I have done two big climbing trips this year, one to Chamonix and one to Patagonia. In both instances I thought I would come back from these trips thin and metabolically healthy. Both times I’ve reached the end of the trip, however, and I’ve felt like my lifestyle health had really plummeted. The combination of being in a different country with totally different food, and a bunch of “in-a-day” or long, multi-day high-intensity outings, made it really hard while there to stick to a consistent sleep schedule and low-carb diet. I often reached the end of the stay and felt like I needed a reset.
Here is the typical scenario for how health goes down-hill during these long trips. First, I enter the trip feeling healthy and eating well. By this I mean eating a fairly low-carb diet despite high-levels activity. I often feel spry, able to go for a while without eating, and I am in a fat-craving mode where “bad food” (processed carbohydrates, sugar, etc) don’t appeal to me. Then comes the problem: long days out at high-intensity levels leave me very very hungry. So what do I end up doing? I end up celebrating the climb with a bunch of foods that I wouldn’t normally eat, and that throw me into a carb-craving cycle if I am not really careful and disciplined: ice cream (think Domo Blanco in Chalten), baked goods (chocolate croissants in Chamonix), etc. I mean let’s be honest, when you have completed a big climb with your partner, what do you go for when you are depleted: a kale salad or a big burger and a beer? After the first day or two of being back and eating junk because “I’ve earned it” I keep craving carbs and find myself continually hungry for unhealthy foods. In Patagonia, the bakery located beneath our apartment did not make over-coming these cravings any easier.
Note: Eating well while you are climbing will prevent you from feeling completely depleted and hungry afterwards, focus on that too.
Fast-forward a bit, and I have reached the end of my trip, and I am feeling like I really want to get control of my diet and health again (sleep, bodyweight, mental clarity – they are all related). So how to reset? Enter intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting typically means drastically reducing your calorie intake for 12-24 hrs or more. Now 12 hours isn’t very long if you think about it: just don’t wake up for midnight snacks and sleep in really long. Twenty-four hours, to put it perspective, might mean not eating from dinner to dinner. There are all types of intricacies about how to improving your fast that you can read about yourself: eating a little bit of fat while fasting (i.e. a few macadamia nuts, consuming water or juice, popping a few BCAAs, etc). See the links below.
Now I will be honest and admit that I don’t fast very often, more like once in a blue moon, and to be specific, only during travel to and from destinations on big trips. I use the travel to the airport, in the airport, and on the plane as a chance to reset. It is GAME CHANGING. Quite contrary to what you would expect, I get to that new destination without major hunger, feeling lively and ready to go. My regiment includes bringing a small bag of nuts (not peanuts but almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, etc) or something that I can eat midway through (just a very small amount). I also drink water during that timeframe. I find that fasting during travel is optimal because I don’t want to eat any of the airplane food anyways.
Some of the benefits of fasting including reducing insulin resistance (and the risk of type II diabetes), reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, changing the function of genes and hormones, and its even good for your brain. Check out the references on this stuff here: https://authoritynutrition.com/10-health-benefits-of-intermittent-fasting/. I am personally interested in the metabolic benefits of fasting, including the ability to teach the body to burn fat. I’ll personally be trying to do it more ‘intermittently’ in the next few months, not just twice a year.
If you want to know more about intermittent fast, I’ll leave the science to the experts. Check out these podcasts that I’ve enjoyed on the topic. Hope you find it to be a useful tool in your arsenal to good health.
Also, for a balanced perspective on when fasting IS NOT appropriate for your training or fitness goals see this one:
Try it out and let me know how it goes!