Why Women Shouldn’t Do Intermittent Fasting

1204-sexy-core-1As research unfolds about intermittent fasting (IF), it becomes more and more compelling as a viable dietary plan for weight loss, leaner body composition and perhaps even muscle gain. However, it must be said, some of the research does indeed steer a certain group of people away from it: namely, women.

As we’ve stated before, one of the main reasons we’re interested in intermittent fasting from a fat-loss perspective is because it seems to promote increased insulin sensitivity — the studies we’ve looked at have all shown this trait, and it makes sense even dating back to our research on diabetes prevention. However, it also appears that the insulin sensitivity increase is gender-specific: Yes, males will get the benefit of a more responsive pancreas after periods of fasting, including sleep and fasted exercise. But a 2005 study from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge shows that while glucose tolerance is unchanged after fasting, women’s tolerance actually decreases — impaired glucose tolerance is a form of hyperglycemia that is a precursor to diabetes — and insulin response is virtually unchanged.

Another bit of research, a 2010 study from the Institute of Food Nutrition and Human Health at Massey University in New Zealand, found that women also got little to no benefit from fasted resistance training, with men clearly displaying an advantage in skeletal muscle gain. (Source)

The theories as to why these changes alter the sexes differently, of course, relate to the relationship between regular food intake and hormone production. On top of quite a few IF responses from women who say that it caused them to have irregular periods, fatigue and stress, still more published works back it up. Tests in lab rats illustrate a picture of intermittent fasting wreaking havoc with females’ reproductive, sexual and hormonal systems:

In female rats: Any degree of nutritional stress (fasting or mere caloric restriction) causes increased wakefulness (during the day, when they normally sleep), better cognition (for finding food), hyper alertness, and more energy. In short, female rats become better at finding and acquiring food when they fast, as if their bodies aren’t as well-equipped to deal with the stress of going without food. They also become less fertile, while the males actually become hornier and more fertile (probably to account for the females’ plummeting fertility). Ovary size drops (bad for fertility), adrenal gland size increases (which in rats indicates exposure to chronic stress), and menstrual cycles begin to dysregulate in proportion to the degree of caloric restriction. (Source)

In light of the research and information available pertaining to intermittent fasting and its effects on female mammals, we can’t endorse IF as a sensible means for dietary planning for women. While the research looks promising for men, and many have reported great results from intermittent fasting, it appears women need to have a more steady dietary pattern, not only to achieve fitness results, but to maintain a healthy hormonal balance.

The Hormonal Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

IFEarlier, we introduced the concept of intermittent fasting, a dietary pattern that is gaining popularity because of its potential to aid fat loss. By limiting a day’s calories to a 4-to-8-hour span and fasting the rest of the day (for many, this works out to skipping breakfast and dessert), it is possible to influence insulin values and sensitivity within the body, as well as help deplete glucose and glycogen, meaning body fat stores are targeted for energy.

However, research suggests that even muscle-builders stand to benefit from intermittent fasting, and it’s all because fasted states tend to produce more growth hormone — and the studies have shown this for quite a long time.

A Washington University study done in the 1960s asserts what we still know today as a gospel truth: You secrete more growth hormone (GH) while you sleep. Further, the study shows that going to bed in a fasted state — your body really favors burning fat here, especially when there is a shortage of blood sugar or glycogen stored in the muscles — further primes the metabolism for anabolic activity (again, all going back to the pancreas and insulin).

Now, add in resistance training to this mix, and you’re creating a perfect storm of sorts: The fasted state you stay in until right after your training session increases the production of GH. The fasted sleep you got the night before this has done it even more. And the protein-and-carb-heavy meal you consume immediately after training pretty much throws the whole muscle-building, fat-burning process into motion by signaling to the pancreas to release anabolic insulin, which carries glycogen to your muscles for immediate recovery — and, because of your previously fasted state, there isn’t left-over blood sugar waiting to be used or burned, so your body doesn’t need to store it as fat.

A 2003 Sports Medicine study explains the benefits of exercise on growth hormone production:

Resistance training results in a significant EIGR (Exercise-Induced GRowth hormone). Evidence suggests that load and frequency are determining factors in the regulation of hGH (human growth hormone) secretion. Despite the significant EIGR induced by resistance training, much of the stimulus for protein synthesis has been attributed to insulin-like growth factor-1 with modest contributions from the hGH-GH receptor interaction on the cell membrane. (Source)

In short, you’re bolstering your GH production four ways: Sleep, fasting, exercise and timed eating. And the hunger that you might first experience when adopting intermittent fasting subsides, fast — remember, we’re a species that spent centuries not knowing from where or when our next meal was coming from. We were hungry a lot. Our bodies produce a substance called Ghrelin that basically decides when we feel hungry, for how long, and what to do with metabolic energy. And, as you might’ve guessed from our theme here, it plays a role in signaling the release of growth hormone when we do eat. Its name is cutely derived: (Growth Hormone Release-Inducing = Ghrelin)

Once your body knows (yes, your body learns, and very quickly) that you’re not going to be eating every three hours, and that a fasting period is coming, hunger side effects like crankiness and morning irritability from skipping breakfast will fade. Ghrelin will make sure of that.

The bottom line on intermittent fasting, as far as hormones go, is that research strongly indicates it can provide a significantly anabolic, fat-burning environment based on the body’s hormonal responses to the changes it would go through. And who doesn’t want that?

Intermittent Fasting: Is It For You?

Most of what we know to be good dietary practice revolves around a few tenets that we’ve hammered home: Eat six small meals a day; eat protein with every meal; do not let yourself go into “starvation mode,” etc. One dietary trend that is gaining traction, however, throws all of these to the wind — and people are getting results with it.

It’s intermittent fasting, the most popular form of which is a “feast and fast” mode that gives you a specific time period in which you can eat, followed by another in which you don’t. There are three major components to intermittent fasting that, when we consider their role in fitness and dietary nutrition, become very interesting: insulin sensitivity, hormone production and energy storage. This article is meant to focus on the role of insulin sensitivity and the possible benefits of intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting: It's good enough for Wolverine. Is it good enough for you?

Intermittent fasting: It’s good enough for Wolverine. Is it good enough for you?

Anyone with a famous body do it? Yep.

What we know about how the pancreas reacts in different stages can clue us in to why intermittent fasting very well could be a viable dietary strategy. Everything we’ve come to know about the role of insulin, not only in fat loss but in muscle gain and even in diabetes, suggests that we probably don’t need to be providing blood sugar to our bodies every three hours; true enough, most people following a nutritious diet tend to stay away from the frequent carbohydrates that are eventually turned into glucose anyway. But, large calorie spikes, carb or not, can indeed cause jolts of insulin to help move and transport all those nutrients — the question is, how do we 1) take advantage of insulin, which is a natural anabolic hormone, and 2), keep our bodies sensitive to it so that we get those advantages more frequently?

Intermittent fasting — in our context, eating only in a four-to-eight-hour window immediately following exercise and eating no other calories outside of it — helps promote insulin sensitivity. When your organs and tissues are already saturated with stored glucose, ready to be used as energy at a moment’s notice, and you eat a meal, the pancreas still secretes insulin. When insulin saturates the body, though, it remains in the bloodstream, and your body becomes more and more resistant to its effects — continuing down this road of constant insulin presence in the blood leads to diabetes. Those who exercise frequently use this stored glucose as fuel, which means that when they eat, the insulin has a place to go, a role to play, instead of settling in the bloodstream. That concept is one of the main ones behind intermittent fasting: by diminishing the frequent supply of glucose in the body, you can encourage your body to instead turn to stored body fat for energy and at the same time keep it sensitive to insulin.

The Journal of Applied Physiology took a good look at this very topic, and the basic premise of its findings: the body responds to insulin the most after a period of fasting. Your blood sugar levels deplete as you sleep, and do so even more as you fast (and, as we’ll explain later this week, do so even more as you train). This can set you up for massive anabolic boosts if you choose healthy foods and time your feast periods properly (i.e., right after your workouts), and also add another major benefit: body fat loss.

Preparing for The Holiday Health Apocalypse

NUTRISHOP Note: This is a multi-entry running article that will be updated daily. Check back for updates throughout the week!

OK, so we overstated things a little bit in our title there.

Hyperbole aside, there’s no getting around it, though: Hallowen represents the official kickoff of the winter holiday season — the four month stretch of typically increased junk food consumption across America every year, and it’s here in just 10 days.

Is a night of costumed kids, scantily clad adults and buckets of candy so bad? Well, for many who are trying to stick to a diet and haven’t been 100-percent locked in to the plan, yes. The temptation alone can cause second thoughts, not to mention the act of a good, old-fashioned chocolate binge for the week after Halloween (we know, you’re just “getting rid of all the extra Snickers” you bought).

This week, we want to help you prepare for Halloween, and it has nothing to do with avoiding the night’s festivities — yes, sweets included — altogether. Instead, we want to load you up with information to help you establish some firm winter guidelines going forward, so that you’ll feel 100-percent guilt-free when you do indeed indulge on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the rest of the face-stuffing days that pepper the upcoming season.

First things first: Identify the enemy. What’s the first step necessary when you’re about to navigate a minefield? Well, it sure helps to know where the mines are. Luckily, in our case, we’ve got them clearly marked on our calendars. Go ahead and circle every big date you know is going to definitely feature some not-so-friendly food. Conveniently, each is just about spread out enough to give us ample recovery and planning time. If you’ve got some extra birthday parties or nine consecutive days of Hanukkah in there, well, you’ll have to be slightly more creative (and we’ll help you then, too). So, go ahead, do it: Make a physical list, hang it on the fridge, write it on your home office whiteboard, whatever. Just make sure you have something in writing that will serve as a reminder of turbulent dieting ahead. Again — you’re not looking to avoid the food these days have to offer, at least not entirely. You’re just planning so that each is a blip on the radar, and not part of a downward trend.

Planning the diet. Obviously, once you get your “here we go” dates marked, you’re going to use them as cheat days. The hard part — making sure you don’t have more than that one, so you don’t get a snowball effect. At first, it sounds easy enough: Sure, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, are going to be high-calorie days, but you can just jump right back into your regular, healthy diet, right? Maybe — if you don’t own any tupperware or saran wrap. Leftovers are the ghosts of our evil, delicious feasts, and haunt us for up to a week after the original meal, even longer when you’re talking about fun-size candy bars. Come up with a plan for those leftovers: Send them home with family, or find a healthier way to repurpose them (extra desserts should be part of the first group; save extra ham for hearty pea soup or omelettes; feel free to toss out leftover cranberry sauce. Ew). And remember, the candy you’re buying for the neighborhood’s kids is for the kids. If you have extra left over, you’ve got an entire school year of perfect, small desserts for bag lunches (for kids). Even better, just take them to your office, throw them in a central location and let your co-workers chow down.

On top of guarding against the junk food aftermath, you really want to be vigilant about what happens beforehand. Get your meal plan on point, especially in the seven days leading up to a day where you know it won’t be (remember, NUTRISHOP offers free meal plans for customers). Eat plenty of protein, vegetables and fiber, and stay hydrated. That way, when the Big Junk Day comes, your body will ramp up its metabolism to process all the strange, high-calorie food with minimal inclination toward storing any of it as body fat.

Planning the workouts. This one is big. Not only do holiday festivities tend to throw a lot of unhealthy food our way, but they also end up robbing us of the physical activity needed to 1) burn the extra calories and 2) maintain or improve upon the hard work we’ve done year-round. It’s an even more delicate time for fledgling healthy people, new in their goals of fat loss and hit with a massive gamut of temptation once fall rolls around. Here’s how to deal with it all.

The first step is creating a workout plan, and deciding how many days a week you want to work out. Even three good workouts a week is solid, but four to six  is ideal, with a little bit of exercise every day (even if it’s a quick walk around the block with your dog or a couple minutes of jumping jacks in the morning) when you don’t go. Once you decide that, you can easily see how many workouts you have headed your way over a given time frame. For example, let’s say you started today, and wanted to get through Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas without missing a workout. Easy — scheduling a workout is a much more effective way to get in your work than deciding randomly to go.

In this case, there is a 62-day span we’re talking about, if you were to start now. Let’s cross off the holidays already as non-workout days (though you really could easily get in some exercise on Halloween — the gyms don’t close like they do for the other ones). Now we’re talking about 59 days. If you’re going five days a week, you’ll have 42 workouts in front of you. That leaves you with 17 days off. Seventeen! See? This stuff isn’t THAT hard.

Knowing that you need to get 42 workouts in during this stretch, and that you have 17 off days to burn, helps with making up for lost time along the way. Let’s say one of these days (Christmas Eve, for example) is just way too hectic, or that you’re too hung over the day after Thanksgiving. Name any reason you might miss a workout. The point is that as long as you can recover and squeeze in another one on what might’ve been a day off, you’ll be fine — and sometimes, the extra day of rest will even benefit you.

Trying to Lose Body Fat? It Starts in the Kitchen

A lot of people tend to think of supplement stores as places that cater just to gym rats who want to “get pumped” or add tons of muscle. Indeed, some shops actually are like that. But NUTRISHOP’s true expertise is in the nutrition side of things, with certified employees who can show you the right way to eat, regardless of your goal. Fat loss, muscle gain, overall health, injury recovery — our folks know their stuff. So yes, we can help the gym rats bulk up. But we can also help you fit into your tux better, or get down to a healthy body fat percentage, or just set you up with a plan to keep you eating smart foods as a habit that will keep you in good health the rest of your life.

Probably the most common goal we hear is from people who want to lose excess body fat. Smart choice! Excess body fat is often the calling card of obesity, hypertension, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and myriad other diseases and ailments. Plus, it’s not attractive — 18th-century England might think so. Today’s world, not so much.

So, what things are contributing to your body fat? Likely, it’s these three major ones:

  1. WHAT. Seems obvious enough — like they say, you are what you eat. And if you are eating a lot of junk, well…
  2. HOW MUCH. Also another biggie. Maybe could even be 1A. Simply put, more food = more calories, and more calories are harder to burn than, well, fewer calories. Calories that aren’t burned are calories that are stored. And it’s usually going to be as, you guessed it, fat.
  3. WHEN. Here’s the tricky one. The time of day you are putting food in your face actually has a big effect on your waistline. Not only does the time matter, but the time related to the type of food plays in to the equation as well. Sound complicated? To be honest, it can get that way.

Luckily, our certified employees know their stuff and they can break it all down for you with a free daily meal plan. They show you what foods to eat, how much to eat and when to eat it, and will explain the thought process behind it all. Stop in and get yours! And if fat loss is your goal, definitely sample some of our best fat-burners: THERMOVEX, HYPERCOR, PHENADREN and the brand-new FEM-FIRE.

Let Us Share Our Knowledge with a Free Meal Plan

Learning to ride a bike is easier with training wheels. Very few people can master it without first starting with the basics and heavy assistance. In the same way, learning how to develop great eating habits and a clean diet is tough to just pick up on your own. For those reasons, we’re focusing this week on one of the most overlooked services NUTRISHOP provides: Our FREE meal plans.

People are better off knowing how to do things for themselves than having short-term gratification. The problem is that many people don’t get the right knowledge off the bat, or the long-term answer is too confusing or difficult, so many seek shortcuts instead. In the fitness sense, this takes place in the form of sacrificing a sensible diet plan for crash diets that are destined to fail.

What’s better than the solution? How about the solution for FREE? Many people still don’t know that NUTRISHOP in Chico offers dietary plans for free with any purchase, and when it comes to your health, knowledge is definitely power. Not sure what to eat, or when, or how much? Don’t worry, because NUTRISHOP has years of certified knowledge and expertise condensed onto one sheet of paper. The best part? NUTRISHOP will customize it just for you, so when you hang it on your fridge to plan your day, you’ll know you’re on the track that’s best for your needs.

For instance, you may be trying to gain (or lose) weight, but you’re not sure how many calories or meals you should be taking in in a given day — how much protein, for instance, is a huge factor in most meal plans. That’s where NUTRISHOP comes in. Not only will you find out how much to eat, but you’ll find out which sources (here’s a hint — lean poultry and fish are important) are the best, and when to eat them, on top of what foods you can complement them with.

On top of it all, NUTRISHOP can help you figure out how to plan around your workouts, where to fit in your supplements, and specific times during the day that you should eat to accommodate your schedule. Not bad for free, right?

Stop into NUTRISHOP Chico and get your personalized diet plan, and watch the results roll in. We’ll be addressing specific needs throughout the week, but if you want your own goal met before that, come in today and we’ll get you set up!