Hello again, Ion family!
John here. I hope you all had a great Christmas and that you are looking forward to the New Year. I know many of us got a head start on the whole resolution thing by signing up for the “Body Comp Challenge” last week. That’s actually why Jeremy asked me to write this post. In his last email he stated that he would be sharing more information on the nutrition aspect of body transformation. It’s no secret that there is no one single magic formula that works for every one when it comes to nutrition and weight loss. We all usually need to do something just a little different from the next person to get the results we want. And Jeremy knows that I actually do something with my nutrition that is quite different than most. So he asked me to share that with you all here in hopes that it may assist and/or inspire you in any changes you might want to make. That “different” thing that I do is called intermittent fasting. What that means is that I typically only eat one meal, and maybe a small snack, every day within a four hour “feed window”. I’ll go more into the details of my specific plan later, but first let me give you some basics about what intermittent fasting is, and isn’t.
Intermittent fasting, or I.F. as most people call it, is a nutrition plan that is more about when you eat as opposed to what you eat. Don’t get me wrong, eating the highest quality, nutrition dense food we can afford is very important, but that is not the main focus of I.F. In fact, I.F. is typically paired with some other high quality nutrition plan for the best results. So most people that do I.F. will also follow a Paleo, Zone, Keto, or other diet as well.
I.F. can take many forms, but the basic principal is that you incorporate extended periods of fasting into your schedule. The different plans that people use are called I.F. protocols. The most popular I.F. protocol that I have seen is the 16/8 protocol. What this means is that you fast for 16 hours every day and then consume all of your required calories in an 8 hour feed window. For most people this usually means simply skipping breakfast. Another common I.F. protocol that some people use is to pick two days during the week to not eat at all and then eat normally on the other days. A less common, but seeming highly effective protocol is the 20/4 or “One Meal A Day” protocol. This is the protocol I use. It basically means that you fast for 20 hours a day and consume all your necessary calories in a 4 hour feed window. As the alternate name implies this usually means you are eating one meal a day and maybe a small snack within the four-hour feed window to get all your nutrition needs met for the day.
So you’re probably asking why anyone would do this to themselves, right? I know that’s what I was thinking when I first heard about it. But even just a quick Google search on the topic will give you some pretty compelling reasons to give it a try. I’ll just highlight a few of the main reasons here.
The first and most obvious reason is calorie restriction. With all of the complex and complicated stuff that goes on in our bodies, the most basic fact of overall weight loss is that it requires a calorie deficit. Or more simply stated; we must burn more calories than we eat. When we cut down the number of hours we spend eating each day it is much easier to eat fewer calories. Notice I said it makes it easier to stop over eating with this plan, but not impossible. We still need to be aware of the calories we eat when we are using I.F. Quite often people have not gotten the desired results because they still over eat during their feed window. On the flip side of that is people not getting enough calories. I.F. is not a starvation diet. You need to make sure you are getting enough calories to fuel your daily activity. A good general rule of thumb is to take your desired body weight, multiply it by ten and use that as your goal to begin with. Then as you track your progress you can adjust your daily calories to meet your goal and still have the energy you need. For example, my target body weight is 180-200 pounds so I aim to eat 1800 to 2000 calories a day.
The second main reason that I.F. is beneficial for most people is the hormonal response it causes in our bodies. I.F. reduces the amount of insulin that gets released into our bodies every day. Insulin is the hormone that, among other things, triggers our body to store nutrients as fat. Insulin spikes and higher levels of insulin in general contribute to packing on unwanted pounds. When we eat during fewer hours of the day we have fewer insulin spikes and lower insulin levels in general. Thus less nutrients get stored as fat. I.F. also triggers higher levels of growth hormone production. This aids in building and keeping muscle tissue and aids in healing the body and decreasing inflammation. And when trying to lose weight through I.F. this helps to insure that we are losing body fat and not our coveted muscle tissue we work so hard to build!
Finally, I.F. makes meal planning and preparation so much easier and way less time consuming. Before I started using I.F. I was using a popular meal plan of eating 5 or 6 small meals every day. Simple math will show you that this could mean planning and prepping up to 42 meals per week! Now that I am eating one meal a day I only need to plan and prep seven meals per week (give or take, depending on “cheat” days and special events). It is so much simpler and less time consuming now.
I can already hear what you’re thinking… “But breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” This is the most common response I get when I tell people about how I eat. But what if I told you that this idea about breakfast can mostly be traced back to an add campaign started by a popular breakfast cereal company that likes to have a tiger tell you how “Grrrrrreat” their cereal is? There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that a hearty breakfast is any more beneficial for you than any other meal. Your overall daily nutrition is much more important than any one meal.
The next most common response I hear is that people don’t think they could skip a meal or two without getting too hungry or cranky or having headaches. And my response to them usually surprises them. I tell them they are right… kind of. You see our bodies are quite adaptive, that means they get used to the way treat them. If we regularly eat 3 meals a day for a long period of time then our bodies start to expect that. Conversely, if we only feed our body one meal a day, then it will get used to that. But when we decide to change from one to the other our body goes through an adjustment period where hunger pangs and headaches occur. It is rarely pretty or easy, but barring any legitimate medical issues, it is always doable!
So, here is what a typical day of eating looks like for me. I wake up at around 5 AM for work and start my day with 20 to 30 ounces of cool water. Then I have a cup of coffee with about a tablespoon of cream. The rest of the day I only drink water, black coffee or green tea. Most experts on I.F. say that you can feasibly consume up to 50 calories without technically breaking your body out of fasting mode, so I try to stay well below that by only having a small amount of cream in my first cup of coffee for the day. I get off work at 3:30 and go directly to the gym from work. After my workout I usually get home around 5 PM. This is when I eat my meal. I shoot for 1800 calories with 180 grams (40%) of protein, 80 (40%) grams of healthy fats, and 90 (20%) grams of carbs. I typically try to avoid processed sugars, grains (bread) and starchy foods (white potatoes, white rice and corn). Instead I get my carbs from a variety of other (mostly green) veggies and some fruit. It is difficult to get 1800 calories of this kind of food in one sitting so I usually end up having a snack of some sort at the end of my feed window around 9 PM. I will typically have one “cheat day” a week where I will eat meals at “normal” times, but I still try to stay within my desired calorie range. The first few days of following this protocol were a bit uncomfortable. I did have strong hunger pangs and felt a bit lethargic at times. But it only lasted a day or two. I have been following this protocol for about 8 weeks already. In that time I have lost 30 pounds and simultaneously increased the weight on my major lifts in the process. This indicates that while my overall weight is dropping, my strength and muscle mass are at least maintaining, if not increasing.
I have been using myself as my own test dummy when it comes to nutrition and have tried so many different diets and meal plans over the past few years. This has been one of the most effective and easiest to follow plans I have used to date. I am not a nutritionist or a dietician, and I recommend you consult one if you have medical issues regarding food or plan to make drastic changes to your diet. But I highly recommend anyone look into I.F. and give it try if they want to see some changes in their body composition. And if you have any questions I am always more than happy to help where I can.