Written by Stephen Anton PhD on May 15th, 2022
How to break a fast?
This is an excellent question and one that many people are now asking.
The answer is that “it depends” on the type of fast we are talking about (to some extent).
Common Ways to Fast
There are many different types of fasts to consider, including dry fasting, water only fasting, time restricted eating, alternate day fasting, 5:2 fasting, five day fasting, and so forth.
So, we need to be clear what type of fast we are talking about.
When we say a fast, there may be a big difference between fasting one day, a short term fast, versus a five day fast, or long-term (two weeks) fast.
These are health promoting regimens but involve significantly restricting calories but do not represent fasting in the traditional sense of the word.
For simplicity, it can be helpful to think of fasting periods as being short-term (< 24 hours) or long-term (>48 hours).
How to Break a Short-Term Fast
Probably the most popular form of intermittent fasting is time restricted eating, where one engages in a fasting period of 14 to 18 hours each day.
Generally, most people follow a time-restricted eating plan every day of the week, but this form of intermittent fasting could be practiced less frequently as well (e.g., 5 days of the week).
Few if any considerations are needed to “break” this type of fast, as the daily fasting period would not be sufficient by itself to shift the body into ketosis or negatively impact digestive processes.
Rather, this eating pattern is aligned with our body’s natural biorhythms and once the body has adapted to it, almost any food can be consumed with the “break-fast” meal.
At the end of the daily fasting period, you can think of the body as being in a similar state as it would be after a prolonged or intense exercise session.
How to Break a Short-Term Fast That Included Exercise
Speaking of this, another important factor to consider in determining how to break a short-term daily fast is what activities were engaged in during the fasting time-period.
If you exercised at a relatively high intensity for an hour or more duration, then you are likely to benefit from consuming some carbs at your “break-fast” meal to refill your glycogen stores.
The exact amount of carbs needed will be specific to each individual, but generally speaking, the amount should increase as a function of the duration and intensity of the exercise session.
If you are completely adapted to a ketogenic diet or carnivore diet, then you may feel fine without carbs.
For the vast majority of individuals, however, this will likely not be the case.
On the other hand, if you are sedentary during the fasting time-period, then it is highly recommended that the first meal be comprised of mostly fat and protein with little carbs.
Another option to consider for those who work out intensely is a post workout shake comprised of good quality proteins, such as whey, and fats, such as coconut oil.
The milk base could be coconut, camel, or cow’s milk, and if desired a banana could be added for taste and energy.
This can serve as a quick meal replacement when you do not have sufficient time to prepare a meal or during times in which you need quick fuel to recover.