Intermittent Fasting And Kettlebells – A Perfect Pair

Intermittent fasting (IF) can help you lose fat, improve your health, and give you more energy. But what will it do to your kettlebell workouts? Will you become too weak to do a set of swings? Will your Turkish get ups become stay laying downs?

This article answers these questions and more. After reading this article you’ll know what the research says as to what happens when you fast for 16-20 hours a day and lift weights. 

Using the results from this research along with the experiences of myself and others, I’ll also show you how to get the results you want from kettlebell workouts and intermittent fasting.

How Intermittent Fasting Affects Your Ability To Lift Heavy, Sprint Hard, And Jump High

The studies referenced in the list below show that, contrary to what the media and many ‘experts’ want you to believe, fasting doesn’t cause you to have horrible workouts and make any gains impossible. 

As you’ll soon see, the this is not the case.

  • You can get stronger, even when you’re fasting 16 hours a day. Studies on men and women prove this to be true. They both lifted 3 hard or more days a week and got as strong as the guys and girls that didn’t fast. 
  • Your muscles will not shrink like a deflated balloon. In fact, you can actually help them get bigger if that’s your goal. 
  • You can even build more muscle. In addition to getting stronger and bigger, it’s possible to add new lean muscle. The key is to lift heavy kettlebells 3 or more days a week and eating enough protein. 
  • Your ability to exercise harder, longer can improve too. Four weeks of training and fasting 16 hours a day doesn’t hurt performance, even all out sprints lasting 10-90 seconds. This is the equivalent of doing as many swings or snatches as possible in a minute. 
  • Intermittent fasting may even help you jump higher. Probably because of the weight loss, the people in one study who did IF and HIIT workouts improved their vertical leap by 2” and lost excess body fat.
  • You can make this gains and lose lots of fat without counting calories. That’s right. You may be able to forget about counting calories altogether. In one paper I read, the women that fasted ate 650 fewer calories a day. This is enough to lose a little more than a pound of weight lost every week. 

Lessons Learned

Here are 2 tips from the research I just reviewed that’ll help you get the most from both your fasts and kettlebell workouts. 

As always, check with your doctor before trying any new diet, supplement, or workout program. 

1. Eat enough protein 

One thing I noticed in all of the studies I read where IF didn’t negatively affect peoples strength or muscle mass/size is that they ate enough protein. Every day. 

This amount ranged from 1.6-2.0 grams of protein per kg of their body weight. Dozens of studies find this is the amount we need to eat every day to build and maintain our muscle mass, get stronger, and perform your best. It’s also helpful to eat this much when your goal is to lose body fat. 

For those of you who don’t weigh yourself in kilograms, you should aim to eat between .7 – 1 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight a day.

If you find that eating enough protein is tough to do within your eating window, this article has some great tips that’ll help. 

2. Be patient and give your body time to adapt

Your first few weeks of intermittent fasting can be tough on your workouts. They sure are for me. 

I recently got back into eating one meal a day (OMAD) after a few months off. Let me tell you, my kettlebell workouts the first 2 weeks were rough. I mean, they were awful. 

Here’s how bad they were. I was weak and way more tired than normal between sets. I normally do kettlebell swings with 100 lbs. During this adaption phase an EMOM workout of 10 kettlebell swings per minute with 50 pounds left me exhausted. Doing 3 sets of 5 reps of kettlebell windmills left me feeling like I’d just tried to lift an actual windmill.

But it got better. After about 10 days eating OMAD I started to get stronger. By day 14 my strength and endurance we’re back to normal. For example I once again able to do a kettlebell swing EMOM with 100 lbs for 16 minutes. 

Research backs up my experience. In one research study, the participants performance in a strength-endurance test didn’t improve after the first week. By week 4 it was x% better. Other research finds it can actually decrease in the first 10 days (Naharudin MNB). This mirrors my experience 100%. 

So, be patient and stick to your plan. Everything gets better pretty quickly. It takes about 2 weeks. Following tips in this article can actually help you minimize this issue. I wish I had followed them. 

What Others Have To Say

Here are 3 people that do different types of intermittent fasting and lift hard. Check out their results and the tips they offer.

“I have managed to gain weight while intermittent fasting (I’ve added about 12 pounds of lean body mass and cut 5 pounds of fat over the last year), but only because I have focused on eating a lot during my feeding period.” James Clear 

James Clear

Ryan Fischer followed a 16:8 eating schedule and trained with kettlebells 5 days a week for 30 days. Here’s what he has to say about his experience.

“Down 18 pounds, a 3.5 inch slimmer stomach area, and my weight loss plateau obliterated!”

The photo below is of Zach Blain, which shows him swinging a kettlebell that weights 20 pounds more than he does after 56 days of eating one meal a day (OMAD). 

“Fasting doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you stronger. “

Zach Blain

Supplements And Foods That Help

Below are a few sports supplements you can take to make the adjustment period less horrible. 

Having adapted to intermittent fasting with and without these supplements I can tell you that the difference is night and day. 

Creatine monohydrate 

If you find yourself having trouble pushing yourself in the gym to get those extra reps and sets, creatine can help. 

Over 500 studies show that it helps give you the energy to workout harder, longer. It’s also proven to be awesome for building muscle and making you a lot stronger. In just a few weeks. 

As long as you’re training hard, research finds your strength can increase by x% just by taking it. Your endurance, recovery, and more will get a boost too.

Make sure you take plain creatine monohydrate powder. It’s what’s proven to work. If you want results in less than a week, take 20 grams a day for 5 days. You can then cut back to 5 grams a day. 

If you don’t need help as fast, 5 grams a day is enough. With this dose you’ll notice a benefit within 2 weeks at the most. 

Beta alanine 

Another great supplement for high intensity kettlebell workouts is beta alanine. Whether you’re doing kettlebell HIIT, complexes, or multiple sets of 100 swings it’ll help.

While creatine helps by giving your muscles more energy for brief and intense exercise beta alanine works differently. 

Here’s how. Taking beta alanine daily gives your muscles the ability to fight off fatigue. Especially during sets lastIng 1-3 minutes where you go all out. Workouts like AMRAPs and kettlebell snatch EMOMs.

You’ll find that instead of doing worse toward the end of your last set you’ll actually perform better. Maybe even more than you did during your first one. 

The recommended dosage for beta alanine is to take 6 grams in evenly divided doses for the first 3 weeks. This loads your muscles up. You can then cut back to 2-3 grams a day for continued benefits. 

Electrolytes 

One of the reasons you may feel sluggish and weak when fasting, especially at first, is that your body is losing more electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) than you’re getting from food. 

This is because intermittent fasting can trigger your body to urinate more often to get rid of any excess water your body is storing. Electrolytes go along for the ride here which leads to you feeling so bad.

You can remedy this by adding a little extra salt to your food and/or taking an electrolyte supplement. If you do, make sure it doesn’t contain any added sugars that’ll throw off your fast. 

I like to take my electrolytes before I do my kettlebell workout. Especially when I know I’ll be pushing hard and sweating a lot, another way we lose them quickly. The difference in my workout performance is night and day. 

MCT oil 

One macro that won’t throw you off your fast is fat. That’s because it doesn’t cause an increase in your blood sugar or insulin, the 2 things that stop a fast in its tracks. 

Eating the right types of fat can actually give you more energy. Enough to have a great kettlebell session. 

The type of fat I‘m referring to is MCT oil. It’s different from others because it puts your body into nutritional ketosis. Fasting also does this but, like I mentioned above, it can take 2 weeks to fully adapt. 

Start off with a small amount. A teaspoon 30 minutes before you train is good. Build up to 1 tablespoon. Taking too much at first can lead to an upset stomach and even diarrhea.

Caffeine 

The best thing to use if you’re low on energy before your workout – fasting or not – is a little bit of caffeine. It also helps MCT oil get you into fat burning mode faster. 

Whether you get it from a cup of coffee, a pill, or a sugar and calorie free pre-workout supplement doesn’t matter. Within 15 minutes you’ll have more energy to train. It also helps curb any hunger pains you may be feeling. 

Caffeine works best if you don’t use it too often, save it for when you really need it. The days your fast is really grinding you down. Don’t overdo it, a little goes a long way. You want to have more energy, not full body shakes and panic attacks. 

Conclusion

Now you know that it’s possible to not only maintain but make real gains in your strength, endurance, and overall fitness when you’re fasting. Whether you’re following an OMAD or 16:8 eating schedule. Just make sure you’re training hard, eating enough protein and give your body 10-14 days to adapt. 

Sources

Correia JM, Santos I, Pezarat-Correia P, Minderico C, Schoenfeld BJ, Mendonca GV. Effects of Time-Restricted Feeding on Supramaximal Exercise Performance and Body Composition: A Randomized and Counterbalanced Crossover Study in Healthy Men. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 6;18(14):7227. 

Keenan S, Cooke MB, Belski R. The Effects of Intermittent Fasting Combined with Resistance Training on Lean Body Mass: A Systematic Review of Human Studies. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 6;12(8):2349. 

Moro T, Tinsley G, Bianco A, Marcolin G, Pacelli QF, Battaglia G, Palma A, Gentil P, Neri M, Paoli A. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. J Transl Med. 2016 Oct 13;14(1):290. 

Martínez-Rodríguez A, Rubio-Arias JA, García-De Frutos JM, Vicente-Martínez M, Gunnarsson TP. Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training and Intermittent Fasting on Body Composition and Physical Performance in Active Women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jun 14;18(12):6431. 

Naharudin MNB, Yusof A. The effect of 10 days of intermittent fasting on Wingate anaerobic power and prolonged high-intensity time-to-exhaustion cycling performance. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018 Jun;18(5):667-676. 

Tinsley GM, Forsse JS, Butler NK, Paoli A, Bane AA, La Bounty PM, Morgan GB, Grandjean PW. Time-restricted feeding in young men performing resistance training: A randomized controlled trial. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017 Mar;17(2):200-207. 

Tinsley GM, Moore ML, Graybeal AJ, Paoli A, Kim Y, Gonzales JU, Harry JR, VanDusseldorp TA, Kennedy DN, Cruz MR. Time-restricted feeding plus resistance training in active females: a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Sep 1;110(3):628-640. 

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