Post Workout Fasting?

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I got an email from Don with a question that ties into my ice cream post on the topic of post workout fasting.

I am wondering what you think of the “no fructose (or any carbs, really) for about 4 hours after a fasted work out” so as not to suppress the natural growth hormone spike that occurs after this type of work out (and how ice cream cold fit into that)? I am a 50 yr old guy who is looking to add muscle and natural growth hormone release seems to be a great idea for me and I don’t want to suppress it. I am going to be going on a bit of a bulking cycle and I was thinking of going the ice cream route. Do you think eating ice cream right after my workouts will be more beneficial for me (as far as gaining muscle) than the HGH release or, should I continue with the no carb post work out window and then fill up on ice cream? Thanks!

I’ll start by saying that I am not an expert in hormones and that even the experts have disagreed on this point. I do have personal experience both fasting and not fasting post workout. My opinion has the context that I am an ectomorph at a healthy ideal weight.

When I fasted for a few hours post workout, I lost strength. It was fatiguing to my body. I covered this in the 2011 post Intermittent Fasting – Mistakes I’ve Made:

This may just apply to ectomorphs, but I what I discovered in 2009 was that fasted weight training not only resulted in fat loss, but without a post-workout meal I started to lose strength.

From a paleo perspective this makes sense. I was hungry and went on a hunt. At the hunt I engaged in a battle. For me that was lifting weights at the gym. A successful hunt would have resulted in a kill and a meal. After a few months, I kept returning from the hunt in a hungry state. From the standpoint of nature, I was being every bit as energy foolish as the cardio junkies. That behavior gets punished if it happens repeatedly.

Assuming one exercises safely, the limiting factors for gaining muscle are calorie surplus and reducing stress. Reducing stress increases recoverability. I believe that reducing post workout stress is even more critical for ectomorphs, because we have less glycogen stores.

By denying yourself food after an intense workout, you might have higher GH, but your body is also in a high stress mode. As a side note, there are concerns that growth hormone might be stressful for its own reasons. See the article Growth hormone: Hormone of Stress, Aging, & Death by Dr. Ray Peat. Matt Stone also has a good article on the topic titled Low-Intensity Exercise Part III – Lactic Acid and Growth Hormone.

I think that ending the post workout stress by restoring glycogen levels should be your primary goal. When glycogen levels are depleted or run low, the stress hormone adrenaline is released. That could impact your sleep, especially if your workout was in the afternoon. Poor sleep is no friend to muscle growth.

coffee-ice-cream

For reasons I’ve already covered, I think ice cream is the perfect food to eat post workout. If you can’t handle dairy, make it coconut milk ice cream. Regular milk or dairy kefir with fruit work as well.

When I stopped post workout fasting, my strength returned. I was able to gain muscle. I had better sleep and I recovered from workouts faster. I’d love to hear from others on their experiences post workout fasting in the comments.

12 thoughts on “Post Workout Fasting?

  1. Don

    Thanks for the fast response! One thing I should mention though, I don’t fast post work out – I just avoid the carbs (esp fructose) for 3 or 4 hours. Instead I have a coconut milk and cream and whey protein shake (I know the protein powder… I usually don’t feel much like eating immediately post work out – although your sugar under the tongue info has me thinking…) and then when I get hungry eat some eggs and/or chicken or something. Then have a normal meal after that 3 – 4 hour window. My strength is fine and I seem to be more muscular than prior to doing this but… will I be better served (during my bulking attempt) to forget about the GH and go for the calories? Or stick with what I am doing and try the extra ice cream later on work out days? Reading the Peat post might help my decision as well. Thanks again.

  2. @Don – I need the carbs post workout. Refilling glycogen stores to reduce stress to speed recovery. I say eat the ice cream just after working out. You won the hunt! Share the victory with your body. You get GH release during sleep, so you won’t be missing out on it.

  3. This all makes perfect sense. Working out hard and not having anything (food) to show for it is a great way to send your body in to panic mode.

    Ice cream might work for some. But if you wanted to more closely approximate our ancestral environment you could try eating post workout a small piece of liver cooked in something like lard or tallow…

  4. @Glenn – Liver isn’t going to effective at restoring glycogen stores. You’ll want carbs. Ancestral isn’t always better. At least not in this specific case.

  5. Stephen

    I’ve had bad experiences restricting macronutrients and overall calories. Sleep was negatively affected the most. My strength and muscle mass didn’t change. I did loose water weight and probably some fat. But I had more trouble falling asleep during that period than any other time in my life. There was one week in particular when I had two sleepless nights. That was the worst I ever felt. When I eat a surplus of calories, my sleep is much better. Life’s too short to worry about your macros.

  6. Mr Interested

    Good advice, GH complexities/dangers was an eye opener. I think occasional post workout fasting is Ok, sometimes Grok/Grokina missed the Mastodon and went hungry. Also, the average 70kg/154lb person can hold about 500g =2000 calories of glycogen (800g if highly trained according to Noakes in Lore of Running), so if they workout intensely for an hour on a fairly full tank of fuel, they should still have a fair bit left for a post workout fast in a non-stressed state.

    Still, i’m not really sure what I mean by “occasional” post workout fasting, maybe twice a month? If it feels good do it (I get a nice glow for an hour or so), if it’s too stressful, eat!

  7. erica

    Bought the Dr Max Powers HGH Spray based recommendation from my coach as a weight control supplement. My workouts are stronger and I recover faster. Body fat down and feel great. I tried other fat burners or anti aging supplements with mixed success and think that $59 for this bottle is way cheap and worth it.

    i had no issues tolerating the HGH spray. Do not take at night or may keep you awake.

  8. @Faisal – Brad isn’t asking the right question in that post.

    Training is a stress. Fasting is a stress. Combining the two is not synergistic. Our ability to recover from stress and go into caloric surplus are the keys needed to gain muscle. Post training fasting is counterproductive to that goal.

    He titled his post a “dare”. I lost muscle when I engaged in that dare several years ago. Lesson learned.

  9. @Faisal – I used to think so, but not anymore. In the short term more caloric restriction seems like the path, but you risk lowering your metabolism. I have no way to prove this, but the sequence of FAST – EXERCISE – EAT is not only positive for our physical health, but our psychological health as well. Extending the fast post exercise is a failure path and I found the quality of my exercise began to fall. If the “hunt” was going to return no calories, then why give 100% to the hunt?

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