Build Muscle While Fasting: We are genetically programmed to experience periods of fasting and periods of famine. Modern living provides such an abundance of food that we often tend to lean into full-time feasting at the expense of our health. The benefits of fasting are well known, but how do we incorporate it into our modern lives to reap the most of this ancestral practice? Today we explore a practical application to fasting and how to continue building muscle while reaping the benefits of restricted feeding windows with the help of meal diversity.
Build Muscle While Fasting: Fasting and Feasting
When you go through periods of fasting (starvation), autophagy pathways are activated. Autophagy is the self-cleaning method that rids the body of damaged or irregular cells. It’s like a cellular spring cleaning that promotes longevity and drastically reduces the likelihood of developing diseases like cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.
During periods of feasting, mTOR pathways are activated, which is the growth/ replication pathway. Being stuck in an almost constant state of feasting predisposes you to early aging and increased instances of disease.
The benefits of incorporating fasting into your lifestyle are profound, but like any modality, it has to be appropriately implemented. Too much fasting and autophagy can lead to a downregulation of your metabolism and thyroid disorders. The thyroid is very vulnerable to stress, mainly adrenaline, and cortisol. Fasting too often or too intensely elevates those two stress hormones. Although fasting can be fantastic for your health, like anything: too much of a good thing can become unhealthy.
Too much of either fasting or feasting leads to imbalances that negatively affect our health. The key to harnessing the best of both worlds is meal diversity.
Meal Diversity: The Key to Results
When people try a new diet and see results, they often attribute it to the diet itself. Whether it be a new vegan diet, a modern paleo diet, or a new keto diet—it’s true: people often get rapid results when they take on a new way of eating. But the key might actually be in the change, as opposed to the specific nature of the diet itself.
When we change our diet, the body undergoes an adaptation period. Like cross-training, it’s the new challenge that incites change. Once the body adapts to the change, however, we often see a plateau when it comes to benefits if the routine remains the same. In some instances, even a regress of the progress made. We see it time and time again in the strict keto community: people see rapid fat loss, only to be met by a plateau and eventually even weight gain.
The human body is a brilliant machine, and its desire to survive means it adapts to new inputs very quickly. An example of this is when we decrease caloric intake for a long time, the body slows down metabolism and starts storing fat for fuel. The key to prevent plateau’s is quite simple: keep the body guessing.
Meal Diversity: How To Do It
Build muscle while fasting through meal diversity. Essentially, meal diversity involves cycling through days of ketosis, days with high-carb meals, and the occasional fasting day. Ketosis is a high fat, medium protein, very low carb diet that promotes fat adaptation and autophagy. Generally, a ketogenic day is 50 grams of carbs or less. These days should still be calorically high but made up mostly of healthy fats.
A high-carb day can range from 150-250 grams of carbs for most individuals. These high carb days are the key to breaking the pattern that has made its way into the modern healthy way of eating that generally demonizes all carbs. Sticking to healthy whole-food-based carbohydrates is always a good idea.
In a healthy individual, ketosis should be one of the quickest ways to lose weight; however, if suffering from particular hormonal challenges, typically driven by cellular toxicity, one does not easily shift into the fat-burning state. For those individuals, it is best to stick to more high-carb days, while someone who is generally healthy can implement a balance more in favor of fasting/ keto days. Everyone needs to include variation, which means never totally omitting the high-carb days.
There are a few different ways to implement meal diversity, and the key is finding something sustainable for your lifestyle and your current state of health. Cycles can be based on a weekly, monthly, or seasonal rotation. Some examples of popular breakdowns include:
- 5-1-1: five days of ketosis, one big carb refeed day and one 24-hour fasting day per week.
- 3-2-2: three days of ketosis, two higher carb days, and two 24-hour fasting days per week.
- Monthly variation: Includes three weeks of relatively low-carb to a keto diet, followed by an entire week of carb refeeding. This is particularly successful with women, who can include the high-carb week just before/ during their monthly menstruation.
- Seasonal variation: this is probably the most ancestrally relevant variation, whereby summer months contain higher carb (fruits and vegetables) while winter remains a mostly ketogenic diet (animal fats and protein)
Irrelevant of which type of meal diversity you choose, a different kind of fasting to superimpose on this cycle is called intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is time-restricted eating, a daily feeding, and a fasting window.
Like fasting in general, it induces a certain degree of stress on the body. Someone dealing with hormonal imbalances might opt for a 12-hour feeding and 12-hour fasting window. This window tends to work better with people who are insulin-resistant or women who are more sensitive to stress, hormonally. As you become metabolically adapted, the fasting window can increase to 16 or even 18 hours daily.
Build Muscle While Fasting
Having muscle is an integral part of aging well. Weight training is linked to putting muscle as well as promoting bone density, improving glucose tolerance, and increases insulin sensitivity, all things that help us live longer and stay healthy. Putting on lean muscle is not only possible while fasting; it can help you put on muscle faster when done correctly.
For those looking to build muscle while fasting, the most effective meal diversity model is a weekly cycle. Lifting weights is the most effective way of putting on or maintaining lean muscle mass, and pairing weight training with a weekly feast/ famine cycle will set you up for lean muscle gains.
Some essential tips for incorporating resistance training while fasting, to build muscle while fasting:
- 2-3 days per week of resistance training, full-body compound movements that target multiple joints. Complete exercises like chest press, deadlifts, squats, and barbell rows.
- Protein is critical for muscle growth and longevity, but too much of it activates mTOR and can lead to accelerated aging. Aim for 0.8-1 gram of quality whole foods animal protein per your pound of lean body mass.
- Aim to have your resistance training days on higher-carb days, to replenish glycogen stores, and opting for any cardio or HIIT days on keto days, perhaps taking a rest day on a fasting day.
- If you’re working out in a fasted state, make sure to eat immediately after your workout. If you’ve eaten before working out, you can safely fast post-workout. The key is to avoid muscle loss, so you don’t want to be training within too long of a fasted state.
- Don’t eat less, eat less often: an intermittent fasting protocol that has a constricted feeding window (generally 16-18 hours of daily fasting) should not reduce your caloric intake. Reducing calories chronically will downregulate your metabolism and promote thyroid dysfunction.
There’s something that a lot of proponents of fasting don’t want you to know…Fasting can be painful. If you’re not used to going hours without food, most fasting protocols will leave you feeling exhausted and hungry at first. Even worse — fasting can cause symptoms like headaches and muscle aches while your body gets used to burning through glucose and shifting into a ketogenic state. The key to feeling great on your fasting program from day one? Deep cellular hydration.
Fastonic was formulated with the knowledge that hydration is critical to fasting and boosting cellular detox. This groundbreaking formula includes molecular hydrogen to increase hydration and provide powerful antioxidants to help battle free radicals from the detoxification process.
Fastonic works in 2 ways:
- Hydrates and detoxifies at a cellular level
- Neutralizes free radical formation as you eliminate toxins
The key to continued progress in your health and longevity goals lies in adaptation to stress. Whether it be exercise, hot/ cold therapy, or diet: when we keep the body guessing, it burns body fat, boosts our immune system, and supports longevity. Doing it properly requires tailoring your cycle to your current state of health. Meal diversity is rooted in a period of high carb, keto, and fasting days. Pairing dit variation with intermittent fasting and a resistance training program is a great way to promote muscle building while reaping the health and longevity benefits of fasting.
Björntorp, P, and M U Yang. “Refeeding after Fasting in the Rat: Effects on Body Composition and Food Efficiency.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 36, no. 3, Jan. 1982, pp. 444–449., doi:10.1093/ajcn/36.3.444.
Cherif, Anissa, et al. “Effects of Intermittent Fasting, Caloric Restriction, and Ramadan Intermittent Fasting on Cognitive Performance at Rest and During Exercise in Adults.” Sports Medicine, vol. 46, no. 1, May 2015, pp. 35–47., doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0408-6.
Hagan, Susie N., and Robert O. Scow. “Effect of Fasting on Muscle Proteins and Fat in Young Rats of Different Ages.” American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content, vol. 188, no. 1, 1956, pp. 91–94., doi:10.1152/ajplegacy.19188.8.131.52.
Harlow, Hank. “Muscle Protein and Strength Retention by Bears During Winter Fasting and Starvation.” Comparative Physiology of Fasting, Starvation, and Food Limitation, 2012, pp. 277–296., doi:10.1007/978-3-642-29056-5_17.
Laplante, M., and D. M. Sabatini. “mTOR Signaling at a Glance.” Journal of Cell Science, vol. 122, no. 20 July 2009, pp. 3589–3594., doi:10.1242/jcs.051011.
Longo, Valter D., et al. “Endosomal Protein Sorting and Autophagy Genes Contribute to the Regulation of Yeast Life Span.” Autophagy, vol. 6, no. 8, 2010, pp. 1227–1228., doi:10.4161/auto.6.8.13850.
Longo, Valter D., and Satchidananda Panda. “Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 23, no. 6, 2016, pp. 1048–1059., doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001.
Ploutz, L. L., et al. “Effect of Resistance Training on Muscle Use during Exercise.” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 76, no. 4, Jan. 1994, pp. 1675–1681., doi:10.1152/jappl.19184.108.40.2065.
Wang, Xuemin, and Christopher G. Proud. “The MTOR Pathway in the Control of Protein Synthesis.” Physiology, vol. 21, no. 5, 2006, pp. 362–369., doi:10.1152/physiol.00024.2006.