If your looking to build muscle mass, I'm sure you've heard that when it comes to nutrition, you need to eat at least 6 meals per day.
Depending on where you read it, some resources say you need 5 meals, 6 meals, some even 7 or 8 meals. In fact, there some popular resources that say you don't need 6 meals but you can get away with 3 meals per day. Which is right? How many meals do you actually need?
Over the years, I've tried experimenting with meal quantities, times, calorie intake, carbohydrate intake, protein intake, and fat intake and I've found that my body reacts best to a consistent flow of nutrients each and every day.
I mean, I've tried eating 3 meals per day all the way up to 8 meals per day including waking up in the middle of the night to have a protein drink. The one thing that has always worked for me is meal and time familiarity.
So, what's the deal with 6 meals a day? Well, it's been widely believed that 6 smaller meals per day promotes a steady stream of nutrients such as amino acids to your body at regular intervals. This ensures your body stays in a positive nitrogen balance throughout the day. Nitrogen balance is the difference between the amount of protein you have in your system minus the amount of protein excreted. A positive nitrogen balance means you have a net surplus of protein in your body. A negative nitrogen balance means you have a deficit of protein in your system.
Therefore, with a steady flow of nutrients into your body, you will create an environment for a positive nitrogen balance. Of course, this depends on the foods you eat.
Secondly, in theory, 6 small meals doesn't promote an insulin spike like 3 big meals does. After a large meal, there is a large influx of carbohydrates which promotes a huge rush of insulin. Once the insulin spike is over, there is a huge dip in the levels of sugar in the body and the only thing you want to do is sleep. I'm sure you've experienced this phenomenon after a large meal. The first thing you want to do after a large meal is head over to the couch to lay down. This is the effect of an insulin spike and dip.
Thirdly, the thermal effect of food on the bodies metabolism has been shown to increase with smaller meals spread throughout the day. That is, the bodies base metabolism has been shown to increase with smaller, frequent meals throughout the day. What does this mean? It means that the body is forced to work harder in order to digest food. That is, the body is forced to expend more energy metabolising food. Ultimately, more calories are burned while your body is doing nothing. This is good news for those of you who want to burn fat.
Personally, my body loves familiarity in terms of what I eat and at what times I eat. I've tried experimenting with different meal times and I've come to the conclusion that my body grows best when it's fed at exact times during the day.
I think this is the key to optimum nutrition. Now, I've tried varying the amount of nutrients that are in my meals and I've found that as long as I eat enough clean foods to satisfy my needs, I'm good. When I say clean foods, I mean whole foods that aren't processed. That is, as long as I don't go over the edge with my eating, I don't get sluggish and tired.
My meals are balanced with just enough calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Too much carbohydrates and fat and the first thing I want to do is head over to the couch. This is usually the case with my lunch meal if I have too much to eat. It's at this point my body simply doesn't have a good enough reason to digest my surplus food. However, there are certain times of the day that I will have a little more food than the rest of my meals. I'll get to that in a moment.
When it comes to the size of a meal, we've been led to believe that unless it's a big meal it's not really a meal. Personally, I can't have 5, 6, or 7 big meals each and every day. I simply don't have the time or the energy to make 6 big meals per day. However, I can make 6 or 7 snacks that have the necessary protein, carbohydrates, and fat that I need for each meal.
There are times of the day that I do have big meals and it's at those times when I know my body will use up most of those nutrients. I'll have a big breakfast stuffed with complex carbohydrates. I'll have another big meal about an hour and a half after my workout and one right before I go to bed. I guess you can say I do have 3 bigger meals throughout the day but I still have 3 or 4 smaller meals spread out during the day.
I've found my body uses up big meals at these times because it absorbs all the nutrients. For example, when I have breakfast, I'll have a huge bowl of oatmeal with 6 egg whites cooked in mixed with ½ cup of vanilla yogurt, ½ cup of strawberries, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Why such a huge meal? I'll tell you this, after 8 and a half hours of sleep, my body is in starvation mode.
As soon as the food gets into my stomach, my body starts working and getting those nutrients into my starved muscles. About two hours later, I'll have a small meal consisting of ½ cup cottage cheese, with 2 tablespoons of slivered almonds, and a half cup of sliced peaches. This carries me to my lunch.
My next big meals is after my workout. My body is on the road to recovery and I'll kick start that recovery by getting some quality nutrients into my muscles. I know, that my muscles are starving at this point because they've just about been depleted of all amino acids, creatine, and sugar. I want to stuff as much of these nutrients into my muscles to get them on the road to recovery. As we all know, the faster your recovery time, the faster your muscle growth.
My next big meal is right before I go to bed. I think I started this ritual when I first heard Dorian Yates eats a big meal of oatmeal right before he goes to bed. I remember thinking at the time, Maybe Dorian's on to something? So, I tried it and I can tell you this, I've been doing it ever since - That was over 12 years ago! My last meal of the day usually consists of oatmeal and egg white protein. These are two slow burning nutrients that will gradually provide your body with nutrients throughout the night, as your sleeping.
So what does my schedule look like? It looks something like this:
Meal one - Big - 700 plus calories;
Meal two - Small - 400 calories;
Meal three - Small - 400 calories;
Meal four - Small - 300 calories - pre workout
Meal five - Small - After workout - 400 to 500 calories;
Meal six - Big - an hour an a half post workout - 700 plus calories;
Meal seven - Big - Prior to bed time - 500 plus calories
Actually, if you count my pre workout drink I'll have 7 meals. You have to remember, I'm usually in full swing with my weight training routine when I'm at this stage of my nutrition. Like I said before, this set up works best for my muscle building program. When I'm cutting fat, I'll simply cut out the big night meal and cut down on my calorie intake.
Of course, you don't need to eat this amount of nutrients. Here's what I suggest. Try and eat 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day. Remember, the meals don't have to be big. The important point here is to get your body used to eating every 2 and a half hours. You have to get into the habit of eating a breakfast. If you can manage to eat a balanced breakfast, you will boost your muscle building efforts.
Now, for most of us, this can be a pretty tall order. How do you put a meal plan together that doesn't go stale? I'm sure most people will get sick and tired of eating plain chicken breast day in and day out. Lately, I've started using Dave Ruel's " Anabolic Cooking " recipes. There are over 200 muscle building recipes designed for one thing, BUILDING MUSCLE!! .
I put together a full week of meal plans in under 15 minutes. It was so simple and I know each meal is a pure muscle builder and best of all, they all taste great. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised because I'm a complete klutz in the kitchen. Anyways, I've written a review located at:
Dave Ruel Anabolic Cooking Review
Do yourself a favour and grab a copy of this muscle cook book. It'll be the best 37 bucks you've spent in a long time. Click here to pick up a copy.
Remember, your meals don't have to be large. A simple apple with some nuts and a glass of milk is a great snack. A protein drink is another simple meal and can be used. A half cup of cottage cheese, with some peaches and half a toasted bagel is another great snack. The most important point here is to get your metabolism working and get a steady flow of nutrients into your body.
See this page here for more muscle building nutrition and great ideas:
All the best,
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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