Choose Your Favorite Intermittent Fasting Protocol (and watch the fat melt away)
Yes, you’ve heard of it, but have you experimented with an Intermittent Fasting Protocol to see how many pounds of body fat you can melt away? Here’s several to choose from, guided by doctors who walk their talk. And if none are for you, there’s always soups and smoothies. Watch the videos!
[photo credit: PrecisionNutrition.com]
“Hi, My Name is John. And I Haven’t Eaten in 24 Hours.”
Actually, my name is Joe, not John, and I just ate bagels and lox an hour ago, which is now a lump lying in my stomach because I’m not used to eating that much bread stuff. That said, it’s John, not Joe, who’s the subject of this article, the first part anyway.
“Hi, my name is John…” is how Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition fame began his detailed and informative guide, Experiments With Intermittent Fasting, which chronicles his experimentation with an eating regimen that shortens your feeding window, can melt away body fat and help you live healthier, if not longer.
I’m going to summarize John Berardi approach with, and benefits thereby derived by his experiment with Intermittent Fasting (IF). Then I’ll review the various IF methods you can try. Lastly, should no Intermittent Fasting protocol in any form be your thing, there’s always soups and smoothies – I’ll tell you why they can do lots to improve your overall nutrition and get you leaner.
In this article, you’ll discover:
- How a guy already lean at 10% body fat used IF to drop it to 4%;
- The three IF protocols most favored by Dr. Berardi;
- Tips, strategies and outlines of an Intermittent Fasting protocol you can start right away;
- A list of various intermittent fasts, time-restricted feeding and periodic fasting you can try to get lean and healthy fast;
- Videos of Dr. Michael Mosley explaining his 5:2 Intermittent Fasting protocol; and
- A video of Dr. Michael Greger showing the studies that indicate why soups and smoothies might be just good enough if you just don’t want to experience hunger.
Let’s dive in…
Your 10-Minute Intermittent Fasting Primer
Curious but only have 10 minutes to get to the gist of what the heck this Intermittent Fasting thing is all about?
Well, thankfully, Dr. Berardi’s got you covered. What follows in this section is his three favorite IF protocols and his key takeaways. Perhaps one of this three favorite Intermittent Fasting protocols will become yours.
Dr. Berardi’s Approach
There are many different kinds of IF protocols, so Dr. Berardi tested six different methods over a six month period. He carefully took extensive notes on everything from scale weight, body-fat percentage, and blood/hormonal markers, to lifestyle markers like energy levels and cognitive thoughts.
What Happened To Him?
Before I tell what happened to him, know that Dr. Berardi was anything but fat and out of shape before he began his IF experiment. At the start of it, he was 10% body fat at 190 pounds. And yet, he got leaner — over the course of six months, he dropped twenty pounds of weight, from 190 pounds to 170 pounds, and reduced his body fat from 10% to 4% while maintaining most of his lean muscle mass.
Moreover, he found three IF strategies he could follow indefinitely with little effort; in fact, more easily and time-consuming than the “traditional” dieting about which he is a renowned expert.
Dr. Berardi’s Three Favorite IF Protocols
1. The Trial Fast
This is a fast whereby you simply go 24 hours without food.
The idea is to intentionally experience hunger, to get familiar with it, to learn that hunger won’t kill you.
Do this fast by choosing any 24-hour period during which you don’t eat. Dr. Berardi suggests this approach to make this experiment beneficial to you:
10 PM Saturday:
- Eat your last meal of the day
- Drink 500 mL (2 cups) of water
10 AM Sunday:
- Drink 1 L (4 cups) of water + 1 serving greens powder
- Drink 250 mL (1 cup) of green tea
- Take 5 grams BCAA (branched chain amino acids) powder (or take 5 capsules)
3 PM Sunday:
- Drink 1 L (4 cups) of water + 1 serving greens powder
- Drink 250 mL (1 cup) green tea
- Take 5 grams BCAA (branched chain amino acids) powder (or take 5 capsules)
10 PM Sunday:
- Eat a small snack before bed
- Drink 500 mL (2 cups) of water
- Eat normally
Tips and Strategies for the Trial Fast:
- The tea, greens, and BCAAs aren’t essential to fasting, but they’ll probably make it easier.
- Drinking water helps to mitigate feelings of hunger. I’ve found that mixing a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar with eight ounces of pure water makes drinking lots of water more palatable.
- Be aware of your body cues. Feeling stressed out or “upset” during your fast? Relax. Take a few deep breaths, and pay close attention — this is what hunger can feel like. You don’t have to react to it by running to the fridge. The more familiar you get with the hunger sensation, the more manageable it will become.
- Have healthy food (lean meats, veggies, etc.) in the house and ready to go when you “break” the fast on Sunday night with a small meal. Perhaps a tablespoon of almond butter and some celery is a good way to start eating again. Be mindful of eating slowly.
2. The Periodic Fast
As the name suggests, you fast periodically – eat sometimes, fast other times. The reason to do this is to practice hunger management and experience more of the potential health and fat loss benefits of intermittent fasting.
So while you should still eat well (high protein, lots of veggies, a balance of fats, and a moderate intake of minimally processed carbohydrates), you’d periodically take a full day to fast (just like the Trial Fast).
Do this once a week. More than that might be problematic for all but the committed, as Dr. Berardi explains here.
The Periodic Fast is flexible. Choose whichever 24 hours you want:
- From breakfast to breakfast — Eat breakfast on Monday, and don’t eat again until breakfast on Tuesday.
- Dinner to dinner — Eat dinner on Wednesday, and don’t eat again until dinner on Thursday.
To do it, follow the rules above from the “Trial Fast”.
Tips and Strategies:
Perhaps a good time to do the Periodic Fast is when traveling, a time when quality food may be scarce. Or if travel stresses you, don’t add to it by doing IF, but instead pick the least stressful day in your week or month.
3. The Daily Fast
The Daily Fast is an 8-hour feeding period followed by a 16-hour fast. It’s very effective at getting lean, lean, lean and is the one I regularly practice.
This Intermittent Fasting protocol is best for people who are already fit, have plenty of experience eating healthily and want to be leaner than the average bear.
- The Daily Fast will typically be harder to adhere to for men over 15% body fat and women over 22% body fat, which frankly is most of us.
- Men generally respond best to the 16-hour fast, 8-hour eating split .
- Women seem to need a longer eating window and shorter fast, so might try a 14-hour fast with an 10-hour eating window, or a more relaxed approach.
- This is not for pregnant women, people who have or have had eating disorders, and people simply looking to be healthy and fit with no particular desire to be unusually lean.
The Daily Fast is outlined in more detail in here, but here’s the essence of this 8-hour feeding/16-hour fasting period:
- High protein & vegetable intake: During the 8-hour eating window, eat a lot of protein (lean meat, poultry, fish) and vegetables (think green growing things). Err on the side of eating too much of these foods.
- Fasted training: Do intense resistance training 3 times per week, right before you eat your first meal. In other words, you’ll be training on an empty stomach. (Check out this selection of exercise routines.)
- Carb cycling: On training days, add carbs (quinoa, rice, whole grain bread, fruit, etc.) to your base diet of protein and veggies.
- Nutrient timing: On training days, eat as much of your food as soon after training as possible. Your biggest meal should come right after your workout.
Most people who follow this protocol fast from 9 PM until 1PM the next day and exercise around noon while consuming 10 grams of BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) during training, says Dr. Berardi.
(In my case, I fast from 8 PM till 1 PM the next day, usually exercise later in the afternoon and after I’ve eaten my first meal at 1 PM, and I’m light on the BCAAs. Might this be why my six pack remains a steadfast fantasy?)
After exercising, eat two to three large meals before 9 PM, with your biggest meal coming right after exercise, as mentioned.
Of course, many people can’t exit work or other commitments in the middle of the day to work out. As mentioned, this typically includes me. If this is your situation, you won’t have the benefit of exercising in a fasted state, but as long as you follow the rest of the protocol (and in this case exercising later in the day), you’ll get lean.
Sample Single-Day Schedule:
8:00 AM – Wake up, drink 500 mL (2 cups) water
9:00 AM – Drink 1 L (4 cups) water with 1 serving greens+, 250 mL (1 cup) green tea
11:00 AM – 250 mL (1 cup) green tea
12:00 PM – Workout session with 10 g BCAA during session
1:30 PM – Eat first meal, largest of the day
4:30 PM – Eat second meal, moderate sized meal
8:30 PM – Eat third meal, moderate sized meal
Tips and Strategies:
- Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can just skip breakfast and get shredded; what makes it work is combination of all the principles at play, including the food selection, fasted training and nutrient timing. This is an advanced strategy, not a magic bullet.
- Even if you think you can do the Daily Fast, consider choosing the Trial or Periodic Fast first.
- If you find eating this way is too strict, try a) extending the eating window from 8 hours to 9 or even 10 hours, or b) turning your hardest training day into an “eat what you want” day to relax things a little. Or try two “eat what you want” days. These aren’t rules, just guidelines; better to follow a more relaxed plan than abandon a stricter one.
Dr. Berardi’s “Big” Takeaways
He encourages anyone experimenting with IF to remember these four things:
- Trial fasting is a great way to practice managing hunger. This is an essential skill for anyone who wants to get in shape and stay healthy and fit.
- More regular fasting isn’t objectively better for losing body fat. While Dr. Berardi’s experiments worked quite well, the intermittent fasting approach (bigger meals, less frequently) didn’t produce better fat loss than a more conventional diet approach (smaller meals, more frequently) might have.
- More regular fasting did make it easier to maintain a lower body fat percentage. Intermittent fasting isn’t easy, but Dr, Berardi found this approach made it easier to maintain a low body weight and a very low body fat percentage versus. more conventional diets.
- Intermittent fasting can work but it’s not for everyone, nor does it need to be. In the end, IF is just one among may ways for improving health, performance, and body composition. To wit, check out my articles on diet and nutrition.
In case you’re wondering if IF really works to improve lean body composition, know that the title picture for this article is the “before and after” pics of Dr. Berardi’s clients, which I’ll copy again so you don’t have to bother scrolling up:
Impressive, I say, so let’s stay with this IF thing for just a few beats more.
A Quick Review of Intermittent Fasting Protocols
Yes, grasshopper, there are more than the three Intermittent Fasting protocols profiled above that you may choose from.
Ayesha Muttucumaru from Get The Gloss wrote a good review of several fasting plans that reduce your feeding window; meaning, the time period in which you feed yourself.
- Intermittent Fasts,
- Time-restricted Feeding, and
- Periodic Fasting
She points out something I’ve written quite a bit about in this site regarding the health benefits derived from fasting and other caloric-restriction protocols.
Fasting increases fat loss, specifically of visceral fat – the dangerous type that clings to our middles and that has been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s. Fasting has also been associated with improved blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, better gut health, lower cholesterol and increased cognitive function as well as supporting an important repair process in the body called autophagy, which only happens when in a fasted state. Think of autophagy as a ‘time-out’ or the ‘repair mode’ that allows the body the chance to rid itself of a buildup of cellular debris, too much of which can increase the risk of age-related diseases such as arthritis and type 2 diabetes.
Another point Ayesha Muttucumaru makes is that the benefits derived from fasting are related to its duration. For example, to benefit by cellular autophagy, you need to fast for a minimum of 12 to 14 hours; whereas it only takes five hours to improve your gut microbes and insulin sensitivity.
Without further adieu, check out these various fasting protocols to see which might resonate with you.
1. Intermittent Fasting
Fasting only on certain days of the week.
The 5:2 diet: aka The Fast Diet, the best known of the fasting methods made famous by Dr Michael Mosley. (See his videos below.) It’s five days of regular eating and two ‘fast’ days of 800 calories, and has been associated with improved DNA repair and brain function, plus an increase in fat loss as demonstrated in a 2011 Manchester University study. Dr Mosley lost 20lb in 12 weeks and saw his blood sugar and cholesterol levels returned to normal after being pre-diabetic and suffering from high cholesterol.
The 1:1 diet: aka Alternate Day Fasting. Published as The Every Other Day Diet by Dr Krista Varady and Bill Gottlieb, it involves eating 500 calories every other day. You’re able to eat what you like during the fast, provided calorie intake is limited on the fast days.
The 6:1 diet: Made famous by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, this diet involves completely fasting for one day and eating normally for the rest of the week. Sounds simple enough. Drink lots of water on the fast day.
2. Time-restricted feeding
This is about reducing your “feeding widow” per 24 hour period. You can reduce your meal frequency from three per day to two, or just one — or eat within a “window” of time, often eight hours. As mentioned above, my feeding widow is from 1 PM to 8 PM.
The 2 Meal Day: Created by personal trainer and online health coach Max Lowry, this plan involves skipping one meal (either breakfast or dinner) and extending your night fast (that is, while you’re sleeping) to around 16 hours. Read more about the 2 Meal Day here.
The Warrior Diet: Published by Ori Hofmekler in 2001, this approach involves one meal per day in the evening, supposedly emulating warriors of olden times who only ate what they killed and did so at night (I guess). Its emphasis is placed on whole foods and whole grains.
How to Lose Weight Well: Published by Dr. Xand van Tulleken and Georgina Davies, this evening meal focused plan can be adapted to best suit your lifestyle and objectives. To help achieve faster weight loss and the benefits of intermittent fasting, it recommends one 800-calorie meal a day or if that’s too infrequent, two healthy meals a day of 1,200 calories or three meals of 1,500 calories.
Metabolic Balance: Founded by Dr. Wolf Funfack, this diet plan claims to aid weight loss and improve sleep, digestion and energy levels by advocating a five-hour fast in between meals over a three-month time period.
16:8: aka The 8-Hour Diet. Published by Men’s Health Editor David Zinczenko and Peter Moore, this plan comprises of 16 hours fasting and an eight-hour “feeding window”.
3. Periodic fasting
Fasting for a few days or weeks at a time.
Fast Mimicking diet: Created by Professor of gerontology and biological sciences at USC, Valter Longo, it comprises of meal boxes designed to be used for 5 days every month. Using natural, gluten-free and plant-based ingredients, meals are low-protein, low-carb and high in good fat, with 770 to 1,100 calories aimed for per day.
The Bodhimaya Method: Founded by brothers Daniel and Cornelius O’Shaugnessy, the method combines the format of the 16:8 plan (outlined above) with a fast day food plan portion ratio of 1:7:2 (carbs to veg to protein). Find out more about The Bodhimaya Method here.
Buchinger Wilhelmi: A selection of medically supervised fasts starting from a minimum of four days (10, 14 and 21 day programs are also available). Fast days feature small amounts of food (of around 250 calories) and a carefully regulated exercise plan to prevent muscle loss.
8-weeks: aka The Blood Sugar Diet. Created by Dr Michael Mosley to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes, this plan involves eating three small meals totaling 800 calories per day for eight weeks.
As cited above, Dr. Mosely is also the creator of the the 5:2 Diet described by his book, The Fast Diet. Watch this self-described former “skinnyfat” BBC science journalist, executive producer and medical doctor describe his motivation behind his work and how it transformed his life:
(Go here to learn about High Intensity Interval Training, which Dr. Mosely suggests be incorporated with his 5:2 diet.)
If intrigued by the video above, watch this to-the-point video by Kevin Partner, which he calls The Fast Guide to the Fast Diet – for people too lazy to read the book:
Soups and Smoothies
Perhaps you’ve just scrolled past every Intermittent Fasting protocol to get here, because there’s just no way in hell (cause it would be hell) to fast for longer than, say, from breakfast to lunch.
Certainly, you don’t have to fast to whittle away some body fat. What you do have to do is get into a caloric deficit, which basically means to consume fewer calories than you do now.
One way to cope with fewer calories than you’re accustomed to is to make them satiate you more than they otherwise would by employing some tricks. That’s where soups and smoothies enter the picture.
I’ll get right to the bottom line here:
- Smoothies offer an opportunity to quickly create a very nutritious meal from ingredients you might not ordinarily eat (like kale and spinach), and be as satiating as the meal it replaces — if they’re drunk slowly.
- Soup will satiate you more that the very same ingredients eaten whole on a plate, as opposed as blended and heated as soup.
Want to know why?
Watch nutrition expert Dr. Michael Greger take you through the experiments on this:
I wholeheartedly recommend that you consume more smoothies and soups.
Just make sure that your smoothies are not dominated by sweet stuff like sugary fruit — dates, bananas, papaya. Rather, for the fruit ingredients use mainly berries with just a bit of the sugary fruits. Then add green veggies like kale, watercress, broccoli, beets and spinach. For protein use whey if the smoothies is to be consumed after a workout, given that whey is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, or pea, hemp or sprout-derived protein powders. Finally, use water, almond milk or keifer, or combinations of all three.
For soups, search the Interwebs for good soup blender recipes; meaning, get guidance for what combination of veggies ingredients, stock and herbs you can throw in a blender, heat up and slowly eat. In my case, I often mix whatever vegetables are handy, along with some vegetable stock I get at the grocer and season to taste. Fast, nutritious and satiating.
Yes, lots to digest here.
Suggest you do this:
- Grab a friend and together look for an Intermittent Fasting protocol that does not seem overwhelming, one you feel you could do without feeling that you’ve sentenced yourself to torture, and then give it a whirl. You have a better chance getting through it with a friend, because misery loves company.
- Start small and step up big if IF seems right for you.
- If you’d rather poke yourself in the eye than feel hunger pangs, try adding soups and smoothies to your diet. Consume them mindfully, slowly. And let yourself eat less for the next meal, rather than eating the usual amounts of food.
OK, then… get to it!