Intermittent fasting has been a popular eating plan for many, many years.
It does not necessarily specify the types of food you should eat (although still extremely important), but more so around the timing of your meals.
Myself being a six-time Mr Olympia winner and having over 40 years of knowledge and experience in training and nutrition, have decided to write this blog on intermittent fasting since it is an approach I’ve adopted and seen great benefits from.
What is intermittent fasting?
So with intermittent fasting, the practice is to only eat during specific times of the day, potentially leaving many hours in between these meals.
So you’ll be alternating between periods of eating and fasting, whereby during the fasting period, you’ll only consume water, coffee and tea.
There are different approaches that can be taken towards intermittent fasting, more so towards the way the fast is dictated. So the way you can set your fast is really dependent on your daily routine. There are a few popular methods of intermittent fasting such as the 16:8 method where you fast for 16 hours and limit your daily eating window to eight hours. This is the way I practise intermittent fasting.
Other methods include 5:2 methods, this is where you eat normally for five days of the week and then for the remaining two days, you limit your calories to roughly 500 - 600 for those days.
Another option is to use the 12:12 approach. This method involves you following a 12 hour fast every day. This is a great way to get introduced to intermittent fasting as it is fairly easy to do, especially if you have your fast when you’re sleeping, meaning for example, you can eat from 7am - 7pm, and then fast from 7pm - 7am the following day.
Why intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is almost the polar opposite of my eating schedule from when I was competing back in the 1980s and 90s. Back then, I was eating pretty much every two - three hours and consuming up to 6000 calories a day!
I chose to practise intermittent fasting a few years ago. Being heavily interested in health, fitness and wellness for over 40 years, I’ve stumbled upon many diet routines and have researched them all pretty much!
In my competitive bodybuilding days, my sole focus was to meticulously research ways that I could improve my physique to become the best bodybuilder on the planet. However, over the past 20 years or so, my goals have drastically changed. I’m no longer interested in trying to put mass amounts of muscle onto my frame and consuming thousands of calories every day.
So over the years, I’ve studied nutrition, supplementation and general health in vast detail as these are now my main interests. With the revolution of the internet in particular, this has allowed me to find information quicker than ever before! But as always, instead of just reading the first post I see and taking their word for it, I’ve read and studied the actual source information to make my own conclusions. This is of course in addition to actually practising what I preach too.
I’ve done a lot of reading, listened to countless podcasts and experts on intermittent fasting and the benefits it can provide, which led to me practising this routine a couple of years ago and I’ve stuck with it ever since. I firmly used to believe that in order to have energy, I needed to eat something like breakfast. But I’ve now found out that it is not actually needed and now I just consume water and coffee in the mornings and this gives me enough energy for my workouts. I used to think that by not consuming any foods prior to training that it’d affect my performance, especially since I used to put away over 2000 calories worth of food in the mornings during my career.
This could be due to the fact that I don’t train with the same level of intensity that I did before, again because my goals are now geared towards general health and fitness. Having said that, because I do advocate high intensity training for muscle building purposes and this does require a vast amount of effort, you probably would need to fuel up before performing this type of training.
Since my attention has been focused on optimising my health, I’ve come to find out that by fasting for long periods of time, allows the body to essentially cleanse itself through a process known as autophagy. This is where the cells break down and destroy old, damaged or abnormal proteins and substances inside its fluid.
Benefits of intermittent fasting
Since adopting intermittent fasting, I’ve noticed several benefits such as:
- Good amounts of energy
- Maintenance of strength
- General health and wellbeing, I feel much better and my system is working well.
Here’s some of the other benefits that are associated with intermittent fasting:
- Improved blood sugar control, whereby intermittent fasting has shown to have benefits for insulin resistance which can help protect against type 2 diabetes.
- Reduction in oxidative stress and inflammation, two of the common drivers for diseases within the body. By practising intermittent fasting, this can help to enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress and even fight against inflammation.
- There is promising evidence that intermittent fasting can help to improve heart health by helping with blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammatory markers.
- Cognitive function improvements, this is done where intermittent fasting can improve metabolic features which are known to be important for brain health. It may also increase the growth of new neurons and the brain from potential damage.
- Prevention against Alzheimer’s disease. The world’s most common neurodegenerative disease currently has no cure, but prevention is critical and intermittent fasting could definitely help here.
- Weight loss, since the topic of fasting and dieting is associated with weight loss, it would be wise to mention it here. Generally speaking, with intermittent fasting you’re consuming fewer meals so unless you compensate by eating much more in these meals, you’ll probably take in fewer calories each day. Fasting can increase your metabolic rate, helping you to burn more calories which can help with weight loss.
Intermittent fasting for muscle building
Since my goals have changed from muscle building purposes to optimising my health and wellbeing, I can’t say that I have used the intermittent fasting approach to try and build muscle, or for bodybuilding related activities.
Personally, I would imagine that it would be harder to gain muscle muscle when practising intermittent fasting since you’d need to consume a large amount of calories in a short window of time. For example, if you need to consume 4000 calories per day to build muscle, it may be difficult to eat this amount of food in eight hours. Having said that, it is probably possible to do this but your body system may feel uncomfortable consuming such an enormous amount of calories in single servings.
You’d need to work out how many calories you need to consume in order to maintain your current weight and then add a small increase of 200 calories so that you are steadily gaining weight. Then you could determine how long your fasting period will be to schedule your eating times. As you’d potentially have a small window of time to consume your daily caloric intake, it’d be a good idea to consume nutrient-dense foods so that your body is getting the macronutrients and micronutrients it needs to build muscle.
How I practise intermittent fasting
My daily routine has now been the same for quite some time. I've played around with the timing of my meals since incorporating intermittent fasting and have found the routine that works best for me. So here’s my current daily routine:
8am wake up. My mornings now include a walk with my dog outside in the sun of Marbella for roughly 30 minutes. When I get back, I take a cold shower which alone has many health benefits, followed by my meditation and breathing routine whereby I used the Wim Hof method. When it comes to around 10.30/11am I get ready to go to the gym where I still do some light weight training roughly 2-3 times a week. Or it’d be high intensity interval training or yoga. During this time, I would’ve consumed just water and coffee for energy purposes.
When it comes to around 2pm, I break my fast. This is usually in the form of a smoothie that contains protein, fats and a small amount of carbohydrates, usually in the form of berries.
After breaking my fast, I perform my work related tasks, this could be training clients in person, training clients online at my coaching platform, DY Academy or it could be DY Nutrition related work.
When the evening comes round, it’s time to eat again. Depending on how I feel on that particular day, I’d either consume another smoothie or would have solid food. Then I won't eat again until 2pm the following day as my fast begins after my last meal of the day.
During my bodybuilding career, I would calculate my exact macros and calories for each meal to make sure they reached my daily needs. But now I’m a lot laid back and don’t really calculate it all anymore. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say I consume roughly 2000 calories per day. A lot less than the 6000 calories I was used to consuming 30 years ago, but now that I am older, I don’t need to consume so much food.
Your approach to your chosen method will depend on your goals. If you’re looking to optimise your health in particular and lose body fat, then intermittent fasting can be a great approach to adopt. If your goal is to gain muscle, then it may not be the best approach but can certainly be done. I’d be interested to know if you have used intermittent fasting when trying to gain muscle, we’d love to hear your stories. Email them over to firstname.lastname@example.org