Fasting seems to be talked about and done a lot nowadays. It seems to be a popular diet and dare I say part of the fad diet category.
But just because it is a popular thing and a fad diet does not mean it is an ineffective one.
In fact I believe fasting is one of the healthiest things for you and something definitely everyone should be doing if they can especially if they want to lose weight and fat.
Another thing I see a lot along with this new popular dieting method is individuals who are scared or hesitant in taking part of it.
Not because they do not want to but most of the time because they are scared of losing precious muscle mass they have been training for or putting their rate of muscle recovery at risk.
So how do you maintain muscle recovery while fasting? The secret to maintaining muscle mass and recovery is simply to do fasting right.
If you knew how fasting affects your muscles fat and body in general on top of how to do it properly you definitely would have no fear of losing muscle mass or hindering recovery while on this diet.
What Is Fasting?
First before we go on I must give a brief description for those who may not have heard of or have heard of fasting but do not exactly know what it is.
So what is fasting? Often called intermittent fasting it is the willful decision to refrain from eating for a specific amount of time, usually an amount of time that is out of the ordinary.
As you are refraining from eating for a certain amount of time you are also giving yourself a smaller window in which you are allowed to eat and when this window is up you can no longer eat.
The common theory is doing this will keep blood sugar or glycogen levels low by cutting out the carbohydrate nutrient. And by keeping glycogen levels low one will lose weight and fat.
Although there are many different kinds of fasting and numerous things you can restrict yourself from other than simply all foods but usually when someone is referring to fasting as a diet it means they are not consuming anything except water as water is extremely important for proper body function but will not hinder the many effects of fasting in any way.
That said when referring to fasting throughout this article the water only fast is the fasting method used unless otherwise stated.
How Does Fasting Affect Your Muscles?
So to address the big fear and the big question hesitant people have when it comes to fasting how does fasting affect your muscles?The answer may be a surprise to you as opposed to what many may believe when thinking about fasting and eating small if not no amounts of food, fasting can actually help you maintain or even build muscle mass.
This is largely in part due to the massive increase in human growth hormone or HGH levels in the body which is one of the key hormones which contribute to muscle recovery and your body’s growth and development overall.
Long periods of fasting can see a massive increase in HGH levels a 24 hour fast sees up to at least double in ones HGH levels and an extreme 48 hour fast has seen HGH levels increase as much as 5 fold.
Now this definitely does not mean you should put yourself in those extreme conditions and please do not unless you know what you are doing but even if you are not interested in building muscle this should rid some fears you may have had about hindering muscle recovery and losing muscle.
I know many will not be fasting for as long as 24 to 48 but the HGH promoting benefits are still present in shorter fasts though not as significant.
Along with this individuals who train in a fasted state (At Least 14 hours without eating) experienced double the levels of p70S6 kinase about an hour after their fasted workout as opposed to a fed workout.
This p70S6 is an enzyme in the body which triggers protein synthesis in other words your body’s ability to use protein to rebuild muscle.
For this reason individuals who participate in fasted weight training or any excise would experience a greater benefit from a post exercise meal then someone who partakes in exercise in a non fasted state.
If one wishes to go above and beyond they can consume 5-10 grams of an essential amino acids (EAAs) supplement during exercise or right after exercise and still experience benefit from this increase in protein synthesis all without falling out of a fasted state.
Continuing the lists of reasons fasting does not hinder and may actually improve muscle recovery is the fact that fasting is shown to increase the productions of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BOHB) which prevents the oxidation (modification) of much needed proteins and also helps to promote and maintain the circulation of these proteins (in the form of amino acids) throughout the body.
So bottom line the primary driver of muscle protein synthesis (protein use) is the availability of essential amino acids throughout the body which is maintained and even promoted during a state of fasting as mentioned through the previous factors mentioned.
Some, especially those planning or wanting to plan a more extreme fast may be wondering: “But if I am not eating any protein how will being able to use protein better and promote muscle protein synthesis help maintain and build muscle?”
Well all cells within the body contain proteins so when proteins are broken down this may be coming from for example skin and nail cells compared to muscle cells.
In times of starvation and survival situations the body prefers to keep the much more important and useful muscle cells over much less useful cells from other parts of the body.
The longer you fast the more likely you are to run out of protein sources within your body and the more likely it is for the rate of muscle protein breakdown to surpass muscle protein synthesis so if you want to not only maintain but actually ADD on to your overall muscle mass then long periods of fasting is not a good idea.
If you do want to add muscle and continue fasting for long periods it could work with some modifications such as adding in some external sources of high quality amino acids (proteins) every day and the amino acid leucine especially.
As previously mentioned getting these protein nutrients through an isolated quality source with not much else in it such as an EAA supplement and even really good quality whey isolate powders should not knock you out of your fasted state as it is usually the dip in glycogen levels due to the lack of the carbohydrate that people are most looking for.
Another way fasting effects your muscles is as referenced by removing the glycogen from the. Glycogen is stored in the blood stream along with your muscles as well.
Your body uses glycogen as the primary source of fuel during exercise so when glycogen is absent because you have been avoiding the carbohydrate yes but food in general your body will look for other sources to tap into while training and one of these sources is your body’s fat.
Downsides Of Fasting
One downside to fasting is that it may bring a level of stress upon the body thus raising cortisol levels which will in turn raise insulin or blood glycogen levels. Which most people may be afraid off as they think it would make them gain weight or fat.
The good news is for most people this is not a problem and if you are healthy this issue should easily and swiftly fix itself but if you have previous issues with insulin control such as diabetes or other pre existing conditions this may be a problem.
Another downside is again one that may not affect you or everyone but it is simply the challenge and discomfort a fast may present.
Some people have no problem restricting their food intake every day but for some it may easily be a challenge and it may be difficult.
Putting your body into a situation it is not used to can lead to other things you are not used to such as drops in energy levels or having stronger cravings. Some may overcome things like these with ease but not everyone will be able to handle the challenge so keep this in mind.
How Do You Fast?
By now your fears of losing muscle while fasting should be all but gone but now that you are more open and accepting of fasting that still leaves the question how do you fast?
By not eating for so long you can put your body into a fasted state that has been being referenced too. But in reality it does not need to be a much longer period then what you are used to.
Doing something as simple as skipping a meal can be considered fasting. Of course you are not going to experience the same level of amazing benefits that a planned daily fast will offer but you are still restricting your food intake for longer than usual and thus fasting.
You may have heard the term intermittent fasting before and be wondering about this as i never really talked about. In reality intermittent fasting is just a fancy name given to a pretty wide range method of fasting.
Intermittent fasting is a fast usually done between 13-16 hours a day for the majority of or all days of the week as this is not as difficult as the larger fasts but still gives optimal levels of the benefits talked about.
Fasting as long as 24 hours can still be considered intermittent fasting but of course this can not be done all the time and most that fast like this do it 2 or 3 nonconsecutive times a week for their intermittent fast.
There is a small group of individuals who should not fast at all and this includes: Individuals on certain medications that affect the blood or hormones, individuals with pre existing medical conditions, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and individuals with a history of eating disorders or body dysmorphia.
If you are unsure on whether you should be fasting or not please contact your doctor before doing so.