The Basics of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular over the last several years as a method of burning fat and building muscle. A basic explanation of intermittent fasting is limiting the number of hours you eat everyday to a defined period. 16:8 is a common form of this. You fast for 16 hours and feed within an 8 hour window. The primary goal of this is to put your body in a fat burning state as well as increase the release of natural growth hormones. Thus you are burning fat and building muscle at the same time.
Many endurance athletes have been asking if this is a viable option for cardio-intensive sports. As with most eating plans, there are arguments on both sides of whether intermittent fasting is an effective way of achieving desired body composition. However, as more research is being done over the topic, it does seem that those in support of the approach are outweighing those opposed to it.
Even so, the question is whether or not intermittent fasting is beneficial for endurance athletes. Sports such as cycling, soccer, track & field (distance), basketball, or swimming have very different dietary needs than those in less endurance intensive sports.
What is the solution for endurance athletes?
So is intermittent fasting right for endurance athletes? It depends. The best time to exercise when intermittent fasting is at the end of your fast. During this time, your body is nearly depleted of carbohydrates and must metabolize fat more efficiently as an energy source. The problem for endurance athletes is that cardio training can be difficult when you do not have carbohydrates to burn. This makes it difficult to have a quality training session. A solution to this could be weight and strength specific training during fasting hours, and cardio training between meals during feeding hours. By using this approach you are able to capitalize on the benefits of fasting while also having the energy necessary for your sport specific training sessions.
Like most eating plans, it is important to research the specifics of why this could be more beneficial than what you are currently doing and then decide whether or not it might work for you.
Included here are additional articles on the subject. The first article references studies on how IF impacted different fitness test results. The second article discusses some of the other impacts IF has on the body. Both present great supplemental information to what is provided in this article.
Intermittent Fasting – Useful for Endurance Athletes? by Shayne Gaffney
Intermittent Fasting for Athletes – What does the research say? by Craig Pickering