Slowly IF (intermittent fasting) is getting a bit more of a buzz in the weight loss industry, this is awesome because honestly IF just makes sense. Give your body a break from food; give it a break from having to constantly digest and breakdown what you feed it multiple times a day. The majority of our body’s energy systems are spent breaking down the constant bombardment of calories and is rarely ever given a chance to just work on itself.
Look at it this way; imagine that you are working 12-16hrs a day and never given a day off. Don’t you think you would hit a burn out period and things in your life would start suffering? Well if you’re eating ALL the damn time don’t you think that your body is going through something similar with you always asking it to breakdown calories? Give your digestive tract a damn day off lol.
Ok we talked yesterday, about how blood sugar levels don’t drop in a fast, so I wanted to touch on another popular topic. Probably the MOST popular quesion that I get about fasting is in regards to muscle mass.
“Travis, don’t you lose muscle if you don’t eat every three to four hours?”
We have all heard this, its been said that this is common knowledge, hell not too long ago I preached this because honestly this is what I was told. All my early mentors used to tell me, “Travis, if you’re not eating every 3 hours, you’ll start cannibalizing muscle” Well I didn’t want to lose muscle so I made sure to eat every three hours… heck I even would eat every HOUR (man that sucked) because of my phobia of losing muscle.
I would then live by the clock NEVER missing a meal and if I did, I would just beat myself up and have the terror that I could feel my muscles breaking down at that moment as punishment for not eating at that precise time. I would miss going out with friends, rearrange my life around my meal schedule. Some people would call that dedication, but honestly it blew after a while.
There had to be a better way to gain muscle and lose fat without living like a hermit tied to a Tupperware bowl full of food and the clock.
Well, this is where IF comes in. I’m going to subside from my personal story of discovery of the protocol and answer a lot of the fears that people have about losing muscle with IF.
Fasting and Muscles
First and foremost, you will NOT lose muscle during an IF protocol as long as you’re doing some form of resistance training. Let me say it one more time, you will not lose muscle as long as you are continuing to weight train!
As humans, we tend to think in extremes, never the middle ground. So people think that if you go under times of zero calories you’ll end up looking starved. That starved look is achieved by LONG term calorie restriction, NOT a 24hr fast. There is scientific research that fasting even up to 72hrs does not cause an increased breakdown in your muscle mass nor does it diminish protein synthesis. (1) <=== Look I’m even citing references LOL
The key thing that you have to remember is as long as you are doing some form of resistance training, you will not lose muscle mass during short term fasting. In fact there is evidence that when you fast, you decrease inflammation in your body that inhibits certain metabolic functions that promote body fat loss and muscle gain. Heck if you fast for short periods of time you’ll not only see a decrease in body fat but an increase in your body’s ability to build muscle!
I can say from personal experience that I have noticed some impressive strength increases and muscular development even working out in a fasting state.
Side Note: I personally take BCAA’s during my fasting times to ensure that my body is still getting in the basic aminos needed for metabolic functions, now most BCAA’s are zero calories so I don’t have to worry about breaking the caloric concern by taking these
Testosterone levels with fasting
A majority of gym junkies know testosterone is one of the Holy Grail hormones when it comes to preserving and gaining muscle. It is a major player with performance on the field and in bed (libido), so ideally we want to keep these levels high. With that said, I always get some fear that if someone misses a meal their testosterone levels just plummeted to the levels of a 12 year old girl (again we tend to think in extremes).
Seasoned gym rats and meat heads know that natural testosterone levels are at their highest in the mornings when they wake up… that is, they are the highest in the mornings AFTER an 8hr fast. Up to 20-30% higher than evening levels (2)
So short term fasting does not cause a decrease in testosterone levels, in fact studies show that it takes up to 3 days of straight fasting to notice the beginning of a decrease in morning testosterone levels and 9 days (I would never do a fast that long!) before a significant decrease in levels occurred. (3) If you need more convincing let me know and I can site quite a bit of journal articles that support this.
So far I think that we can admit that we don’t have to worry about muscle loss and testosterone levels decreasing during periods of short term fasting.
Common Sense Approach
I tell my clients to look and see if something makes sense when it comes down to dieting and muscles, just use that gut instinct.
If it makes complete sense to YOU, then its probably right BUT if you feel that the person telling you is full of BS… well then you can finish that sentence on your own.
People are under this misconception that if they don’t eat every few hours and skip a meal they will get fat. Really!? You need to think about that for a second.
Take a look at your ancestors, do you think they had the luxury of eating every 2-3 hours? They didn’t get fat, they did not have blood sugar drops and they maintained muscle… look at some pics of your grandparents back in the day, I guarantee that they had some substantial amount of muscle and lower body fat levels than most people eating six meals today.
If you want further proof, look at statues of Greek gods, if you were to follow the ways of the warrior, they didn’t eat until night time and in a lot of cases did not eat at all in one day. They were not fat and they had some impressive physiques.
I can assure you that if the misconceptions of losing muscle and gaining fat if you don’t eat small frequent meals throughout the day were true, we would have died out as a species long ago!
The body was not genetically designed to eat six meals a day. It is designed to eat and then go for a period without food. So its ok to take a break. I can promise you that you will NOT lose muscle and get fat.
Phew… Ok that’s enough for me now.
It will take more time for scientists to begin doing more and more research that promotes giving your body a break from food, but rest assured that taking a break will not have any negative effects on you. Fasting won’t be to blame for lost muscle mass or deceased testosterone levels.
(1). Gjedsted J, Gormsen L, Buhl M, Norrelund H, Schmitz, Keiding S, Tonnesen E, Moller N. Forearm and leg amino acids metabolism in the basal state and during combined insulin and amino acid stimulation after a 3- day fast. Acta Physiologica. 2009; (6): 1-9.
(2). Baker HWG, Santen RJ, Burger HG, De Krester DM, Hudson B, Pepperell RJ, Bardin CW. Rhythms in the secretion of gonadotropins and gonadal steroids. Journal of Steroids Biochemistry, 1975; 6:793-801.
(3). Klibanski A, Beitins IZ, Badger T, Little R, McArthur JW. Reproductive function during fasting in men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1981; 53(2):258-63.
In Health and Awesomeness,
Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, CES, RBT is the owner of Fitness Revolution in Rowlett, TX.
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