Fasting is said to be good for men, perhaps even more beneficial than it is for women.
Unlike women who may experience hormonal disturbances or nutrient deficiencies with prolonged fasting, men may reap the rewards of weight loss and muscle preservation without experiencing the same negative effects.
However, when it comes to eating while on a fasting diet, navigating the vast array of dietary advice can be confusing. Should you go completely calorie-free for several days at a time or is it best to stick to intermittent fasting? And what are the specific foods you should consume when you break your fast?
We’ve compiled the most effective fasting diets for men using the latest research as our guide, which will help you make informed decisions about your health.
What Is a Fasting Diet for Men?
A fasting diet for men is a type of eating pattern involving alternating periods of fasting and eating normally. It typically follows a cyclical approach with designated time windows where food consumption is restricted or eliminated entirely.
There are many variations of fasting diets, but the most popular include time-restricted eating, alternate-day fasting, and the 5:2 diet.
“For men” in this context refers to dietary recommendations that are specifically tailored to the unique needs of the male body. It’s not that women cannot follow these diets, but men may respond differently to fasting due to their different body composition and hormone physiology. Therefore, we’ll focus on the specific benefits men can experience from these fasting diets in this article.
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Are Fasting Diets Beneficial?
Fasting diets are those that combine periods of eating with designated time frames during which no calories are consumed.
For example, some popular versions include the 5:2 diet, where you eat normally for five days of the week and fast on two non-consecutive days, or time-restricted eating, where you restrict your eating to certain hours of the day.
However, these aren’t just another form of calorie restriction, which is the practice of eating less overall (3), and fasting diets may have specific physiological effects in addition to calorie reduction.
Firstly, they are believed to promote a process in the body called autophagy, which is a natural cellular cleansing mechanism that rids the body of damaged cells and promotes cell repair. This may contribute to increased longevity (1).
Fasting diets also lead to a decrease in insulin levels, which can help improve insulin sensitivity and may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Fasting has also been linked to faster weight loss in men, which can have positive effects on body composition and sexual function (6).
This doesn’t mean that both sexes cannot benefit from fasting, but men may have a slight edge when it comes to certain physiological responses.
You can read more about these differences in our guide on intermittent fasting for women.
So which type of fasting diet is best for men? Let’s take a closer look at two popular options: intermittent fasting and extended fasts.
Is Intermittent Fasting OK for Men?
It is okay for adult men with no medical conditions, no history of an eating disorder, and who aren’t taking chronic medications. Everyone else should consult their healthcare provider first. An intermittent fasting schedule for men can be as simple as skipping breakfast and only eating during an eight-hour window during the day.
This type of fasting has been linked to several potential health benefits, including weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced inflammation.
There’s no “best” men’s intermittent fasting schedule, as it is ultimately dependent on personal preferences and schedules. However, some research has suggested that a longer daily fast (such as 16, 18, or even 23 hours) may have more significant benefits for men compared to shorter fasts.
Extended Fasts: Are They Safe for Men?
An extended fast is typically defined as a period of consuming only water or low-calorie drinks for 24 hours or longer. This type of fasting has gained popularity in recent years, with some people claiming that it can lead to improved mental clarity, weight loss, and increased longevity (17).
But is it safe for men? Research in this area is still limited, but some studies have shown that extended fasts may have positive effects on insulin sensitivity and blood pressure in men (13).
However, the dangers of extended fasting (this means more than 48 hours) should not be underestimated, particularly for those with underlying health conditions.
Extended fasts are risky for many reasons, such as potential nutrient deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, and refeeding syndrome (a dangerous condition that can occur when eating following a prolonged fast) (12).
Assuming muscle growth is part of your fitness goals, then extended fasts may hinder progress. After a number of hours without proper nutrition (approximately 72 hours), your body may start to break down muscle tissue for energy, which can ultimately lead to a loss of muscle mass.
Furthermore, multiple studies have shown that extended fasting decreases testosterone levels in men. During a fast, the body reacts by prioritizing essential functions for survival. The production of new testosterone isn’t regarded as an essential function, hence the slowdown. Therefore, men should consider this downside of extended fasting. Everyone should consult a healthcare provider before they attempt an extended fast.
What Is the Best Fasting Method for Men?
The best intermittent fasting for weight loss for any man must meet the following criteria:
Individual Health Status: The fasting method should accommodate any pre-existing health conditions and align with an individual’s overall health status.
Personal Goals: Whether it’s weight loss, muscle gain, or improving general health, the chosen fasting method should align with the individual’s personal goals.
Sustainability: The method should be sustainable in the long term and easily incorporated into the person’s daily routine.
Nutritional Needs: It should support the individual’s nutritional requirements, providing essential micronutrients and macronutrients to maintain optimal health.
Activity Level: The fasting method should coincide with the person’s level of physical activity. Active individuals may require a different fasting timetable than less active individuals.
Mental Wellbeing: The chosen fasting method should not adversely affect mental health, but should promote a positive relationship with food.
Based on the above considerations, you may choose one of the following fasting options:
Time-Restricted Eating (TRE)
This is perhaps the easiest fasting method to start with. It involves limiting your eating window to a specific number of hours each day, typically between 8 and 12 hours. The rest of the day (12 to 16 hours) is your fasting period, which can include the time when you are asleep.
With this method, you alternate between a day of regular eating and a day of fasting (or eating very few calories). This method can be challenging due to the full days of fasting.
This diet involves eating normally for five days and drastically reducing your calorie intake on two non-consecutive days of the week. This method can be difficult for some people, as it requires significant calorie restrictions two days per week.
This involves eating very little during the day and then having a large meal in the evening, essentially fasting for 20 hours and eating within a four-hour window. This can be difficult for those who are not accustomed to going for long periods without eating.
An extended fast involves abstaining from eating for 24-72 hours or more. This type of fasting is the most difficult and should only be done under medical supervision. It is not recommended for beginners and you should consult a healthcare provider before attempting it.
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The Best Fasting Diet Plan for Men
Knowing what breaks a fast, which nutrients your body needs, and how to structure your meals can set you up for success when it comes to fasting.
In some cases, such as intermittent fasting for men over 50, dietary concerns may go beyond your usual considerations.
If you’re considering adding fasting to your diet plan, here are some essential food groups you need and why men need them for optimal health:
During a Fast
Water: Remaining hydrated is essential during a fast. Water helps with digestion, waste removal, and reducing cravings.
Electrolytes: These include minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which help regulate fluid balance in the body (7).
Fasting can cause an imbalance in electrolyte levels, so it’s important to replenish them with supplements or through electrolyte-rich beverages such as bone broth or coconut water.
Black Coffee or Tea: Consuming black coffee or tea without any additives can help suppress your appetite and provide a boost of energy during a fast (4).
During the Eating Window
Lean Protein: Men require a higher amount of protein than women due to their higher muscle mass. Lean proteins are essential for muscle repair and recovery, particularly for men who engage in regular physical activity (14). Foods in this category include chicken breast, turkey, fish, eggs, and tofu.
Whole Grains: Whole grains are high in fiber, which promotes satiety and aids with digestion. They also have a low glycemic index, which helps control blood sugar levels. Foods include brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole-grain bread (18).
Healthy Fats: Healthy fats are crucial for hormone production, particularly testosterone in men. Foods that are rich in healthy fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil (16).
Dairy or Dairy Alternatives: These are a great source of calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for bone health. Foods include milk, cheese, yogurt, or plant-based alternatives such as fortified almond milk or soy yogurt (5).
Leafy Greens: Leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals, which can help improve immunity. Examples are spinach, kale, and Swiss chard (10).
Brightly Colored Vegetables: These vegetables are high in antioxidants that help combat oxidative stress. Foods in this category include bell peppers, beets, and carrots (2).
Fruits: Fruits are an excellent source of dietary fiber and antioxidants. Berries, apples, and bananas are ideal choices (8).
Legumes: Legumes are an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber, which can help control appetite and improve gut health. Foods include beans, lentils, and chickpeas (11).
Seafood: Seafood is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. Foods in this category include salmon, sardines, and mackerel (15).
Notes on Exercising During a Fast
It’s tempting to hit the gym while you’re fasting, especially for those who are looking to lose weight or build muscle. However, if you don’t find a balance between intensity and optimal exertion, you may end up doing more harm than good.
Light Exercise: Light exercises such as walking or yoga can generally be done without any issues during a fast.
Moderate Exercise: For longer periods of fasting (24 hours or more), moderate exercise may be possible, but it should be done with caution. You should pay attention to your body’s signals and stop if you feel light-headed or dizzy.
Intense Exercise: Intense exercise during a fast is not recommended as it can place additional stress on the body. If you are planning on doing intense workouts, it’s best to schedule them for non-fasting days.
In our article on Intermittent Fasting Exercise, we highlighted how fasting can fit with different exercise regimes and the best times to work out during a fast.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should men fast for?
Men can fast for periods ranging from 12 hours to several days, depending on the type of fasting plan they choose. Shorter fasts (12-16 hours) are ideal for beginners, while more extended fasts should only be done under medical supervision. Muscle loss can occur after 72 hours of fasting, so it’s recommended to keep fasts under that length.
Is fasting good for males?
Yes, fasting can be beneficial for men. Studies have suggested that it can lead to weight loss, improve metabolic health, and even contribute to longevity.
Furthermore, fasting under medical guidance can potentially improve conditions such as insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
Does fasting increase testosterone?
Some early research suggested that short-term fasting can increase testosterone levels, which can contribute to improved muscle growth and sexual health. However, this research was flawed and has since been disputed.
New evidence has suggested that prolonged fasting may have the opposite effect and lead to a decrease in testosterone levels. A balanced and structured approach to fasting is best for optimal hormonal health.
What time is best for men to fast?
Some men may opt to skip breakfast and break their fast at noon, while others may find it more suitable to start fasting after dinner. What matters most is finding a consistent fasting window that can be integrated smoothly into your daily routine.
Can I fast from 6AM to 12PM?
Yes, you can. This is essentially a six-hour fasting window, which is a variation of time-restricted eating. It’s an excellent place to start for beginners and can be extended as your body adjusts to fasting.
Does gum break a fast?
Yes, regular, sugar-laden gum may break a fast as it can trigger an insulin response. It’s best to avoid this type of gum during fasting periods and opt for other means of freshening your breath. We recommend sugar-free gum, drinking plenty of water, and most importantly, seeing keto breath for what it is – a sign that your body is in ketosis.
The Bottom Line
Intermittent fasting can be a safe and effective way for men to improve their health and achieve their fitness goals. There’s evidence that it may be slightly more beneficial for men, but the key is finding a fasting plan that works best for your body and lifestyle.
You may also want to set up the right diet and meal plan to ensure you get all the necessary nutrients during your eating windows.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Autophagy (2022,clevelandclinic.org)
- A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for “Eating the Rainbow” (2019,nih.gov)
- Calorie restriction and fasting diets: What do we know? (2018,nih.gov)
- Caffeine, coffee, and appetite control: a review (2017,nih.gov)
- Effects of Dairy Products Consumption on Health: Benefits and Beliefs—A Commentary from the Belgian Bone Club and the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases (2016,nih.gov)
- Effect of Body Weight on Sexual Function in Men and Women (2019,nih.gov)
- Fasting: How to Guide (2021,nih.gov)
- Fruit (n,d,eatforhealth.gov.au)
- Gender-related differences in the metabolic response to fasting (2007,nih.gov)
- Leafy Greens are Packed with Vitamins (2023,wu.edu)
- Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake (2015,nih.gov)
- Not so fast: Pros and cons of the newest diet trend (2019,harvard.edu)
- Prolonged fasting outperforms short-term fasting in terms of glucose tolerance and insulin release: a randomised controlled trial (2023,cambridge.org)
- Protein in diet (2023,medlineplus.gov)
- Seafood and health: What you need to know? (2021,nih.gov)
- The Benefits of Healthy Fats (2022,medical.net)
- The Effect of Fasting on Human Metabolism and Psychological Health (2022,nih.gov)
- Whole Grains Deliver on Health Benefits (2018,usda.gov)