Where do you think the idea came from that you start to lose muscle the second you stop eating? Well, some people point to old studies which claim to show this phenomenon to be true. Other people naturally assume it must be true because not eating makes people feel weak and tired. And we'd bet dollars to donuts that the protein shake industry has a vested interest in making sure that athletic individuals continue believing this dogma.
But what if we told you but there's plenty of reasons to believe that this could be just another wives' tale? We here at GetMuscleHelp are always looking for the newest and most up-to-date science on fitness and bodybuilding that we can find. We're going to be honest: we didn't expect to find what we found when we were investigating the connection between fasting and muscle gains. But the truth we discovered is earth-shattering.
All of the years- and decades-old studies which conclusively "prove" that you can't build muscle while fasted have one common methodological flaw: they rely on measuring muscle mass (i.e. How much muscle weighs) in order to determine their conclusions. But this is actually much more problematic than it seems.
It is true that your muscle will lose mass when you are in a fasted state. But there are reasons for this which have absolutely nothing to do with your physical muscle tissue breaking down and the muscle itself losing its cellular structure. Think of it like a kitchen sponge. When you squeeze all the water out of it and let it dry, it weighs much less (has less mass) and appears physically smaller. But does the sponge itself become less? Or is it still the same whole, intact sponge, minus all of the water that plumped it up and made it look and feel larger and heavier than it normally does?
When your muscle is in a fed state, it fills up with two things: water, and glycogen. When you start fasting, your muscle burns through its glycogen and releases the water that was holding it in storage. So the muscle deflation process is almost exactly like squeezing the water out of a kitchen sponge. But your muscle doesn't break down your cellular tissue just because you are fasted. As a matter of fact, under certain situations, being in a fasted state can actually encourage your body to build more muscle - or at the very least, to hold on to the muscle it has for dear life.
If you really sit down and think about it, the whole "starvation mode" fallacy which claims that your body immediately starts burning its own muscle and holding onto its fat when you stop eating doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We know that the body stores fat to be used as energy specifically for when we have trouble finding food. And the body needs its muscle tissue so that it can move around from one place to the next in order to find more food when the food runs out. So why would your body compromise its ability to move around and find food by breaking down muscle tissue immediately after you go a few hours without eating? It doesn't make any sense. Conversely, the science behind muscle building and fasting being complementary is quite fascinating.
Here's a quick and dirty summary of how your body builds muscle when you are in a fed state:
So the conventional wisdom assumes that if you don't eat, you don't release insulin. If you don't release insulin, you can unlock your cells. And if you can unlock your cells, you can't stuff them full of amino acids so that the cell can build more muscle protein. But there's a secret, alternate pathway to building muscle that science has only recently discovered which turns this wisdom on its head.
If you can't eat, the body has a backup hormone which it releases in place of insulin called IGF-1 (short for "insulin-like growth factor - 1"). When your body releases IGF-1, it unlocks the cell and basically does the same thing that insulin does. Not only that, but fasting can boost your human growth hormone output by upwards of 2,000% if you do it right; and as many bodybuilders know, human growth hormone is very important when it comes to building muscle.
Although the body has this alternate pathways towards building muscle, it can't happen without amino acids to serve as the building blocks of the new muscle protein. So how do you get amino acids if you're fasting? One way would be to supplement with a zero calorie amino acid pre-workout formula like Ultra Edge XL. We're obviously biased in favor of our own product, but you can use any amino acid formula you like as long as it gets you the results you want.
Fasting isn't for everyone. It's especially not ideal for anyone who was already lean, shredded, at their goal weight, and doesn't have a whole lot of gains to make or fat to lose. But it can be extremely useful for certain people. These groups of people include:
There you have it! We here at MuscleHelp hope you learned something new and valuable today. And we hope to see you back here soon so we can give you more tips on how to look and feel your best.