Bodybuilding dogma states that in order for you to build Muscle you have to eat. You want to be big? You got to eat big. You have to eat a lot, and you have to eat often. Bodybuilders typically eat 6 times a day. But is it necessary to eat all the time?
When I was a young buck concerned with getting big and muscular, I was eating all the time. I’d pack 3 mini meals to take to work. My meals were a protein drink, a protein bar and a can of tuna mixed in with mac and cheese. Each meal had about 20-30 grams of protein. Plus I made sure I drank a lot of water. With breakfast before and dinner after work, I'd total 5 meals a day.
I used to eat frequently, but I found that it was far too expensive and time consuming to always be eating. It helps to gain and maintain muscle by eating frequently, but it does interfere with your lifestyle and work. You can’t really do much if you’re carrying around a cooler of food and have to eat every 2-3 hours. You also can’t perform athletically, because a full tummy is making you sluggish.
You can eat 6 meals a days, and you will initially gain some weight. But all that food overburdens your digestive system, and your body becomes less efficient at metabolizing it. Your body gets used to eating all the time, and your gains in muscle size plateau.
Now if you plateau in your weight training workouts, what do you do? You switch things up, or you pull back. It's the same thing with your diet. Dieting should be in phases, just like training. If you reach a plateau in your muscle gains, then you can pull back from 6 meals a day to 2-3 meals a day.
To build muscle, it's not necessary to eat 6 times a day. What is necessary to gain muscle, however, is that you eat a lot of calories and protein. So if you can only fit in 3 meals a day, then just make sure they're 3 large meals. It is about total caloric intake, not about the number of meals.
There are many different meal frequency plans, ranging from one meal a day to 6 meals a day. Here are 3 meal frequency plans that will build lean muscle and minimize fat gain:
Fasting diets are all the rage now, but fasting is best for fat loss, not for weight gain. Old-time bodybuilders were known to have fasted from time to time to detoxify their digestive systems from phases of heavy meat eating.
Fasting has a number of health benefits, such as improved insulin sensitivity, greater fat loss, and better protein absorption. You don’t even have to fast for very long. In fact you can improve your insulin sensitivity and your protein absorption efficiency after just a few hours of fasting, up to 30-50% greater efficiency.
If you fast for too long, however, then you'll lose a lot of muscle mass. Muscle is the engine that burns fuel (fat), and you want to maintain that larger engine to burn more fat. If you fast for too long, then your body breaks down muscle (a process known as catabolism) and you end up with a slower metabolism because your "engine" is now smaller.
There are a number of different fasting diets, the most famous being the Warrior Diet. This is where you fast throughout the day and eat one large meal for dinner. Most people will find the Warrior Diet too hard to follow. Plus you end up losing quite a bit of muscle mass on this diet.
A better way to fasting for those looking to build and maintain lean muscle is a little known diet called “Animalbolics.” In this diet you eat 2 meals a day: a large breakfast or brunch and a large dinner. The A.M. meal is low carb, high protein and fat. The P.M. meal is high carb, protein and fat.
The Animalbolics Diet is much easier to follow than the Warrior Diet and is much better at building lean muscle. If you’re not a breakfast person or if you don’t get hungry often, then this diet is for you. Some people don’t eat breakfast, since they have sensitive stomachs in the morning, or they just want to go to work and not wake up early to cook breakfast.
With the Animalbolics Diet, it’s not imperative that you eat breakfast right away. You can extend your night time fasting further by skipping breakfast and eating brunch or lunch. You can drink coffee in the morning. This will help you get through the morning on an empty stomach.
Here’s a sample meal plan for the day:
Wake-up: Coffee with cream, no sugar
Brunch: Mexican omelet with a side of sausage or bacon. Mexican omelets are a good choice, because they have guacamole, sour cream and salsa. This way you get some healthy fats, extra protein and extra calories.
Dinner: Steak, salad and baked potato with butter
The King, Prince, Pauper Diet
With the King, Prince, Pauper Diet, you eat three square meals a day. What differentiates this diet from other diets is the distribution of calories throughout the day. You eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. In other words, you eat a large breakfast, a medium sized lunch and a small dinner. If you don’t have much of an appetite at the end of the day, then this diet is for you.
The reason this inverted pyramid distribution of calories works is that a large breakfast satiates you, and your appetite is lower throughout the day. You end up eating less and less as the day goes by, and you don’t get fat. Here’s a sample meal plan:
Breakfast: Mexican omelet with sausages or bacon, buttered toast and coffee.
Lunch: Roast chicken with rice and vegetables
Dinner: Soup and salad
The Zigzag Diet (aka 5/2 Plan)
Olympic weightlifting legend Tommy Kono was renowned for his ability to move up and down weight classes. Kono was the only Olympic weightlifter to have set world records in 4 different weight divisions: lightweight, middleweight, light-heavyweight and middle-heavyweight. To move up in weight, Kono would eat 6-7 meals a day. To lose weight, Kono would go back to eating 3 meals a day.
You can employ Kono’s method of weight gain by eating more frequently. If you eat 5-6 meals every day, however, you'll make some good gains in weight at first, but your body will get used to eating that much food. Your muscle gains will slow down. You will have to eat more protein to jumpstart growth, which eventually becomes a vicious cycle, because now you're eating more and more protein just to maintain size.
To avoid this dietary plateau, you can fluctuate your meal frequency by dieting in short cycles: five days of 5-6 meals and two days of 2-3 meals. This is known as the Zigzag Diet or 5/2 Plan.
With the Zigzag Diet you eat 5-6 meals Monday to Friday, but then drop to 2 meals a day on the weekends. Your body will welcome the break from all of that eating. In fact it will go into panic mode and start utilizing the protein and carbs much better once you go back to high frequency eating during the week days.
The Zigzag Diet is great diet if you are looking to bulk up and get big.
Choose the Diet Plan Best for You
Bottom line is everybody is different. Some people have the time and discipline to eat every 3 hours, while others just don’t have the stomach for all that food. Experiment with different meal frequencies and see what works for your lifestyle.