There are a lot of ways to eat — just like there are a lot of ways to fast! Yet, to get the most health benefits from both your diet type and your fasting practice, there are certain nuances to consider. Read on to learn how to best pair your diet type — be it low-carb, high-protein, plant-based, Mediterranean, paleo, or intuitive eating — with intermittent fasting.
Is Fasting a Good Match for All Diet Types?
Yes! That’s the beauty of fasting: It can be successfully paired with all dietary approaches. Plus, by adding a little intention behind how you plan your meals, you can extend certain fasting benefits into your eating window and enhance some of the metabolic perks you get with fasting.
Of course, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. How you optimally pair fasting with your preferred eating pattern depends on what your daily diet looks like. In the following sections, we examine how various diets and fasting can complement each other and how to navigate each approach to get the best results.
Pairing Fasting with Your Diet If Your Diet Type Is…
Whether you eat low-carb, keto, or something in between, carbohydrate-restricted diets can enhance the insulin-lowering effects of intermittent fasting. Typically, a carb-restricted approach centers on non-starchy vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats while minimizing high-carbohydrate foods such as grains, fruits, and added sugars. Keeping carbohydrates to a minimum results in lower blood sugar and, in response, less total insulin. This encourages a catabolic environment that allows your body to tap into your own fat stores as fuel. Fasting naturally has this effect, so by pairing your fasts with a carbohydrate-restricted approach during your eating window, you are able to extend your fat-burning capabilities.
If you’re following a low-carbohydrate but not keto diet, you’ll likely consume some higher-carbohydrate foods like legumes (beans, peanuts) or fruit within your eating window. To maximize your fat-burning potential, try to consume your highest-carbohydrate meals or snacks towards the middle of your eating window.
Finally, protein is an important component of a carbohydrate-restricted approach for various reasons, including its muscle-building and satiating effects. Remember that if you’re following a keto diet, too much protein can actually kick you out of ketosis. Therefore, instead of piling your plate high with chicken or eggs, aim for moderate total protein consumption within your fasting window — typically about 20–30% of your daily caloric intake or 1.5 g/kg of your ideal body weight. (If you’re not following a keto or low-carb diet, read on for more guidance.)
You’ll want to space out this total protein intake to the best of your ability, leaning towards eating more protein at your fast-breaking meal and slightly less at subsequent meals. For example, a 150-pound woman with a normal BMI following a ketogenic diet and a 16:8 fasting schedule needs around 100 grams of protein per day. Because protein is so important for breaking a fast, she should tip the protein scale to consume 40 grams at her first meal, 30 grams for her snack, and 30 grams at her last meal.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Typically, a diet can be considered high-protein if it provides more than 1.2 g/kg of body weight or greater than 20% of your daily caloric intake. While you’ll still consume carbohydrates and fat (because this is not a protein-only diet), protein is the main focus.
Metabolically, protein provides benefits including weight loss and better glycemic control. Paired with fasting, a high protein intake can help enhance those benefits while also helping to maintain muscle mass and assist in cellular growth and repair. This is why we recommend that most Zero Members follow a high-protein diet (after checking with your doctor or dietitian, of course).
As discussed, you’ll want to spread out your protein so that you have at least a moderate amount (20–40 grams) per meal. Your Fast Breaker is also an optimal time to frontload your protein intake in order to not only help meet your protein target for the day but to also signal muscle protein synthesis.
Aside from protein, the remaining part of your plate will likely include a mix of carbohydrates and healthy fats. Although portion sizes of each will vary person to person, you’ll want to aim for the most minimally processed versions you can find (e.g., kale chips instead of potato chips, fresh grapes instead of grape juice, olive oil instead of margarine).
Plant-based diets focus primarily (and sometimes exclusively) on foods that come from plants such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. Depending on which plant-based diet you follow, some meat, fish, or dairy products may be included as well.
A common reason for adopting a plant-based diet is for its cardiovascular benefits. Fasting has been shown to yield similar benefits, so pairing the two can enhance those heart-healthy effects. However, you need to maintain high-quality food choices to reap these benefits. A recent review showed that plant-based diets rich in whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, oils, tea, and coffee were associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk, whereas plant-based diets with greater amounts of highly-processed foods such as refined grains, potatoes/fries, and foods and beverages high in added sugar were linked to increased risk. So be sure to emphasize whole plant-based foods at each meal and snack.
The other thing to emphasize in your plant-based diet is protein. Since vegan and vegetarian diets come with some inherent restrictions, and because plant-based protein often has poorer bioavailability and individual foods typically lack a full amino-acid profile, you’ll need to be intentional about consuming protein at each meal, particularly your first meal of the day. If you are following a strictly plant-based approach, such as veganism, be sure to include high-protein options like tofu, tempeh, legumes, or lentils in your Fast Breaker. Vegetarians and pescatarians can include eggs, dairy, and seafood, which are all high in biologically-available protein.
Mediterranean and Paleo
Although different in their origins, Mediterranean and paleo diets share many commonalities that pair nicely with fasting. Both dietary approaches encourage minimally-processed foods; they allow for fish and lean proteins; and they emphasize vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Thanks to the abundance of fiber (from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds), protein, and healthy fats encouraged by these diets, Mediterranean and paleo diets tend to be very satiating — an attribute that helps with sticking to your fasting window. Fiber, protein, and healthy fats also slow down digestion and the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, thereby extending some of the metabolic benefits seen with fasting, such as improved glycemic control.
Finally, a balanced, unprocessed plate of food helps prevent overconsumption of calories, both at that meal and the next. Particularly when paired with fasting, this effect can produce a spontaneous caloric reduction that contributes to weight loss.
Intuitive eating relies on listening to your body’s cues to tell you when, what, and how much to eat. There are no food-based “rules” to this particular dietary approach, but it’s still a good idea to optimize the quality of foods you choose. Minimally-processed foods such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, and seeds are not only more nutrient-dense, but they can result in lower blood-glucose and insulin levels as well. The effect — better blood-sugar control during your eating window — can help enhance some of the fat-burning and longevity benefits you get from your fast, which makes intuitive eating and fasting a great match.
Furthermore, intuitive eating can also help you decide which fasting routine fits best with your personal needs. (Some might call this “intuitive fasting!”) When taking this approach, you can determine the length or timing of your fast based upon how you feel that day. For example, you may wake up one morning and feel content and full, easily pushing your first meal to midday. Another day, you may wake up hungry and decide to eat a bit earlier, but then also end your eating window a bit earlier, too. The trick here is not to confuse intuition with convenience. Really listen to what your body is telling you!
No matter what dietary approach you take, fasting is a great complementary habit. By focusing on a few key strategies such as minimizing processed foods, breaking your fast with protein, and balancing your meals with fiber and healthy fat, you can use every meal and snack to further enhance many of the health benefits afforded by your intermittent fasting practice.
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