Can Intermittent Fasting Help You Gain Muscle Mass?
Intermittent fasting is a trend nowadays and it's being used for a variety of purposes from general health enhancement to weight loss to bodybuilding. You probably heard about it from someone you know or saw somebody talk about it on the internet and about how effective it was for them. There's still a lot to be researched and verified with regard to intermittent fasting, but there definitely are plenty of results to be seen, which is why intermittent fasting is becoming more and more commonly recommended for various purposes including bodybuilding.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a specified diet. It's only a meal timing plan. It organizes your food consumption throughout the day, but what type of food you consume and at what portions remains up to you, your physician, or your trainer. What we'll discuss here is intermittent fasting as a meal-scheduling strategy, and you can fit your diet into that however you want.
There are countless patterns and combinations for organizing your fasting-feeding windows, but since we're talking about bodybuilding, in particular, let's look into the pattern that is most commonly used for that specific purpose. The best levels of effectiveness are reached starting from the 16-hour bar and beyond. Your safest bet would be to begin with a 16-hour fasting window followed by an 8-hour feeding window and then work your way up to an 18 or a 20-hour fasting window. You don't have to push yourself too hard up that ladder. You'll know when your body begins to adapt to the new pattern.
What does intermittent fasting do to your body?
There's a common misconception that staying hungry for long hours tends to slow down your metabolism. That's only true when it comes to long-term starvation, but with intermittent fasting, you're actually doing exactly the opposite of that.
It actually proves to be an ultra-effective strategy for acquiring lean mass.
By cutting your food consumption for that fasting window, you force your body to use up its glycogen storage, which then forces it to start burning fat so that it can keep itself going. This, in turn, results in fat loss.
As you start losing the fat in your muscle tissue your insulin sensitivity begins to surge. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, and so your body's heightened responsiveness to insulin results in higher protein synthesis. When your fasting window is over and it's time to eat, your body is more ready to absorb all of the nutrients in the food, which increases your potential to build up body mass.
In addition to that, long fasting periods cause a boost to your body's generation of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), and that, too, results in better protein synthesis, and consequently, in muscle gain and fat loss.
Some people are concerned about intermittent fasting causing acceleration in their body's muscle breakdown. If you don't know what that is, simply know the fact that your body's total muscle mass is the result of this simple equation:
Muscle Synthesis (the muscles you acquire) – Muscle Breakdown (the muscles you lose)
Both of these two processes occur throughout the day, and there are ways to stimulate one or the other, but they're both happening simultaneously in all cases and at all times. The people who have this concern are afraid that starving their bodies for a 16-hour window would result in faster muscle breakdown, but the body is more complex than that. First off, we've established that intermittent fasting causes a boost to your muscle synthesis processes, and so, if the hypothetical claim that fasting will cause your muscle breakdown to accelerate, then you'll have a surge in muscle synthesis to balance it out. But in actuality, that's not even the case.
Muscle breakdown occurs when the body needs a source of energy and can find none other than your muscles, but this would not happen when you fast for the simple fact that during your feeding window, you'll be providing your body with the energy sources that it needs in order to sustain itself throughout the day. It's true that maintaining a caloric deficit in your diet for a prolonged period of time would result in increased muscle breakdown, but what matters is the overall calorie intake for the day and not the frequency of the meals. If you fast yet make sure to give your body the nutrients that it needs during its feeding period, you will be able to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting without placing too much of a burden on your body.
When should you work out?
Should you work out during your fasting window or during your feeding window? That is debatable. There are definitely benefits to be gained from both. Most experts and practitioners of intermittent fasting would say that it's best to train within your feeding window. That way you would go into the gym with more energy for the workout and enjoy better recovery afterward.
However, it turns out that working out during your fasting window can actually magnify the physiological benefits of fasting. A lot of people who do that tend to place their workout at the end of their fasting window. That way they would finish their workout and eat a meal right away. The problem with this is that you would find yourself with very little energy in your body. Granted, this would result in better fat loss since your body is already exhausted, but your performance would not be optimal.
It's better to work out right in the middle of your fasting window because that way you would still be fueled up by the food that you ate the previous day during your feeding window while still gaining the benefits of a fasted workout.
What can you consume during your fasting window?
- Black coffee
(Keep any sweeteners out of those drinks. Even a zero-calorie artificial sweetener can trigger an insulin response which can mess up your fast.)
- As much water as you want!