Intermittent Fasting For The Female Athlete

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is all the rage in the fitness and health worlds.

For women, there are some extra considerations to account for before deciding if IF is right for you. From my experience, the ideal fasting window for women is 14 hours, max, leaving a 10 hour eating window. Research here findings state women need to consider hormonal balance while fasting and that can safely occur within a 10 hour eating window. Personally, I’ve never felt comfortable or deemed it necessary to extend my fast beyond 14 hours.

IF gets a lot of flack from knowledgeable health professionals, as well as the opposite. IF is an additional stressor on your body and hormones so if you’re battling sleepless nights, chronic stress at work and home, binge eating tendencies, and overloading your body by consistently heavy workouts, IF may not be for you and perhaps the best thing you could do to manage your weight and health is to address all the stressors I’ve just listed – get your shit together and then and only then do I suggest implementing IF.

I believe a person’s mental well-being is also one of the biggest factors when considering beginning IF. If you have esthetic or performance goals and frequently have to cut weight, track your weight, and closely monitor your macros, IF may add to someone’s obsession with their appearance and eating habits. Trust me, I know. I know the benefits of measuring out your portions and penciling down everything you’ve eaten for the day, weighting yourself every morning and tracking your cuts or gainz, and if this is something that stresses you out or triggers control issues, IF may not work for you. I read stories about Fitpro’s who went crazy (think mental clarity overload, as if there’s such a thing), interrupted their hormonal balances, experienced massive weight gains or losses only to have the changes quickly reverse due to binge / under eating. In most cases, this is NOT the result of Intermittent Fasting, it’s the result of years of stress and abuse on one’s body. With or without IF, our bodies and health will have adverse reactions to prolonged periods of stress and abuse; chronic dieting, stress, overtraining, mental well-being, under or over eating all contribute.  People have said they’ve developed eating disorders from IF and I think that’s a bunch of bullshit. If you have obsessive tendencies towards food (and life), sure, the lifestyle requirements that IF places on you will encourage a easting disorder, but IF does not cause a completely healthy, well-balanced, mindful human being to develop an eating disorder out of the blue.

Another common topic of discussion with Intermittent Fasting is the quantity and quality of your food. Ask yourself what are your goals. Why are you starting IF? Is it for weight loss goals or a lifestyle modification. Whatever it is be clear with your end result and allow it to shape your day-to-day fasting decisions. If you have aesthetic goals, managing your calories and macros is essential, and so is the quality of your food. As a weightlifter, I can’t tell you how often I used to eat donuts, desserts, massive meals, all in the name of gainz and refueling calories I’d expend during grueling training sessions. I wasn’t focused on the quality of my food, I was only focused on the quantity. Both matter, don’t forget that.

For me, I chose to start doing Intermittent Fasting for several reasons: increased mental clarity and creativity; as a graduate student I had a many early mornings spent researching and writing my thesis and I found that being fasted enhanced my mental clarity and thus, productive writing time.

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