How does when you eat affect your performance?

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If you have ever eaten a big meal too close to a workout, then you understand how much timing your food can affect performance. In university, I was silly enough to eat macaroni and cheese 45 minutes before trying CrossFit. I did make it to a garbage can in time, but it was close. In hindsight, this was a rather obvious mistake. I have found that I perform best during a workout when I eat a small meal high in carbohydrates (1 piece of fruit) about 90 minutes before my workout. For me, a large meal or a meal too high in fiber or fat is hard to digest close to a workout.

There is more to food-timing than fitting in meals around workouts. What if you could optimize when you ate for weight loss?

Well, advocates of intermittent fasting claim that it’s possible. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that refers to prolonging the time between your last meal of the day and your first meal the next day. More research needs to be done on intermittent fasting to fully understand its effects and determine best practices. However, there are many individuals who claim it has worked wonders for them.

An example of intermittent fasting would be to stop eating at 8 pm on Friday and then skipping breakfast on Saturday and not eating again until lunch. In this case, your eating window is 8 hours and you are going without food–or fasting–for 16 hours. In this example, you would still consume the same amount of food as you would have eaten on a normal day. Intermittent fasting can be done with multiple eating patterns. For example, a 4-hour eating window with a 20-hour fasting window or one 24-hour fast per week. Depending on which option you choose–and there’s plenty more–the main benefit comes from the prolonged time without food.

There are multiple proposed benefits to why someone would want to try intermittent fasting. By spending a longer time fasting, your body produces higher levels of growth hormone and increases insulin sensitivity, both of which are beneficial to weight loss. As well, periods of fasting might lead to a healthier digestive system by giving more time to rest and repair any damage done to the intestines. Of course, this eating pattern alone will not be enough for weight loss. What you eat is still more important.

I have experimented with intermittent fasting myself and my opinion is that the method does have some value. I found my cravings were reduced and having to worry about one less meal makes meal planning that much easier. I was also surprised to notice that the extra time spent fasting did not have much effect on my mood or energy level. At first, I did have some initial hunger pains when skipping breakfast, but noticed over the first couple days that after about 20 minutes they were gone. I felt my concentration and mood were not affected and maybe even saw an improvement after the first week.

Optimizing fat burning hormones, weight loss, reduced cravings, giving the digestive system a break? They all sound like reasons to give intermittent fasting a try. However, I do caution that these results are often over emphasized by the media. Plus, as I mentioned above, more research does need to be done to fully understand the mechanism at play and determine best practices. Many people would still argue that what your diet consists of matters more than any eating pattern, and I would tend to agree.

Before I experimented with intermittent fasting I read Jon Berardi’s guide and I’d recommend anyone interested in trying intermittent fasting do the same.

Have you or would you ever try intermittent fasting?

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