In this article:
- Defining intermittent fasting (IF)
- What are the different forms of IF?
- What breaks a fast?
- The numerous health benefits of fasting
- Why you should consume Collagen Peptides during your fast
I'll admit it, and you can certify me insane now: for five years, I have almost never eaten before 6pm or after 10pm. If you’re not familiar with intermittent fasting (IF) then you might be wondering, “Who on earth would subject themselves to that?!” Because, five years ago in August - my anniversary is coming up, and I think your fifth anniversary is wood, so I'd accept some would or should anyone want to give me some! - I adopted a strict form of Intermittent Fasting and I haven't looked back.
Let's step back for a second for anyone who isn’t familiar: What is Intermittent Fasting exactly? It's the argument that, in short, the human body was designed to go long periods without eating and thus, it's healthy to go long periods without eating.
Intermittent Fasting generally takes one of two forms: either you practice it every day, in which you eat during a particular window. It's labeled by the number of hours you don't eat and then the number of hours during which you could eat, per day. The most common form of IF is what is called "16/8" which means you fast during 16 hours and then eat during 8 hours. In fact, this is the fasting strategy I recommend to all newbies because, if you do the simple math, eating during an 8 hour window basically means just skipping breakfast. Long enough to get certain minimal benefits of fasting, and short enough to be easy. My more extreme form is called "20/4" which has the downside of being hard to say out loud because, spoken, it sounds like the number that comes after twenty-three.
There's another type of intermittent fasting: that's when you eat normally for a few days, but then go for a few days without eating. This is referred to by the number of days you go eating, followed by the number of days you go without eating. So a "5:2" fasting regime means you eat normally 5 days then fast 2 days.
It's a separate question of the scope of this article of which style is better for you and can depend on many factors such as age, gender, physical exertion, and hormones. However, the, the bottom line is: not eating for more than 12 hours per day, or for more than 1 day in a row, can bring enormous health benefits once you've fully adopted the Religion of Fasting. Once you have, its often a minor optimization or tweak as to which form of IF to choose.
One of the key challenges of fasting is this: what -- if anything -- can you eat while you fast?
The most strict fasters say "absolutely nothing at all, period, excluding water." These superhumans have my full admiration.
The second-most-strict fasters -- a category that I'm in -- allow for water, coffee, and tea. Without sugar, milk, or any additives as well. Because coffee and tea, like water, don't technically break a fast, all have zero calories, and, well, we're human.
From there on down, there are those who increasingly make a fast not-very-fast-like. Some people say, "Oh you can eat up to 200 calories per day while fasting" -- although from my perspective, if you do that, then it definitionally means you're not fasting! (As an example, one of the key thinkers about IF, the amazing Toronto kidney doctor Jason Fung, says that on fast days when you do 5:2 fasting, you can still eat 500 calories. It reminds me of when I was 13 years old and went to synagogue with my parents on Saturday: I sat outside and played with my friends the whole time and never went into the service itself, and some old guy who was always there continuously criticized us for it. (Wow what a bad boy!). If you don't perform the ritual itself (but rather only come close to it) then you're, well, not performing the ritual itself.
To know where to place yourself on the strictness level, there are essentially three parts to deciding. First is simply your own health, which of course you should consult your Doctor about before jumping on the fasting train. If you have low blood sugar, you’re a diabetic, or maybe you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, your options may be more limited. Safety first of course!
The second factor is your personal willpower If you're a Nietzschean superhero, longer periods of fasting might work well for you. If you're a mortal, find the ratio (16:8 or 20:4) that works for you.
But the third factor in deciding your strictness level is particularly interesting, to me at least. Why does fasting work so well for the human body? What will it help you achieve from a health standpoint?
Current research suggests that fasting's awesome benefits include: the prevention of dementia, rejuvenating stem cells, and removing lipofuscin (the famous “toxic waste of aging”) That’s just a summary and you can read up on them further by using a really cool startup in Silicon Valley called Google -- I promise the wealth of information you’ll find will keep you going for days.
Diving deeper, about half of the benefits of fasting come from a process called "autophagy" which is, to put it in simple human terms: your body cleaning itself. Think about it this way: your body spends lots of energy processing the food you eat - you eat a tiny bit of something and your body is working for hours to process it. That's why you feel so full after you eat a lot! But it's only when your body is NOT processing food (that is, when you're fasting) that those same cells can relax, and chill since they're finally not processing food -- and use that energy to repair themselves. This self-repair, auto-phagy, lets the cells heal minor wounds so they don't turn into bigger [insert name of big scary diseases we don't want to name here because we don't want to scare anyone]. They say autophagy really only begins after not eating for 12 hours, which is why if you don't eat for less than 12 hours, it's not considered a fast; in fact, the normal human word for that is called "sleeping"!
But the second half of the benefit of fasting come from a completely different source: the tendency to simply eat a lot less food. Evidence suggests, such as this powerful 2015 study, that our modern-day overeating is responsible for a chunk of the "diseases of civilization" that affect us today. Forget comparing ourselves to people centuries ago who ate a lot less, just compare ourselves to our grandparents: my grandma insisted it was disgusting for anyone to ever have any food in their mouth if they weren't sitting at the table during one of the three meals per day or tea-time. A benefit of that old way of thinking is simply that if you were to only eat at appointed times and nothing - literally nothing - in-between, your body can not only recover but you eat less.
Said differently: when you adopt a fasting lifestyle (it’s not just a diet choice, folks!) , something incredible that happens is, you get less hungry. (Just ask anyone who has fasted for more than 48 hours - your hunger usually increases until that point - or watch an informative YouTube video such as this one. So, during my four hour window of eating, I don't eat the equivalent of 3 meals per day in one sitting. Maybe 1.5 meals -- I usually have really big dinners these days. And I'm not hungry. And, many academic studies have shown that you will naturally eat a lot less when you’re eating within smaller windows of time during each day (go re-watch the video I just linked three sentences up!). This would be referred to as "caloric restriction" or "reduced caloric intake," by academics, which is one of the main drivers of long-term health.
Okay, I'm going to say it differently one more time because it's an important and surprisingly complex point: if you want to be super healthy and maintain good health as you age, eating a lot less can help. But in our modern world, just eating less is really, really hard. And you know a great way to eat less might be? Adopt a rule-set, a religion -- like, say, "Intermittent Fasting" -- which forces you to eat less!
So, with all of that as background, this leads to the useful question: does collagen break a fast?
If you were paying attention above -- and I know you've committed to memory every word on this page, umm, screen -- then the consequences of the answer you should be able to figure out.
In word: yes, it does, break a fast. Collagen has calories and anything with calories does break a fast. I wish I could say "no," but, alas, honesty always prevails. Just check out collagen’s typical Nutritional Facts: -- an average of 23 calories in one serving.
That said, there are three important points to keep in mind.
First, as we discussed above: basically, almost all "non-strict" or "non-orthodox" fasters let you eat ~300 calories per day. So, if you want to take your collagen peptides while fasting -- cool, and just remember you're placing yourself into the less strict, more liberal camp. As a liberal guy who loves Justin Trudeau's socks, I won't stop anyone from being in a more liberal camp! But seriously: any fasting, including less strict fasting, is arguably MUCH healthier than "no fasting" - so go ahead, please.
Secondly, the same liberal fasting camp also argue that eating anything with under 50 calories won't break a fast, as our favorite nephrologist Dr Fung argued in the same link above. And an all-natural collagen supplement only has a smidgen (wow I haven't heard that word in forever, I can't believe it just came to my mind) of calories so, if you're going to be liberal and have calories, it's just about the smallest (and one of the healthiest) amounts and ways to have it. So, to get into the nitty gritty, so long as your opting for an unflavored, all-natural collagen source with no artificial sweeteners or additives, then you can expect to consume about 20 to 35 calories per 10g scoop or serving of collagen powder.
Third, remember that half of the benefits of fasting come from the autophagy and half from the fact that, by engaging in Intermittent Fasting, you’re likely to naturally eat a lot less food. Well, it's an important point that: while adding a scoop of hydrolyzed collagen to your coffee will break the fast -- thus it reduces a bit one of the two benefits -- it doesn't reduce the other benefit, that you just eat a lot less food. So, while it does reduce one category of benefits, it doesn't reduce the other.
These three points, taken together, lead to the conclusion: what's your goal in fasting, and what's your goal in taking collagen - and how much do they trade-off with each other?
If your goal in IF is to simply add it to the list of the things you do perfectly in life, then only consume collagen during your window of eating whether that be 6 hours or 8 or 4.
But if you're aiming for health benefits and not just trying to be perfect then you can still grab a large quantity of the benefits of IF by adding a scoop of clean-sourced collagen powder to your morning coffee, tea, or water for example. Go for it and see how you feel.
After all, adding a scoop of easy-to-mix collagen to your daily nutrition supports a whole roster of health & beauty goals including maintaining strong bones, healthy tendons & cartilage, a healthy gut, shiny thick hair, strong nails, lean muscle, better flexibility, and last but not least, smooth, hydrated, youthful skin. Hmm, that seems like a few very good reasons.
The question is more what works for you personally and what you can sustainably commit to in the long-term. Some people approach everything with an all or nothing attitude and can’t live with themselves if they haven’t adopted the strictest, strongest, and most rigorous of fasting techniques. Others are moderates and will find that adopting even a 16:8 IF regime that includes collagen coffee in the morning will be perfectly acceptable for their lifestyle and goals.
Basically, If you are to convert to a religion, do you go all the way and become a born again messianiac preacher? Or do you just go to your Church a bit more often? If you decide to exercise more, do you start spending 3 hours/day every day as a gym rat starting tomorrow, or do you go two times a week for 45 minutes each?
And that philosophical question is, unfortunately, far out of the bounds of this article. But it's a good question for you and your spiritual advisor, be it an Indian guru, a rabbi, a wise grandparent, or whomever you turn to for holistic wisdom. And if you don't have someone who fills that role, you should find him/her. Right after you put a scoop of your Amandean collagen in your coffee:)