The Benefits of Fasting and My Experiences
The Benefits of Fasting and My Experiences
By Adam Sinicki
I learned about the benefits of fasting and then try it myself for 26 hours. Here are my findings
I love my food probably more than most people. Whenever I go out for a meal I tend to order whatever I want from the menu, finish it in mere moments and then sit like a vulture eyeing up the plates of the people I'm there with and trying to make them feel the pressure - when they fold and give up I swoop in and eat theirs before moving on to my next target. I'm not proud of it, but it's who I am and I'm not likely to change any time soon. It's all right, we probably aren't going to be going to dinner any time soon. Anyway as a bodybuilder the good news is that I have license to pig out. I need lots of carbs and protein in order to put on muscle and if I eat too many calories well then I burn about a million a night anyway so it's not a problem. That's why the idea of fasting has never really appealed to me much, and I've always regarded it with suspicion and disdain. But then I was asked to write an article on it for my day job and in researching it I found some compelling arguments to fast. I also found out that quite a few bodybuilders use fasting on a once-a-week basis and believe it helps them to keep themselves looking cut and ripped. The idea is that this is a way to burn way more calories from your weekly intake so that you've done the equivalent of running a marathon once a week. In theory that's a pretty attractive proposition and there was more too - for the average Joe it looked like fasting could be pretty useful too.
Benefits of Fasting
Apparently a fast is only technically a fast after your body has used up all of its available glucose and begins burning your glycogen stores in your fat. On top of this you are only fasting up until the point when your body starts burning your protein for energy which happens when you've run out of fat. When that happens you're not fasting, you're starving. Starving isn't good.
However burning fat is good and that means that you will lose some weight and cut the layers of fat over the top of that muscle. You won't burn muscle when you do this because that's not what fasting is. So you needn't worry about that. When you burn this fat though as well you don't just burn energy, you are also burning toxins that are stored in the fat and that's why many people include fasting when they detox.
Another of the benefits of fasting is that the fact that you don't have any carbs left in your body triggers some useful changes that occur throughout your system. This causes your body to become more energy efficient - it improves the function of your mitochondria which are responsible for turning glucose into ATP (adenosine triphosphate - the usable form of energy in the body). Your body then gets more energy from less food as a result and that means you become more energy efficient - in theory when you do get carbs you'll then feel far more energetic and you'll feel far less lethargic (again I say in theory).
There's another benefit of improved mitochondrial function though too - that's the fact that your mitochondria surround your cells and by building them up you are able to protect the cells with better 'armour' which prevents damage from occurring over time from 'free radicals' that cause ageing and cancer. At the same time your more efficient use of energy means you have less oxygen in your body running lose which causes damage (glucose is turned into ATP through a chemical reaction with oxygen and enzymes such as glucose oxidase). Thus again you have delayed ageing and lower chances of cancer. One of the biggest benefits of fasting is that it can in theory protect your cells and if you do it regularly you can live for longer. In this sense it works in the same way as 'calorie restriction' which many proponents of transhumanism use as a way to try and live longer (based on the fact that reducing the caloric intake of lab rats can cause them to live nearly 50% longer). However you don't need to fast to get these benefits - alternatively you can supplement heavily with resveratrol (you'll find more information on this site).
You're more energy efficient for other reasons too when you fast. In theory your body is doing a lot less because it is not using up large amounts of energy on digestion and that means that it can direct that energy elsewhere - to your cognitive processes for instance and to your immune system. Many people claim they heal wounds and fight infections more efficiently when they stop eating. Observations of certain animals in the wild have found that they often starve themselves when injured and this may be why we lose our appetite when we are unwell - an evolutionary resposne to make us restrict our consumption of foods.
Improved energy usage isn't the only benefit of fasting either though. At the same time you can also benefit from being more efficient with your protein and you should find that your body uses protein in a far more efficient manner. For a bodybuilder that's a very tantalizing idea as it means that you should be able to build more muscle from the same amount of protein.
Does it Work?
So I read all that and I got curious. Much as I've been curious about using digital drugs, using Oxavar, using polyphasic sleep cycles, turning vegetarian, becoming ambidextrous and generally just trying anything to try and make my body more efficient or work differently. I'm not the kind of guy who's going to recommend something on my site without actually trying it, and so I went about experimenting on myself with this one too. Any what happened? Here's my experience.
Types of Fasting
First of all it's important to recognize that there are different kinds of fasting and that they affect your body in different ways. The benefits of fasting will depend very much on which type you use. There is an 'absolute fast' which is going completely without anything, there is a 'water fast' which is fasting while just drinking water and there is a 'juice fast' which is fasting while drinking juice. I did a 'tea fast' which doesn't exist, but I'm so well and truly addicted to caffeine that the severe headache I'd get from coming off it would mess with the results. So I've invented a new kind. But I did leave out the amino acids and protein shake, so I went cold turkey from my supplements too.
Obviously the benefits of fasting also depend on how long you fast for. My decision was to go for a 24 hour fast. This is the most usual type of fast, and it's also the kind that doctors recommend if you're going to try it. You should never fast for more than 48 hours unless you're under medical surveillance. Just to make sure I went for a 26 hour fast. And I did a work out on the 25th hour to see what that would be like.
My Experience of Fasting
Well I can genuinely say that it is not a good idea. That's that. I started at 8pm the night before after a hearty KFC before a workout and then I didn't eat again until about 10pm the next day. The morning was actually easy enough, and as I get up quite late and often don't crave breakfast anyway it was quite easy.
By lunch time I was starting to feel a little light headed and not particularly happy but I was still okay. My main gripe was how bored I was - I had no food to look forward to so I went to buy a new laptop instead. The laptop was a beautiful deal - 8GB Ram and nearly 3Ghz processor for 500 quid which seemed like a bargain. When I got it home though I realized that I'd been duped and what I actually had was 6GB with under 2Ghz of processing power. As I'm going on holiday three times this year I couldn't really afford to blow 500 on a laptop that was barely more powerful than my current one so I took it back.
And that's when I started to feel weird. I was so stressed out by this occasion and I felt genuinely depressed about it. This is the second time in as many months that one of my bodylab experiments has left me feeling depressed! I remember thinking that if the guy told me I couldn't take it back I'd probably collapse onto the floor crying. Fortunately he was very reasonable about it, but this didn't stop me from leaving my SD card in the laptop and forgetting to tell them the password I set on it (I chose it from a random line and page number in The Art of War). So it's fair to say I wasn't at full mental capacity - where was this redirected digestion energy? I was also incredibly cold - this is normal apparently as much of our body heat is a by-product of our metabolism working. With nothing to do my metabolism had gone to sleep and left me shivering. Normally I'm like a radiator and the girls I lived with in Uni used to actually huddle round me for warmth when we were queueing to get into clubs - it was like I was losing my powers!
Shaking I went to the gardens and lay down on the ground in the sun. That was pretty nice but it wasn't working and I'd achieved all of 4,000 words that day - normally I write 10-20,000 (to quote Arnie: I... am... a MACHINE!!). I then returned home for the most lackluster workout in the world before while staring manically at Goof and Mary (my flatmates). Not an impressive performance.
At 10pm I then allowed myself to eat - all I had was a tuna sandwich because despite my incredible hunger my stomach felt too tender to eat. Thing is my empty stomach had likely been burned by the excess stomach acids that would have been in there and this is one of the side effects of fasting that I had read about. I've got to admit though, it did taste particularly good.
The Next Day
The next day I should have been filled with energy based on my experience of fasting. Did that happen? Fuck did it. Instead I found myself randomly having no appetite - likely because of my improved mitochondrial function, and that left me still shaking. My stomach felt odd and I hadn't been for a shit in now coming up to 40 hours. I still felt a little depressed and shaky as a result and I had another day of doing barely any work.
When I did eat I didn't find myself getting that 'rush of energy' rather I just fond myself giving up eating much quicker. I was visiting my girlfriend's house and had been invited out by her Mum and Dad for curry. An odd thing to eat on such an empty stomach I tell you!
Of course I eventually got back into a regular eating pattern but it felt like I was just making up my lost energy for a long while. It wasn't until about two days later that I felt my usual vigour came back, and I seem to remember spending the Sunday moping to Hannah and telling her I hadn't felt myself for a while.
'When did it start?'
'It started when I tried taking that legal steroid, but it seems to have gotten worse since I starved myself for 24 hours.'
Sympathy was forthcoming (because Hannah's lovely), but undeserved.
To be fair I did notice some new cuts on my abs (I think), but I also noted that as soon as I started eating normally again I'd end up piling back on the pounds - as my mitochondria were now super efficient this meant that I would have more left over food as a by-product and that would just get stored as fat. Any protein efficiency would be wasted because I didn't work out for about five days following my fast which is completely unheard of for me. If you don't have the energy to do any activity then this is hardly great for bodybuilders - and doing it every week would mean you'd spend about half your life depressed and energy-less.
In conclusion then the negatives outweigh the benefits of fasting. So just don't go there.
Think Like Sherlock Holmes