I’ll give it to you straight – I am no fitness guru or health-conscious yogi. I would say I fit more into the category “washed-up high school athlete.” Nevertheless, in this day and age, it is impossible to be unaware of the various fitness trends and heath kicks that saturate every social media site.
Some of my closest friends have hopped on the Kayla Itsines bandwagon, while others run half marathons or have gone vegan. Therefore, I hear quite a bit about the newest health regimes and have learned to ignore most of them. However, one workout fad that I cannot ignore is “intermittent fasting.” The debate of whether it is better to work out on a full or an empty stomach has been going on since heath and fitness became a thing, but there is still no definite answer.
This lack of concrete solutions drove left-brained me to do some hard core scientific studies (read that as internet research) about the pros and cons of fasting versus feasting. Here are my findings.
What exactly is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Yup – not eating. *cringe* The implementation of fasting as a lifestyle choice originated in the UK and has spread and evolved into several variations. The particular variation I am focusing on is fasting before exercise. One thing to note, fasting is not a diet. It is a pattern of eating that many people customize to their gender, habits and level of activity.
Fasting and Weight Loss
Glycogen, glycogen, glycogen. If you didn’t know (and now you will), your body uses glycogen, a storage form of carbohydrates, to produce the energy needed to crank out your next 50 squats. If you don’t have food in your system, your glycogen stores are depleted, so your body starts relying on other sources of fuel, such as fat.
However, your body doesn’t discriminate when searching for fuel sources. In addition to fat, your body will also break down muscle for energy, so this means that while you are shedding pounds while fasting, you are also losing the potential toned butt that was the original goal of your squats.
Keep in mind that fasting slows your metabolism. Your body will adjust the number of calories it burns in relation to the quantity of your intake. This will ultimately affect your weight loss goals. Furthermore, have you ever tried lifting weights on an empty stomach? That sh*t is a herculean feat.
So… does fasting even work?
Yes, but you must tailor your workouts to the amount of food you have eaten beforehand or vice versa. If you are on an intermittent fasting diet, you can still see heath improvements after working out. You just have to make sure that the only workouts you do after fasting are low intensity cardio exercises. Think: elliptical or a light/short jog. Making sure you keep things moderate will ensure you can still get the physical and mental benefits of exercise, without the threat of passing out or losing muscle.
If I like high intensity exercise, what should I do?
For goodness sake, eat. Eat before you work out and fast at some other point in your schedule. You need to maintain your glycogen and blood sugar levels in order to guarantee that you have fuel for a workout that will drain your muscles of much needed energy. Ideas of what to eat before you preform high intensity exercises include snacks rich in carbs and protein like berries and yogurt or fruit and nut butter.
Should I fast after I work out too?
This depends on how much muscle you are trying to build and how much activity the rest of you day entails. You will need to replenish you energy stores at some point, and if you are looking to gain muscle then you definitely need to consume a high-protein meal/snack in your post-workout hours. Think of it this way: in order to maximize muscle synthesis, bookend your workouts between two periods of feasting.
Okay, so does this mean that I need to start fasting?
Not at all. Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle choice, and plenty of people see health and fitness results from working out in their own way. Once agin, this is just a fitness trend amongst many others. If you want to try fasting then go for it, otherwise just stick to what fits your lifestyle and what makes you feel good. Personally, I cannot function without food in my stomach, so in order to avoid losing friends due to hanger, I never skip a meal.