“I’m not going to give you special treatment because you are Muslim. Our basketball guys fast as well and they work just as hard.” – Coach B.
The above was something told to me when I first played football in high school some 8 odd years ago. It was not told so I’d be scolded but as a means of making me work at a higher standard on the field. This brings on the topic of mental focus during fasting, especially extended fasts such as Ramadan which 30 days. Overcoming the physical deprivation of fasting allows you to dig deeper and work harder.
“fight or flight”, a Mental Switch
Eating less gives your digestive system a break. Being more physiologically ready in terms of adrenaline, and other hormones that are associated with “starvation mode” keep you awake and ready. Now starvation mode is a bit in excess. It would take a decent amount of under-eating to truly be in starvation mode. However, our body’s are acutely adapted to this switch between fight/flight and rest/digest that even a short fasting period like a day yields that level of switch.
Yes at some point, your brain will begin to rely on its backup system for energy, ketone bodies, and obviously that’s not ideal. However, it allows you to tap into this aggressiveness that only comes when someone is provoked. Our physiology is not too different from many animals. Not to say that we need to become barbaric and crazy-like but there is a certain mental veracity that is created that originates from a primal physiological state.
When Resources are Scarce
Regardless of being fatigued, you may find yourself feeling alive and alert especially when training. This adrenaline-induced power that seems to be much greater than it usually does when you train, carries through fasted training sessions. Why? Fasting can enhance mental readiness when coupled with exercise. It delves into our primal instincts.
In fact, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Professor Mark Mattson of the National Insittute for Aging in Baltimore (United States), pointed the benefit of fasting for brain-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Although his research focused on the benefits of fasting that did not completely cut out food intake, he underlined that the significant reduction of caloric intake provided huge benefits in brainhealthh
Moreover, Mattson pointed out that
“The cells of the brain are put under mild stress that is analogous to the effects of exercise on muscle cells,” said Mattson. “The overall effect is beneficial.”
Here’s the kicker though. Mattson points to the evolutionary rationale behind this relationship between reduced food and better neuronal growth.
“When resources became scarce, our ancestors would have had to scrounge for food,” said Mattson. “Those whose brains responded best – who remembered where promising sources could be found or recalled how to avoid predators — would have been the ones who got the food. Thus a mechanism linking periods of starvation to neural growth would have evolved.”
Combining the stimulus of weight training and mild endurance running along with fasting, can prove to maximize mental focus and also develop mental resolve. Pushing for what is possible by doing that which we could with more resources, on less resources. Take advantage of it.
Detachment from other parts of training
Your favourite music is not on? Your protein shake is not properly mixed to the appropriate viscosity? Are you “not feeling it”? These are all excuses that we tend to make as we tabulate training session upon training session. Fasting strikes away the nonsense and enables you to focus on what really matters. In a fasted state its you train or you don’t.
Most people won’t be able to halfheartedly train. You either have it in your mind that you will or you have it in your mind that you won’t. Those that continue to train, will have stricken from their minds, the nitty-gritty issues that may come up with lack luster workouts. These people will not stress about differing levels of stress and lower quality in recovery from fasting. They’ll put in the work. Simple as that.
Overcoming mind games and excuses are what characterizes those that continue to train when the stars aren’t aligned. They value putting int he work and realize that some volume is better than no volume. That motivates them.
Many revel in the benefit of physically arduous work as it makes a person disciplined. That under physical strain, the mind freaks out and knows that it does not like what the body is doing. However, the person stays true to their cause and completes the task. Character is built.
Through tapping into our sympathetic nervous system to a greater degree fasting allows us to feel ferocious and mentally empowered. Fasting, when combined with training also teaches us to no fret about the small stuff and get the job done. Smart training while fasting has the benefit of creating an empowered trainee who can bring greater levels of tenacity and mental endurance when things aren’t as physically challenging.
Landsberg, Lewis, and James B. Young. “Effects of nutritional status on autonomic nervous system function.” The American journal of clinical nutrition35.5 (1982): 1234-1240.
McKie, Robin. “Fasting Can Help Protect against Brain Diseases, Scientists Say.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 18 Feb. 2012. Web. 21 June 2015.