Email Question on Fasting

I get a question from a longtime reader in email.

While you're fasting, water is obviously what you must be drinking, but are you allowed to drink any other liquids — I'm thinking mainly tea or coffee (though I further imagine the latter wreaking havoc on my empty stomach)?  Also, are you only having one big meal and then fasting for 30 hours?  When you're not eating, clearly you're eating a lot of meat, but are  carbs merely strictly off limits or are you just not eating them b/c you aren't craving them?

First, I should stipulate that all this is simply my own experiences. I post them because I've found them so personally useful and interesting that I wonder if anyone else would, and could find the same benefits as I. However, I fully realize every individual is different and some won't find the same ease and or benefits as I.

For example… All my fasts up until today have been 30 hours, from after lunch until dinner the next day, and I have a heavy workout about 3 hours before the end of the fast. The most difficult time is the first evening, but once I go to bed it's all a coast right to the very end. Because of my outing to see the AT&T Pro-Am in Carmel yesterday, I didn't do my usual fast. Instead, I began it after dinner last night and it will end at House of Prime Rib in San Francisco in about 5 hours. I'm only 20 or so hours in, but this is far more difficult that my normal fasts and not very pleasant. So, that's just a clue: not only is every individual different but if you want to try this you'll want to experiment with different lengths of time and starting points.

OK, now to the specific questions. First, I don't look upon any of this as allowed or not allowed. Rather, search for what works for you. This all happens to work very well for me. For it to be a real fast, it needs to be zero calorie, or effectively so. Unsweetened or artificially sweetened coffee, tea or other beverage might at most have trace caloric value but it's not going to have any effect. As to handling it, I found coffee made me a little queasy on the very first fast. Now I don't even notice it. I always drink mine black and unsweetened anyway, so that part was no problem.

Water. You get all the water content you need via food, so if you're not eating it's a good idea to drink more water than you normally would. I just drink when I'm thirsty, and I really like a sparkling variety like San Pellegrino or equivalent.

Carbs. Well, I had a small scoop of vanilla ice cream last night after dinner. I also nibbled on a two or three tortilla chips late in the afternoon after walking the Pebble Beach Golf Course. I really, really want to stay completely away from making this a religious experience, if you know what I mean.

I look at it this way: if I put myself in an evolutionary state of hunger, as every primitive ancestor experienced on a regular basis, what happens? Well, that hunger motivates me to do things. Then I do them. This is a lot bigger than just food. I really haven't nailed everything down, but there are profound changes taking place entirely naturally, and lots of it is just mental clarity, attitude, motivation, and so on. For one, biologically, when you fast, or when you don't eat carbs, your body (muscles and brain) shifts from running on glucose to running on ketones, which are by-products of fat metabolism. I've read speculation that we run better, clearer, more steady on ketones, and my experience seems to be telling me that's the case. On the other hand, I'm not ignorant to novelty or the placebo effect, or simply wanting to fool myself. So, all with a grain of salt. And anyway, I don't need to be certain of what's causing the positive changes.

Meals. Since I begin after lunch, I try to have a small breakfast and then a pretty good lunch. I like to break fast with a big piece of meat, but in the last couple of times I have not had the appetite to finish it. Therefore, I'm trying to work out how I might shift the ratio of fat to protein to more fat and less protein. That's what my desires seem to be telling me.

Which is another aspect: fasting really gives you hi-fidelity insight into your own appetites. In retrospect, I have no fucking idea how I ever ate some of the stuff I did, in the quantities I did, at the frequency I did. It is a mystery to me, because it's so far removed from my tastes now.

I know that Fast 5 is free, and you should read it, but Eat Stop Eat is really the better work and the better program in my opinion.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Greg Freeman on February 9, 2008 at 16:18


    I just wanted to know, with the way you've been dieting and fasting, how has your gym experience been? Are you still putting on muscle and gaining in strength? I'm curious because I'm recovering from an injury and I want to save/build lean mass. I've been high protein/fat for months now, but haven't done the fasting thing at all.

  2. Richard Nikoley on February 9, 2008 at 16:35


    Gym experience has been great. There's three things that stimulate GH: sleep, fasting, and intense muscle loading. The evolutionary reasons should be obvious: since humans and the other animals had to use their lean mass and brains to get to the next meal in spite of hunger and in spite of failure, we seem to have a system highly adapted to preserving lean mass as much and as long as possible. GH is what does that. It builds muscle when the nutrients are present to do so, and preserves it when they're not.

    Right now, my weight loss is stalled (for nearly a couple of weeks now) in spite of the fasts. At the same time, I doubled the length and intensity of the leg portion of my workouts. I speculate that I'm still losing fat, but making up for it with lean gain.

    I don't know where it is, but one study I read tested subjects who work out regularly while fed, and then after a full three day fast, and there was no measurable decrease in performance. Smart to use experienced people. Those without gym experience probably would have choked, but by using experienced people, it shows there's no real physical obligation to the thing.

    I worked out on Thursday having had lunch. First time I'd worked out in a fed state in quite a few weeks and determined I like it better when fasted.

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