Many people intent on getting the most from their workout at the gym will go with protein powders and supplements to boost the amount of muscle gain they achieve with each lift. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with protein powders for the extra push, there’s a healthier way to build muscle without taking in unneeded excess calories you then have to burn off. Using intermittent fasting as a tool for bodybuilding is far more effective and won’t leave you feeling bloated and tired after a long session.
The idea behind fasting programs is simple. It involves not eating past supper time, and waiting until mid-morning to eat breakfast or lunch. This works along with your body’s natural cortisol spikes that happen 3 times a day to boost your fat burning and muscle building potential to its fullest. Cortisol is responsible for the energy boost you get that keeps you going daily, and is a key contributor to what makes your metabolism work in the first place. When you work with your natural cortisol spikes, everything you DO eat gets processed directly into energy you can use while working out, with little to none stored as fat.
A study done on bodybuilding men who fasted during Ramadan was published from the Journal of the International Society of Sports nutrition. Quote: “It has been demonstrated that resistance training (weight lifting) in a fasted state affects the post-workout anabolic response to weight training more favorably than training after a fed-state” and their findings are also reflected elsewhere. Nick English posts on the site Greatist regarding exercising on an empty stomach. Further, the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health has a study posted that shows what your body does in the fasted state when you are exercising. It tells us that while fasting, your body is better stimulated to provide energy via fat oxidation. Meaning, it puts your fat stores in a virtual incinerator which processes directly into usable energy.
The only word of caution from any research done on the subject is to be sure you remain hydrated while you are fasting. This doesn’t mean Powerade, Gatorade, or juices, not coffee or tea. Just be sure to keep drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration which is common with fasting bodybuilders. One of the articles posted above even says that it’s best to eat a protein rich meal directly after your workout to gain the most out of your muscle synthesization. This could be eggs, chicken, tuna, nearly any kind of fish is good protein, but the denser the meat, the better it is for you. The food keeps your burn going even after the workout ends, taking advantage of both the pre-fasted state, as well as the timing of your cortisol spikes.
It can be helpful in the beginning to keep a calendar of the times to fast versus eat, and to know when your daily cortisol goes up. It may also be helpful to create a list of foods you can have purchased already and meals planned for your post workout. An article from Cooking Light magazine online that covers perfect meals for after your gym session will help. It’s best to try to plan your workout so that it hits right at the end of your cortisol peak, and ends at the time you’re supposed to eat again. This utilizes the best parts of your body’s natural metabolism as well as using the intermittent fasting to boost your muscle gain and fat burning potential.
In the beginning, you can expect to be a little lightheaded, have a dry mouth, possibly bad breath and a headache as you adjust to a new eating schedule. It’s best to hold off lifting solo until the lightheaded feeling dissipates. If you must continue your daily lifts while feeling this way, be sure to use a spotter to avoid possible injury. Being that the majority of the fasted time is while you sleep, it isn’t a difficult adjustment overall. It’s also not recommended to begin a daily fasting schedule until you’ve worked into it. You can begin by fasting 2-3x a week using the schedule, and as it gets easier, working it into a daily routine. As you become accustomed to eating healthier this way, you’ll begin to notice rather rapid results in how you feel and how you look. Making better food choices is always a good plan, but some intermittent fasting programs like Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon don’t cut out the naughty foods, by using them when it will benefit you rather than set you back.