This is the common reaction I get when people find out that I occasionally fast.
Sometimes I fast for 16 hours. Sometimes I fast for 24.
But either way…I’M NOT STARVING MYSELF!
Actually there are lots of good things associated with fasting, including looking super sexy!
I mean have you SEEN Leangains!?! Or the author of Eat Stop Eat, Brad Pilon?!?
I mean shoot! Do you really need any more reasons to try fasting than those pictures!?!
But if looking good isn’t enough, can I also say that I got stronger and WON a powerlifting competition while doing intermittent fasting?!?
Yep that’s right! I did intermittent fasting the couple of months before the competition and increased my maxes enough to win not only my weight class but also Overall Best Female Raw Lifter.
Not too shabby if I do say so myself!
Still not enough to convince you to try “starving yourself?”
How about all of these benefits of fasting, which include:
- Weight loss! Yes this is kind of the same thing as those guys looking good, but it is also the reason most people first go on a diet! For most people, fasting is actually easier to stick to than calorie restriction. Plus you preserve more lean muscle mass by fasting than through calorie restriction!
- Fight cancer!?! Yep fasting may actually help our bodies not only resist but also fight off cancer. More rats who fasted remained alive when injected with cancer – 16 of the rats who fasted survived while only 5 who didn’t survived. In a human study, patients also felt better when undergoing chemo if they fasted before and after. They suffered fewer side-effects when fasting than when they didn’t prior to chemo.
- Live longer. We’ve all heard that calorie restriction can help us live longer. Well if that is the case than fasting will make us live longer too! Of course, fasting doesn’t have the same “side-effects” that calorie restriction does. With fasting you will prevent the loss of lean muscle mass and bone mineral density. Sounds like two great benefits of fasting besides just a longevity!
- Brain health. Mark Mattson, Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program National Institute on Aging and a professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, has released a number of papers that suggest fasting can induce neurogenesis and protect against brain injury and disease. There are also studies showing that fasting may reduce the trauma to the brain caused by stroke and may also help improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Improved workouts. Ok I sort of already said this when I mentioned that I fasted to improve my performance for competition, but here are some studies to back it up! (Improved recovery and Leangains take on fasted training to just site a few!)
Here are some other great studies about the benefits of fasting that you should check out!
Conventional wisdom will tell you that it is almost impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
But we all know that conventional wisdom is wrong 99% of the time.
Conventional wisdom states:
- To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit.
- To gain muscle, you must be in a calorie surplus.
But actually, there is a way that you can!
Through calorie cycling, fasting, eating whole, natural foods, and doing strength training , you will be able to accomplish both goals at once – gaining muscle and losing fat.
Calorie cycling means eating more calories on the days when you workout (calorie surplus) and eating fewer calories on the days when you don’t workout (calorie deficit). By cycling days of higher and lower calorie intake, you will be able to lose fat without catabolizing your muscle or slowing down your metabolism.
Lean Gains has a great post called “Maintaining Low Body Fat.” In it he states the importance of calorie cycling to be both muscled and lean. He also states that, unlike with calorie restriction, calorie cycling will not only help you accomplish your fitness goals but will also have behavioral benefits as well!
Surplus calories should not be consumed each and every day, but in conjunction with training – when they are likely to be used for repair of damaged muscle tissues and recovery of glycogen stores. Conversely, slight underfeeding on rest days may have benefits mediated via mechanisms that kick in during calorie restriction (on top of the independent and positive effects of intermittent fasting), such as improvement in blood lipids and other health markers.
And then there’s the fact that people simply get more productive with a lessened focus on food on rest days – they get stuff done. But this effect is unique for the short-term. It’s certainly not something that occurs with prolonged dieting, where thoughts of food may become overwhelming and obsessive. I actually prefer to have a few dieting days now and then. I’ve noticed I am at my most productive during those days and I certainly don’t experience “dieting” symptoms such as increases in hunger.
So, cycling between overfeeding (training days) and slight underfeeding (rest days) is another excellent strategy to remain lean regardless of your goal. The benefits are not only physiological, but also behavioral.
So to sum it up – calorie cycling helps you get the calories you need on training days to build muscle while calorie restriction on non-training days helps you create a calorie deficit so that you can lose fat.
Fasting is a great way to create a calorie deficit while also maintaining your lean muscle mass and even increasing it! Mark’s Daily Apple actually had a post about fasting the other day in which Mark states:
[Fasting] increases fat oxidation while sparing lean mass. Since what we’re trying to do is lose fat (rather than just “weight”), the fact that fasting increases hormones that preferentially burn fat and decreases hormones that inhibit fat burning is extremely desirable.
Fasting increases hormones such as the growth hormone, which is not only one of the “premier” fat burning hormones, but is also involved in muscle growth!
How does growth hormone promote both?
Growth hormone promotes lipolysis, which is the breakdown of lipids and involves the hydrolysis of triglycerides into free fatty acids followed by further degradation. This process produces Ketones, which are found in large quantities in ketosis, a metabolic state that occurs when the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies, which can be used by the body for energy. AKA…the body starts using fat for fuel!
So during fasting more growth hormone is released which promotes lipolysis and the body begins to burn fast for fuel so that you lose fat!
The growth hormone increase during fasting also means increases in muscle mass. It stimulates both the differentiation and proliferation of myoblasts, which are a type of embryonic progenitor cell that gives rise to muscle cells. Growth hormone also stimulates amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in muscle and other tissues.
What all this means is that growth hormone helps your muscles absorb what they need to repair and grow while also helping your body use fat for fuel!…AKA fasting helps you gain muscle and lose fat!!!!
Whole, Natural Foods:
So when people tell you it’s all about calories in vs. calories out to lose weight, they are to some extent right. If you just want to lose weight on a scale, yes…you just need to eat fewer calories. BUT if you want to lose fat and retain lean muscle mass, the type of calories you consume DO MATTER.
There have been numerous studies proving that eating more protein helps people looking to lose body fat retain lean muscle mass.
After 12 weeks, our study found that the group of women who followed a reduced-calorie eating plan while consuming a higher level of protein was more effective in maintaining lean body mass during weight loss compared to those who consumed the same amount of calories with less protein.
So if you are in a calorie deficit, eating protein will help you spare your lean muscle mass so that all you are losing is fat.
Protein is also essential for muscle growth. The amino acids that make up protein are needed to help repair muscles after a strength training workout so that they grow.
And guess what more muscle means? More fat burning! When you gain muscle, your body has the ability to burn more fat.
So by consuming protein you aid your body in the preservation and ADDITION of lean muscle mass, which, in turn, will help you burn more fat!
How do you build muscle? Through strength training! What can help you lose fat? Strength training!
So what can intense workouts help you do? Gain muscle and lose fat all at the same time! Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen one of the top Crossfitters? Enough said.
Anyway, lifting heavy weights for fewer than 12 reps will help you gain strength and add muscle. The ideal rep range for muscle growth or muscle hypertrophy is usually considered to be between 8-12 reps. I however believe that if you use challenging weights no matter how many reps, will gain strength and therefore gain muscle.
No matter what rep range you believe to be ideal, stressing the muscles through strength training will cause trama to the muscles which will cause them to repair themselves and grow bigger and stronger in the process (especially if you eat the right type of calories!).
And not only does strength training help you gain muscle but it is better for fat loss than spending hours on a piece of cardio equipment. Even Women’s Health Magazine says so!
When you skip the weight room, you lose out on the ultimate flab melter. Those two sessions a week can reduce overall body fat by about 3 percentage points in just 10 weeks, even if you don’t cut a single calorie. That translates to as much as three inches total off your waist and hips. Even better, all that new muscle pays off in a long-term boost to your metabolism, which helps keep your body lean and sculpted. Suddenly, dumbbells sound like a smart idea.
So start lifting those heavy weights! Strength training will help you build muscle AND burn fat!
See? Conventional wisdom is wrong again. You can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. I know I did!