It seems as though new dieting fads and fasting crazes are popping up every week, but do any of these regimens actually work? Intermittent fasting is one of the latest trends to gain attention in the fitness and health world, which has everyone wondering if it’s actually a healthy diet to follow. Research has shown that intermittent fasting (sometimes simply referred to as IF) can help shed excess fat and potentially build muscle but pairing this type of fast with a regular workout routine is key.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a general term used to reference a variety of fasting plans that alternate periods of food consumption and times of little or no calorie intake. Unlike specific types of diets, IF does not outline food groups to avoid or gravitate toward, but instead it encourages certain times and patterns for when you should eat or restrict your consumption.
Though fasting may sound like a difficult and uncomfortable practice, you can select a fasting pattern that works for you. We all spend many hours each night not eating while we sleep, so extending this period of time may be the best way to ease into an IF diet. During the fasting period, you can only consume water, black coffee or tea but must avoid food until the fast is over.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There are dozens of intermittent fasting patterns, but some have been noted as more beneficial than others. The following four types of IF are some of the most popular and commonly practiced. Learn more about each to see which best lines up with your fitness goals and daily schedule.
The Warrior Diet: Created by fitness expert Ori Hofmekler, the Warrior Diet suggests an eating pattern sometimes referred to as “fast then feast.” During the day, you are restricted to eating only some raw fruit and vegetables and then you’re to eat one large meal at night. Some fitness gurus suggest that the Warrior Diet is one of the best IF methods for building muscle.
Eat-Stop-Eat: The Eat-Stop-Eat method is commonly practiced twice per week but can be done anywhere from one to three times each week. This type of IF suggests a 24-hour fasting period. If you eat as you normally would on a Wednesday and your last meal that day is at 7 p.m., then, following Eat-Stop-Eat, you would not eat again until Thursday at 7 p.m.
16/8: Sometimes called the LeanGains diet, 16/8 recommends a 16-hour period of time for fasting. This is one of the simplest ways to ease into an intermittent fasting practice because you can extend the period of time when you’re sleeping–and thus not eating–to reach 16 hours. Some people who regularly follow this IF will prepare a shake in their proten shaker before bed to give their body some nutrients and satiate hunger and then they will count the number of hours that they sleep towards the 16 hours of fasting.
5:2 Diet: This fasting diet splits the week into two full days of fasting and five days of regular food consumption. The two fasting days should be spread out to avoid fasting for 48 hours straight. During those days, you should still consume 500 calories, 200 of which should be from protein. On your off days, you can–in theory–eat whatever you’d like, but if you’re trying to create a healthy diet for yourself, it’s recommended that you still consume mostly nutritious items.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
For those trying to lose weight, intermittent fasting is a great practice and has been proven to be successful many times. However, health experts warn that fasting without also sticking to a workout routine will cause both fat and lean muscle loss. While dropping fat is the goal when losing weight, you want to avoid shedding lean muscle as you need this for energy and strength.
Intermittent fasting is more commonly used to lose weight than build muscle because you are cutting back on calories, though it is possible to gain lean muscle while practicing this type of diet. If you’re interested in trying an intermittent fasting style to build muscle, adding protein shakes to your fasting diet is a good way to pack in enough protein to promote growth while meeting the low-calorie requirement of the diet itself.
Several changes take place in your body when you practice any of these IF eating patterns, including a spike in human growth hormone (HGH), which can initiate muscle growth as well as weight loss. Even with the potential to build some muscle on an IF diet, if your main fitness goal is to gain as much muscle mass as possible in a short period of time, intermittent fasting is not for you. The most effective way to build muscle is consuming a surplus of protein throughout the day, which is very difficult to achieve when trying to regularly fast.