Fasting for Karate
In my “5 Method Guide to Improve your Life and Condition” eBook I talked about Fasting as a method of improving your physical and mental self.
As much as I wanted to explain it all in the book, I felt it needed it’s own entire page on my site to explain - plus there is plenty in my eBook to keep you busy!!
So let’s get to it, what is Fasting?
Fasting, whereby we deny ourselves anything of calorific value, in order to start a few metabolic processes that can contribute to our physical and mental wellbeing.
In essence, only drinking water, black coffee and herbal tea (unless you are like me and also partial to a cup of Tetley without the milk).
There have been a number of famous fasters like Ghandi, Jesus and Pythagoras who sought fasting for the mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing it can produce.
Here is an article on The History of Fasting
It seems as though Fasting is once again in vogue, but really, it doesn’t need to be a fad or have a come-back, but just be present for anyone who wishes to try it out.
For me I only recognise three types of Fasting;
Prolonged Water Fasting
The first one is the easiest - Intermittent Fasting - which commonly has you fast between 12 and 18 hours.
Often this is combined with an “Eating WIndow” where you will consequently intake your daily calories.
To make it simple Intermittent Fasters will have a time where they stop eating, say at 6pm, and then a time the next day where they will start their eating window, 6am for a 12 hour fast, 10am for 16 hour fast and 12pm for a total of 18 hours of fasting.
Basically, not snacking at night, and then skipping breakfast is basically part of how it works.
There are fitness enthusiasts and everyone else looking to lose weight who see this method as being a major reason for their new found weight loss. Often it is used in conjunction with a high protein/ fat and low carb diet.
The second method - Prolonged Fasting - is where you will go without food from 18 hours and up to 3 weeks!!
Just water, tea and coffee.
Sounds difficult, and it is at first, which is why it takes time to work up to going past the 48 hour mark, but the benefits are far more pronounced.
Method three is basically the same as method two except it is without any fluids at all. Needless to say it’s best not to go further than 1-3 days although some have claimed to go as much as 18 days without any food or water.
Now before I go into the benefits I will tell you that I have practiced each method and regularly practice method two - Prolonged Fasting (with fluids) - after having practiced Intermittent Fasting for over 2 years.
I can say now, due to my experience, that Intermittent Fasting, at least in the sense that the fitness industry defines it as, isn’t truly fasting, but rather just another method of reducing calorie intake and can unfortunately lead to disordered eating patterns around “good” Vs “Bad” food. Also, it has been found that Fasting really isn’t any better for you for weight loss than conventional calorie restriction - even accounting for reduction in Lean and Fat Body Mass.
Here is a study on Fasting Vs. Calorie Restriction
Which leads me to explain the real benefits to Fasting and why I personally suggest method two.
The first benefit to Fasting comes to the gut.
Giving your digestive tract time to not have to process any food allows it to repair itself, close any gaps and reduce overall inflammation.
You see, food, even though it is where we gain most of our energy from, is also toxic to our systems. SOme things are worse than others, but overall it takes an army of microbes, enzymes and our immune system to make sure we get the best out of what passes through our system, whilst allowing the by-products and undesirable parts to be processed for excretion.
Giving our guts a rest from all that can make a huge difference to your overall health as once the inflammation in the gut has been reduced your body is better able to handle inflammation elsewhere in the body.
Now this benefit typically starts at the 6 hours post meal mark.
From the moment you lay down that fork your body is processing that food for roughly 6 hours until it can take a rest.
For many of us, that never happens, especially if we have been consuming alcohol which makes the whole system grind to a halt whilst the liver gets rid of the alcohol in the system.
How long your gut needs to heal all depends on the general health of your gut, which is heavily based upon what you regularly eat.
Sugars, high fat and lots of red meat can all increase the inflammation in the gut - as well as potential pathogens that have managed to take hold after a course or two of antibiotics.
Now the next stage is the one we feel the most, and this is the mental change that comes across us as we hit the 18 - 24 hour mark.
This is where our blood sugars and insulin levels begin to drop as the body is no longer trying to transfer energy into our cells.
Our bodies start the process of Glycogenesis (creating Glucose) when the liver is creating energy by breaking down amino acids which roughly last up to 2 days.
During this phase you will notice a reduction in overall body temperature, a reduction in temperature sensitivity and an increase in brain calming GABA.
Your CNS is beginning to slow down and become less “twitchy” and it is at this point where you are provided with some mental stillness in which to contemplate in.
You can still perform complex tasks, and get about your day just fine, but at least in my case, with an even more laid back attitude than my normal.
Sometimes during this phase people experience brain fog however as they are simply not used to having low blood sugar levels.
I tend to keep my blood sugar levels low anyway by limiting my consumption of foods which cause spikes. (Note: the foods most likely to spike your blood sugar levels vary from person to person - so you may be allowed that trashy slice of white bread after all!)
Where the body is getting this energy from is where the real benefits come to the fore.
In order to preserve your body fat, for now, and to not take too much from your lean muscle, your body looks to get your energy by eating the weakest and least useful cells in your body.
The dead cells that haven’t had a chance of being cleared, the cells from the immune system that our getting slow and less responsive, and the damaged tissues in your body all get broken down to keep the healthiest and best cells alive.
Your body is literally making itself more efficient by getting rid of dead space - like clearing out your inbox of all those subscription emails (not mine I hope).
This process is called Autophagy and is an excellent way of renewing your bodies systems, especially your immune system as once you break your fast your body will start to create more immune cells but based off of the strong cells remaining after fasting.
Now the next benefit of fasting is the one that may appeal to those weight loss fanatics.
After 2 days of no food, and once your body has worked its way through all the amino acids floating around from the Autophagy process your liver starts to produce Ketones in order to break down your Free Fatty Acids - that junk in your trunk essentially.
For the next day or so you will feel a massive spike in energy levels, which is the part most Fasters look forward to, as it feels like the light at the end of the empty tunnel.
Your brain becomes excited again, the world returns to full HD colour and you’ll probably feel like hitting the gym, even though its 4 am and you’ve only slept for 2 hours.
In time this will balance out though, and it’s best not to do any strenuous exercise as we want to let the body do it’s thing.
By all means, go for a walk, get some oxygen into your system and your blood moving to help it all along.
After 5 days, with still no food in your belly, your body will want to make sure that your lean body mass a.k.a. muscle gainz doesn’t get wrecked, and so it ups the amount of HGH (Human Growth Hormone) which is key when you want to build muscle, and in this case, preserve it. Your adrenaline levels increase which also means your metabolism doesn’t drop and you can keep stoking the fire using the fat built up around the midriff.
Now you are in a sweet spot, where your energy levels will flatten out and it will feel like you have this endless tank.
To get to this stage, however, takes a lot of practice, and careful preparation to make sure you manage your hydration levels.
It’s important to remember that these benefits are essentially survival mechanisms. It is what keeps us moving during time when food is scarce, allowing us to continue to walk and jog to forage for food and track animals for hunting.
It is now where you have one of two choices.
You can either go hardcore and keep fasting until “real” hunger hits you. This will be a hunger sensation that you will likely never have felt before and is a very obvious sign that your body has run out of options…. You HAVE to eat.
Option two is two begin the refeeding process.
And this is the hardest part of all.
You see, your whole body has slowed down, and your gut has been lying dormant now.
Just like going back to Karate after a break, you got to ease yourself back in.
The first thing I recommend is having an apple.
The fruit of life I like to think of it as.
It has sugar, fibre and water.
Enough to give energy, and to feed the gut microbiome who (yes i have personalised my gut bacteria - perhaps because they are integral to many of our “personality traits”) are going to need waking up.
After eating one apple over the course of an hour, you will want to wait another 4 hours before you have a little more fruit, and to keep your fluid intake up.
You will repeat this process of increasing your food intake gradually every four hours or so until you feel ready to consume an entire plate.
This is hard because not only will the food be the most delicious thing to touch your tongue, but your body will now be giving you “hunger pangs” urging you to eat more.
Now you could give in, but you wouldn’t be doing your poor underprepared gut much favours and you can cause it upset.
When I completed a 5 day fast I opted for fruit juices, some smoothies, some fruit, some pickled vegetables, rice, porridge and then a full plate of food.
I didn’t have a lot of time as I was flying back to Scotland to attend my best friend’s wedding and I knew my choices on the plane was going to be limited.
At some point I had a slight upset stomach but overall it worked out ok.
It wasn’t ideal but I did my best.
Now as for Dry Fasting, imagine all those benefits of Prolonged Fasting but three times faster.
You are accelerating the survival mode but it is even harder to break due to having to reintroduce fluids before even thinking about food.
Also, ensuring you don’t suffer the effects of dehydration is a very real concern which is why only very experienced fasters attempt it, and whilst setting up the right conditions beforehand.
There you have it in a nutshell - if you are keen to learn more about the science of it all check out Thomas Delaur’s Youtube page.
He has transformed his body with ketosis and fasting and has the scientific knowhow to back it up.
But wait, Karateka, there’s more.
If you think you can do all this, and still git gud at Kata, think again.
Your bodies systems will be slower than your used to, your body is in a major catabolic state and having muscle tissue broken down can overload the process, not to mention that Fasting should be a time of inner exploration and contemplation, as opposed to the regular getaway that time in the Dojo affords us.
When I fast, I time it to coincide with non-active days where I will mainly be walking.
Or I will do some forms from White Crane Silat that I learnt in Bali that is much slower and softer moving so it doesn’t tax my system too much.
When I did my 5 day fast in Okinawa I still went to training, and the difference was noticeable. I could only move the Bo at half the speed, even if I tried to do more. Thankfully Sensei Akamine cut me some slack after I explained what I was doing.
Currently I fast for 24 hours once a month, and may move to simply doing it twice a year, as I feel I am in a great place with my health and now utilise a combination of strength training and Karate to maximise the changes in my body composition.
Why is this good for Karate?
Short Answer: If it is good for your life it is good for Karate.
Long Answer: Fasting can help clear the brain of distracting thoughts, help us to reduce inflammation, improve our Insulin sensitivity; all of which can reduce instances of depression, anxiety and emotional blockages that can be holding us back.
For many of Karateka they focus solely on the phycial aspects, mainly the body, trying to get faster, stronger and more flexibile - all wothwhile pursuits, except these are merely the shell of the enture practice.
By working on the inside, our health, mental wellbeing and our desire to do something greater than ourselves can enhance our Karate far more than those extra inches on the biceps.
Lastly, Fasting can help us to practice non-attachment, where attachment is often another symptom of modern living that holds us to our particular ways of living, and not for the better.
If you have read Go Rin No Sho by Miyamoto Musashi you will understand that one of his main tennets of being a great warrior was to become detached from the self, for only then can we experience true freedom.
If you liked this Post or have any questions, let me know in the comments below, and if you are looking to start enhancing your Karate and your physical strength then grab yourself a copy of my Strength and Conditioning Guides.