Natural Conception

Can intermittent fasting improve male fertility?

Eloise Edington  |   11 Jan 2023

When trying to conceive, couples can find themselves bombarded with health concerns, some of which can be remedied through lifestyle changes, such as nutrition and exercise. There’s often a pressure to try dieting in order to avoid weight gain, which can actually increase risks to fertility and slow sperm motility.

Today on Fertility Help Hub, we’ll dig deeper into that oh-so trendy intermittent fasting regime, sometimes known as ‘IF’ to see how it may impact male and female fertility.

Words by Poppy Millar-Maher

What Is Intermittent Fasting? Such as 16:8

Intermittent fasting is a diet intended to improve weight and health. This regime consists of skipping certain meals or not eating at certain times of the day. For example, the most common is the 16:8 hour intermittent fast. This means you will only eat for eight hours of the day i.e. have lunch and dinner, but no food before or after, essentially skipping breakfast. Others may opt for the 5:2 diet, where women eat just 500 calories and men 600 calories on two days of the week and maintain a healthy, balanced but not calorie-controlled diet for the other five days.

Intermittent Fasting and Male Fertility

Male fertility diets are a rare find, however studies suggest that intermittent fasting can benefit both male health and male fertility success rates. For example, one study showed that intermittent fasting can improve insulin sensitivity in men. This can help to deter diabetes and can balance production of testosterone; two things that benefit male fertility.

If you are considering this diet, be mindful that it is not recommended to anyone who is underweight or has a history of eating disorders and that you must consult your doctor first.

Related Article – Why it’s Time to Swap Your Multivitamin for a Men’s Prenatal

Intermittent Fasting and Infertility in Women

The same study conducted by Heilbronn LK, “Glucose Tolerance and Skeletal Muscle Gene Expression in Response to Alternate Day Fasting,” discovered an improvement in insulin intake for men, but that intermittent fasting can worsen blood sugar control in women. Blood sugar imbalances can cause high production of the insulin hormone, which in turn can impact weight, adrenaline, low energy, hunger, cravings and anxiety. Due to a lack of blood sugar control, women’s health and fertility rates are much more negatively affected, and it can worsen their experience of the intermittent fasting side effects (see overall side effects of intermittent fasting). Your hunger and cravings will be much greater than a man’s experience of these symptoms, should you choose to fast.

Blood sugar control can escalate to fertility issues for women. How? Sugar can cause weight gain. Weight gain is already considered negatively impactful on fertility, but it can also lead to other health complications that affect fertility, such as diabetes and obesity. Weight gain can also increase oestrogen production, thus creating hormonal imbalances. Hormone imbalance is suggested to hinder fertility. This can lead to high levels of insulin, which encourages more oestrogen to be produced, and the cycle continues until the body has an oestrogen dominance which affects your menstrual cycle.

Other studies of intermittent fasting (tested on female rats) found that it can cause missed menstrual cycles, infertility and can cause the rats to become masculinised. Anecdotal reports of women on the intermittent fasting diet concluded that it can encourage menstrual cycles to cease altogether (amenorrhea), and only resume once the women have stopped fasting and returned to their usual diets. This evidence has proved a link between intermittent fasting and infertility in women, so if you are looking for a healthy diet that is compatible with fertility, this may not be the right regime for you.

Related Article – IVF Diet – How to Lose Weight for Optimal BMI for IVF Treatment

Overall Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting

The following side effects apply to all people, except the last two which apply exclusively to women who menstruate:

  • Hunger (intensified for women due to disturbed blood sugar control)
  • Feeling weak
  • Weakened brain performance (can be temporary until your body is conditioned to the new diet)
  • Amenorrhea (missing period cycles, or menstruation stopping altogether)
  • Irregular blood sugar control for women

Overall Intermittent Fasting and Male Fertility Benefits

The following benefits are for everyone except the last one which is exclusively a benefit for men:

  • Weight loss without affecting too much of your muscle mass
  • Short-term fasts can boost metabolism
  • Improved insulin sensitivity (and fertility) in men

Who Should Not Do Intermittent Fasting?

You should not follow this diet if you: 

  • have a history of eating disorders
  • are underweight
  • are a child
  • are a woman who is TTC (trying to conceive)
  • have issues with fertility
  • are pregnant
  • are breastfeeding
  • have a medical condition (such as diabetes, blood sugar regulation issues, low blood pressure)
  • are a woman with amenorrhea
  • take medications

Male Fertility Diet Plan and Advice for Intermittent Fasting

Men who are trying to conceive may be interested in intermittent fasting for the benefits it can provide for fertility. If you are likely to try this diet, here are some tips on what to try and how to fast:

While fasting, you may drink liquids such as water, tea or coffee and other non-calorific beverages. However, you cannot add sugar to the tea or coffee and you may only use small amounts of milk or cream. Coffee could be a beneficial drink during a fast as it is known for being an appetite suppressant.

Whichever meal you are choosing to skip, be that breakfast, lunch or dinner (your regime should still incorporate at least two meal times), the remaining meals must be substantial and full of nutrients.

Intermittent fasting is compatible with some fertility supplements except those that contain fat-soluble vitamins, as these tend to work better with meals. If you are taking any fertility supplements, consult your nutritionist or doctor before intermittent fasting.

This diet will cause weight loss, so it is important to keep exercising and to maintain a healthy protein intake to keep your muscle mass. However, intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than caloric restriction.

Intermittent fasting is not the be all and end all of male fertility diets — it’s best to find what works well for you as everyone will respond differently to it. It might be worthwhile to find a nutritionist so that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle with intermittent fasting or create your own male fertility diet plan. In order to use this diet responsibly, you would need to make sure you are sustaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle in order to reap the benefits. It is best to consult a doctor before intermittent fasting and definitely if you are taking any fertility supplements, as some fertility vitamins (such as Beli male and female fertility supplements) are absorbed better with meals.

Related Article – Veganism & Fertility – Does a Vegan Diet Impact Fertility?

If you are looking for a healthy and safe, fertility-friendly nutrition plan, or if you want to consult a professional to create a personalised male fertility diet plan, check out the Fertility Help Hub shop for discounts on nutrition packages

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