Fasting has been a topic of much debate in the health & fitness industry these past few years, and for good reason. Going without food for extended periods can certainly be a risky practice, and not something which should be taken lightly. If done correctly, however, it can have a range of benefits as well as being a convenient tool for those of us who are too busy to eat every few hours.
In this article I’ll give my take on fasting, and also provide some tips for those who wish to try fasting, to make sure it is done with minimal risk.
When most people think of fasting, they simply see it as going without food of any kind for longer than normal in order to catalyse fat loss. In my opinion, this isn’t really “fasting”. It’s just “starving”. Here are a few reasons why this doesn’t work:
- The body is a complicated machine. It is constantly running through billions of chemical reactions in order to keep you alive, and to keep all your organs and systems working properly. Without enough food, the body isn’t getting the chemicals (nutrients) it needs to complete these reactions. This is why nutrition is so fundamentally important, and one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about it.
- If the body is not fed every few hours, or at least a few times daily, the nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones, which prompt the liver and muscles to release stored glycogen (sugar) into the blood, in order to attempt to feed the cells. This leads to a spike in blood sugar, and ultimately fat storage. This is why many of the new clients who I interview are overweight, despite the fact they actually eat very little!
- If protein is not kept at an optimal level, muscle mass is lost, organ function suffers and brain function also suffers. Amino acids from protein play a vital role in several body processes, most notably in cognitive function and liver detoxification. If you go without food for extended periods, these organs won’t be getting the amino acids they need to function properly.
Additionally, as I mentioned briefly above, muscles need protein to keep their shape and strength. Without it, they soften and shrink, body fat percentage rises, and you lose that “toned” look you worked so hard for.
Upon examining these points, it seems like fasting is a terrible idea. But this isn’t the case either. There are ways to fast effectively, and in fact, I personally like to use fasting on occasion myself. Fasting has some significant benefits when done right, such as allowing the digestive organs to rest & repair and giving the body a chance to effectively detoxify.
That being said, here are a few key things which need to be considered when fasting:
- For fasting to be effective (and not dangerous), supplement with amino acids. This keeps protein levels optimal, while also giving the organs a break from digestion. For best results, a mixture of Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and Essential Amino Acids is ideal. This ensures preservation of muscle mass, as well as providing the brain and organs with the amino acids they need for optimal function.
- Stay hydrated. This goes without saying, but it’s even more important when fasting. Your cells and organs always perform far more efficiently when adequately hydrated. I recommend bodyweight (in kilos) multiplied by 0.033 to find your daily water requirement in litres.
- Be sure to supplement with spirulina, or some form of greens powder/supplement. As is the case with amino acids, it’s important to keep antioxidant levels up in the absence of food in order to provide the liver with the ingredients it needs to perform its stages of detoxification.
If you’re thinking about using fasting as a weight management tool, or to simply give your body the occasional break from constantly digesting large amounts of food, remember to adhere to the key points in this article. It will really help you make the most of the fast, and minimise risk of harm. Also, if you’ve never tried fasting, I would suggest not going for longer than 12 hours to start with.
Always remember, the body is a complicated machine with many specific needs which must be respected, especially if you expect it to transform for the better.
Until next time, take care of yourself!