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Intermittent Fasting and Riding: A Personal Journey

By Andrea Champredonde

Fad diets come and go. But instead of changing what you eat, have you ever thought about skipping food all together for a certain period? Enter fasting. The concept isn’t new, but has become a hot topic in the past few years. There’s more to it than just not eating.

I’ve practised 5:2 fasting for the past eight years and counting. And I’m a cyclist too. It is possible to fast and ride. This isn’t an article strictly on the science behind it, but a chance to share my personal experience of how and why it works for me.

Why do I fast?

I went through menopause at 42. My mother did too. I didn’t know. The question never came up, and I never asked. I lived a healthy lifestyle and didn’t think of it. Ladies, it’s an important topic as you age if considering motherhood.

Before menopause, I went through infertility treatments to conceive. But no luck after 12 months of a heavy hormonal regimen. In short, I got the baby fat, but no baby. It was hard since I had a lean, athletic build my entire life.

I took on a layer, particularly around my middle, where the injections went. Post-treatment, I suffered cysts as a medical side effect from my body’s hormonal imbalance. Meanwhile, my menopause symptoms, especially hot flashes, were intense and a nightmare to endure. I just wanted to feel like “me” again.

Menopause remains somewhat of a science mystery. Because of our monthly cycle, researchers didn’t include women in medical trials until 1993. Shocking, isn’t it? I was already in a hormonal balance crisis and didn’t want any artificial HRT (hormonal replacement therapy). But I was looking for a natural means of mitigating the severity of my symptoms.

This is where intermittent fasting comes in. I learned it might ease my symptoms naturally by helping to control my blood sugar level, insulin absorption, and improve gut health. If you’ve got an hour, watch Eat, Fast and Live Longer, made by a doctor, about fasting. It was a big motivator and taught me a handful of fasting’s other benefits, too. It worked.

What is the 5:2 fasting method?

There are 7 days in a week. 5:2 refers to five days of normal eating, with 2 days of intermittent fasting. Those two days shouldn’t be consecutive. My days are Mondays and Wednesdays as it fits best into my social schedule. Who wants to not eat on a weekend?

On those two days, the method allows for a maximum of 500 calories for women and 600 for men. I tried this in the beginning, but found it impossible. Once I ate anything, it got my system going, and I gave in. As an experiment, I tried eating nothing, and it worked.

Once I’ve eaten dinner on Sunday and Tuesday nights, nothing solid does in before dinner the next day. It doesn’t have to be dinner. Pick the meal you want. Some days I can’t make it the entire 24 hours, but I get in at least 20. I won’t lie. It’s a challenge in the beginning, but gets easier. Other than water, you can drink all the coffee and tea (no sugar, but a dash of milk is okay) you want.

A cycling woman
We will need more and larger studies to confirm these results but so far it seems that intermittent fasting can be beneficial and safe for women. © Profimedia

Fasting and riding

I ride three to four times a week, about 15 hours. That means my riding days alternate too. Sometimes, they land on fasting days. It’s a nonissue when indoors on my smart trainer. But outside, I ride at a slower pace. It depends how I feel. Like any other day on the bike, some are easier than others.

On fasting days, I take a few emergency gels, dates or a bar with me, just in case. Getting the ride in is important, but so is getting home without bonking. Some days, I can really push myself and not feel the effects of not eating. Other times, the back-up nutrition gets me home. I listen to my body and react accordingly.

Food tastes amazing

When your fast period is ending, especially on a riding day, the anticipation of eating is glorious. Food looks, smells, and tastes delicious. Kind of like finally getting to bite into whatever foodstuffs you’ve been picturing in your mind on the bike near the end of a long or hard ride. And if you’re wondering, no, you normally overeat when it’s finally time to dig in. You fill up fast and eat less.

Immune system boost +

I can’t remember the last time I was ill. It’s one of the other reported benefits of fasting. When you fast, your body produces new white blood cells. And if you don’t already know, it’s these cells, also known as leukocytes, that protect the body from disease and infection.

During the fasting period, the body looks for fuel. Since the stomach is empty, it goes after stuff stored in the body it doesn’t need. Say goodbye to whatever is clogging up the system. That includes damaged or bad cells. Admittedly, you go to the bathroom a lot in the beginning, but everything turns to normal with time.

Lose that layer and maintain

A woman needs oestrogen for more than conception. It’s vital for our health and normal body function. Menopause is the result of its progressively lower levels in our body. This hormonal imbalance triggers undesirable symptoms like hot flashes and strong cravings for sugar and food. Did you know our fat contains oestrogen? That’s why our bodies store and redistribute more fat in pre and post menopause. It’s keeping some for later.

Not eating two days a week means fewer ingested calories. As mentioned, the body burns what it can find, and stored fat becomes fuel. It wasn’t overnight, but I noticed a reduction in my post-treatment belly layer. And it has remained off. I attribute that to fasting. I always rode, but the layer stayed.

Fasting doesn’t give me “carte blanche” to wolf down donuts the other 5 days of the week. You get my point. I eat a balanced diet of natural, whole foods. And the days I want to splurge, moderation is key. Life is supposed to be enjoyable. Don’t make it too hard.

Take away

I’m no doctor. Nor did I follow any direct advice or specific medical monitoring from one. What worked for me may not work for you. But maybe it will. You gotta do your own due diligence. Find what works for you. Check with your personal doctor first if you have questions or secondary health issues. Intermittent fasting and its many benefits are a permanent part of a healthy protocol for men and women. I like that it’s natural and doesn’t cost a penny.