Fasting Feats: Extreme or Natural?

It’s common in our society today to seek short-term solutions in exchange for big gains. But compare the costs of short-term gains, which often come with a hefty price, versus long-term lifestyle changes, which may take longer but often yield longer term success. Short term, for example, we’ve seen athletes who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s are now metabolically dysfunctional due to quick fixes for energy (sugar, fructose, glucose, dextrose, etc… simple carbohydrates), and never allowing their bodies to actually get good at burning fat. Metabolically, that liver filtering process has allowed us to survive on this planet for more than three million years. The ability to eat and then not have to eat for a couple of days – for our ancestors due to physical survival – shows what our bodies are capable of when functioning correctly.

Extreme Feats

The human body is capable of extreme feats. We like to look at nature as extreme, when in fact we actually are a part of nature. We have just removed ourselves through convenience and technology. More or less convincing ourselves we can outwit nature through short-term solutions. With that have we forgotten what we’re capable of?

Picture showing before and after of the weight loss of Angus Barbieri 392-day fast

In 1966 Angus Barbieri, a 26-year-old Scotsman, endured 382 days without eating anything. He started the fast at a grossly obese 456 pounds and after more than a year of only ingesting liquids, he ended his fast more than a year later at 180 pounds. While not a feat suggested for most, Barbieri’s fast and loss of body fat is evidence of what our bodies are capable of when functioning correctly. So is that an extreme feat? Or was it his body returning to stasis?

Consider also the nature’s greatest endeavor, the behavior of the emperor penguin, whose male species stand in a circle to protect newly laid eggs for two months, huddled together against the harsh Antarctic environment. During this extended babysitting, male emperor penguins do not eat. We are enamored with these animals, with these seemingly extreme feats. But those emperor penguins are part of our same ecosystem. Those feats are not extreme; they’re by design what the animals are designed to do. In fact, man has been found to have existed in the arctic circle 10,000 years prior to when we thought he could have been there… he did not have Patagonia to help. So what are you designed to do, human animal?

Find Your Fuel

Of course, if you were to feed sugar to any animal in the wild, they’ll come back for more. Introduce us to sweets and we want more as well. But be aware of what’s happening to you metabolically when you ingest sugar, and it’s quick transition to glucose, and bypass gluconeogenesis all together. Be aware of the chemical reactions that can change your performance for the long term. When we depend on fast-acting sugar we get hungry quickly, we bonk, we develop many of the diseases that are prevalent today. When we are dependent on fast-acting sugar, we enter a constant feeding and purging cycle where the body is unable to break down stored fat. We’ve seen a profound number of athletes who relied on almost solely carbohydrates and are now paying the price with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, or obesity. At a resting state, you have 2,000 calories of glycogen available in your system for immediate use as fuel. Additionally, you have more than 40,000 calories of fat that’s available for fuel. Whether you’re an endurance athlete or not, which system would you rather have access to? It’s simple. Enter quality food, because real food requires real breakdown, and most of the time we don’t get the fast reactions because whether it be plants, animals or fats they require more of a breakdown and make you more efficient at oxidizing fat. If you stay away from high-glycemic carbohydrates, you’re left with real food: leafy green vegetables, and fats and proteins from quality ethically treated sources.

Making Changes

If you decide to change how you eat and how you fuel as an athlete, we recommend the following:

  1.     Try not to make too many changes at once. Making changes requires you to be in a good place, and if your body is craving sugar it will be more difficult to make proper decisions. Make nutritional changes and not too many others. Once those changes become habit, continue to transition to non-processed foods by including high-carb vegetables such as yams, roots and carbohydrates with fiber.
  2.     Understand that any change may include a difficult adjustment period. If you’ve been eating poorly, you’ll undergo a detox process similar to detoxing from drugs. This process comes with an understanding that anything worth having requires weathering this storm.
  3.     Learn how to fast, even for a 12-hour period. This could be the time between dinner and breakfast the next day. The body has a way of cleaning itself when you fast.