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How Much Muscle Mass Can You Lose During a Water Fast?

How Much Muscle Mass Can You Lose During a Water Fast?

Most people in the water fasting community have no clue on how much muscle mass it’s actually possible to lose during a water fast.

At best, they can tell you that our bodies are very efficient at preserving our muscle mass during a water fast. But I have yet to meet anyone who knows the exact numbers.

In this article, I have relied on modern science to put an end to this confusion. If you read it all the way through, you will understand how much muscle mass you can expect to lose during a water fast (depending on how long you intend to fast).

But first, I want to quickly explain why we lose muscle mass during water fasting in the first place.

Why do we lose muscle mass during water fasting?

Some animals, like bears during winter hibernation, can survive without food for a very long time. And the amazing thing is, they can do it without any detectable loss of muscle mass [1].

Humans, on the other hand, we tend to lose a lot of muscle mass during starvation. Roughly put, that’s because our brains require some special “brain fuel” to survive [2].

Because we’re not eating any food during a water fast, our bodies have no choice but to start burning away some of our “structural protein” (to keep powering our hyper-intelligent brain).

Those structural proteins are the very basic building blocks of your muscles, which means you’re bound to destroy some of your muscle mass during a water fast.

Explaining all this in great detail would be beyond the scope of this article. So let’s just take a look at how much of those structural protein you can expect to lose during a water fast.

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The daily loss of structural protein on a water fast

In one starvation study [3], they measured the amount of protein obese people lost during a 21-day water fast.

I’ve adapted the data from that study into this daily protein loss chart:

Daily loss of structural protein during water fasting

    You can see that on the 1st day of the water fast (the first bar on the left), the loss of structural protein was the highest (69 grams).

    By the end of the 21-day fast (the last bar on the right), the loss of structural proteins was reduced by almost 80% (to 15 grams).

    This shows that our bodies can adapt to starvation extremely well. In order to keep you alive as long as possible, your body keeps slowing down the destruction of your vital body mass.

    But ultimately, you’ll lose much more muscle mass than this small amount of structural protein.

    Why?

    Because your muscle tissue is actually made of only about 20% of protein, while the rest of it is water [4].

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    The total loss of muscle mass on a 21-day water fast

    Here’s another chart I’ve created based on that 21-day starvation study:

    Total loss of vital body mass during water fasting

      This chart shows the total vital body mass you can expect to lose (in pounds), depending on how long you plan on fasting.

      If you plan to fast for 6 days (bottom axis), the chart can tell you that you could be losing a little over 6 pounds of your vital body mass (left axis).

      If you plan on doing a 13-day water fast, you could lose a little over 10 pounds of your vital body mass and a 21-day water fast could set you back by full 13 pounds of vital body mass.

      While this chart can tell you how much vital body mass you can expect to lose during a water fast, it can’t tell you how much total weight you can expect to get rid of.

      Maybe you already picked up on this, but I am no longer talking about muscle mass.

      Instead, I keep talking about your “vital body mass”, so let me quickly explain the difference between the two.

      You lose much more than just your muscle mass

      When it comes to understanding your final weight loss results after a water fast, things can easily get a bit confusing.

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      Just take a look at all the different kinds of weight you’ll end up losing if you decide to do a water fast.

      A breakdown of your final water fasting weight loss results

        At the highest level, you will be losing your body fat mass and your lean body mass (also called non-fat, or fat-free body mass).

        The lean body mass you lose will include some of your sodium and glycogen bound water weight, and some of your vital body mass.

        And finally, the vital body mass you lose will include more than just your muscle mass.

        Because some of those protein, the basic building blocks of your vital body mass, will also come from your vital organ tissue [5].

        And what’s the biggest problem when it comes to destroying the basic building blocks of both your muscles and vital organs?

        Remember, the most important muscle and vital organ in your body that could suffer because of this, is your heart.

        I won’t get into more detail here, but you can read all about the health dangers of water fasting here).

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        Now, let’s look at some of the things you can do to avoid losing your vital body mass while fasting.

        How to prevent the loss of muscle mass during fasting?

        The most obvious solution to avoid the destruction of your vital body mass is not to do a fast in the first place. If you were considering doing a water fast for weight loss, you can simply go with any of the countless less restrictive diets out there.

        Just make sure to do your research, because not all weight loss diets are designed to protect your vital body mass.

        But if you’re still interested in going through with a water fast, at least consider looking into intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, or even muscle sparing fasting as safer alternatives to water fasting.

        Muscle sparing fasting, for one, can actually be done without any solid food and can give you that “pure” feeling of fasting (while still helping you avoid that unnecessary destruction of your vital body mass).

        My goal for this article was to help you understand water fasting is no fairy tale. Knowing that you could actually destroy up to 13 pounds of muscle mass AND vital organ tissue (on a 21-day water fast), you’re hopefully going to at least consider the alternatives.

        Now, I want to ask a small favor of you. If you know absolutely anyone who has ever done, or has at least considered doing a water fast, please share this article with them.

        Don’t do it for me, or even for yourself. Do it for them and for their safety.

        Featured photo credit: Pixabay – 926663 via pixabay.com

        More by this author

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        Last Updated on January 21, 2020

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

        your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

          Why You Need a Vision

          Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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          How to Create Your Life Vision

          Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

          What Do You Want?

          The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

          It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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          Some tips to guide you:

          • Remember to ask why you want certain things
          • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
          • Give yourself permission to dream.
          • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
          • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

          Some questions to start your exploration:

          • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
          • What would you like to have more of in your life?
          • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
          • What are your secret passions and dreams?
          • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
          • What do you want your relationships to be like?
          • What qualities would you like to develop?
          • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
          • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
          • What would you most like to accomplish?
          • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

          It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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          What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

          Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

          A few prompts to get you started:

          • What will you have accomplished already?
          • How will you feel about yourself?
          • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
          • What does your ideal day look like?
          • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
          • What would you be doing?
          • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
          • How are you dressed?
          • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
          • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
          • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

          It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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          Plan Backwards

          It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

          • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
          • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
          • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
          • What important actions would you have had to take?
          • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
          • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
          • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
          • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
          • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

          Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

          It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

          Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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