The ‘Fast’ portion of Cheat mode is primarily fashioned after Martin Berkhan’s style of Intermittent fasting (Obligatory link) with a few key differences. Some points are more emphasized in Cheat Mode than typical IF, and some points are much more lenient. This article is to discuss how fasting applies to Cheat Mode, and the main areas of attention one should pay note to.
The Basic Concept
The basic concept of the morning fast is to simply not eat. Upon waking you consume (under most circumstances) no calories. This fast continues until you decide to break the fast, which is typically around 2-4pm on Cheat Mode (depending on whether you want solid food prior to the evening weight lifting session).
The reasons behind having a fast on weight lifting days usually fall into one of the following categories:
- By not consuming calories, you partition more to around your workout session
- To lose body fat; either to ultimately lose fat, or to create buffer room for possible post-workout fat gain and come out even at the end of the day
- The get some of the health and metabolic benefits associating with the fasted state
We’ll look at each of these individually
1 ) Calorie partitioning
Many people believe either in the ‘Calories in vs. Out’ theory of weight loss, or they seem to believe in the opposite, that the foods you eat are more important than calories consumed, and that measuring caloric intake is a futile method of weight control. Both theories have their merit.
Going back to basic biochemistry, your body needs energy. This can come from food sources (calories) or from body stores (glycogen, body fat, muscle). The idea of a Basal Metabolic rate (BMR) is how many calories you need to maintain current levels of stored body energy (meet all energy needs from food, with none in excess).
To maintain weight, eat at roughly your BMR. Gaining weight requires more, losing weight requires less. These general concepts are extended to Cheat Mode as well.
Given how nutrients are typically partitioned to muscle and glycogen preferentially when consumed near a workout, it makes sense to consume lots at this time. However, without compensatory measures one can easily exceed their approximate BMR.
The fast is the compensatory measure. It allows one to overload calories at a certain time to build muscle without exceeding overall needs.
In addition, since a set amount of calories in a day are being partitioned to muscle and glycogen, by default they are being partitioned away from body fat stores. Eating at BMR in this style will yield some fat loss, although the significance of it is not as much as a typical hypocaloric diet.
(Throughout this section I have used indefinite terms around BMR such as ‘approximate’ or ‘roughly’. This is because the actual number of one’s BMR is too variable due to several factors (such as the thermic effect of food, daily fluctuations of hormones involved in energy metabolism, non-exercise physical expenditure, etc.). It is good to know roughly your number, but aiming to hit exactly that is minutia in the grand scheme of things)
2) Body fat loss
As stated before, the body runs on bodily energy stores during times of no food intake. The actual metabolites used can come from glucose (amino acids or glycogen) or from fatty acids. In actuality both glucose and fatty acids will be used to varying degrees at all times, our aim is to maximize the percentage of energy taken from fats.
Aside from directly using fatty acids for energy, partitioning more energy to come from fats will by default prevent muscle loss as the need for glucose is reduced. Muscle tissue breakdown occurs when there is a need for glucose which exceeds the stores of glycogen and other methods of getting glucose (free amino acids in the body, and the glycerol backbone of triacylglycerides).
Thankfully, the mere state of fasting accomplishes most of this. The hormones dominant in a fasted state (Glucagon, Cortisol, and Adrenaline) are responsible for catabolising tissue and can aid in the breaking of fatty acids from the glycerol backbone and readying said fatty acids for oxidation for energy. (Either direct influence or vicariously through other compounds).
Another significant way of partitioning fat usage is the low-intensity state that is not exercising. Energy usage in the body follows a rough spectrum, with lower intensity states (as judged by metabolic rate and acute oxygen consumption) consuming more fat as a percentage, and higher-intensity states consuming more glucose as fuel.
So by not eating and not working too hard, we use most of the energy from out body in the form of fat.
3) Metabolic benefits
I will be the first to admit that exercise days are not formulated with health in mind (as evidenced by the Paleo control days for health). This does not mean that these days are not healthy though.
The fasted state, primarily through the glucagon dominant state in the body, exerts various effects outside of body composition in the body which can be seen as ‘healthy’.
Insulin is drastically reduced in a glucagon dominant state (It is helpful to think of the relation of these two hormones as a see-saw; one goes up when the other goes down). When insulin is reduced it cannot exert inflammatory effects on tissue, which is associated with exacerbateing and possibly causing some disease states in excess.
Another factor to consider is Lipoprotein lipase. LPL is an enzyme that exists on both muscle and fat that breaks down lipoproteins and triglycerides in the blood. Insulin upregulates LPL on adipose (fat) tissue and inhibits activation on muscle cells, while Glucagon upregulates LPL on muscle and cardiac tissue, while inhibiting activation of the LPL on adipocytes. [x]
LPL can be seen as the mechanism by which fatty acids enter cells for energy expenditure (as a triacylglycerides cannot diffuse through a cell membrane due to the glycerol backbone, but free fatty acids can), and has the added benefit of being able to do this to other lipid compounds.
Although LPL on both tissues can reduce serum TGs and lipoproteins, overactivation of either one can lead to desensitization and resistance in that specific tissue, and thus reduce that enzyme’s potency and effectiveness. It makes sense to switch from one to the other to maintain sensitivity of the enzymes.
Fasting is encouraged in this scenario as it is actually possible to be overfed 24/7 and desensitize the LPL on adipocytes, whereas the opposite (desensitizing LPL on muscle cells via a fasted state) usually results in death from starvation since it assumes no fed state over a long period of time. (The possibility of just never spiking insulin is not a concern for our purposes as Cheat Mode assumes a daily timed insulin spike with workouts).
Reduced frequency of insulin spikes will also result in more insulin sensitivity in cells, both fat and muscle. This state of increased insulin sensitivity can, over the long term, reduce fasting glucose levels and fasted insulin levels.
Other downstream benefits of a more glucagon dominant state (and less insulin secretion/prominence in the body) also include less chance of high blood pressure, prevention of neurological decay, and reduced risk of diabetes mellitus. The reduction of the inflammation pathways, increased lipolysis of excess lipoproteins, and increased insulin sensitivity have wide reaching effects.
(For disclosure, the last three disease states are extrapolations. A disease state that is exacerbated by condition X, and is reduced or eliminated by reductions in condition X should have delayed onset when exposure to X is limited. There seems to be no reason to assume otherwise, and much epidemiological data supports the theories, but it is not yet a scientific ‘fact’).
Cheat Mode Fast – What makes this one unique
Most variations of the fasting in Cheat Mode are manipulations of the above three categories, primarily fat loss. Increasing metabolic rate during this fast and increasing the percentage of energy coming from fat can increase the overall amount of energy taken from fat stores.
Any stimulant or Thermogenic (fat-burning) compound with an ounce of reputability can aid this process. Some can aid directly (such as yohimbine acting on adrenergic receptors directly) or can act vicariously through increased adrenaline or cAMP levels (Hormones or cellular markers that, by increasing their levels, increase systemic or localized catabolism respectively).
For this reasoning, those who can handle stimulants and wish to lose more body fat are encouraged to try their hand at these compounds during a fast. Something as simple as black coffee or green tea will suffice, and something as advanced as an ECA stack with added yohimbine HCl or L-tyrosine can also work wonders.
A word of caution; many people report the stimulation effect to be more significant while in a fasted state. Make sure not to jump any stimulatory or fat-burning compound too fast, fasted or not. Make sure your body can handle stimulant as well, and get cleared of any metabolic conditions or disease states from a doctor before starting to use these compounds.
What aspects of Cheat Mode are more lenient than traditional IF?
Firstly, Cheat Mode is not too anal retentive on the ‘no calories’ thing. We want to maintain a glucagon dominant state during our fast as the main goal. Therefore most things that spike insulin are out.
Enter dietary fats. Dietary fats have very minimal insulin secretion rates. Popping a few fish oil tablets during a fast will not break the fasted state as it pertains to Cheat Mode as it will not secrete insulin to a high degree. This can be beneficial for fish oil’s anti-inflammatory effects and can act as a transport for any fat-soluble nutrients that you want to take during your fast (such as Vitamin D).
Also, in almost seemingly pure contrast to the previous paragraph, strategic BCAA or Leucine pulses are allowed despite causing significant insulin secretion.
Some people may want to supplement with Leucine in order to prevent muscle loss or to further ketosis (if they are capable of slipping into ketosis after a post-workout binge by the morning).
The reasoning behind this is because the insulin spike is very transient when compared to dietary carbohydrate. The former (amino acids) result in what is called a ‘monophasic’ (one phase) release of insulin, which is releasing of pre-made insulin stores from the pancreas. Other carbohydrate compounds result in a ‘biphasic’ (two-phase) release of insulin, which is the former release of pre-made insulin with a more sustained release of newly created insulin in response to elevated blood sugar. A few spikes of insulin here and there will technically break the fast, but overall the time spent in an insulin-dominant state is minimal.
Glucagon can bounce back to near-regular levels after the insulin is gone, thus many of glucagon’s benefits are retained. Cortisol may be suppressed for a longer time, which has negative implications for fat loss (as cortisol has the ability to break down triglycerides) but will also have beneficial effects on muscle preservation (cortisol is also the hormones that mediates amino acid breakdown into glucose). This is a trade-off that one must decide on individually, although whether it is significant or not is debatable.
Finally, the timing of the fast is not overly important. More fasting means more time in this fasted state, and less time means less exposure to this state. Nothing magical happens at 16 hours into the fast; you can break it 12 hours in, 16 hours in, or even 20 hours in if you wish. Some benefits may come in late into a fast (such as an increase in UCP1, and thus heat/energy expenditure), but these really become significant during day-long fasts and are not of concern with cheat-mode style fasting.
Cheat Mode fasting is a pre-determined amount of time without food with the purpose of using body fat as energy, either for absolute loss or to compensate for a post-workout binge for muscle building depending on goals. Cheat Mode fasting attempts to take control of certain compounds or strategies to maximize the amount of fat burnt during the fast, and is used in conjunction with the carb-backloading binge to ultimately result in a decrease in fat mass and an increase in muscle mass at the end of every 24 hour period the combination is used.