Intermittent Fasting and Athletic Performance: The Correlation
Intermittent fasting has become a popular trend in recent years, particularly in relation to its alleged benefits for sports and athletic performance. As someone who practices intermittent fasting and is interested in improving my sprinting skills, I have delved into the subject to explore how it can enhance my athletic abilities. While intermittent fasting has worked well for me, it has taken time to achieve my health goals. In this article, we will cover what intermittent fasting is, the science behind it, the correlation between athletic performance and fasting, and important considerations for athletes who want to incorporate fasting into their routines.
While research has shown varied benefits of intermittent fasting, it is crucial to understand if these benefits apply to athletes seeking to improve their performance. Several studies have yielded different results, sometimes even conflicting outcomes. Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting may help reduce body and fat mass, but they found no significant impact on muscle strength. The effects of fasting on athletic performance vary depending on the type of athlete. Endurance athletes who practice intermittent fasting may rely on fats as their primary metabolic fuel, whereas non-fasting athletes tend to burn carbohydrates consumed throughout the day. Recent research indicates that following a 16:8 diet may have minimal impact on running performance but could be favorable for maintaining a specific body composition without compromising athletic performance. While intermittent fasting can aid in achieving lean mass and fat loss goals, there may not be a direct link between improved athletic performance and a time-restricted diet.
After 12-36 hours of fasting, some athletes may experience lower liver glycogen levels, which can negatively impact performance by causing fatigue and limiting the duration of high-intensity training. Athlete performance is influenced by training intensity, meaning the effects of intermittent fasting can vary significantly based on an athlete’s training regimen. Some studies suggest that fasting for extended periods can increase an athlete’s training duration despite relatively low glycogen levels. However, low glycogen conditions can also restrict activity levels, even when glycogen stores are high, as they can trigger mitochondrial biogenesis.
Things to Consider When Intermittent Fasting as an Athlete
Athletes should keep the following factors in mind before starting an intermittent fasting diet:
1. Select a Suitable Intermittent Fasting Option: Intermittent fasting offers flexibility in choosing an eating and fasting split that suits individual performance goals. Athletes have different needs and levels of dedication, so selecting a preferred fasting window can help manage body weight and performance.
2. Plan Your Meals: Intermittent fasting is a time-restricted fasting method, so athletes must ensure they meet their macro and micronutrient needs during the feeding period. While intermittent fasting does not prescribe a specific diet, planning and monitoring meals can help athletes achieve their performance goals. Unlike individuals aiming for weight loss, athletes should focus on consuming meals that provide sustained energy and support their bodies during periods of high-intensity training. Athletes may need to eat larger meals within a shorter window, which may not be ideal before a workout. Therefore, it is important to focus on eating the right foods. Craig Pickering, a retired English sprinter, suggests eating before resistance training and sprints, particularly if undertaking high-intensity training early in the morning. According to Craig, intermittent fasting can be practiced if training occurs later in the day and sufficient calories are consumed during the feeding window. Athletes with endurance goals should prioritize carbohydrate loading. Research indicates that endurance and strength athletes may need to increase their calorie intake, especially from carbohydrates. It is recommended that they consume between 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. Athletes should incorporate healthy fat sources such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado into their diets. Additionally, athletes should avoid refined carbohydrates and high-fat foods like cakes, biscuits, chips, and deep-fried foods during their intermittent feeding window. Instead, they should opt for unrefined carbohydrates like cereals and wholegrain bread.
3. Protein for Muscle Recovery: Athletes must consume a protein-rich diet to prevent muscle loss. A deficiency in protein can lead to muscle tissue breakdown to compensate for energy needs, making athletes more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Athletes should aim to consume up to 25 grams of protein within two hours after exercise. Spacing out protein consumption within three to five hours during the eating window can be beneficial. Athletes following intermittent fasting plans should allow their bodies more time to recover compared to non-fasting counterparts. Additionally, eating during the morning hours, especially when training, can enhance circadian rhythm.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting involves restricting calorie intake for a specific period. There are several ways to practice intermittent fasting. Some methods involve abstaining from food for a certain period daily, while others require fasting every alternate day. Although there are various categories of intermittent fasting, I will highlight the popular ones to help you understand how it works.
Alternate Day Fasting: This method involves fasting every alternate day and limiting calorie intake to 500 calories on fasting days.
16:8 Diet: This method requires fasting for 16 hours straight every day, followed by an 8-hour eating window.
These are just a few examples of intermittent fasting methods, and individuals can choose the one that suits their lifestyle and goals best.
In conclusion, intermittent fasting can have varying effects on athletic performance. While it may aid in achieving certain health goals, such as reducing body and fat mass, its direct impact on improving athletic performance is not yet fully understood. Athletes should carefully consider their individual needs, select a suitable intermittent fasting option, plan their meals to meet macro and micronutrient requirements, and prioritize protein intake for muscle recovery. By incorporating these considerations, athletes can make intermittent fasting work for their athletic needs and potentially enhance their performance.