Not sure what to eat when intermittent fasting? The fasting part is pretty straightforward, but sometimes the real benefits come from how, and with what, you break your fast.
Many people assume that they can eat whatever they want after their fasting hours are over, and end up eating thousands of calories. Unfortunately, this can lead to weight gain and inflammation.
Instead, it’s a good idea to couple your fasting protocol with the right diet.
On that note, before we dive into the best foods to eat while you’re following an IF protocol, let’s review some of the most popular ways to intermittent fast.
With the 5:2 fast, you’ll eat normally 5 days of the week and then fast for two days. During your fasting days, you won’t fast completely, but you’ll significantly restrict your calories. It’s typically recommended that women stick to around 500 calories per day on fasting days, and men stay around 600 calories.
A sample fasting day on the 5:2 plan could look like skipping breakfast and enjoying a very light lunch and a snack around dinner time.
The 24-hour fast is pretty straightforward — you don’t eat for 24-hours at a time. Some people like to spread their 24-hour fast into two days to make it less daunting. For instance, you might follow an eating pattern where you skip dinner and finish your last meal of the day around 2 pm on a Tuesday, and then wait to eat until 2 pm on Wednesday.
This allows you to eat every day while still getting the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Some people actually spread 24-hour fasts into 36-hour fasts by skipping food for an entire day and then going to sleep fasted and breaking their fast when they wake up. This can be a lot more challenging if you’re not accustomed to fasting, so it’s not recommended for beginners.
16:8 Fast (Eating Windows)
The 16:8 fast is a type of eating window fast that involves a fasting period of 16 hours, leaving you with an 8-hour eating window to meet your daily caloric needs.
The amount of calories that you eat during your feeding window isn’t specified; the only dietary guideline is that you don’t consume calories outside of the 8-hours.
The concept of eating windows can be flexible; for instance, you may want to try a shorter fast like a 14:10 where you fast for 14 hours, and your eating window is 10 hours. Alternatively, you could extend your fast to 20:4, where you fast for 20 hours and get all of your calories in during a 4-hour window.
Alternate Day Fasting
Alternate day fasting is a more advanced fasting style that involves doing 24-hour fasts every other day. Unless you are accustomed to a fasting lifestyle, this technique may be quite challenging, so only try alternate day fasting if you’ve been fasting for a while.
The way you break your fast is just as important as the fasting process itself. Think of it this way — if you’re fasting to up-regulate cellular repair and detoxification, would it make sense to end a fast with low-quality foods that undo all of your hard work? Of course not. You want to keep the healthy foundation that you’re creating going — so re-fuel wisely, and you’ll see optimal results.
Since your eating windows will be smaller on an IF protocol, you really want to integrate as many nutrients into your diet as possible. Follow the below intermittent fasting food list to make sure you’re optimizing your food intake.
Breaking a fast with healthy fats is an excellent way to ensure that the ketones keep flowing and your cells are refueled with quality nutrients. If you’re following a keto diet, fat should be at the center of each meal you eat during your non-fasting hours. Although IF is a great way to help you get into ketosis, you still need to be wary of your carbs when you’re not fasting, so sticking to a high-fat diet is vital if you want the long-term benefits of both fasting and ketosis.
High-quality fats to include in your IF protocol include:
- Grass-fed butter
- MCT oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, etc)
- Seeds (hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
Protein not only helps to keep you full and satisfied, but this nutrient is the building block for every tissue in your body. Getting adequate protein is crucial for your immune system’s proper function, hormones, enzymes, and ensuring that you have a healthy muscle mass[*][*].
Perhaps more than any other food group, getting high-quality protein is essential. That’s because the quality of animal protein can vary from pristine to downright inedible. Animals that are raised commercially are pumped with hormones and antibiotics and should be avoided as much as possible[*][*].
High-quality protein sources to focus on include:
- Grass-fed beef
- Free-range organic chicken
- Free-range organic turkey
- Organic eggs
- Full-fat organic dairy
- Organic pork
- Organic organ meats (liver, heart, kidneys)
Nutrient-dense, high-fiber veggies are just as important when following an IF protocol as they are when you’re following a keto diet.
Nutrient-dense vegetables to incorporate into your meals include:
- Bok choy
- Leafy greens (kale, lettuce, chard, spinach)
- Brussels sprouts
- Summer squash
- Green beans
You’ll notice that after a fast, your taste buds are much more sensitive, and sweet foods like berries will taste even sweeter. Although you don’t want to go overboard on fruit, there are a handful of fruits to include (in moderation) in your fasting diet.
Fruits to enjoy in moderation include:
- Avocado ( you can actually enjoy avocado in abundance due to its high-fat content)
Many people choose to consume only water during their fasting windows, but some people will add in herbal teas or black coffee — it’s really up to you.
While you’re not fasting, you want to make sure that you give as much attention to your beverage choices as you do your food choices.
Some excellent beverage options include:
- Tea (herbal, green, oolong, black, white)
- Coffee (with no sweetener or keto-friendly sweetener)
- Sparkling water (flavored or plain)
- Low-sugar wine (in moderation)
- Spirits (in moderation)
As previously mentioned, if you really want to optimize the health benefits you’re getting from a fasting protocol, you must pay attention to what you’re consuming during your eating window. A treat here and there is no big deal, but the majority of your diet should be made up of the foods in the above sections.
The below foods should be avoided as much as possible as they don’t offer nutrient density and may, in fact, take away from your health on many levels.
- Candy (bars, gummies, taffy, chews, etc.)
- Baked goods (cake, muffins, cupcakes, brownies, cookies)
- Bread (white bread, whole wheat, gluten-free)
- Soda (Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Ginger Ale)
- Fried foods (french fries, fried chicken, etc.)
- Grains (quinoa, rice, amaranth, emmer, millet)
- Low-quality snacks (potato chips, popcorn, corn chips, etc.)
Basically, if you can’t picture it growing in nature, it’s high in carbohydrates, or the ingredient list is full of words you don’t recognize — don’t eat it.
There are two common pitfalls that people experience regarding food and intermittent fasting.
The first one is last supper eating. When you’re about to embark on a 24-hour fast, it can be tempting to make that last meal count. The problem is, when you overeat (even if you plan on fasting for a long time after), it can interfere with proper digestion and may lead to weight gain.
This will also increase the time it takes for your body to get into fasting mode, potentially cutting into the time you should be reaping the benefits of going without food.
The second pitfall is breaking your fast with a binge. Although it may sound tempting to break an extended fast with a large serving of your favorite foods, this is only going to leave you feeling lousy instead of energized. Again, if you overeat after a fast regularly, this could turn into a bad habit and begin to mimic eating disorder behavior. Not to mention stall the benefits of IF.
Eating low-quality foods during your eating window also makes it much more likely that you’ll experience cravings and blood sugar dysregulation, which will make it much harder to start your fast again.
Instead, plan the meals that you’re going to eat around your fast so that they’re full of nutrients and will leave you feeling satisfied but not stuffed. If you want to make it a special meal, then, by all means, go for it, just be sure that you eat it mindfully, knowing that this is, in fact, not your last meal on earth.
There are many ways to fast and even more ways to break a fast. The key is to make sure that you’re mindful about which foods you consume during your feeding windows.
Protein is always a good idea as it will help with satiety and may curb the desire to overeat. It also plays a number of crucial roles in your body, so getting it in is vital for overall health.
Planning your meals ahead can be helpful when you are new to fasting to avoid “last supper” or binging behavior. It is a natural reflex for humans to want to feed in abundance after we’ve been deprived, but if you can override this drive, you’ll find that the benefits of fasting are much greater.
By keeping your calorie intake reasonable during your eating windows, you can refuel your body responsibly without undoing all the great work you put into your fast.
Regardless of the fasting plan, you’re trying out, following these guidelines will help you stay on track and get the most bang for your fasting buck.