I’ve always found eating to be a drag. Constantly thinking; how much could I get done in that time? It’s always annoyed me. Having fine-tuned a process over the last three years though, now I know the answer. Enter Huel and intermittent fasting. Boom. You’ve got yourself the perfect solution.
Interested? Here’s what you need to know if you want to make this work.
What is Huel?
Huel was founded in 2014 by Julian Hearn in the UK. Made from a recipe created by nutritionist James Collier, it’s a food that comes in powder, liquid and bar forms.
Here’s exactly what it’s not:
(Despite what you’ll read on the internet).
- A fart-inducing concoction that burns your insides and tears a hole through your intestines
- “Liquid sewage” (as it’s so lovingly referred to by a friend)
- 999% protein that grants you Thor-like gains (despite 70% of its customers being men)
- A futuristic super food brought to earth by space-faring Annunaki
It’s actually far more simple than that. A concoction of oats, sunflower, flaxseed, coconut oil MCTs, rice and pea protein. Notice the absence of dairy? Huel is vegan-friendly too.
Designed to meet the recommended daily amounts (RDAs) of a humans’ daily nutritional requirements, it’s been pretty successful. Selling over 100 million meals in over 100 countries, it’s served up enough energy to fuel almost 9,000 laps of the planet apparently.
Oh yeah. And its not Soylent. A San Francisco-based meal replacement start-up that went mainstream with the Silicon Valley tech crowd. Don’t get confused.
Supercharging Huel with Intermittent Fasting
Where Huel really comes into it’s own though – and thus saves even more time spent shopping, cooking and prepping – is when you combine it with intermittent fasting (IF).
IF, for those of you that don’t know, is time-limited caloric restriction. Meaning you only “eat” in periodic windows of the day. Say from 12pm to 8pm for instance (which is what I tend to do).
Being someone with a general interest in health (and hopefully, sometime soon, a ‘professional’ one), I have long been interested in this concept. Longevity experts I respect, like Peter Attia and David Sinclair, swear by its efficacy. As do numerous scientific studies. Suggesting it can play a big role in preventing diabetes type 2 and weight loss (due to reprogramming metabolic and stress resistance pathways).
My approach to it (there are many), is by no means definitive. I don’t do it every day. Not even every week. I just do it from time to time. Mostly unconsciously without planning or thinking.
One final thing; can I drink anything while intermittent fasting? I’d recommend only going with water – maybe even tea (without milk) if you want something warm.
Why I Love the Huel with Intermittent Fasting Approach
The reasons I love both Huel and intermittent fasting are numerous. And not just to annoy all the people who claim to have an inside scoop on nutrition and health that the rest of us just isn’t getting.
Why I Recommend It:
- Works out cheap (around £1.45 a meal)
- Tastes a lot nicer than stale urine (which is what most people assume it tastes like)
- Holds me at a steady 80kg and helps maintain muscle mass with ease
- Keeps me regular (and has been a huge therapeutic outlet for people everywhere to suddenly give amazing detailed stories about their bowel movements)
- Makes me vegan and therefore morally superior (for all of the two minutes it takes me to chug)
- Damn near saved me from starvation during the Covid quarantine
So yes, I’ve got a lot to thank this strategy for. Not only because Huel’s delivery times are super fast (yet to try this while out in Bulgaria) but also because, combined with IF, it fills me up and stops me from being the near cachexic-mess my metabolism wants me to be.
It’s also nice to know I’m covering all my bases too. The 26 essential vitamins and minerals its infused with? Give a definite sense of “OK, I’m not putting total garbage in my body”. As do the macro break downs. Amounting to a 37:30:30:3 (carbs, protein, fat, fibre) split at 400kcal a suggested serving.
So Why the Huel Hate?
But where I’ve grown to love this one-two combination there’s still a lot of resistance to its benefits.
Foodie purists hellbent on having us use our own mandibles? Claim it deprives us from the pleasures we get from solid food. While critics of intermittent fasting, like New York-based dietitian, Alissa Rumsey, also have their knives out.
Her theories suggesting IF disrupts sleep and reduces alertness? I’m not buying. Anecdotally, at least, I feel better pairing the two. Even going as far as to say I feel more alert and more focused on the days I’m doing both. Even if it’s not sustainable in the long run.
Huel: The Biggest Misconception
Read any of the click-bait experiments with Huel on the internet though and you might be put off. You’ll notice one common theme. This is also one of the product’s biggest misconceptions.
You eat – and only eat – Huel for every meal of the day. A Huel only diet.
For the psychologists out there weighing in on this approach, criticisms are rife. Foregoing family meal times can lead to a dampened sense of well-being. Or lead to feelings of depression due to “missing real food”, they say.
But all this seem to miss the point. You’ve got to use Huel, like I do, as an occasional replacement for meals only. You still eat normal food around it. And you never intermittently fast with it alone.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at what the nutritionists say.
Helen Gardiner, writing in this Cosmopolitan article, says it “should be [only] used occasionally”. While this article, written by chemical biology PhD student Devon Legge, which focuses on Dr Alaine Gregoire’s experiments supplementing Huel for breakfast, also warns not to use it as a “complete replacement” for all food in your diet.
Even the company’s own CEO, Julian Hearn, doesn’t use Huel day-in, day-out like all those wacky YouTube commentary’s suggest you should.
“I have Huel for breakfast and lunch in the working week, then sit down for a family meal in the evening. I often don’t use Huel at all on weekends.”Julian Hearn, Men’s Health
As for why the people deciding solely to live off the stuff, like Rob Price did in a Business Insider report, don’t find it “fun”?
That’s easy. It’s simply not intended to be used that way.
Is the Huel-IF Approach Healthy?
As for whether Huel and intermittent fasting is healthy or not I do understand some of the kickback. Health benefits of Huel are more difficult to defend than IF though, due to an absence of any rigorous peer-reviewed study.
Nat Eliason’s take down of Soylent is a good place to start tackling the concern with meal replacement. In the linked article, he talks about outdated food pyramids and U.S. flawed dietary recommendations’ toward grains and fats. All while making the point that we just don’t really know enough about nutrition to decide what is healthy or not.
Suggesting that the promised “low cholesterol health benefits” of Soylent can be debunked due to new data, his arguments could be extended to other ‘fuels’ too. Even if his approach is one centred on a Soylent-only lifestyle.
The problem with applying this to Huel though (which Eliason doesn’t do – but others might) is two-fold. First, Huel has an entirely different recipe to Soylent. And secondly, they don’t market themselves as arrogantly.
Careful to push themselves as “nutritionally complete” rather than a “healthier alternative”, Huel’s message, to me at least, is definitely a lot less jarring by comparison. Even more so if you’re not completely replacing food in your diet.
The Processed Question
But that still doesn’t clear Huel of other criticisms; especially those pertaining to food processing.
As this Vice article on the product states; processed nutrients have a “different impact on the body than whole foods”. Yet this is exactly what you’re getting with Huel. A ground powder made by machines.
My response to this criticism is simple. Assuming I know the nutrients I consume from Huel aren’t going to be as complete as those from ”real” food, what are the chances, anyway, of me actually going out and buying, cooking and preparing something better from scratch?
That’s why I’m healthier, nutritionally speaking, sticking to Huel and IF over the long term. Doing both stops me from delving into fast, cheap and unhealthy meals that would otherwise compound and negatively affect my health. And most nutritionists agree.
“Diets in the West are so bad that even meal powders can be superior to the diets of people who live off of nutritionally-poor processed food.”Felice Jacka, Professor of Nutritional and Epidemiological Psychiatry at Deakin University
Summary: Huel & Intermittent Fasting
So while I think the Huel-intermittent fasting combo is powerful, having improved my life while saving me both a ton of time and money, let me summarise by stating the rather obvious flip-side. It’s not perfect.
Here are the things I don’t like about it:
- Occasional slog of getting through the morning feeling hungry
- Nasty sludge Huel leaves at the bottom of the container (looks like a little diarrheal dribble)
- Don’t include a scoop in every pack (inconvenient when you rip through packs as fast as I do)
- Marketing hard-sell of ‘ethics’ and ‘environmentalism’ (its manufacturing processes could easily be picked apart)
- Social pressure to eat real food at times your friends and family are
But these things are hardly enough to turn me away.
At least for the foreseeable anyway. Where I’ll still need a cheap, easy and reasonably healthy source of energy to pump into my gut. If only to get through some seriously heavy exams.
So I’ll be doing the Huel and the intermittent fasting combo for a while yet.
And, if you’re anything like me, and you like health but hate wasting time cooking and eating, maybe it’s worth you giving it a go too. Just don’t go overboard like most of the internet would suggest.
If you want to try Huel (obviously I recommend it) check it out here. Clicking that link will get you £10 off an order and will also help keep my own addiction in good stead.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.