Hello. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Much longer than I’d expected. I thought I’d take a month away and come back refreshed and ready to create a richer, more useful blog for you all, but Life does have a way of interfering.
That interference has, over the past six months, manifested for me in several forms – experimenting with a couple of different dietary styles, temporarily messing up my metabolism by taking my thyroid meds improperly, major and minor changes to my workouts, and a brief period of over-indulgence. The end result was a much rounder, squishier me.
And I was mortified. All I wanted to do was hide until I was back to normal. So I did, mostly. As of today, I’m at the upper edge of my normal weight range, but something that’s been bothering me for the entire six months has continued to be an issue. I’m bigger than usual for the weight I’m at. Significantly bigger.
The clear inference here is that I’ve lost muscle. With that in mind, in early September I re-dedicated myself to lifting heavy, pushing my strength hard in every workout, and raising the weight on my lifts as often as I possibly can. And it seemed to be working. I’ve been gaining strength, but I still don’t seem to be building any muscle. I tried dietary changes like eating more protein and reducing my eating window (more on that below), and workout changes like adding more HIIT sessions and closely monitoring my time between lifts, but there was one thing I never thought could be the culprit…
Since my first longer-term fast back in April, I’ve been lifting in a fasted state, meaning simply “before breakfast”. I’ve also been keeping to a shortened eating window (taking in calories only during a limited number of hours per day, in my case six and for a while even four – formerly referred to as Intermittent Fasting, now more logically referred to as Time Restricted Eating). Theory and anecdote have it that working out before breakfast will necessarily cause the body to burn fat for fuel as no glucose is readily available, while TRE is theorized to induce a fat-burning state during the portion of the day/night when no calories are being taken in, by simulating fasting. When I first looked into these concepts several years ago, some studies were underway but there was as yet no hard data. Since I was gaining strength and not weight, I assumed I was building muscle and burning fat, and therefore moving steadily toward my goal.
Alas, my measurements continued to imply that this was not the case. So, I got online and started Googling.
I discovered that those studies are concluded and there is genuine hard data available. I discovered that I’ve been shooting myself in the foot for six months.
As is so often the case, theory and practice are completely different animals. Studies on Time Restricted Eating show that the body doesn’t burn more fat the shorter the eating window, and it makes getting enough protein extremely difficult, thereby impeding muscle growth. It’s still recommended as a weight loss method, but is not recommended for anyone trying to build muscle.
But the real kicker – studies clearly show that lifting weights fasted, especially lifting heavy and especially for women, has no verifiable benefit, but breaks down muscle tissue at an increased rate when compared with lifting after eating, so much so that the body can’t make up the difference. Strength may increase but there is no accompanying muscle growth. Cortisol levels also increase substantially, causing fat retention rather than fat loss.
I could have cried.
Instead, I made a new plan. Well, an old plan, really, hence Tried and True. I’m returning to what I was doing when I was heavier but smaller, strong and getting steadily stronger, happy with my body and my progress. I’m eating keto as always, using the higher protein and somewhat lower fat version that I most enjoy rather than the super high fat version that’s very popular at present, and not worrying about my eating window. I’m lifting heavy five days a week, after breakfast. I’m still doing HIIT twice a week, and walking and hiking quite a bit more often than I had been lately. And when the Handsome Hubby and I do our occasional several-day fasts for autophagy, I’ll deload, something I need to do periodically anyway.
I started today. I expect it will take time to get a new schedule solidified. I expect it will take a long time for change to show. I expect there will be a lot of times when I’m frustrated with my slow progress. But I’ve done this before and I know it works for me.
Everyone’s body is different. Different methods work best for different people. Try what appeals to you. It might not work, but the only way to know is to try. And when you do find something that works for you, make it your way of life and try not to get distracted by what works for someone else.