Not So Fast: Real Talk on Intermittent Fasting

October 6, 2020

If you keep up with the #fitfluencer community, chances are you’ve heard of the latest nutrition trend: intermittent fasting, or IF. Proponents of intermittent fasting boast all kinds of benefits, from improved sleep to decreased inflammation. But is intermittent fasting the real deal? And is it right for dancers? Dance Spirit spoke with Rachel Fine, dietitian and founder of To The Pointe Nutrition, to find out more.

What is intermittent fasting?

“Intermittent fasting is defined differently depending on who you ask,” Fine says. “But the general idea of it is that you have a specific, limited period of time where you are ‘allowed’ to eat food.”

One of the most common intermittent fasting patterns is the 16:8 method, in which you eat normally for eight hours of the day, and then fast for a 16-hour period. But there are also many other protocols popular in the IF community. “People often make it up as they go,” says Fine.

Is intermittent fasting effective?

In short, nobody is completely sure. Inter-mittent fasting is a relatively new trend, so studies of its efficacy are limited. “There is some evidence that show potential health benefits, like improvements in sleep and lowered risk for some diseases,” says Fine.

While IF has sparked some scientific interest, there isn’t a consensus in the medical community yet as to whether or not it’s as effective as some IF fans claim it is. If you see an Instagram post listing lots of benefits to intermittent fasting, make sure to double-check the sources the author is citing before taking their word for it.

Is intermittent fasting right for dancers?

In short, no. “Intermittent fasting isn’t
practical for dancers,” says Fine. “If a dancer is placing a hard and fast rule around eating behaviors, it makes it very difficult to navigate normal life—much less, say, a summer intensive or performance season.”

Fueling consistently throughout the day is incredibly important for dancers. “The body can use one of two sources of fuel for energy,” says Fine. “It can use your glycogen stores, which are stored carbohydrates, or it can use your fat stores.” Over the course of one dance class, your body will tap into both of these sources—unless, of course, you haven’t been fueling it with nutritious food, and there is no carbohydrate storage to tap into. Then, your body may start to break down protein—i.e., muscle—which is a huge risk in terms of muscle building and muscle recovery.

“At the end of the day, if dancers aren’t fueling themselves with food regularly, they’re going to feel tired and sluggish, and will therefore be at greater risk of injury,” says Fine. There’s also a greater risk of bone injury if dancers don’t consume enough calories while intermittently fasting, and a greater risk of binge eating in the time that they’re “allowed” to eat. “You can see extremes at both ends,” says Fine.