Intermittent Fasting Variants – Part 2

My three most popular IF protocols for competing clients

For Performance Sports, Burning Fat and Building Muscle

Written by: Joachim Bartoll during 2012 and 2013, revised in April of 2015
Classic Muscle Newsletter, June 2015 (edition #10)


In the first part we covered some of the basics and the importance of planning your Intermittent Fasting schedule in accordance to your innate circadian clock. We also covered the big difference between the actual net fasting state and simply counting the hours we go without eating.
Now, let’s take a look at the three most popular IF approaches among my competing clients.


Regular IF with workout nutrition

This strategy is most popular with my clients during the beginning a competition diet leading up to a physique show such as Bodybuilding or Body Fitness. In all simplicity, it’s a “regular” IF-protocol with the difference that you break your fast with your pre-workout nutrition.
While you may burn a few extra fatty acids by training on an empty stomach and break your fast with your post-workout nutrition, the many benefits with pre-workout nutrition simply outweighs the few benefits of the regular IF protocol. It is the “secret key” to rapid body transformations – and that includes fat loss, muscle gain or both.

The idea of splitting up your workout nutrition to the hour before your training session, during training, and post training has been one of my most important strategies since my article in Ironman Magazine back in 2001 (at that time, it was called “bracketing”.) I wrote a lot about workout nutrition strategies in 2007 and 2008 and it was included in my second book, The Maximum Muscle Guide, released in 2009. If you want to know more, read my book Träningsnutrition (only available in Swedish at the moment.) It describes the science and gives examples based on different types of goals.
The main benefits of consuming carbohydrates, protein, some performance enhancing supplements (such as creatine and beta alanine), and electrolytes before your training session is increased protein synthesis, better hormonal environment for muscle growth, increased intracellular fluids (which increases anabolism), more energy and better pump (expanding the muscle fascia).
For best effect, about 20 to 30 percent of your daily caloric intake should be distributed as your workout nutrition. Start out in the low end and slowly increase the amounts of macronutrients.
Since you slowly increase your calories as your diet progresses and your body’s ability to release body fat decreases, it’s ideal to add carbs to your workout nutrition and the first meal after your training session.
If you’re unfamiliar with increasing your energy intake during a diet, I will explain the reasoning and the mechanics behind this superior way of dieting in my article series Burn The Fat (this 5-part series will be published during June to August of 2015.)
Also note that I always include one or two days a week of full fasting for my clients. This is vital for improved health, receptor sensitivity, improved digestive system (and its efficiency)

Another huge benefit with proper workout nutrition is that the following meals doesn’t have to be as big as they would be on a typical IF plan. One problem is that large meals can be troublesome to consume if you’re not used to it, or if your digestive system is stressed and in need of healing. If you only have time for two meals during your feeding window to get all your nutrients and calories, they can get pretty big or be pretty close to each other.
Since you shed 20 to 30 percent of your calories by utilizing a workout nutrition strategy, your feeding window doesn’t have to be as long as 8 hours (which makes IF useless), since you probably will need only two meals to cover your nutrient and energy intake. At the same time, your last meal for the day can probably be smaller, allowing for faster digestion and a longer net fasting state! It’s a win-win!


Example of this strategy:

  • 5:00 PM: Pre-workout – carbs, protein, performance enhancing supplements
  • 5:15 PM: Pre-workout – fast acting carbs and protein (or amino acids)
  • 5:30 – 6:30 PM: Training
  • 7:15 PM: fast acting protein or amino acids (maximize protein synthesis prior to meal)
  • 7:30 PM: Meal 1, carb dominant
  • 8:45 PM: Meal 2, balanced

For someone dieting on an average of 2100 kcal, he could have 90 g of carbs and 60 g of protein in total before and during his workout (600 kcal) and a meal of 1000 kcal after his workout and a final meal for the evening of 500 kcal.
Also note that as your digestive system start to heal and recover, you will assimilate more nutrients and you will not have to eat as much to maintain your body weight as you previously had to. Also, calories as in energy in vs. energy out, does not matter that much. What is important is your body’s hormone responses to food. So, do not fixate on calories. Simply set a start-point and evaluate from there. Keep records and adjust accordingly.

By splitting it up like this, you should be in a fasting state at about 1:00 to 2:00 am, depending on your digestion, giving you a net fasting state of 15 to 16 hours!


IF with amino acid pulses and workout nutrition

Any kind of chemical that will induce a hormonal response will interfere with a fast and lower the effects of autophagy – and any kind of food that provide nutrients and calories will break the fast and pretty much shut down autophagy. However, when doing an IF-protocol, you never really start to ramp-up autophagy anyway. It’s more about letting your digestive system rest for a while and making receptors a bit more sensitive.
Actually, there’s some research that indicates that a very small portions of fast assimilating nutrients such as hydrolyzed whey protein, amino acids (BCAA, EAA or single amino acids) does not interfere with this part of fasting.
Some scientist actually believes that small servings of protein or amino acids during a short-term fast, such as IF, may actually increase the benefits you get from fasting.
While some parts of nourishment during a fast is still a bit unclear, and it may take science another 10 years to figure all of this out, using small pulses of amino acids are an important addition for a lot of my more muscular and competing clients. They simply perform better and retain or gain more muscle mass compared to athletes following a strict IF protocol. And no, I don’t care about what IF-purists think or say, I only care about superior results while at the same time keeping it simple and doable.

For those looking at gaining muscle mass, this strategy will work especially well if used for a short period of time – as in cycling between a few weeks of strict IF with a few days of real fasting to heal your body and increase receptor sensitivity (maintaining/slow gain phase) and then going all out with increased amounts of food and amino acid pulses throughout the ‘fasting window” for 3 to 4 weeks (rapid gain phase).
And as a note, this protocol also works extremely well for the chemically enhanced athlete with a revved-up protein synthesis.

For those on a strict fat loss protocol, and especially those preparing for a bodybuilding or fitness competition, this ‘pulse protocol’ becomes a viable option once body fat gets really low.

Once you reach a pretty low level of body fat and you risk losing muscle mass from prolonged periods of fasting, we usually switch to this variant where we introduce small pulses of amino acids. These pulses should be less than 100 kilocalories (if you’re somewhat active), or preferably closer to 50 kcal if you mostly sit on your ass during the day. By keeping them within this calorie-range, we minimize the risk of totally breaking the fast. And since they’re small and fast assimilating, they will provide benefits without taxing your digestion. These pulses will stimulate your protein synthesis, keeping you in an anabolic environment most of the day and thus minimize the risk of muscle catabolism.

Note: by introducing pulses of proteins and/or amino acids, you will lessen or even lose some of the health benefits from fasting – primarily the benefits related to aging as aging relates to the IGF-1/insulin pathway and to Mammalian Target of Rapamycin, or mTOR (the primary pathway for muscle protein synthesis.) Protein synthesis is activated through the mTOR pathway, which in turn is activated by certain amino acids and leucine in particular.

What is important to know about pulses is that your protein synthesis usually peak 15 to 30 minutes after ingestion and stays elevated for 45 to 90 minutes. However, the blood concentration of amino acids need to return to base line before you can stimulate your protein synthesis again. So, this means that pulses should be spaced about 2.5 to 3 hours apart when using BCAA, EAA or a high quality hydrolyzed whey protein powder. Pulsing with regular protein powder can work if we space them 3.5 to 4 hours apart, but it is not recommended in this pulse-fast variant (since you need 2.5 to 5 grams of leucine to stimulate protein synthesis, and that would mean +25 grams of regular 75 to 80 % whey, which simply add up to too many calories).
If you want to know more about pulsing with amino acids or fast acting proteins, please take a look at my book The Anabolic Pulse Protocol (only available in Swedish at the moment.)


Example of this strategy:

  • 8:00 AM: 8 to 10 g of BCAA
  • 11:00 AM: 12 to 15 g of EAA
  • 2:00 PM: 8 to 10 g of BCAA
  • 5:00 PM: carbs, protein, performance enhancing supplements
  • 5:15 PM: fast acting carbs and protein (or amino acids)
  • 5:30 – 6:30 PM: Training
  • 7:15 PM: fast acting protein or amino acids (maximize protein synthesis prior to meal)
  • 7:30 PM: Meal 1, carb dominant
  • 8:45 PM: Meal 2, balanced

These small pulses will only provide about 30 to 60 kcal. They can be “enhanced” with, for example, a couple of grams of beta alanine and citrulline malate. These amino acids will increase the intracellular fluids within the muscle cells, but they do provide energy, so be careful.
Also keep in mind that we need all essential amino acids for building muscle mass. Although we have an accumulation of amino acids in our blood and liver (the amino acid pool), they’re rapidly decreasing during our fast (since we do not enter autophagy), so adding in some EAA between the pulses of BCAA is simply a safety measure.

This is also the strategy I use if someone has to do their training in the morning or during the day. In these cases, the amino acid pulses will serve as both pre-workout and post-workout nutrition. Since you burn a lot of muscle glycogen and temporarily increase your insulin sensitivity from training, these pulses can be somewhat bigger at around 100 kcal – as long as they consist of a fast-acting high-quality protein powder or a EAA powder (about 25 grams). As post-workout nutrition, a hydrolyzed- or isolated whey protein powder would be ideal (net protein above 86 %).


IF with pre-workout meal and workout nutrition

This is my really bastardized version of IF that I use with athletes that enjoy the freedom of Intermittent Fasting but need more calories in their diet than what they can consume in only two post workout meals.
This is also the variant I most frequently use with clients who carry a lot more muscle mass – and in clients that are only a few weeks out of stepping on stage and competing. It will shorten the net fasting state, but it will allow for more nutrients, better anabolism and less catabolism.
In really muscular individuals this variant can be combined with the pulse-fast.


Example of this strategy:

  • 3:00 PM: Meal 1, fat and protein dominant
  • 5:00 PM: carbs, protein, performance enhancing supplements
  • 5:15 PM: fast acting carbs and protein (or amino acids)
  • 5:30 – 6:30 PM: Training
  • 7:15 PM: fast acting protein or amino acids (maximize protein synthesis prior to meal)
  • 7:30 PM: Meal 2, carb dominant
  • 9:00 PM: Meal 3, balanced or carb dominant (depending on the individual)


Example with pulses:

  • 8:00 AM: 8 to 10 g of BCAA
  • 11:00 AM: 8 to 10 g of BCAA
  • 3:00 PM: Meal 1, fat and protein dominant
  • 5:00 PM: carbs, protein, performance enhancing supplements
  • 5:15 PM: fast acting carbs and protein (or amino acids)
  • 5:30 – 6:30 PM: Training
  • 7:15 PM: fast acting protein or amino acids
  • 7:30 PM: Meal 2, carb dominant
  • 9:00 PM: Meal 3, balanced or carb dominant (depending on the individual)

These strategies actually have just about the same net fasting time as regular 16/8 fasting protocols but allows for superior anabolism and hormonal advantages. If you enjoy the life style of IF and want to put on muscle mass, or if you’re a big guy who wants to shed some fat, these are the approaches for you!


Blending strategies and dealing with re-feeds during dieting

Before we wrap things up, I’d like to mention that I usually blend these strategies depending on the situation. If a client has a rest day, we might do a “pure” IF with roughly an eating window of 2 to 4 hours and a fasting window of 20 to 22 hours. This allows the body some more rest and possibly a weak autophagy effect.
The same client might then use an approach with amino acid pulses on workout days – or even the approach with a pre-workout meal and workout nutrition.

No matter what kind of diet or IF plan someone follows during a diet, they usually have a re-feed day on Saturdays to keep their leptin levels from plummeting. This re-feed usually ends at about 6 pm and is always followed by a calorie-reduced 20/4 fast on Sunday (which usually is their day off from training as well). The reason the re-feed ends at about 6 pm is to limit the overeating. It’s always easier to eat more crap in the evening than during the day because of social interactions and programming. Simply put down the fork, go and brush your teeth and say that you’re done.

During the following day, on Sunday, the average athlete will only consume water and electrolytes while heavily muscular guys and gals will pulse with amino acids every 3 to 4 hours until roughly 6 pm when they break the fast with two smaller meals. These meals will provide a calorie intake equivalent or just below their resting metabolic rate, and thus cause a pretty big calorie deficit. Breaking the fast around 6 pm means that they’ll have close to a 20-hours net fasting state.
This approach is a mix of damage control from the over-feeding the day before, a way to let the digestive system rest, and a way to deplete some of the stored glycogen to get the body into fat burning mode again.
Some call it the fast/feast approach, I simply call it common sense.

So, there you have it. The three most common IF approaches I use with my clients. Now, go and try them out and see what variants suit your lifestyle and your goals the best.


By |2018-07-10T15:34:34+02:00June 1st, 2015|Articles from 2015, Published Articles|0 Comments

Intermittent Fasting Variants – Part 1

My three most popular IF protocols for competing clients

For Performance Sports, Burning Fat and Building Muscle

Written by: Joachim Bartoll during 2012 and 2013, revised in April of 2015
Classic Muscle Newsletter, May 2015 (edition #9)


In 2009 I published a short article about Intermittent Fasting and how to use your pre- and post-workout nutrition to your advantage. In 2013 I updated the article and published it through MM Sports and Body Science Magazine. The update included strategies how to include amino acid pulses throughout the day. In this article, I will go through the three most popular fasting influenced protocols I use among my competing clients.


Intermittent Fasting at-a-glance

Intermittent Fasting or fasting for about 18 to 21 hours followed by 3 to 6 hours of feeding, is powerful strategy for shedding body fat and reducing your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It can also be used for building muscle mass while keeping body fat gain to a minimum.

Three major benefits from fasting includes increased insulin- and leptin sensitivity and mitochondrial energy efficiency; reduced oxidative stress and inflammation; and increased capacity to resist stress, disease and aging.

Fasting helps the body to become fat adapted (burning fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel), which dramatically reduce your cravings for sugar and your risk of chronic disease and especially cancer. Cancer cells cannot utilize fat for fuel, they need sugar to thrive.

A recent study published in Cell Stem Cell discovered that Intermittent Fasting causes your body to strengthen your immune system by getting rid of damaged white blood cells and replacing them with new ones, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. For this to be effective though, you need to maximize autophagy by fasting for several days (preferably drinking only water with added salts/electrolytes), that is however, another article in itself.

Another way IF improves your immune system is by improving the beneficial bacteria in your gut. A more balanced and healthy gut bacteria will also help you sleep better and increase your energy, mental clarity and concentration.

The term Intermittent Fasting has become quite diluted in the last 5 years. Most trainers, nutrition experts, and fitness bloggers have their own variation of IF. In some cases, people will tell you that they’re fasting and all they do is skipping breakfast or skipping dinner. That’s not Intermittent Fasting and it’s definitely not fasting. That’s simply “under eating” by removing one single meal.

My first contact with “Intermittent Fasting” was back in 1998 when I ran the Internet-magazine Ironmag L.L.C and we wrote about The Animal Diet (a.k.a. Animalbolics). The concept of Animalbolics was later copied by Ori Hofmekler and his Warrior Dietand a couple of years later other variants surfaced such as Dr. James Johnson’s The Alternate-Day Dietand Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains – and in recent years we’ve seen Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat and Fat Loss Forever by Dan Go and John Romaniello.

Defining Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting is not really a diet, but rather a dieting strategy that follows a scheduled pattern with a period of fasting followed by a shorter period of feeding. By fasting and then feasting on purpose, Intermittent Fasting means eating all your food during a specific window of the day; and choosing not to eat food during the rest – thereof the term “intermittent”.
Also, keep in mind that the fasting protocol that might be best for you will depend on your amount of body fat, hormonal status, general health, and fitness goals. Are you a competitive- or elite athlete? Or is your goal to live a longer and healthier life? Each goal requires a different strategy and approach to eating. You cannot achieve a very muscular body and/or superior athletic ability and maximum health and longevity at the same time. I will not go into detail about all the health aspects in this article, but I will touch on the subject again in part 2 in some easy to understand examples.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that proper nutrition becomes even MORE important when fasting. You only have a few hours to eat each and every day, so addressing the foods you eat should be your first step. Fasting and then eat whatever you like during the feeding window could lead to disaster down the road.

If you have a lot of weight to lose, or if you haven’t been on a diet in a long time and are used to eating a lot of carbohydrates, I recommend that you start your IF with a low carb approach and as soon as you feel comfortable, add in several days of real fasting. The reason for this is to quickly improve your insulin sensitivity and make you ‘fat adapted’. This means that your body becomes more efficient at using fat for fuel. It also helps with any cravings you might have for sugar. And improved insulin sensitivity will help to steer all carbohydrates to your muscle cells instead of your fat cells once they’re introduced to your diet.
Simply minimize your carbohydrate sources like pasta, rice, bread and potatoes and exchange them for healthy fats like animal fats, natural butter, raw organic milk and cream, eggs, avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil. Aim at a protein intake of about 1.6 to 2 grams per kilogram of lean body weight (0.7 to 0.9 gram per lbs/lean bodyweight) and limit carbohydrates to 50 grams a day, or preferable closer to 20 grams, if possible.
Fat adaption is not an ‘on and off’ switch. It happens gradually. And the more aggressive you are in your approach, the quicker it will happen. Everyone has some degree of fat adaption that allow us to use fat and ketone bodies for fuel. However, to become really efficient may take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. You will probably feel lethargic at first. But once your body upregulates its enzymes, your energy levels will sky rocket and you will feel a new level of clarity. If you’re fairly lean, then this is a good time to introduce some carbohydrates before and possibly after your training. With improved insulin sensitivity and somewhat depleted glycogen stores, the carbs will be soaked up by your muscles – giving you better workouts and aiding in anabolism.
There is a saying, that you should earn your carbohydrates. And once you do, they make everything better! That saying is very true.

Your autonomic nervous system and your innate circadian clock

It’s important to realize that your body operates around a 24-hour cycle that dictates your innate circadian clock. This clock helps all living organisms to coordinate their biology and behavior with a daily day- and night cycle. During the day, your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) puts your body in an energy spending active mode, whereas during the night your parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) puts your body in an energy replenishing relaxed mode. Your SNS is stimulated by fasting and exercise and keeps you alert and active with an increased capacity to resist stress and hunger. This was crucial to our survival as we needed to hunt and collect food during the day. And as night approached, your PSNS, which is stimulated by your nightly feeding, makes you relaxed and sleepy. It also shifts the body to increase its capacity to digest and absorb nutrients. This is how your autonomic nervous system is meant to operate under normal conditions.
It’s therefore important that you try to plan your IF according to your biology. For most people, especially if you’re lean, it’s advantageous to eat in the early evening. For others, especially if you have trouble with stress and cortisol, it can be better to eat in the morning or early day. If you’re unsure about your situation, you need to experiment and find this out for yourself.

Now, if you have a large meal during the day, you’ll inhibit your SNS to some degree, and instead you’ll stimulate the PSNS. This can make you sleepy rather than alert and active, especially if you have some issues with your digestive system and/or have a lot of toxins in your body. Consuming a meal during the day is known as “breaking the fast”. Exactly how much you need to eat to shift into your PSNS is hard to say, but a common recommendation that worked well for me and my clients is to keep any kind of nutritional intake below 100 kcal, preferable closer to 50 kcal during the fasting window.
Wait a minute? Consume nutrients during the fast? Isn’t that some sort of sacrilege? Not necessarily, it depends on your goals and how you wish to manipulate your physiology. If done right, it opens up for variations that are more suitable for highly active athletes, athletes carrying a lot of muscle mass and people with a pretty low amount of body fat looking to get really ripped (as in bodybuilding contest ready) – or for those simply looking to gain muscle mass as fast as possible.
Remember, this is an intermittent fasting protocol, it’s not an extended fast. You should only consume water with electrolytes during a real fast so you can take advantage of autophagy, but during intermittent fasting when you have a feeding window, we have more options.
Please note that these strategies are not for improving health or longevity, it’s only for performance and improving athletic abilities.

Defining your net fasting state

We also need to define your actual time spent in a fasting state. By doing this, we need to separate the time we go without food from our actual net fasting state. If we take the regular 16/8 fasting approach which have a feeding window of 8 hours, most proponents say that they’re in a fasting state for the remaining 16 hours. But that’s not true. What really counts is your net fasting time. What I mean by this is that you need to take digestion into account. It typically takes your body between 5 to 6 hours to fully digest a meal (depending on your meal density, i.e. the content of protein, fat, fiber etc.) And if the meal is very big, as it usually is when following an IF plan, it can take up to 8 hours before you’re actually in a fasting state.
This means that if you, for example, finish eating at 9 pm, your body will not shift into a fasting state until about 2 to 3 am. And if you start eating again at 3 pm, you are actual net fasting state is only 12 to 13 hours – and not 16 hours! And if you finish off your feeding window with a big hearty meal, your net fasting state might be as short as 10 hours.

These variations in net fasting state can make a big difference, especially if your goal is health related, such as improving insulin- and leptin sensitivity and possibly extending your life span – as these effects are seen after 16 hours of being in a net fasting state and escalate from there.
If your goal is athletic performance and/or retaining or building muscle mass, you might need to compromise the length of your net fasting state to simply have enough time to get all the nutrients and calories you need. However, there are options – as you will learn in part 2.


That covers the basics of Intermittent Fasting and some of my thoughts and experiences. In the next and final part, we’ll look at the three most popular approaches among my competing clients.


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