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Intermittent Fasting And Bodybuilding

For the most recent five years of my strength training life, I have been interested in putting on muscle, so in a sense, what I do could be called bodybuilding. But my interest is primarily in strength. Most of the muscle I have gained has a direct correlation with the amount of strength I have gained, and with the way I eat. What I do is a combination of intermittent fasting and bodybuilding-type training.

Most people who sell things want you to think that the best way to build muscle is complicated. It isn’t. There are only a couple of requirements. A lot of people who want to build muscle leave out one or two of the steps.

The pyramid of muscle building has these three facets:

  • Exercise and lifting
  • Nutrition
  • Supplements

Most people are pretty good at doing two of the three. The one that normally gets left out is proper nutrition. And of course guys who want to put on muscle on a hurry eagerly buy into the notion that supplements are all they need. Supplements can help immensely, I have seen that for myself, but only when the other two requirements have been satisfied. I personally consider supplements the least important part of the pyramid.

I’m not an expert. These are just my experiences and opinions as a fitness addict. Feel free to prove me wrong or disagree.

What is intermittent fasting?

The terminology can get pretty fancy, but intermittent fasting means that you intersperse periods of eating with periods of not eating (fasting). There are many opinions on what constitutes a true fast–some proponents recommend that only water be consumed during the fasting portion, while other advocates insist that small portions of raw foods can be eaten without losing the benefit of the fast.

What is the fasting/eating ratio?

Most of the people I know who fast go one days on, two days off. Meaning they eat for 24 hours, then they fast for 24 hours. During the time when they are not eating, the logic goes that they are burning fat because calories are not being consumed. Also, the body is undergoing a cleansing–because nothing toxic (think processed foods, chemicals, etc) is introduced into the system, the system can clean itself out during the fast, which acts as a sort of reset button.

There are more variations of this, so please know that this is only meant to be a brief introduction to my own experience with intermittent fasting. My version mostly closely resembles Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet. I have been doing this for several weeks with great results.

Here’s what I do

I go to work with a lunchbox, but there is nothing in my lunch except for a couple of handfuls of almonds, and some raw vegetables and fruits. Sometimes I’ll throw in a little bit of jerky if I have some. If I can get through the day without touching any of the food, I do that. If I just can’t stand it, I eat the lunch I packed. One of the most interesting things for me has been that when I’m fasting (I am calling my day at work a fast, even though I rarely get through with just water) is that foods I normally don’t love start to sound and taste pretty darn good.

I can eat a salad at noon every day and still look forward to it, because there’s nothing else. A handful of nuts starts to make my mouth water. Or a couple of grapes. You get the picture.

When I get home around 6 PM, anything goes. I rarely binge on junk food, but I do binge on whatever else I want. I eat a ton of meat, I don’t count carbs at night, I eat ice cream a couple of times a week, etc. My dinner lasts from about 6-9, then I go for an hour or two with nothing before getting into bed.

Note: I don’t sit down to a formal dinner from 6-9, I eat dinner and then just keep eating during the evening’s other activities.

So I don’t do hardcore fasting, but I do go with very little food for about 90% of my day.

Is it working?

Yes, it is working for my purposes. I’m not going to win any bodybuilding shows, but I consistently add muscle and drop body fat. In the last four months I have gone from a 42″ waist down to a 40″. (see correction below). My bodyfat had dropped from 13% to 10%. I have put a couple of inches on my thighs–I lift weights 3-6 times each week as a passionate amateur–about an inch on my biceps, and so on.

Update: My waist was smaller than the 40″ I quoted above. I was measuring it in the wrong place. Thanks go to commenters who set me straight. So for anyone else who wonders–measure your waist at the narrowest point, not necessarily where you wear your pants!

I find that this diet, which I’ll just call intermittent fasting lite, is very convenient for me. I am able to add muscle, lose fat, maintain my strength levels, and we save money on food. I don’t think this plan is for everyone, though. My relationship with food is not one of comfort or emotions. I eat so I don’t die, that’s about it. I love food, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t worry about it too much and I don’t eat because I’m bored.

You know if you’re a foodie, so if you try this approach and it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up. But don’t give up the search for an eating plan that will help you get the body you want, either!

If you’d like to talk about any of this, please feel free to email me. If I can help, I will.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rick Smith January 28, 2011, 5:52 pm

    40″ waist at 10% body fat? Don’t think so, Josh…

    • Paul October 21, 2011, 3:54 am

      I was thinking the same thing.

      • Josh Hanagarne October 21, 2011, 8:25 am

        Paul, since originally writing this I realized I was not measuring my waist at the right place. I was measuring it at where I hang my pants, which is quite a bit lower than the narrowest point of my waist.

        So you guys are both right, but I made a mistake. BF was on, I just made a mistake measuring myself. And now I’m not sure what my waist was back then. It’s currently sitting at 37.

        I’ll change the post to reflect my error.


  • Josh Hanagarne January 28, 2011, 5:57 pm

    I am 6’8″ and I weighed 255 when I wrote this post. I have a huge frame and I don’t think 40″ is at all unreasonable. Think whatever you like, Rick. I wouldn’t just lie.