Can you Build Muscle while doing Intermittent Fasting?

by Brad Pilon

John Barban and I are just about finished writing “The Inhibition Theory of Muscle Growth” a theory that should turn the entire muscle building industry on it’s head.

The premise of our theory is incredibly simple – The ‘natural’ state for your body is growth, with checks and balances acting as breaks to prevent this growth.

As an analogy, it’s like having a car with the accelerator permanently stuck to the floor, and you regulate the speed of the car with by pushing down or letting up on the brake. Only in your body’s case there are dozens if not hundreds of brakes.

If you got one foot on the gas and one foot on the break you're not going to get too far


The entire theory would take several emails to fully explain, so for this post we’ll just stick with the idea that your body’s natural state is one of growth. This is very different form the current accepted theory that the body simply stops growing and needs to be prodded or stimulated to grow further.

With our inhibition theory you don’t need to ‘force’ growth, growth is the default setting.

What you need to do is examine the ‘brakes’ that are in place preventing growth if growth is what you desire*.

(*remember, these ‘brakes’ are EXTREMELY important – uncontrolled growth is not something we would ever, ever want.)

The brakes are both intrinsic and extrinsic – Meaning they can be from your own body (like the myostatin gene preventing muscle growth) or external (not working out would be a muscle growth brake so would excessive amounts of inflammation).

The great thing about this theory is that it explains the lack of consistent results or guidelines we see with things like how much protein or calories we need to build muscle.

Under the inhibition theory – a deficiency (too little) can be a break, but once that break is removed and you get enough/adequate amounts of protein or calories then adding more (a surplus) would do nothing to spur more muscle growth.

Once the brake is off it’s off…it can’t be ‘more off’

This is why Muscle growth is possible with Eat Stop Eat. As long as you’re hitting an adequate level of protein and calories to support muscle growth, and allowing for muscle growth with adequate resistance training your muscles WILL grow.

The question is ‘what is adequate?’.

The answer = it’s different for everyone. But to be clear ‘adequate’ for muscle growth doesn’t necessarily mean ‘maintenance’ for body weight.

I have found that with calories, adequacy is related more to the size of the ‘deficit’ and your ‘reserve’ more than it is a hard and fast number.

As an example.

A 5’2″ woman who does very little activity other than her 3-4 workouts per week may be able to lose fat and build muscle by eating between 1,200 and 1,500 Calories per day.

A 6’2″ man who exercises for 2-3 hours a day and expends a great deal of calories at his job may not be able to build muscle at 4,000 or even 5,000 calories per day.

So it will definitely take some trial and error to find the right number.

Similarly, the number will change as your life changes.

In our example above, if our 5’2″ woman suddenly increases her daily activity level perhaps 1,500 calories may not be enough.

If our 6’2′ man suddenly stops exercising for 2-3 hours per day and instead trains for 1 hour a day, then 4,000 or 5,000 calories may be enough to make him seriously overweight in only a couple months.

So the point of this post is two fold –

Firstly, to let you know that building muscle while following Eat Stop Eat is completely possible – As short term deficit does not seem to affect a long term process like muscle growth, nor does ‘adequacy’ for muscle growth necessarily ever have to be ‘maintenance’ for body weight.

And Secondly, to let you know that the exact amount of calories or protein you need will change depending on your life situations, but a giant surplus of calories is simply not the answer.

Obviously, the easiest answer is to tell you to eat MASSIVE amounts of food so that you never risk a true deficiency.

But the honest answer is that adequacy is enough, it’s just a bit trickier to pinpoint that most experts will let on.



66jzmstr June 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Glad to read this. Thank you, Brad!

Will “The Inhibition Theory of Muscle Growth” be an e-book between you and John? If so, when might it be available? Also, will it cover how to develop size and strength while remaining relatively lean?

Thanks again.

Brad Pilon June 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Either a book, a series of audio’s or both..depending on well we can explain it… 😉


Chris June 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I am very interested in this theory, what you have outlined has the potential to really answer rough questions…

Lets us know more about it as you formalize it more!

I know I have dropped 30 pounds, and put on at least 5 pounds of lean body mass (in the form of muscle not water) in the last year while fasting regularly…

jamesmuir June 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Sign me up for the whole thing. Let me know when it is available. Thx.


Tylan June 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Great post, I like it.

From information I’ve read lately it seems like traditional bulking is recommended less and less. Many are now advocating a very small daily surplus.

Your ideas seem to go along with what is often called ‘recomping’. I’ve always liked that idea vs cut/bulk… even though for some reason its not the preferred method.

Thanks for the post, and I’m interested in reading more.

Cone June 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

How do you estimate your calories needed for muscle growth Brad? and do you cycle them through the week?

Gaby A. June 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

At my size with a lot of weight to lose, I have enough lean body mass. Just being able to preserve it will be great, although adding a bit here and there, in case I lose some down the road, would be useful. Looking forward to a protocol perhaps? 🙂

Brad Pilon June 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm

That’s the thing, I don’t. I think that most of your needs for muscle growth are accounted for in your BMR…So I just never create A giant long term deficit. Seems to work fine for me.

Max June 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Hey Brad!

Great to see you continuing to push ahead!

Looking forward to this read, since I know people who are on both sides, some trying to gain, some trying to lose.

Max June 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm

PS. Have you ever known ESE to NOT work with weight loss?

Ken June 25, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I too am very interested but in this concept, but it seems contradictory to the writings of respected authors such as Lyle McDonald who have basically stated it is next to impossible for seasoned weightlifters to put on muscle while without gaining fat, since the process of growth requires calories in excess of your maintenance.

joey June 25, 2012 at 5:51 pm

please???? i hope you make it a reading material as being deaf, audio, would mean i would miss out and i loved reading you guys,
thank for great works.

66jzmstr June 25, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Thanks, Brad! I’ll definitely stay tuned, and I look forward to picking this up.

Sue June 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm

So when someone reports gaining muscle and gets told not possible on such a low calorie diet eg 1200-1500 for a 5ft 2″ woman they are not always correct. I have been told by a trainer that some women she trains particularly shorter women tend to bulk more readily in their thighs – what do you think the reason would be?

Brad Pilon June 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Great question – I have met smaller women (5’0 – 5’4″) who were able to out eat ESE, funny enough both of them were married to large men, so I think it was environmentally challenging for them. One did tell me that it ‘slowed’ her weight gain..which is good, but not great.

Brad Pilon June 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm

I think it’s next to impossible for a seasoned weightlifter to put on much muscle period. There’s a limit. That’s a large part of the theory.

Brad Pilon June 25, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Shorter length of thigh, so even small muscle gains will look big. Take it to the extreme, a 5 pound muscle gain on a 6’5″ guy may be hard to notice, but a 5 pound muscle gain on a toddler would noticeable by EVERYONE.

Troy Adashun @ June 25, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Hi Brad,

I am a big fan of “eat,stop,eat” and have tried fasting with great success. What do you recommend to enhance your energy levels on your fasting days?

Have you ever tried slow motion training while fasting to blast calories and put on lean muscle?

Brad Pilon June 25, 2012 at 9:05 pm

My fasting days are usually my highest energy days..but when in doubt – exercise, walk, run, do something fun.

Super slow? No… haven’t considered it.


David June 25, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Great post Brad, I look forward to more info on this.

Lambros June 26, 2012 at 4:55 am

Hi Brad,

so according to this, would it be possible to continuously lose fat and build muscle (up to one’s genetic potential, of course)?

mike June 26, 2012 at 6:47 am

Hey Brad is something I disagree something you stated in your ebook. I can’t seem to make a long post.

Brad Pilon June 26, 2012 at 9:43 am

I have a post limiter for spam reasons, shoot it to me in email please.

Brad Pilon June 26, 2012 at 9:44 am

Continously might be a tricky word to validate, how about “Based on this I think everyone can reach their genetic ideal”

Dax Moy June 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Glad to hear you guys are doing this as this is the exact approach I’ve taken over the years, based on the idea of ‘releasing the brakes’ (in all areas of human performance) rather than trying to hit the gas harder and harder as most training and nutrition philosophy seems to espouse.

Dax Moy June 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm

I also recently did a COMPLETE 5 day fast taking on zero calories and only water, herbal tea and zinc and magnesium supplements and managed to get stronger in all of my lifts (hit a PB in deadlift and bench press by day 5) as well as creating hypertrophy in arms and shoulders… all despite ZERO calorie intake.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings… I’m looking forward to hearing yours : )

Teddy June 26, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Very interesting article Im looking forward to the book and any other info you put out about this. One question I have though is about the statement “adequate for muscle growth doesnt necessarily mean maintenance for body weight” Im a bit unclear as to what this means.

Matt June 27, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I 2nd that question, Teddy. That statement confuses me as well. Otherwise the theory sounds pretty interesting!

Danny Haas June 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Dear Brad,
I use ese to reduce my bodyfat or keep it in check.Now xtra eating can make you grow.. I get a feeling that add all the plusses and minusses(the stop eat)that the net result will be close to don’t stop and eat normal.. Is that the case or am I off the mark.As I believe that the net result is what counts.The extras you get from ese seem just that extras.Or is the research on growing on ese so good that you can help me with my doubts??

Dan June 30, 2012 at 3:40 am

Hi Brad,
been doing different types of IF, and have found I have kind of developed a bit of a ‘food obsession’ so im going to move onto ESE.
i get the concept, was going to buy the book but seen as im already lean (7-8%) should i wait for this book if my primary goal is building muscle?

Brad Pilon June 30, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I’m not sure I understand the question?

Daniel July 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Hey Brad,
Great posts. Does the ESE book outline what macro’s you should consume to lose fat and build muscle. I am 6’tall 7% BF, but i am interested in IF and building muscle at the same time.

Brad Pilon July 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Not really – I don’t get overly concerned about macros.

leigh July 13, 2012 at 11:31 am

Hi Brad
Similar post to Danny Hass,
It seems you imply you need to eat a surplus to build muscle?
can you confirm if this is the case?
I was under the impression eating at a BMR level plus lifting would build muscle? Leigh

leigh July 13, 2012 at 11:38 am

actually let me rephase the question,
As a skinny fat male (80kg, 6″ @17% bf) can you lean up and also build muscle by eating at BMR level?
I notice alot of your work is aimed at the larger folks looking to slim down, rather than skinnyfats looking to build up (great site by the way)

Brad Pilon July 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Where do I imply a surplus?

Brad Pilon July 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Leigh – it completely depends on the individual their activity level and a whole host of factors, John and I go over this in great detail in the dis-inhibition podcast.

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