So this is the first blog on my new website and I thought I would talk about something that I have been doing for the last 4 weeks. Intermittent fasting.
This is a concept that I had heard about in some university lectures and through some friends and athletes that I have worked with but only discussed it in passing and didn’t give it much thought. That is until Jason Marshall, retired national team tight head arrived here in London for a brief stint and decided to come and join us on the Mustangs rugby coaching staff. Jason is a big proponent of intermittent fasting, he has done it during his time as a professional and now since his rugby playing days are over it has helped him to drop down from 260 to 230 lbs. Naturally this spiked my interest.
You see, food and diet has always been a huge vice for me and maybe has been one of those things holding me back from my full potential as an athlete. I was a big kid and I was always a little soft around the edges let’s say, so when I started to play rugby and had some success, the theme of being leaner was always recurring from coaches, other players and soon enough myself.
I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter how I looked, it just mattered how I did the job. No matter how much I told myself that there were still the negative self images I had of myself in the back of my mind and that eventually manifested itself in a negative and probably unhealthy relationship with food. By no means am I saying that I had an eating disorder because there a many people out there that have a truly negative relationship with food and have had to work incredibly hard to overcome that so I don’t want to belittle their efforts by aligning myself with them, so to be clear I am not saying that I had an eating disorder. What I am saying is that I would feel a huge amount of guilt when it came to the foods that I ate, and I would get incredibly down on myself if I didn’t see results right away and I would get stuck in this ineffective cycle.
That was all happening in my late teens and early 20’s when I was playing junior national team and professionally in England, I mean it was hard to avoid when you were getting your skin pinched and fat measured every couple of weeks, but that comes with the job. So when I returned to Canada for school all of that went away and there was much less pressure on me from external sources to be lean. This slowly started to change how I felt about my weight and myself, that didn’t mean that I gave up and just started eating whatever I want, but I started to understand the concept of balance much better.
So through my training and my involvement with the national team I have been looking for ways to lean out, a decision I have made to try and improve my game, and to maybe take some stress off of my twice surgically repaired knee. I’ve tried some different things, went vegetarian for a month, only ate carbs for breakfast, usually small changes to the daily routine so they weren’t a shock to the system. I had some success with all of them and in hindsight the time that I spent doing them probably wasn’t long enough to see a real effect , and by probably I mean definitely.
So that more or less brings us up to the end of October. Jason and I have had quite a few conversations about fasting, because with those results who wouldn’t be interested. Jason gave me the rundown on how the whole thing works and I decided to give it a go and because I enjoy symmetry and things of that nature I decide to start Nov 1, clean slate jump in cold turkey.
The Run Down
It’s a pretty easy formula to follow and my rendition may be an oversimplification but that’s what you’re gonna get. You eat 3 Meals a day, the first is not until noon! Yeah that’s right you wake up in the morning and you do not eat until noon. When you do it though it is glorious, it is the most calorie heavy meal of the day, this is when you get all your carbohydrates in. Technically this is breakfast so feel free to have some breakfast classics like oatmeal and eggs but having a more typical lunch is alright. What I usually go for is an omelette with a ratio of 1:3 eggs to egg whites with whatever seasoning you like and vegetable never hurt anyone so throw some of those in there as well and some lemon juice will add some nice flavour to your eggs and make it more interesting if it starts to get bland. A smoothie with loads of good stuff in it like spinach, frozen berries, protein powder, egg whites, peanut butter if I’m feeling crazy (I feel crazy everyday FYI), and some almond milk to smooth it out.
The next meal of the day is at 4. This is lunch. Lunch should contain a protein source, whether that be from meat, beans, tofu whatever tickles your fancy, protein is your friend on this diet. The next component is a tonne of whatever vegetables you want. I’m a big fan of a butternut squash and green beans right now, it’s good because the squash is a high GI food (lots of carbs) which means your blood glucose (sugar) gets spiked and has a high gastric empty (gets into the system quick) but the green beans counteract that because of the fibre content and means you get a slower more steady supply of all that good energy. This system can be applied to many other foods as well. This meal also can contain some healthy fats like avocados, or you can combine by having fish as your protein.
The finale, the last meal of the day. So the basic structure if this meal is a protein source and a variety of veggies to fill you up because after this no more eating until noon tomorrow. Not to scare you too much but this meal happens at 8pm! That means you are going to be fasting for 16 hours. (jaws drop, heads explode, everyone walks away from the computer) Still here? Good because honestly it’s worth it. Now this last meal should also be your lightest in calories but I allow for a bit of leeway with myself if I happened to train later in the day after my 4pm meal.
Now that’s all out of the way, how has it been going for me? Pretty good. Yeah just pretty good, sometimes I don’t stick to the plan and on weekends I typically totally forget what the plan is but that’s ok. My progress would probably be faster if I had the discipline of a Zen Master but at the same time I enjoy drinking beer with my friends and I love eating popcorn and watching movies with my girlfriend and I think that my overall mental health and enjoyment of my life is just as important as how I feel about my body. So in a little over a month my weight has fluctuated a fair bit and i started strong and lost 7lbs in 2 weeks, potentially a large drop due to a lower consumption of carbohydrates and also maybe some dehydration played in that day because I jumped up a bit and am now sitting at 5 lbs down from my start weight. So I say again it’s going pretty good, I’m making progress slow and steady and that’s how you win races or so I’ve heard. The most positive that I have gained from this diet though is that I actually do feel better about myself and better about my body. The physical number on the scale might not be that different but my outlook is. I’ve been eating less “bar food” and upping my intake of veggies and the biggest thing is that I look and feel so much less bloated, and I think that has been the key to my improved self image. It may be a placebo effect but if it works I’ll take it.
So now that you’ve heard some of my experience here’s some other information for you. First if you eat dinner at 8 and then breakfast at 8 you’ve fasted for 12 hours. Congrats you’ve already started, the idea now is to extend that time of fast to 16 hours minimum. Well 16 hours assuming you’re active and you exercised with purpose in your fasting state to get the most benefits. I if you’re sedentary you may actually need to fast for 20-24 hours to get the same benefit. The science is positive surrounding fasting but there isn’t a huge amount of it but some of the benefits include, decreased blood lipids, increased fat oxidation (use of fats for energy), reduced blood pressure, increased growth hormone release (later in the fast) and many others. It all sounds great and you might think to yourself, but to get bigger and stronger I need to eat lots of meals throughout the day so fasting will probably make me lose muscle. To that I will say not necessarily, if your training is timed appropriately and your meals are planned properly you can experience a loss in fat without a loss in lean mass and I have even experienced a gain in strength over the last month. Any concerns you have with muscle loss can more than likely be attenuated with supplementation of BCAA’s during or before workouts.
If you’re interested in learning more there are lots of great articles out there including this one on T-Nation by John Berardi. John Considers himself a professional dieter, meaning he tries all of them to see which ones work the best and he speaks very highly of the variations of intermittent fasting.
I think that’s all I wanted to say on the matter but in summary I have enjoyed my time intermittent fasting and I would certainly recommend it to anyone that is active and looking to lose weight. I hope this was helpful and not so scatter-brained that no one could understand it. Any questions get in touch with me through the links in the website or via Instagram.