The first time someone suggested that I, as a bodybuilder, should fast I balked and almost Stooge-smacked the person. I responded with a 5 minute lecture about the need for a continuous supply of nutrients, the effect of protein deficiency on muscle mass and wrongly concluded that fasting was a generally bad idea except for religious purposes. That was years ago, and I've been proven wrong several times over by my own experiences in the matter.
While all my arguments against fasting were valid, there are other factors at play as well. Read on to learn them!
What About My Hard Earned Muscle?
Here's a really nasty one for starters: You have all kinds of garbage camping out in your intestines, especially if you eat lots of meat and dairy products while skimping on the fiber (can you say 'Average Bodybuilder'?). This means a slew of bad things. For one thing, your nutrition intake may be less than optimal thanks to all the gunk blocking the way.
Your risk of cancer can increase, since some of the crap is likely to be toxic. And let's not forget the obvious; You could be carrying pounds of dead weight in your midsection, which isn't exactly conducive to the coveted bodybuilding X-shape. I've read about obese people with as much as 20 lbs (!) of general sludge in their intestines. While this is a far cry from what you or I will probably ever get even close to, it's a nasty enough image to reach for the juice right away.
But general cleanup is not the only benefit of fasting. If you feel like your metabolism isn't as perky as it once was and you get the feeling you're flogging a dead horse when dieting, a week of fasting may be just what you need to 'press the reset button' and get a fresh start. Personally, I've found fasting to be a great jump-start for dieting. Another reason to fast is to simply give your digestive system a break! If you're a typical bodybuilder, you're munching down 5-6 meals a day, month after month. Dedicated bodybuilders even get up in the middle of the night to chug a protein drink. Talk about working around the clock!
What About My Hard Earned Muscle?
Ok, so what about the obvious risk of losing some of that hard-earned muscle mass? Well, I'm not going to BS you on this -- yes, you'll probably lose a bit of muscle in the process. That said, with a typical 7-day fast we're not talking about excessive amounts here, and if you lose a pound or two of muscle it'll most likely come back within a month once you're off the fast.
Remember last time you were injured and one arm or leg seemed out of proportion to the other, uninjured limb? How long did it take for the previously injured muscles to snap right back to the size they once were? Muscle loss during fasting works the same way, and I've never lost anything I didn't regain within a month or two after ending the fast.
There are also certain steps you can take to minimize muscle loss. First of all, keep training! And don't start fiddling around with diddly-weights either, keep the same resistance and intensity as you normally would and hit those muscles mercilessly! This may sound tough to do when fasting, but thanks to the natural sugars from the juices you'll actually feel pretty energized -- as long as you keep the workouts brief and intense rather than prolonged and dull. Another key part of successful fasting is to ease in and out of it. Going from a regular high-calorie, high-protein diet to nothing but juice and water will shock your body, which is a sure-fire way to make sure it doesn't play ball. It'll also make you go nuts fantasizing about juicy cheeseburgers, but that's another story.
Ok, time to let the rubber hit the road. Like I mentioned earlier, no fast should exceed one week, including 2 days of wind-up in the beginning and 2 days of wind-down at the end. This doesn't have to be complicated, just drink plenty of water and increase your intake of fruits, grain products and vegetables while phasing out meat, dairy products and the like. The second day of the fast, phase out the grain products and vegetables so you only eat fruit and drink juices, along with tons of water.
Aim to get at least 1-2 gallons of pure drinking water in addition to the juices. Drinking all this water will help thoroughly flush your system and keep your belly somewhat filled at the same time to combat the hunger. Some argue that you may deplete your salt and mineral supplies when fasting. I haven't experienced any trouble myself, but feel free to down a pinch of salt if you're concerned. Knock yourself out.
The third day you phase out the fruits and go to juice and water ONLY. This is where your discipline is put to the test, but as a bodybuilder you're used to exercising your willpower so you have an advantage over 'regular' people. Besides, if millions do it for religious reasons every year, you should be able to handle it. To further enhance the clean-out aspect of the fast, try fiber supplements. This also helps keep the hunger away.
The sixth and seventh day you simply reverse the phase-out of grain products and vegetables, and on day eight you can carefully reintroduce meats and dairy products into your diet. This is not the time to pig out on high-fat junk food -- try small quantities of lean chicken or turkey and keep the emphasis on veggies for a couple of days while ramping up the meats until you feel that you're 'back in action'.
After the fast, you'll feel more energized, healthier and somehow purified. Food will taste better and be better processed by your digestive system, and chances are you will find it easy break through previous plateaus in terms of weight training. If your goal is to diet after the fast, as I have tried a few times, it's a great jump-start since it ditches a few pounds right off the bat.
Last but not least, you should measure your waist near the belly button first thing in the morning the day before you begin your fast. Then measure it again on the morning of the last day of the fast. Make sure to write down both numbers, since you'll otherwise find it hard to believe the difference.