To Fast, Or Not To Fast?

Fastingimage Even the some of the strictest Paleo practitioners choose not to incorporate fasting into their nutritional strategies..

But with intermittent fasting as an option, is this a mistake?

Calorie restriction has gained traction as of late – In the pursuit of the ever elusive fountain of youth.. Anti-aging groups report that calorie restriction extends life span.. and while they do make a solid case for calorie restriction, and have scientific proof to back up these claims..

We think that is simply taking things to the extreme… and as always, there’s a smarter way.

A growing segment of people are starting to learn of the benefits of intermittent fasting..

Particularly, the health benefits associated with being in a fasted state.. Things like improved hormone production, longevity, and mental clarity.

Below we’ll discuss not only the potential health benefits of fasting, but also evolutionary evidence that suggests that the practice fasting may indeed be interwoven into our biology in unavoidable ways.

The Evolutionary Factor

We’ve noted before that we don’t necessarily prescribe to all rationale stemming from a more “Paleo purist” perspective..

In other words.. It’s plain silly to try to exactly replicate what cavemen may or may not have eaten thousands of years ago.. Not only is that entirely too difficult  a task in the modern world, but it’s most likely less than ideal nutritionally speaking – due to the adaptation of the various foods that have been introduced into our diets since the time of our ever insightful cavemen brethren.

On the other hand… To not take into consideration the way in which we ate during our formative years as a species is beyond all before mentioned levels of silliness.

On the topic of intermittent fasting, one of the initial and most obvious conclusions to come to is that our ancestors most certainly did a lot of it.. The very nature of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle lends itself to going extended periods of time without eating. This simply goes without saying.

The next logical conclusion is that the human body, through evolution, would have most certainly adapted to these periods of hunger or fasting. Not only did the human body have to adapt enough to survive in times without food, but also had to be able hunt, gather, and fight. These are strenuous things for the well nourished individual.. much less one that hasn’t eaten in three or four days.

There is little doubt that evolution would’ve given top priority to adapting to such common and life threatening conditions…

The question is –  What implications, if any, does that impose upon the modern day Paleo, or Caveman diet?.. One thing’s for sure.. Fasting was an integral part of everyday throughout the evolution of mankind.

To completely ignore the potential benefits of intermittent fasting, is to deny the very fundamentals of a Primal / Paleolithic diet.

Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Knowing that surely many of our biological processes have evolved to adapt extended periods of hunger, one would think that there must be at least a couple of benefits to fasting..

Turns out there are numerous benefits to be had from being in a fasted state..

brainhealthMental Health and Hormone Production

A commonly held belief is that before any type of mentally strenuous activity, you should eat a carbohydrate rich food, such as a granola bar, in order for the brain to have ample energy stores..

While that holds true for people that eat a western style diet high in carbs, sugars, and grains.. It isn’t necessarily the best dietary practice if you’ve given your body a chance to adapt to using fats as a primary energy source.

Once you’ve made that adjustment, physiologically speaking, your body won’t always use your limited glycogen / carb stores whenever it needs energy… And there will be no need to constantly supply your body with those carbohydrate sources anymore.

Instead, your body will start to use fat as its primary fuel source.. This is a much more steady supply of energy, as compared to the “highs” and “crashes” commonly associated with using simple carbohydrates for energy.

This is how the brain was designed to operate.. and this is precisely why many people experience improved mental clarity after incorporating intermittent fasting into their Paleo style diet.

Not only that, but intermittent fasting optimizes other indicators of health, as well. Things like cholesterol levels and other important health markers have shown to improve in studies done with human participants, rather than in just mice.

Fitness and Body Composition

Many Paleo dieters, especially those that may participate in CrossFit or other strength and fitness oriented sports, avoid fasting as if it’s the plague. Many bodybuilders actually set their alarms to wake up in the middle of the night chug down some type of protein rich shake.. The complete opposite of fasting.

The thinking is that in order to maintain progress in gaining strength and muscle development, then constant nutrition is needed. A steady, never ending, supply of the building blocks of muscle ( protein and fat ) does seem rather logical initially..

The problem is that we just weren’t designed to use food and nutrients in this manner, and therefore, our bodily processes don’t function as efficiently when under a constant “barrage” of nutrient influx.

Those who embrace intermittent fasting can see improved protein synthesis, as well as a tendency for the body to want to preserve carb and glycogen stores for when it’s needed most, and instead burn fat for energy… even when your in the middle of a grueling WOD.

Don’t be afraid to integrate intermittent fasting into your workout and dieting routine.. You might just be surprised at the results.

Fasting and Cancer

There have been many reports of the potential cancer fighting properties of fasting.. and while that idea certainly is exciting.. it’s still just too early in our understanding to say anything definitive, one way or the other.

That said.. There are some very legitimate studies that show promise. 

Studies done on mice show that both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting can slow the spread of cancer from cell to cell.. It’s important to remember that, as humans, we have an entirely different set of variables to adapt to within our environments than mice do..

Nevertheless, many important discoveries in history started in a similar manner..

So, while we’re not exactly willing to say that you should start fasting in order to avoid cancer in later years.. It absolutely is something to keep an eye on, and with all of the other benefits of intermittent fasting, it’s ability to fight one of man kinds greatest killers shouldn’t be the deciding factor on whether someone incorporates fasting in their diet.

There just isn’t enough evidence.

NitrousBoosterThe Fountain of Youth?

Alternatively, there is growing pools of evidence that point to intermittent fasting as a way to slow the aging processes of cellular activity.

As already noted, this is due largely to the anti-aging crowd, and their use of calorie restriction in order to turn back the clock a few years. Turns out, that the longevity benefits that have been found in calorie restriction, can mostly be achieved with intermittent fasting..

That’s great news.. Who wants to live in a state of having just under the amount of nutrition you need for full energy levels, just to tack on a few years of life on the end? I’ll take the quality over the quantity in this case any day.

The reason increased lifespan can be associated with calorie restriction and fasting is a rather technical one..

First, you need to know that insulin is like the body’s Nitrous Oxide booster.. it’s the “go” button, metabolically speaking. It has been shown that lowering insulin release increases life span.. and intermittent fasting has conclusively been shown to lower insulin activity in mice.

To complete the Nitrous Oxide analogy.. Imagine if you were constantly hitting that red Nitrous booster button (insulin)  in your super charged 1970’s muscle car (human body).. Eventually, all the working parts in the car (cells) would encounter more wear and tear than normal, causing the car’s various mechanical systems (biological processes in the body) to not operate as efficiently as they should. Ultimately, leading to total failure (death) faster than necessary.

While that analogy certainly don’t make it into a PubMed article anytime soon.. Hopefully, it helps you to get a better feel for just exactly how insulin, and everything that affects it’s production, can play a role in how many years that you have on this beautiful green earth.

The Societal “Sticking Point”

The mindset and lifestyle of most of us is one of excess.. We’re simply accustomed to it.

Fasting, for most of us, seems a rather foreign concept and that’s unfortunate. There is mounting anecdotal and scientific evidence that shows a wide range of benefits to be had from intermittent fasting.

From the strictly health oriented benefits, such as improved cholesterol and triglycerides markers, to the more obvious benefits like being a lean, fat-burning, and mentally focused version of your former self.. Supplying your body, not only with the optimal nutrients, but also supplying them in the way in which we spent the last ten thousand or so years becoming accustomed to.

Those are only the “proven” benefits.. If you take into account the potential for fasting to “down regulate” insulin production.. Which in turn lends itself to increased longevity, and maybe even lower rates of terminal illnesses.. and intermittent fasting is something that you just can’t afford to ignore any longer..

It’s not something you just jump right into though. A few things can make the transition much easier.

For instance, it’s recommended that you don’t attempt to incorporate intermittent fasting into your diet until you’ve fully adjusted to using fats as your primary fuel source. About 1-2 months of Primal eating should do the trick.. Just another reason why carbohydrate regulation and timing is such an integral part of the Paleo diet.

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