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Intermittent fasting for beginners

Back at home we have this saying: "The breakfast eat alone, lunch share with a friend, the dinner give to your enemy." But that's as old as time. New research might suggest else. And maybe if you work out hard in the evening, you're probably better off having dinner after that. Today we talk intermittent fasting.

  • What is it?

  • How does it work?

  • Can I build muscle while doing it?

  • How to do it safely?

Research suggests there are multiple benefits of intermittent fasting - reducing inflammation and improving conditions like asthma, Alzheimer's and arthritis; weight loss; lower risk of type 2 diabetes via improved blood sugar levels. Sounds good. Let's see.

What is intermittent fasting?

First, intermittent fasting is not a diet. No foods are excluded. It is rather a pattern of feeding in which you have a "feeding window" (the time when you have your meals) and a "fasting phase" (the rest of the day when you do not consume anything that would contain calories). So basically you'd consume all of your daily calories during a shorter period of time during the day and fast for the rest of it. Before you ask - yes, coffee is allowed! But just plain black coffee, as milk contains calories and would break the fast ("breakFAST"... Get it?).

How does it work?

You can choose between many options. Some people fast for a number of hours a day, others have a "fasting days" when they don't consume any calories. The most common pattern I've seen is the 16:8 where people have their feeding window of 8 hours and they fast for the remaining 16. For example, feeding time between 10am and 6pm and fasting for the rest. There are more extreme examples like 20:4 or even 23:1 but I imagine these are hard to implement in a normal day-to-day life. What I've tried was having my feeding window between 1pm and 9pm. It simply worked for me and my schedule with work in the gym. I would go to the gym in the morning, work out and have my morning sessions between 8am and 12pm. During that time I would drink only water and tea. I would leave at lunchtime and by the time I get home, shower and prepare lunch it would already be 1pm. Time for my first meal. I would snack again in the late afternoon cook dinner for later and go back to the gym to meet and train my evening clients. I would finish at 8pm, go home and have dinner before 9.

Can I build muscle while doing it?

Recent studies suggest that intermittent fasting combined with resistance training "generally maintains lean body mass and can also promote fat loss". In my opinion if you exercise with the optimal load to promote muscle growth, if you get enough rest and sleep and you consume the right amount of protein and calories every day you should be growing muscle mass (given that there isn't any other medical condition that would prevent this from happening). I've seen it working for me as well as for my clients.

How to do it safely?

Now, remember that fasting affects everyone differently. Men and women can have different response to it. Woman to woman it can also vary. Some people say they feel much better, much more energetic, while others say they feel fatigued and that their hormones got messed up after trying it. My recommendation would be to talk to your physician about it before you begin anything. Especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or if you have a medical condition. From my experience with intermittent fasting I can say that as I wanted to try the 16:8 hour split pattern I first began with small changes. Every day I would reduce my feeding window with 1 hour until I reached the 16:8 ratio. Remember that if you normally have breakfast at 8am and dinner at 9pm it could be quite the stress to your body if suddenly one day you drastically changed your routine. Remember to be safe and as always, thanks for reading!

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