In the bodybuilding world, it is very common to hear people advising that to get optimum results you should eat a small meal every two hours, as this increases your metabolism, improves protein uptake and feeds your muscles. However, this isn't necessarily the case. Intermittent fasting-type diets may actually carry some benefits to bodybuilders with regard to convenience, calorie control and nutrient partitioning.
The idea that you have to eat every few hours to get leaner and build muscle stems from the concept of TEF, or the Thermic Effect of Food. TEF refers to the amount of calories that your body burns when you eat a meal. According to Lyle McDonald, author of "The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook" and "The Ultimate Diet 2.0," while it is true that more regular meals will produce a more regular TEF, TEF also increases in line with your calorie consumption. So if you eat 2500 calories per day, the amount of calories burned through TEF would be the same whether you eat those calories in two meals or six. During intermittent fasting, you abstain completely from food for a predetermined period of time. The idea is to deplete your glycogen and blood glucose stores to force your body to burn fat.
Nutrient partitioning refers to what happens to calories and macronutrients in a food once you've eaten it -- they will either be stored as fat, used for energy or excreted. After a workout, your body is in an optimal nutrient partitioning state, meaning that it is able to use more of your food for replenishing lost energy, and building new muscle tissue. When training in a fasted state, this may be amplified further, leading to more muscle gain and less fat gain when you consume your post workout meal. According to Mark Sissons, author of "The primal Blueprint," short-term intermittent fasting may also increase your levels of muscle-building growth hormone.
When you diet down for a competition, it is crucial that you are in a calorie deficit. In other words, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. While this is certainly possible when consuming six meals per day, it means you have to be extremely strict with your food choices and portion sizes, to make sure you don't go over your planned caloric intake. By following an intermittent fasting plan, and eating all your food within a few hours each day, controlling your calories is easier, and you can have a little more leeway with your food choices, which makes for a much more pleasant dieting experience.
Preparing and cooking numerous meals every day, and taking Tupperware containers full of food with you everywhere can get very boring very quickly, and impact on your free time. Intermittent fasting allows you to be much more flexible with your meal timings, and you may only have to eat once or twice per day, which can be a lot easier, especially if you have a very busy work, family or social life.
How to Plan Intermittent Fasting
The best way to start intermittent fasting is to follow some tried and tested guidelines, such as Martin Berhkan's "Lean Gains" approach, Brad Pilon's "Eat. Stop. Eat" plan, or Ori Hofmekler's "Warrior Diet." Whatever plan you choose to follow, consume adequate calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats, and have a large, protein-rich meal after training. Regularly reassess your progress to make sure that you are still on track to reach your goals.
A Word of Caution
If you suffer from hypoglycemia or are diabetic, intermittent fasting may pose health risks for you. Before you combine fasting and working out, try a few bouts of intermittent fasting on recovery days, and pay attention to your body's response. Proceed with caution as you practice fasting on training days.