Our parents have warned us all at some point that we should not play with our food and yet this is exactly what I have been doing for some time. Trying various eating regimes has allowed me to experience exactly how my body reacts to food. Having tried high protein / low carb diets including the paleo diet, going vegetarian (a personal favourite for 99% of my time) and restricted calorie diets (a plain miserable experience) I have decided to experiment with intermittent fasting.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is really something most of us do. Unless you wake up in the night to snack you are already doing some sort of fast. Most of the eating plans I have experimented with recommended eating up to 6 or 7 meals per day in an attempt at keeping the metabolism from slowing down. In effect they hope that the energy requirements needed to digest this constant barrage of food will mean that our body works harder and therefore burns more calories than if we ate less often.
Intermittent fasting turns this wisdom on its head. Based on research carried out on rats and recently primates it has been found that the process of consuming large amounts of food continually through the day does not give our bodies sufficient time to rest. Intermittent fasting (known as IF) aims to prolong the time without food that our bodies experience.
Benefits of this have been shown to be:
- Reducing blood glucose and insulin levels (improving the state of the overall glucose metabolism)
- Increasing fatty acid oxidation with increased FFAs (through increasing lipolysis hormones GH, glucagon and adrenaline)
- Sparing and preserving muscle tissue (lean mass)
- Increasing various health factors (lower inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduced oxidative stress, increased protection against neuro-degenerative diseases, and more)
- Keeping the metabolism strong/healthy
Add to that the psychological benefits of not constantly obsessing about eating and you can see that on paper at least there appears to be plenty to offer by adopting a fast as part of our weekly routine.
People who advocate fasting do so following a variety of protocols. Some like to fast once a week for 24 to 36 hours. Others fast every day for 18 hours and get their food within a 6 hour window. One thing that all promoters of intermittent fasting agree on is that fasting is an individual process and you have to tailor it to your goals and lifestyle.
Fasting and Systema
From my very early involvement in Systema I have been aware of a number of health practices that Vladimir Vasiliev was keen on. One of these that he actively promoted for some time was carrying out a 24 hour fast with no food or fluids. This was combined with cold water dowsing and like a number of Systema students at that time I gave it a go. I have to say I found it a rather miserable experience back then. The general concept behind what I will call the Systema fast is that due to the restrictions of the fast weak cells die because they do not have the reserves needed to exist when there is no food and water. The dowsing has further effects on the body that I will describe in a future article, but it is important to note it is very much part of the process and not really an addition to it.
Recent fasting experiences
Over the last week I have been playing with fasting. The reason for this was that a number of my friends were playing with a variety of fasting protocols and I wondered what all the full was about. Also I figured that a single fast would be a great way of psychologically taking control of my eating patterns, which had started to slip from my control over the last few weeks.
I started the process with a 24 hour fast and broke this with a rather large vegetarian meal on Saturday night. Feeling no ill effects I then decided to continue the process by going straight into an 18 hour fast followed by two meals in an 18 hour period (The last of which was only a large portion of meat and vegetables).
By this stage I was noting that I was feeling full of energy and it was not having a detrimental effect on my training and my body fat was starting to lower. I then decided to continue further and see how it affected my performance on the mat.
Yesterday I did a second 18 hour fast and towards the end did 2 hours sparring at my Brazilian Juijitsu club. It has to be said I was astonished to note that I was absolutely full of energy. From the perspective of a lot of sports nutrition material I have read the lower levels of glycogen left in my body caused by the reduced carbohydrate I had eaten in my last meal and the lower amount of calories from the fast should have left me drained. Yet I was full of energy for every round and felt really strong too.
Later that day I had two large meals. It has to be said if there was a point where I felt run down after feeding was it. It was like someone had pulled out my batteries. All I really wanted to do was sleep and it took a real effort of will power to keep going with my usual activities.
So the experiment continues. I will now experiment with incorporating fasting with my irregular shift pattern and see what effects it has on that, but I certainly cannot see a reason for stopping at the moment.