Lifting weights have a lot of benefits for health and wellness. Lately, I’ve heard some talk at the gym about the benefits of fasting, and it brought up the question, “Should you lift weights while fasting?”
So after researching, I found out It Is indeed safe to lift weights while fasting. Also, I learned there are some different reasons people fast and that the answer depends on a few factors: fitness level of the individual before the fast, type of weightlifting program being used, reasons for the fast, what kind of fast, and the duration of the fast.
Reasons why People Fast
At first thought, fasting seems counterintuitive to health, but there are several concrete reasons for engaging in food fast. The main reasons why people fast are to cleanse, lose weight, and for spiritual reasons. Fasting to cleanse results in the detoxification of the body for a fresh start to clean eating and drinking.
People wanting a quick weight loss result often choose to fast for a specific event coming up. Weddings and reunions are popular motivating factors when it comes to shedding some quick pounds to look and feel your best.
Those who fast for religious reasons are doing so under the belief that starving the physical body feeds the spiritual self and brings one closer to the divine.
As fasts occur for different reasons, they have different rules and practices associated with each. Some fasts only last a day while religious ones like Ramadan in the Muslim faith lasts an entire month; fasts like this are not full food fasts as only certain foods are forbidden.
In Ramadan, believers refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. Catholic fasts like Lent last 40 days and believers can fast completely, or more commonly, choose certain food items to sustain from for the duration.
Detox fasts can require that no drinks or foods are consumed for a few days, but some allow fasters to consume fruit and vegetable juices adding up to around 2,000 calories.
For complete fasts that people use for a quick weight loss, most sustain from consuming any food for as long as they need to reach their weight-loss goal. This type of weight loss is, of course, not sustainable and people are likely to regain it shortly after the fast is over.
Most fasts that allow regulated calorie consumption are generally sourced from carbohydrates. Juice, potatoes, and rice can help manage the energy demands that exercising places on the body. Water-only fasts or partial food fasts are harder to keep up with an exercise routine as proteins and fats are most often prohibited or very limited.
For full fasts that prohibit the consumption of all food and liquids, including water, they put a large strain on the body; exercise programs should be halted until the fast is over and you have had time to replenish your body’s caloric and hydration needs.
For fasts that prohibit the consumption of all food and water, the body will not only be lacking in nutrients but will also be facing the effects of dehydration. When the body is dehydrated, all of its systems slow down and do not function to full capacity.
If your fast includes water, be mindful of how your body is reacting and gradually increase your water intake after the fast is over.
Results of Fasting
The body reacts to fasting in different ways that depend upon the type of fast. Generally, after fasting for a few days, your metabolism will slow down. Your body will start to use the nutrients in your remaining body fat, bone, and muscle to meet its nutrient needs and keep the body functioning and mobile.
If you are lifting weights during this time, you are putting a lot of stress on your muscles. If your fast is one that prohibits all food, your missing protein and carbohydrate intake will make it difficult to replace glycogen, and it will be even harder to build new muscle.
For a full-food fast, there is little point to continue weight lifting as the body’s depletion will make it impossible to build muscle, regardless of the intensity of the weightlifting program.
The other effect of fasting is the depletion of mental awareness as the body attempts to harness all resources to keep going. Continuing a weightlifting program in this state can result in poor form and injury as a potential outcome.
Fasting Risks and Recommendations
When it comes to fasting for a day or two, for people who were healthy and fit before the fast began, the body is in a good place and capable of completing the fast without any major health fallout. When fasts extend for weeks, even the fittest athlete will feel their performance fade.
Studies have shown that professional athletes faced marked depletion in their physical performance during lasting fasts and that depletion took some time to recover from even after the fast was over.
Fasts can make you irritable, tired, alter blood-sugar levels, cause dizziness and fainting spells. Generally, you will feel weaker than normal.
If you plan to continue lifting free weights during a lasting fast, you will need the help of a spotter to make sure your form is safe and minimize the risks of injuring yourself.
Recommendations on Lifting Weights and Fasting
In most fasting instances, it is recommended that keeping up a workout routine is possible, especially for those who were in good shape before the onset of the fast. For those wanting to continue lifting weights during a fast, it is a good idea to adjust their routine to account for the body’s depletion by lessening the weights being lifted for a lower-intensity workout that will strain the body less.
During a fast is not the time to try and build muscle; it will be almost impossible if your body’s nutrient, protein, and carbohydrate needs are not being met.
If your fast allows the consumption of juices, consume as much fruit and vegetable juice as you can; this will increase your body’s ability to handle an exercise routine. Adding protein powder, if permitted, is an additional way to help your body during a fast, and it will also prevent the loss of lean muscle mass during the fast.
It is also recommended that people undergoing a fast do not initiate a new weightlifting or fitness routine. While the body is facing the strains of fasting, it is not equipped to tackle a new demand. If you have not tried the routine prior, you will be unaware as to how your body would react under normal circumstances, let alone during a fast. You can check this link on Amazon to buy the ultimate guide for optimizing intermittent fasting, burn fat, and preserve muscle.
How Does Weight Lifting Build Muscle?
Muscle fibers are composed of sarcomeres and thread-like myofibrils, and these are the standard units of contraction. When the body’s skeletal muscles receive signals from the motor neurons, they contract.
The more your motor neurons tell the muscles to contract, the better they get at receiving those signals. As the muscles contract more efficiently, muscles increase in size while the body gets stronger. The rest in-between weightlifting sessions are the time that the muscle fibers repair themselves and facilitate new growth.
How Do Food Sources Help Muscle Growth?
Protein and carbohydrates are essential dietary components for those wanting to increase their muscle mass. If strength training is your strategy, increasing your protein intake helps supply muscles with amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
During the early phase of resistance training when the most significant gain in muscle strength occurs, high protein intake is especially important.
Carbohydrates are essential for athletes and weightlifters as it provides the body with the energy surplus it needs to keep up with the athletic activity. The body is burning a lot of calories during exercise, and a carbohydrate-rich diet gives the body something to burn for converting energy into fuel for the body. Extra calories are needed to build muscle, so a diet high in protein and carbs is essential for bodybuilders and pro athletes.
Do Professional Athletes Fast?
Some athletes are religious, and those that are strict Catholics or Muslims will most likely follow the protocols of their belief system. Athletes engaging in Ramadan or Lent are going into the fast in peak physical form, so they are less likely to face the negative consequences of fasting than regular people are.
Professional athletes also have a comprehensive understanding of the body, its needs, and are attuned to its responses. While not all athletes can avoid the dictates of religious fasting, most will tailor their training around the fast and will be going into it knowing exactly how to mitigate any potential negative outcome. As they are in peak physical form before the fast, it is likely not to take as long to recover from the fast once their diet and caloric intake return to normal.
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