Time Restricted Eating
What is time restricted eating and how can we implement it in our lives?
Why Time Restricted Eating has taken the world by storm and why it makes more sense for your health and recovery? It's not about what you eat, as it is when to eat. Develop new habits to see new changes.
You have been practicing TRE for around 3 years. What is the biggest change you felt in your daily habits? Why did you decide to start practicing it?
I was first interested in time restricted eating when I heard about it in relation to my practice of endurance sports, especially running and trail running. At my age, I place a lot of emphasis in recovery, rest and injury prevention, as oppose to performance. I was very interested in the idea of having more time to let the body recover. For example, when we train we have to include some recovery time. There is a cycle where, after you exercise, in order to get your body to adapt you need rest and sleep. We can approach the food and the digestive processes in a similar way. If you keep eating all day long then you keep digesting all day long, making your body fully occupied with the single, but important, task of digesting food. Your blood goes to your stomach, not to your muscles.
I found this discovery very interesting. Indeed, why not give more time to my body to recover and stop the continuous digestion by having a window of time each day for nothing else but recovery and rest. The fact that I’m not exactly young anymore played a role in that, for me, recovery is something that I need to take into account. It was a self-care interest. At the time, I was working heavily in nutrition and designing classes and workshops. It was all about food, what you should eat and shouldn’t eat. I found refreshing to ask a different question: when am I eating instead of what am I eating. It was nice to look at the problem in a different perspective by forgetting completely about what I eat and start thinking more about when I start to eat and when I stop to eat. From a daily perspective, having more time to rest and recover than more time being more active through digestion. That was the beginning of my interest in time restricting eating.
What about those that are practicing time restricted eating and are now thinking of incorporating plant-based food into it? What is the impact to their health?
The positive thing is that the two are not related. You can try experimenting with time restricted eating by having a window of 10 hours for eating and then you have 14 hours of the day for recovery, where you are not eating. This eating pattern has nothing to do with what you eat. You can try time restricted eating and get the advantages of it without having a plant-based diet. The reverse is also try, you can have a plant based diet and not care about time restricted eating. Both are completely different, they are not related.
If we want to see a relation when someone that is enjoying time restricted eating wants to go to plant based, I would look at it in terms of recovery. This weekend in Wimbledon, Djokovic when was mentioning that he was not doing whole plant based food for performance purposes but for recovery. I fully agree with him, it is a very important point. Time restricted eating is an interesting approach for active people, in a similar way that plant based can be, especially if you look at a low inflammation, whole ingredients, nutrient-rich diet that could help better recovery. In that case, it would make sense to try plant based foods.
I would say start small. Breakfast is a very nice way to start. It is the time that, after exercising or being outside, you need to replenish. Therefore, the most nutrients dense your food the better. It is a great time since you can take it alone, it is not a social time. It is really a time when you can easily personalize your diet and introduce a bit more plants to it, such as fresh fruits or fresh vegetables. If you then want more greens in your breakfast you can go for a smoothie with fruits, granola, plant mylk, pancakes, etc. There are a lot of options you can enjoy with breakfast. For me, I think it is better to start to experiment and if you like it and works for you, trying to move onto lunch, where you can try additional plants and move to a plant based diet. Both plant based foods and time restricted eating are very interesting and good combination.
In term of exercise recovery cycle, rest is often taken for granted. Can you remind everybody what the cycle is all about and explain what actually happens in our body during that resting window when we are not eating
The cycle of exercise and recovery is a fun one because is not that intuitive. We could almost say as a joke, although not completely untrue, that exercise is stressful and is bad for you. Why because every time you exercise, let’s say go for a run when not used to going running, you break some fibre in the muscles. The body is not ready to go from a sedentary lifestyle to activity and exercise. The first thing you do when you exercise is to create damage. It is healthy stress and something positive but truly a physical fatigue since the body has to undertake an activity, movement or mobility and therefore go beyond what it is used to and likes to do, which is basically sleeping.
When we think that when we do exercise it is good for us, it is not true at the first stage. The first stage is a healthy signal to the body that you did something and that now the body has to adapt to it, create some more muscle fibre, be more flexible on the ligaments and support a more active lifestyle. This happens during and after a period of rest, preferably sleep. You have a recovery window after exercising when your body will first repair the damage, and then build new fibers that are more adapted to the exercise you tried to do in the first place. That adaptation cycle is very important when improving every time you exercise at the time of rest. Training without a recovery cycle or without resting and sleeping won’t work, you’d plato very quickly since the body would get exhausted.
You can approach digestion in a similar way. As a very important task for the body, the digestion is high priority, it is your survival mode, if you will. The blood goes to the stomach and is busy taking those nutrients all over your body after that. If you keep eating there is no time for your body to do something else other than digesting. Every time it will have to digest it will prioritize this task. You need at least 12 hours, which is basically a night and 2 hours before and after. I dedicate 12 hours, which is half of my day, to sleep and to recover and not eat, so that my digestive mode is in standby and not processing food and it has time to recover and regenerate itself. You can take it a bit further and dedicate 14 hours or maybe 16 hours, giving your body more recovery time than time for eating. The whole purpose here is that, to give your body more time to recover than the time you are eating and busy digesting.
Can you go through the cycle and explain how our bodies behave in different times of the day?
I am not a researcher nor a doctor, I discovered about time restricted eating by reading research about the circadian rhythm and the impact it can have on health and how our body works. One person that makes research easy to understand for anyone is Satchin Panda, a researcher from South Institute in California. He has a lot of podcast available online that provide an idea of his approach. He is also the author of the Circadian Code, where he explains more this approach and the link there is between the circadian rhythm and time restricted eating. He also developed an app where you can record what you are eating and send them the information, which they use to populate their data in ongoing research.
The scientific breakthrough is the realisation that we have a clock inside our body whereby our body adjusts its behaviour and functions differently depending on the hour of the day, which is mostly related to sunlight. We are species that live and thrive under the day light. This has an impact if you want to exercise, since you will have more muscle energy and more fast reactions in the afternoon. It is also something that helps you fall asleep and control your dose of melatonin so that you sleep well. Recently, we tend to disrupt that internal clock by traveling, such as jetlag, or using mobile phones and very shiny light at night time. Electricity didn’t really help us keep in sync with the sun. Research shows that the more you synchronize with the sun the better it is for you. You start your day outside taking in the sun light, doing some exercise and after that, still in the morning, you eat something. You eat during the day time and not during the night time. The principle is very simple but the research is very complicated and elaborated. You can dig into it more in the research of Satchin Panda around that topic.
What is the best approach to implement intermittent fasting? How many hours should I eat and how many hours should I rest? How does a normal day look like?
First, you can start with something that is nothing to do with eating: avoiding the screen of your mobile phone at least 2 hours before sleeping. Mobile screens are a disruptor of the segregation of the hormone of melatonin, and that do not help you to sleep. Before, eating or recovering we need sleep. The quality of our sleep will really dictates the quality of our next day. If you look at time restricted eating and how you would implement or experiment it, in a typical day, first you will consider whether you are in Europe, or in a different country like Thailand. The days don’t have the same duration. In the case of Europe, sunrise may be at 7:30am while sunset around 8:30 or 9:00pm. There is also a very important seasonal variation as oppose to in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, where we have almost none, with sunrise at around 6:00am and sunset at around 6:30pm. A more constant duration of the day makes it simpler to find the right habits and to keep going, while in Europe you have to adjust to the changing duration of the day.
For a day that is between 6:00am sunrise and 6:30pm sunset, trying to be in sync with your circadian rhythm will mean that you will do some activity in the morning, doesn’t have to be intense, maybe it is just cycling or walking just be outside and get the sunlight as the first thing in the morning. You could also do some stretching, yoga, pilates or whatever you want. This is a way to wake up and give signals to the body. It re-synchronises your body, gets sunlight and realizes the day is starting. I would recommend if you really want to experiment with circadian rhythm to only drink water first and then start to eat only after one hour of being active in the morning. Do not eat first thing but be active first, even if it is relaxing activities such as mediation. Do something first before having breakfast. After one hour, one hour thirty or two hours, in Thailand that would be at about 8:00am, you will have your breakfast. This is the right time since your body is ready and it wants some energy, therefore will deal very well with the carbs and everything you replenish. First hydration, you need water because you have been dehydrated by the fasting overnight. Also nutrients, nutrient-dense breakfast that you enjoy. After that, around 10:00am in the morning, it is the time when you brain is working well by giving you most of your concentration and attention. It is a great time to do things that matter to you or are important, whether it is writing, being concentrated, having a brainstorms, you name it. This is a time that you are in full capacity to work. Then, your lunch will take place depending on your work, how your day goes and how and when you want to enjoy it. Lunch has no specific impact because it is within your window. Afterwards, if you started your breakfast at 8:00am, then at 18:00pm you will have your dinner. You will close your day just before sunset and within your window of 10 hours. You will have your dinner, more light, hydration again. Then, after dinner, you will stop eating and have more relaxed, slow paced activities, where you will start to rest and go to sleep to enjoy a good rest to be full of energy for the following day.