Dear Mike: What Should I Drink Before My First Meal (Fasting)?

I’m going to start a fun little Q&A series around here called “Dear Mike”, sort of like “Dear Abby” except all things IF/2 Meal related (sadly no relationship advice, as I may tell you to intermittent fast from your significant other…wait, that may be a best selling book idea!).

Today is a pretty common one. I get asked a lot (and see it discussed much on the internet) about:

 “What is OK to drink in the morning before the first meal of the day?” (aka while you are still fasting from overnight)

If you want an absolute #1 cut and dry answer, you will get the boring “water” reply but there are other options of course. Let’s look at some things to consider.

Morning Time is Fasting Time

When we talk about using IF/2 Meals, we are also looking at using those intermittent fasting times in the AM to generate some positive hormonal responses.

One big benefit of IF you will see especially when compared an all day CR (calorie restricted) eating plan. IF helps to lower fasting insulin and blood glucose levels more than just eating less all day.

This lowered insulin also leads to an increase in FFAs (free fatty acids from stored fat cells) to be potentially burned up as fuel. Lipolytic hormones (fat releasing) increase when insulin decreases.

Of course this process of FFA release will start to slow down once digestion (mainly through insulin response) is signaled and other nutrients are now readily available to use for fuel.

If you are looking to drink something in the AM and still really want this lowest insulin/highest FFA response, your intake of macronutrients should be pretty minimal.

Another potential benefit to IF is autophagy (as I talked about here and recycling proteins). This is also signaled through low insulin levels but mainly because of low plasma amino acid levels.

So in order to get the maximum hormonal responses out of your fasting times in the morning, low insulin and low plasma amino acids are required. Hence water is always the #1 answer to that question.

Now that’s NOT to say you can’t still burn fat and lose weight overall if you drink something else other than water. There’s still more to long term weight/fat loss than just fasting responses. Same can be said in reverse as you can still use IF/2 Meals and gain weight if you just re-feed in calorie excess later on.

The Options

So without further ado, here’s my lists of possible drinks you can use in the AM:

Water – #1 answer survey says. Fasting by definition means nothing other than water. You will not generate an insulin or amino acid response from this. Want to add some flavor? Then try adding in some lemon juice or even a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar. You may even get some additional internal health “cleansing” benefits from it as well (you can Google those if you really want to see all the “claimed” benefits).

Coffee/Tea – Most of my mornings start off with an Americano plain, which is 2 espresso shots in hot water. No sugar, no milk just straight up. I like it much better than coffee for the taste and it’s also less caffeine. Caffeine is an interesting topic in itself (and will need a full post to go into it), but while adrenaline increases can lead to insulin release, there is also the effect of increased lipolysis and FFAs. Adrenaline/Noradrenaline are powerful lipolytic (fat freeing) hormones, hence you can also get higher FFAs after more intense exercise intervals. In the end, I keep it and it works for me (for now that is). I use it to focus more in the AM for work and exercise, while also knowing that I need to relax more in the afternoons/PM (so no afternoon caffeine). Need that hormesis balance (stress vs recovery) after all. I also do switch it up sometimes having tea or just nothing but water.

Caffeine and IF Warning: If you are noticing an increase of anxiety, nervousness, emotional outbreaks or excessive annoying of the people around you because you won’t stop talking, then you may want to dial it down on the caffeine intake. Using IF will most likely increase your sensitivity to adrenaline, so drink less than what you used to drink before using IF.

Milk – Some may be asking about using this in their coffee or tea, but I would shy away from it. Milk has always been shown to provide an extra boost in insulin secretion. If you need to have something in your coffee maybe try just a “little” full fat heavy whipping cream instead (or as Dr Harris at the Archevore likes to call it, his Deseil #1). I’m also not one to want much more fat intake while adrenaline is increasing due to FFAs already in the bloodstream and a potential temporary increase in insulin resistance. However if a little extra fat helps you to control hunger/energy and get through IF times without binge eating later on, then it can work for you for that reason.

Honey/Sugar – If you want to add this into your drink, it’s fine but understand that you are also potentially raising blood glucose and insulin. This may actually be a better strategy for people trying to lose weight with IF/2 Meals but also may have adrenal/thyroid/cortisol issues (chronic stress overload and/or hypoglycemia issues). If that’s the case then also some fruit juice could help restore liver glycogen and provide a more “healing” environment than stressful while still eating less meals. You can still use the 2 Meal strategy to control eating, but some people may also need more blood sugar/cortisol regulation to help get back into better health.

BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)  – I have played with adding them in time to time (although not doing it right now). For people doing their heavy training in the morning, using some small amounts (5-10 grams) BCAAs pre/during “may” help to give a boost to recovery (allowing more training and progress over the long run). I always tell people to focus more on your 24 hr nutrients than worry too much about timing. It’s the 80/20 rule, focus on where most results really come from. However many find better fasted workouts and energy/intensity levels using BCAAs, so if it works…I say go for it. Even if you are not getting maximum autophagy response by upping plasma amino acid levels beforehand, by using it with intense/resistance exercise you are also increasing immediate amino acid uptake and usage (muscle repair). Interesting to note that as Chris at Conditioning Research also points out exercise does have an autophagy response as well. So perhaps even with small amounts of BCAAs, if you use it around intense fasted workouts that it may just still all work out for the best.

Find What Works and Enjoy It

In the end, I’m usually going to tell people to find out “what works for them”. Water is always ideal, but everyone is different in their metabolic health, insulin resistance, blood sugar balance, amount of weight to lose (bodyfat %s), daily stress loads, food choices when eating, reactions to caffeine, intensity of exercise programs, life schedules, energy swings and recovery demands.

How one eats the rest of the day after the IF part is done is really the bigger picture (especially hunger responses during fasting and how one rebound eats because of it).

To sum up:

Understand but don’t obsess over the little details. Try a mix of things if you want. Ideally shoot for minimal insulin responses. Take 1-2 days off a week to drink just water for a better autophagy response if using BCAAs (non-training days for example).

Most importantly, relax and enjoy what you do. Stressing over whether a bit of sugar will knock you out of ketosis for optimal fat burning will probably do more harm than the packet itself.

Bonus idea: I came across this cool recommendation from Michael at Critical MAS (great thing about IF is the community of people finding new things to try). For those who want to eat something to control hunger (drinks aren’t cutting it), try using some (1 tablespoon) coconut oil and fermented veggies. The coconut oil as an MCT (medium chain tryglyceride) can be easily broken down for fuel, accelerate the production of ketones, and the fermented veggies will apparently break down in the gut to short chain fatty acids for fuel. Keeping hunger under control (and rebound eating binges) may be the biggest key for many using IF/2 Meals.

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