Intermittent fasting and Your Personal Reserve, and Everything else that matters

by Brad Pilon

Not this kind of Reserve...although if you're looking for a bday present...

Yesterday I wrote a blog post outlining why it’s possible to gain muscle while following Eat Stop Eat style intermittent fasting.

In that email, I made mention of the fact that your ability to gain muscle while losing fat has more to do with your total ‘reserve’ then it does the exact amount of calories you are eating.

It also has a lot do with inhibition theory and the concept that your body’s natural state is growth, and it is regulated by ‘brakes’. If we didn’t have brakes we would have almost unlimited growth potential (think tumors)…but more on that later.

(You can check out the post here if you missed it)

The concept of a ‘reserve’ is based on the theory of fat availability… which coincidentally is the basis for the Reverse Taper Diet.

And this brings me to a very important point: The trend of giving all encompassing ABSOLUTE answers in diet and fitness has to stop.

The only correct answer to any diet/nutrition question you have will almost always be ‘It Depends’

It’s based on you.

And, it’s based on you RIGHT now…the answer maybe different a month from now.

You get leaner, or more muscular, or lose muscle and gain fat, change your training, or your job, less sleep, more sleep, you take up running, you stop running, ALL of these things affect your nutrition recommendations.

And that’s really the giant pink elephant in the room when it comes to Intermittent Fasting.

We can all build muscle up to a certain point, and we can all lose body fat up to a certain point too…the things that are holding us back can be (and usually are) unique to our own life-circumstances.

Imagine that you are a 6’2″, 220 pound man and 4% body fat and you train hard for 2 hours a day and you attempt a 24 hour fast only to find it to be extremely difficult? Well that’s not surprising. Anyone in this condition simply doesn’t need to fast and at extremely low bodyfat levels you can bet fasting is going to be difficult…and might I add rather pointless. As I have said before (feels like over a hundred times) the goal isn’t zero percent body fat.

Or imagine that you used to be able to fast twice a week and eat 1,000 calories/day on the remaining days of the week, but after losing 50 pounds you are finding it difficult to keep up the pace? Again, this would not be surprising. Things change. You have less body fat, you have less reserve.

Another example would be someone who recently took up mountain biking, and hit the trails for 3-4 hours a day, 2 to 3 times a week, and is now having problems maintaining muscle mass?

ALL OF THESE THINGS MATTER. Every little detail.

I once counseled a person who was extremely lean and was getting very tired during their fasts.  After talking with him I realized the issue wasn’t the fast, but the 10 GRAMS of Leucine he was taking during his fast.  He was taking a highly insulogenic compound at a time when he was lean and over-trained and almost 20 hours into a fast.  Removing the Lecuine supplement solved the problem.

Now, I know what you are thinking – so Leucine and BCAAs cause people to be tired during their fasts?


They caused THIS person to be tired during his fast. Countless other people take BCAAs during their fasts with no ill effects.

And herein lies a major problem

We continuously  jump to conclusions – IF it didn’t work for me, it wont work for ANYONE.

It worked for me, so this must be what will work for everyone.

It simply does not work that way.

Things have to be tailored to you.

That’s why Eat Stop Eat style Intermittent Fasting is so flexible.

That’s why I don’t give specific dietary advice with my intermittent fasting advice.

That’s why the Reverse Taper Diet INCREASES the amount of suggested calories as you get leaner.

So please keep this in mind the next time you see someone giving blanket suggestions like “never eat less than 1200 calories” or “You must eat a minimum of 200 grams of protein”

Unless they were working closely with you these are just guesses – not exact numbers.

Always be aware of what is and is not working for you, and never be afraid to adjust as necessary.

Your friend



Dan June 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Awesome, real world information. People need to stop comparing themselves to others all the time and focus on eating right and working out hard yet smart. Thank you Brad.

palom June 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Hi Brad!

So far I’ve had success with my 1-2 weekly fast losing 25lb. but I need to lose 40 more.

What if I had a daily 24 hour fast? For example, Monday one meal that ends at 12:30 PM. Tuesday start my daily meal at 12:30 PM and end at 1:00 PM. Wednesday start my meal at 1:00 PM and so on. Repeat until a meal ends at 8:00 PM and start at 12:00 noon again.

Won’t this be more effective?


Mike Echague June 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Eye opening. Good stuff! 🙂

Probably the reason why people who are paid to look good (actors, swimsuit or fitness models) or perform high-level physical stuff (athletes) hire nutritionists. ‘Cause there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Andrew Lowry June 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Another great post which I shared on FB. You like Port eh. I’ve discovered a really nice Port in North Carolina that I bring back for a friend every year (three for her and one bottle for me). Maybe I’ll bring you a bottle to thank-you for your great advice.

Dan Beitzel June 30, 2012 at 3:33 am

Hey Brad, a quick question about fasting. Do you ever take breaks from intermittent fasting all together? (i.e one week out of every three months?)

Brad Pilon June 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Yep, longest was 5 weeks… that was too long. Was up 5-6 pounds by the end, but I wasn’t just off fasting, I was off everything…being a bit of a piggy.

Dan Beitzel July 1, 2012 at 1:44 am

so taking breaks from IF isnt something you regularly work into your lifestyle, you pretty much fast once or twice a week consistently?

Brad Pilon July 1, 2012 at 11:31 am

Yep, since 2006… I’ll take one or two weeks off on the odd occasion just to see how my eating habits are without the fasting to regulate it all, but that’s rare, I’m just really comfortable with where I am right now.

Aleksander July 3, 2012 at 11:53 am

Do you take any supplemets will exercising in a fasting period?
I’ve seen that creatine is ok, but wonder if I could implement 10 grams of BCAA when exercising while fasting – and still get all the positive effects.

Brad Pilon July 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I’ve never really bothered with them.

John Williamson July 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I’m a ballroom dance instructor and need to make sure that my breath is fresh when I teach lessons. What about breath refreshers? Which ones are OK and which ones are off limits? Specifically, the Listerine breath strips. OK or not?

Brad Pilon July 9, 2012 at 8:26 am

Toothbrush and toothpaste are definitely OK as is mouthwash….and breath strips..sure.

Maria July 10, 2012 at 8:23 am

Hi Brad,
I have your book on Intermittent Fasting and I had my first fast day yesterday, which I was able to go the whole 24 hours. It was hard, as I was very hungry all day, but I did it! Last night I went out to dinner, but I didn’t overeat. Today I will go back to eating as clean as possible, low calories……how long before you think I will see results? I got on the scale this morning, but nothing so far……I know, I know, be patient, right??

Brad Pilon July 12, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Typically it takes long than 1 day 😉 give it a couple weeks, then reassess how many calories you are eating on the days you are not fasting.


Erik July 27, 2012 at 5:28 am

Hi Brad,
I need your opinion….I’m 5’8, 60.5 kilo now and been doing ESE for 2 months (24 hours 2x a week or 16 hours 4-5x a week with running (20km mileage a week) and weights 4-5x a week)Incredible results! Do you think I still need ESE for maintenance if I plan to increase my running mileage(ultramarathon training) steadily in 6 months from 30km to 80km a week?

Brad Pilon July 27, 2012 at 10:56 am

Completely up to what feels best with your running.


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