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I've read an article today which has a really interesting part:

Losing fat and gaining muscle can both be done, just not together.

However, if we get away from the small timeframes and start thinking about our diet over the course of a week or a month, then we start to have more options. For example, let’s say that you workout 3 days per week. You could organize your eating routine to have a calorie surplus on the days you train (i.e. gain muscle) and then a calorie deficit on the days you rest (i.e. lose fat). That way, by the end of the week, it’s possible for you to have spent 3 days gaining muscle and 4 days losing fat.

Is this possible (gaining muscle and losing fat on the same week)? If it is should I eat more on resting days instead of on workout days? I thought that muscle gaining happens on resting days.

For the curious people: here is the article.

A note on my workout plan:

I was doing weight training a year ago for more than a year and I restarted it 4 months ago. Since I already have experience with it I hired a trainer to put together a plan for me which consists of 3 workouts per week (A B and C) so each muscle is moved once a week. So far I have managed to put on some muscle but also some fat. I would like to optimize my diet/workouts.

  • How long have you been lifting for, with what regularity, and what kind of program or routine are you on? – Eric Jul 20 '15 at 19:27
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    See my edit.... – Adam Arold Jul 20 '15 at 20:46
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My answer is based on my own experiences, as well as those of the people I train with. For completeness, references are at the end.

Short answer: For endurance training, eat before you train and fast after, for strength training, eat after you train and fast before.

Longer answer: When you train endurance/cardio, you'll need the readily available energy from your meal when you train, so you eat first, then train. When you train for strength, you'll need the proteins and nutrients from the meal for your recovery instead, so you eat afterwards.

Really long answer: In order to gain energy, the body needs to convert whatever calories you put into it, you already know that. This energy can come from carbs/sugars/glucose, from proteins or from stored fats.

Each of these sources converts to glycogen/energy at a different rate. Sugars go fastest (why endurance athletes tend to carry something with dextrose), proteins go slower, and the process of releasing fat from the stores and converting is the slowest of all.

When there is a demand for energy, the body will choose sugars first, they are easy to convert and the body wants to get rid of them, otherwise it just has to store them as fat anyway.

If the demand for energy is low and the amount of glucose is high (after a big meal your blood sugar spikes), the body will prefer to use that for its energy, since any overload of glucose will eventually have to be converted to fat before it causes damage.

If the demand for energy is low and you have a balanced blood sugar level (why some athletes eat six small meals a day), the body will prefer to use body fats, that is after all what its for. As such, your body will burn most fats while you're sitting on the couch or asleep, as long as your blood sugar is normal. Incidentally, this is where the heart-rate-zones theory come from.

When the demand for energy goes up and your heart rate rises in order to transport more energy, fat burning simply isn't fast enough, and the body resorts to using glucose where available, a small amount of proteins if it has no other choice (not breaking down muscles here, the body has protein reserves) and fat gets left alone.

So...

If you train your endurance/cardio, you will need a lot of readily available energy, and having a meal before you train (on your training days) is most helpful. Otherwise, your body won't be able to keep up (funny enough, your mind will tell you that you're out of energy long before your body actually is). You can then do your fasting day on your resting day.

If you train with heavy weights and low reps, the energy demanded is largely already available as reserves and whatever extra is needed can be converted in time. After your training however, your body goes into repair to fix all those naughty micro-tears and grow your muscles. This takes proteins. So, you eat after your training, a meal with more proteins than carbs, and allow your body to use that meal to repair. You do your fasting day on the day that you train. Keep in mind, it takes some getting used to, training in a fasted state. It enhances your flexibility and doesn't sap your strength. But your own beliefs get in the way, your mind will often tell you that you need to eat first.

As far as how long before or after your training you have your meal, it depends mostly on your body and the composition of the meal, so I can't help you there. For maximum results, experiment. If you can live with less-than-maximum results, it matters less. Your body can adapt to anything as long as you're consistent and build up to it.

Personally, I love doing weights and gymnastics in a fasted state. But if I do cardio, I get this incredible craving all the time. Very annoying.

As for the science behind it:

  • Brad Pilon's 'Eat Stop Eat' has a lot of scientific references with regards to the effects of intermittent fasting on exercise. Some really helpful insights there.
  • Mark Sisson's 'Primal Blueprint' talks in depth about most of what I wrote above, the process of converting food to energy.
  • Finally, for an exploration as to what the body does during extremes, few things beat Timothy Feriss' '4-Hour Body'. This guy injected himself with hormones to see the effects, ate loads of meat to supercharge his testosterone levels and lots of other experiments to figure out what the fastest way was to build his body. Lots of references there on where he got the experiments from. Insane stuff. Really. Don't try it.

PS The above is based on a more tradition day-on-day-off fasting, which lazy people like me prefer. It's the same for the 16-hour, 20-hour, 5:2 etc. forms of intermittent fasting. Just figure out at what time of day to eat and at what time to train. If you do 'Eat Stop Eat', just fast on the first of your double resting days and you shouldn't notice any change in your energy levels during training at all.

  • I guess that this is a yes? – Adam Arold Aug 11 '15 at 9:25
  • Really short answer? Yes, it can be done, just eat the right stuff at the right time. You had the right idea. – Mark Aug 11 '15 at 13:36
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You can definitely build muscle and burn fat at the same time. To build muscle, you need to eat protein. To burn body fat, you need to eat less energy (carbs and fat). Most importantly, you don't need to use intermittent fasting to accomplish both of these goals at once (yet). It certainly won't do you any harm, but you will get very little out of it, so there's no reason to go through the trouble. Hardcore bodybuilders need to bulk and cut simply because few to no foods have enough protein and little enough carbs and fat to let them lose any more body fat.

Source: scoobysworkshop.com

  • Doesn't address IF at all. – Eric Jul 21 '15 at 2:22

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