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Intermittent Fasting – What Are the Risks?

By Jiri Kaloc

Have you heard about the amazing benefits of intermittent fasting? Weight loss, better cognition, and disease prevention sound great. But before you jump in with both feet you might want to know the risks associated with this dietary approach to see if it’s right for you and your athletic goals.

It’s a new approach

While fasting is certainly not a new thing, our ancestors have been fasting for religious reasons or out of necessity, intermittent fasting as a beneficial dietary approach is relatively recent. The research into this way of eating is still in the early stages. Most of the benefits mentioned in the previous article are based on observation or on animal models. And there haven’t been any studies on the long-term effects. So, even though many people are doing well with intermittent fasting, it’s smart to approach it with caution.

You could develop bad habits

Intermittent fasting is mainly focused on the timing aspect of eating, and that could be a problem. If you go into it without also trying to eat nutritious wholesome foods, you might be setting yourself up for failure. Imagine you skip breakfast, have a poor lunch at work, and come home super hungry. What do you do? You binge! Ice cream, chips, pizza, cake, nothing is off limits. If you’re not going to address the quality of food, you might be better off eating evenly throughout the whole day to avoid uncontrollable hungers.

Your athletic performance can suffer

If you love sports and train often, you have to take this style of eating into consideration. Especially in the beginning, your body will not be used to exercising on an empty stomach. You will have to schedule only light to moderate endurance-style exercises in the morning if that’s when you’re fasting and leave the intense work for later when you’re fuelled. As you progress and your body utilizes fat stores for energy well, you gain more freedom again. But if you fail to plan correctly, you might find yourself bonking, feeling exhausted early, or even losing muscle mass as your body scrambles to make fuel from its own protein.

Who should avoid intermittent fasting?

If you’re new to nutrition and don’t have an experienced friend or a good nutritionist to guide you, you’ll be better off studying the basics and making small incremental changes. Intermittent fasting might confuse rather than help you. Similarly, if you’re an athlete in the middle of a competition, don’t start experimenting with fasts or you might find yourself without energy when you most need it. But if you have good basics, or are an athlete in the off-season, and the risks didn’t deter you, go for it. The last article in the series will be a guide how to do it right.

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