If your goal is to get lean, especially before entering basic training, I guarantee you’ve come across the term “intermittent fasting” no less than a dozen times.
Intermittent fasting or IF has made its way through the entire fitness community due to its supposed benefits surrounding weight loss and longevity.
But is it worth the hype?
Let’s take a closer look at intermittent fasting, how to do it, and intermittent fasting benefits that might be of interest to you and your fitness goals.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
As the name implies, intermittent fasting involves abstaining from food and calorie-based beverages for a pre-determined amount of time to tap into several health and fitness benefits.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Here are a few of the benefits of intermittent fasting that have been commonly reported and well-studied.
Fat Loss: The reason that most people try intermittent fasting is weight loss. Studies show that intermittent fasting is a safe and effective way to increase caloric expenditure, promoting both short-term fat loss and long-term weight management. 
Brain Health: Intermittent fasting promotes an important turnover process in the brain called neurogenesis. This is when old cells are replaced by new and healthy cells, promoting memory and cognitive performance. 
Disease Prevention: Chronic inflammation has been the subject of many studies and reports because this type of inflammation correlates with higher instances of disease. Intermittent fasting has been shown to combat inflammation while improving cellular turnover. In short, it might help to reduce your risk of disease. 
Intermittent Fasting Disadvantages
Before beginning an intermittent fasting program, here are a few things to keep in mind:
The First Week (or two): The initial adjustment period might prove to be a challenge for some, especially those who are accustomed to eating every couple of hours.
Physical Symptoms: Although the symptoms do pass, some people have reported feeling nauseous and fatigue during the first week of intermittent fasting. This tends to happen to people who are on very high calorie diets as their bodies are adjusting to the new caloric intake.
Beware of Binging: During your feeding window, you have to stick to appropriate portion sizes and eating habits. Don’t be tempted to binge and overeat, especially if you want to lose weight, as this will have the opposite effect.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
To continue with the point made above, weight loss is usually the reason people look into an intermittent fasting program. And there’s good reason for this: it works.
Intermittent fasting can promote fat loss in a few important ways:
You’ll Eat Less: Since you only have an eight-hour window to consume all of your calories for the day, you will naturally eat less (unless you intentionally binge). This means you’ll eat fewer calories without realizing it, and this is going to have a positive impact on your weight loss results.
Your Insulin Response Improves: If you’re constantly eating, your insulin levels stay elevated. Over time, this can have a negative impact on the response and effectiveness of insulin. Fasting has been shown to decrease insulin levels and improve long-term response. In turn, this helps to increase digestion, nutrition uptake, and weight loss.
Healthy Growth Hormone Levels: Fasting has been shown to promote the release of healthy growth hormone, which is necessary for recovery and metabolism.
Does Intermittent Fasting Burn Muscle?
Intermittent fasting will only promote muscle breakdown if two variables are left out: strength training and a high-protein diet.
If you want to build and maintain muscle mass, you need to stick with a strength training program, preferably one that focuses primarily on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses.
What’s more, in order to ensure your muscle mass won’t become the target for your body’s fuel supply, you should focus on eating a high-protein diet.
Protein contains the building blocks of muscle tissue, promoting both recovery and growth while avoiding protein degradation (breakdown).
Intermittent Fasting Schedule
The most popular method of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 system.
This is when you avoid eating for 16 hours and then you enter an eight-hour feeding window. Once that window is up, you go into another 16-hour fasting period.
The popularity of the 16/8 system stems from the fact that it’s effective but also easy to adhere to. Most people find that after an adjustment period, they can do the 16/8 system every day of the week.
How to Do a 16-Hour Fast (16 / 8 System)?
For most people, it works best to start the fasting at 8 p.m. That means you will not eat food or consume calorie-based beverages until 12 p.m. the next day.
You can still drink water and calorie-free beverages such as black coffee and herbal tea.
Once your feeding window begins at 12 p.m. the next day, you can follow your normal diet, but as I mentioned above, try to eat protein with every meal.
Once 8 p.m. arrives again, you go back into a fasting state.
Intermittent Fasting Diet Plan
Here is a sample meal plan to consider if you are thinking about starting intermittent fasting as a part of your fitness and nutrition program.
Meal One (12 p.m.)
- 4 ounces of grass-fed beef
- 1 cup of cooked vegetables
- ½ cup of brown rice
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil (for veggies)
Snack (2 p.m.)
- 1-2 servings of a whey protein shake
- 1 cup of your choice of milk / milk substitute
Meal Two (4 p.m.)
- 4 ounces of chicken breast
- ½ cup quinoa
Snack (5:30 p.m.)
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- ½ apple
- 2 tablespoon peanut butter
Meal Three (7:30 p.m.)
- 3 ounces salmon
- Small salad with olive oil
- ½ cup quinoa
- Heilbronn LK, Smith SR, Martin CK, Anton SD, Ravussin E. Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1):69-73.
- Manzanero S, Erion JR, Santro T, et al. Intermittent fasting attenuates increases in neurogenesis after ischemia and reperfusion and improves recovery. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2014;34(5):897–905. doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2014.36.
- Aly SM. Role of intermittent fasting on improving health and reducing diseases. Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2014;8(3):V–VI.