Category Archives: Food

Should You Intermittent Fast? A Basic Primer on Intermittent Fasting

Photo by Omar Mahmood on Pexels.com

First, in brief:

Intermittent fasting can work sometimes with exercise, depending on what you do and how.

You should avoid intermittent fasting if you work out in the morning.

The more training you’re doing, the less likely it’s a good idea.

Most of those who practice intermittent fasting and train effectively only strength train as their only meaningful, intense exercise. Generally, their only aerobic training is whatever walking they do during the day, or very brief high intensity interval training… if they do any cardio at all.

If you don’t do much exercise at all, then yes intermittent fasting is a good idea. And you should probably get some exercise, but intermittent fasting is a good habit.

A General Overview of Intermittent Fasting:

Instead of traditional fasting, where you may go a day or more without eating… intermittent fasting is about eating all your day’s meals in a short window of time and not eating the rest of the day.

Even if you eat a similar number of calories, the long break from eating gives your body an extended metabolic break, which can help reduce inflammation and better promote healing and recovery. This is actually more of the benefit of intermittent fasting than the potential fat burning improvements that can occur during the fast.

There’s no calorie restriction on how much you eat during the food window. But, obviously, it’s going to be harder to overeat in a single 8 hour window than it would be if you ate meals throughout the day.

Still, it is possible to outeat the fast during the 8 hour window and still maintain or gain weight. The fast doesn’t cause you to lose weight in itself. While it’s obviously more difficult in a shorter window of time, you can still overeat. That said, intermittent fasting can help with food portion and weight control.

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How A Busy Schedule Improved My Nutrition

I’m currently working in a fairly isolated location across town, and some weeks I’m working longer than 8 hours. My schedule many workdays is wall to wall booked:

  • Wake up
  • Perhaps run as time allows
  • Prep for work
  • Go to work and work 8-10 hours
  • Commute home
  • Work out if I didn’t get to in the morning
  • Eat dinner
  • Prep food and clothes for tomorrow
  • Go to bed.

On many workdays I can’t leave the client facility because I only have 30 minutes for lunch, plus even when I can the best food options are halfway across town. In this location there’s no supermarkets or viable restaurant options nearby. I won’t eat garbage fast food or something off a vending machine or convenience store counter. Even if any of it was satisfying (hint: doubtful), the near total lack of useful nutrients will crash my energy levels in the afternoon, in a job where I need to stay engaged and proactive.

And, of course, I’m now endurance training. I need to stay fueled for those morning and/or afternoon runs. I can’t just eat a minimal diet or whatever happens to be available and expect to perform as needed in these workouts. Plus, I have to maintain my overall health and not make choices that will contribute to illness or burnout. The food I eat has to support not just my general day to day health but what I am doing in training.

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L-Theanine And Vitamin Timing

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Most people who take vitamin supplements take them all at once, usually at the end of the day after their last meal.

Other than the risk of overloading your digestive tract and most of them being passed instead of used, this isn’t a bad strategy… especially if your vitamins are fat-soluble and you’ve had a large, fairly-fat-rich meal for dinner. Sure, some will likely get passed, but much of what doesn’t directly go to your bloodstream for use could them get stored in whatever fat you end up storing, to be released in your bloodstream later when that fat is tapped for energy. (This in fact is why vitamin capsules contain oils: The oils are digested and stored as fat, and the vitamins absorbed can come along for the ride.)

This is beneficial for runners, triathletes and other endurance athletes. When they go to train soon thereafter, any of that fat that’s aerobically burned will also release those stored vitamins for use… at a time when their body may actually need it.

Now, that said, while I’ve talked about vitamins that can and should go together (like Vitamin K2 and calcium), some nutrients don’t go with other nutrients. And one key nutrient to keep in mind is L-theanine.

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Does Power Eating hold up after all these years?

I have a lot of educational books that at this point are now old books. Susan Kleiner‘s 1998 book Power Eating is one.

Whereas at the time the notable RD’s tome was timely and cutting edge, the preceding couple of decades have rendered much of the book’s conventional wisdom somewhat outdated and possibly to some extent currently off-base.

To preface, it’s worth noting that Kleiner has since released a sequel to the book, The New Power Eating, that is certainly more up to date on today’s knowledge. But still, I’m curious to see how well the old edition holds up.

Kleiner obviously didn’t err based on the information available to everyone in her field at the time. No one then knew of the benefits of concepts like intermittent fasting, carb cycling, that the kidneys could in fact handle a large amount of protein without ill effect, that we didn’t necessarily need as much carbohydrate as they thought for intense activity, etc.

I’m reading through some of the book now, primarily initial sections on exercise fueling, before and after training. She echoes a lot of the conventional wisdom regarding endurance running nutrition, which as people know is very high-carbohydrate and carb-centered.

While the following is hardly comprehensive, I have read a few interesting points that are either not necessarily true today, or could well be valid today and has not been carried over into subsequent analyses.

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Food and Thermogenesis: How what you eat affects your body temperature

Energy produces heat. If you didn’t sleep through science class, they probably taught you this.

There are all sorts of circumstances behind what we now call climate change, the steadily rising temperature of the planet. But one key element is the fundamental existence of more human beings than have ever been on the planet in recorded history.

All humans produce heat. Every mechanical, electrical, chemical anything we have ever done produces heat. Vehicles and other machines produce heat when they operate. Anything we built that moves produces heat. Even the coldest fridges, freezers and air conditioners produce heat to cool what’s inside: The heat is just emitted out of the back or top of the device into the surrounding atmosphere.

And our bodies produce heat. The bigger we are, the more active we are, the more heat we produce. This is a key reason why your perceived temperature is hotter when you’re running than it is when you’re walking or still. You produce a lot more heat when you exercise.

Even the energy required to digest food produces heat. The act of digestion producing this energy is a little something scientists call thermogenesis.

Some foods require more energy from thermogenesis than others. This is one of the keys behind why it’s generally healthier to eat unprocessed meat and vegetables than processed sugar.

Insoluble fiber and most proteins require a lot of digestive energy for the body to digest its nutrients. These foods are highly thermogenic.

Meanwhile, chemically refined sugar is by design quickly digested, as these foods are chemically engineered to not satisfy you hunger and make you crave more of them. These foods are lightly thermogenic.

You can eat 500 calories of sugar cookies, and still be very hungry immediately after eating them. Meanwhile, you can eat 500 calories of steak, and be so full you won’t want another bite of anything for several hours. And woe is the poor soul who tries to eat 500 calories of broccoli… if he even manages to get it all down (1 cup of cooked broccoli is about 60 calories). He will end up spending a regretful amount of time on a toilet at some future point.

Broccoli and other vegetables are among the most thermogenic of foods. Many require more caloric energy to burn them than the calories the vegetables themselves contain!

Now, why bring up global warming when bringing up the thermic effect of food? Is Steven saying that broccoli causes climate change?

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Ten Rules for Fat Burning

I have previously offered tips and principles for training and fat burning. But if you’re seriously trying to lose fat, these are firm rules you should follow. Following these will produce short and long term results on burning the fat you need to burn off.

Weigh yourself every morning

Arguments exist either way, but your weight is the ultimate scoreboard for how much fat you need to burn. If the number is going down, you’re trending in the right direction. If the number goes up, you’re trending in the wrong direction.

The one way to keep track of how your fat-burning is progressing is whether the number on the scale is going up or down.

If you ate something unhealthy for dinner, Intermittent Fast the next day

Sometimes you have to eat a processed, unhealthy meal. Life gets in the way. This is not a killer. Ideally, the meal had a lot of protein, but the key is to clear the inflammatory mess from your body as soon as you can.

The easiest way to do this is to make sure you skip breakfast and intermittent fast the next day. Your body’s 16ish hours without a meal going into tomorrow will churn and burn the mess you ate last night, and it will pass from your digestive tract and bloodstream more quickly.

Ideally, you break this fast with a clean meal. But the big thing is that, once your stomach has been emptied, your body taps into stored bodyfat, uses the unhealthy food for all it’s worth and sends it packing through your intenstines and kidneys.

If you wake up heavier than yesterday, Intermittent Fast the next day

Regardless of the quality of your last meal, the scale showing more weight than it showed yesterday is a sign that you’ve got some water weight and/or extra fat to burn.

So get to burning it, and make sure you go 16ish hours before your next meal. Load up on coffee and water, and give your body a chance to fat-burn and flush any extra water that’s accumulated.

Unless you eat a ton or eat really badly out of that intermittent fast, you should get the scale number moving once again in the right direction.

If you ate something unhealthy for dinner, drink 1 extra glass of water the next morning

Along with intermittent fasting, the best way to flush out inflammation-built water weight is to give your body more water. This will encourage a cellular reset, and more so will encourage your body to ditch the extra water and flush it towards your kidneys and bladder.

You don’t want to drink yourself into hyponatremia nor do you want to overkill and spend a ton of time running to the restroom. So the best middle ground is to take whatever water you usually drink in the morning and add an extra 16oz, 2 cups, one (typically sized) glass of water to that during the morning.

Sure, you will still take an extra trip or two to the toilet. But this will speed along the body’s return to homeostasis as well as the flushing of inflammatory nonsense from said body.

Do a minimum of one hour of demanding exercise activity every day.

Diet may be roughly 80% of your body composition, but 80% is only good enough for a B-. Honestly, while you could conceivably lose weight just by overhauling your diet, you may not feel too great and losing the remaining fat could be a longer, more difficult process as you approach a more normal weight.

It’s here where exercise really covers the gap. 60 minutes of solid activity, anything from walking to any other kind of demanding exercise, will burn at least 300 calories as well as any residual afterburn from having revved up your heart rate and associated hormonal effects.

You will simply burn more fat in the long run from having exercised than if you hadn’t.

Why an hour rather than half an hour? Anything less than 45-60 minutes is a negligible difference in your body’s net basal metabolic rate, and can be undone as easily as eating a slightly too large portion at one meal. The 300+ calories or 60 minutes of exercise carves out enough calorie/fat burn to make it so you’d need to make a clear eating decision to get back to maintenance calories.

Plus, the aerobic, circulatory and metabolic benefits of exercise are best manifested at and around the 60 minute mark. To exercise for less is to stop short of where these max bodily benefits would kick in.

Break every fast with a clean, non-processed meal. Prep the night before if you must.

Obviously, avoid eating garbage. And if you have just gone more than 4-6 hours from your last meal, the metabolic impact of that 1st meal post-break is more substantial. If it’s unhealthy, you set a negative metabolic tone for your body for the rest of day. You’ll probably feel crappy. And you won’t burn as much fat over the next 12-18 hours.

Eat healthy. Eat a lot of protein and other healthy, whole foods. But eat a nutrient-rich natural meal that your body will put to good use, and set a tone that will maximize the benefits of any food or exercise you do the rest of the day.

If this is hard to do from scratch, then you will want to spend the previous evening preparing or gathering food you can immediately grab and eat for your first meal the following day.

For example, back in Chicago, I would often set my rice cooker to have brown rice ready the following morning. I’ll also buy cans of tuna, fruit and other ready to grab food with the plan to eat it for lunch on subsequent days.

Worry less about net calories and worry more about calorie quality

I’m as big on counting calories as anyone. But I also recognize that 400 calories of lean whole food animal protein is a lot better and more nutrient-rich for me than 400 calories out of a box.

People who eat the same number of calories as before but much cleaner, whole food versions find that they still lose weight. This granted is in part due to shedding water weight from no longer being inflamed by processed food. But the whole food is put by your body to much better use and isn’t sitting in your bloodstream further rendering you insulin resistant. Your muscles are rebuilt, instead of your fat stores and retained water mass.

Even if you eat the same amount of food as before, just make that food non-processed instead of processed, and you will certainly notice a difference on the scale either way.

Protein first, fat/carbs second.

The easiest way to adhere to a cleaner, whole food diet is to front load all your protein, and make sure every meal is built around a protein source. Meat, dairy, eggs, fish, perhaps a amino-friendly combination of nuts, grains and legumes. Make sure you have a satisfying portion of one or more of the above, and then add fats and carbs as desired. This will ensure more satisfying meals without the need to gorge or overeat.

It’s very hard to overeat on a protein-rich diet. And your body needs the building blocks of protein anyway.

Give every carb a purpose.

I’m not a fan of low/no carb dieting, unless you live a purely sedentary existence and your only exercise is a brief visit to the weights at the gym 2-4 times a week. Sure, you can fat-adapt, but your brain and organs still use carbs, and often a low-carb diet just leaves the user feeling fatigued from the perpetual lack of glycogen.

Fat can be adapted a primary fuel source but it burns very slowly, much more so than glycogen. Your body will want to slow down in kind to keep up. Those who find success with such diets tend to have the necessary privilege and lifestyle to allow for that diet to provide suitable energy. Someone who is more active will need carbs.

That said, most people overdose on carbs, eating hundreds of grams a day despite being sedentary and not really exercising. Imagine trying to fill your gas tank everyday even though it’s full, and not caring that the excess petrol overflows all over your hands. Yet that is what most people do with carbs.

What you want to do is either:

  • Plan your carb intake around your exercise.
  • Plan your exercise around your carb intake.

Maybe you should workout right before dinner, if dinner with the family requires you eat a lot of carbs. Or maybe you can plan every meal… and it just makes sense to have those potatoes and fruit at breakfast right before that killer workout. Runners often don’t need to worry about carb timing, because they’re often running long distances and can easily use all the carbs they’re ingesting.

Try to look at your diet, and ask yourself, “When and where do I plan to use those carbohydrates?” No need to do complex Romijn glycogen calculations on your exercise. Just know that, if you want to have potatoes at dinner, you need to know at the very least when in the day or next day those carbs are going to get burned, or what exercise requires that you restore your glycogen stores.

Be conscious about what carbs you eat and why.

Dinner should always be satisfying, protein rich, and as unprocessed as possible

The crappier (i.e. less nutrient rich) your dinner, the worse you will sleep that night.

Sleep is where you recover not just from exercise but the rest of your life. Sleep is where your energy re-generates. What and how you eat impacts your sleep. If you go to bed having last ingested a dearth of nutrients, your body will either keep you awake wanting for more nutrients, or will wake you up during the night having exhausted the garbage you arte of all its lacking nutrient value, and starving for more nutrients that you likely aren’t going to eat at 3am.

A lack of sleep also inhibits fat loss. It promotes the product of fat-building cortisol and other damaging hormones and inflammation. You’re not helping yourself.

Eat well, eat right, for your last meal of the day, so you can sleep well.

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Energy Availability and making sure you don’t undereat when training

Currently I’m tinkering with my diet, not necessarily the foods but the meal timing and the calorie macros.

It’s not so much that my weight loss has currently stalled. In fact, it did drop to a month-low 168.9 lbs over the weekend… though it has been tough, slow going to move the average down.

I’m trying to naturally maximize my energy levels, which when I’ve fasted had tended to stay low. This means I need more nutrients around these times, which indicates I should stop fasting.

However, I went back through my RRCA training course materials… mostly because I was walking on a treadmill for an hour and the spiral-bound book was one of the only books I had that I could suitably read while on the treadmill. In any case, I went through the information-laden appendicies and it includes a robust booklet on nutrition by the IAAF.

In the IAAF’s Nutrition materials, they mention an interesting stat: Energy availability. The idea of Energy Availability is that aside from calories burned in exercise, the body has a certain number of calories it needs to rebuild and recover from that exercise.

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