What Breaks a Fast: Supplement Edition

Last week, I explored the impact of all the various foods, beverages, and food-like substances people consume while fasting—and hoping to maintain a functionally fasted state. Does MCT oil break the fast? What about coffee, tea, or bone broth?

There were more than a dozen, and I even did a follow-up. Today I’m going to discuss whether commonly-consumed supplements break the fast.

Let’s go:

Fish Oil

Fish oil is pure fat. If you’re taking the average supplemental dose of 1-2 grams of fish oil, it’s not a problem. That’s not even a teaspoon. It’s about 9-18 calories.

You may burn slightly less fat than you would otherwise, but in the grand scheme of things, a few grams of fish oil won’t break the fast.

Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil is fish oil with extra vitamin D and vitamin A. As long as you keep the doses low enough, cod liver oil won’t break the fast.

Multivitamin/Multimineral

Multivitamins do not break a fast. They are usually non-caloric. However, not all of their components will be absorbed very well on an empty stomach, so keep that in mind.

If you’re still not on board, note that in the older studies with really overweight people who fasted for upwards of a year straight, they usually supplemented with a multivitamin.

Food-Based Multivitamin

A popular one I’ve seen around—Alive, made from kale and raspberries—has just 2 grams of carbs per dosing. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a deal breaker—or a fast-breaker.

Gummy Vitamins

Gummy vitamins have the potential to be about 5-6 grams of sugar, a gram of protein (from gelatin), and a gram of fat (if including omega-3s) per serving, so they’d arguably break the fast. Plus, they taste like candy and are likely to stimulate cravings and make fasting harder.

Gummy vitamins break the fast.

Potassium

Potassium is non-caloric and does not break the fast. In fact, it can help you handle the fast better by replenishing electrolytes.

Potassium doesn’t break the fast.

Creatine

Creatine contains no calories and has no effect on insulin secretion (or glucose in the absence of calories).

Creatine does not break the fast.

Protein Powder

Protein powder provokes an insulin response, which opposes autophagy, which means you’re breaking your fast. Plus, protein powder contains calories.

I’m going to say “yes, protein powder breaks the fast.

Collagen

If you’re strict and technical, then yes, collagen breaks a fast. There’s evidence that glycine—the most prominent amino acid in collagen—can inhibit autophagy, but it was a convoluted animal study where inhibiting autophagy with large doses of glycine after brain injury actually improved outcomes. It probably doesn’t apply to someone adding a scoop of collagen to their coffee. Besides, even if it slightly reduces autophagy, a little collagen won’t negatively impact ketosis, fat-burning, or energy intake.

I’m going to say “technically yes,” but “realistically no, collagen doesn’t break the fast.” Avoid if your main focus is autophagy, however.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs trigger an insulin response and thus stop autophagy…and the fast. That said, many proponents of fasted training recommend using BCAAs before a workout to help preserve muscle and improve the post-workout anabolic response.

I’m going to say “yes, BCAAs break the fast.”

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is fat soluble and thus comes packaged in an oil carrier, but the dosage is so small that it won’t affect your fast.

Unless you find that 1/8 teaspoon of olive oil ruins your fast, vitamin D won’t break a fast.

Probiotics

Probiotics contain no calories and will not break a fast. However, they are best absorbed in the presence of food—the food protects them as they travel through the digestive system, and most probiotics occur naturally in food—so taking them during a fast is probably, mostly useless.

Probiotics don’t break a fast, but why take them during one?

Prebiotics

Pure prebiotics will not break a fast, as they contain no digestible carbohydrates. Prebiotic-enriched foods will break a fast, as they do contain calories.

Adaptogens

Adaptogens are compounds, usually herbs or herb derivatives, that modulate your stress response. They improve your ability to tolerate and respond to stressful situations; they don’t blindly inhibit the stress response if the stress response is warranted. They keep you honest and counter unnecessary stress responses. They contain no calories, unless you’re chowing down on a big hunk of maca or ashwagandha root. In fact, most adaptogens have traditionally been consumed in tea form, extracting the active compounds and leaving behind any calories. Have at ’em.

Adaptogens do not break the fast.

Mushroom Extracts

Medicinal mushroom extracts come from mushrooms, which are technically food. But the amounts you take are so low—usually no more than a teaspoon—that they won’t impact your fast or provide any significant amount of caloric energy. Four Sigmatic has those “mushroom coffee” blends you add to hot water. They can get up to about 30 calories per serving, but even that’s going to let you maintain most of the fasting benefits.

Mushroom extracts don’t break the fast.

Melatonin

I used to keep the old Trader Joe’s melatonin on hand because it was half a milligram, whereas most other melatonin supplements are in the 3-5 mg range. It was also sweet, tasting like those white Valentine’s Day mint hearts you used to get back in the day. I haven’t come across any sweetened melatonin supplements since Trader Joe’s phased those out, but that’s the only thing I’d worry about on a fast.

Melatonin does not break a fast.

Final Note: Most supplements are okay to take on a fast, though the lack of food may make absorption more difficult. If you have any other questions about supplements on a fast, drop them down below. Thanks for reading, everybody.

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Dear Mark: Antibiotic Recovery, Sprinting on Keto, Preparing for Bad Sleep

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. First up, what can a person do to help their gut recover its barrier function after too many antibiotics? Are there any foods, supplements, or dietary strategies? Second, what can explain rapid fatigue during sprint sessions on a keto diet? Is this simply part of the deal, or are there modifications you can make? And finally, what do I do when I know I’m going to get a bad night’s sleep?

Let’s go:

Mark – any idea how to cure leaky gut caused by overuse of antibiotics. Tried raw dairy for a month to no avail.

First of all, check out my post on leaky gut. Read through it and follow my suggestions for preventing and treating intestinal permeability. It’s a great place to start.

Then, let’s look at some other interventions that have been shown to improve recovery from antibiotic therapy. While most of the studies referenced don’t explicitly describe antibiotic-induced leaky gut, anything that improves gut function and restores healthy gut bacteria will also normalize leaky gut—since it’s the eradication of native gut bacteria that causes antibiotic-induced leaky gut.

Fermented dairy. You tried raw dairy. What about fermented dairy? While raw dairy has its merits, it’s fermented dairy that just works for recovery from antibiotics. Yogurt is a good option to try, although the evidence is a bit inconsistent. Kefir is probably better; it’s been shown to improve patients’ tolerance to triple antibiotic therapy during treatment for H. pylori infection. This is even worth consuming during antibiotic therapy, as many of the probiotic bacteria found in fermented dairy show resistance to common antibiotics.

Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut are also must-eats. The fermented cabbage contains ample amounts of L. plantarum, a bacteria strain that’s been shown to prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea in piglets (another omnivorous mammal). Good options exist in stores (check the refrigerated section; shelf-stable pickles and kraut aren’t lactofermented), and even more are available in farmer’s markets, but the best way to get the most bacteria-rich vegetable ferments is to make your own.

Supplemental probiotics are fantastic here, too: large doses of the desired microorganisms delivered directly to your gut. Some of the strains used in Primal Probiotics, like B. clausii and S. boulardii, have been shown to be effective against antibiotic-related diarrhea, so that could be a good choice.

Don’t forget the food for your gut bugs: prebiotics. You need to eat fermentable fibers and other prebiotics like resistant starch to support the growth and maintenance of the helpful bacteria that improve gut barrier function. Consider eating cooked and cooled potatoes, unheated potato starch, leeks, garlic, onions, green bananas, apples, pears, berries, and pretty much any fruit or vegetable you can get your hands on. Plenty of them are low-carb enough to work on a keto diet, if that’s your desire. Oh, and dark chocolate is a great source of fiber and polyphenols, which have prebiotic effects in the gut.

Incorporate intermittent fasting. Going without food for a spell gives your gut a break and induces autophagy, which can help with tissue healing.

Get dirty, too, to introduce potentially helpful bacteria. Go out and garden. Go barefoot at the park (do your due/doo diligence, of course) and practice tumbling, or roughhouse with your kids (or friends). Don’t immediately rush to wash your hands all the time (unless you’ve been handling raw meat and/or dog poop).

Whatever you do, don’t stress too much about the antibiotics you had to take. Stress is awful for gut health and you’ve already taken the antibiotics—which were probably necessary—so that ship has sailed.

If probiotics with prebiotics aren’t helping (or making things worse), you might want to try going the opposite direction—removing all plant foods and doing a carnivore diet for a few weeks. While I have doubts about the long term viability and safety of eschewing all plant foods, enough people have written to me about their great experiences resolving gut issues with a bout of carnivory that it’s worth trying.

When on a strict keto plan, why do I become so quickly fatigued while attempting a HIT sprint workout?

The first five seconds of a sprint are primarily powered by phosphocreatine (or creatine phosphate), a “quick burst” energy source that burns hot but disappears quickly. This is the stuff used to perform max effort Olympic lifts, short sprints, and other rapid expressions of maximum power. It doesn’t last very long and takes a couple minutes to replenish itself. A keto diet doesn’t affect our creatine phosphate levels. If anything, it should improve them if we’re eating meat.

After five seconds, anaerobic metabolism of muscle glycogen provides the lion’s share of your energy needs. The longer your sprint, the more glycogen you’ll burn. The less glycogen you carry in your muscles, the shorter your sprint. Because once you run out of creatine phosphate and glycogen, you’re left with aerobic metabolism—great for longer distances, not so great for max effort sprints.

Keto dieters tend to walk around with less glycogen in their muscles. If that’s the case, longer sprints will be harder.

If you want to keep sprinting:

Do shorter sprints. Try a 10-second hill sprint rather than a 20-second one. Really go hard. Heck, you can even do 5-second sprints and derive major benefits; just do more of them and make sure to recover in between. There’s no rule saying you have to sprint for 20-30 seconds.

Take longer rest periods. Give your muscles a chance to replenish more creatine phosphate (and take creatine or eat red meat and fish, which are the best sources of dietary creatine).

Eat 20-30 grams of carbs 30 minutes before a sprint session. See if it helps. Alternatively, you can eat the 20-30 grams of carbs after the sprint session to replenish lost glycogen stores (without really impacting your ketone adaptation, by the way).

Most people figure out their sprinting sweet spot while doing keto. They may have to play around with the dosages, durations, and rest periods, but you can usually make it work. Be open to trying new permutations.

If you knew you were going to have a poor nights sleep, what measures would you take to reduce some of the damage?

I would exercise hard that night. Normally, a bad night’s sleep tanks your insulin sensitivity the next day, giving you the insulin resistance and glucose tolerance of a diabetic. A good hard interval session the night before a bad night’s sleep, however, counters the next-day insulin resistance.

I would make the most of it. Don’t dawdle. Don’t beat yourself up because of the impending sleep deprivation. It’s going to happen. You have to accept it, not let it destroy you.

Enjoy it. A little-known acute treatment for depression is sleep deprivation. That’s right: a single night of sleep deprivation has been shown to ameliorate depression in patients with clinical depression. Sometimes the effect lasts up to several weeks. It’s not a long term or sustainable fix for clinical depression, obviously, and you can’t do it every single night—chronic sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for developing depression—but it can improve your mood if you give in to it.

I would set out a jar of cassia cinnamon. I always add cassia cinnamon to my coffee in the morning after bad sleep; cassia cinnamon the day after a bad night’s sleep attenuates the loss of insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for writing in and reading! If you have any input on today’s round of questions, let me know down below.

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References:

De vrese M, Kristen H, Rautenberg P, Laue C, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in a fermented milk product with added fruit preparation reduce antibiotic associated diarrhea and Helicobacter pylori activity. J Dairy Res. 2011;78(4):396-403.

Bekar O, Yilmaz Y, Gulten M. Kefir improves the efficacy and tolerability of triple therapy in eradicating Helicobacter pylori. J Med Food. 2011;14(4):344-7.

Erginkaya Z, Turhan EU, Tatl? D. Determination of antibiotic resistance of lactic acid bacteria isolated from traditional Turkish fermented dairy products. Iran J Vet Res. 2018;19(1):53-56.

Yang KM, Jiang ZY, Zheng CT, Wang L, Yang XF. Effect of Lactobacillus plantarum on diarrhea and intestinal barrier function of young piglets challenged with enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli K88. J Anim Sci. 2014;92(4):1496-503.

Jitomir J, Willoughby DS. Cassia cinnamon for the attenuation of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance resulting from sleep loss. J Med Food. 2009;12(3):467-72.

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