Fasting gives your organs a break from all the work they do to digest foods and provides a variety of health benefits.
Shifting gears during down period away from serious training is one of the most important things athletes can do in their training to ensure improvement in performance each year. Every off-season is an opportunity to put your training and racing into perspective, and explore new ways to give yourself a competitive edge.
While an off-season makeover could involve training at a different intensity or incorporating a new gadget, what if that makeover meant not doing anything at all?
Juice fasts have become widely known in the fitness arena as a reset button, more popularly as a method of weight loss or a way to rid the body of metabolic waste and impurities from the foods we eat. While endurance athletes may shiver at the thought of completely cutting out the foods they use for fuel and energy, it may be worth the effort for the positive effects experts say have on performance.
Fasting gives your organs a break from all the work they do to digest foods, which results in elimination of toxins, an improvement in immunity and insulin sensitivity, and repair and healing of damage done during the previous competitive season.
However, there are several key steps to keep in mind before jumping into a juice cleanse. Sports dietitian Tara Gidus and North Carolina-based strength and conditioning specialist Derek Miller give six rules to follow:
1) Get a second opinion
Since a juice fast is a very low calorie diet that can result in fatigue and hunger pangs from the lack of fiber and protein, check with a health care professional beforehand to ensure you are doing it safely.
“Hunger pangs should go away by the second day, but if it doesn’t, break the fast and go back to eating normally,” Miller says.
2) Avoid any kind of physical activity
Off-season juice fasts should only be performed during a completely active rest phase of your training routine.
“A juice fast done during a more active part of the periodization cycle could actually increase the risk of death or serious adverse events during training, such as cardiac arrest,” Miller says. “There is a risk of severe hypoglycemia from training at too high an intensity on too few calories. The body would just simply run out of fuel.”
While there are cleanses that can last as long as 30 days, three to seven days is the recommended duration.
“At most, you can do one of these cleanses four times a year with three months in between each,” Gidus says. She adds performance will suffer on these types of diets leading to macro and micro nutrient deficiencies, and menstrual dysfunction in women, which leads to calcium and bone loss, increasing the risk for injuries, stress fractures and illnesses.
3) Do a mini-cleanse before the first day
To prepare for the cleanse, cut out coffee, alcohol, salt, sugar and other junk food two to three days before, and eat only raw fruits and vegetables during this period. Stick to a plan that calls for real fruits and vegetables, as opposed to plans that deliver nutrients from supplements.
4) Go all-natural
Use only organic fruits and vegetables to avoid adding pesticides that will defeat the purpose of an all-natural cleanse. Dark leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and broccoli contain unique sulfur compounds that help the liver detoxify the body, while strawberries, cherries and blueberries are rich in folate to help repair old, damaged cells. Other key produce, which should be chosen in season, are papaya (high in fiber) and beets (purify the blood).
5) Expect some muscle loss
Don’t be surprised if you lose a little muscle at the end. During this phase, your body goes into a negative nitrogen balance from the absence of protein. Since you aren’t consuming enough protein to maintain muscle mass, the body will break down muscle.
“Whenever you restrict yourself from fuel, your body has to get energy from somewhere and it will start to break down muscle for energy,” says Gidus.
However, any muscle lost during a short term juice fast or cleanse will rapidly rebuild once normal eating and training resume.
6) Slowly work your way back to solid foods
Don’t celebrate with a big feast of solid foods. The longer you’ve been on a juice cleanse, the harder your body may react when you reintroduce solids, especially meat, back into your system. On the first day, eat a few pieces of fruit, and lightly steamed, non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, on the second day. You can gradually reintroduce meat and seafood on the third day, but only in small amounts. You can go back to your regular diet by the fourth day.