Is Intermittent Fasting (IF) Right For You?

Intermittent fasting is a buzzword on everyone’s lips these days. Whether you’re an athlete or not, there are several benefits for your health – including weight loss. 

We spoke with Dr. Wanda Rizza, a Nutritionist and an expert in Sports Nutrition, to learn more about this phenomenon and the benefits or fasting for short or longer periods of time.

We’ve heard that intermittent fasting has many health benefits but the idea of fasting usually makes people nervous and immediately think of all the food they’ll be giving up. As soon as we sit down with Dr. Rizza, though, she tells us, “You won’t be hungry!”

First things first: How does intermittent fasting work and what are the most important aspects to take into consideration?

Dr Rizza: Intermittent Fasting (or IF) is not an actual diet but more of a lifestyle that can be adopted by most of the people. It has many specific health benefits that we’ll discuss shortly, especially for athletes.

IF is different than prolonged fasting (or PF), which has a longer duration and requires medical and nutritionist supervision during the period of fasting.

There are many ways to begin IF and different people will have different styles and preferences for enacting this lifestyle change. 

One very important thing is to establish the duration for the fasting period and for the ‘feeding window’ when the patient is allowed to eat meals, also known as Time Restricted Feeding. 

During this window, a person can consume a specific number of meals on certain days of the week.

Let’s take a look at the well-known 16:8 model to give some more specific examples. 

A person can decide to implement IF 2-3 days a week using this easy model: on the fasting days, the person will fast during a 16 hour period and then feed during an 8 hour period. 

This means that the person can finish eating dinner at 8pm at night and then will fast until noon the next morning, and then eat meals between the hours of 12pm to 8pm. 

There are many variations to this model depending on each patient and it can be adapted to their unique physical & health conditions and lifestyle. It’s an easy method to start with because the majority of the fasting time is already spent asleep, meaning renouncing feed is easier than in other models.

As with any diet or lifestyle change, it’s always important to keep in mind your goals and what you want to achieve with intermittent fasting. 

You should consult a doctor to help develop a sustainable fasting diet plan that takes into consideration important factors such as your gender, age, profession, hormones, physical analysis and medical record.

What are the benefits of IF?

Dr. Rizza: Intermittent Fasting can help improve many cardiometabolic parameters (glucose and lipid profile, markers of inflammation, etc.) and assist with healthy weight loss since it diminishes calories during the fasting period.

How is beneficial for weight loss?

Dr. Rizza: The IF is beneficial for those who are looking to lose weight healthily because the body will search for fuel during the IF in the adipose tissue (body fat), and does not affect lean body mass (muscle, bone, etc.). IF boosts fat reduction without losing muscle or healthy body tissue.

Should anyone avoid IF?

Dr. Rizza: Some people cannot practice IF under certain conditions: type 1 diabetics, those with chronic low blood pressure, patients with eating disorders or during pregnancy and lactation, thyroid disease or hormonal imbalances.

You should consult a doctor to help develop a sustainable fasting diet plan that takes into consideration important factors such as your gender, age, profession, hormones, physical analysis and medical record.

How does IF help athletes?

Dr. RizzaIF is very popular in sports nutrition and I advise it for entire sports teams as well as individual athletes. In sport, IF can improve performance in competition training by helping to build the desired body structure necessary for athletes to excel at their sports.

The IF protocol for athletes depends very much on a schedule, frequency and intensity of your workouts. Taking these factors into consideration, we can establish the ideal length of each fasting window and how to maximize the athlete’s nutrition during the feeding window.

It is important to take in consideration which sport the athlete is practising, as there are substantial differences from one activity to another. 

For example, for people involved in high resistance sports, it’s necessary to coordinate the fasting windows around the hours of training. It’s also possible to establish forms of simulated fasting, which provide for the intake of small amounts of specific foods and / or the use of targeted supplements.

How long does it take to see results?

Dr. RizzaWhether you’re an athlete or not, the results will depend on the goal you will establish for yourself and your physical condition when starting the IF.

It’s usually possible to see a difference in resistance & performance, as well as in the body composition, within the first few weeks.

In many cases, after an initial sense of exhaustion, the person fasting will experience a significant increase in energy and improved strength, along with higher athletic performance thanks to an improvement of the metabolic flexibility

Can IF also be effective over a shorter period?

Dr. RizzaConsidering that IF is more of a lifestyle more than a diet, it’s possible to adopt certain principles of IF without adhering to a strict pattern and still have beneficial results. In fact, making periodic changes could result in additional benefits for their health while maintaining metabolic flexibility.

For women, intermittent fasting should be periodically suspended or reduced, and always result in hormonal balance, taking into account related to your menstrual cycle. 

With IF, you’ll never have a boring diet but still enjoy health benefits and improved athletic performance

Dr. Wanda Rizza, PhD

Nutritionist – PhD in Human Nutrition Functional Nutrition and Longevity Intermittent and Periodic Fasting

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