Interval fasting: How to optimize your sports performance

Are you in the habit of dipping into the fridge at night, reaching for snacks post-dinner or munching a chocolate bar after training? It’s easy to lose track and control of our eating habits, however there is a sustainable way to bring structure to your diet. It’s called interval fasting, and it doesn’t just kickstart your metabolism – it helps you train optimally, too.

To understand the concept further we spoke to two experts in the field: Birgit Schweyer and Maria Hochschorner.

For the last 20 years, Dipl. oec. troph. Birgit Schweyer has worked as a nutritional scientist with Nutricuisine, focussing on the holistic health and wellbeing of her clients. Her enthusiasm for science, cooking culture and food trends is reflected in her work as a motivational speaker, coach, cook, recipe developer, journalist and food tester.

Maria Hochschorner is a sports scientist, Hatha Yoga teacher and Touch For Health kinesiologist. Her versatile expertise and many years of experience have lead her to becoming a personal health coach, speaker in company health management and an implementor of health-oriented team events.

Together, Maria and Birgit explain everything we need to know about interval fasting while living a sporty lifestyle. So let’s start at the beginning…

What is exactly is interval fasting?

First and foremost: it’s not a diet. Diets are usually just a short-term solution and doomed to fail. As soon as the diet is over, so is the discipline and we’re back to square one. Say hello to the yo-yo effect. But with interval fasting it’s possible to reduce your weight long-term and optimize your health simultaneously.

There are different forms of interval fasting, however the two following methods are most popular:

16:8 method

Leave 16 hours between the last meal of the previous day and the first meal of the current day. You should eat two meals within the eight active eating hours.

5:2 method

Eating normally five days a week and nothing or almost nothing for two days.

Fasting is the act of refraining. With interval fasting, however, your nutritional intake depends on the hour and the day. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free ticket to eat whatever you want during the designated eating hours.

Within that window, you should take in more calories than you would normally, however make sure you maintain a healthy and balanced diet and don’t eat a total calorie surplus every day.

Advantages of interval fasting for your health:

  • Improved function of digestive tract
  • Regulation of blood sugar levels
  • Increased fat burning
  • Easier entry into ketosis (ketogenic nutrition) and increased mental performance
  • Faster regeneration of nerve cells

Who benefits from interval fasting?

People who want to lose or maintain weight in a healthy and sustainable way and improve their physical and mental health, as well as athletes who want to improve their performance will benefit from interval fasting.

However there are a few contradictions. You should be particularly careful if you have cardiovascular problems, low blood pressure, metabolic diseases or other chronic illnesses. Pregnant and lactating women are completely advised against interval fasting.

Athletes will be particularly interested in the optimization of fat metabolism and the increase of human growth hormone (HGH), which increases muscle growth and fat burning.

Interval fasting is great for strength athletes as it promotes the build-up of fat-free body mass. However, endurance athletes also benefit from it because proportionally higher fat metabolism activity means the limited carbohydrate storage in the liver, muscles and blood is spared during training.

What kind of training compliments this nutritional concept and what should you pay attention to?

Movements with light to moderate intensity can be combined very well with interval fasting. This includes endurance and strength training, team sports, punch sports, dancing, yoga as well as trend and freestyle sports.

However, there are a few things you should keep in mind during intense physical exercise. Never exercise on fasting days. This will help you avoid cardiovascular problems and a weaker performance.

If your aim is to lose weight, you can train according to the “train-low principle” with an empty glycogen storage tank before breaking the fast. This provides particularly intensive stimulus for your metabolism.

For strength athletes with a focus on muscle building, we recommend training between meals and eating after your workout. 

All in all, athletes should make sure they’re intaking sufficient levels of protein so their body isn’t overly acidic due to increased fat loss.

Tips for successful implementation:

  • Make sure you are generally healthy and discuss any questions you have with your doctor or experts.
  • Start with a gentle introduction and give your body time to adjust to the new regime.
  • Find your personal rhythm and try to maintain your schedules eating, fasting and training times.
  • 2 – 3 balanced meals is the ideal amount during eating periods.
  • Drink sufficient amounts of water or unsweetened tea during the fasting phase.
  • Always eat the meal with the highest calories after your training.
  • Your nutritional components will depend on your personal training goals. 
  • On training days you should consume more calories and carbohydrates, while keeping your protein intake constant every day.
  • Always listen to your body and stop fasting if necessary, especially if you feel uncomfortable or notice a drop in performance. It isn’t suited to everyone.

Interval fasting can help you better control your eating habits and, due to the numerous positive effects on physical and mental health, optimize your athletic performance.

If you’re an active person and looking for a sustainable and healthy way to change your diet, then this concept could be perfect for you.

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