It’s a common misconception that a dry fast will result in muscle loss. You’ve had no food, no water, not done any exercise and now you’ve finished your dry fast. Then, when you go to check your results, you discover that you’ve gained muscle. WHAT?
Typically, any form of diet gets a bad rep for muscle loss. However, it’s important to recognize that dieting and fasting are not the same things.
This is why we’re going to discover how dry fasting can be considerably muscle-friendly.
So, does dry fasting cause us to lose that muscle we’ve worked so hard for? Well, actually, muscle loss during a dry fast is rather minimal as your body will look to use fat stores for fuel instead. Not only that, but dry fasting will also increase HGH (Human Growth Hormone) secretion, further increasing and preserving muscle mass.
How does dry fasting preserve muscle mass?
We’re used to thinking that when we’re deprived of nutrition, our body then breaks down muscle into glycogen to use it as energy. However, with regards to dry fasting, this is not the case.
With any type of fasting, your metabolism will switch modes and start using its fat stores to get the energy your body needs. There is a study on starvation from 1983 conducted by Cahill that explains this.
Blown away? Thought so, here’s some more for you.
A study conducted in 2010 of over 70 days alternate-day fasting, the results showed that the participants lost a substantial amount of fat. However, it also revealed that their muscle mass dropped from 52kg to 51.9kg – that’s nothing.
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There have also been studies into water fasting, and after a 30-day period, the body didn’t even start to eat into the muscle. Not only that but protein synthesis didn’t drop to 0, however, it did decline over time. What is more interesting fat metabolism and ketone go up? This means that when fasting, your body switches from glucose metabolism to fat metabolism.
So, how do the results between dry fasting and water fasting compare?
Well, with dry fasting, you can achieve the same results through the metabolic changes, in a third of the time. Meaning the results you’d see from a 30-day water fast, could be achieved in 10 days with dry fasting.
When you fast, it triggers your body to prepare for shutdown to preserve energy, this is what happens during calorie restrictions and dieting. Your body can also create hormonal shifts during fasting, this then increases your body’s metabolism which shocks its fight or flight mode. You can see from this study that even after just 4 days of fasting, our bodies can use 10% more energy than when we started.
If you look at this from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes total sense. Cavemen would go days at a time without food and if their bodies shut down, humanity would never have lived through winter. Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to preserve your energy to fight off a woolly mammoth!
Human Growth Hormone, also known as HGH, is widely referred to as the most muscle-friendly hormone. It has also been described as the “elixir of youth” which is there are so many baby-faced athletes out there. HGH will make you stronger, more alert and you’ll get better sleep too. However, what’s most important is that HGH also preserves muscle mass.
There has been a study that revealed water fasting for even just one day, boosted HGH secretion but 2-3 times. Although, it’s also worth mentioning that when dry fasting, hormone secretion would be triple this. Our bodies continue to douse in this to prevent muscle loss and even though there might be some muscle growth, we’d still need tools of nutritional value to rebuild muscle.
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Right, this is where refeeding becomes so important. As many athletes and bodybuilders have discovered, when done right, you may be able to increase muscle mass, especially if you’ve been integrating any type of fasting into your routine.
Will working out during dry fasting burn muscle?
The general rule here is that if you’re going to exercise, it should be light workouts only. During a dry fast, walking, yoga and light resistance training are all fine, muscle loss from these types of exercises would be very minimal.
If you were to do a bunch of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or heavy weight training during a dry fast, you’ll use all of your energy too quickly and that won’t be coming from fat stores.
Should your body need a sudden burst of energy (if you were about to fight that woolly mammoth), your body will rely on muscular tissue for that fuel. This activates a process called gluconeogenesis, where the muscles break down into proteins, then convert to glucose to be used as fuel.
If you limit food, will you burn muscle?
The answer to this one is a little awkward, as it’s yes and no.
If you were to completely limit your food intake, this is not the same as a partial or minimal food limitation. So basically, as we mentioned earlier on, dieting and fasting are not the same thing. You can lose muscle mass very quickly whilst dieting.
Diets that reduce your calories to 50-70% of your daily intake do not allow for the same metabolic results you’d achieve during fasting. This means that you’ll then not reap the same metabolic or hormonal benefits that help prevent muscle loss. Now we understand this, it makes sense that we see obese people who have then lost weight left with loose skin and no muscle.
Of course, there are mimics of fast diets out there, such as high-fat or keto, and these may be able to replicate some of the benefits of dry fasting to achieve results.
Muscle mass loss during a dry fast: what affects it?
The length of a dry fast has an impact on how well your body preserves the muscle. When HGH is secreted during the dry fast, it protects our muscles; that being said, there isn’t any glucose or insulin to help synthesize protein to then build muscle.
Due to this, most of the muscle you’ll regain is at the refeeding stage. When HGH levels are still at a high and you eat, your body then has all the glucose, insulin and amino acids in order to build muscle mass.
It’s said that for best results you should dry fast in short periods at regular intervals. For example, for the most beneficial method of muscle preservation and growth, you may follow an intermittent dry fast for 12-24 hours. Any of the below dry fasting periods could also work well for you:
- 14-16 hours a day
- 18 hours, three times a week
- 24 hours, twice weekly
So, this will differ from person to person and your body type does affect the rate you burn muscle. Someone that is overweight with excess fat will likely burn more fat than muscle. This is due to the fact that our bodies are so smart and would use fat instead of protein. Protein is a functional tissue that provides us with energy and strength, whilst fat is simply energy storage in bulk.
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There are studies such as this, that have shown an obese person is capable of burning up to three times as much protein as a lean person. This is purely because there is more fat to burn and our body will use what is ready to go.
Well, that was a load of information, wasn’t it?
It definitely seems that dry fasting can be very effective when executed correctly. Of course, depending on body type, duration, and type of fast, the results will vary.
And what’s more is that it looks like we can dry fast, and keep those gains!
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