Intermittent fasting (IF) is a time-restricted eating pattern that is often practiced to assist in weight loss, which may seem concerning for those who are striving to gain or maintain muscle. It is important to note that without a consistent exercise regimen, weight loss will usually come from a loss of both fat mass and lean mass. However, some researchers believe that intermittent fasting may be more effective for maintaining lean mass during weight loss than non-fasting diets. Overall, it is likely that intermittent fasting will not harm those who are looking to gain or maintain muscle.
What do I need to know about pre-fasting & post-fasting nutrition?
When fasting for 12 to 20 hours per day, it may seem difficult to try to consume on all the macronutrients or “macros” that your body needs to thrive during your eating window. Plan and prepare prior to have nutrient-rich food, such as fresh fruits, and healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, on hand. Also add a variety of green vegetables and starches that will provide your body with energy without the added burden on your digestive tract.
At the end of a fast, it’s ideal to replenish your body with easily digestible food that has a nutrient dense. Be mindful of what you eat, don’t overeat, and stay away from eating junk. Your digestive system just ‘took out the garbage’ and won’t be pleased if the first thing you do is eat junk food.
Food that you want to consume when you are breaking your fast at the end of your workout, at the point at which your insulin sensitivity is at its highest, should be calculated to give you the best benefit.
Lean meats and amino acids, especially leucine are going to be turned into the most efficient muscle building blocks and it will not overly stimulate the absorption and storing of fat in your body. In other words, you are going to be building muscle mass and you are not going to simply replenish the fat reserves that you have been raiding during your exercise.
Combine salt, glucose and fructose along with lean protein and amino acids to maximize the effectiveness of your diet instead of separating your food groups. Eating a mixed meal is better for the absorption of nutrients in your body and will ultimately result in you feeling more balanced.
Adequate Rest Is Also Important For Gaining & Maintaining Muscle
It’s easy to avoid munching your way through the entire contents of your fridge because sleep takes up a majority of the fasting window. During the fasting period, your body, having put digestion temporarily on hold, now has the time to focus its available resources on rebuilding and restoring itself. This maintenance period allows for detoxification, the renewal of cellular structure,
tissue repair, and rebalancing any hormones. While your digestive system takes a chance to recuperate and manage much needed domestic tasks, the time you spend fasting is when your body begins to heal and rejuvenate itself. Complementing your fast with adequate rest will help improve your body’s processes.
Nutrient Timing: Managing Schedules – When to eat carbs, when breakfast etc.
It’s important to have adequate nutrients available for your physical workout to sustain your energy, enhance your performance, and preserve muscle mass. Depending on the intensity and reason for exercise, nutrient timing is only one factor that plays a part in your overall fitness level.
It’s a widely accepted belief in the fitness industry that eating 1-3 hours before exercise is a good rule of thumb. However, this is by no means definite and you shouldn’t feel under obligation to follow a schedule that is makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Think of nutrient timing as a way to set personal parameters. Creating your own guidelines and a structured routine, will help you stay focused and motivated. It’s important to remember that what works for you, may not work for your friend or family. We all thrive in different situations, so find a lifestyle that works for you!
Consuming an adequate amount of protein has been proven to minimize muscle damage and is therefore also beneficial to the recovery process. One study found that “The addition of protein may help to offset muscle damage and promote recovery.”
Carbohydrates are good, not only if you are going to do endurance exercise, but it is also beneficial for short high-intensity training. Carbs stimulate your pancreas to release insulin, which in turn combine with protein and prevents protein breakdown. It always is a fairly good idea to balance things out and therefore fat intake ahead of your workout is good since fat maintains insulin and it does contain vitamins and minerals.
One thing that can’t be overstressed is the importance of keeping hydrated. Even if you choose to fast during your exercise regime, you cannot expect to derive any benefit from either your workout or fasting if you are dehydrated. Yes you heard right, you can exercise during your fast, but we will get to it in the next section.
At the end of your workout, when you need to replenish the energy that you have expelled, you should do so by eating slowly and chewing your food properly and I know that I am sounding like your mother, but there is a reason for it.
By eating your food in a relaxed atmosphere, you acknowledge the value of your food as building blocks for your body and you give your digestive system the time that it needs to do its work properly. If macronutrients / “macros” are the building blocks of nutrition, then your body deserves the time it takes for these “building blocks” to set in the cement to become solid walls. The amino acids that you get from protein is what ultimately build and restore your muscle mass. Replenishing the protein that you have spent during your training is essential to healing and strengthening your muscle structure
A blend of whole food carbohydrates and fruit is better digested and tolerated by your body than refined carbs and sugars that is often taken to spike the level of insulin after a workout. Your system retains natural carbs for longer and it will lead to better performance over a long period. More natural and less processed is what the clever people are saying. Although fats does slow down the digestive process, a balanced diet which contains a moderate amount of fat is beneficial and does not detract from your diet in any way.
What are the benefits of muscle building during IF?
Enhanced adrenaline or epinephrine
When you are fasting, your body undergoes stress which results in the production of adrenaline or epinephrine. The importance of this is that the epinephrine that is flooding your system has a muscle protecting effect. It saves your muscles by triggering the release of fatty acids that are burned as an energy source instead of your muscle mass. You are therefore losing fat, but not at the cost of muscle mass, it is almost like cheating your body into giving up its stockpile of fat reserves.
Lower levels of insulin
Another benefit of timing your workout to coincide with the time just before breaking your fast is that you will be experiencing low levels of insulin. This sounds crazy, exercising your body when your blood sugar levels are low, yet there is a reason for this too.
Having depleted levels of insulin/blood sugar, equates to you being very insulin sensitive. Insulin sensitivity means that when you do consume carbohydrates and protein, your muscle structure will be taking full advantage of the insulin spike that you get from eating. It super converts the carbs and protein into muscle building energy. In other words your nutrient absorption is greater in this way.
Depending on the reason and the level of your fasting and workout regime as well as your personal goals, your training and your food should be enjoyed. If you are a professional athlete, bodybuilder or fitness fanatic you will no doubt be following a detailed dietary plan that is geared to provide you with the best possible nutritional advice and guidelines.
For most people who want to lead an active healthy lifestyle, there are very specific benefits to intermittent fasting and the intensity with which you choose to do so is an individual matter. The bottom line is that intermittent fasting gives your body the chance to heal, clean house and prepare itself to better cope with the strains of our modern lifestyles and you can gain muscle mass even during fasting. It is a win-win situation.