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Should You Consider Intermittent Fasting


Written by Dr. Welsh, Published on 06 May 2014

The Case Against Intermittent Fasting

The concept of Intermittent Fasting is incredibly popular these days. Some would even call it a trend. But there are many exercise, nutrition, and medical professionals that aren't all that impressed by the lifestyle technique. They argue that there are downsides to Intermittent Fasting which limit its potential benefits, and that it may fall out of favor in the near future.

These professionals do recognize that rearranging one's eating patterns in such a manner can encourage weight loss, but argue that for many people that it may be unsustainable, there are non-negligible health risks, and the practice holds no special benefit for those looking to maintain or enhance their athleticism.

Little Agreement on the Correct Way to Engage in Intermittent Fasting

One of the things about Intermittent Fasting is that it seems that everyone that recommends Intermittent Fasting, whether they be professionals or simply advocates, has their own particular take on the regimen. Some call for fasting during daylight, others recommend to eat only during a four or eight hour period of the day, and still others recommend taking entire day off from eating. There are some proponents that consider intermittent fasting to mean only eating when you truly are hungry.

Just as Intermittent is interpreted in a variety of ways, so is Fasting. Some people recommend going completely without food during the fast. Others believe that you should only drink protein shakes or stick to berries and veggies during the fasting portion of your day. As you can see, there is no clear consensus regarding what Intermittent Fasting really means.

In global society, there are many religions and cultures that engage in fasting as a spiritual act, but among animals, there is little evidence that other mammals fast for any reason except for illness. In many cases, animals that are sick will even eat particular plants like grass to purge their systems.

Intermittent Fasting is Not a Natural Animal Behavior

The core basis for Intermittent Fasting as a practice originally comes from animal research. There is evidence that Intermittent Fasting can be good for male animals in some ways, because it enhances reproductive characteristics, but for female animals, the same process can limit fertility.

The process of Intermittent Fasting in animals studies induced the females to sleep less, become unnecessarily alert, and limited their ability to menstruate. Researchers hypothesize that the reason why these changes take place is that their bodies are emphasizing traits that will aid them in seeking food.

Health Issues Related to Intermittent Fasting

Although there are many that firmly stand behind Intermittent Fasting, there are other people that have experienced temporary physical and psychological symptoms from their use of the technique. The following are some issues that people that undergo Intermittent Fasting experience:

  • Sleeping issues, predominantly in women. These issues are caused primarily by the stimulation of hypocretin neurons which encourage the body and mind to stay awake.

  • Others admit to highly increased coffee consumption to deal with their fasting. This overwhelming use of coffee can lead to circadian rhythm issues, Hormone Imbalance, and significant adrenal fatigue.

  • Many dieters experienced an increased fixation on the foods that they deny themselves. This also leads to a component increase in anxiety.

  • Women often experience a variety of Hormone Issues from extended Intermittent Fasting, including menstrual irregularities, fixation on self-image, changes in metabolic activity, and acne.

It should be noted these symptoms are highly associated with the severity of the Intermittent Fasting, and that other, more limited forms of Intermittent Fasting will produce fewer of these negative symptoms. Also, these issues are more related to long term Intermittent Fasting, and certain diet plans may be able to usefully utilize Intermittent Fasting as a means to lose weight.

Those that argue against Intermittent Fasting believe that there are other methods that can more effectively extend longevity in the long term, and can help enhance muscle mass and energy at the same time. The following are five reasons why Intermittent Fasting may not be the lifestyle that you're looking for:

One: Peak Cognitive and Physical Performance Rely on Regular Meals

The Human body relies on normalized feeding patterns in order to sustain energy and physiological capacity. Intermittent Fasting can lead to Hormone Imbalance issues which lead to fatigue, deteriorated focus, and changes in base hormone patterns. Also, the body relies on amino acids to sustain and build muscle, and if you drain your body of these amino acids, your body may start to break down muscle to meet the needs of the rest of the body.

Intermittent Fasting in the short term appears to have a balancing impact on these same factors, however, and may be beneficial as a means to lose weight and reset the body. In the initial period of Intermittent Fasting, men tend to experience increased cognitive function, boosted alertness, and there is even evidence that the experience even promotes healthier insulin production. As we mentioned previously, these benefits are less pronounced among women, and come with some potentially negative side-effects.

For men that are overweight, Intermittent Fasting can be a highly effective means to re-balance the body, especially in the short term, but for men that are already thin and looking to promote enhanced athletic ability, the benefits of Intermittent Fasting are limited.

This is primarily because asymmetrical eating pattern can lead to blood sugar issues and insulin spikes. Over time, this can cause the circadian rhythm, neurotransmitter activity, and hormone production to get out of sorts.

Many nutritionists and fitness experts recommend using a Paleolithic diet to accentuate many of the positive aspects of Intermittent Fasting while avoiding the negative aspects. A Paleolithic diet encourages healthy Insulin Balance, and provides a dependable stream of amino acids which aid metabolism, cognition, and muscle building.

A diet which revolves around healthy fats and high protein while limiting carbohydrates, with small meals consumed five to six times per day is one of the best ways to keep your body working and your metabolism pumping. This helps energy levels, muscle health, and cognitive ability, while also keeping blood sugar in check and promoting enhanced longevity.

Two: Regular Protein Consumption Necessary For Muscle Building Protein Synthesis

It is important to recognize that there is a significant difference building muscle and sustaining muscle. If you don't get your body the protein that it needs, you stand to lose muscle mass. It is very easy to design an Intermittent Fasting diet that prevents loss of muscle mass, but the issue is that Intermittent Fasting is not an ideal method for growing and enhancing muscles.

Again, if you are interested in losing weight, Intermittent Fasting may be a valid option, but if you are looking to enhance lean muscle and longevity from a healthy weight, other options are likely more beneficial. There is a body of research out there that explains exactly why Intermittent Fasting is not ideal for muscle development.

There are a lot of chemical processes that happen when your body builds muscles, and there are a number of important ingredients to make it happen. To build muscle optimally, the body needs a steady stream of hormones which promote anabolic activity, proteins and amino acids which supply the body's anabolic needs, and strength training which stimulates the use of these ingredients. If every ingredient is not available, it makes it very difficult to build muscle.

A study released in 2010 exemplifies this clearly. In this study, male participants were placed on a caloric-restriction diet, but still obtained high levels of protein each day1.5 grams per kilogram by weight. In spite of getting the necessary protein to build muscle, they still experienced a decline in muscle-building power because they weren't consuming enough calories.

Overall, this led to a loss of one kilogram of lean muscle mass in ten days. If the body isn't getting all of the nutrients that it needs, it will convert consumed protein into other products to meet the body's needs, to the deficit of the muscles.

Other studies show the benefits of multiple modest meals per day. In one particular study, athletic men performed anaerobic lower body exercise routines and consumed proteins in three experimental patterns dependent upon their group. One group took two doses of forty grams every six hours, a second group took twenty gram doses four times daily every three hours, and the third group took a ten gram dose every hour and a half eight times daily. The group that experienced the most enhanced protein utilization was the group which took twenty gram doses.

A final study examined how taking protein before bed affected protein synthesis. Researchers found that young males that consumed forty grams of protein before falling asleep experienced a 25% boost in protein utilization. In this study, participants worked out in the evening, consumed protein, and went to bed. The benefits continued to take place even overnight.

The opposite result is seen in studies mimicking the effects of Intermittent Fasting. In one study, conducted over the course of three days, young males ate twice per day with a twelve hour space between meals. Instead of building muscle, these patients burned the protein they consumed for energy, whereas men that consumed five meals per day utilized protein for protein synthesis.

It's important to note that this was only a three day study, and does not necessarily characterize how the body eventually adapts to regular Intermittent Fasting. Nutrition experts caution older men and women from engaging in Intermittent Fasting, because of issues related to sarcopenia and loss of muscle mass.

The line between protein burning and protein synthesis is finer than one would assume. Building muscle depends on supplying your body with a healthy diet, and giving your body the nutrients that it needs in the periods after physical activity. If you do not provide your body the necessary building materials, you slow down your body's recovery and slow down the rate at which your body synthesizes muscle.

Three: Adrenal Stress and Intermittent Fasting

The body eventually adapts to a pattern of Intermittent Fasting, but in the short term, the abrupt change in dietary patterns can have a significant impact on the way that your body functions, and can interrupt your circadian rhythm. The body will eventually get over adrenal fatigue over the course of an extended period of Intermittent Fasting, but there are other methods that can impact body composition in a more effective manner.

One study involving Islamic athletes shows the impact of short term fasting on athletic performance. In athletes that fasted during the day for Ramadan, the act of fasting led to higher levels of fatigue. It also contributed to reduced anaerobic performance and strength. Over the course of Ramadan, the athletes lost an average of 0.65 kilograms of fat and 1.8% of their total mass.

To date, there are no significant studies regarding the long term impact of Intermittent Fasting among athletes, but researchers hypothesize that it has a negative impact on physical output based on the scientific understanding of overtraining.

Going a long time without eating encourages the activation of hormones known as catecholamines. If this pattern is sustained for an extended period of time, it can lead to adrenal fatigue, and reduces the responsiveness of the adrenal glands. This modifies the metabolism, the priorities of the central nervous system, and leads to chronic fatigue.

All in all, engaging in Intermittent Fasting for brief periods of time has the impact of inhibiting physical performance. Engaging in it for an extended period can impact the body's homeostasis and can cause adrenal fatigue. It should be noted that these ideas regarding Long Term Intermittent Fasting are not fully tested, and the body may have some adaptive ability which has not been fully explored in the academic literature.

Four: Healthy Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels Depend on the Content of Your Diet More than the Timing of Your Meals

Intermittent Fasting and other similar eating patterns do have an effect on blood sugar and insulin. To date, the body of medical knowledge is still being fleshed out, and results are not fully conclusive. It appears that Intermittent Fasting has a positive influence on male Insulin Health under many circumstances, while women tend to experience more negative consequences.

If you are overweight or obese, Intermittent Fasting seems to have an overall-positive influence on Insulin Sensitivity, but many nutrition scientists do not believe that Intermittent Fasting is a long-term, sustainable diet plan because of the potential impact that it has on other issues, such as blood pressure. The same is believed with regard to caloric restriction.

This doesn't mean that Intermittent Fasting helps balance Insulin for everyone, however, and its benefits may be limited even among the overweight. In one piece of research released in PLOS One, researchers compared glucose and insulin levels over the course of three days among two groups: One group ate five meals per day at regular intervals, and the other engaged in Intermittent Fasting. Both groups consumed a diet consisting of 15% protein, 30% fat, and 55% carbs.

Researchers found that participants in the Intermittent Fasting group experienced more significant variation in their insulin levels through the course of the day, which is considered one of the factors which encourage Insulin Resistance over time. It should be noted that the body may adapt to Intermittent Fasting over time, which may balance out these issues with Insulin. Low-carb diets (Paleo Diets recommend around 40% carbs, for example), may also balance out these Insulin issues as well.

Rather than focus on when you eat, however, the best way to control your blood sugar is simply to scale back on your consumption of high glycemic carbohydrates. For example, one study consisted of three groups: One group ate six low-carb, high protein meals daily, a second group ate six high-carb meals daily, and a third group ate three high-carb meals daily.

Glucose levels were the lowest in the high-protein meal and highest in the six high-carb meal group. On the other hand, Insulin levels remained equivalent in both experimental groups that consumed high-carbs. The high-protein group experienced healthier Insulin levels.

In order to promote optimal Insulin sensitivity and utilization, it's more important to engage in a diet consisting of the conscientious use of low-glycemic carbohydrates, healthy fat, and protein, than to alter your eating patterns. Smart and consistent eating patterns are a positive influence, however.

Five: Intermittent Fasting Affects Natural Rhythms and Hormone Balance

One of the most potentially disruptive impacts of Intermittent Fasting is in regard to circadian rhythm and hormone balance. All of the important metabolic and anabolic hormones that our body produces are interrelated with one another, including Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone, Insulin, and Adrenal Hormones. This delicate interplay of hormones is known as the Hormone Cascade.

This means that when you have an issue with one particular hormone, all of your hormones can be affected in their own ways. Hormone Imbalance can lead to a wide variety of negative health conditions, including infertility, loss of muscle mass, weight gain, reduced metabolism, increased inflammation, sleep disruption, fatigue, and inhibited immune function.

There is evidence that Intermittent Fasting contributes to this hormone imbalance. In one particular study, participants stuck to an assigned diet eight weeks, either eating once per day or three times per day. At the conclusion of the study, participants that ate once per day lost an average of two kilograms of fat more than the opposing group. On the other hand, they also experienced heightened blood pressure, which is an indication of changes in the circadian rhythm.

Also, cortisol levels before consuming their single meal were nearly half of their normal levels. This suggests that the subjects were experiencing abnormal day-night hormone cycles. It is true that cortisol levels are important to control for optimal health, but normally, cortisol levels increase naturally as a result of hunger and drop in response satiation. Abnormal cortisol patterns are a indication of adrenal fatigue.

Of course, based off of this evidence, there may be particular forms of Intermittent Fasting that do not impact Hormone Balance so severely, and also, a responsible diet plan may mitigate the impact of this Hormone Imbalance. In the case of this study, however, a one-meal-per-day diet plan negatively impacted the health of the patients, overall, as a result of the impact on cortisol and the Circadian Rhythm.

Muscle Building and Weight Loss Tips

So, severe Intermittent Fasting can help you lose weight, but you would likely benefit from other methods. You can potentially increase your risk of illness and fatigue, and you can inhibit your body's self-regulating ability. The following are some recommended tips for men and women to consider rather than turning to Intermittent Fasting:

  • Eat five or six meals each day. Choose whole foods, limit processed foods, and eat healthy fat, a lot of protein, and limit your carbs.

  • Respect your food, but do not rely on it as a reward.

  • Don't abuse stimulants like coffee to help you keep your mind off food.

  • Find an eating pattern that works for you and does not cause undo stress on your mind or your body.

  • Eat lots of different kinds of food to ensure you get the nutrients you need.

  • Combine your diet and your exercise regimen to maximize results

  • Drink lots of water. Water is an essential component for muscle synthesis.





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