Intermittent fasting for runners: is it worth a try?
The strategy of fasting for periods of time for weight loss and health has steadily been gaining support. However, its effectiveness for athletes is still a subject of discussion among experts. So the question is, is intermittent fasting for runners?
Intermittent fasting has successfully been used for weight loss for many people. However, intermittent fasting is not without its controversies, especially when it is done by runners.
One of the major consensus of intermittent fasting, which I definitely back, is that the individual should be clinically healthy with no issues of hypoglycemia before starting. What may work for one, may not work for someone else, so it is important to give intermittent fasting a trial run before commiting to it.
Speaking of trial runs, let’s get back to the main objective which is finding out if intermittent fasting can work for runners.
Intermittent Fasting, The Case For Runner
Author of Roar, Stacy Sims, PhD has says about intermittent fasting for athletes.
“Intermittent fasting has come about to try to combat things like diabetes and metabolic issues, and people have taken it into daily life, thinking it would work for them if it works for diabetics,” she says. “But if you take a step back and ask why someone would need to do intermittent fasting in the first place, it’s mostly because people are eating at all kinds of weird times during the day in the first place. You get up early and have breakfast, drive to work, have more food, eat throughout the day and eat all the way up until bedtime.” Even if you’re sticking to a certain number of calories per day, the eating all the time approach still wreaks havoc on your digestive system by not giving it chance to rest.
Stacey recommends a less intense version of intermittent fasting — one that should be considered ‘normal eating,’ rather than a diet protocol. In essence, she recommends people take a prolonged breaks, about 10–12 hours, from eating every 24 hours.
This fast will mostly happen when sleeping, so Sims encourages athletes to tweak our timing to hit those numbers.
A lot of research is showing people who don’t eat after dinner and eat again at breakfast have metabolic rates that are absolutely good,” she adds. “Their body composition is fine. Even those trying to lose weight who skip eating that last snack before bed, but eat normally all day and have that 10–12 hour fast, see results. It’s so much better for the body than trying to do the more extreme 5:2 style fasts.”
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Recommended Approach For Runners
Stacey gives runners some advice for intermittent fasting minus the stress.
1. START WITH THREE SQUARES
“Back when our parents were growing up, you had three square meals, maybe a snack, but there wasn’t food after dinner,” she says. “Your body was intermittent fasting during the day like that: You finished eating at 7 at night and didn’t eat again until 7:30 the next morning. So you had this big period of fasting, and that was where your body reset. Back then, there wasn’t as much of an issue with metabolic control, but now that people are eating all day and at all times, there is no long set period of fast, so you don’t reset. The easiest way to intermittent fast is to eat normally, but not have a snack before bed.” To get in the rhythm of shorter intermittent fasts, make sure you’re eating three balanced meals daily, maybe with a snack after a tough workout.
Back then, there wasn’t as much of an issue with metabolic control, but now that people are eating all day and at all times, there is no long set period of fast, so you don’t reset. The easiest way to intermittent fast is to eat normally, but not have a snack before bed.” To get in the rhythm of shorter intermittent fasts, make sure you’re eating three balanced meals daily, maybe with a snack after a tough workout.
2. DON’T STRESS YOUR BODY ON A FAST
Some people swear by fasted-state training, with shorter, easier workouts that can be done in the morning before breakfast. But the training must be truly stress-free. Any longer forms of fasting really aren’t good when you’re adding the stress of life and training, Sims believes. “Part of it is tied to energy availability: People are trying to lose weight with exercise, and they’re stressed, and they might skip a meal here and there. Then they bring in intermittent fasting and are skipping even more meals and can get into this low energy availability state, where you don’t have enough calories to support your resting metabolic rate, and you don’t have enough calories to support your immune system, your endocrine system — all these things that allow your body to respond to stress. So then you’re starting to see people putting on more belly fat and feeling flat or fatigued and trying to fight through it.”
3. FRONT-LOAD CALORIES
Rather than doing fasted-state workouts or going full days without eating, Sims says, “If you fuel your body for your training and you tend to front-load your calories so you have enough for training, the rest you can play around with. You can do intermittent fasting if you’re fueling in and around your stress and it won’t negatively affect your body.” That means trying to eat more calories around your most active part of the day, and ‘active’ includes life stress as well as workout stress. So aim for a bigger breakfast and lunch and a lighter dinner, if possible.
4. NO COFFEE WHILE FASTING
If you are planning to do a light run or short walk before breaking your fast in the morning, don’t hit the espresso machine on your way out the door. “As soon as you have coffee, you start to affect the liver, which will release free fatty acids and change a bunch of hormones, which defeats the whole fasting idea,” Sims says. Let your body get the full 10–12 hours without anything other than water for a true reset.
5. STOP THE DESSERT HABIT
“A lot of people have a sweet tooth that kicks in at night because when you’re tired, you’re more prone to carbohydrate cravings, so it can be hard to kick that habit,” says Sims. Her solution is to have something sweet before dinner and settle your brain that way or modify and have something healthy. She likes Greek yogurt with fruit and a bit of maple syrup right after dinner. “If you really want sweet stuff, really crave it, don’t wait until 10 p.m. to give in,” she adds. “Have something small close to your meal so you don’t interrupt the fasting aspect.”
6. CHECK YOUR DAILY INTAKE
If you want something really sweet, ask yourself if you’ve been having enough protein during the day. Sims says that if you’re craving sugar every single night, it’s an indicator that something might be missing in your diet — and many people, especially those training regularly — are consistently skimping on protein. (Aim for around 20 grams in each meal, plus an extra 20 following your workouts.)
7. GET MORE SLEEP
Put the time formerly spent snacking after dinner to good use by adding extra sleep. Not only does it feel like breakfast comes sooner, but sleep helps you recover faster s