THE BENEFITS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
If you are active and focused on maintaining a healthy gut, the rest of your body will also work properly. The gut includes trillions of microorganisms which are a combination of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses collectively known as the gut microbiome. These all together take care of your body’s important functions such as digestion, nutrient absorption, reducing inflammation, stimulating hormonal release, and the release of energy. Hence, you can expect a person with a healthy gut to perform well as an athlete or have an easier time managing life at the workplace or in a household.
Fitness is not only determined by weight training or heavy exercises but is the ability to perform in different aspects of sports, occupations, and daily activities. Therefore, to be called physically fit, you need to take proper nutrition, a moderate amount of exercise and get sufficient rest. Fitness does not rely only on the performance of your lungs, heart, and muscles but your mental fitness also matters. Good physical and mental fitness will be the reward of a healthy and diversified gut microbiome.
Effects of the gut microbiome on overall fitness
- Improves metabolic rate
Gut microbes assist in the absorption of essential nutrients which can make your organs function well, improving your metabolic rate too. Staying fit and active also requires more energy which can be fulfilled by increased metabolic function. Thus, a healthy and balanced gut needs to be maintained for this to help in metabolizing food properly.
- Proper sleeping pattern
A good night’s sleep is very important to affect the fitness of the individual. The restoration of energy is what takes place during your sleeping hours. Hence, less sleep will contribute to less energy. So, don’t overlook your gut health for it is the first line of defense against disorders like insomnia and poor sleep quality.
- Improve mental fitness
Lack of motivation and focus are two of the most common factors that may be inhibiting your workout and making you feel lazy. This can actually happen from poor gut composition too. Your gut microbes are the one’s sending signals to your brain and influencing your mental health. So, dysbiosis or imbalance of the gut microbial community will surely contribute to a bad mood, poor cognitive performance, impaired mental clarity, and anti-social behavior and attitude.
- Maintains appropriate body shape and weight
Living with the correct body composition will provide you with adequate strength and speed. Thus, you will participate actively in daily activities and even workouts and sports. The gut microbiome plays an important role in controlling the amount of fat stored, further keeping you in good shape and weight. Thus, the muscle vs. fat ratio, white vs. brown fat ratio, and blood glucose response all are in the hands of a diversified gut microbiome.
- Antioxidant properties
Antioxidants are essential to balance the free radicals produced as a byproduct of all metabolic processes. Thereby, its need is even greater for athletes or regular exercisers as their muscles are constantly working overtime. As per a recent study, a healthy gut microbiome helps regulate the most powerful antioxidant, glutathione. It is also the main detoxifying agent and its deficiency can cause oxidative stress. A healthy antioxidant defense mechanism can:
- Prevent tissue damage due to intense exercise
- Reduce episodes of fatigue
- Improves exercise performance
- Promotes tissue recovery
Above we have mentioned the role of a healthy gut in enhancing the performance of athletes and people involved in laborious occupations. So, we need to take the appropriate steps in this such as diet changes, dealing better with stress, regular exercise, and good sleep for good gut health. Dietary changes can be made easier by adapting different diet plans. Examples of certain diet plans which can treat the dysbiosis of your gut are the Ketogenic diet, Mediterranean diet, Intermittent fasting, Atkins diet, and many more. We are going to discuss Intermittent fasting in detail.
Intermittent fasting as the name suggests refers to depriving yourself of eating and drinking for a few hours or days. However, some people may turn to alternate days of fasting but the typical fasting period varies from 15-18 hours. Consequently, you will be left with six to eight hours of eating which is not that difficult. Fasting for alternate days will on the other hand tempt you to eat as much as you normally eat when you are on break. So, this is not advisable.
During intermittent fasting, your caloric intake is not restricted. You are allowed to take all the calories and macronutrients but for a shorter span of time. Extreme dietary changes, even if taken for a short term, can alter the make-up and number of gut microbes. Similar is the effect of fasting on your gut microbiome. Although we go through this type of fasting intentionally, unintentionally we also go through episodes of fasting regularly during sleep. In the sleeping state, your gut microbiome gets time to recover from its hard work of digesting food.
Two main types of intermittent fasting
- 16:8 time-restricted fasting- In this, you are restricted to eating for 8 hours and staying fasting for the remaining 16 hours. This can be achieved by eating breakfast slightly later and shifting your last meal to the early evening. But, this should not restrict your calorie intake as you need energy for other functions also. Check by the clock during intermittent fasting as your gut diversity reduces if you fast for too long.
- 5:2 fasting- In this, you restrict what you eat on two to three nonconsecutive days of a week. You are advised to eat around 500 calories for two to three days but have a normal healthy diet for the remaining days. According to research expert Devkota, a longer fasting period is required to see changes at the cellular or microbiome level. Therefore, this type of fasting may also be recommended by some. It will not completely stop your calorie intake but will reduce it by some percent.
Intermittent fasting of both types possesses a lot of health benefits, whether it is promoting weight loss or improving metabolic functions. Hence, it will reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes and cancer. As per your gut is concerned, there is rapid expansion of a particular bacteria, Akkermansia muciniphila which is associated with reduced intestinal inflammation and a healthier gut lining.
When people are asleep and not eating, one set of bacteria thrives and as you start eating, the other species bloom and take over. This time-restricted eating puts you through naturally occurring fluctuations till you start eating off-schedule again.
Intermittent fasting must not be taken without a doctor’s advice. This is because it may not be safe for some people including pregnant women, people at risk for hypoglycemia, or with some chronic illnesses. Other than these, some individuals also have the tendency to develop a habit of binge eating because of the restrictions. There is a list of symptoms also associated with intermittent fasting.
- Low energy
- Persistent hunger
- Poor work and activity performance
- Temperature sensitivity
The gut microbes are responsible for the way you digest your fibers, carbohydrates, and protein and consequently release energy. They are directly or indirectly influencing your physical and mental fitness and thus their diversification needs to be restored if disturbed. Intermittent fasting is a good way of regenerating your gut’s natural composition with more healthy bacteria.
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