Intermittent fasting. A form of dieting that is often proven to aid with weight loss is also one that is seeing serious traction of late. Not without its controversies, such as it being a more general umbrella term that has spawned countless – often confusing – variations, intermittent fasting is not always a technique associated with those looking to pile on the muscular pounds.
It’s a topic that New York-based nutritionist Max Lugavere has approached during a recent interview with Rich Roll, a 54-year-old ultramarathoner who underwent a huge fitness transformation following his 40th birthday.
In a short clip taken from Max’s podcast The Genius Life, Max asks Rich, “Do you still routinely fast, because you had such success at the beginning? It got me thinking about the prolonged fasting-mimicking strategy, like a super low-calorie juice cleanse for five days here and there.”
Rich tells Max he is “familiar with that [fasting mimicking]. I’ve had Valter on my podcast. I’ve never done his protocol, and I’ve never done any other kind of long fasting protocols either, but I do do intermittent fasting.”
Rich is referring to the Fasting Mimicking diet, conceived by Dr Valter Longo. Dr Longo created a meal-kit plan for anyone wishing to put themselves onto the diet (which differs from other fasting methods) which includes several low-calorie, low-carb and high-fat meals. According to Healthline, this method forces the body to “generate energy from noncarbohydrate sources after glycogen stores are depleted. This process is called gluconeogenesis.”
“The unique combination of nutrients and reduction in calories is meant to trick your body into thinking it’s fasting, even though it’s being given energy.”
Again, however, Dr Longo’s Fasting Mimicking protocol is targeted more at those who wish to lose weight.
Rich continues, “There are plenty of days where I’ll eat at eight o’clock and then I won’t eat until six or seven [a.m.] the following day.”
“I don’t do that every single day, I think that you can get away with that for a certain period of time depending on how hard you’re training, but at some point, it’s going to start to impede your body’s ability to repair itself and recover.”
“So when you’re trying to make gains and move forward and progess as an athlete, you’ve got to be careful to not do that too often.”
“I think it’s good to shock your body and to train in a kind of semi-starved state because it forces your body to respond to that, but ultimately, you’re going to pay a toll if you’re doing that [intermittent fasting] too much.”
While there is much research to support claims that intermittent fasting can indeed help with weight loss, less is known about its true effects on muscle gain or loss.
Centr, the fitness app designed by Australian poster-boy Chris Hemsworth, says,
“If your goal is to build muscle, sticking with IF can be tricky. Muscle growth requires an excess of calories and a good amount of healthy protein.”
Speaking to sports dietician Lisa Middleton, Centr continues,
“Trying to fit all your daily protein into one or two meals isn’t as effective as spacing it out over a longer period. Ideally, eat food containing at least 25-30 grams of high-quality protein once every few hours to fuel muscle growth.
Circling back to the various methods under the intermittent fasting umbrella, Centr says the most popular method being adopted by “muscle builders” is the 16:8 method.
“Also known as ‘Leangains’, in 16:8, you do all your daily eating (your standard daily caloric intake) within an eight-hour window, then fast for the remaining 16 hours.”
A 2016 study looked into the effects of “a modified IF protocol during resistance training in healthy resistance-trained males.”
The participant group of 34 men was split into two groups: one who had to undertake time-restricted feeding (TRF) while the other stuck to their regular diet.
“TRF subjects consumed 100 % of their energy needs in an 8-h period of time each day, with their caloric intake divided into three meals consumed at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m. The remaining 16 h per 24-h period made up the fasting period.”
“Subjects in the ND group consumed 100 % of their energy needs divided into three meals consumed at 8 a.m., 1 p.m., and 8 p.m.”
Following the eight-week study, results showed that the TRF group lost more fat than the normal diet group, but “fat-free mass, muscle area of the arm and thigh, and maximal strength were maintained in both groups.”
Ultimately, the study showed that intermittent fasting can be a good diet for those wishing to look lean, since it doesn’t promote muscle loss, but does promote fat loss.
“Our results suggest that an intermittent fasting program in which all calories are consumed in an 8-hour window each day, in conjunction with resistance training, could improve some health-related biomarkers, decrease fat mass, and maintain muscle mass in resistance-trained males.”
That’s not to say that as soon as you take up an intermittent fasting diet you can expect to see quick results and major gains – you should always consult a medical professional before drastically changing your regular diet and training methods – but it could potentially be a new method to try if you’re not seeing the results you want in the bathroom mirror.