Gaining Muscle and Losing Fat
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When I picture bodybuilders I’m flooded with a vision of jacked up dudes and dudettes eating all day long, guzzling protein shakes and stuffing high calorie nut mixes in their mouths in betweens protein bars. There’s this idea that if you want to get big, gain muscle, lose fat, and have lots of energy that you need to eat anytime you’re not working out.
I’ve been there, in full muscle gaining mode, where I was eating as much protein as I could and sure I gained muscle but I also felt like crap. Eating all the time makes a person feel pretty bogged down. Your body is constantly digesting food, which leaves little energy for other important bodily processes.
With intermittent fasting you can get massive benefits for not just your energy levels and brainpower, but for your workouts as well. There’s a bit of a division about whether or not it’s good to work out on an empty stomach, and whether it’s possible to lose fat and gain muscle while practicing IF.
In truth, everyone of us is unique (yes, you’re special) and what works for one might not work for another. I personally find I get a way better workout on an empty stomach and a wild post workout appetite which makes for a highly enjoyable meal that serves as a sort of reward.
The Many Rewards of Exercise and Intermittent Fasting
Growth Hormone Increase
Intermittent fasting has some pretty profound effects on hormones. One study showed a 2000% increase in men’s growth hormone levels and 1300% in women after fasting for 24 hours. This dramatic increase in growth hormone doesn’t continue once the fast is broken, which is why it’s one of the most compelling reasons to exercise on empty. Growth hormone is responsible for helping the body make new muscle tissue and promoting longevity. Testosterone and growth hormone are intimately connected. Lifting heavy things help raise testosterone and alongside the fasting benefits of increased growth hormone you’ve got a recipe for gains.
If fat loss is on your radar, then listen up. Intermittent fasting on its own is a powerful fat loss catalyst but paired up with exercise it’s even more effective. People who exercise in the fasted state have been shown to have improved ability to burn fat. The benefits of fasted exercise include improved insulin sensitivity and better absorption of nutrients from the post workout meal.
Martin Berkhan of Leangains states that “fasted training may provide some unique benefits to those training in the fasted state, whether it be endurance training, conditioning or bodybuilding.” Why? Because of improved muscle glycogen storage and increased levels of 3-hydroxy-CoA dehydrogenase (HAD) fat burning enzymes.
Improve V02 Max
V02 Max is defined as “The highest rate of oxygen consumption attainable during maximal or exhaustive exercise” it is the defining measure of cardiovascular fitness and fasted training significantly increases it for some reason. A few studies (1) (2) show that fasted training improves V02 Max, which is pretty cool since people train hard to get these numbers up.
Doing It the Right Way
I don’t know if controversy is the right word, but there are a lot of mixed opinions on whether or not working out to any degree of intensity is beneficial in a fasted state. Obviously, as you’ve seen from the studies and benefits above it does have merit. But there’s still a right and a wrong way to do things. Muscles still need fuel to function and repair themselves and this is especially important when you’re trying to make gains not just maintain.
With this style of working out in a fasted state you don’t have to worry about depleting your muscles too much and you can ditch the myriad of post workout powders and simply enjoy a delicious meal, a hell of a lot better deal if you ask me.
Supplement with BCAA’s
I like Martin Berkhan’s position on fasted training, it’s useful, but your muscles still need something to get them going. Pre workout take 10 grams of BCAA’s (you can find some good ones here) and after your workout try and have your largest meal of the day. The higher intensity your workout the more you want to up your carbs. On days where you’re not working out, you can skip the carbs.
What If I Can’t Eat Right After My Workout?
If your schedule doesn’t allow for a meal post workout and you want to continue your fasting period then you’ll want to take another 10 grams of BCAA’s after your workout and again 2 hours later. You’ll remain in the fasted state and reap all the rewards but your muscles will get the fuel they need to repair and grow.
I wouldn’t push your meal more than 4 hours after your workout but that’s just me. Regardless of highly stable ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels I still get bloody hungry from a high intensity workout.
Entrepreneurs who make their own schedule should prioritize scheduling a workout right before you break your fast. To me, this makes the most sense and it’s definitely the most enjoyable way to get cut and gain muscle.
Don’t Let Your Glycogen Stores Get Depleted
AKA – don’t just fast and workout and take nothing and keep fasting. This is a recipe for disaster. All the BCAA’s might seem like overkill but I promise you’ll thank me later. On training days, don’t be anal about how many calories you’re consuming during your feeding window. Eat plenty of healthy carbs like sweet potato and berries as well as plenty of clean grass-fed protein.
Do this and you’ll be well on your way to getting stronger and leaner at the same time. Who would’ve thunk it was this simple?!
Have you worked out on an empty stomach? How did you feel and what were your results? Let us know in the comments!
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This article is part of a monthly series all about hacking your diet.
If you like this post check out How the Establishment Destroyed Your Health and How You Can Get it Back and How to Optimize The Time You Spend Buying and Preparing Meals.
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