What I Ate and How I Exercised While Doing Intermittent Fasting
Limiting my eating to an eight-hour period of the day seemed reasonable. If I exercised in the morning, my first meal would be an early but large lunch at around 11:30 a.m. By 3 p.m., if I was hungry during fasting, I could have a snack. At 7 p.m., I would eat a reasonable-sized dinner. No snacking after that.
My first thought was that there was no way I would be able to skip breakfast and still work out. My mind was telling me that I would be hungry. The first few days that I tried it, as I would warm up for my workout, I would have visions of chicken with broccoli from a nearby Chinese restaurant in my head. But once I got into my workout, a funny thing would happen. I would completely forget about being hungry. My body would stabilize and water would be enough to keep me moving.
But by the time I got home from the gym, I was starving. Early on, I decided that was going to be my biggest meal of the day. Sometimes it was a lean shoulder steak with a sweet potato. Other times, I would eat an entire chicken along with two cups of broccoli, and the sweetest bottle of Gatorade I ever had. Or occasionally, I would make a taco bowl out of seasoned ground turkey, cheddar cheese, and tomatoes, or a stir-fry with beef and a variety of peppers. It turned out that my calorie intake and lunch would be anywhere from 800 to 1,000 calories, though this part was not an exact science.
Despite having such a large meal, I didn’t feel that post-lunch swoon that I usually felt when eating lots of carbohydrates for breakfast and lunch. (In popular terms, I was effectively following a combined keto diet and intermittent fasting plan.) My mental clarity was sharper than normal. I was able to zoom in on work right after lunch.
“There is a reason why refined carbohydrates can make you feel tired,” Pam Peeke, MD, told me. In addition to being an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland in College Park and an adjunct scientist at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Peeke is a senior Olympic triathlete. As someone who also researches and helps create nutritional guidelines for the public, Peeke exemplifies what it’s like to have a fit lifestyle in her work and personal life. So there was no better expert to help me manage my energy levels.
If I did get hungry during fasting in the late afternoon, I would have a handful of salted roasted almonds or a few cubes of cheese. Past research has shown that eating almonds can help a person feel more satiated and keep their daily calorie intake lower. They helped me stay on track to keep my carbohydrates down and my fat and protein up. It was also a nice boost of energy for the home stretch of work.
When work was done, and my family was home, I’d make one of the meals I didn’t have for lunch. Rotating the meals kept everything easy. My shopping was almost on autopilot. For dessert, I would make a banana shake with almond milk, a few ice cubes, and a scoop of whey protein. That would take my daily calorie intake to 2,500. On days when I worked out hard, that was my calorie target. If I was burning 3,000 calories on the days I exercised, a 500-calorie deficit per day would keep me on track to lose about 1 lb per week.
The beauty of intermittent fasting was that it allowed me to hit that target without truly feeling like I deprived myself. Once my body adapted to not expecting breakfast, I was hitting that 2,500-calorie mark like a metronome, without feeling like I was starving myself. I got to eat two large filling meals that I enjoyed. After dinner, I didn’t feel hungry enough to snack.