Why I’ve chosen IF as a lifestyle
I have used intermittent fasting as my primary strategy for staying healthy, mentally switched on, strong and in shape for over three years now, making only very occasional returns to more frequent eating schedules in order to experiment and occasionally shake things up. I keep coming back to IF methods for the following reasons.
There is an ever increasing slew of research linking fasting to positive, cognitive enhancing effects on brain function. For me personally, I feel an acute feeling of mental acuity with prolong abstention for food – if I take nootropics or stims during the fasting period, then their effects are enhanced ever more greatly than if I take them in combination with food. I have found conclusively that a body not weighed down with a recently eaten meal makes for a sharper mind. Whether this is because I have slightly sensitive digestive issues, or blood sugar levels prone to wild fluctuations, I’ve noticed definite cognitive, mood and energy level benefits including extended hours of fasting into my daily routine.
Hand in hand with increased energy and brain functioning is better productivity because I’m not forced to be eating by the clock. Many people would agree that the hours before their midday meal are the best for “getting shit done”. A bodybuilder eating by a traditional clock-watching schedule would be up to his/her third meal by midday, stopping every 2-3 hours for 30 minutes at a snap to put away another meal or shake. This isn’t exactly a recipe for productive focus. If you’ve got some pressing business to attend to, eating in such a heightened state of stress isn’t going to be the best thing for your body or mind. Not having to surreptitiously slug down a meal in a bathroom stall or explain to your boss and co-workers why you’ve got your Tupperware chicken and rice dish spread before you during the daily morning meeting isn’t going to help your cause that your mind or focus is being applied to business.
Along with better cognitive functioning, I’ve noticed that when my digestive system is given time to rest and heal, I enjoy much better feelings of overall health and well being. When IF’ing, I never catch seasonal flus that do the rounds and all my blood panel markers are better. Next time you get a cold or flu, try skipping a few meals and see how quickly the mucous factory in your nose ceases production, the aches and pains miraculously disappear and your overall sense of well being improves markedly. The old saying of “starve a cold” springs to mind.
Critics of IF have said that piling in all that food at night can’t be good for digestion. I would argue that digestion problems for me only becomes an issue when I’m ingesting food every few hours around the clock whether I’m hungry or not. The way I can tell that I’m having digestive problems with frequent meals is the little food baby that becomes a fixture in my lower abdomen in the form of round the clock abdominal distention.
I’ve also found that it’s much easier to get to sleep after ingesting all my calories at night before bed. I can eat what I want, without all the guilt trips associated with that serving of ice-cream or chocolate. In fact, cravings for junk food are actually diminished because I’m s0 focused on hitting my calories and macros with primarily clean food first, that I just don’t often feel the desire to load any junk on top it.
No Pain = No Gain = No Brain?
There’s a certain level of masochistic pride many bodybuilders take in their penchant for exhibiting their “dedication” to bodybuilding extremism – whether it’s carting around a 4 Litre water bottle, a cooler full of Tupperware or a tackle-box full of pills. Eliciting a validating response from Joe Public becomes just as much an addiction than any actual results springing forth from their actions. It’s why you see so many Facebook/Instagram pictures of fitness types laying out 50 plastic containers with their week’s chicken and rice #dedication #attentionwhore.
But I digress.
It’s much more convenient not having to resort to carting around multiple meals in plastic containers and all the preparation and storage issues that come with doing so. Using an IF approach I can knock together a crock pot dish in minutes in the morning or the evening before, set it on an 8 hour timer and have enough calories to last me a couple of days if I want.
There’s something about a lower frequency of eating that makes it naturally easier to maintain a level of leanness not achievable when eating around the clock. It’s hard to describe, but your body achieves a level of effortless vascularity and tissue paper thinness that is more reminiscent of someone dieting for a show and in calorie restriction mode, even when bulking. When I’ve switched back to a higher meal frequency, whether it’s the added water retention of all those extra feedings or something else, but that shredded look dissipates very quickly
Critics of IF
Some of the more vocal criticisms levelled at IF come prominently from
1) People selling supplements that encourage the regular taking of meal supplements or protein powders.
2) People that have never tried IF or used the protocol for an extended period of time.
3) People that look like they don’t even…
Criticising IF without even giving it a fair try is kinda like a eunuch dispensing sex tips at a brothel
“Fuck I.F – Stick to what works…..No Successful Bodybuilder Eats This Way”
This is the criticism I hear the most from the naysayers, but a bit of reading and research into how the guys from the Golden Era ate before the age of supplement marketing, rampant steroid, GH and insulin use, shows that the majority relied on 2-3 meals per day tops. A few quotes from Muscle Smoke and Mirrors Volume 2 bears this out;
“(Pete Grymkowski’s) eating protocols were derived from the various sources including what he obtained from information coming out of the Soviet Union and his participation in the steroid research project of 1974. He believed humans were like most carnivores which ate one big meal daily. Pete’s big feeding took place between 4.00 and 7.00 PM. His meals were constituted heavily with beef, milk, eggs, chicken, fish and some milk and egg protein powders. (pg263)”
Diet of Steve Michalik Mr America – Two meals a day
Breakfast – two cube steaks, 16 ounces of tuna, cottage cheese, 4 hard boiled eggs, quarter pound of yellow cheese and protein drink.
Two hours later – whole chicken, vegetables, 4 hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, another drink and pills.
“Franco recalled being quite shocked at the enormous quantity of food being consumed by the American bodybuilders. He did prefer three or four meals over one or two large, but was not accustomed to his muscle peers taking six trips to the food trough. (pg 637) Even Arnold’s Mass Gaining diet in Muscle Smoke and Mirrors has him quoted as eating between anywhere from 2-4 meals a day.
Of course there have been many other bodybuilders who have built amazing physiques using less frequent meal feedings including Serge Nubret and Phil Hernon.
The arguments against IF assert that you can’t maximise your muscularity without a constant influx of calories. Taken to it’s extreme you can’t maximise your muscularity without a steady influx of steroids, GH and insulin either, but that’s a different issue altogether.
I’d wager that if you asked the average gym rat they would more likely tell you that they eat 5-6 meals a day and train 4-6 times a week. Yet, many never change from week to week, year to year. Should we blame their program or the way they implement it? A program is just a tactical tool in a bodybuilder’s overall strategic toolkit and like any tool, it’s only as effective as the person wielding it. You can write an amazing lifting program for someone to follow in the gym, but if they don’t apply the effort or the discipline needed, then is it the trainee or the program that’s at fault for the lack of progress? I hear that you can’t bulk using IF. Who says? The equation for weights gain or weight loss is calories in vs calories out. If you can put away 4-6000 calories in a shorter window then it’s not going to make any difference and you can still reap the benefits associated with fasting to boot.
My Intermittent Fasting Results
During the previous three years, I’ve listened to the critics of IF and returned to a higher meal frequency on occasion, but always to my ultimate detriment in terms of increased health problems, lower performance in the gym and at work, and substandard physique gains. Conversely, I’ve always found that using an IF approach yields the best overall results in achieving my overall goals of maximising my strength, health and physique. Am I advocating IF as the be-all-and end-all BEST approach to bodybuilding? Not at all. “Best” when it comes to bodybuilding is a term only relevant to the individual’s unique goals and context. Like any program, you will only be able to assess its effectiveness if you are willing to give it a fair try and measure the way you feel against the changes I’ve described above. With any sudden dietary change it requires mental discipline and physical fortitude to go through those first few days of discomfort and psychological adaptation, but you might be pleasantly surprised at some of the benefits you reap from trying some new.