Learn everything there Is to know about fItness, performance, fat loss and lifestyle from Adrian McDonnell.
I still remember what it felt like. I would come home from training as late as 9.45pm, put the oats on the hob with some protein powder mixed in and top it off with some dark chocolate and a chopped banana. I would finish this meal (approx. 700 calories) as late as 10.30pm at night.
The following morning by 7.30am, I would have finished another meal – this time a big omelette I used to have to fuel my morning and start my day off. Despite the quality of my food being good (with the exception of the protein powder and 20g of dark chocolate, all foods I ate would have been real foods with no ingredients), I always seemed to feel really bloated and get a sense of brain fog. I wasn’t sure why but I knew I needed to change something which I eventually did around summer 2018. That’s when I started implementing Time Restricted Eating (TRE) and ever since, I haven’t looked back.
What is Time Restricted Eating? (TRE)
TRE is a more flexible version of intermittent fasting (which involves eating for 8 hours of the day and fasting for 16 hours). The basic concept is, from the moment you break your fast (the first thing you put into your mouth that’s not water), your goal is to consume all of your meals within an optimal of nine hours and a maximum of twelve hours.
However, you can still reap the benefits of TRE (see below) even if you ‘cheat the system’ up to two nights a week. In other words, if you were to implement TRE Monday-Friday and then take the weekends off, you can still encounter the benefits it brings.
Does Coffee Break Your Fast?
Research on this is conflicting. Coffee does need to be processed by your liver. However, black coffee itself or drinks like herbal tea have very little, if any calories in them. In the words of nutrition expert DR. Rhonda Patrick, having a black coffee or herbal tea ‘is not optimal’ but ‘not quite as bad’ as eating something. In other words, coffee will still technically keep you in a fasted state (about 60%), just not a fully fasted state. If you add milk or sugar to your coffee or tea, this will break your fast.
I don’t stress too much about drinking coffee in a fasted state because in my eyes, I’m not consuming any calories which is a big benefit of TRE (see next point).
Benefits of Time Restricted Eating
At this stage you’re probably wondering – ‘Ok I get the basic concept of TRE, but why would I want to do it?’ I’ll start out with the personal benefits I’ve encountered and include some science-based ones also.
1). Calorie Control
I’m not going to lie, calorie and portion control is something I find difficult to manage at times. The majority of the time, the quality of my food is good but the problem lies in the quantity. As someone who has a big appetite, I always struggled to stay within my calorie limit when I broke my fast as early as 7.00am in the morning. I would have eaten the majority of my calories come 7pm at night and I’m not someone who likes to go to bed hungry. This would often lead to me eating more calories than I needed to and it made my job much harder to get leaner when this was a goal of mine.
However, once I started TRE, the biggest benefit I’ve found is being able to stay within my calorie limit for my specific training goals. Because you’re eating in a condensed window of between nine and twelve hours, you’re less likely to eat as many calories as you would in a fourteen or even fifteen hour window. My portions are still quite big but they are within the parameters of my calorie target. On top of this, in the past I used to snack much more between meals. Now, the majority of the time I’m eating square meals only meaning I’m less likely to snack on sweet treats which was often the case in the past. This has allowed me to maintain and even build a better physique without impacting my performance.
Note: It is important to remember, that calories in vs calories out is still the number one most important factor that is going to determine how toned up you get. If your calorie target is 2,000 a day, you can eat this within a nine hour window or fourteen hour window – provided you don’t go over the limit. TRE doesn’t give you a free pass to eat whatever you want, it just increases your likelihood of staying within your calorie target due to a reduced eating window.
2). Insulin Sensitivity
Strength training is a catabolic activity. This means as you train, your muscles are being broken down. To move from a catabolic (muscle breakdown) to anabolic (muscle building) state, it is a good idea to have protein with some carbohydrates post workout.
Insulin is your number one anabolic (muscle building) hormone and it is released when you consume carbohydrates. This means, the carbohydrates you eat post workout are more likely to be put towards building muscle than losing fat.
Research indicates that people who carried out TRE were more insulin sensitive than the control group who didn’t. In other words, in the TRE group, the carbohydrates they ate were used more efficiently towards building muscle and were less likely to be stored as fat.
3). Better Digestion
No wonder I felt bloated in the past! Eating from 7am to 10.30pm is a 15 ½ hour eating window. When did I give my body a chance to actually absorb and digest my food? I didn’t – except when I slept!
Ever since I started TRE, I can honestly say my stomach, my gut and even my mental clarity is WAY better now than what it was before. It’s kind of hard to explain the feeling but if you’re someone who feels like you can almost taste last nights dinner being digested while you eat this morning’s breakfast, you’re not alone. TRE has completely changed this for me.
4). Training Fasted & Carbs for Fuel
Carbohydrates are your bodies primary fuel source. Carbohydrates are used for high intensity exercises such as sprinting, jumping, heavy lifting as well as exercise where your heart rate is at 70% and above. Fats are your bodies secondary (least preferred) fuel source and are most commonly used for lower intensity exercises such as steady state cardio.
A by-product of TRE for me has been training fasted. While training fasted is not necessary in order for you to do TRE, doing TRE has made me more comfortable in a fasted state. So then I experimented with fasted training and I’m enjoying the process since. Training fasted has allowed me to be more metabolically efficient – meaning I find my body is better at conserving my carbohydrates for higher intensity exercises only and using fat as a fuel source for all other lower-intensity exercises I perform. In other words, when I do need my carbs to kick in (for max effort lifts, jumps, conditioning etc.), I feel I can tap into them better. This has been really rewarding for me knowing I can still hit the numbers I want in the gym without having eaten beforehand. I used to wrongly assume that “I’d be weaker today” if I hadn’t eaten prior to the gym session but this hasn’t been the case.
DrawBacks of Time Restricted Eating
TRE definitely works well for me and my specific goals, but I’m aware it’s not for everyone either. If you fall into any of the following categories, TRE may not be for you:
Bulking Up: If you are trying to put on weight which will require you to eat in a calorie surplus and eat more meals throughout the day, I would not recommend TRE. Most people trying to ‘bulk up’ have a tough enough time hitting their calorie needs in a broader eating window. Reducing this window of eating would make their job even more sizeable and result in eating the same amount of food in less time. Not a good idea!
Stressful Lifestyle: If you are currently dealing with a lot of stress is your personal life or in your line of work, adding another stress to this (fasting) might not be the wisest option.
Certain Athletes: If you compete at a high level which may require you to train up to 2x a day, TRE again may not be beneficial for you if you find you cannot meet your energy needs.
What You NEED to Consider Before Trying
If you’re considering trying out TRE, here are some things to take in mind and prepare yourself for before you start.
Reflect on your typical day and consider you’re average eating window. While most people believe it is around twelve hours, it’s more commonly between fourteen and fifteen hours of eating a day. If this sounds like you, it might be worth considering trying TRE. Before you make any judgements on it, try it for a month. Give it a chance and see if it benefits you. If not, at least you tried. If it does, you might just have taken the first step towards a different lifestyle change which I’m so glad I discovered over two years ago.
Try it out before you criticise it.
If you have any questions about TRE or anything health and fitness related in general, I'd love to hear them.
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Adrian McDonnell -
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