Build Lean Muscle with Intermittent Fasting, Carb and Calorie Cycling
So, you want to get leaner and build some muscle? This is the ultimate goal. Surprisingly, it is easier to reach the ultimate goal than you think. The answer is strategic carb and calorie cycling with the help of fasting. Believe me, it sounds more complicated than it actually is.
When carb and calorie cycling, there are four types of days you can include: low carb/high fat (LCHF), moderate carb/moderate fat (MCMF), high carb-low fat (HCLF), and full day fasts (FDF). Each of these days has its own rules for what to eat and how to train. With the exception of FDF, protein is kept high every day (BW x 1-1.5 for males; use 0.8 for females). For example, a 200lb male would eat 200-300g of protein per day, while a 125lb female would eat 100g.
This is how you will eat on non-workout days, or days that you do interval training. Think of it as a fat loss day. On this day, you will not eat any starchy carbohydrates and will limit fruit consumption to just berries and/or apples. Eat a higher amount of healthy fats on this day (nut butters, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.).
This is how you will eat on days that you lift weights. Treat this as a day to build a bit of muscle. The first meal after your workout, include two to four palm-sized servings of starchy carbohydrates. Eat a normal amount of healthy fats with each meal (except after your workout). Limit fruit consumption to two servings of fruit.
I only recommend including this day once per week. This day needs to be treated as a massive muscle-building day. This is the best day of the cycle, and will work best on the day that you have your hardest workout (usually heavy lower body lifts, or a full body workout). On this day, eat starchy carbohydrates (two to three palm-sized servings) with every meal after your workout (also known as carb backloading). Feel free to eat as much fruit as you want. Try to workout before 6:00pm. Ingest as little fat as possible this day (take your normal amount of fats from supplements such as fish oil, though).
A full day fast is pretty much exactly how it sounds. Eat nothing this day, and do not go to the gym. Sip on BCAAs (BW x 0.2g) and a greens drink throughout the day. If you have work to do, get it done this day because you will be super productive. Do whatever you can to keep your mind off of food. Trust me, this is important. The FDF needs to be included for three reasons: it keeps average caloric intake low, it keeps insulin levels low, and it helps you to produce more growth hormone. These three things are all crucial when it comes to losing fat and gaining muscle.
How the Cycle Works
First of all, this cycle prioritizes fat loss over muscle gain. Why? We want to maximize your control over insulin, first and foremost. You see, insulin is a storage hormone. When there is glucose in the blood, insulin is released to store the glucose as glycogen in either fat, muscle, or the liver. As you start to get leaner, studies show that your body is better at controlling your levels of insulin. This means that it will be easier for you to get leaner while building muscle. In the end, our goal is to get as much glucose stored in the muscle (instead of fat cells) as possible.
It is easiest to control insulin by carb intake. If eaten before a workout, carbs are most likely converted to glucose and stored in fat cells. On the contrary, after a workout they are converted to glucose and used for muscle storage and repair. This, my friends, is your secret weapon.
The Fat Loss Battle
Fat loss is a battle, and you have to treat it like one. You will know that you are losing fat when your body starts to crave different foods more often. For example, I always know that I'm losing fat when I start to crave nut butters.
With that being said, obviously, you need to decrease the total amount of calories you eat per week. For most people, this can easily be achieved by eating no starchy carbs and small amounts of fruit on LCHF days, as well as incorporating full day fasts. This is also known as a ketogenic style of eating. Every meal will consist of a good amount of protein, veggies, and a serving of healthy fat.
On MCMF days, you will only eat starchy carbs your first meal post workout. Don't be skimpy on the amount of carbs you eat in this meal. Enjoy them. You earned them. A good starting point is BW x 0.5 grams. For example, a 200lb male would eat 100g of carbs in this post workout meal. For more aggressive fat loss, use BW x 0.25.
If you are already moderately lean (under 15% BF for men, and under 20% BF for women), your goal is only to be losing 1 to 2 pounds per week (excluding the first week). If you continue to drop weight too fast, either replace your FDF day with a LCHF day, or slightly increase the amount of fat you are eating on LCHF days. This ensures safe and sustainable weight/fat loss.
Your Ultimate Weekly Schedule
Below, I've included a weekly schedule to show you how the carb and calorie cycling will look combined with your training.
Getting the Scale to Go in the Right Direction
To ensure that you are primarily in fat loss mode to start, I would highly recommend daily intermittent fasting with an approximate 16/8 fasting to eating ratio (Leangains style). This is a great way to stay compliant, and lower daily caloric intake.
Once you are relatively lean - below 10% for males and below 15% for females, then you can start to prioritize muscle gain. The easiest way to do this is to replace the FDF with a LCHF day. Voila: instant weight gain.
When it comes to controlling body composition, carb and calorie cycling is the way to go. Combine this with daily intermittent fasting, and you are sure to be lean, compliant, and an overall badass. Reward yourself for lifting weights by eating carbs. You have to earn them.
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