I was 24 years old.
At that point in my life, I spent the majority of time training or thinking about training.
My days revolved around Muay Thai training, strength and conditioning work, watching Two and a Half Men and trying to eat a healthful diet (although, back then I had no idea what that actually meant. Now I do).
I was busting my ass in the gym 6-7 days/ week. You would think with a routine like that I’d be in phenomenal shape. But you’d be wrong.
As I got deeper into my preparation for upcoming fights, I’d get sick. Constantly. Nothing major, but upper respiratory tract infections were my new norm. I was running around with a permanent sore throat and congested nose. At one point, I had to skip training every other week due to feeling like absolute garbage.
After repeating this cycle for months on end, I finally got the message. Something was off (way off). But I had no idea where I went wrong. I tried all kinds of remedies along the way, from taking multivitamins, emphasizing rest and recovery techniques, to eating as clean as I could.
All to no avail. Every time I hit the gas in training, I’d get kicked back to square one. My approach obviously wasn’t working. And I was hellbent on changing that.
Eating Like a “Warrior”
I began researching the digestive, immune and endocrine systems, different dietary approaches and supplements to address my situation. It was at that time, I stumbled across a book called the “Warrior Diet”. A very radical approach to eating (and living really).
The more radical the better, I thought.
The diet revolved around eating one main meal at night, with minimal food intake (e.g. fruit, veggies, small amounts of protein) throughout the day.
Ori Hofmekler, the author of the book, argued that as humans, we had adapted to a nocturnal eating pattern. According to him, the body was programmed to be alert and on the move (fight or flight) during daytime and resting, digesting and recovering at night (feed and breed).
It was the first time I heard of the concept of balancing anabolic with catabolic activity (we’ll talk about this later).
As intriguing as it sounded on paper, I was highly skeptical. His teachings were the polar opposite of what I had learned over the years. They were the opposite of “Eat every 2-3 hours”, “6 small meals a day”, “Eat X amounts of protein”, “If you don’t eat breakfast you’ll lose all your muscle”, and other myths clouding the fitness world.
Unquestionably, a major departure from what I considered a “performance diet”. But following the status quo didn’t cut it for me. I needed a different solution. So I started minimizing food intake during the day and eating one main meal at night.
The results were incredible.
I felt great throughout the day, my digestion didn’t bother me anymore, my workouts were better than ever and I slept like a baby. Furthermore, my immune system appeared to be rejuvenated (I didn’t get sick in 2 years) and I had energy for days.
In short, my physical and mental performance was at an all-time high. I felt indestructible.
But, as to be expected, this rather extreme approach too would fail me. Granted, it took a while to catch up to me, but I was left looking for an out nonetheless.
Embrace the Deficit
So why did this diet work so well for me initially, and why are intermittent fasting protocols now a staple in the fitness and health community? Negative energy balance.
Today’s fitness ideology revolves around always doing more. Eating more, training more, supplementing more. As the body grows bigger, it’s never given an opportunity to rest, recharge and take out the trash.
Eating throughout the day isn’t the issue. Eating multiple meals isn’t the issue. Improper food combining isn’t the issue. Eating too much is. The chronic energy surplus is the bane of modern man.
Periodic undereating/ fasting benefits:
- Better nutrient partitioning: Higher insulin sensitivity
- Immune support: Decreased oxidative stress
- Hormonal optimization: Boost in growth hormone and androgen receptor sensitivity
- Neuroprotection: Boost in BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor)
The body thrives under acute physical stress. Short and brutally intense exercise, periodic undereating/ fasting, exposure to very cold temperatures – These stressors trigger primal physiological adaptations that maximize our survival capacity.
Fasting has shown to boost growth hormone levels, while simultaneously increasing androgen receptor sensitivity. In response to that lack of food, the body amplifies the production of adrenal hormones and the mobilization of fatty acids for energy. You’re alert. Focused. Clear. Ready to go.
In addition to that, insulin sensitivity goes up as you lower meal frequency (and subsequently caloric intake), which has many health benefits from lowering risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, to improving hormonal health.
Your body becomes more efficient at processing and partitioning the nutrients you eat, and this may ultimately improve body composition and facilitate better performance.
The Downside of Undereating
Temporarily restricting food intake has many well-documented health benefits. Chronic undereating, on the other hand, comes at a cost. A price I wasn’t willing to pay any more.
After close to 2 years of consuming one meal a day, the Warrior Diet lost its initial magic. I was getting weaker, feeling anxious for no reason, and my big dinners wouldn’t satisfy me anymore. Sex drive was also noticeably decreased. I was starting to fade.
Calling it quits didn’t enter my mind, though. I had, after all, improved massively and didn’t want to go back to old habits. By the time I was through with the warrior way of eating intermittent fasting had become a massive trend in the fitness industry. More and more people were welcoming the increased freedom and physiological benefits brought on by a decrease in meal frequency.
I still had to figure out how to make it work for me, though. And in part 2 of the intermittent fasting series, I will tell you how I did it. Stay tuned and as always…
Thank you for reading
Anson, R. Michael et al. Intermittent Fasting Dissociates Beneficial Effects of Dietary Restriction on Glucose Metabolism and Neuronal Resistance to Injury from Calorie Intake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100.10 (2003): 6216–6220. PMC. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
Brown J. E., Mosley M., Aldred S. Intermittent fasting: a dietary intervention for prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease? The British Journal of Diabetes & Vascular Disease. 2013;13(2):68–72.