What Breaks Your Fast?
This must be one of the most common questions that I get asked, in this article I hope to clear up some of the myths and misconceptions about what breaks your fast.
In short, anything that contains ANY calories breaks your fast, so if you stick to water, green tea, herbal tea, black tea and black coffee you are fine.
There does seem to be a lot of confusion about this subject, partly because of misinformation given out by people that don’t know what they are talking about. I have read online in a few different places, that as long as you don’t consume more than 30 calories, then it doesn’t break your fast… There is absolutely no evidence to back this claim up.
What Drinks Break Your Fast?
Zero Calorie Drinks
Some sweeteners have been shown to create an insulin response and mess with hunger signals, so ideally they will not be consumed during your fast. Additionally, in my opinion, you want to only consume things that are going to benefit your gut bacteria. Drinking a load of artificial ingredients on an empty stomach has the potential to put you out of sync.
Bullet Proof Coffee
Adding MCT and Butter to your coffee will absolutely take you out of the fasted state BUT it won’t stop you from burning fat and using fat for fuel. What does this mean? If your sole reason for intermittent fasting is weight loss then having one BPC is fine to have during your fasting hours, it has been shown to increase the amount of time that ‘beginner fasters’ can fast for. However, you may not get some of the added health benefits that you get from IF, like autophagy and eating in line with your circadian rhythm.
What Supplements Break Your Fast?
Very simply, they’re extremely insulinogenic. The production of insulin shuts down the production of growth hormone, so dosing with BCAAs may negate some of the benefits of fasting.
All protein shakes will take you out of the fasted state, if you do feel the need to have one, save it for right before you are about to break your fast, but also, ask your self the question – Do I really need to take this protein shake?
What does this information mean for you?
Usually, when people ask me if they can have “X” during their fast, I ask them a question – “why are you fasting? For weight loss? Or the health benefits?”
If your primary goal is weight loss, then having a Bullet Proof Coffee, a little milk in your tea or a squeeze of lemon in your water is not going to stop you from losing weight. My advice is to have these things as close to when you break your fast as possible and make sure that it is only one serving.
If you are fasting for the health benefits then you need to be a bit stricter, stick to water, black coffee, green/black/herbal tea. If you are thinking of incorporating an extended fast (16 hours +) to get the reported benefits of autophagy then be even stricter nothing but water, I occasionally add a pinch of salt to one glass of water at around 20 hours to help with hydration.
Your Circadian Rhythm
There is one aspect of this debate that hardly anyone ever talks about – your Circadian Rhythm which is your internal body clock. There is a lot of research going into how many aspects of the modern world are taking us out of synch with our CR. The theory is that this is accelerating many chronic diseases.
Your digestion has a very strong effect on your body clock, eating the second you wake up right up until you go to sleep is being shown to have negative effects on many biomarkers of health.
So, although black coffee and green tea might not take you out of the fasted state, caffeine has a powerful effect on your circadian rhythm. One cup of coffee can have as much of an effect on your body clock as 1 hour and 30 minutes of sun exposure.
My advice to you is if you do have to have a black coffee or green tea and you are fasting for the health benefits, then wait a few hours before consuming.
The science and research on these subjects are in its infancy, and different foods/drinks are going to affect people differently. Every person’s fasting experience is personal to them, what makes one person fast for longer may make someone else hungrier, you are going to have to self-experiment and see what works for you.
So, to summarise – what breaks your fast and what is important?
It is not just about what you are considering eating/drinking that is important, it is actually what your reason for fasting is that dictates whether you should consume it and when. Remember, anything that contains ANY calories breaks your fast, so if you are fasting for the health benefits, you are going to want to stick to water, green tea, herbal tea, black tea and black coffee whilst fasting. However, if you are fasting for weight loss, you can afford to be a little more lenient with the inclusion of ingredients like milk or a squeeze of lemon.