If you know anything about rowing, you know that we workout and eat A LOT. I am on the Boston University Lightweight Women's Rowing team, so I have to weigh 130 pounds or less during our competition seasons. Eating a proper amount of food while also maintaining our weight is necessary for us to perform at our best. 

I decided to try intermittent fasting because although I am at weight, I wanted to burn fat while also building a significant amount of muscle while having little to no changes in my weight, because #gainz.   

What is intermittent fasting?

Essentially, intermittent fasting (IF) is when you don't eat anything for an extended period of time and then eat your entire daily caloric requirement in a smaller window of time. The long window of fasting causes your body to metabolize stored fat quickly, but by continuing to eat the amount your body needs, it also helps to build muscle at the same time. 

The most common type of IF is 16:8, where you fast for 16 hours a day and eat in an 8 hour window. Other types of IF are 5:2, where you eat normally 5 days a week and eat 500-600 calories for two days, Eat-Stop-Eat, where you fast 24 hours once or twice a week, Alternate Day Fasting, where you fast every other day, and the Warrior Diet, where you fast the whole day and eat one very large meal at night. I decided to follow the 16:8 IF as this is the most common and was the easiest for me to follow with my hectic schedule.

But how do I survive 16 hours without eating?

During the fasting window of whatever fast you choose, you cannot eat or drink anything with any energy, or calories. Ideally, you will be asleep for the majority of the fast, which makes it easier to make the it last longer. However, you can suppress any inevitable hunger by drinking anything zero-calorie, such as water, black coffee (I quickly became a BIG fan of americanos), or tea. Once the fast is over, you eat all of your daily caloric requirement in whichever timeframe you choose.

Our rowing practices are five days a week in the afternoon and three times a week in the morning. I decided to make my 8 hour eating window between 11am and 7pm, since practices end around 6pm. I also wake up twice a week at 5:30 for morning practice. This meant I would wake up, not eat before working out, and then continue to fast until 11:00, aka a LONG time for me to go without eating. 

How It Went

I don't track my calories, but I'm guessing I eat around 2500 calories each day to maintain my weight. I also follow a vegan diet, so the majority of what I eat is low-calorie fruits and vegetables, meaning I need to eat a larger volume of food to get the number of calories and nutrients my body requires. 

Restricting my eating window to just 8 hours everyday meant that I would have to eat a very large volume of food every couple of hours to ensure I ate what my body needed. I broke every fast with a massive bowl of oats or oat pancakes. That typically would have been enough to fill me for 4 hours, but since I needed to eat more calories, I had to eat again just 2 hours later even though I was still full. 

I was forcing my body to eat even when I was not hungry. The end of each meal would feel like the end of a Thanksgiving feast, like I'd have to unbutton my pants just to fit my food baby comfortably. 

In retrospect, I could have avoided feeling like this by eating just three very large meals within each 8 hour window, but that would require a massive amount of food per meal and I would get too full too quickly to be able to even finish them. 

My early morning practices were during my fasting window, and I noticed that I had much less energy and sometimes even felt a little lightheaded. I wouldn't eat for another few hours after working out so some days I was starving until the fast ended and would eat an enormous breakfast to catch up on calories.

I also found myself constantly thinking about food, like when I would be eating my next meal and what it would be. I also found myself getting stressed out if I knew I had plans that fell after 7pm when my eating window was closed. I am someone who has a past with restricted eating, and I didn't like that my thoughts were starting to revert back to constantly being consumed by how I was eating and when. 

The Verdict?

Intermittent fasting could go well for people who eat more energy-dense foods, but for someone who eats mostly low calorie foods and needs to eat a lot of them, I would not recommend it. I did notice that my body started to gain more muscle and lose fat more quickly, and I was not too hungry until I neared the end of the 16 hours, unless I woke up early.

Although there are countless benefits to IF, it may not be the best idea for college athletes, especially for the amount we workout and with our busy class schedules. However, if you are someone with a more relaxed schedule and a less intense workout regimen, IF could help you reach your fitness goals. I would suggest doing more research on your own before deciding to try out intermittent fasting for yourself.