Intermittent fasting has been around for a while, and it has become increasingly popular as one of the latest diet trends in the health and fitness industry today. Its recent popularity has grown drastically for good reason, too.
This recent growth in interest could be due to the all the latest research that is beginning to pop up. People are using it as a useful tool to help lose weight and improve their overall health, there are more benefits to this type of dieting than one may think.
What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
We’ve all heard the term fasting, but how does it even work? IF is a type of eating pattern that dictates more of the timing of your eating rather than the content of what you’re eating. Common methods of IF include 16 hour fasts all the way up to 24 hour fasts. Some examples of popular types of IF include:
- The 16/8 Method: This method can be practiced every day. It allows you an eating window of eight to ten hours a day and then a period of fourteen to sixteen hours without any eating. This method is the most common type of intermittent fasting you’ll see among athletes, as it tends to be the easiest to stick with.
- The 5/2 Diet: This method involves eating normally for five days of the week, but only consuming 500-600 calories the other two days of the week.
- The Warrior Diet: This method typically involves eating small amounts of food during the day, then consuming most of your calories at night within a four hour window. This could also be an easier method to follow if you are an individual lacking the schedule or time to prep your meals for the day.
- 24 Hour Fast: Fasting for 24 hours is more difficult for individuals new to fasting and should only be done once you’ve experimented with the 16/8 method. The 24 hour fasting method could be the most convenient type of fast if an individual knows they have a busy schedule that day, but really should not be practiced more than two times a week. During the fast you can drink water, coffee, or other non-caloric drinks. Most importantly, make sure you have healthy food ready to go to break your fast, so you can avoid binging and creating unhealthy eating habits.
When you think about it, we all do a type of fasting every single day, except we don’t call it fasting, we call it sleeping.
[Is breakfast a must for strength athletes? Check out this article to find out if you need “the most important meal of the day”.]
So, what are the benefits of IF?
Some Benefits of IF Include:
- Increases in human growth hormone
- Induces cellular repair (autophagocytosis)
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves cognitive health
#1: Increases in Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
Trying to get swole, but worried fasting will destroy your gains? No need to stress!
During fasting, HGH has been shown to increase as much as five times over[*]. HGH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It increases glucose and therefore is suppressed during feeding – making fasting a great stimulus for secretion. During fasting, there’s a spike in the morning, and there’s a perpetual secretion throughout the day as well[*].
This is one of the best ways to increase levels of this hormone as you get older. HGH is at its peak during childhood and adolescence and is a key element in growth and development. It’s important for all individuals, but especially athletes due to its anabolic effect as well as its ability to help muscles recover quickly.
#2: Induces Cellular Repair (Autophagocytosis)
During fasting, the body induces processes important for cellular repair. This induces a number of things, most importantly the removal of waste material from cells[*]. In fact, a study published by Cell Stem Cell demonstrated that practicing prolonged fasting actually shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-regeneration[*].This regenerative state includes cells in the immune system as well.
But why is this important for the athlete?
As you can imagine, having a strong immune system is one of the key elements in being able to train hard and recover optimally. Giving your cells the capability to regenerate not only can guarantee the increase of new, healthy cells, but it’s been shown that fasting also increases improvements in white blood cells responsible for immunity as well[*].
#3: Reduces Inflammation
Research continues to suggest that inflammation can be a cause for some of the chronic diseases that exist today. Some of the more commonly known diseases that inflammation has been suggested to play a role in include Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, high cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have shown that fasting can reduce oxidative stress, along with preventing and fighting inflammation in the body[*].
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#4: Improves Cognitive Health
Inflammation doesn’t only create issues for the body, but the brain as well. In addition, to fighting off inflammation, fasting has been shown to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)[*].
BDNF is a growth hormone produced by the body that is responsible for the production of new neurons (neurogenesis). In fact, high levels of BDNF have been associated with increased memory, mood, and intelligence.
Now, these are just a few of the health benefits associated with fasting and intermittent fasting. Like most concepts that exist in the fitness industry today, not everything will work for everyone. The main goal in exploring intermittent fasting is finding out what works best for you and coincides with your individual goals and lifestyle needs.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from @lisahaefnerphoto Instagram page.