Intermittent fasting (IF) is a pretty popular style of diet, so I’m not going to go too in-depth into explaining it. If you have questions, I strongly suggest that you check out this article, which explains the diet and a few of its proposed benefits! But basically, IF involves a “feeding window,” typically of about 6-8 hours, during which you eat your regular foods.
The rest of the time, you fast. That “regular foods” part is really important: intermittent fasting is not an excuse to eat whatever the hell you want. That’s a quick route to diet failure. But if you make smart choices, IF can be a great strategy to help use your meals as fuel for training in a way that’s both convenient and efficient.
Editor’s Note: The content within this article is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional.
Why Should I Try IF?
Many IF proponents tout lots of scientific-sounding benefits of the method, like increased release of growth hormone, decreased inflammation, and even things like improved “cellular repair.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t really feel much cellular repair going on during dinner — or at any other time, for that matter. That’s not to discount these benefits entirely, but I think that practicing IF for those reasons is pretty silly.
Instead, consider the more practical benefits:
- It’s convenient.
- It helps you to feel more full while on a calorie-restricted diet, and, as a result,
- It may help you perform better in the gym.
The first point is pretty straightforward. Lifters with busy work or school schedules often struggle to carry around containers full of food during the day; others get up early and simply don’t feel like eating until later in the day. For these people, the IF eating schedule can really simplify their lifestyles.
The other two are a bit more nuanced. Whether or not you feel more satisfied from your food on a calorie-restricted diet depends on a lot of things: the size of your calorie deficit, your appetite, your digestion, and so on. But I think most people enjoy larger meals — eating a 4-ounce servings of chicken and some veggies just isn’t all that filling, even if you repeat that ritual six times a day.
Assuming you do feel more satisfied using IF, there’s a good chance you’ll also perform better in the gym as a result.
It’s really important to evaluate these advantages for yourself before you jump into an IF plan. Forget about the supposed bonuses like more growth hormone: the truth is, these things are likely too small to make a noticeable change in your performance. Focus on the practical benefits of the method, and you’ll be a lot better off.
How to Modify an IF Diet for Powerlifting
Even if you decide that an IF plan is right for you, I think you’ll benefit from a few changes to the standard feeding window. By timing your meals around your training, you can optimize your workouts — which might not make much day-to-day difference, but can add up to big gains over time. Here’s how:
1. Eat your first meal about 1-2 hours before training.
In my opinion, it’s never a good idea to go into a heavy training session in a fasted state. It’s simply not possible to perform as well as you would with some nutrients in your system: you’ll probably find that your endurance is decreased, you might feel lightheaded or nauseated during a long session, you might experience “flat” muscles and have difficulty getting a good pump, or you might simply feel distracted by hunger. Unless you’re prepping for a physique contest, there’s simply no reason to risk any of those symptoms.
2. Get some nutrients during training.
Intra-workout nutrition is a bit less popular than pre- and post-workout, but it’s still very important, especially while you’re in a calorie deficit. Getting in some protein and carbs while you train will help you to sustain high levels of performance. This is one of the few times I strongly recommend the use of supplements like amino acids and high-molecular-weight carbohydrates — because eating whole foods during a session makes many lifters feel uncomfortable.
3. Eat your largest meal after training.
Why after training? Again, we’re focusing on the practical here: yeah, you want to replenish glycogen stores and take advantage of the increased protein synthesis during the post workout anabolic window. But more importantly, if you eat your largest meal before training, you’ll probably feel bloated and sluggish during your session, which obviously isn’t ideal.
Finally, I’m a big proponent of “supplementing” your feeding window with very small meals of about 150 calories every few hours. While that sort of diet isn’t really IF (at least not according to the strictest definitions), I find that I feel much better with those small meals. My go-to meals here include a tablespoon of peanut butter and one scoop of amino acids; and scrambled egg whites with some fresh vegetables.
I know it’s my go-to answer, but there really isn’t a right answer – you just have to experiment to find what works for you. Fortunately, with something as dramatic as IF, you should know pretty quickly whether it’s a diet plan you can feel comfortable with. Start there, and then consider making the tweaks I suggest above.
And remember: ultimately, diet is a pretty small part of the strength equation. Your training, and the effort you put into training, is going to play a far bigger role in your ultimate results!
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.