Figuring Out Meal Frequency - AnabolicMinds.com
    • Figuring Out Meal Frequency


      by Mike Roussell, Ph.D. Bodybuilding.com

      "Eat 4-6 meals per day to rev your metabolism and burn more calories."

      How many times have you heard that? Plenty, I imagine. In bodybuilding circles, this often gets expanded to 6-8 meals. I even saw a Mr. Olympia diet article where the reigning champ was eating 10 meals per day.

      I get the logic. More is better. Keep fueling the metabolic furnace. But do we? When a dietary system like this places such strict demands on our lifestyles, we need to re-examine our habits and the science that drives them.

      I found that fitness and bodybuilding people could benefit from eating less often, and people just starting out on their weight-loss or bodybuilding journey benefit from eating more often. But no matter which camp you're in, I recommend building an eating plan based around your caloric needs, rather than arbitrarily using a number you hear mentioned by someone else.

      How should you begin to do that? Let's break it down.

      Why Six Times Per Day?
      I'll be blunt: There's not really any good data supporting hyper-metabolic effects of multiple meals.


      One study published in International Journal of Obesity found that consistently eating more frequently—six times per day, to be specific—led to a greater "thermic effect" from food than eating sporadically. The thermic effect of food is basically the amount of energy it takes for your body to break down, digest, and process, the energy (food) you ingest.

      In this study, frequent meals were linked to a statistically significant increase in the thermic effect of food, e.g. calorie burning, but it wasn't enough to draw significant conclusions in the realms of physique or body composition. Additionally, there wasn't anything in the study to indicate that eating three, four, or five meals were worse than six—only that it was better than "sporadic" eating.

      That is pretty much all the data you'll find on meal frequency and boosting metabolism. For this reason, I make meal frequency recommendations for my clients based on two major factors: protein synthesis and satiety.

      Meals Gained ≠ Muscle Gains
      OK, so the science isn't there, but everyone else seems like they're doing it, so it can't cause any harm, right? If your goal is maximum protein synthesis, I think there is a definite downside to eating often.

      The first problem I see people run into when they eat frequently is that their blood amino acid levels are constantly elevated. In order to optimize protein synthesis you need to give your body a solid serving of protein which boosts protein synthesis and subsequently causes your blood amino acid (specifically leucine) levels to drop. To maximize synthesis, you should then hit your body with more protein while the levels are lower.

      If you eat non-stop—every hour or two—then you aren't going to experience the fluctuation in blood amino acid levels you need to optimize muscle growth. You need to space your meals out sufficiently in order to get the maximum amount of protein synthesis out of the food you eat.

      Another issue that you run into is meal size. On one hand, it's true that protein content plays a big role in satiety. Protein's presence in the digestive track triggers the release of the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), which signals to your brain that you've eaten and should be satisfied. However, meal size has been shown to be more important than protein content when it comes to satiety. If you eat too often, your meals will be so small that despite being protein-rich, they won't satisfy you.

      So you're hungry—so what? Seriously, that is no way to live! If you're going to go to all the trouble to eat all those meals, you should at least feel full. If you don't, well, good luck sticking with your plan through the endless hours of prep and planning.

      How Frequent Is Frequent Enough?
      Some simple math can help us here. When looking to optimize anabolism and satiety, the number meals you eat throughout the day should be a divisor of the total amount of calories you eat.


      If you eat 3,000 calories per day, then breaking that into five 600 calorie meals would probably give you sufficient food to feel satisfied, while not demanding so much that you need to turn to lower quality foods in order to hit your per-meal calorie targets. On the other hand, if you eat only 2,000 calories per day, eating five 400-calories meals is not a satiating option, but eating four 500-calorie meals would be more filling.

      Each of these meals should contain a minimum of 30 grams of protein (the amount which research has shown is necessary to maximally stimulate protein synthesis). This pulse of protein can also be effectively spaced out and repeated throughout the day for the biggest increases in protein synthesis. If your calories are so low that you can't get 30 grams of protein at each meal, sprinkle on a little leucine or have a BCAA drink with your meal to cover your bases in the protein synthesis department.

      Remember when planning these meals that size is directly connected to satiety, so don't make them too small to be filling. Not a big-time planner? You can still do this. Just eat a solid, protein-rich meal every 3-4 hours, and you'll be more or less on track.

      Source: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/meal...weet-spot.html
      Comments 22 Comments
      1. mountainman33's Avatar
        mountainman33 -
        The 6 small meals a day is for people looking to lose body fat. I used to have great success as a trainer with clients who were over weight using that meal planning method. Besides, most people can only absorb 500-600 calories per meal and anything you eat beyond that gets turned into mostly feces or fat if not used for energy or cell repair.
      1. TexasGuy's Avatar
        TexasGuy -
        Mountainman, it is interesting these concepts fail to acknowledge absorption time and again.
      1. v4lu3s's Avatar
        v4lu3s -
        One thing i find of interest if the long term effect of elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. Eating every few hours often does not allow those levels to drop down to baseline again. That would concern me in regards to insulin resistance and diabetes in the long term, as well as vascular damage from chalk they blood glucose.
      1. boogyman's Avatar
        boogyman -
        Originally Posted by mountainman33 View Post
        The 6 small meals a day is for people looking to lose body fat. I used to have great success as a trainer with clients who were over weight using that meal planning method. Besides, most people can only absorb 500-600 calories per meal and anything you eat beyond that gets turned into mostly feces or fat if not used for energy or cell repair.
        This is not true. If it was, we would not have made it past neanderthals. Ancient man hunted, ate his fill, and may not have eaten again for days. If all you can "absorb" is 600 calories we would gave went extinct.

        Besides the fact IF diets work for lots of people, and they sometimes eat half or more of their calories in one meal.
      1. jboatown's Avatar
        jboatown -
        Originally Posted by v4lu3s View Post
        One thing i find of interest if the long term effect of elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. Eating every few hours often does not allow those levels to drop down to baseline again. That would concern me in regards to insulin resistance and diabetes in the long term, as well as vascular damage from chalk they blood glucose.
        What are you basing this on?
      1. sugardaddy69's Avatar
        sugardaddy69 -
        yes but if you are of normal weight (bmi wise) there is just no way one can split calories into 5-6 or more meals, I realized that honestly 3 max 4 meals of which 2 are really snacks are perfect for me and I see most people doing pretty well with that approach 400 cals is like 2 scoops of protein powder and maybe a teaspoon of pb
      1. v4lu3s's Avatar
        v4lu3s -
        Most food causes insulin secretion to some degree, carbs and certain others have a higher response. Having food in your stomach digesting all the time can lead to frequent insulin secretions. It will also lead to higher blood glucose levels if you eat carbs. If you are eating like i have seen many "body builders" do, every 2-3 hours, your intestinal tract is constantly working, and that means a constant supply of the things I mention, and blood sugar never going back to base line.

        Three is even research, a study called the effects if meal frequency on blood sugar and insulin secretions through the day.
      1. mountainman33's Avatar
        mountainman33 -
        Originally Posted by boogyman View Post
        This is not true. If it was, we would not have made it past neanderthals. Ancient man hunted, ate his fill, and may not have eaten again for days. If all you can "absorb" is 600 calories we would gave went extinct.

        Besides the fact IF diets work for lots of people, and they sometimes eat half or more of their calories in one meal.
        Then how do you explain America being the most overweight country in the world? Why are restaraunts offering "Under 500 Calorie Meals"? It's because of absorption ability of the human body. Besides, there are other things from prehitoric times that man doesn't utilize for evolutionary reasons. When was the last time you used your appendix?
      1. boogyman's Avatar
        boogyman -
        Originally Posted by mountainman33 View Post
        Then how do you explain America being the most overweight country in the world? Why are restaraunts offering "Under 500 Calorie Meals"? It's because of absorption ability of the human body. Besides, there are other things from prehitoric times that man doesn't utilize for evolutionary reasons. When was the last time you used your appendix?

        Americans are overweight because they eat tons of fast food, don't get enough exercise and eat a lot of processed sugars. Any diet menu in restaurant is just a marketing ploy. Your point about the appendix has nothing to do with the context of this conversation.

        Ok, so I answered you. Now you reply to me, and explain how all these IFer's are running around at super low bodyfats while eating meals well over 1000 calories at times. According to your 500 calorie rule (myth), these guys should all be fat, out of shape, or malnourished.
      1. boogyman's Avatar
        boogyman -
        Originally Posted by mountainman33 View Post
        Then how do you explain America being the most overweight country in the world? Why are restaraunts offering "Under 500 Calorie Meals"? It's because of absorption ability of the human body. Besides, there are other things from prehitoric times that man doesn't utilize for evolutionary reasons. When was the last time you used your appendix?
        These three guys all defy your laws of science:

        Attachment 73999
        Attachment 74001Attachment 74000
      1. mountainman33's Avatar
        mountainman33 -
        If you really read my first post you would see where I said "most people". The typical American, as you stated, doesn't get enough exercise. People who exercise "vigorously" create a caloric requirement that over time can condition their body to absorb more calories per feeding. I am one of those people. I'm 6'1", 205 pounds now, at roughly 10 - 11% BF. Each of my meals is roughly 800-900 calories 6 times a day on/after training days, so don't get me wrong, I understand your point about how prehistoric man used to gorge and then fast. But as I tried to point out with my appendix comment, we have evloved away from processes that prehistoric man needed. Leptin and ghrelin levels aren't anywhere near what they used to be in modern man vs. prehistoric man. And whether the carbs that people eat are processed or not, simple or complex, if you eat more than your body can absorb, those carb calories are subject to calorie waste partitioning where it is on average a 50/50 split being turned into fat or feces.
      1. boogyman's Avatar
        boogyman -
        Originally Posted by mountainman33 View Post
        If you really read my first post you would see where I said "most people". The typical American, as you stated, doesn't get enough exercise. People who exercise "vigorously" create a caloric requirement that over time can condition their body to absorb more calories per feeding. I am one of those people. I'm 6'1", 205 pounds now, at roughly 10 - 11% BF. Each of my meals is roughly 800-900 calories 6 times a day on/after training days, so don't get me wrong, I understand your point about how prehistoric man used to gorge and then fast. But as I tried to point out with my appendix comment, we have evloved away from processes that prehistoric man needed. Leptin and ghrelin levels aren't anywhere near what they used to be in modern man vs. prehistoric man. And whether the carbs that people eat are processed or not, simple or complex, if you eat more than your body can absorb, those carb calories are subject to calorie waste partitioning where it is on average a 50/50 split being turned into fat or feces.
        I can't find any evidence of this being true. I am not saying eating your way is bad or wrong, I just subscribe to the idea that a person needs a certain amount of calories, divided into certain macros, etc. a day and as long as he gets them he will be fine. Eating them in 6 meals or two, it does not really matter all that much. You still have not explained how IF people get results.

        The stuff your saying does not explain how a guy like Herschel Walker could make it through an NFL training camp and season for 13 seasons eating 1 meal a day.
        Attachment 74010


        He is 50 years old in that picture, fights in MMA, and still eats 1 meal a day (I am going to go out on a limb and say he eats more than 500, or even 900 calories in that single meal).
      1. mountainman33's Avatar
        mountainman33 -
        And I'm just going to say you probably have the same thing my step son does, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). In other words, you just like to argue. You've spent way too much effort on this so I'm guessing you don't have much to do. I have a degree in sports nutrition, with a minor in exercise physiology, I was the head personal trainer and fitness coordinator for Vermont's largest fitness organization for 7 years. I've trained hundreds upon hundreds of clients, most of whom were well over weight with BF %'s that were unhealthy. I had great success with their weightloss by helping them with a 6 meal/day, 500-600 calories/meal diet. That was the point behind my initial post, hence the first sentence in my post "The 6 small meals a day is for people looking to lose body fat".
      1. boogyman's Avatar
        boogyman -
        Originally Posted by mountainman33 View Post
        And I'm just going to say you probably have the same thing my step son does, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). In other words, you just like to argue. You've spent way too much effort on this so I'm guessing you don't have much to do. I have a degree in sports nutrition, with a minor in exercise physiology, I was the head personal trainer and fitness coordinator for Vermont's largest fitness organization for 7 years. I've trained hundreds upon hundreds of clients, most of whom were well over weight with BF %'s that were unhealthy. I had great success with their weightloss by helping them with a 6 meal/day, 500-600 calories/meal diet. That was the point behind my initial post, hence the first sentence in my post "The 6 small meals a day is for people looking to lose body fat".
        Dude, i am nor disagreeing that eating the way you are saying will not work. I simply disagreed with the point about absorbing 600 or whatever the number was, in a single meal. Lots of people have lost bodyfat eating 1-3 meals a day. IF works for a lot of people, and you still have not explained how it works going by your logic.

        In the past two years, I have done both ways of eating. Typically if i want to gain weight i eat more meals spread out, only because i cannot eat as much in a single sitting as some people without being miserable. But I also experimented with a leangains type diet for 3 months and recomped at a very good rate, losing fat while my weight stayed pretty much the same. And when I did this, i ate over 1000 calories in one meal. My training or health did not suffer.
      1. boogyman's Avatar
        boogyman -
        Oh, and throw credentials around on the internet, after making statements which i know to be incorrect, mean nothing to me. You seem very closed minded, thinking there is only one way to do things because that way works for you.
      1. TexasGuy's Avatar
        TexasGuy -
        I think the question is best hypertrophy practice, not ability to survive. Ancient man was also a tad over 5' 3" tall and a little over 100 pounds, largely due to dietary restrictions. Not the best muscle building example.

        Leangains does work but it's definitely a beginner or possibly intermediate program for a number of reasons, the most important being absorption mentioned by MountainMan.

        When you are actually carrying around an appreciable amount of lean mass your metabolism operates at a higher level (and needs to be fed more frequently), you have to eat ridiculous amounts of food to cram in to an 8 hour window and even if you did most of it would literally go to sh!t given the inability to absorb it. You would effectively be taking in nutrient levels below your maintenance, and we all know what that means for bulking.

        Newbies in the gym can make gains lifting like jack asses and it's no different than a diet. Leangains protects people from getting fat, its structure is forgiving to diet cheats, while allowing for beginner level hypertrophy. Nobody worth his salt in the gym with genuine muscle mass would think twice about this diet, not unless they wanted to limit their gains or were on a cut.

        Originally Posted by boogyman View Post
        This is not true. If it was, we would not have made it past neanderthals. Ancient man hunted, ate his fill, and may not have eaten again for days. If all you can "absorb" is 600 calories we would gave went extinct.

        Besides the fact IF diets work for lots of people, and they sometimes eat half or more of their calories in one meal.
      1. TexasGuy's Avatar
        TexasGuy -
        He also has ridiculous genetics and could most likely see better gains for himself if he ate differently.
        Originally Posted by boogyman View Post
        I can't find any evidence of this being true. I am not saying eating your way is bad or wrong, I just subscribe to the idea that a person needs a certain amount of calories, divided into certain macros, etc. a day and as long as he gets them he will be fine. Eating them in 6 meals or two, it does not really matter all that much. You still have not explained how IF people get results.

        The stuff your saying does not explain how a guy like Herschel Walker could make it through an NFL training camp and season for 13 seasons eating 1 meal a day.
        Attachment 74010


        He is 50 years old in that picture, fights in MMA, and still eats 1 meal a day (I am going to go out on a limb and say he eats more than 500, or even 900 calories in that single meal).
      1. Clemenza's Avatar
        Clemenza -
        Originally Posted by v4lu3s View Post
        Most food causes insulin secretion to some degree, carbs and certain others have a higher response. Having food in your stomach digesting all the time can lead to frequent insulin secretions. It will also lead to higher blood glucose levels if you eat carbs. If you are eating like i have seen many "body builders" do, every 2-3 hours, your intestinal tract is constantly working, and that means a constant supply of the things I mention, and blood sugar never going back to base line.

        Three is even research, a study called the effects if meal frequency on blood sugar and insulin secretions through the day.
        And eating larger sized meals which you would if you eat less frequently will cause a larger rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion. So in regards to diabetes prevention and preventing metabolic syndrome which are caused by insulin problems then id say smaller meals frequent meals are better.

        And who said if you're hungry you're supposed to eat? I know a lot of obese people who are hungry very often bc their blood sugar peaks and valleys and they should not be eating until they are full.

        Large meals weigh me down and make me feel sluggish. So do high gi carbs. Not to mention they make me look watery.

        I prefer 5 to 7 meals a day with low glycemic carbs. Am i allowed to still say that on the forums?
      1. jboatown's Avatar
        jboatown -
        Originally Posted by Clemenza View Post

        And eating larger sized meals which you would if you eat less frequently will cause a larger rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion. So in regards to diabetes prevention and preventing metabolic syndrome which are caused by insulin problems then id say smaller meals frequent meals are better.

        And who said if you're hungry you're supposed to eat? I know a lot of obese people who are hungry very often bc their blood sugar peaks and valleys and they should not be eating until they are full.

        Large meals weigh me down and make me feel sluggish. So do high gi carbs. Not to mention they make me look watery.

        I prefer 5 to 7 meals a day with low glycemic carbs. Am i allowed to still say that on the forums?
        Agreed. The study he referred to says the exact opposite, haha. Three other studies I found said eating smaller, more frequent meals has no affect on blood sugar as well. I too only stick with whole grains.
      1. boogyman's Avatar
        boogyman -
        I don't understand how my posts got taken so far out of context. I never argued against eating smaller frequent meals. I agree IF diets are probably not the most effective way to add muscle mass, and that a 245lb guy with lots of lean mass would probably not benefit from it. I argued 1 point and 1 only, that a person can only absorb 600 calories in a single meal. Thats it. Mountainman33 argued this with me, while ate the same time saying he conditioned himself to eat 900 at a time. Right there you show your original comment was wrong. I personally think the number is different for most people. And I also believe the number to be much higher. I myself have made gains on eating 2 1000+ calories a day with a few snacks thown in. And I personally doubt I have "ridiculous genetics".

        As far as the comment from Texasguy about no one worth his salt would use a IF diet, I think your confusing the average person with a professional bodybuilder, or with someone who as aspirations to acheive that sort of body type. Most people don't. As I said above, I agree a large person with lots of muscle mass would not do well on a IF diet, but a lot of people don't have or want that kind of physique.

        I try and stay out of pissing matches, so I will probably not post again in this thread, unless someone can show me definitive proof my original comment was wrong.

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