Intermittent Fasting (IF) has become an extremely popular dieting and fat loss approach. In short, it involves extended periods of time without food, usually between 10 to 16 hours per day.
The research around the benefits of intermittent fasting is impressive. There are multiple studies highlighting its benefit in fat loss, insulin sensitivity and reduction of metabolic issues. When tailoring an intermittent fasting protocol to a physique athlete, certain tweaks must be made in order to help retain muscle mass whilst still optimising exercise performance.
In this article, I’m going to discuss how to optimise intermittent fasting for the fitness and body building enthusiast, explaining how to position your fast so that you are still able to get the best from your performance and recovery.
An Overview of Intermittent Fasting?
As briefly mentioned, intermittent fasting is a dieting approach that has received a lot of mainstream press over the past decade.
It involves extended periods of time without food consumption, this is known as the fasting phase. These longer duration fasts can help you to burn more fat and reduce total calorie intake for the day. They also offer additional health benefits, such as improved insulin sensitivity, which helps you handle and metabolise your macronutrients (i.e. carbs, protein, and fat) more efficiently.
There are various intermittent fasting strategies and protocols available to follow. However, one of the main protocols is a “within-day” fast, where you only eat during an 8 hour window. Another popular approach is a weekly fast. This involves eating normally on five days of the week and then fasting for two, only consuming 0-500 calories.
For the physique oriented individual, I recommend a shorter within day fast. For example, a 12 hour fast followed by 12 hour feast. This can still provide some of the benefits shown in the research, however, it will also allow you to optimise exercise performance and recovery. As well as allowing consumption of sufficient protein to retain muscle mass and even build muscle mass.
Most people choose to fast in the morning after they have been asleep and therefore not eaten for 8 to 12 hours already. This means, upon wakening you will only need to fast for another 2 to 6 hours. After this fasting window, you’ll have more flexibility in your diet for the rest of the day, allowing you to increase nutrients and food around the workout and optimize recovery and performance.
How to Fast When You Are Training in the Evening
As discussed, the best Intermittent Fasting approach when training in the evening is to fast during the morning. This allows you to still get one to two meals in before the workout and again one to two meals after the workout.
Here is an example day fasting combined with an early evening (5-6pm) training session:
- Around 3:00pm, have your second meal which will act as a pre-workout meal.
- Around 90 minutes post pre workout meal, begin your normal training session.
- This fast should not affect performance as you have had two meals prior to training.
- Approximately 30 – 90 minutes post workout, have your next meal. This be a protein shake or a lean protein source and some carbohydrates.
- Your last meal of the day should be around an hour or so before you go to bed and about 3-4 hours after the post-workout meal. Again, this can be a normal meal that follows normal dietary rules.
As you can see, you still manage to consume 4 full meals: two before and two after the workout. If your last meal is around 10:00pm. and your first meal the next day is at 11:00am. this is a 13 hour fast.
Here is another example if you wish to extend the fasting window to 16 hours per day. This is only advisable for people who are carrying a lot of excessive body fat, with the main goal being to lose body fat and maintain muscle mass.
If you’re already lean and have an equal focus on retaining and even growing muscle mass you’re better to stick with a smaller 12 hour fast.
- Wake up and fast until 12pm.
- At 12pm have your first meal, this can be a normal high protein meal that follows normal dietary rules.
- Around 3:00 pm., have your second meal which will act as a pre-workout meal.
- Around 90 minutes post meal, start your normal gym session. This fast should not affect performance as you have had two meals before starting the workout.
- Immediately after have a protein shake.
- Wait a further 2 hours and eat your last meal of the day.
As you can see this fast allows for three meals and one shake, two before the workout and one meal and shake after to aid with recovery. This can still be sufficient to build muscle, just bear in mind you’ll need to eat slightly more calories and protein within those three main meals to reach daily targets.
Intermittent Fasting When Training in the Morning
When you train in the am, you virtually have to swap your fasting window around.
Based on the research, the fasting window must be tailored around your workout to optimize performance, recovery, and muscle growth. For that reason, you need to eat in the morning before working out and then again after to aid with recovery and muscle growth.
This means that your intermittent fasting window needs to occur in the evening. For some this may cause difficulty sleeping due to the extended period without food before going to bed. In addition, if you enjoy an evening meal with your family or enjoy socialising in the evening, this may make intermittent fasting in the evening a more challenging approach.
If it sounds like you may struggle, you should either shift your training time to the p.m. and follow the above protocols or find a different dieting strategy to intermittent fasting.
If it does not bother you having a few hours without food in the evening then here is a suggested protocol:
- Upon wakening have a high protein but easily digestible meal before you train. This could be something small like a protein shake, some high protein yogurt or a few eggs.
- After about 30-60 minutes once the meal is digested, head to the gym and perform your normal workout.
- Again wait around 60-120 minutes before having your post workout meal (you are not going to lose all of your gains by waiting 60-120 minutes).
- Then wait around 4 hours after this first post workout meal and eat your third meal of the day. This will be your final meal of the day which will likely occur around 12 hours from waking.
As you can see the above approach provides around an 11 hour feeding window and around a 13 hour fasting window. As in the above chapter, this still allows for at least one meal before the workout and 2-3 meals after the workout.
For example, it is likely that your last meal of the day will be around 6:00 p.m. and if your first meal of the day is around 6:00 a.m. that’s a 12 hour window without food.
Again, you can be slightly more severe with this fast if your only goal is fat loss. To do this you simply bring the post workout meal to immediately after the workout and then bring the last meal of the day 2-3 hours earlier.
What Are The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
As described above, there are numerous benefits to intermittent fasting.
One of the main benefits is obviously fat loss. The primary mechanism behind this is that intermittent fasting is a very easy approach for you to reduce daily calorie intake, because you have less time in the day to eat food.
For some (including myself), it also allows more dietary freedom in the time that you are eating, i.e. you can have bigger portions, more food, and more flexibility in your dietary choices. Therefore, it will improve the enjoyment of your diet and you have more chance of sticking with it long term, which we know is a key factor in weight loss and long-term success.
If like many, there is a period in the day where you are extremely busy or are not interested in eating within the first few hours of waking up, intermittent fasting can be a great tool to help you lose fat simply without having to obsess over calories or having to eat very small portions with every meal.
There are tons of health benefits from intermittent fasting especially when it helps you reduce body fat levels, which is linked to most serious diseases. Here are just some of the benefits proven with research on intermittent fasting.
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Reduced body fat
- Reduced cholesterol and blood pressure
- Improved fasting blood sugar levels and carbohydrate tolerance and much much more…
Is Intermittent Fasting for Everyone?
Like all diets, some will love intermittent fasting and others will hate it.
As discussed above, if there’s a period in the day where you aren’t able to eat or aren’t interested in eating then intermittent fasting can be a great approach. However, if you’re always hungry and longer periods without food causes cravings and poor nutritional choices, then intermittent fasting may not be for you.
In addition, if you train multiple times a day or are extremely active, longer periods without food may not help with recovery or support optimal immune system health. Also, I don’t recommend intermittent fasting for the hard gainers, who have a hard enough time gaining weight as it is. Similarly, this approach is not advisable for type 1 diabetics or pregnant individuals.
Intermittent fasting is definitely a great tool for fat loss, many members of the 90 Day Transformation Program have managed to lose large amounts of fat, while having a flexible diet by following my IF protocols.
Hopefully you can now see that intermittent fasting for physique or a fitness orientated individual should involve smaller fasts, with the main goal being to reduce total caloric intake whilst maintaining good gym performance and a high intake of protein.
Give intermittent fasting a go today and see how it can work for you. If you want to see how I program IF for rapid physique transformation you can download the full 7 day meal plans and my IF Bible here.