“ To eat, or not to eat, that is the question.” — Shakespeare on his way to rock-solid abs. Wait, what?
Update, September 2019: In the largest study of its kind, a recent randomized controlled clinical trial at the University of Graz, Austria, showed that alternate-day fasting, in which you avoid caloric intake for 36 hours then eat whatever you want for 12 hours, rivals caloric restriction for improving heart health and reducing BMI.
For years, I’ve been explaining to people that intermittent fasting is an extraordinarily useful tool to apply to one’s life. Even if it seems paradoxical at first, the periodic abstinence of eating can be one of the best ways to get your health back in order.
At its core, it’s basically a shift of priorities to pay more attention to when you’re eating instead of just what or how much you eat. On the other side of the spectrum, you‘re quite flexible in choosing a fasting period which fits your lifestyle and that you’re comfortable with.
Simply put, fasting itself is no magic pill, but can be a great tool with tremendous physiological and psychological benefits to help you create a larger caloric deficit without feeling hungry in the process.
Restricting your feeding window actually gives your body some time to reset your liver metabolism and induce autophagy, a mechanism of the cell which is proven to reduce inflammation, prevent or delay neurodegenerative diseases and even increase longevity.
It’s also not only a simpler way to lose a huge amount of body fat, if done right, but also gives your digestive track quite a needed break. Just try to think about the fact that you, in some form or another, most likely have been eating multiple meals every single day since the day you were born.
And guess what, fasting could also help you save some money in the long run because you’ll just be eating less often!
If you want to learn more about intermittent fasting and are interested in how to start, have a look at my older article where I’ve dived deeper into the scientific field behind fasting and rapid fat loss.
Disclaimer: Do not try fasting if you’re facing an eating disorder or have any health problems. Consult your doctor first!
A Christmas Gift to Myself
During the last 12 months, a lot of things have changed in my life. From going through a rough break-up, starting to work as a freelancer and completing a certificate program at my university to moving to a new city, facing loneliness and traveling abroad — all these things together meant that I had to deal with way more stress than I usually do.
Even though I try to stick to my dietary habits whenever I can, sometimes, it just doesn’t work out as planned. I ended up falling prey to patterns of emotional eating which has never really happened to me to this extent. I gained quite a good amount of weight over the following months, and unfortunately, a lot of body fat, too.
Deep down, I knew that something had to change, and that being said, there just couldn’t be a better time to get leaner before the infamous feasting season starts in a couple of weeks.
For this purpose, I decided to document my fat loss journey and followed up with a personally adjusted alternate-day fasting plan for the next 6 weeks, starting today. The rules are simple: I’ll just eat every other day without counting calories this time.
Being quite experienced with longer fasts, I’ll extend my fasting window to around 40–48 hours before having my first meal of the day.
By all means, take into consideration that I’m using a somehow advanced fasting protocol for this cut. You don’t have to jump in at the deep end and fast for that long if it’s your first time.
Start with just skipping breakfast and work yourself up to longer fasts. Give your body some time to get gradually fat-adapted. It will also make you feel less hungry in general.
In the end, if all that you want is to lose fat, it’s all about creating a large enough caloric deficit which we’ll do by simply leaving a full eating day out. Something worth noting is that you definitely have to focus on getting enough libido-boosting foods (containing lots of e.g. nitrates, saturated fats, cholesterol) on days that you’re eating, so your libido doesn’t drop. It certainly can happen with this high of a deficit.
The Art of Balanced Eating
Although I eat mainly nutrient-dense whole foods and follow a Paleo-ish approach with my diet, I still let myself the freedom to indulge in some tasty treats every now and then. It’s especially the case when going out with friends or facing special social occasions.
Sometimes, even a cookie in a healthy social setting could be more beneficial to your general health than binging on that super-duber green smoothie at home, alone by yourself.
Most people tend to immerse themselves in their (almost neurotic) health consciousness so much that they may, as a result, lose sight of the bigger picture. I’m just going to leave this here to think about.
One of the major psychological benefits of alternate-day fasting is actually the ability to eat normally during your eating days. You don’t have to limit the amount of calories you’re consuming and can eat around your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) because the fasting day should create a large enough caloric deficit that we can work with for our fat loss goals.
As for my protein intake, from a scientific perspective, up to 1.6g/kg seem to enhance changes in muscle size and strength during resistance training. This is the actual number that I’ll base my protein intake on, which ends up being around 140g. However, if you’re a serious lifter, feel free to up your protein intake even more to around 2.2–2.6g/kg during a cut, as recommended by Eric Helms in his work.
On days that I’m fasting, I’ll stick to drinking water, black coffee and tea. If I should feel a little light-headed, I can put a little salt to my drinks to help maintain sufficient sodium levels in my body. Other than the usual scientific protocols of alternate-day fasting, which allow up to 500 kcal per day, I’ll just really fast throughout these days.
Nutritional Breakdown of An Example Meal
Let’s have a look at what I had for dinner on a random eating day.
The following picture shows the complete micronutrient protocol for the whole thing. By the way, I use Cronometer to track micronutrients in my meals. I’ve been using this app for more than two years, and on top of not only being a great tool, it’s also for free, too. Check it out if you want to learn more about your micronutrient intake and potential deficiencies in your diet.
Don’t worry about the seemingly excessive vitamin consumption. Chicken liver is just such a nutritional powerhouse, containing almost all important nutrients that your body needs. I’m also only eating every other day, so I should be able to go a little over the recommended daily intake.
Did you also know that you need less total calcium when you get it from natural foods? It’s due to them having a higher bioavailability, and thus, the need for calcium-rich foods is way lower. Moreover, cholesterol and saturated fat are not as bad as they are made out to be. Both of them are actually key players of testosterone production. Going even further, the cholesterol you eat has very little impact on how much cholesterol is in your blood. Saturated fat is also a fundamental building block for brain cells.
Preventing Vitamin Deficiencies
While I usually try to get all vitamins and minerals from nutrient-rich foods, there are still some essential nutrients which are extremely hard to obtain in meaningful doses from any diet, even a healthy one.
As seen above, I personally benefit from supplementing with the following nutrients because I don’t get sufficient amounts of them.
- Vitamin D3 (5000 IE)
- Vitamin K2 (200 mcg)
- Fish Oil (3g EPA + DHA)
Vitamin K2 — which you’ll only get by eating a good amount of nattō, gouda cheese or butter — actually helps manage where all of the calcium goes in the body.
Fitting Exercise In
Having developed a strong passion for strength training since my late teens, I’ll continue lifting weights in the middle of my eating window on non-fasting days. Add yoga, mobility/technique work or running to the exercise pool on the other days, and we end up with a pretty enjoyable plan that will accompany us for the rest of our fasting journey. For the first two weeks, I’ll also have daily access to a sauna, too. Again, boosting growth hormone in a natural way and stuff.
The day before starting this experiment, I did a 1RM (one-repetition maximum) workout to test my maximum strength levels. That will definitely come in handy later when comparing the final results. It has also allowed me to tweak around some numbers regarding my training intensity for the next couple of weeks.
Moreover, refering to Greg Nuckols recommendations for training volume on a cut, I’ll use an intensity load of 85% of my 1RM, lower the amount of sets per exercise from my usual 3–5 to 2 and the amount of reps from around 6–8 to just 3. I actually asked him about his current stance on the topic, and that was his response:
Now, I’ll alternate between the following two full-body workouts on eating days.
2x3 @+20kg Weighted Chin-Ups (1RM = 127kg, +40kg)
2x3 @+40kg Weighted Dips (1RM = 147kg, +60kg)
2x3 @100kg Front Squats (1RM = 116kg)
2x3 @+20kg Weighted Inverted Rows (1RM = 127kg, +40kg)
2x3 @+40kg Weighted Push-Ups (1RM = 147kg, +60kg)
2x3 @130kg Romanian Deadlifts (1RM = 151kg)
- Height: 177cm / 5'10
- TDEE: ~2230 kcal
- Weekly Caloric Deficit: ~7805 kcal
- Estimated Fat Loss Rate: ~1kg / 2.2lbs per Week
- Weight: -5.8kg / -12.8lbs
- Waist Circumference: -8cm / -3.2"
- Neck Circumference: -0cm / -0"
- Body Fat Percentage: -5.2%
- Fat Loss Rate: ~1.0kg / -2.1lbs per Week
Using the US Navy Circumference Method, I was able to get a relatively good estimate of my body fat percentage. I tried to keep the conditions similar, that is, weighting and measuring myself after an eating day. Moreover, after stopping the experiment, I continued to do it just to make sure that the final weight is really consistent, and that there’s no chance of water/glycogen weight distorting the results.
I’ll follow up with a detailed summary of my experience and work on the formatting as soon as possible!
Update After 2 Months (February 2019)
Some readers asked me if I was able to keep the weight off since stopping the cut. Honestly, it’s been working like a charm. As of today, I currently only do one 36–40-hour-fast per a week which is my personal way of quite effortless weight management. I even still tend to loose a bit of body fat, so there’s that.