Intermittent fasting (IF) is a subject that is on everyone’s lips these days in the health and fitness world. But if you work out regularly, you can worry that it may interfere with your strength training performance if you exercise while fasted.
With so many people finding great health benefits from incorporating IF into their lives, they may not want to eat a post-workout meal following their gym session, especially if it doesn’t fit into their IF eating window.
But with intermittent fasting, just like any other strict eating protocol, it comes down to ensuring you eat enough nutrient-dense food over the day that will supply your body with all the energy and building materials it needs.
Having a well-structured eating plan that makes eating as enjoyable as possible is also part of striking a good balance and getting the results you want from your workouts.
Meals should be a pleasure, not a punishment
The trick to intermittent fasting is to find the most enjoyable way to hit your nutrient goals without making mealtimes difficult or feeling like a necessary chore. Making IF part of your routine all starts with the mind.
We have all heard the term ‘mind over matter’, and this is never more true than when it comes to diving into an intermittent fasting routine. It can be hard to get your head around the fact that humans don’t need to eat several times per day, and this can often be the first obstacle to overcome for anyone new to IF.
After decades of being subjected to poor government dietary advice and a constant slew of advertisements for sugary snacks and other junk food and drink, we have become conditioned to eat three or four meals per day, plus snacks in between.
Breaking news – we won’t suddenly keel over and die if we don’t eat every two hours and have an empty stomach!
The practicalities of intermittent fasting
One of the most significant advantages of intermittent fasting is the time you save on food prep in the kitchen. When you don’t eat multiple times per day, you can free up so much of your time!
After you have adapted to IF, you may settle into doing a 16:8 or 18:6 routine with two meals a day (2MAD) within your eating window, or you may feel better doing one meal a day (OMAD).
There are many popular fasting plans to follow, so no matter whether you want to try IF for weight loss, or you want to lean up and cut some body fat, then you could try a plan such as the 16:8 method, the 5:2 diet, the Warrior diet, Eat Stop Eat, and alternate-day fasting (ADF).
Some people feel better doing alternate day fasting or even extended fasting where they don’t eat at all for a few days in a row, and extended fasting can be great if you have a lot of weight to lose. However, if you are into high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, you may struggle to cope with extended fasting, especially if you don’t have any excess body fat to lose.
Working out in the morning and doing fasted cardio or training for muscle gain in a fasted state is growing in popularity. Whether you are training to gain muscle mass or reduce body fat, shifting your meal timing to later in the day is a strategy that could help you meet your body fat reduction goals and help build muscle.
If you train in the morning and haven’t eaten since the day before, once your muscles have used up their glycogen stores, your system will switch to burning the next available fuel source for energy, which is your body fat.
Following your fasted workout, your body will remain in a fat-burning state for a few hours unless you eat a meal immediately afterwards. So this is why it makes a lot of sense to push your first meal of the day until after lunch or even later into the afternoon if you can manage it.
You can adapt your IF routine to fit your lifestyle and work schedule. So if your job involves working shifts and you do regular morning workouts before you go to work, you can take your meal to work with you and then wait until late afternoon or early evening before breaking your fast.
Some research suggests that doing IF, training in the morning, and eating your meals in the evening can lead to improved fat loss and muscle gain, so it may be worth moving your eating window to later in the evening and staying fasted for most of the day.