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Time-restricted eating involves restricting the timing of food intake to certain hours of the day (typically within an 8- to 12-hour time window) without an overt attempt to reduce caloric intake. Increasing the amount of time spent fasting each day has been used to treat metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, increase muscle mass, decrease fat mass, and improve exercise performance. Findings of a recent report demonstrate the beneficial effects of time-restricted eating on exercise performance in power athletes.

Increasing muscle mass and decreasing fat mass is an important goal for many athletes because increasing their strength-to-mass ratio improves performance. While time-restricted eating is one strategy to improve body composition, previous research has shown that other types of intermittent fasting (e.g., religious fasting during Ramadan) decrease power output and endurance. Another study involving intermittent fasting with caloric restriction found similar deficits in athletic performance. The effects of long-term time-restricted eating without caloric restriction are unknown.

The researchers recruited healthy young males who were currently practicing a power-sport at least three times per week and had been practicing for at least three years. Twelve participants (average age, 22 years) completed four weeks of time-restricted eating and four weeks of a standard meal pattern in random order with two weeks of wash-out in between. During the time-restricted eating period, participants consumed all of their food within an eight-hour window. The researchers measured body composition using X-ray and athletic performance using the Wingate test, a cycling challenge that measures power and total work.

Time-restricted eating produced a significant increase in total work (a measure of force over a set distance) and average power output (a measure of work over time). These improvements translated to a one second reduction in sprinting time. The participants achieved this change after four weeks of time-restricted eating, but not after one week. Time-restricted eating did not improve peak power, endurance, or body composition.

Time-restricted eating, along with regular training, improved exercise performance in athletes. Given that the difference between the current and former 400 meter running world records is only 15 hundredths of one second, the one second decrease in sprinting time produced by time-restricted eating is meaningful.

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