Two things in particular are very important to me: Eating the foods I love and staying lean.

If I feel like eating donuts, I eat donuts. When I want a beer, a margarita or a sake bomb, I imbibe. If I'm at a restaurant, I'll get a steak and some delicious sides, then finish it off with dessert. In other words, I eat what I want, when I want it. (Within reason, of course.)

Oh, and also, I have six-pack abs. I might go as high as 6% body fat during certain periods, but generally I stay at 4%-5% year round.

Most people think you have to choose one or the other: Eat foods you enjoy or be lean. Wrong – you can do both. How is this possible, you might be wondering?

Intermittent fasting, that's how.

Intermittent fasting ("IF" for short) isn't for everyone. Some people try it and find they don't like it and/or it doesn't work with their lifestyle. I also wouldn't recommend IF as an excuse to eat nothing but junk food, thinking you're going to get ripped that way. But if you've reached a point where your diet is fairly clean and you've hit a fat-burning plateau, intermittent fasting may be something worth considering.

IF Breakdown

Intermittent fasting is a technique where you fast for an extended period of time, then follow that fast with a period of eating, and cycle back and forth between these fasting and feeding periods. The type of intermittent fasting that I've found to work best for losing body fat and maintaining muscle is 16/8 intermittent fasting. That means every day you fast for 16 hours and have an 8-hour feeding window.

(I've recently taken this basic 16/8 IF scheme to the next level of fat-burning with my new Intermittent Fasting Carb Cycle (IFCC) diet; that said, I recommend reading this introductory IF article first before jumping into IFCC.)

Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular in the last few years. However, I've been interested in its application for fat loss for a couple decades. The lab that I did my postdoctoral work in at Yale University School of Medicine, along with colleagues at The University of Copenhagen, did a bit of work on fasting and fat loss in the early 2000s. Our group published several papers that show one of the key mechanisms in fasting-induced fat loss has to do with an increase in the activity of genes that increase the number of calories the body burns and the amount of fat it burns.

More specifically, when you fast, it turns on genes that encode for certain uncoupling proteins and for enzymes that increase fat burning. The uncoupling proteins basically poke holes in the mitochondria inside muscle cells. The mitochondria are where most of your energy is derived from, especially at rest. By poking "holes" in the mitochondria, they produce less energy, so they have to burn far more calories to produce the same amount of energy in the form of ATP. In other words, when you fast you burn more calories and fat. What's interesting is that our lab found that when you finally eat after fasting, the activity of many of these genes are increased even further!

Research shows that fasting may also work through a number of other different mechanisms that lead to increased calorie and fat burning. Studies also suggest that fasting provides numerous health benefits, such as lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and even greater longevity. One study also found that intermittent fasting in men increased red blood cell and hemoglobin levels in the blood. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the bloodstream to the muscles. Increasing red blood cells and hemoglobin levels is what endurance athletes like cyclists are trying to increase when they illegally "dope" with EPO (erythropoietin). And yet IF may do this naturally.

Muscle Matters

Some proponents claim that IF even benefits muscle building. While yes, you can build muscle with IF, there's really no research showing that IF benefits muscle growth over a traditional diet. In fact, from my personal experience and the data that I've collected over the years, it would appear that IF would limit muscle growth as compared to following the guidelines I've laid out in my Muscle-Building Rules article for eating to maximize muscle growth. That said, IF shouldn't cause muscle loss, at least in normal-sized people.

One study in men during Ramadan found that subjects lost no muscle mass during their form of IF (fasting during the day and eating only between sunset and dawn) yet lost a significant amount of body fat. However, some heavily muscled guys have reported that IF doesn't allow them to maintain their muscle mass and they tend to end up losing some.

The bottom line on IF and building muscle is this: Yes, you can build muscle while doing IF, but it's probably not the best approach for someone who's goal is to truly maximize muscle growth. For that individual, I would recommend a more standard bodybuilding diet where you're eating every 2-3 hours and fasting only when you sleep.

Carb Considerations

There's no debating the fact that intermittent fasting works well to enhance fat loss. However, it's not a method of dieting that needs to be used from the get-go. Instead, I recommend using it once you've hit a plateau and you can no longer lower carbs and calories. Since you want to keep protein and fat as high as possible, IF allows you one more step before you need to start whittling away at those two critical macros to lower calories and continue losing body fat. So you should first slowly lower your carbs over time. For an article on how to do so, read my Dieting 101 article.

Once you get down to consuming about 0.25 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day, it will be virtually impossible to lower carbs any more. That's because most of the carb sources making up the 0.25 grams per pound are coming from the carbs in protein powders and vegetables. These carbs are fairly unavoidable and are also a good source of fiber, so it wouldn't make sense to try and nix these from your diet.

Another reason to wait to use IF until after you've eliminated most of your carbs is that IF works very well with a low-carb diet. The work from our lab at Yale found that when you fast and then re-feed with a low-carb meal, the activity of the genes that increase calorie and fat burning are further increased with the meal. However, when you re-feed with a higher-carb meal, the activity of many of these genes are decreased. So following IF with a low-carb diet helps you to maximize calorie and fat burning.

Calorie Counting

Total calorie intake is another reason you should wait until a later stage in your diet to introduce IF. When you only have an 8-hour window to eat, you often can't consume as much food as when you can eat all day. This is one of the fringe benefits of IF – it automatically limits calorie intake. If you start using IF early on in your diet, you may not be able to consume enough food during your feeding window, which will make it hard to drop calories in later stages as your fat loss plateaus.

Since you're cramming so many meals into an 8-hour time frame, meals will come more frequently than you were previously eating. Meals will be spaced an hour or two apart, and even as frequently as 30 minutes in some cases. If you find you can't consume this many meals, you can also combine some of them. For example, in the sample meals below, the snack that comes before dinner is a protein shake and peanut butter. You can have this shake with dinner and enjoy the peanut butter as a dessert.

Meal Timing

For the average Joe or Jane, the time of day you fast and the time of day you eat makes little difference. However, those who work out (like ALL members of jimstoppani.com) should manipulate their fasting and feeding windows based on when they train.

If you train in the morning, I suggest you start your 8-hour feeding window with your post-workout meal. That means you'd train completely fasted and your first meal would be your post-workout shake. But since you skipped your pre-workout shake, your post-workout shake should include both your pre- and post-workout shakes and supplements. For example, if you train from 7:00 am – 8:30 am, then your feeding window starts at 8:30 am with your post-workout shake and ends at 4:30 pm with a snack of slow-digesting protein. If you train in the morning but ending your feeding window in the late afternoon is too early for you, you could postpone your postworkout shake by 2-3 hours. It's not ideal for maintaining muscle mass, but it certainly won't hamper fat loss.

Supplementing BCAAs

Some recommend sipping on branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) during their fasting period to better preserve muscle. While this technique would definitely help with preserving and building muscle, it is technically putting you in a fed state. In other words, you're not truly fasting. As you know, amino acids combine to form protein. There are 20 aminos that are used as the building blocks of protein. These include the nine essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, phenylalanine, methionine, lysine and histidine, as well as the 11 nonessential amino acids arginine, serine, cysteine, glycine, proline, alanine, tyrosine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid and glutamine.

If you consume just one of these amino acids, you're essentially consuming protein and therefore are technically not fasting. The BCAA leucine poses a special problem with IF. Here's why: The brain uses blood leucine levels as an indicator of how fed the body is. So if you're sipping on BCAAs, the leucine is signaling the brain that you're currently well fed. Although no work has been done on this issue during fasting, it's easy to project that if the brain senses you're fed, the benefits that come from fasting may be compromised. My suggestion is to avoid BCAAs and any of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids (those used in the building of proteins) until you're in your feeding period.

Amino acids that aren't proteinogenic can be consumed during fasting. I'm talking about amino acids like beta-alanine, betaine, D-aspartic acid and, even though they're not amino acids (but some people classify them as such), carnitine and creatine. These are fine to sip on during the day, especially if you're training in a fasted state.

I cover many of these same IF topics in my Intermittent Fasting FAQs article.

IF Meal Plan

The sample meal plans below show you how to apply intermittent fasting for the four main training time points throughout the day. And while I suggest that you schedule your fasting and eating around the time you train, you can also adjust the time you train to better match when you want to fast and eat. For example, let's say that you normally train in the morning but find that it's almost impossible for you to fast at night because your cravings are so strong later in the day. In that case, I would highly suggest training later in the day so that you fast in the morning and eat at night when your cravings are high.

Although the meals in the sample diets below still list breakfast, lunch and dinner, these meals may not necessarily be consumed at the "normal" time for that meal. For example, in the morning workout example below, if you finish your workout at 8:00 am and consume your postworkout meal at this time, your feeding window ends at 4:00 pm. That means lunch will be consumed some time before noon and dinner would be consumed probably before 3:00 pm. These sample diets provide about 11 calories, 1.5 g protein, 0.25 g carbs, and 0.5 g fat per pound of body weight daily for a 200-pound person. That means that they provide about 2,100 calories, almost 300 g protein, about 50 g carbs and about 100 g fat.

Sample IF meal plan for those working out first thing in the morning:

During workout (drink during workouts)

1 scoop Pre JYM

(Pre JYM Contains ALL of the following ingredients at specific doses)

  • 6 grams BCAAs (at a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine:isoleucine:valine)
  • 2 grams creatine HCL
  • 2 grams beta-alanine
  • 1.5 grams betaine
  • 1 gram Taurine
  • 600 mg NAC (N-Acetyl L-Cysteine)
  • 150 mg Alpha-Glyceryl Phosphoryl Choline (Alpha GPC)
  • 6 grams Citrulline malate
  • 500 mg beet extract
  • 1.5g L-Tyrosine
  • 300 mg Caffeine
  • 50 mcg Huperzine A
  • 5 mg Bioperine (for enhanced absorption of active ingredients)

Post-workout (within 30 minutes after workouts – this starts your 8-hour eating window)
40-60 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM

1 scoop Post JYM Active Matrix

(Post JYM Active Matrix contains all of the below recommended ingredients at the specific doses)

  • 30 grams dextrose
  • 6 grams BCAAs (at a 3:1:1 ratio of leucine:isoleucine:valine)
  • 3 grams glutamine
  • 2 grams creatine HCL
  • 2 grams beta-alanine
  • 2 grams L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 1.5 grams betaine
  • 1 gram taurine
  • 5 mg BioPerine (to enhance absorption of the active ingredients)

Breakfast (30 minutes after post-workout meal)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
3 whole eggs
3 egg whites
1 tsp olive oil (beat eggs, cook in olive oil)
4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil

Late-morning snack
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

Lunch
6 oz. can albacore tuna
2 cups mixed-green salad
1 tbsp salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)
(add tuna to salad)
1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin

Snack
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
1 tbsp peanut butter

Dinner
8 oz. steak (or salmon or other fish, or chicken or other poultry, or pork)
2 cups mixed-green salad
2 tbsp salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)

Snack (within 8 hours from when you consumed post-workout meal)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM or 1 cup cottage cheese or 1 cup Greek yogurt (with 1 teaspoon honey)
1 tbsp peanut butter (can add to shake or Greek yogurt or eat separate)

Before Bed Supplements (1 hour before bed)
1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)

Sample IF meal plan for those working out at lunchtime:

Pre-workout 1 (30 minutes before workouts; this starts your 8-hour feeding window)

1 scoop Pre JYM

20-30 g from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM

Post-workout (within 30 minutes after workouts)
20-40 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM

1 scoop Post JYM Active Matrix

Breakfast (30-60 minutes after post-workout meal)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
3 whole eggs
3 egg whites
1 tsp olive oil (beat eggs, cook in olive oil)
4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil

Late-morning snack
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

Lunch
6 oz. can albacore tuna
2 cups mixed-green salad
2 tbsp salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)
(add tuna to salad)
1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin

Afternoon Snack
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
1 tbsp peanut butter

Dinner
8 oz. steak (or salmon or other fish, or chicken or other poultry, or pork)
2 cups mixed-green salad
2 tbsp salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)

Snack (within 8 hours from pre-workout meal)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM or 1 cup cottage cheese or 1 cup Greek yogurt (with 1 teaspoon honey)
1 tbsp peanut butter (can add to shake or Greek yogurt or eat separate)

Before Bed Supplements (1 hour before bed)
1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)

Sample meal plan for those working out after work/before dinner:

Breakfast (This starts your 8-hour feeding window so have this 8 hours before you plan on having your last meal)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
3 whole eggs
3 egg whites
1 tsp olive oil (beat eggs, cook in olive oil)
4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil

Late-morning snack
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

Lunch
6 oz. can albacore tuna
2 cups mixed-green salad
2 tbsp salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)
(add tuna to salad)
1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin

Afternoon Snack
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
1 tbsp peanut butter

Pre-workout 1 (30-45 minutes before workouts)

1 scoop Pre JYM

20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM

Post-workout (within 30 minutes after workouts)

20-40 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM

1 scoop Post JYM Active Matrix

Dinner (30-60 minutes after post-workout meal)
8 oz. steak (or salmon or other fish, or chicken or other poultry, or pork)
2 cups mixed green salad
2 rbsp salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)

Snack (within 8 hours of breakfast)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM or 1 cup cottage cheese or 1 cup Greek yogurt (with 1 teaspoon honey)
1 tbsp peanut butter (can add to shake or Greek yogurt or eat separate)

Before Bed Supplements (1 hour before bed)
1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)

Sample meal plan for those working out at night after dinner:

Breakfast (This starts your 8-hour feeding window so have this 8 hours before you plan on having your last meal)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
3 whole eggs
3 egg whites
1 tsp olive oil (beat eggs, cook in olive oil)
4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil

Late-morning snack
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

Lunch
6 oz. can albacore tuna
2 cups mixed-green salad
2 tbsp salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)
(add tuna to salad)
1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin

Snack
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM
1 tbsp peanut butter

Dinner
8 oz. steak (or salmon or other fish, or chicken or other poultry, or pork)
2 cups mixed green salad
2 tbsp salad dressing (olive oil n vinegar)

Pre-workout 1 (30-45 minutes before workouts)

1 scoop Pre JYM

20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM

Post-workout (within 30 minutes after workouts)
20-40 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM

1 scoop Post JYM Active Matrix

Before Bed Supplements (1 hour before bed)
1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)

Before bed snack (have immediately before bed – at least 1 hour after ZMA JYM)
20-30 g protein from a protein powder blend like Pro JYM or 1 cup cottage cheese or 1 cup Greek yogurt (with 1 teaspoon honey)
1 tbsp peanut butter (can add to shake or Greek yogurt or eat separate)

For my newest approach to Intermittent Fasting, check out my just released Intermittent Fasting Carb Cycle (IFCC) diet, exclusive to JimStoppani.com members. IFCC combines two of my favorite nutritional methods for shedding body fat while holding onto (and even building) muscle mass: Intermittent Fasting (in the same 16/8 format as I described above) and Carb Cycling (where low-, moderate- and high-carb days are utilized every week). As with any IF meal plan I recommend, IFCC can be followed indefinitely to stay lean more or less forever!

 

References:

Pilegaard, H., et al. Effect of short-term fasting and refeeding on transcriptional regulation of metabolic genes in human skeletal muscle. Diabetes 52:657-662, 2003.

Hildebrandt, Exercise attenuates the fasting-induce transcriptional activation of metabolic genes in skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol Metab 278:E1078-E1086, 2000.

Mattson, M. P. and Wan, R. Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems. J Nutr Biochem. 2005 Mar;16(3):129-37.

Carlson, A. J. and Hoelzel, F. Apparent prolongation of the life span of rats by intermittent fasting. J Nutr. 1946 Mar;31:363-75.

Stote, K. S., et al. A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr 85:981-988, 2007.

Trabelsi, K., et al. Effects of Ramadan fasting on biochemical and anthropometric parameters in physically active men. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine 2(3):134-144, 2011.


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In the comments below tell me and the your story, or the results of waging with weights using this meal plan.