Intermittent Fasting for Bodybuilders: Does Fasting Cause You to Lose Muscle?

fasting for bodybuilders

If you follow the typical bodybuilding diet you’re eating decent size meals several times a day. You’re feeding your muscles to they can do 2 things:

  1. Recover
  2. Grow

We (bodybuilders) know that if you don’t eat a certain amount of calories that you gain will come to a screeching halt. 

So what about intermittent fasting for bodybuilders? Will going without food, let’s’ say up to 16 hours, really cause you to lose muscle mass?

We’re going to dive deep into intermittent fasting, the impact it has on muscle, and I’ll also share the experiment I did on myself.

In the end, you’ll be able to decide if it’s for you, and if so, to what extent (‘to what extent’ is going to the interesting part you read about in my experience!)

What Is Intermittent Fasting? 

Intermittent fasting means skipping specific meals to an extended time without eating. One of the most common plans is the 16/8 rule.

This means eating all your meals for that day within an 8 hour period, and fasting for 16 hours.

I know, that sounds treacherous! How can you expect to make gains that way? Well, you may actually be surprised as we learn more here…

Here’s how intermittent fasting works, per nerdfitness.com​:

  • When you’re eating, your body is using that food for energy as it’s processing that food.
  • When you’re in a fasted state your body is more likely to use fat for energy.

This is awesome for bodybuilders if you want to get cut and drop some pounds. But what about our greatest fear – losing muscle? 

Fasting for Health vs Fasting for Bodybuilding

It’s important to note that we’re talking about intermittent fasting for bodybuilding.

We all know that there are some health benefits to fasting in general.

So these are the questions I’m going to help answer in this post:

Jason Stallworth muscle growth
  • Does intermittent really cause muscle loss, and what is the science behind this?
  • Is intermittent fasting something you should do as a lifestyle or just on occasion?
  • If you decide to intermittent fast, what are the best times?
  • Are there any repercussions for choosing to never fast?

Let’s read on and learn more!  

Can You Lose Muscle While Intermittent Fasting?

Yes, you can actually lose muscle while intermittent fasting. Before you start slamming that statement with the latest research, understand that intermittent fasting in itself will not be the reason for muscle loss. 

If your goal is to gain muscle mass, you need a certain amount of calories. Period.

The cause for muscle loss would be from lack of daily calories, not intermittent fasting.

Layne Norton further explain this in his article ‘The Facts About Intermittent Fasting, Fat Loss, And Muscle Growth’ on bodybuilding.com (the link will open a new browser so you won’t lose this article). I trust Layne’s advice because he does not subscribe to the latest trends or fads; he simply states facts from raw data and science. 

Now you may be thinking ‘But bro, what about eating 6-8 meals a day?’

Obviously that method has worked for decades, hence all of the great physiques that have been built off that method. There are 3 key reasons for this feeding schedule (I like the term ‘feeding schedule’ – sounds like we’re a bunch of cattle…lol!):

  1. It is believed by many that eating more frequently improves your metabolism (though there’s no research that truly supports this).
  2. It allows you to consume more food to grow bigger muscles
  3. There’s a dire fear that going more than 3 hours without eating would starve your muscles into shrinking.

Can You Take BCAAs While Fasting?

scivation xtend bcaa review jason stallworth

Let’s make one thing clear. Fasting means not consuming any calories.

So this means no soup, broth, jello, or any of that stuff that a doctor may say you can eat when fasting before a medical procedure (I’m just using that as an example from prior experience). And those are typically 24 hours or more fasts.

For intermittent fasting, it’s the same. This means no calories during that specific window of fasting. 

However, I personally may sip on BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) during a fast. Let me specify – BCAA products that do not contain any calories.

Now some will say this isn’t technically fasting, even though BCAA drinks typically have 0 calories. That makes sense with amino acids essentially being protein.

Jim Stoppani talks more about this in his article ‘Intermittent Fasting: Fat-Burning Blitz’ on jimstoppani.com

But the benefits of fasting are mainly from your body getting a break from processing and breaking down real food (I’ll go through some of these at the end of this post).

Can you still get some of the benefits of intermittent fasting if you sip on BCAAs? Some say yes, some say no. If there’s hard-evidence that proves that wrong, I’ll update this article with that source. 

*You can read the review on my favorite BCAA supplement in this post: Jason’s Scivation Xtend Review for Muscle Growth and Recovery

How Often Should You Do Intermittent Fasting?

When people do anything that’s new to them, they often have to dive in headfirst. But I don’t know if that’s the wisest choice. So how often should you really fast

I believe in testing things first. We know that not everyone responds the same, and this is true with diet, fasting, training, etc. It’s like the Keto craze. People that are die-hard Keto think everyone should do it, and it’s the only ‘right’ way. 

It’s the same with intermittent fasting. And it may indeed work great for even the majority of people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work well for everyone. That’s hard to swallow for the zealots. 

All that said, I recommend starting with just 1 day of intermittent fasting each week. And I also recommend that you plan this ahead of time, which I give you some tips below. 

Once you do this, you can then decide if you want to add a second day a week. And you can ultimately decide if it’s feasible and realistic for you to do. 

In fact, James Clear also recommends this in his article ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting’ on jamesclear.com. It’s just a feasible and realistic way to get started (and to see if it’s for you…or not). 

Planning Your Intermittent Fast

how to plan your intermittent fasting day

Here are some tips to plan your intermittent fast (assuming you’re doing a 16/8 fast):

  • Schedule ahead of time the day you want to do an intermittent fast
  • Write out all of your meals and meal times for the 8 hours you will eat
  • Plan to do your workout somewhere during the window you’ll be eating
  • During the non-sleeping hours of your fast, have things planned to keep your mind occupied (sitting on the couch watching TV is a bad plan – you may be tempted to snack – Ummm, this is from my own experience, btw!)
  • Keep a notepad with you to document how you feel, especially during the non-eating hours. 

That last part is especially important. Document your pain points, cravings, and any thoughts that you have related to not eating.

Also, document anything that you may have done to offset those feelings in order to stick to the fast. This will come in handy later if you decide to do it again.

My Personal Intermittent Fasting Experiment

*Keep in mind I’ve pretty much subscribed to the typical bodybuilding diet most of my adult life. That used to be eating anywhere from 6-8 times a day. These days it’s usually 4-5 times a day.

The first time I tried intermittent fasting it was kind of tough. It was on a weekend and that’s when my wife and I go to our favorite mom and pop restaurants.

And if I may also take a break and we’ll watch a show or something on a Saturday evening, in which snacking goes hand-in-hand. Another mind-hurdle. 

But I made it through (‘…the wilderness, somehow I made it through’ – had to go for a Madonna pun!)

Here was my schedule:

  • Last meal on a Saturday was around 2:30 PM
  • Did not eat until the next day, Sunday, around 7 AM

Now, I later tried this again on a Saturday and did just fine, no cravings. I just don’t recommend doing intermittent fasting for the first time on a day where you normally would eat more, or have a relaxed diet. You’re just bringing on more temptation!

I’ve found it much easier to intermittent fast during the week. Though it seems I work around the clock with TheMuscleProgram and my music, I tend to do my ‘heavy lifting’ during the week. So it feels easier to stick to an intermittent fasting schedule that coincides with my work schedule. 

Should You Intermittent Fast Every Day?

I do not fast every day. Not for 16 hours at least. 

In fact, I only intermittent fast about once a month, sometimes more. There’s no reason behind this other than it’s a personal choice. I love food, and I basically eat when I’m hungry. 

I know when I need to back off (not eat so much), and there are also phases I go through where I was to train for more strength, so I’ll actually up both my calories and meal frequency. It just depends on the goal. I certainly won’t be doing any fasting during that time. 

I know, I know…you were expecting me to say something like: ‘Yeah bro, everyone is intermittent fasting and you’re crazy if you’re not doing it too!’ 

But my goal isn’t fat loss. If it were, I would simply up my cardio and eat less. Yeah, I know…that’s old school. But you’d be amazed at how that actually works!

My goal with intermittent fasting is for the health benefits and has nothing to do with gaining or losing muscle, or fat loss. And I’ll get to that below. 

My 1-Day Intermittent Fasting Meal Plan

intermittent fasting meal plan

I’m going to give you one of my exact intermittent fasting meal plans. This is probably not going to look like the majority of the ones you read about on the internet. You were warned! 

And I’m not saying you should or should not follow my plan. It’s simply what I did the last time I fasted (just a few days ago…ugh, I chose a Saturday again…what’s wrong with me?).

Another important note: I did not do any weight training on this day. 

Meal 1 – 6 AM
2 scoops of whey protein
1 banana
1/2 serving of natural peanut butter
Animal Pak (this is a link to my Animal Pak review)
Meal 2 – 9 AM
3 whole eggs
French toast (with the eggs)
Coffee
Meal 3 – 11:30 AM
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
1 scoop of whey protein powder
Meal 4 – 2:30 PM
Pork Rice
Beans
Plantains

If you’re looking for a full bodybuilding meal plan, I wrote a post of my diet for a day. You can use this as a template.

And if you wanted to intermittent fast with my plan, just move the meals around so that you have that you eat all the meals within 8 hours (and maybe exclude 1 of those meals).

Read the entire meal plan in this post: Jason’s Simple Bodybuilding Diet

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

I’m going to include a lot of sources here (and the links will open a new browser…don’t want you to lose my page!). These are some of the health benefits of intermittent fasting

May Reduce Risk of Cancer

Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and neurological disorders (such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease).

Resource from PubMed ‘Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes’ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27810402

May Boost Immune System

More research shows ways that intermittent fasting can boost your immune system by flushing out your digestive system and reducing the amount of microorganisms in your gut. 

Resource from Dr. Jockers ‘Intermittent Fasting Boosts Your Immune System’ https://drjockers.com/intermittent-fasting-immune-system/

May Prevent Cell Damage

Intermittent fasting can also protect our ‘good’ cells by making them resilient to damage from stress. 

Resource from IFL Science ‘How Fasting Might Make Our Cells More Resilient To Stress’ https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/how-fasting-might-make-our-cells-more-resilient-stress/

Those are just a few of the benefits I’ve read about from intermittent fasting. And that’s enough for me to at least partake in it from time to time.

Will I ever start intermittent fasting every day? Probably not.  But I can see myself at some point doing it at least once a week. 

Recipes for Intermittent Fasting

With intermittent fasting, you have to plan your meals ahead of time. And the problem with that is not knowing what to cook.

Anabolic Cooking solves that problem by giving you over 200 muscle-building recipes! 

Even better, the meals are tasty and easy to prep and cook! One of my personal favorites is the protein pancakes (I love pancakes, but these are actually healthy for you). 

You can go directly to their website and order.

Train (and eat) with Passion,

Jason