It seems to be all the rage – does intermittent fasting work for weight trainers and should you give it a go? Well the latest research suggests it can offer some pretty cool benefits for anyone who want to build more lean muscle.
Conventional bodybuilding advice is to eat about every three hours to make sure your muscles are kept in a positive nitrogen balance. Also - make sure you have a good breakfast, the most important meal of the day. However intermittent fasting turns much of this conventional thinking on its head.
So what is intermittent fasting or IF? Simply put, it’s a way of eating that involves periods of fasting amongst relatively normal eating patterns. Typically fasting lasts anywhere from about 6 hours through to about 24 hours one or more days per week. Let’s look at some of the potential benefits to strength trainers and bodybuilders:
• Growth Hormone Regulation – Fasting elevates Human Growth Hormone levels by as much as 500%. It’s a protective mechanism that evolved in our pre-historic ancestors to help humans keep muscle and maintain energy during times of food scarcity so they could keep hunting or gathering. HGH is a powerful anabolic hormone that promotes muscle growth and also facilitates fat burning – which is the magic bullet that we are all looking for – a way to build leaner body with more muscle.
• Fat Reduction – Intermittent fasting lowers insulin levels, improves insulin sensitivity, increases noradrenaline and stimulates an increase in metabolic rate which all contribute to increased fat burning. Multiple studies indicate a significant reduction in visceral fat, which is the fat stored within your abdominal cavity, this is the unhealthy kind of fat you definitely want to get rid of. If you want to be healthy AND have a six pack, intermittent fasting is a very good option.
• Cellular Repair – You probably understand the process of building muscle. Get into the gym, overload your muscle with resistance training which causes micro muscle fibre damage, then your body repairs and rebuilds your muscles, bigger and stronger. For heavy trainers intermittent fasting optimises a process within damaged cells call Autophagy – which is a systemised series of breakdown and repair functions your cells use to replenish and grow. In laymen’s terms, fasting can increase muscle growth by making this process work better!
Many trainers look at fasting and think – hey, I’ll shrink if I don’t eat. However the latest research is showing the opposite. Fasting increases muscle growth when practised properly. And it doesn’t always mean you eat a lot less, you just compress your eating window. The general rule of thumb is just eat normally during your eating window to get leaner. To add mass, just eat enough calories to trigger the gains you want.
There are multiple versions of IF. Here are two methods that are pretty easy to follow:
Fast 16 hours, Feed 8 hours: This usually means you fast from your evening meal through to around lunch time the following day, approximately 16 hours. To get leaner, have a lighter low carb lunch, an afternoon protein snack, then a good sized dinner of protein, carbs and vegetables. Follow this type of approach 5 – 7 days a week. You get used to it pretty quickly and most people find they don’t get hungry in the morning if they stay away from carbs – it’s my favourite.
The 5 – 2 Diet: This basically entails eating your normal diet 5 days per week, and 2 days a week restricting calories to around 600 – 800. This approach works well but needs more will power so it’s harder.