When it comes to intermittent fasting, you've likely heard about various time-restricted feeding (TRF) plans. These strategies essentially involve setting a specific eating window and fasting outside of it. In simpler terms, it often boils down to "skip breakfast." For instance, if you have a bedtime snack, sleep for 8 hours, and then delay your first meal until lunch, you've just completed a 12-14 hour fast.
Some TRF plans push the fasting duration to 16 hours, leaving you an 8-hour eating window. This extended fast may potentially lead to reduced inflammation, detoxification, and some fat loss, as long as you don't go overboard and binge during your eating hours. Recent research, however, hints that the underlying factor might be calorie reduction, irrespective of how you structure it.
TRF can be effective, especially when used strategically for short periods, as long as you don't struggle with disordered eating behaviors. Nonetheless, overly strict TRF regimens, such as those with 4-hour eating windows, might have the opposite effect, increasing abdominal fat while causing scale weight loss. There seems to be a sweet spot in between.
Introducing the 90/90 Study
In a recent study, researchers explored a more lenient form of time-restricted feeding known as the 90/90 plan. Over a 10-week period, participants received straightforward meal-timing guidelines:
- Delay breakfast by 90 minutes.
- Conclude the last meal of the day 90 minutes earlier than usual.
- Eat what you desire during the intervening hours.
- In essence, their regular eating window was shortened by 3 hours: 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening.
Results and Insights
The participants following the 90/90 plan experienced twice as much fat loss compared to the control group that adhered to regular eating patterns. Although this study was preliminary, it provides some valuable takeaways:
The 90/90 group had the liberty to eat as they pleased, with researchers referring to it as "free living" or "ad libitum" food access. Interestingly, they naturally reduced their daily calorie intake. Part of this reduction occurred because they couldn't eat during the last 90 minutes before bedtime, a time when mindless snacking typically occurs. Therefore, the results primarily boiled down to "less time to eat equals fewer calories consumed."
However, over half (57%) of the participants expressed reluctance to maintain this plan due to its social inconvenience and its challenging integration into their regular schedules. Delaying breakfast by 90 minutes might lead to your first meal coinciding with work, school, or gym commitments. Similarly, moving dinner 90 minutes earlier might clash with work routines or family meal schedules.
How to Apply This Information
If the 90/90 plan aligns with your daily routine, it's worth giving it a try, particularly if you steer clear of "free eating" tendencies. Stick to clean eating and prioritize protein intake.
Two key considerations if you opt for the 90/90 plan:
Avoid fasted weight training, especially if you train in the morning. Instead, break your fast with targeted workout supplements to fuel your training, enhance hypertrophy, regulate cortisol, and facilitate recovery.
Many individuals find it more convenient to shift the 3-hour fasting period to the end of the day. Multiple studies have demonstrated that refraining from eating 3 hours before bedtime can result in as much or even more fat loss compared to a 90/90 split plan. If you're accustomed to late-night snacking, this might test your willpower until your appetite cues and behavioral habits adjust. However, for most people, this alternative is easier to accommodate within their regular schedules.
Ultimately, modest calorie restriction combined with a high-protein diet consistently yields positive outcomes, regardless of your meal timing approach. If clearly defined fasting and eating windows help you control your calorie intake, then experimenting with the 90/90 plan or the "avoid eating 3 hours before bed" strategy is worth a shot.