When we’re trying to lose weight, we usually think about what we can and can’t eat. Bye-bye beer and burgers. Helloooo carrots and kale!
But with intermittent fasting (IF), the focus is on when you can and can’t eat.
20/4 intermittent fasting comes in hot with a 20-hour — yes, a 20-HOUR — fast and a 4-hour eating window.
It sounds a little extreme, huh?
So … does it work?
Is it necessary to fast that long in order to lose weight or improve your health?
Is it even healthy to go 20 hours a day without eating?
Let’s get some answers.
What is intermittent fasting 20/4?
Intermittent fasting 20/4 is a time-restricted eating (TRE) fasting protocol.
It’s not a diet, per se, but it is one of the more extreme kinds of intermittent fasting.
As such, it’s one you will want to work up to, having started out in the shorter TRE zone with a 12-, 14-, or 16-hour fast.
There is a version of the 20/4 intermittent fasting that’s known as the Warrior Diet. In that version, there are three weekly phases of implementation and a small selection of foods allowed during the fasting period.
But intermittent fasting on a 20/4 split can just be a straight-up fast where, during your fasting window, you consume nuthin’ but calorie-free drinks.
For a full rundown of all the drinks that get the SIMPLE green light for being fast friendly, check out our what can you drink when fasting 101.
How is the 20/4 method different from the 16/8 method?
The most obvious difference is the key one: Four more hours to eat! 16/8 intermittent fasting is a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window.
The main difference between the two will be in how you experience both the fasting and eating windows.
- A 16-hour fast may be less disruptive to your life. Eight hours gives you a fairly normal eating pattern, which could jive more easily with those around you who are not fasting.
- There may be less difference in hunger than you think. Ketones suppress appetite, so if you get into ketosis around or before the 16-hour mark, you might ride out those last few hours all the way to 20 just fine.
- With 20/4 fasting, you’ll need to pay closer attention to what you eat. With four fewer hours to eat, it’ll be a task to make sure your diet includes all the nutrition you need to feel good and function well.
- You can fast overnight with both. 16/8 means you’ll get to break your fast earlier, but you can use the momentum of the overnight fast in both cases.
- There’s far more research on 16/8. There’s no getting around it: the evidence that relates specifically to 20/4 isn’t exactly bursting out of the laboratory filing cabinets.
- You’ll experience more ketosis on 20/4. It stands to reason: a longer fast means your body will have to dive deeper into your fat stores for energy. (Whether this equals speedier results is not quite so clear-cut.)
So which one will work better for you? 16/8 or 20/4?
Well, in true nutrition-science style, that depends.
Maybe 16/8 works best because it helps you snack less at night, but 20/4 makes your cravings go so bonkers you can’t help but break your fast with Ben and Jerry.
Or, 20/4 works like a dream because you get so laser-focused on your diet that your food choices RULE.
Ultimately, the best results will come from the method that
- you can stick to
- helps you kick your dietary and exercise habits into the next gear
So, how does intermittent fasting 20/4 work?
Just like other TRE intermittent fasting methods, you can tailor 20/4 to suit you.
Want to eat from 2 PM to 6 PM, then fast till 2 PM the next day because that fits your work schedule best? No problem!
Prefer to eat between 8 AM and 12 PM to give you ample energy to do your workout and then clear the decks of any food-related needs right through till bed? Go right ahead!
How you choose to work 20/4 into your life will depend on your lifestyle and routine. When do you need energy the most? When would it help you to not have to think about or break for food?
You can mix it up day to day if you choose, too. So long as you hit your 20 consecutive hours of fasting, you can spin this however you like.
And you don’t even have to do it every day. Sure, traditionally, TRE methods of intermittent fasting are intended to be done daily, but you get to decide what works best for your life.
What to eat on an intermittent fasting 20/4 meal plan
What would a 20/4 intermittent fasting meal plan look like?
Well, what to eat during intermittent fasting is up to you, so think about your goals. What’s your reason for doing 20/4?
Whether it’s something body composition-related (like fat loss or muscle gain) or health improvement-focused (like lowering blood pressure or cholesterol), some foods will support your goals more than others.
Build your diet around:
- lean protein, like fish, beans, turkey, and tofu
- whole grains, like oats, barley, and quinoa
- vegetables and fruits
- calcium-rich foods, like yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified almond milk
- healthy fats, like avocados, eggs, and nuts
We know this can sound like a tall order if you’re not used to eating foods like this. Here are three things to help you out:
- Learn the nuts and bolts of how to meal plan
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of meal planning here at SIMPLE. Having a solid plan in place can really help you eat more of the foods you want to eat and that make you feel your best.
- Focus more on what TO eat and less on what NOT to eat
Getting more health-promoting foods into your diet will naturally push out the less health-promoting foods. Plus, it’s more psychologically satisfying (and motivating) to focus on doing than not-doing.
- Get personalized feedback by logging your food on the SIMPLE app
All you need to do is take our SIMPLE quiz, and we’ll get you all set up!
Of course, keep your eating for your eating window. During your fasts, stick to calorie-free drinks like tea without milk or sugar, black coffee, and water.
Intermittent fasting 20/4 and weight loss
There is evidence that suggests intermittent fasting can help people lose weight.
That said, the evidence on 20/4 intermittent fasting’s ability to create results for weight loss is very limited.
Any conclusions we draw here, then, will be about the general practice of intermittent fasting.
What can we say with relative confidence?
Well, firstly that restricting your calories to a 4-hour window will — almost definitely — cause you to eat fewer calories. So long as you continue to live an active life, that will likely lead to the caloric deficit needed to lose weight.
And secondly, a 20-hour fast is more likely to put you into ketosis. Put simply, when the body runs out of stored glycogen to burn for energy, it moves on to using fat stores instead. This metabolic shift is a key mechanism through which IF makes us lose weight.
Can you exercise on intermittent fasting 20/4?
You can exercise on intermittent fasting 20/4, but there are some things to pay attention to here.
- Make sure to hydrate well
Intermittent fasting — because of a lower food intake — can leave you dehydrated, which is bad news at the best of times. Exercising only increases that risk, so drink lots of water.
- Time your workouts with your eating window
If training fasted works for you, great. Feel free to ignore this tip. But if working out on an empty stomach makes you feel all floppy and weak, pair your workouts with a time when you’re fed.
- Listen to your body
If you feel strong and able to push yourself, do it. If you feel OK but kinda sore and tired, take it easier. If you are in full-on zombie mode and can barely scoot your butt off the couch without falling over, take a rest day (or get some sleep).
We talk more about how to stay safe while intermittent fasting and working out here.
Intermittent fasting 20/4 diet results
Intermittent fasting — on all protocols, not just 20/4 — has led to some impressive results for SIMPLE members.
Like Solome, who had this to say:
Losing 39 pounds in one year is an incredible result!
Of course, results do vary. What could you achieve?
Health benefits of intermittent fasting 20/4
Current intermittent fasting science doesn’t extend to the benefits of intermittent fasting 20/4 specifically. It hasn’t been well studied at this point. As such, the benefits below relate to IF more generally.
Lower risk of diabetes
Intermittent fasting is often associated with improving blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.
Some studies link intermittent fasting to decreased inflammation in the body, which can reduce the likelihood of inflammatory diseases, like heart disease.
Better brain health
Health risks of intermittent fasting 20/4
And now, the risks.
Strict rules around eating can promote disordered eating behaviors like having your thoughts consumed by dieting or binging.
20/4 fasting can have this effect (as can all fasting).
If you’re experiencing this, know that you’re not alone, and it’s OK to stop and get help.
A 20-hour fast could prevent your thinky brain from doing its best work, though this should resolve once your body has adapted.
Eating your daily food in such a small window makes it an uphill battle to get all the nutrients you need into your diet.
That can cause some serious health issues later down the line.
Hunger, headaches, and other horrors
In the first couple of weeks of intermittent fasting, people often experience intense hunger, headaches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep, low energy, fuzzy-headedness, crappy workouts, and feeling kinda crotchety.
These should resolve themselves eventually, but with long fasts, they don’t always.
Is intermittent fasting 20/4 safe?
Intermittent fasting 20/4 isn’t for everyone. There are some people who should give it a wide berth. Steer clear of 20/4 fasting unless you have your doctor’s permission, if you:
- have a Body Mass Index (BMI) < 18.5
- have (or are at risk of having) an eating disorder, or have a history of one
- are extremely active
- are under 18 or over 65 yrs old
- have a medical condition
- are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive
- take prescription medications
Pros and cons of intermittent fasting 20/4
|You choose the menu||Results aren’t guaranteed|
|You choose the fast window||Has some real risks|
|May help with weight loss||Fasts are LONG|
|Has potential health benefits||Hunger and cravings might stick|
20/4 intermittent fasting may help you with weight loss.
It could have positive health benefits, like decreased insulin resistance.
And you’re in charge of how you put it into practice. When you fast and what you eat — that’s all you.
20-hour fasts are pretty dang long. You might find your hunger and cravings increase beyond what you can handle. Or that you can’t eat enough to function well (or feel good).
And there’s no guarantee of results. That’s a lot of effort to put in to not get any payoff.
Is intermittent fasting 20/4 right for you?
If you’re ALREADY a seasoned IF pro with a good amount of IF practice under your belt, maybe 20/4 intermittent fasting could be right for you. If you’re seeing results with your existing protocol and you’re curious if a longer fast could crank them up a gear, it’s worth a try.
But if you’re a newbie to all this fasting business, don’t start here.
There are many other options you could choose that would almost definitely lead to greater success. For instance, here’s three IF methods you could try:
- Time-restricted eating (TRE), like 16/8 intermittent fasting.
16/8 is, as we’ve seen, a 16-hour fast followed by an 8-hour eating window, repeated daily. You can also do TRE with a 12/12 or 14/10 split, and we support all of these TRE fasting methods in our SIMPLE app. Take our quiz to test them out.
- The 5:2 diet has 2 fast days and 5 eating days per week. Each fast day includes 500/600 calories.
- Alternate day fasting (ADF) is a little more advanced. It’s a 500/600 calorie fast day alternated with a regular eating day, repeated throughout the week.
There are other fasting methods, like Eat Stop Eat, water fasting, and dry fasting. Not gonna lie, we’re not fans of any of these options as they aren’t great at fully supporting our bodies’ needs. We’d suggest you avoid them.
5 tips for getting started with the 20/4 intermittent fasting method
To be clear: 20/4 intermittent fasting isn’t for beginners. But if you’re switching from something like 16/8 or ADF to 20/4, here are a few things that’ll help you start strong.
- Increase your water intake
A longer fast means a greater risk of dehydration, as you’ll probably be eating less.
Work your water bottle even harder as you extend your fast.
- Know how to handle your hunger
There are ways to distract yourself from hunger when intermittent fasting, like:
- playing games (bonus points if there’s a dog and a frisbee involved)
- listening to music you love
- moving your body (gently)
- savoring a (calorie-free) drink
- going for a mindful walk
Learn what best shifts your mind away from hunger.
- Don’t go into the 20/4 woods alone
For an advanced fasting protocol like this, have a team around you.
You’re gonna have days where you need encouragement and support.
- Listen to your body
Notice how your body responds on 20/4.
Are you energetic, clear-minded, and emotionally steady? Sounds like 20/4 and you are good buddies!
Are you worn out, unable to think straight, and perpetually snarly? Hmm, sounds like your well-being would be better served some other way.
- Remember, you’re the boss
You don’t have to do 20/4 fasting to get great results.
If you’re not loving life on 20/4, choose a different option.
Frequently asked questions about intermittent fasting 20/4
It hasn’t been studied much, so how effective 20/4 fasting is is hard to say for sure. But IF on the whole is pretty solid.
You should break a 20-hour fast with a nutritious, enjoyable meal that includes protein, veggies, carbs, calcium-rich foods, and healthy fats.
It’s not been studied specifically in relation to 20/4, but IF generally has a positive impact on metabolism.