What breaks a fast?
Technically, anything that contains calories breaks a fast, including calorie-containing drinks and supplements. Because black coffee is extremely low in calories (1-2 kcal in a cup), some people allow themselves to drink long black while fasting to help them overcome hunger pangs. If you are fasting for medicinal or anti-aging purposes, it might be better to steer clear of coffee as it stimulates digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid and might affect the process of autophagy. Besides, drinking black coffee on an empty stomach can give you stomach pain and jitters.
What should you eat to break a fast?
The advice for breaking a fast may vary depending on the length and type of fast. It will be very different after a 16-hour fast and a 5-day fast. However, it’s generally not a great idea to have a massive meal for various reasons, such as:
After a period of fasting, your stomach and digestive system may have adjusted to a reduced capacity. Consuming a large meal all at once can overwhelm your digestive system and lead to discomfort, bloating, and indigestion.
Blood Sugar Spikes
Eating a large meal, especially one high in carbohydrates, can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. This can result in a subsequent crash in blood sugar levels, leading to feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and cravings for more food.
If weight management is one of your goals, consuming a huge meal after fasting may lead to overeating and consuming more calories than your body needs. This can hinder progress towards weight loss or maintenance.
Consuming a large amount of food in one sitting can trigger a significant release of insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. Frequent spikes in insulin levels can negatively affect insulin sensitivity over time, potentially increasing the risk of developing insulin resistance and metabolic disorders.
It's generally recommended to break a fast with a smaller, balanced meal or snack to avoid these issues. Start with moderate portion size and focus on nutrient-dense foods. This approach allows your body to adjust to food intake gradually, supports stable blood sugar levels, and helps prevent digestive discomfort.
If you find it challenging to manage portion sizes after a fast or struggle with overeating, it can be helpful to practice mindful eating techniques, listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues, and eat slowly to give your body time to register satiety.
Deciding on what exactly you should eat to break a fast depends largely on how long you abstain from food. It’s good to understand what happens in your body without the presence of food.
Short-term Fasting (Up to 24-48 hours)
In the early stages of fasting, the body primarily uses the glycogen stores in the liver and muscles for energy. During this time, the body continues to produce digestive enzymes to break down glycogen and release glucose into the bloodstream. Enzyme production remains relatively stable, and the body adapts to reduced energy intake.
Prolonged Fasting (48 hours or longer)
After the glycogen stores are depleted, the body enters a state called ketosis. In this state, the body primarily utilises stored fat as an energy source. During prolonged fasting, there may be some reduction in the production of certain enzymes related to carbohydrate digestion and metabolism. This is because the body's energy requirements and metabolic processes adapt to the absence of dietary carbohydrates.
Fasting for five days or longer
When you stop eating, and all you have is water for five days straight, your need to re-introduce food slowly to prevent dangerous shifts in fluids, electrolytes and insulin, which can result in the so-called re-feeding syndrome. You should do this type of fasting under medical supervision and adhere to a re-feeding protocol after the fast.
While consuming carbohydrates after a short fast is OK, it is recommended to avoid starches when breaking a prolonged fast. Regardless of the fast length, consuming protein as your first meal has many potential benefits, such as:
Protein is known for promoting satiety and reducing feelings of hunger. Including protein in your first meal after a fast can help you feel fuller for longer, preventing excessive overeating or snacking later on.
Muscle Repair and Maintenance
During a fast, your body may break down muscle protein to use as an energy source. Consuming protein after fasting can help replenish and repair muscle tissue. This is particularly important for regular physical activity or strength training.
Protein is an essential macronutrient that provides the building blocks for various bodily functions. Consuming protein as part of your first meal after fasting helps ensure a balanced intake of nutrients.
The thermic effect of food (TEF) refers to the energy expended during digestion and metabolism. Protein has a higher TEF than carbohydrates and fats, requiring more energy to digest and metabolise. Including protein in your first meal after fasting can slightly increase your metabolic rate during digestion.
- Hydration is your number one concern during and after the fast. Keep sipping filtered water throughout the day, and add a pinch of pink salt to get the water to your tissues.
- Avoid any calories during the fast, even the liquid ones. Water with half of a fresh lemon can snap you out of the fasted state too!
- Break the fast with a small nutritious snack containing good-quality protein. Our Beef Bars are a perfect break-fast meal.
- Seek medical advice and follow a re-feeding protocol if you want to fast for five days or longer.
SCIENCE OF FASTING:
- Fredericks R. Fasting: an exceptional human experience. San Jose: All Things Published Well; 2013.
- Furhman J. Fasting and eating for health: a medical doctor's program for conquering disease. New York: St. Martin's Griffin; 1995.
- Golbidi, S., Daiber, A., Korac, B. et al. Health Benefits of Fasting and Caloric Restriction. Curr Diab Rep 17, 123 (2017).