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Intermittent Fasting Beginner’s Guide (16/8 or 24 hour plan ?)

Intermittent Fasting

What is Intermittent Fasting?

“Conventional wisdom” isn’t that smart.

We’re going to take two widely accepted healthy eating “rules” and turn them on their head:

RULE #1: You HAVE to eat first thing in the morning: 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.”

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]

RULE #2: Eat lots of small meals for weight loss. Make sure you eat six small meals throughout the day so your metabolism stays operating at maximum capacity all day long.”

In other words, “eat breakfast and lots of small meals to lose weight and obtain optimal health.”

But what if there’s science and research that shows SKIPPING BREAKFAST (the horror! blasphemy!) can help with optimum human performance, mental and physical health improvement, maximum muscle retention, and body fat loss?

That’s where an Intermittent Fasting Plan comes in.

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 deliberately, 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, which I learned about from Martin over at LeanGains, a resource specifically built around fasted strength training:

INTERMITTENT FASTING 16/8 PLAN

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 (4 years running).

Two examples: The top means you are skipping breakfast, the bottom means you are skipping dinner each day:

This is an example of an intermittent fasting plan. Download our worksheet to create your own!

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.

INTERMITTENT FASTING 24 HOUR PLAN

Skip two meals one day, where you take 24 hours off from eating. For example, eat on a normal schedule (finishing dinner at 8PM) and then you don’t eat again until 8PM the following day.

With this plan, you 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.

This shows another schedule you can try for your intermittent fasting plan.

Note: You can do this once a week, twice a week, or whatever works best for your life and situation.

Those are the two most popular intermittent fasting plans, 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.
  • Another strategy is to eat only one meal a day (OMAD).

You’ll need to experiment, adjust 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?

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.

This shows you the differences in calorie consumption if you skip a meal with intermittent fasting.

In this example, you’re eating LARGER lunches and dinners than you normally do, but by skipping breakfast you’ll consume 500 less calories per day.

And thus, weight loss! 

This is highlighted in a recent JAMA study[2] in which both calorie restricted dieters and intermittent fasters lost similar amounts of weight over a year period.

That doesn’t tell the FULL story, as the timing of meals can also influence how your body reacts.

Intermittent Fasting can 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.

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.

Thus, 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.

If you can burn a little extra fat while intermittent fasting, that could be a 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 a source of energy that it does have available: 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[3].

These changes to insulin production and sensitivity can help lead to weight loss [4] and muscle creation [5].

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 used more efficiently: 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.

Back to fasting: growth hormone is increased during fasted states (both during sleep [6]and after a period of fasting). Combine this increased growth hormone secretion:[7], the decrease in insulin production (and thus increase in insulin sensitivity [8]), 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.

This man is stoked he gets to lose weight while fasting.

I know Intermittent Fasting can be overwhelming for many, which is why we sought to simplify the practice for our new app: Nerd Fitness Journey.

When you get started, we won’t have you jumping into the deep end. Instead, we’ll provide small missions so you can gradually grow accustomed to skipping meals.

If you want, you can sign-up for a free trial right here:

Should I Eat 6 Small Meals a Day?

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 [9] 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 [10].

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 (written about in the NYT, highlighted by LeanGains) has done a great job of challenging the “six-meals-a-day” technique for weight loss :

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.

Should I Try intermittent fasting? (6 Things to Consider)

Now that we’re through a lot of the science stuff, let’s get into the reality of the situation: why should you consider Intermittent Fasting?

#1) 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.

#2) 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.

#3) 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.

#4) 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.

#5) 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:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=4UkZAwKoCP8%3Ffeature%3Doembed%26enablejsapi%3D1%26origin%3Dhttps%3A

#6) Plus, Wolverine does it:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=9Evy_yz-1zk%3Ffeature%3Doembed%26enablejsapi%3D1%26origin%3Dhttps%3A

#7) Boy George is a fasting fan (and apparently reads Nerd Fitness!):https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=861502663791443968&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nerdfitness.com%2Fblog%2Fa-beginners-guide-to-intermittent-fasting%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

So if both musicians and adamantium-clawed superheroes do Intermittent Fasting, it can probably work for you too, if you can make it work for your particular lifestyle and situation!

If you’ve tried implementing something like this in the past and not had success, I hear ya!

That was the specific problem we set out to solve when we created Nerd Fitness Journey, our fun habit-building app. The tasks and missions we assign are small – like drinking a glass of water or taking a 5-minute walk – so the steps you take won’t be too scary.

You can try out the app (including our Intermittent Fasting missions) for free right here:

What Are the Negative Effects of intermittent fasting?

A woman hungry from intermittent fasting

In my own experimentation with Intermittent Fasting since 2014, 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, “cognitive performance, activity, sleep, and mood are not adversely affected in healthy humans by two days of calorie-deprivation.” You’ll be fasting for far 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 to get hungry every three hours as it is now used to consuming food every three hours.

If you eat breakfast every morning, your body expects 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 cure-all 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, figure out your calorie goals and 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 an intermittent fasting plan, 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.

Can I Build Muscle and Gain Weight While Intermittent Fasting?

You’re damn right you can!

In fact, I have been intermittent fasting since 2015 while building muscle and decreasing my body fat percentage:

Steve Kamb turning into Captain America with the help of an intermittent fasting plan.

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 protein 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.

I’m not kidding when I say this has revolutionized how I look at muscle building and fat loss.

Intermittent Fasting can change how we look at gaining muscle and losing weight.

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 (avoiding a miserable crash diet like the Military Diet).
  • 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 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 didn’t notice any adverse effects to not taking them with regards to my performance. Your value may vary!

Now, it should go without saying that if you want to build muscle while fasting, you need to work out. Specifically, by lifting heavy.

This Muppet knows strength training will help him gain muscle and lose weight.

If you want help building a workout routine designed to create muscle, I have 3 options:

#1) “Build Your Own Workout Routine” and get your hands dirty. Our guide will walk you through building a full body exercise program in 10 simple steps.

#2) Follow our Strength Building Guide and start training today. You’ll want to do lots of heavy compound lifts like the Barbell SquatDeadliftBench-PressDipBodyweight RowPull-ups, and Push-ups

Get strong as hell, eat enough protein, and you’ll hit your goals.

#3) Try the workouts in our fun habit-building app, Nerd Fitness Journey!

NF Journey will guide you through a workout routine that can be done anywhere, all while creating your very own superhero! No guesswork needed, just follow the progression plan laid out in the app and grow strong!

You can give it a free test drive right here:

Should You Do Intermittent Fasting and the Keto Diet?

This LEGO does love to fast, but by skipping dinner, never breakfast.

We have a crazy extensive guide on the Keto Diet in case you’re not familiar with it, so here it is in a nutshell:

By only eating fat and protein, your body must adapt to run on fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. In the absence of carbs/glucose, your body converts fats to ketones and uses them for fuel.

This process is called “ketosis,” and there are two ways for a body to enter ketosis:

  • Eating in a way that induces ketosis (very low carb, high fat).
  • Fasting…Hey, that’s what you’re reading about right now!

We actually have an amazing success story here on Nerd Fitness, Larry, who followed our strategies, went Keto and start intermittent fasting. He ended up losing weight, getting stronger, AND overcame the challenges of rheumatoid arthritis.

Here’s how the fasting portion of it works:

As your body enters a fast period when there are no sources of glucose energy readily available, the liver begins the process of breaking down fat into ketones.

Fasting itself can trigger ketosis.

Fasting for a period of time before kicking off a Keto-friendly eating plan COULD speed your transition into the metabolic state of ketosis, and fasting intermittently while in ketosis could help you maintain that state.

I personally love fasting for the simplicity: I skip breakfast every day and train in a fasted state. It’s one less decision I have to make, it’s one less opportunity to make a bad food choice, and it helps me reach my goals.

WHY KETO + IF WORKS = eating Keto can be really challenging. And every time you eat, it’s an opportunity to do it wrong and accidentally eat foods that knock you out of ketosis.

You’re also tempted to overeat.

So, by skipping a meal, you’re eliminating one meal, one decision, one chance to screw up.

Note: if you’re thinking “Steve, am I losing weight because I’m skipping 1/3rd of my meals for the day, AND eliminating an entire macronutrient?”, then you’d be right.

Both Keto and IF have secondary effects that could also be factoring in – physiological benefits which I explain in both articles.

Your value may vary!

You need to decide what works for you.

You probably won’t become “keto-adapted” (your body running on ketones) just skipping breakfast every day – your body will still have enough glucose stored from your carb-focused meals for lunch and dinner the day before.

In order to use fasting to enter ketosis, the fast needs to be long enough to deplete your carb/glucose stores, or you need to severely restrict carbohydrates from your meals in addition to IF in order to enter ketosis.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Experiment and try different strategies that will work for you.

By skipping a meal or minimizing carbohydrate intake, you’re more likely than not to lose weight:

  • You can do intermittent fasting without eating a Keto Diet and lose weight.
  • You can do a Keto Diet without intermittent Fasting and lose weight.
  • You can combine them and lose weight.

Sticking with Keto is BRUTALLY difficult, and probably not the right diet for 98% of the planet.

That’s actually why we designed Nerd Fitness Journey to be a step by step progression plan. Our nutrition adventure won’t have you abandoning all carbs on Day 1 (which probably won’t work), but instead will have you create small habits that you can follow permanently.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you!

I’d love to hear what questions you have! 

  • What are your questions about 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.

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