It may come as a shock to you, but I always skip breakfast. Instead of rushing to prepare a large breakfast every morning, I practice intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting consists of fasting for a minimum of 16 hours per day. It is a simple dietary approach to achieve longevity, better health, and fitness performance.
Aging: Calorie restriction vs. Intermittent fasting
A low calorie diet has often been shown to reduce aging and increase longevity (1, 2). A low calorie diet however, will decrease your physical performance and leave you with a skeleton-esque physique (not the look I’m going for). Intermittent fasting is a dietary approach many health experts have used with success that provides the benefits of increased longevity seen in calorie restricted diets without sacrificing physical performance or muscle mass. When compared to calorie restriction, individuals who practice intermittent fasting retain more lean muscle mass than those who are on a low calorie diet (7).
What are the health benefits of intermittent fasting?
- Decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing blood pressure and increasing insulin sensitivity (3)
- Increases the release of Human growth hormone (HGH aids in fat loss, retention of lean muscle mass and reduces signs of aging) (12)
- Helps decrease body fat while retaining muscle mass compared to calorie restriction (7)
- Decreases visceral fat (intra-abdominal fat) (7)
- Reduces your risk of diabetes by reducing serum glucose and insulin levels (4)
- Decreases cardiovascular inflammation by increasing levels of adiponectin (5)
- Decreases the rate of overall aging while increasing longevity (6)
- Decreases your risk of acquiring age related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (8).
“But wait, I was told breakfast is the most important meal of the day”
There are many myths surrounding the nutrition industry. Until recently it has been considered blasphemy to tell people to skip breakfast.
Here are a few myths and facts to be aware of before beginning to practice intermittent fasting.
Myth #1: “You must eat 6 meals a day to rev up your metabolism”.
Fact: Eating more frequently will not elevate your metabolism (9).
Myth #2: “Do not eat any carbs after 6pm”
Fact: I eat 90% of my carbohydrate intake between the hours of 6-8pm on a regular basis. Why? Eating carbs at night leads to greater reductions in abdominal circumference and body fat (10). In fact, subjects in the experimental group in the study cited above had lower hunger scores and greater improvements in fasting glucose, average daily insulin concentrations, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) when compared to controls (10)
Myth #3: “If you don’t eat certain foods you will get cravings and crash”
Fact: Eliminating certain foods from your diet will not cause your body to have increased cravings of those particular foods (11). My personal experience has shown that a diet switch may have a 1-2 week adjustment phase. Many of my acquaintances that eat well, do not crave sugar or junk food.
A typical intermittent fasting template:
How you construct your specific individual diet depends on your goals. If you’re trying to add muscle, you will need more calories and carbs. If fat loss if your goal, limit your servings of starch and fructose in the post-workout period.
Excluding intricate details, here is a raw template of how to practice intermittent fasting:
12pm: Green veggie/whey protein super shake. For more on what I personally add, read these two articles: http://drmikehart.com/blog/how-to-add-nutrients-without-adding-calories and http://drmikehart.com/blog/10-reasons-to-blend-green-veggies
2pm: 2-5 free-range eggs + veggies
5pm (pre-workout): Raw honey/handful of blueberries + 5 grams of Creatine + 10 grams of branch chain amino acids
6pm (post workout shake): 1-2 scoops of grass-fed whey + 1-3 brown spotted bananas + kefir
7-8pm: Green veggies + 1/4 – 3/4 pound of grass-fed beef + organic jasmine rice (1-4cups)
**Note: I allow myself to drink black or “bulletproof coffee” during the intermittent fasting period**
Productivity and lifestyle
In addition to having the health benefits mentioned above, I feel it is noteworthy to mention how this dietary approach has improved my lifestyle. My morning productivity and energy have increased since practicing intermittent fasting. Given the simplicity of this diet, I spend less time preparing food and consequently have more free time. Because I don’t take a lunch break at work I am able to escape the office an hour earlier each day (it takes me 5 minutes to down a shake and eat a few eggs). It is also very convenient for eating out and socializing. I enjoy going out for dinner and do so approximately once per week (I often choose steak, vegetables, and potatoes). Given the fact that you are supposed to eat carbohydrates during this period (6-8pm/dinner time), I enjoy my rice and potatoes guilt free. To date, this has been my favorite dietary approach to achieve productivity, overall health, and physical performance without compromising my social life or causing any inconvenience.