Let’s pretend we have two identical bodybuilders, all other constants equal. They are both given 2500 calories per day, delivered in optimal ratios for protein, carbohydrate, and fat consumption. The only difference is that Bodybuilder #1 is given this food divided into three equal meals each day, and Bodybuilder #2 is given six equally sized meals each day. At the end of the year’s time, Bodybuilder #2 will be leaner, more muscular, and in overall better shape than bodybuilder #1. Why is this so? Several reasons explain this.
First off, the body can only assimilate 30 to 40 grams of protein per meal. This means Bodybuilder #1 can only absorb a maximum of 120 grams of protein per day, and Bodybuilder #2 can absorb 240 grams per day. However, the fun doesn’t stop there. Each day, your metabolism ramps up and down repeatedly based upon your meal times. When you haven’t eaten in 3 or 4 or 5 hours, your body naturally begins preserving body fat as a defense mechanism. If you are one of those folks like Bodybuilder #1 who often waits 5 or 6 hours between meals, you are exposing your body to a series of mini-starvation periods. This cause the metabolic rate to slump, which means you’ll be burning fewer calories each hour, even when sitting idle. Cortisol levels rise in this catabolic state, which ends up costing you valuable muscle as your body chooses to burn muscle to keep the fat safe. This is a scenario that no bodybuilder desires.
Eating 6 times per day is an excellent idea – but eating eight times is even better! The more meals you consume each day, the higher your metabolism will be, and the more conductive your internal environment will become for effective muscle building. You don’t have to consume a single calorie more with eight meals than you would with three meals. You’ll simply be dividing the calories between more meals.
Now, let’s talk about food volume. Eating in this manner is also easier on your digestive system and for overall bodybuilding appearance. We’ve seen plenty of bodybuilders who have grown larger over the years on their arms and legs by an inch or two – all while adding 5 or 6 inches to their waistline. Very often, the amount of food consumption required in order to add the inch to the arms or legs results in an irreversible stretching of the midsection. To that same end, your digestive system will function much better with smaller quantities of food to handle at a time. On a side note, chewing your food more also makes digestion easier.
Every meal doesn’t have to be the same size. You certainly want small meals to start and end the day. Your meals following your workout will be the largest of the day, and the meal directly before your workout should be small and easily digestible. Consider planning your daily feedings with the same level of dedication that you use on your training protocols. You’ll see new growth – with no change to the total calories and macronutrient levels!
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