Challenge: Fasting into the New Year
What better way to kick off 2022 than by removing dysfunctional cells?
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Welcome to the Challenge
"The unexamined life is not worth living."
Happy Holidays all. I hope you’re carving out time to relax, recharge and spend quality time with family and friends. The end of a year and the start of a new one provide a unique time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. I encourage you to take the time to do just that.
After reading about what this challenge entails, your initial response may resemble something of a death threat pointed at me, to which I respond fair enough. Fasting is a difficult endeavour. Even if you decide to not engage in this challenge, I strongly encourage you to read this article through to gain a better understanding of what fasting is and why it’s a beneficial tool to have in your longevity toolkit. You might decide to fast at a later date, for a shorter duration of time, or maybe not at all. At the very least, you’ll gain an understanding of one of the most promising practices in the realm of longevity. Happy reading.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet. Speak with a medical professional before fasting or doing anything medical-related.
An Introduction to Fasting
Before diving into the challenge, let's get crystal clear on our terms. Intermittent fasting (IF) is not the same thing as time restricted feeding (TRF). IF can be thought of as a function with three variables: length, frequency, and restriction (%). For example, if one was to partake in a water-only three-day fast once per month, the length would be 3 days, the frequency would be 30 days and the restriction would be 100% (consuming zero calories for the duration of the fast). In shorthand, this function could be represented as f(3, 30, 100%).
TRF is when one only eats during a certain window of the day. The most common TRF window is 16/8, meaning one consumes all of their calories within an eight-hour window (i.e., between 12-8pm) and eats nothing during the remaining 16 hours. Other common TRF splits include 18/6, 20/4, or 22/2. I’ll cover both IF and TRF in more depth, along with the rest of the nutrition sub-levers in next Thursday's article titled Lever #2: Nutrition. Now, onto the challenge.
Challenge: A three-day (72-hour) water-only fast.
The fast will take place over four days:
Day 1: Final day of eating. Choose your final meal time wisely as you won’t be able to eat again until that time on Day 4.
Day 2: No food.
Day 3: No food.
Day 4: The fast is broken at the same time, or later, at which you finished eating on Day 1.
You can track your fast using the app Zero.
Of course, you can choose your own start and end times, but I’ll be cutting off my eating by 7pm on December 31st and beginning to refeed on January 3rd at 7pm.
What can I consume?
Water (optional add-ins: Himalayan pink salt, regular table salt)
Because of my self-imposed masochist tendencies, in the general use of the word, I’m aiming to only consume water and sparkling water, occasionally adding Himalayan pink salt, for reasons I won’t get into right now.
What are the benefits?
The main benefits of fasting are derived when the body enters a state of autophagy. “Auto” meaning self and “phagy” meaning eat, this term’s literal translation is “self-eating”. It is a process by which the body cleans out damaged cells in order to regenerate newer and healthier cells. So, what are some of the benefits of fasting to our overall health and longevity?
Delay aging and extend lifespan. Your body is removing unnecessary or dysfunctional cells while creating younger and healthier cells.
Reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease (i.e., Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s). Your body removes the toxic protein cells that contribute to the onset of these diseases.
Decreased likelihood of developing metabolic disease. Improving metabolic health, which can be done through fasting, can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and complications of diabetes which, combined, are responsible for 82% of deaths in people above age 50.
Fight inflammation. This promotes better health by fending off chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Aid weight loss. Overweight and obese people are much more susceptible to life-ending diseases and conditions.
Preventing or treating cancer. Although there is not yet hard scientific evidence to support these claims, there is reason to believe that autophagy can remove many cancerous cells and may even increase the effectiveness of and recovery from chemotherapy.
The benefits listed here are a few of many. For credible sources on the many other benefits of fasting refer to the Deep Dive section at the bottom.
Speaking from a personal standpoint, the main reason I fast is to delay the onset of four chronic diseases (cancer, atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative disease, and metabolic disease) that are responsible for killing roughly 80% of people in the Western world. By successfully delaying the onset of these chronic diseases, I increase the probability of extending my lifespan and hopefully the quality of my life, especially as I age.
Granted, I could still be hit by a bus (death by accident) or drop dead from a heart attack at 40 (death by poor genetics). However, since there is no gain in worrying about the things you can’t control, I decide to focus on the things I can.
Can you exercise while fasting?
Yes, you can and you should. Over a short period of time, a maximum of seven days for most people, it’s possible to maintain muscle mass while fasting, especially if one partakes in strength training during their fasted period.
For a full explanation of the science behind how it’s possible to maintain muscle mass while fasting, I defer to an explanation from Dr. Peter Attia in this article.
Fasting Exercise Protocol
The following exercise protocol, explained here, is designed to maximize the benefits of the fast while maintaining muscle mass.
Day 1: Final meal.
Eat your last meal. I’ll be cutting it off by 7pm on December 31st.
Day 2: First day of no food and exercise aimed at glycogen depletion.
The objective of training on the first day of fasting is to deplete your glycogen stores, from both your liver and muscles, as much as possible. This speeds up a process whereby your fat cells begin releasing fat in the form of triglycerides, which are then converted into ketones. The desired result is getting your body into a state of ketosis and autophagy as fast as possible, thus maximizing the benefits of the fast.
Your choice: run, bike, row, swim, etc.
Work to recovery ratio of 1:1.
Four minutes on, four minutes off generally works best but feel free to adjust based on your fitness level. Going too much shorter tends to turn the workout into a neuromuscular activity (i.e., plyometrics, resistance training) and you fatigue too quickly.
1-2 hours in duration.
You may choose to do some form of strength training later in the day (30-60 minutes).
Depending on when you eat your last meal on Day 1, the workout described above may fit better into the morning of Day 2 or the afternoon of Day 1.
Day 3: Second day of no food.
Your choice of strength training (30-60 minutes).
Day 4: Breaking the fast.
Your choice of strength training (30-60 minutes).
Refeed at, or after, the time at which the fast began on Day 1.
Strength training while fasting is essential to spurring muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and preventing or reducing the amount of muscle protein breakdown (MPB) that can occur during fasts. Additionally, try to go for one to two walks per day. Bring a water bottle and stay hydrated.
Breaking the Fast
“Breaking a fast feels like the exact opposite of a hangover.”
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Granted the relatively short duration of a three-day fast, there is no need to be concerned, within reason, about what you eat when the fasting period comes to a close. Ideally, start with something that is high in protein, such as chicken, fish, or steak, and some green vegetables.
The goal here is to avoid spiking our blood glucose through the roof. If you want to stay in a state of ketosis, which your body would have likely entered during the fast, then you may choose to eat according to a strict ketogenic diet. This would consist of eating 70-85% of your daily calories as fat, no more than 20-25 grams of carbohydrates, and the rest protein.
There are arguably health and longevity benefits to living in a ketotic state (ideally between 1.5 to 3 millimoles of ketones in your blood during nutritional ketosis) which is explained by Dr. Dominic D'Agostino in this podcast. It’s important to note that the only true way to know if you are in a state of ketosis is by measuring the number of ketones in your blood.
Optional Protocol: KFK
The vast majority of the world eats in accordance with a carbohydrate-centric diet and thus uses glucose as their main energy source. When following a strict ketogenic diet, as defined above, or fasting for 24 to 48 hours or more, your body switches over from using glucose as your main energy source to using ketones.
This switch, from glucose to ketones, can be very draining, hence the “keto flu” that many people experience when first switching to the ketogenic diet or enduring a fast longer than 24 hours.
To reduce the harshness of the “keto flu” that can come from a cold turkey fast, defined as going from a diet in which your main energy source is carbohydrates to a fasted state, it may be beneficial to eat a ketogenic diet for the week leading up to your fast. This will give your body the chance to make the switch from burning glucose to burning ketones for energy and you won’t be hit as hard during the fasted period.
Post fast you may choose to continue with a ketogenic diet for a week. The primary purpose of this is to prevent a massive binge of unhealthy foods that you may be susceptible to after being food-deprived for 72 hours. This protocol can be referred to as KFK: Keto (5-7 days), Fast (3 days), Keto (5-7 days). For the purposes of this challenge, I will not be engaging in a KFK protocol as it would translate to no carbs over the holiday season. I’m not that committed.
There’s no way around it, fasting is difficult both physically and mentally. At times you will feel hungry, compelled to eat, weak, tired, and depleted of energy. Be strong and disciplined. Go on lots of walks. Drink lots of water. Listen to podcasts. Keep a log of your days and take photos of yourself over the fast. Challenge a friend to join you. Read about Stoic philosophy or Buddhist practices. Write down your personal “why?”.
Why do you want to live a longer and healthier life? What does it mean to you? How will you feel if you accomplish this challenge? Meaning and fulfillment in life emerge from overcoming challenges and difficulties and prevailing stronger on the other side. No magic pill can do that for you.
Deep Dive: Fasting
The Tim Ferriss Show
Dr. Peter Attia