Can you builld muscle while intermittent fasting

by Jason Stallworth

October 6, 2020

There are two truths when it comes to building muscle:

  1. You have to train hard.
  2. And you have to eat!

So, is it possible to gain muscle while intermittent fasting?

The short answer is yes, it’s possible, but there are some caveats, which I’m going to share with you in this post.

And just as it’s possible to make gains, you can also lose muscle while intermittent fasting. I’ll talk more about that as well and show you how to avoid muscle loss.

You’re also going to get an intermittent fasting meal plan at the end of this post that is centered around helping you build muscle. And I’ll show you what I do, personally when intermittent fasting.

Let’s dig in (literally!)

Really, What is Intermittent Fasting?

Real quick, before we get into the meat and potatoes let’s define what intermittent fasting really is. It’s important to cover this because there’s much confusion out there on this topic.

The most accurate definition of intermittent fasting is from Jim Stoppani:

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a technique where you fast for an extended period of time, then follow that fast with a period of eating, and cycle back and forth between these fasting and feeding periods.

The type of IF that I’ve found to work best for losing body fat and maintaining muscle is 16/8 intermittent fasting. That means every day you fast for 16 hours and have an 8-hour feeding window.

‘Intermittent Fasting: Fat-Burning Blitz’ By Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., updated November 6, 2018, jimstoppani.com

As you can see, this is the opposite of traditional eating. Normally you would eat several meals within 16 waking hours and fast while you’re sleeping (for about eight hours).

Intermittent fasting is normally associated with losing weight. Or in the bodybuilding world, it’s used to get lean and shredded. Simply put, it’s an easier way to reduce your daily calorie intake.

However, you don’t hear much about intermittent fasting’s impact on muscle gains. And that’s what we’re about to dig into.

**If you’re a hardgainer and have trouble gaining weight and packing on muscle size, intermittent fasting may not be right for you.

Instead, I have another plan you may want to check out in this post: 5,000 Calorie Meal Plan for Mass Gains

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Bodybuilding

food - eggs oatmeal blueberries

Why would you even consider intermittent fasting if your goal is to gain muscle?

Because it’s more than just an eating schedule. There are actually some four benefits to intermittent fasting specific to bodybuilders

  1. Your cells repair and regenerate when fasting, (new.mit.edu)
  2. Your growth hormone levels may be increased when fasting, (pubmed.gov)
  3. Fasting can reduce insulin levels which will help you stay lean while building muscle, (health.hardvard.edu)
  4. Fasting can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress from workouts, (pubmed.gov)

All of these are crucial to building muscle. In fact, ignoring any of these can keep you from making gains.

There are more benefits to intermittent fasting that are indirectly associated with building muscle. Some of these are related to increased brain function, reduced risk of diseases like some cancers, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

You can read more about those in Kris Gunnar’s article ’10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting’ on healthline.com.

Myths About Intermittent Fasting and Gaining Muscle

pizza cheat meals high carb meal

Now that you have a better idea of what intermittent fasting is and the benefits it can have for bodybuilding, let’s uncover some of the myths about intermittent fasting for bodybuilding and gaining muscle.

  • Myth 1: You can eat whatever you want if you’re intermittent fasting
  • Myth 2: The 16/8 plan is the only way to do intermittent fasting
  • Myth 3: You have to intermittently fast every single day for it to work
  • Myth 4: You have to do intermittent fasting for the rest of your life or you’ll lose all of your results
  • Myth 5: You can’t gain muscle while intermittent fasting

Here’s what you need to know about intermittent fasting for building muscle:

  • If 16/8 sounds unrealistic for you, following the 14/10 intermittent fasting routine may be just as effective.
  • You can cycle intermittent fasting; you don’t necessarily have to do it every day.
  • Intermittent fasting may not be a feasible long-term approach for building muscle.
  • It is possible to lose muscle while intermittent fasting (again, I’m going to show you how to avoid this and how to make gains instead!).
  • You can throw in some of your ‘favorite foods’ aka cheat meals, but you still need to get adequate amounts of ‘good’ muscle-building foods. In other words, you can’t fill up those 8-10 hours with junk food and expect to gain muscle!

The last thing you want is to start a diet where you feel like you’re trapped. That’s not sustainable and can even be disastrous to your physique (as you may end up binging).

You also need to align your eating schedule around your workout times. We’re going to get into that below…

How to Use Intermittent Fasting for Muscle Gains

Dumbbell rows - back exercises

Ideally, you will want to schedule your workout times to be within your feeding window. There are two reasons for this:

  1. You don’t want to workout with no food in your system
  2. You need to have at least one post-workout meal

If you train on an empty stomach, especially after a 16 hour fast, you’re not going to have the energy to get a good workout. And you will more than likely not be as strong.

It’s a simple equation. No food = no energy.

That’s going to limit your muscle gains, big time. And that could even lead to injury if you’re trying to lift heavy with no sustainable energy. So you want to make sure you have at least one solid meal before your workouts.

**There is an exception to this when training in the early mornings, and I’ll talk more about that later.

After you workout, your body is depleted of both macro and micronutrients. If you don’t replenish those nutrients, you could be doing more damage than good in the gym.

You need an adequate amount of protein, carbs, and some healthy fats after your workout. This is important for muscle recovery and muscle growth. So make sure you have at least one post-workout meal planned, preferably two (I normally drink a post-workout shake follow by a whole food meal about an hour later).

That being said, I’m going to give you two intermittent fasting schedules below for building muscle. After that, I’ll give you a meal plan you can use.

Intermittent Fasting Eating Schedule 1

This fasting schedule based on evening workouts. It’s great for those who work a regular day-job and don’t want to eat much during the day.

It’s also probably the most feasible eating schedule to follow. You’re really only skipping breakfast here.

Eating time: 12 PM – 8 PM

  • 12:00 PM – Meal 1
  • 3:30 PM – Meal 2 (pre-workout meal)
  • 5:00 PM – Workout
  • 6:30 PM – Meal 3 (post-workout meal)
  • 7:30 PM – Meal 4

**Speaking of workout, here’s the pre-workout I’m taking: Alpha Lion Superhuman

Intermittent Fasting Eating Schedule 2

Below is almost the opposite of the first eating schedule. And it caters to early morning workouts.
**This is actually my personal eating schedule when I’m intermittent fasting.

Eating time: 4:30 AM – 12:30 PM

  • 4:30 AM – Meal 1 (pre-workout meal)
  • 5:30 AM – Workout
  • 7:00 AM – Meal 2 (post-workout meal)
  • 9:00 AM – Meal 3
  • 11:30 AM – Meal 4

**Much of the time I will do a 14/10 (or even a 13/9) split for intermittent fasting and have my last meal around 5 PM, and wake up a little earlier to go train on an empty stomach.

That last meal will usually be a heavy meal containing red meat and other lower digesting foods so that I have the energy the next morning to train.

This may or may not work for you, but it’s something that has worked for me. You can read more about why I train in the early mornings in this post: How Early Morning Workouts Can Help You Gain More Muscle

Intermittent Fasting Meal Plan for Muscle Gains

food - mass meal burrito with nachos

Are you hungry now? I am! So let’s talk about meal planning.

Many make the mistake of thinking that they can eat whatever they want during that 8-10 hour window. And that may work for some, but for building muscle, you have to up your game.

Your body needs certain macro and micronutrients to have the two things we discussed earlier:

  1. Fuel for your workouts
  2. Nutrients to recover from your workouts and build muscle

So it’s important that you stick to your regular bodybuilding meals while intermittent fasting. And I’m going to give you two meal plans below, both based on the eating schedules we you just read about.

Intermittent Fasting Meal Plan 1: Evening Workouts

12:00 PM – Meal 1

  • Chicken breast or lean pork
  • Brown rice
  • Chickpeas
  • Broccoli and cauliflower

3:30 PM – Meal 2 (pre-workout meal)

  • Ground beef or pork
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Spinach

6:30 PM – Meal 3 (post-workout meal)

  • Whey protein
  • Almond milk
  • Peanut butter
  • Banana
  • Blueberries
  • Creatine Monohydrate

7:30 PM – Meal 4

  • Steak or fatty fish
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Green and red peppers

If you want to follow the 14/10 plan instead of 16/8, you could easily add another whole meal a couple of hours before your first or after your last meal.

Intermittent Fasting Meal Plan 2: Early Morning Workouts

4:30 AM – Meal 1 (pre-workout meal)

  • Whole eggs
  • Grits
  • Oatmeal
  • Dark berries
  • Coffee

7:00 AM – Meal 2 (post-workout meal)

  • Whey protein
  • Almond milk
  • Peanut butter
  • Banana
  • Blueberries
  • Creatine Monohydrate

9:00 AM – Meal 3

  • Chicken breast or lean pork
  • Brown rice or pasta
  • Chickpeas
  • Broccoli and cauliflower

11:30 AM – Meal 4

  • Steak or fatty fish
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Green and red peppers

In this case, if you want to follow the 14/10 plan instead of 16/8, you add another meal after your last meal of the day, around 1:30 PM.

Or, as I mentioned earlier, you could have your last meal around 5:00 PM and skip your pre-workout meal the next day. You may have the energy you need for your workout from the meal you had the night before.

This can work as long as you’re doing a lot of activity that evening (using that food versus saving it for energy the following morning).

**If you need ideas for muscle-building meals and easy meal prep, you’ll want to read my post: 200+ Bodybuilding Meals

Intermittent Fasting May or May Not Be For You

This post is not intended to be a case for or against intermittent fasting. My goal was to simply give you the facts on how you can still build muscle while doing this.

Sure, there are benefits to this type of eating schedule. But there are also benefits to simply eating healthy foods and allowing your muscles to recover and letting your body rejuvenate while you sleep, which you obviously would not be eating for several hours.

Also, remember that you don’t have to fast every day. You may want to start out by intermittent fasting just three days a week, say Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And then eat ‘normal’ on the other days and assess how you feel.

Regardless of what path you choose, just make sure you’re at least getting the basics for building muscle:

  • Plenty of quality protein (but not overdoing it)
  • Good carb sources through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Healthy fats

And remember the #1 rule – everything in moderation.

In a time where the experts are advising people to be a zealot for their nutrition agenda (usually to get you to buy something from them), there’s something to be said for trusting your own instinct when it comes to bodybuilding and nutrition.

As long as you can be honest with yourself, through experience, you will find what works for you and what doesn’t.

So don’t be afraid to try new things. But also don’t stray from the basics of bodybuilding nutrition.

Train (and eat!) with Passion,

Jason

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