Fasting is a well respected and a fairly common occurrence in most of the traditional cultures worldwide. Most cultures do have their own version of fasts – either prolonged compressed eating cycles as in Ramadan, or frequent 24 hour long fasts as in the Hindu traditions. Both these cases are examples of what is now known to medical research as – Intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to have beneficial impact on glucose metabolism, intestinal health, reversing aging, cardiovascular and brain functions. In essence this is quite a handy tool for a long, healthy life along with whatever diet and lifestyle practices you may already be following.
Growing up, I have seen many different forms of fasting. The most common one I have seen is when people eat during fasting what they normally do not eat. For instance, several food items such as garlic, onions, wheat, rice are off the plate, while you still fill the plate with things such as sweet potato, tapioca, potato etc. I am certainly not referring to that kind of fast – since that is not really a fast at all. I have also seen other type – especially with people fasting during the month of Ramadan where there is a feast after sunset and before the sunrise which is then followed by a 12 hour or so gap of no eating and no water. This is perhaps closer to what I was trying to achieve during my experiment with two specific exceptions – first, I had at least 16 hours of no eating period in a day and secondly during that period, I was drinking lots of water. Lastly, I combined this with what is known as high fat, low carb diet. The idea behind this experimentation was to deplete my glucose reserves and prompt my body cells to start using alternate fueling mechanisms other than glucose.
According to the literature, there are two key energy systems available for the cells in the body. The first, as we all know – is glucose. We see it and feel it everyday. That is what prompts the frequent, relentless hunger and provides us with energy as soon as we eat something. We are all told since childhood that the body to burn sugar. Any activity that we do burns sugar. This is exactly the mechanism that I am talking about here. Now the second mechanism, which is probably not very well known is where the individual cells in the body can use fats as fuel. Yes, the same dreaded fats that accumulates around your waist and makes the needle move in the wrong direction when you step on the scale. Imagine being able to use fat as energy! You would never end up gaining a pound of fat anymore because all of that will be used up by your body for energy.
But then again, conditioning your cells to use fat for fuel is not as easy and as quick. Imagine if your house had an alternate energy source like say hydro electric. You would usually use the electricity from energy company and then fall back on the hydro generation from nearby water stream. But then when you do not use that hydro generation plan for twenty years, it starts getting cloggy and rusty. Now when the energy company does not provide you with regular electricity, that’s when you will at least start taking efforts to clean up the pipes for the hydro plant and change the rusty parts and get it in prime shape again. But that all takes time and effort to do. That’s exactly the same with the body’s alternate fueling mechanism. You do have this system in place and functioning back when you were breastfeeding as an infant. Then it stops as soon as you start getting an influx of sugars when you are weaned off from breastfeeding. For all the decades after that, you have been burning sugars and the fat burning machinery is completely in shambles. Now when you stop the intake of sugars and readily convertible carbohydrates, the body starts taking efforts to bring the fat burning machinery in shape again. That takes time. The experiment that I did last week was the first of these sorts that will start priming the body for fat burning. I will be documenting this and the subsequent experiments on this blog.
As for the experiment that I did, the goal was to see how low sugars can be body sustain and work efficiently with. What I found out was totally ASTOUNDING!
To start with, I wanted to just play around and see how I can adapt this to a full fledged experiment. So this one was a short 2 day experiment with a Pre and Post day added to understand the context around the numbers. Now as we get into these numbers there are a few things to understand –
- My fasting blood sugars have always been slightly on higher nineties (between 95 mg/dl to 99 mg/dl). Even I watch my diet a lot and exercise, I am sometimes able to bring them down to high 80s (88 mg/dl or similar range). But at that point, I know that it is not a sustainable way of living unless I fuss extremely over what I eat. I don’t personally think that is the best way to live.
- Secondly, fat burning mechanisms require adaptation by the body. In my case, i have of course done a lot of pre-work by multiple 16 hr or more fasts throughout last year and very low to no-sugar eating. Even then of course, y body is not primed to burn fat yet. But it is definitely a lot more tolerant towards lower sugar numbers.
- During this experiment, I intentionally kept my workouts low intensity so that I do not cause glycolysis with high intensity movements. The idea is to reserve the liver and muscle glycogen and not allow it to raise the glucose levels in the blood.
- Lastly, I definitely encourage everyone to test their n=1, to test what each changes mean for their bodies. However, in this case, if you plan to experiment with this, make sure you start with frequent intermittent fasts before you delve into such experiment. Note that this can also lead to very low blood sugars – which can potentially be fatal. So make sure you know what you are doing with your body. if you need help, always reach out and I will be glad to help you find the right way to do this for yourself.
Below is my food, activity and blood glucose log:
Pre-Experiment Day: (September 1)
- Dinner: Khichdi (Rice & lentils) and ghee.
- Post Dinner 2hr blood glucose: 111 mg/dl.
- Fasting blood glucose: 99 mg/dl
- No Breakfast
- Lunch: Guacamole (2 bowls)
- Physical Activity: Walking ~4 miles (part of commute)
- Pre-Dinner blood Glucose: 94 mg/dl
- Physical Activity: light play with kids
- Dinner: Microgreens salads, tomato & onions. Rice & daal (100 gms)
- Post dinner Blood glucose: 82 mg/dl
- Fasting Blood glucose: 74 mg/dl
- No Breakfast
- Physical Activity: Sun Salutations and 10 pull-ups.
- Lunch: Watercress salad with Chicken
- Physical Activity: Walking ~4 miles (as part of commute)
- Pre-Dinner blood glucose: 87 mg/dl
- Physical Activity: 15 minutes weight exercises. Light play with kids.
- Dinner: microgreens salad, rack of lamb, slice of sweet potato. Idli (fermented rice cakes) and butter.
- Post-Dinner blood glucose: 88 mg/dl
- Fasting Blood Glucose: 76 mg/dl
- Breakfast: Eggs fried in coconut oil
- Morning Workout : 5k run
- For the most part during these two days, my gross caloric intake was roughly the same as all the other days. In other words, i did not perform any caloric restrictions during this time. What changed was only when I ate (16 hours between the dinner and first meal of the day) and the ratio of carbohydrates and fats in the diet.
- As the sugars dropped, I did notice a substantial difference in the body composition. The face look much well carved out in the mirror, I started shedding fat from those hard to hit areas – such as the belly.
- I also noticed some difference in the energy levels. Although the blood sugars were low, the energy levels were fairly stable and in some cases better.
- Similar changes were seen in the cognitive behavior. I figured that I was much more aware and a lot more attentive during my work meetings. This is something that I have not experienced before and was a welcome change.
- The two days of such experimentation also significantly improved my exercise recovery period. In the past, I had seen several days of recovery period required for intense exercises. In the week that I carried out this experiment, I already had done a bout of intense exercise and I saw remarkable improvements in the recovery post exercise.
- During this period, I also figured out a new normal for my body. What I used to consider normal for all these days, now feels a lot more lousy- just because i have a new benchmark to compare with.
Overall, this short experiment indicates to me that lowering the blood glucose to values much lower than normally accepted can potentially benefit the cognitive and recovery mechanisms at least. I, other words, I might be able to crank out more work and more exercise in the same period of time when performing intermittent fasting and combining it with high fat-low carb eating style.
This definitely warrants a bigger experiment. Once I am done with my OCR world championship event, I plan to get back to this experimentation. A few months down the line, I definitely expect to have better and much comprehensive results. I plan to spend 2-3 weeks in such experimentation rather than days. This period is of course not enough to setup the fat burning machinery but it will lay foundations for an even bigger experiment just like this smaller one did.
In the meantime, if you get to it before I could, make sure you let everyone know about your results.