Why skipping breakfast could be beneficial for fat loss (experiments with intermittent fasting)
August 22, 2016
I always loved breakfast, being a strong believer that 1) breakfast provides energy for the whole day, and 2) that it allows you to indulge in one or two guilty pleasures such as a piece of dark chocolate, or bowl of cherries. However, your approach to the first meal of the day depends on your goals, lifestyle, and work-schedule. In some cases skipping breakfast could be a highly beneficial strategy for achieving fat-loss.
What sort of situations am I talking about?
People who have just started a fat-loss diet (i.e. untrained or lightly-trained individuals with a body fat percentage of over 30% in females, and over 20% in males);
People who would like to shed fat faster (but not too quickly: there is no magic bullet in holistic nutrition);
Those who have a low-to-no chance of sticking to a very strict diet due to social obligations such as business, travel, dinners out and so on;
People whose bodies have adapted and become resistant to conventional healthy eating schemes, and who have ‘plateaued’ (This actually happened to me after six competition preparation diets over a two-year period);
Those who have a good overall fitness level, but who are trying to get rid of some stubborn fat (for example legs and gluts for ladies and the abs area for men).
If any of these cases apply to you, keep reading.
There are three main ideas behind the strategy of skipping breakfast:
Intensive but limited in-time feeding period
Let’s examine these concepts individually.
If you are not familiar with intermittent fasting protocols, the concept can be summed up as follows: An eight hour ‘feeding period’ followed by sixteen hours of fasting. According to Martin Berkhan, author of the Leangains protocols – a system widely known in the nutrition world - intermittent fasting helps to:
Increase blood flow to ‘stubborn’ fat cells during exercise;
Make the body use fatty acids for energy instead of traditional glucose;
Suppress Insulin release (a fat-gaining hormone);
Elevate concentrations of epinephrine and norepinephrine (lipotropic hormones);
Increase the metabolic rate when resting (the body starts to burn more calories when not exercising).
Berkhan advocates the extended fast (16 hours of fasting followed by 8 hours of feeding) as a powerful tool for fat-burn. I’d like to make a remark at this point: Usually men respond better to the 16/8 eating scheme than women, due to hormonal differences. Researchers generally believe that women need a longer feeding period (14/10 or even 12/12) in order to support healthy female sex hormone production. The length of the ‘feeding time’ for women also depends on the menstrual cycle period.
My personal experience
My personal experience of intermittent fasting was extremely positive. I first gave this strategy a try 12 years ago when I experienced sudden weight-gain due to an inability to stick to my usual dietary and exercise routine. My job was extremely demanding at the time, and I consequently tried very hard to get back on track. I followed the extended protocol, skipping dinner instead of breakfast. It worked well and I lost 12 lbs over the course of 3 months, but unfortunately my social life also dropped off.
A month ago I tried intermittent fasting again, as I had to travel a lot and I didn’t have the option of carrying on with my small/frequent meal strategy for a little while. I also felt that my body had adapted and become resistant to the latter technique, as I had been following it for the past two years. I altered the fasting protocol by skipping breakfast instead of dinner. My starting point was the 16/8 scheme, which I initially found sustainable, but within seven days I started feeling a slight lack of energy. I extended my feeding period to 10 hours for another ten days and then to 12 hours, which brought me to the final stage of my menstrual cycle - exactly one week before my period (at this time the female body requires more energy). Then I took three days off, eating clean, small and frequent meals. I started the course again when my period was over. The overall result for one month was losing 6lbs and a decrease of 1.5% of body fat without being on extremely strict diet (I continued to eat fruits, berries and even had a glass or wine or a piece of dark chocolate occasionally).
Intense training: do resistance training 3-5 times a week and fasted cardio 4-6 times a week before your first meal.
Carb cycling: increase carbs* (sweet potato, butternut squash, whole grain bread and pasta, rise, fruit, etc.) on the resistance training day.
Nutrient timing: eat the biggest meal straight after resistance training in order to avoid muscle catabolism and quicken recovery. If you want to increase the fat-burn effect, skip carbs after the fasted cardio.*
The easiest way to try intermittent fasting is by fasting from 9-10 PM until 1-4PM the next day, doing fasted cardio around noon. In other words, by skipping breakfast. While you can always skip dinner instead, you may find that you end up sacrificing the pleasure of catching up with your friends.
Don’t labour under the delusion that by simply skipping a meal or two you will achieve a fitness model body. The strategy only works effectively with the right combination of meal planning, food selection, fasted cardio programme, workout plan and nutrient-timing.
Fasted cardio is another idea behind beneficial breakfast skipping. When done on an empty stomach, such cardio is a great tool to combat that stubborn fat. The secret is simply this: Your bloodstream is cleared of both glucose and amino acids at that point, so your body burns its own fatty acids for energy. I was doing my fasted cardio as a first break in work from 11am to midday. After cardio I had a balanced high-carb and high-protein breakfast.
However, some practitioners believe that fasted cardio could be catabolic: Yes, it could. To avoid muscle loss, take HMB or BCAA prior to and during a cardio session, and stick mainly to low intensity cardio such as power walking, cycling or light jogging, as you prefer. I generally opt for a long power walk in the park, followed by a 15-30 minute Hatha yoga session. You can join me every day in St James’ park. Book your session here.
Feed your ambitions
Practicing intermittent fasting, fasted cardio and skipping breakfast could work well together with an intensive feeding period. How does it work?
First of all, your body needs energy to function and recover. Logically, you have to use your feeding period smartly and introduce a sufficient - but not an excessive - amount of nutrients into your system. Secondly, having 4-5 small frequent meals or 2-3 big meals (it’s up to you; I personally prefer the first option, but when I’m pushed for time I always have the option of the second). You will boost your metabolism, stimulating the body into burning more calories during the resting/fasting period. And last but not least, eating healthy and delicious food is always great fun.