we were kids, Mom was always looking out for our health. Chew your food. Eat your vegetables. And always eat breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day.

As busy grown-ups, a good breakfast often falls victim to the time crunch. Who has time to cook and eat a breakfast of champions? It’s so much faster and more convenient to just grab a coffee and a bran muffin.

Of course, deep down we know it’s not right. Not only would Mom disapprove, that pudgy physique in the mirror deserves better, too.

So what’s a guy to do? Get up earlier and make it happen, right? Perhaps not.

Lately, some really fit guys – men with muscles, visible veins, and abs so sharp you can grate carrots on them – are doing something a whole lot different. They’re not eating breakfast. Healthy or otherwise. In fact, they’re not eating at all for extended stretches. And they’re getting leaner, more muscular, even healthier.

This practice is called Intermittent Fasting – IF for short – and it’s challenging everything nutritionists, dieticians, and your Mom ever told you about healthy eating.

Going Against the Grain

Typical dietician dogma involves eating small meals spread two to four hours apart, starting with a nutritious breakfast. This, we’re told, stimulates the metabolism, so we burn more calories throughout the day. It’s also supposed to make us less likely to binge on cookies and ice cream at night.

It’s sound advice that’s been field-tested by thousands of fit, healthy, hard-bodied people.

Proponents of IF, on the other hand, eschew the idea of small, frequent meals. They claim to have achieved quicker fat loss and better health by deliberately skipping breakfast. Some even go entire days without eating.

The experts are skeptical. They call IF extreme, impractical, even harebrained – and yet no one can dispute their results. Or that the number of IF converts is growing.

I was also a skeptic. I built my reputation on recommending small, healthy, frequent meals, starting with breakfast. And that strategy has definitely worked well for most of my clients.

But the track record of certain Intermittent Fasting protocols, both in scientific publications and in real-world practice, seems pretty impressive too. That’s why I decided to put some of these protocols to the test. I wanted to answer the following questions: “Is IF just another fad diet? Or is it something health and body conscious people should consider?”

My Fasting Experiments

To this end, I spent the last 9 months testing the most popular Intermittent Fasting protocols on myself. In the end, I tried 8 different fasting protocols.

At times I was consuming nothing but calorie-free beverages for a full 24-36 hours. (Mercifully that was only once per week.) Other methods had me fasting for much shorter periods, yet more frequently.

While each method was basically a spin on not eating a thing, the varying effects were fascinating. Some methods made me feel energized, strong, and focused. Others simply left me lethargic, weak, and very, very hungry.

Of the 8 different protocols I tried, there are three main variations:

The trial fast: This is where I recommend you start if you’re interested in this approach. Just try going 24 hours without food. I did my first trial fast on a Sunday. I set it up by having a small meal on Saturday night at 10pm, and then didn’t eat again until another small meal on Sunday night at 10pm. (I did drink green tea and water throughout the day.)

The periodic fast: If you survived the trial fast without breaking down and cleaning out the refrigerator, then you can try this. Simply do the trial fast above once in a while. It could be once per month. It could be once per week. (More frequently than once a week, however, is a mistake. I tried to do it twice a week and it was a disaster. More isn’t better.)

The daily fast: This is a more advanced way of doing things. Here we cut the fast from 24 hours to 16-20 hours (say 8pm to noon to 4pm the following day) but we do it every day. Ideally, most days there’s a workout at the end of the fast, followed by some pretty large meals during the 4-8 hour feeding window. (As complicated as this system sounds, I found myself actually gaining muscle and losing fat at an alarming rate.)

So what’s the conclusion? What did I learn?

Well, for body transformation, Intermittent Fasting works. Over the course of my experiments, I dropped twenty pounds of weight, from 190 pounds to 170 pounds, and I was pretty lean to start with. I also reduced my body fat from 10% to 4% (measured via a well-validated ultrasound protocol) while maintaining most of my lean mass. And I kept it off. In addition, I saw some interesting improvements in my health profile.

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