Fasting and Fat Loss

From the feedback I’ve gotten on my series on Intermittent Fasting, I think this article will be of great interest to anyone looking to use IF’ing as a method for fat loss. I’d like to state that IF’ing is another modality to use to help improve body composition. People can still lose fat, while not IF’ing, I’m merely offering an alternative to the grind of eating 6 meals a day. Anyways, let’s see what fasting can offer us in terms of fat loss.

Martin Berkhan wrote an excellent review of a review which compared intermittent calorie restriction to calorie restriction in terms of effectiveness for weight loss. A review differs from a study, as it takes information from various studies and bundles it into one review.

What the study essentially concluded with was the following: “Results reveal similar weight loss and fat mass loss with 3 to 12 weeks’ intermittent CR (4-8%, 11-16%, respectively) and daily CR (5-8%, 10-20%, respectively). In contrast, less fat free mass was lost in response to intermittent CR versus daily CR. These findings suggest that these diets are equally as effective in decreasing body weight and fat mass, although intermittent CR may be more effective for the retention of lean mass.”

The intermittent calorie restriction that the studies used are a different protocols than I would use. In the studies, they allowed ad libitum feeding for 24 hour periods followed by 24 hour complete or partial food restriction. As you have learned from my series, the fasting times are set at 16 hours (females get a 14 hour fast). Nonetheless the results are going to be similar to the IF’ing protocol.

As noted in bold above, both CR and intermittent CR (I will refer to this as IF from here on out) resulted in fat loss. The most important part of this study was that the IF group was able to hold on to significantly more muscle mass than the CR group. How much do you ask? Well the CR group on average, lost weight at a ratio of 25:75, in terms of lean mass to fat mass. The IF group on average, lost weight at a ratio 10:90 respectively.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, let me give you an example. let’s say the average weight lost in the CR group was 15 pounds over a 4 month period. They would lose ~ 3.75 (.25X15) pounds of lean mass and ~ 11.25 (.75X15) pounds of fat mass. If the IF group lost the same amount of weight, they would lose ~ 1.5 (.1X15) pounds of lean mass and ~ 13.5 (.9X15) pounds of fat mass.

Again this study reviewed multiple studies. Some of these studies were done on individual who were exercising at the same time as they were in a calorie restriction, other studies were performed with diet only interventions. This is a pretty big flaw in the study. Only one study combined exercise and IF, multiple studies included exercise and IF. So theoretically, you might excpect the IF group to retain even more muscle than these studies concluded, with the inclusion of a resistance training program.

This is just hypothetical though. There are also issues of tracking fat loss in these studies. They used various tracking methods for different studies. Bioelectrical impedence (BIA) tends to be less accurate when compared to dual X-ray absoptiometry (DXA) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Martin Berkhan sums this up quite well: ‘therein lies the problem; a larger percentage of the intermittent-fasting-based trials used BIA, while many of the CR-trials used DXA or MRI. If tracking methods differ between trials, it obviously skews the results. ‘

Since, I don’t have the study on hand, I haven’t been able to see the macronutrient breakdowns in any of these studies. Since the majority of studies rarely provide test subjects with adequate amounts of protein, lean mass is even harder to retain. If all these studies used only the daily recommended intake of protein, then the subjects were probably consuming less than half of what I would recommend. According to the FDA’s daily reference values, protein should make up ~ 10% of ones intake. I doubt even these studies used such a low intake, but it’s not hard for me believe they they used somewhere around 20%. This is still very, very low.

Nonetheless, a lot of information can be taken away from this review:
1. You do not need to worry about maintaining lean mass while IF’ing. Sure you may lose some lean mass, but as this review concluded, it’ll be a lot less than a regular CR diet.
2. IF and CR are both effective for losing weight! Again, if you like eating frequently, and are able to stick to multiple small meals on a daily basis, all the power to you. I’d rather have fewer large meals personally. The bread and butter with both of these diets is that you are in a negative energy balance.
3. If you are tracking fat loss, use the same tracking methods. I like to use skinfold calipers. In terms of calculating body fat, they aren’t very accurate. Skinfold calipers come in handy when used over months. The reason for this is that you can track the decreases in the measurements. If your measurements decrease by a total of 30 mm in a few months’ time, you know you have lost a significant amount of fat.

As for the reasoning behind why you are able to better retain muscle mass while losing weight… Well, we just don’t know everything quite yet. Could it have to do with the large GH spikes experienced during fasting? Could it have to do with increased catecholamines? Maybe it has something to do with insulin? Maybe a mixture of a bunch of these factors and others that we haven’t even identified yet.

I feel I’ve made it quite apparent in this series that IF’ing has some major benefits. If you are tired of eating 6 meals a day and seeing no results in your physique than maybe IF might be for you. If eating 6 small meals isn’t satiating enough, decreasing frequency will benefit you. Whether you eat three meals as part of an IF diet, or three meals as part of a regular calorie restricted diet is your choice.

I will tell you that it’s nice to not have to worry at all about food for the better part of your day. You get your meals in, and you’re all done. It’s also nice to leave the tupperware at home and just go out and enjoy yourself. As much as the media and supplement companies would like to have you believe that your body will wither away if you don’t eat every 3 hours, this just isn’t the case. I know I’ve made a valid point on IF’ing.

Until next time.

Insulin and Fasting

Sorry for the wait folks, but I’m back to writing about the benefits of fasting. In this article I will discuss the how fasting affects our insulin levels. I will also discuss the relationship between insulin sensitivity and fasting. Let’s start out briefly discussing what insulin is.

I’m sure everyone has heard of insulin. Usually you will hear about how it relates to diabetes. Most diabetics either have one of two forms of diabetes: chronically elevated insulin levels due to glucose intolerance (Type II); or the inability to produce insulin from their pancreas (Type I). Both are bad. In order to avoid diabetes, we should have a good amount of insulin sensitivity, this ensures that our insulin can efficiently shuttle our blood glucose in various cells of our body for use. Insulin is released when our blood glucose levels increase.

Insulin has many functions, I’ll be discussing it’s function as a lipolytic inhibitor here. Lipolysis, is simply the breakdown of fat. If our insulin levels are always high, it is nearly impossible to breakdown fat for use in our liver or muscles. If we can’t break down fat from our fat cells, no fat loss will occur. So keeping our insulin levels under control is a very important objective for long-term health and weight control.

Now let’s discuss how fasting effects our blood insulin levels. Before I discuss the reductions in insulin, let’s get the cat out of the bag. Insulin is dramatically reduced during periods of fasting. If you are not yet diabetic, but are worried about it, IF’ing may be a decent choice to lower your plasma insulin levels. With that said, if you are diabetic, listen to what your doctor says, because hopefully they know more than I do about treating your ailment.

Now, let’s get back to why the body decreases insulin while fasting. A study performed by Klein et al discovered a 50% drop in plasma insulin in a 72-hour fast. Of even greater importance, 70% of this total decrease occurred in the first 24 hours of fasting! Another study performed on healthy females also discovered a decrease in plasma insulin, and plasma glucose levels after a 72-hour fast.

When you think about it, it all makes sense. Our body requires insulin when our blood glucose is high. During periods of fasting our glucose uptake rises. In order for our glucose uptake to rise, our insulin levels must also rise in order to shuttle glucose in our cells. After the glucose is taken out of our blood stream, there is no need for our insulin to stay elevated, because our blood glucose levels drop.

Let’s use an analogy here. Let’s say we have cars, taking children to school via roads. The children (blood glucose) wake up from sleep (glucose enters our circulatory system). They then signal their parents (insulin) to wake up because they are ridiculously loud and full of energy in the morning. The parents and the children (glucose and insulin working together) then drive to school on roadways (blood vessels). They are then dropped off at school (school is tissues which require glucose such as muscle, liver, and fat cells). Hopefully that makes a little more sense to you?

Halberg et al also found a significant reduction in plasma insulin levels after subjects fasted for 20 hours every second day. They attempted to replicate how our ancestors regularly ate. Periods of eating, with periods of fasting (due to having to hunt, catch, or gather food). They also found large increases adiponectin, which is positively correlated with insulin sensitivity. So not only are you decreasing your plasma insulin levels, but your increasing your plasma sensitivity. As I pointed out at the beginning of the article, it is important to keep your cells sensitive to insulin.

I’d also like to mention blood glucose control and meal frequency. Since blood glucose and insulin are directly correlated I thought it’d be a good time for you to check out one of my older articles. It’s a short research review on how a decreased meal frequency results in significantly lower blood glucose levels compared to the higher frequency. The lower frequency group ate 3 meals, the high frequency group ate 6. So now you know, a high frequency of meals does not control blood sugar better than a lower frequency.

An Advanced Single-Leg Exercise for the Twisted Mind

I’m once again going to take a break from my IF’ing series. I’ll get back to it next week. I want to go over another excellent exercise with you. They’re called pistols.

There are a couple reasons why these are so difficult. First off, you’re on one leg, so you aren’t getting any feedback from the non-working leg. The exercise also has a very long range of motion (ROM), which is always more difficult than shortened ROM. Lastly, you’re on only one leg, so your base of support is incredibly small. This will effectively train your hip stabilizers. You also need a good amount of hip mobility and strength to keep your non-working leg elevated the entire time.

There are plenty of progressions leading up to this. If you are interested in knowing what they are, leave me a comment below and ask nicely. Perhaps I’ll write more on the subject.

I’m sure you’re all wondering what the exercise looks like, so here it is:
*Youtube is giving me issues, so I’ll have to link to you to the video.* Click here.

My form is not perfect on this exercise. For one my lumbar spine is flexing at the bottom of the lift. I need to keep more core braced to keep my lumbar spine in a more neutral alignment. With that said, if you do have any lower back problems, this exercise should be avoided. Due to the extreme ROM, there is a pretty good chance that you will lose a little bit of your lumbar curve.

Let’s break this exercise down now:

The Setup: stand tall on your working leg. Slightly extend your non-working leg in front of you. I would suggest doing this unloaded to begin with. You will be able to balance much better with both of your arms extended out in front of you.

The Exectution: take a deep breathe in and brace your core. Try and keep your chest up and shoulders back to keep your thoracic spine extended. Sit down and back (as much as you can). Do not fall to the lower position, lower yourself in a slow and controlled manner. Go as deep as you can go comfortably, don’t be discouraged if you can’t go as low as you’d like. Keep working at the exercise and you will build the mobility to get as low as possible.

Nitpicking: The main thing you want to concentrate on is having your knee in proper alignment. You want your knee to stay neutral the entire lift, you don’t want it caving in or protruding out. Imagine a straight line from your foot to your hip, your knee should stay on that line. As with all lower-body exercises, the foot should also be neutral, meaning your feet should be neither supinated or pronated. Also be sure not to go up onto your toes, your heel needs to stay on the ground the entire time. If it comes off the floor, you need to decrease your ROM or regress.

Have a great weekend folk!

Ramblings on Snacks

I’m going to take a short break from my intermittent fasting series and talk a little bit about another subject that have been on my mind lately: snacks. Snacks are something that I’m really not a fan of, I’ll go over the reasons for why I think that is.

Snacks are vastly overrated. If you’ve read my blog, you know that you don’t need to eat frequently in order to stave off hunger, control blood sugar, stay out of hypoglycemia, or retain muscle. For the most part, snacks are used to increase feeding frequency. In all honesty, I see no reason to increase feeding frequency, unless you are unable to gain weight. Since I write most frequently on fat loss, you can understand my issues with snacks.

One issue I have with snacks, is that they are usually some form of high calorie-dense food. Now not all of them are, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people eating nuts as a snack. A cup of raw peanuts will give you a whopping 828 calories. Yes, the fat isn’t all bad. Yes, you get a small amount of fibre. Yes, you get some protein. Yet, I still can’t fathom how anyone would need 828 calories from a cup of food! A cup of veggies will have maybe 30-50 calories!

Due to the media, people seem to have some sort of obsession with eating certain ‘miracle’ foods. Oh this food decreases inflammation, this food fights cancer, this food increases your wealth by 1000%! (Kidding) I’m not arguing that some foods do inherently have good properties, but simply adding a food to what you are already eating isn’t going to magically transform your body. It’s going to increase your energy balance.

Let’s say George is overweight. He’s at 25% bodyfat and he usually eats 3x per day. He reads an article in one of a hundred “health” magazines saying that eating 6x per day leads to a better body composition. So he thinks to himself “gee, I can eat 3 more ‘snacks’ and have a better body?! I’m in!!!’ He sees that nuts, protein bars, and fruits seem to be the craze these days. So he adds them into his daily food regimen. After a month, he notices that he’s gained 5 pounds. He wonders why….

The answer is the increase in eating frequency also increased his caloric intake! So of course he’s going to gain weight. If you want to eat more frequently, you have to take food away from your regular meals. I go over this a little bit here. I’d also like to note, that many people don’t eat snacks like the example above. They eat junk food as snacks. Just because junk food is masqueraded as a health food because it has a nominal amount of fibre and low calories doesn’t make it a good alternative to whole foods.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that you can’t start eating snacks and not give up anything in order to reach your maintenance or fat loss goals. If you want to eat more frequently, you will have to sacrifice the size of other meals. I don’t like this, which is why I do intermittent fasting. If you feel that get really hungry, I usually suggest you just split one of your meals in half. Eat a half after you make it, eat the other half at a later time. This way, you are still consuming the same amount of calories, just split over a longer period of time.

On the opposite spectrum, if gaining weight is your goal, snacks may be required. For instance, if you are finding that you are unable to get a set amount of calories in only 3 meals, you may have to add another meal. Let’s say I need 4500 calories on my training days to gain weight. I’d have to eat 1500 calories per meal in order to meet that number. I might decide to split those calories over 4 meals. So now I have 4 meals per day at a much more palatable caloric limit of ~1150. Obviously with proper nutrient timing, you won’t have each meal containing the same amount of calories, but that’s a whole other topic.

I’d like to know your thoughts on snacks? Do you find them beneficial to your physique goals?

Fasting and The Hypoglycemic State

This is most likely the result of an altered mental state, not a physiological one
I’ve heard of some people who have been resistant to fasting because they believe they will experience hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a physiological state which occurs when our blood sugar levels drop below normal. In this article we will go over how fasting affects hypoglycemia.

Let’s begin by discussing how many people are actually afflicted by hypoglycemia. Brad Pilon in his heavily researched book, Eat Stop Eat, talked about how only 5-10% of the the population has actual issues with regulating blood sugar levels. So unless you have some sort of medical disorder, a rapid drop in blood sugar isn’t likely to happen. Yet you will see people use this as a reason to support their high frequency of eating.

According to Brad Pilon, our blood glucose levels are maintained in a range between 3.9-7.8mmol/L for healthy individuals. People with diabetes are usually above or below this range. If you were hypoglycemic, you would be at risk of dropping below this healthy range.

A very interesting study sought out to study how blood sugar changes during a fasted state. They studied 16 healthy young adults, one group of people who experience hypoglycemic symptoms and a control group. They fasted for 24-hours, blood samples and questionnaires were taken at 8 separate times. The sensitive group reported significantly higher scores on ‘irritation’ and ‘shakiness.’ However, the lowest reported levels of blood glucose was only 3.7mmol/L.

What does this study tell us? Well even though the sensitive group experienced some symptoms of hypoglycemia, their blood work told a different story. Not one of the participants experienced a severe enough reduction in blood glucose to render them hypoglycemic. So if you are healthy, there doesn’t seem to be a risk of becoming hypoglycemic after fasting for 24 hours.

I will admit, that I experienced some discomfort when I first started fasting. I wouldn’t categorize my ‘discomfort’ as being hypoglycemic symptoms though. Since none of the participants in the study actually experienced hypoglycemia, there were most likely some mental issues they had while fasting. Perhaps if these individuals were educated on the benefits of fasting and knew going into the study that, there was a good chance that fasting would have no side effects, their scores for ‘irritation’ and ‘shakiness’ would not have changed throughout the fast.

After a short period of time you have absolutely no issues while fasting. In fact it’s pretty awesome not having to worry about eating while fasting. You can use all that time to do whatever you want and not have to worry at all about eating. This is another big advantage that IF’ing has over the usual 6 meals per day group. When you are trying to eat that frequently you are constantly having to think about when your next meal is going to be and what it will be composed of. IF’ing takes a lot of the guess work out.

My next article will discuss the affects fasting has on blood glucose and blood insulin levels. You will find some very, very intriguing research on how beneficial fasting can be for controlling your blood sugar and blood insulin. Be sure to come back and check my next article out!

Have a great weekend!

Fasting and Human Growth Hormone

I want to discuss how fasting effects growth hormone (GH). Increases in GH are one of the reasons that individuals are able to conserve protein while fasting. This is obviously an important event which occurs while fasting, as muscle loss is something that we want to avoid at all costs. Let’s see how much our GH increases by due to fasting.

Hartman ML, et al discovered that endogenous GH increases by 500% after a 24 hour fast! This is obviously a ridiculous increase in GH. Another anabolic hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 was shown to be unchanged during a 56 hour fast. I don’t know anything about taking exogenous GH, but I don’t know if it comes close to increasing by that much. I was unable to gather the information to see how long the GH was spiked for after the fast ended. Again I’d like to reiterate, that the lengths of times that these studies use are still much longer than I or any of my clients fast for.

Let’s take a look at a few more studies and examine how the increases in GH affected them in terms of lipolysis (the breakdown of triglycerides into fatty acids). This study examined the effects of fasting on GH-mediated changes in metabolism, insulin sensitivity and signaling pathways. They found that the combination of fasting and GH increased lipolysis. This is obviously something we are looking for while on a fat loss diet. Of note, this study administered a GH bolus to test subjects. So the GH spikes weren’t a result of fasting. As noted in my last article, fasting increases the release of catecholamines, so there will be an increase in lipolysis even without administration of exogenous GH.

Interestingly, a study sought out to find out the relationship between ghrelin and GH during periods of fasting. Ghrelin is a hormone secreted by the stomach and pancreas which stimulates hunger. So high ghrelin = hunger pangs, low ghrelin = no hunger pangs. The study above showed an inverse relationship between ghrelin and GH. During the fast, ghrelin decreased while GH increased. The researchers suggested that increases in GH provide feedback to ghrelin secretions. Perhaps it is the feedback from the increase in fasted GH that inhibits appetite (due to decreased ghrelin levels) during periods of fasting.

Hopefully you are beginning to see how much fasting can benefit you. Increases in GH results in decreased levels of ghrelin. This reduces hunger cravings while in the fasted state. As you learned in the my article from last week, fasting also increases your metabolism via an increase in catecholamines. On top of that, it is the spike in GH which ‘saves’ our muscle mass when we are fasting and in a hypocaloric state.

My next article will discuss the effects that fasting has on blood glucose and blood insulin levels. Stay tuned.