How does intermittent fasting affect athletic performance?

How does intermittent fasting affect athletic performance?

Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular and is now gaining popularity among athletes.

The practice consists in depriving oneself of food for more or less long periods. Outside of these periods, you can eat any type of food in the amount you want. There are several types of intermittent fasting, including alternate fasting (every other day), modified fasting (reducing calorie intake on two non-consecutive days a week), and time-restricted eating (for example, fasting from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.).

How does intermittent fasting affect athletic performance? And what are the benefits, practical considerations and risks involved?

I am a dietitian nutritionist with a doctorate in nutrition from Laval University and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC). This article was written in collaboration with Geneviève Masson, a sports nutritionist who advises high performance athletes at the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific and teaches at Langara College in Vancouver.

Variable effects on sports performance

During physical activity, the body mainly uses stores of carbohydrates, called glycogen, as a source of energy. During fasting, glycogen stores decline rapidly. Thus, in order to meet its energy needs, the body increases its use of lipids (fats).

The practice of intermittent fasting has been associated with decreasing fat mass and maintaining lean mass in athletes. However, as conflicting results from several studies have shown, these changes do not always improve athletic performance.

Several studies have reported that aerobic capacity, measured by a VO2 max, remained unchanged after intermittent fasting in elite cyclists and runners, as well as in well-trained long-distance and middle-distance runners. In trained runners, there was no effect on running time (10 km), level of perceived exertion, or heart rate.

Trained cyclists have reported increased fatigue and muscle soreness during Ramadan, but part of this may be due to dehydration, as fluids are also limited during this time when you can’t consume anything from sunrise to sunset.

power sports

When fasting, low stores of glycogen (carbohydrates) can limit the performance of repeated and intense efforts. Active adults reported a decrease in speed during repeated sprints after fasting 14 hours a day for three consecutive days.

Active students reported a decrease in power and anaerobic capacity after ten days of intermittent fasting, as assessed by the Wingate (stationary bike) test, although the study reported that power increased in the same group after four weeks.

strength training

Both men and women who followed a resistance training program had similar gains in muscle mass and strength by practicing intermittent fasting compared to a control diet. There was no significant difference in muscle power between active men with and without intermittent fasting. However, one study reported increased muscle strength and endurance in young active adults after eight weeks of strength training combined with intermittent fasting.

Thus, as we can see, the results vary greatly from one study to another and are influenced by several factors, including the type of fast and its duration, the level of the athletes, the type of sport they practice, etc. . In addition, very few studies have been performed in women. Additionally, the lack of a control group in most studies means that the effect of intermittent fasting cannot be isolated.

So for the moment, it is not possible to draw any conclusion as to the effectiveness of intermittent fasting on sports performance.

The effects of intermittent fasting on sports performance, according to the current state of knowledge. (Bénédicte L. Tremblay)

Eat before and after training

Athletes who want to use intermittent fasting should consider several practical issues before getting started. Are their training schedules compatible with this dietary approach? For example, does the amount of time an athlete is allowed to eat allow him or her to consume enough food before exercising or to be able to recover after training?

And most importantly, what about food quality, given that athletes need to consume enough protein to recover and maintain lean body mass and limit negative impacts on their performance?

Questioning the impacts and reasons for fasting

Intermittent fasting can cause too much of an energy deficiency for athletes with high energy needs to overcome. This could be the case for endurance athletes (running, cycling, cross-country skiing, triathlon, etc.) due to their high training volume. These athletes may end up suffering from Relative Energy Deficit in Sport (RED-S), a syndrome that affects hormonal secretion, immunity, sleep and protein synthesis, among others. If the deficit is prolonged, it will have a negative effect on the athlete’s performance.

Intermittent fasting could cause too much of an energy deficiency for athletes with high energy needs, including endurance athletes, to overcome due to their high training volume. (Genevieve Masson), Author provided

It is also important to question the motivation for adopting such a strict dietary practice as intermittent fasting. Some people do it for religious reasons like Ramadan. Others are motivated by weight control goals and the hope of achieving an “ideal” body according to socio-cultural norms.

A recent study showed a significant association between intermittent fasting over the past 12 months and behaviors related to eating disorders (overeating, compulsive exercise, vomiting, and laxative use). Although this study cannot determine whether fasting causes disordered eating or whether disordered eating leads to fasting, it does highlight a risk associated with this practice.

Finally, the potential impact of intermittent fasting on social interactions should also be considered. A fasting schedule may limit participation in social activities involving food. What is the risk of negatively influencing the eating behaviors of other family members, especially children or adolescents who see their parents refrain from eating and skip meals?

Is this a good or a bad idea?

With such contradictory scientific data, it is not possible at this time to comment on the effects of intermittent fasting on sports performance.

More studies are needed before this practice can be recommended, especially for seasoned athletes. Moreover, the potential negative effects on other aspects of health, including dietary habits and social interactions, are not negligible.

Bénédicte L. Tremblay, Nutritionist and postdoctoral fellow, University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC) and Catherine Laprise, UQAC Professor, Co-holder of the Quebec Sustainable Health Research Chair and Director of the UQAC Intersectorial Center for Sustainable Health, University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *