As some of you may have noticed I didn’t post anything on my blog last week. I swear I haven’t become lazy; and unfortunately I wasn’t enjoying a vacation; instead, I was stuck in bed with the worst stomach bug in years!
After surviving on chicken broth for 5 days, I am back to work and my regular life revolving around fitness and nutrition.
In order to better accept the losses I suffered last week, I had to find a silver lining to my sickness. One of the only positives is that I experienced an “extended protein fast”.
Fasting refers to a time we are not consuming nutrients. Most of us fast overnight while sleeping. Some of us fast longer for various health reasons.
I try to extend an overnight fast to about 16 hours on the weekends. To do this, I have dinner on Friday and Saturday between 6 and 8 PM and don’t eat again until after noon the next day.
Fasting has the following benefits:
- Increased fat burning. In the absence of carbs, and insulin, the body ramps up lipolysis or it’s natural fat-burning abilities.
- Cellular maintenance. When we are fed, our body is working to use and store nutrients in cells. When we give our body a break from this process, it can repair damaged cells and recycle bad ones…known as cell autophagy. This helps prevent the growth of cancers and can extend lifespan.
- Improved metabolism and hunger signals. Simply put, the more frequently we eat, the more frequently our body wants food! Additionally, a diet high in sugars or processed fats can override our natural hunger signals and trick us into thinking we need more food. By fasting, we are able to adjust our metabolism and re-balance hunger signaling.
- Benefits to blood markers. Fasting allows the body to move cholesterol around in the body as it is needed, resulting in lower blood cholesterol numbers. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels will also go down.
- Better hormone levels. Fasting can increase growth hormone release in the body, allowing recovery within the body.
- Improved mental functioning. Occasional fasts improve neurological processes. In addition, fasting can pause pre-occupation with food and cravings. Meditation is more effective when done in a fasted state.
There are many more benefits but these are the top ones supported by science.
A “protein fast”, as I was forced to experience last week, is merely a time without protein or essential amino acids. This has many of the same benefits but allows for some calories and nutrients to still be consumed.
The greatest benefit of a protein fast is that it retrains the body how to use protein efficiently.
This is not as important if you are eating a low-protein diet – below one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. But for someone such as myself, consuming over this amount daily, the body can start to convert excess protein to carbohydrates. This is an inefficient process in the body and a waste of money since high-quality protein is far more expensive than healthy carbs.
Fasting may not be a good idea if you have ever struggled with eating disorders, are an insulin-dependent diabetic, or under an immense amount of stress.
Fasting is not a cure all. It would fall under the category of a “hermetic response”.
Hormesis is a beneficial response within our body to a low level of toxin or stress. Fasting is one such stressor. It can improve our health but, if overdone or done incorrectly, it can have dire consequences.
The takeaway from all this is:
- Don’t worry if you miss a meal. Your metabolism won’t shut down. The lean body mass you worked hard for won’t evaporate. In fact, body composition and health may improve!
- Only experiment with purposeful fasting after the major health factors are taken care of. Sleeping a minimum of 8 hours, engaging in daily activity or exercise, and eating a diet based around plants and protein will provide far more immediate benefits. What’s worse, if you aren’t sleeping or eating properly, forcing yourself to fast may damage your health even more!
Once again, conventional wisdom recommending to eat every 3 hours to keep blood sugar up and metabolism running, may not be perfectly accurate. Eating the right foods when you are hungry, and not eating when you are not hungry, will be far more beneficial to your mental and physical health!