Adopting an intermittent fasting practice isn’t always easy. It often means changing long-standing habits—habits like curling up on the couch after dinner with a bowl of mint chip ice cream.
Meal planning makes things easier though. When you commit to an intermittent fasting meal plan, you increase your chances of following through with it.
It’s basic psychology. When we make a plan, we’re more likely to perform the desired action. In one study published in the Journal of British Health Psychology, people who wrote down when, where, and how they would exercise were 2-3 times more likely to exercise than controls.[*]
The same principle applies to intermittent fasting. Charting your fasting and feeding periods in advance will help you stick to the program.
In this article, you’ll learn how to make a meal plan (complete with sample recipes ) to fit your fasting goals. Before that, though, let’s talk about nutrition.
The Importance of Nutrition While Intermittent Fasting
When you practice intermittent fasting, you take regular breaks from calories. Depending on the regimen, these breaks might last for 12 hours a day, 20 hours a day, or 2 days per week.
The more breaks you take, the more important your meals become. You have to make those meals count.
Let’s say you’re doing OMAD. That one meal a day is your one chance to get protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients into your body.
In terms of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs), worry about protein first and the other macros second. Most people should shoot for at least 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, and active folks will need more to support exercise and maintain muscle.[*]
If you’re combining the Keto diet and intermittent fasting—a good strategy for reducing hunger during fasting periods—fill in most of the remaining calories with fat. And if you’re not Keto, feel free to include some carbs.
To meet your micronutrient needs, look to nutrient-dense foods like meat, fish, organ meat, fruits, and vegetables. Grains? Not so much.
Not only are grains low in most micronutrients, but they also contain a compound called phytic acid that inhibits mineral absorption.[*] That’s what you call a lose-lose.
If you’re new to fasting, you may be wondering how to choose a fasting schedule. Which protocol is most beneficial?
With that in mind, the strategy is to find a fasting protocol that works for you. And you do that by starting slow.
The ideal starter fast is 12 or 13 hours. You simply go from dinner to breakfast (say, 7 PM to 7 AM) without snacking.
Most people can handle this regimen comfortably. And most find it helps their metabolism, weight loss efforts, and sleep.
Once you have overnight fasting dialed in, it’s time to get clear about your goals. Is it weight loss? Inducing ketosis? Muscle maintenance or gains?
If your goal is weight loss or ketosis, consider creeping up to longer fasts one hour at a time, possibly arriving at 16/8 or OMAD. If you’re feeling weak or tired, you can always back off to a shorter fast.
If your goal is strength or muscle gains, you probably shouldn’t exceed 16-hour fasts. Anything longer and it will be hard to cram enough calories and protein into your feeding window to support your resistance training program.
Should You Skip Breakfast?
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That’s what conventional wisdom says, anyway.
The validity of this wisdom depends on a few factors, including your goals. If your goal is weight loss, breakfast might not be helping.
For example, one review of the literature found that the addition of breakfast probably doesn’t aid in weight loss efforts.[*] Another study, however, found that women who skipped breakfast had higher cortisol and blood pressure than breakfast eaters.[*]
Why this effect? Possibly because breakfast can enhance the circadian rhythm, our 24-hour wake-sleep cycle. Eating in the AM hours (especially eating protein) helps stimulate melatonin production at night to support restful sleep, which carries over into every aspect of health.[*]
The bottom line is that skipping breakfast works for some people, but not others. You’ll have to experiment.
What About Supplements and Water?
So you’ve decided to fast, and you know when to eat food, but what about those things you consume that aren’t strictly “food”?
For the purposes of fasting, supplements count as food, and should be consumed within your eating window.
If you have supplements or medication meant to be consumed at a specific time of day, with or without food, we recommend you consult your doctor or health care practitioner to determine if fasting is right for you and how to choose the right schedule.
Staying hydrated is always important, and especially so on a fast where you won’t be consuming anything else.
Plain water, unsweetened sparkling water, or coffee and tea without anything added are all acceptable beverages during your fasting hours—but good old water is definitely your best bet.
Example Meal Plans for Every Fast
In this section, you’ll find one-day meal plans for the most popular intermittent fasting regimens.
These recipes are nutrient-dense, low-carb, high-protein meals that compliment the benefits of your intermittent fast by continuing to maintain healthy blood glucose, insulin, and ketone levels while providing all the macro and micronutrients you need to maintain a healthy metabolism.
When planning how to break your fast, whether it’s at breakfast or lunch, steer clear of high-carb foods like fruits or grains that may spike blood sugar and lead to a “crash” later in the day. If you follow a Keto or low-carb lifestyle, you’ll already be familiar with eating this way.
Keep in mind that your portions will vary based on your individual needs. The goal isn’t to consciously limit calories, though it will probably happen naturally.
Also, don’t feel pressure to make every recipe. There’s no shame in eating leftovers, and batch cooking ahead of time often goes hand in hand with meal planning.
12/12 Meal Plan
12/12 entails fasting 12 hours every day from dinner to breakfast.
Breakfast: Keto Cheese and Zucchini Omelette
Lunch: Low Carb Cobb Salad
Dinner: Low Carb Beef with Noodles
16/8 Meal Plan
When you practice 16/8, you eat all your daily calories in an eight-hour window.
Lunch: Low Carb Turkey Taco Bowl
Dinner: Keto Shepherd's Pie
OMAD Meal Plan
OMAD means one meal a day. The rest of the day you fast.
Dinner: Keto Omad Chicken Burrito Bowl
5:2 Meal Plan
When you practice 5:2, you eat 0-25% of your normal calories two non-consecutive days per week. The other five days you eat normally. The below sample is for a reduced-calorie 5:2 fasting day, assuming a normal daily intake of 2000 calories.
Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs with spinach
Lunch: Keto Pecan and Arugula Salad
ADF Meal Plan
Practicing alternate-day fasting (ADF) means eating 0-25% of your normal calories every other day. The below sample is for a reduced-calorie fasting day, assuming a normal daily intake of 2000 calories.
Breakfast: Basil and Parmesan Scrambled Eggs
Creating Your IF Meal Plan
Those one-day menus are just ideas to get you started. Now it’s time to harness the power of meal planning to lock in your fasting practice.
No need to grab a pen and paper. Just a smartphone.
That’s right. In the Carb Manager app, not only can you create custom intermittent fasting meal plans catered to your goals, but you can also utilize the IF tracker to manage your fasting program.
And if that sounds like too much work, peruse curated meal plans for every popular fasting regimen. You can always tweak them later to suit your needs.
Changing habits isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier when you have help. Are you taking advantage?
Please note that as with any significant diet or lifestyle change, we recommend working alongside a registered health professional, especially if you are currently on any prescribed medications or undergoing any medical treatments. Fasting is not appropriate for everyone and should be avoided by those with a history of eating disorders, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and anyone under 18.