By now, intermittent fasting has become a well-known and popular dieting strategy, but what do you do on days when you’re not fasting, or during your “non-fasting” hours in the day? Now that’s a bit more unclear, until now. In fact, intermittent fasting and protein cycling (IFPC) might just be the way to go.
As nutritional expert Naomi Whittel notes in her new New York Times bestselling book, Glow15: A Science-Based Plan to Lose Weight, Revitalize Your Skin, and Invigorate Your Life, “while it may sound complicated, it’s not in practice. Together, [intermittent fasting] and [protein cycling] serve as your autophagy on/off switch, the ignition that gets autophagy going.”
And it’s the practice of autophagy, the anti-aging strategy, that’ll get your cells reinvigorated for younger-looking skin.
“Autophagy—like the ocean—is driven by cycles and rhythms,” Whittel adds. “It needs to have an ebb and ow, which is what IFPC allows your body to do—rolling in and out of autophagy cycles.”
“IF is the practice of shifting between periods of unrestricted eating and restricted eating and is a key activator of autophagy,”Whittel says. “This is the most natural way to enhance your stress-response mode and put your cellular cleanup crew to work. If you’re constantly eating—which is the case for many of us as we graze throughout the day—it doesn’t give your cells a chance to repair and clean up the waste and toxins they have accumulated.”
Instead, having hours when you’re not eating gives your body the time to do the cleanup job it needs to do.
By activating glucagon, Whittel says, which works to balance your blood sugar, rises when you do not consume foods. In turn, insulin also drops.
“An increase in glucagon triggers autophagy,” she notes. “This is why temporarily denying your body nutrients, or intermittent fasting is one of the best ways to boost the youth of your cells.”
But it doesn’t mean that you have to deprive your body of essential nutrients all day long. Instead, like she describes in the Glow15 plan, you stop eating after your last meal of the day, at around 8 pm. Then, you do not consume any more foods during the late night hours and into the morning. Instead, your first meal of the day should be on the following day at noon. That means you’ll only be skipping breakfast.
“As long as your fast lasts for 16 hours, you can adapt your IF to your schedule,” she adds. “If you prefer to eat breakfast, you can start your fast earlier by skipping dinner the night before. Make the hours work for you, your body, and your lifestyle.”
“PC is the practice of alternating between periods of low protein consumption and normal to high protein consumption,” Whittel says. “PC has an effect similar to fasting. Creating protein deficiency also lowers your insulin levels… and that, in turn, boosts your glucagon and activates autophagy. This means your body will not store the foods you eat as fat but instead work to build muscle and burn fat.”
But the protein cycling portion of IFPC takes a little bit of calculation. On the same days when you’re doing intermittent fasting, you should also be keeping your protein take to about 25 grams. On the other days, you’re allowed to consume more protein — a “normal” to “high” amount, according to your own diet.
“One of the main reasons PC works to enhance youth is because your body can’t create its own protein,” she adds. “Instead, it is forced to find every possible way to recycle the existing protein you’ve already provided it. If you deprive your body of protein, it will enhance autophagy, kicking your body’s recycling program into overdrive.”
Because we tend to consume a normal or a high amount of protein on most days, we actually keep our bodies from every reaching autophagy. Instead, we keep the process in “maintenance” mode.
“To be clear, ‘low; is not always the way to go. Being in a constant state of low protein will actually contribute to aging in the form of muscle wasting accompanied by increasing weakness, and immune deficiencies,” Whittel says. “So you need to have both high and low protein days—that’s the cycling part—and there is evidence that protein cycling can help reduce the risk of diseases, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, in addition to enhancing autophagy.”
Every week, you’ll be cycling through the high and low protein days, keeping your body in a state of autophagy that’ll promote youthfulness and a sense of renewing and rejuvenating cells.
“When autophagy is turned on by intermittent fasting plus protein restriction, it creates a true shortage in your body that can only be corrected by your cellular cleanup crew doing its job,” Whittel says. “Of course, eventually the r striction must end to prevent overworking the system and damaging your cells, but for the entire restriction period, autophagy will be at work, since human cells must constantly make new proteins, regardless of conditions, in order to function.”
As long as you find this sweet spot of the cycle (of on-off days), you’ll be able to reap the benefits of the process. If you make your “high” days the weekend, then your “low” days would be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. But feel free to customize, Whittel says. The beauty of the process is that it allows you to switch it up to fit your schedule and lifestyle, as long as you alternate between the two different types of protein cycling days.
“As your body cycles through IFPC, you create a rhythm to your nutrition that allows autophagy to do its job—and this makes your cells act younger and healthier than they actually are,” she adds. Now that’s something we can totally get onboard with.