I thought it might be fitting to go into a little more detail about my own choices in how I workout and eat to maintain where I’m at and advance some in strength and endurance. After all, as we’ve talked about, we each find our unique paths. Perhaps sharing where I’ve ended up for now might encourage others to experiment and explore until they find the right fits for themselves.
My workouts: These have changed a lot over the years. I swam in elementary school, played soccer and lifted in middle school, and wrestled and lifted in high school. I’ve gone through a variety of martial art styles during and after college, and then picked up running more steadily. Right now, I’m at the gym a lot for weightlifting/strength training with the occasional crossfit-style routine thrown in for fun. If I’m training for anything, it’s either a half-marathon or an obstacle course race like the Spartan Race or Tough Mudder. The most important things for me in exercising is A. I feel like I’ve put in real effort afterwards and B. I don’t get bored.
My eating protocol: I didn’t do a lot of dieting when younger, mostly because wrestling kept me pretty active. But when I gained 50 lbs my freshman year in college, I had to make some major changeup. I dropped a lot of my usual soda, candy, and mindless snacking while on the computer. Adding martial arts and other activity back into my schedule helped me drop down to a healthier weight after a while. I became more aware of what I was eating and how much, and slowly learned to cook more than meatballs and spaghetti for dinner.
However, I come from a family of snackers and grazers, and still struggle with portion control. Over several years, my weight crept up again until I got to one of those frustrating points where I knew I’d keep fighting weight gain unless something changed in my lifestyle. I could only add so much exercise to my routine before it became unsustainable. The solution had to be in shifting how I ate.
Which is why I started intermittent fasting (also known as leangains in some circles). For the past two years, I’ve held to this eating style. The first year, it helped me drop 40 lbs while getting stronger and running further. The second year, I’ve maintained my overall proportions while adding some mass back on and making further strength gains—so, for the most part, it’s been muscle rather than excess fat. So long as IF keeps working for me, I plan to keep at it for the foreseeable future.
What is intermittent fasting?
The name is pretty self-explanatory. One engages in periodic times of not eating. Now before you start going, “But wait, isn’t that going to lead you into starvation mode?” let me clarify how it works. The particular model I follow goes like this:
- I fast for 16 hours each day (this includes the hours I sleep).
- I then have an 8 hour “feeding window” in which I consume my daily calories—ensuring that I actually eat enough for my needs. Note: I am still eating plenty, just in a concentrated time period.
- On workout days, I generally eat at a slight calorie surplus.
- On rest days, I generally eat at a slight calorie deficit.
- On workout days, I try to eat more carbs and less fat.
- On rest days, I try to eat more fat and fewer carbs.
- Protein intake remains high on both days.
- I mostly exercise fasted.
That’s pretty much it. I’d say I hold to this about 9 out of 10 days. Why have I chosen this eating style? A variety of reasons.
- Portion Control – Like I said before, I’m a big snacker. If I start eating in the morning, it’s very easy for me to constantly nibble and nosh throughout the day. If I’m not careful, this quickly bumps me over my daily calorie needs and I can be slowly adding weight on without realizing. However, with this protocol, it’s actually quite hard for me pack enough calories into the feeding window to overeat on a regular basis.
- Convenient & Easy – It’s pretty straightforward. Honestly, the core pattern of a 16/8 fast/feed is the most essential part. The other elements, such as switching from deficit to surplus and carbs to fats on workout and rest days are optional elements I’ve taken on to fine-tune it for me.
- Productivity – Since I don’t have to worry about meals during the day, my schedule is freed up a bit and I can stick with a project without being lured to the fridge every ten minutes.
- Less Stress – If I go off this protocol for a couple days or even a week or more, it’s easy to move back into. I haven’t “destroyed” the progress I’ve made, nor do I have to feel like I’m completely starting over at square one. There are no specific foods I can or cannot eat. I don’t have to make myself crazy counting every calorie. Even just having a general idea of how much I’m eating works for the most part. Also, it’s flexible. I can still eat out, have meals with friends, go to con parties, whatever. The protocol fits my situation and needs rather than forcing myself into an uncomfortable, unsustainable lifestyle.
- Hunger Control – After the first week, I developed a whole new relationship with hunger. Instead of being controlled by it, I began to control it for the first time in my life. I learned how quickly hunger goes away when you ignore it. I learned that just being hungry doesn’t make me weak or affect my performance. Oh, and I stay far more hydrated because having tea or water to soothe any rumbling works quite well.
- More Satisfying – I feel lighter and less bogged down throughout the day. And when I get in a good workout and break my fast afterwards, that meal is DELICIOUS. I feel like the food I take in is processed more optimally, I feel more in control of my appetite, and I feel far more sated when I do eat (versus bloated and bleah when eating all day).
- Stable Energy & Mood – Ever hit that post-lunch slump? That’s partially because a portion of your energy is being shunted off to digestion. I don’t have that anymore. My energy levels remain stable throughout the day, my mental focus isn’t diverted by constant thoughts about food, and my mood remains higher because I’m not stressing out about a restrictive diet or feeling guilty about breaking “the rules.”
That about sums it up. Recognize that intermittent fasting isn’t a magic answer to my health. It’s a tool that works well for me and has done so for a growing number of other folks. Maybe it would work for you, maybe not. I can only see the results it has helped me achieve and be pleased with them.
There are a number of variations on this protocol, and here are some links for more details on each:
- Alternate Day Fasting (36 hour fast, 12 hour feed)
- Skipping Breakfast
- 24 hour fasts, 1-2 times a week
- Warrior Diet: 20 hour fast, 4 hour feed
Have any questions about intermittent fasting? Have you ever tried it yourself? What’s your usual eating approach?