Fasting: Another tool in the belt

I am sure many of you in the fitness arena have heard of fasting or intermittent fasting, maybe you have even experimented with it. I have been doing a lot of research on it and a while back tried the lean gains protocol (back before competition prep started) but I didn’t find it suited me. Nonetheless I thought I would give my perspective on fasting protocols and how they fit or don’t fit into a fitness lifestyle.

Firstly, for women I think fasting is a lot harder both physiologically and psychologically than it is for men.

Physically, women are not made to fast for as long as easily as men. We generally have a harder time transitioning to burning fat for fuel for one. But what is more concerning is that fasting seems to have a negative impact on our hormonal balance leading to potentially negative consequences on reproductive health as well as general mood issues. 

Psychologically, many women have or still suffer from eating disorders, myself included. A major concern of mine with the proliferation of fasting is that women will use this as a socially acceptable reason not to eat. It’s very convenient to say that a meal is “not in your eating window” for the day, but then just not eat at all, or not eat enough. And we don’t need more excuses for disordered eating. 

So in general I think that if a woman is thinking about intermittent fasting it should either be done occasionally, or with a shorter fast or 14-16 hours only and not the 20 hours recommended by some protocols. 

That being said, fasting can be a great tool to use in certain circumstances. 

For instance, over the weekend I overindulged both calorically and with the amount of sodium I had. I felt very bloated and lethargic, so decided to embark on a single 24 hour fast. It’s important to note that although my fast was for a longer period of time, I have no intention of repeating it within the next few weeks. Many protocols recommend a 24 hour fast once per week… I think I would die. At the earliest I might fast again in 2 weeks, and that’s extremely unlikely. 

So why would I do this?

  1. Firstly, I did NOT do this as a punishment for overeating on the weekend… there was ZERO negative self talk about my indulgences on the weekend, only fond reminiscences of delicious chicken wings…. mmmmmmmmm 
  2. Fasting gives your digestive system a “rest”. It gives your system a chance to process all the food that is already in it without having to deal with the next things coming in. The is especially nice if you have eaten lots of hard to digest foods like meat and nuts (like I did). 
  3. I took extra vitamins and BCAAs to help my body with cleansing itself, which helped my system process everything in it already as well as limiting the potential for losing muscle during my fast
  4. It helps to restore glucose sensitivity if you have been eating a lot of carbs as you will not have any carbs throughout the entire day, keeping your insulin low and helping to deplete some of you glycogen stores and help burn some extra fat throughout the day.

It’s important to plan your fast to have the most benefit and do the least amount of damage.

  • If you plan on working out during your fast, try to workout at the end of your fast and eat right afterwards to limit muscle breakdown. 
    Alternate Day Fasting

    Alternate Day Fasting (Photo credit: HealthGauge)

  • Sip BCAAs throughout the day and especially during your workout again, to avoid muscle breakdown
  • Take supplements that help to detox the body like vitamin C in order to aid in the fasting’s cleanse
  • Take supplements that will help maintain electrolyte balance like magnesium 

If you are smart about it, fasting can be a great tool in your diet, but you have to make sure you physically and mentally prepare for a successful fast and don’t ever use a fast as a negative. 

Here is a fabulous article about fasting for women from Paleo for Women

 

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Why am I weak in the morning?

I’ve written about morning workouts before. Some people love them, some people hate them. I’m kind of in the middle ground somewhere.

The Pro’s:

I use this lovely alarm to motivate myself to get out of bed in the mornings

  • It’s out of the way and I can get on with the rest of my day
  • It’s less likely to be skipped because something came up
  • I feel super accomplished the whole day
  • I am more likely to stick to my plan the rest of the day because I started off on the right foot

The Con’s:

  • Waking up super early sucks (for me)
  • It means my meals are more spaced out throughout the day and I’m therefore starving the whole day
  • I’m significantly weaker in the morning than in the afternoon

That last one, being weaker in the morning, has been bothering me a lot. I’m not talking about just feeling a little weaker or the lifts being harder. I’m talking about physically not being able to lift as much weight as in the afternoon. I’ll give you some comparative weights:

Morning (10 reps to almost failure) Afternoon (10 reps to almost failure)
Squat 135-155 165-185
Deadlift 135-155 185-205
Lat Pull-down 70-85 85-100

I’m pretty sure if I ran a regression those would be statistically significant differences and, no, I’m not just being lazy in the mornings, I promise.

Cardio doesn’t seem to be an issue, though sprinting I seem slightly slower, but I haven’t noticed a big difference. Anyways, I decided to look into why this might be. So if you notice this difference you can understand why and not freak out (like I may have) that you are rapidly getting weaker!

Ok, so here are the reasons that I have found:

  1. You have been fasting for 8-10 hours and likely only have one meal in you before you workout. Therefore, your muscles do not have as much energy/stored glycogen to use for the workout. This means that you tire quicker and are not as capable of pushing out that last rep
  2. Your circadian rhythm affects your body temperature. You are generally cooler in the morning after waking up and your muscles are also cooler. A cold muscle is harder to contract and is less flexible making you slightly more prone to injury and not quite as strong in the mornings. This is also a good reason to make sure you do a thorough warm up in the mornings!
  3. The central nervous system (CNS) is still “waking up” along with the rest of you. This is, in my opinion, the biggest factor in the loss of strength. Getting your CNS firing rapidly means that the electrical impulses telling your muscles to contract are getting to the muscle faster and more frequently. In the morning, this process is slower because it has slowed down over night so you can sleep. With a slower firing if the CNS come muscles that are less responsive, less coordinated and overall weaker…. crap!

So what can you do about it? Because let’s face it, working out in the morning is sometimes the only and best option, but you want to perform your best.

The food one is relatively easy to address, eat a quick acting carb like fruit at least 45 minutes before working out to try to restore glycogen levels. In general you should eat before any heavy training, though fasted cardio can be beneficial.

The circadian rhythm is a lot harder to work around. The best option in to wake up a little earlier and make sure that time is consistent every day. Your rhythm will adjust and if you have been up for an hour and a half by the time you get to the gym, your body should be warming up by that point. This unfortunately does not seem feasible to me since I have a hard enough time with my 5:30 wake up to get out the door by 6. So I think I’ll just stick with a really good warm up.

The CNS firing is a challenging one, but there are some techniques to deal with it. After your warm up try doing a couple explosive movements like box jumps, thrusters or burpees. Whole body, explosive movements have been shown to get the nervous system firing better than a steady warm up or slow, heavy lifts. Don’t do too many though as these can easily deplete those glycogen stores which were part of the problem to begin with. You want to do just enough to feel like you have a bit of adrenaline in your veins, but not so many that you need to bend over to breath. I’ll be trying this technique on my next heavy morning workout and let you know how it goes 🙂

Bulking

I posted a picture earlier today from Busy Mom Gets Fit about “toning” vs “getting bulky” and how most girls don’t want to get bulky and thus don’t lift weights. Listen to me right now. You will not get bulky!

The catalyst for this post

At least not by accident which seems to be the implication. Which I frankly find insulting.

I am in the gym busting my butt 4-5 times a week lifting HEAVY trying to build muscle. I have been doing this for a couple of years and I still don’t have as much muscle as I want. Now having said that I probably do have more muscle than some girls want but it didn’t just magically appear overnight. It happened super slowly with lots of hard work.

I promise you, if you lift what is heavy for you 2-3 times a week you will like the results. PLUS if you don’t like it… just stop! This is probably the most frustrating part of the myth for me. It’s not like you are going to overnight turn into she-hulk and never see a curve ever again, all you have to do is add a little more cardio and lift a little lighter with higher reps and you with lose that muscle fast!

005

Me rowing 150 pounds

My family genetically gains muscle very easily and I still have to lift heavy and often to make gains and am currently trying to increase both my strength and size.

So please girls… PLEASE. Don’t be afraid of the weights! And don’t be so naive as to think that these girls who look too muscular to you got there by accident. That took hard work and dedication and it’s not going to happen to you the moment you try to do a back squat.

OK sorry for the rant… flowers and rainbows all around!

Layne Norton and my love of plans

There has been a lot… and I mean A LOT… of talk about metabolic damage and the “REAL” side of the bodybuilding industry recently. It seems like everyone and there grandma is coming out about the fact that the health industry ain’t so healthy. Well I said that from day one 😉 but I’m so glad it’s becoming common knowledge.

I want to weigh in a little bit here. When I prepped for my contest, my calories started at around 1900 12 weeks out and the lowest I dropped was to 1400 2 weeks out (I was lower for peak week, but that doesn’t count because it was like 3 days). I never did more than 50 minutes of cardio at a time and I think I did 2 sessions of cardio twice in my entire prep. Part of that is because I hate cardio, part is because I have a job that rarely stops after 8 hours, but a large part 2 is that I know what marathoners look like and logic told me that long sessions of cardio was probably not the answer.

Me at competition weight

Me at competition weight

Over the course of about 12 weeks I went from 142 lbs to 132 lbs and didn’t really feel to restricted until about 3 weeks out. I personally think I looked great and not to mention I retained a lot of my muscle mass. After the show I gained weight immediately, about 8 pounds in the first 2 weeks and then slowly another 12 pounds. I have had a really hard time trying to get that weight off me even though I’m sticking to my diet and eating less than I was before (about 1800 cals per day).

So, do I think I have metabolic damage? Not really, I think I was stupid and gained weight too quickly for my metabolism to keep up. I also think that my metabolism slowed down through the dieting which is normal, that is why we have plateaus, it’s out body adapting. But I don’t think I did any serious damage.

Over the past few days I’ve read up on a lot of Layne Norton’s papers and VLOGs and the like and even though I don’t think I would say my metabolism has been damaged, it’s definitely slowed down. His work shows that you can rebuild and even drastically increase your metabolism over time by slowly and consistently adding carbs and fats to the diet. And he means slow… like 5 g of carb and 2 g of fat per week! That’s like an extra quarter of an apple and 1 tbsp of 10% cream. He also says that you probably won’t gain weight doing that and that after a year that’s 250 grams of carbs or 1000 calories with minimal weight gain.

So I have a plan!!! I love planning as proven in this post.

While I don’t really want to start gaining any weight at the moment since I am not very lean right, I will try to add in more carbs until my show prep starts so that I have more to cut from. Then after my show, which I plan to do on October 26th, I will follow his protocol and basically reverse diet to to increase my metabolism while staying lean. He says that you might gain about 1 pound per 1-2 months, some of that being muscle, but that you might also not gain weight. Sounds good to me! Then when you want to diet for a show or anything again, you have more calories to work from and you won’t have so much fat to trim in the first place!

If you want to check out Layne Norton’s stuff his website is here.

 

Being Adaptable

This week has been a bit of a crazy one with limited access to go to the gym. And I know, I know. Excuses. But I’m sorry, if I’m working until 7 most nights and then have to go to a work event AFTER that and barely have time to scarf dinner I actually don’t have time for the gym. There are some times when we are just making excuses, and there are some times when we legitimately don’t have the time. So what to do on those occasions?

My plan of attack involves 3 things:

  1. Get the diet spot on so the extra cardio won’t go amiss and ruin your weight loss efforts
  2. Try to get in some at home exercises when you can, even a couple sit ups is better than nothing.
  3. The few times you can get to the gym, do more body parts.

That last one is key for me. Normally, I split my weeks into a pull day (back and bi’s), a push day (chest, shoulders and tri’s), a heavy leg day and a plyo leg day with maybe some yoga done in there and cardio on most of those days.

Well that only works if I’m in the gym at least 4 days a week!

This week will probably be more like 2 times. Knowing this, yesterday I decided the normal split would not cover me, so I did a full upper body workout plus a pretty intense interval session. Today I plan on doing a leg workout that incorporates some heavy moves and some plyo ones so all my bases are covered.

Doing a full upper body workout can actually be nice. You work each muscle fewer times so you can go a little heavier/harder in each set than you might otherwise. I usually switch between a push movement and a pull movement each exercise so the alternate muscle group has a chance to recover. Yesterday’s workout was awesome… here’s what I did.

Cardio

30 minute interval run – I warm up for 2 minutes, then do 4 minute intervals increasing the speed from 4 mph to between 7-9 mph depending on the intensity I want. I do 5 of the 4 minute intervals, bringing me to minute 22 and then walk for 2-3 minutes and end with a tabata at 10 mph. By the end I’m usually drenched and feeling pretty good about myself!

Devil-angel2jpgFull Upper Body

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Lat pull down 3 12 85/100/100
Bench press 3 12/10/6 95/105/115
Bent over row 3 12 70/80/80
Bench dips 3 15 Body weight
Lateral raises 3 12 15 lb dumbbells
EZ-bar curls 3 12/10/8 40/50/50
       

Since I did cardio first I was already pretty tired for the workout, but I must have pushed hard anyways because my whole upper body is definitely sore today.