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5 things providers need to know about intermittent fasting for optimal health

Could intermittent fasting be the wellness key you’ve been searching for?

Editor’s note: Before embarking on any new health or wellness regime, including intermittent fasting, you should first consult with a healthcare professional. This step ensures that any new practices are safe and tailored to your individual health profile.


Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a renowned neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, has significantly contributed to the field of brain development, brain plasticity, and neural regeneration and repair.

Dr. Huberman has become well-known for his “Huberman Lab” podcast, where he turns complex science into practical health tips. His discussions on intermittent fasting are especially relevant for high-stress jobs like EMS. He explains how fasting boosts brain flexibility and stress handling, offering actionable advice for integrating it into daily life. His insights help first responders use fasting to enhance mental sharpness, energy, and health, vital for their demanding roles.

Check out his deep dive into the science and practicalities of fasting:

Intermittent fasting and shift work

Here’s what first responders need to understand about integrating intermittent fasting into their demanding and often unpredictable schedules.

1. The basics and variability of intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; it’s a dietary pattern that alternates between periods of eating and fasting. Popular methods include the 16/8 method (fast for 16 hours, eat during an 8-hour window), the 5:2 method (eat normally for five days, reduce calories significantly for two non-consecutive days) and Eat-Stop-Eat (24-hour fast once or twice a week). Each method offers flexibility to accommodate the erratic schedules of EMS work.

2. Key intermittent fasting benefits for first responders

Integrating intermittent fasting into a first responder’s lifestyle can help in several ways:

  • Weight management: Intermittent fasting aids in regulating weight by improving hormone function to facilitate weight loss.
  • Metabolic health improvement: Regular fasting periods can enhance insulin sensitivity, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Mental clarity and focus: Many practitioners report heightened cognitive performance, crucial for the quick thinking required when treating patients.
  • Sustained energy levels: Transitioning to using fat as a primary energy source can lead to more stable energy throughout the day.

3. Adapting intermittent fasting for shift work

The unpredictable nature of EMS work makes meal timing a challenge, but here’s how to adapt:

  • Flexibility is key: Opt for a fasting plan like the 16/8 method, which can be adjusted based on your shift. If your shift ends late, adjust your eating window to fit your schedule.
  • Nutrient-dense foods: Focus on meals rich in nutrients during your eating window to maximize energy and performance. These foods include chicken breast, turkey, lean cuts of beef, fatty fish like salmon, eggs, legumes, quinoa, oats, brown rice, barley, leafy greens, berries, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, avocades, nuts and seeds, Greek yogurt, almond milk and cheese in moderation.
  • Hydration matters: Drink plenty of water. However, remember that black coffee and herbal tea can also be consumed during fasting periods to help suppress hunger.
Quick snacks to keep your energy levels up

4. Practical time commitment

The transition to intermittent fasting can be a significant challenge, especially for individuals like first responders, whose demanding and irregular schedules make consistent meal planning challenging. To make the shift to intermittent fasting smoother and more sustainable, it’s beneficial to start with a manageable fasting period that aligns with your current lifestyle and gradually extend the fasting window as you become more accustomed to the new eating pattern.

For example, initiating intermittent fasting with a 12-hour fasting window is a gentle introduction that mirrors a natural overnight fast. Once you’re comfortable with a 12-hour fast, extend the fasting window incrementally – first to 14 hours and then to 16 hours. This can help your body adjust without significant distress or disruption to your energy levels and cognitive functions.

A first responder with a shift schedule might find the 16/8 method adaptable. For example, starting the eating window at 10 a.m. allows for breakfast after the morning routine or post early-morning shift, while closing the window at 6 p.m. accommodates dinner. However, if you’re working nights, the eating window might shift to later in the day, from noon to 8 p.m., to better align with sleep patterns and energy requirements.

5. Strategies for implementing intermittent fasting successfully

For first responders, preparation is crucial for integrating intermittent fasting successfully, such as:

  • Meal preparation: Prepare healthy meals in advance to break your fast, ensuring you have nutritious options readily available. Healthy options include overnight oats, quinoa salad, vegetable stir-fry, turkey and quinoa stuffed peppers, hummus and veggies, Greek yogurt and apple slices with almond butter. The key is to prepare large quantities of grains, proteins and vegetables to mix and match. Invest in individual containers for easy, grab-and-go options.
  • Adaptability: Be ready to adjust your fasting schedule based on work demands. If a shift runs long, adapt your eating window as needed without stress.
  • Seek support: Connecting with colleagues or online communities who practice intermittent fasting can offer support, share experiences and provide practical tips for shift workers.

What does it all mean?

Intermittent fasting presents a viable solution for first responders seeking to improve their health and performance amidst the demands of their profession.

By understanding the flexibility of intermittent fasting, its benefits and how to adapt it to fit the unique challenges of shift work, first responders can harness this powerful tool to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing. With proper planning and a commitment to adaptability, intermittent fasting can become an integral part of a first responder’s routine, leading to improved health outcomes and better job performance.

Intermittent fasting offers a practical way to boost health and performance despite their challenging jobs. Learning how to tailor intermittent fasting to their specific needs can significantly enhance first responders’ physical and mental wellbeing. With some planning and flexibility, it can be a key part of a responder’s routine, leading to better health and job performance.

EMS1 is using generative AI to create some content that is edited and fact-checked by our editors.

Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com, is the senior editor of Police1.com and Corrections1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.
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