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Fasting could help make you a better cyclist

Intermittent fasting is growing in popularity for health benefits like lowering insulin levels, improving blood sugar and protecting against diabetes and heart disease. It restricts calorie intake, which will help you to lose weight

Traditional training methods recommend fueling up with carbohydrates before and after workouts. Despite its recent surge in popularity, fasting is a practice that dates back centuries and plays a central role in many cultures and religions.

But calorie and carbohydrate restriction could hurt your performance on the bike?

Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, intermittent fasting is a meal timing plan. You are focusing on a specific period in which you are withholding calories (fasting), followed by consuming your calories (feeding). It’s best to keep it manageable and in keeping with your lifestyle.

The two most popular forms of intermittent fasting are the 5:2 model and the 16-hour fast. The 5:2 model involves eating a normal 2,000-calorie diet five days a week, and on the other two days calories are restricted to around 500.

The 16-hour fast is a daily fast that involves eating all of your calories in an eight-hour window and not eating for the other 16 hours of your day. Normally, this involves eating an early dinner and forgoing breakfast until the fast is complete. When including this type of diet into a workout routine such as cycling, you would wake up without eating and complete a workout in a carbohydrate-deprived state, relying on fat stores for fuel instead.

Fasted riding is a trick that has long been used by pro cyclists. It is reputed that Bradley Wiggins used fastest training rides to dramtically shed weight, before riding the 2012 Tour de France which he went onto win.

Bradley Wiggins used fastest training ride to dramtically shed weight

Fasting can improve overall efficiency on the bike by teaching the body to use fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. While the science behind intermittent fasting is limited, most studies have been conducted mostly on mice, the theory behind this for endurance training involves improving fat mobilization and increasing mitochondrial production.

This could potentially be beneficial to a cyclist is that the body contains a limited amount of carbohydrate stores to use as fuel. Since the body has a much larger storage of fats than it does glycogen, the more efficient you can become at burning fat as fuel the more your overall endurance will improve.

In addition to fat burning, fasted training is also thought to improve insulin sensitivity, which means less insulin in the body is required to store carbohydrates. A boost in growth hormone may also help increase strength and require shorter time periods for recovery.

8 Health Benefits of Fasting for Cyclists

Defined as the abstinence from all or some foods or drinks for a set period of time, there are many different ways of fasting.

In general, most types of fasts are performed over 24–72 hours.

Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting, ranging from a few hours to a few days at a time.

Fasting has been shown to have many health benefits, from increased weight loss to better brain function.

Here are 8 health benefits of fasting — backed by science.

1. Helps Promotes Blood Sugar Control 

Fasting helps reduce Insulin ResistanceSeveral studies have found that fasting may improve blood sugar control, which could be especially useful for those at risk of diabetes.

2. Helps Fight Inflammation

While acute inflammation is a normal immune process used to help fight off infections, chronic inflammation can have serious consequences for your health. Research shows that inflammation may be involved in the development of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis

3. Enhances Heart Health

By Improving Blood Pressure, Triglycerides and Cholesterol Levels. Heart disease is considered the leading cause of death around the world, accounting for an estimated 31.5% of deaths globally'

Switching up your diet and lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Some research has found that incorporating fasting into your routine may be especially beneficial when it comes to heart health.

4. May Boost Brain Function

Though research is mostly limited to animal research, several studies have found that fasting could have a powerful effect on brain health. One study in mice showed that practicing intermittent fasting for 11 months improved both brain function and brain structure, and Prevent Neurodegenerative Disorders.

5. Aids Weight Loss

Fasting limits calorie intake and boosts metabolism. Many dieters pick up fasting looking for a quick and easy way to drop a few pounds. Theoretically, abstaining from all or certain foods and beverages should decrease your overall calorie intake, which could lead to increased weight loss over time.

Some research has also found that short-term fasting may boost metabolism by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which could enhance weight loss.

One study showed that whole-day fasting could reduce body weight by up to 9% and significantly decrease body fat over 12–24 weeks

6. Increases Growth Hormone

Human growth hormone (HGH) is a type of protein hormone that is central to many aspects of your health, which is vital for growth. In fact, research shows that this key hormone is involved in growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength.

7. Could Delay Aging

Several animal studies have found promising results on the potential lifespan-extending effects of fasting. In one study, rats that fasted every other day experienced a delayed rate of aging and lived 83% longer than rats that didn’t fast.

8. May Aid in Cancer Prevention

Animal and test-tube studies indicate that fasting may benefit the treatment and prevention of cancer. In fact, one rat study found that alternate-day fasting helped block tumor formation.

Similarly, a test-tube study showed that exposing cancer cells to several cycles of fasting was as effective as chemotherapy in delaying tumor growth and increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs on cancer formation, and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Start Small and Stay Hydrated

When practiced properly, it seems to help not only with weight loss, but also with general health. “Our research finds that alternate-day fasting can reduce blood pressure up to 10 percent and lower LDL cholesterol 10 to 25 percent, and it significantly reduces inflammation markers that are linked to heart disease,” says Krista Varady, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of The Every Other Day Diet. “Our volunteers also lost 10 to 30 pounds in 8 to 12 weeks,” says Varady. Other research has found that intermittent fasting can lower insulin levels and improve blood sugar, so it may be protective against diabetes as well.

It might even help you live longer. In a study by University of Florida health scientists, researchers had 24 volunteers alternate one day of eating 25 percent of their daily caloric intake (or 500 calories for someone eating 2,000 calories a day) with one day of eating 175 percent of their recommended daily calories (3,500 for the same person). At the end of the three-week study, the volunteers had higher levels of key beneficial proteins, including SIRT3, which helps protect cells and is known to promote longevity, as well as SIRT1, which has also been linked to longevity.

On the performance side, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that volunteers who performed cycling workouts after an overnight fast five days a week for four weeks improved their ability to use oxygen and tap into their energy stores better than those who ate before training. The fasters also had far bigger gains in their V02 max—a nearly 10 percent raise compared to a 2.5 percent gain. These were untrained adults, but studies on competitive cyclists have shown that when riders did their training in a fasted state they lost weight and improved their insulin sensitivity and post-workout recovery without harming their endurance performance.

The trick is to work it into your riding schedule. Since most cyclists ride or train about four days a week, you would plan your feast days on your riding days and your fast days on those where you’re taking off or going super easy. “If you choose to ride on your fast days, plan to eat your 500-calorie meal soon after your ride so you don’t end up feeling hungry the rest of the day,” advises Varady. Make sure also to get enough protein, fat, and fiber in that meal to maximize satiety.

“It takes about five or six fasted days to get used to it,” she says, noting that only about 10 percent of people in their studies drop out. The main adverse effects at first are headaches and moodiness, which Varady blames mostly on dehydration. “People forget how much fluid they get from food. So when you fast, it’s really important to drink a lot of fluids throughout the day. That helps a lot.”

Safety and Side Effects

Despite the long list of possible health benefits associated with fasting, it may not be right for everyone.

If you suffer from diabetes or low blood sugar, fasting can lead to spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels, which could be dangerous. 

It’s best to talk to your doctor first if you have any underlying health conditions or are planning to fast for more than 24 hours.

Additionally, fasting is not generally recommended without medical supervision for older adults, adolescents or people who are underweight.

If you decide to try fasting, be sure to stay well-hydrated and fill your diet with nutrient-dense foods during your eating periods to maximize the potential health benefits.

Additionally, if fasting for longer periods, try to minimize intense physical activity and get plenty of rest.

Fasting could help make you a better cyclist