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If you’re an Aspiring bodybuilder and wanting to put on pounds of lean, hard muscle, chances are you’ve tried every type of diet under the sun. Low carb, high carb, super high calorie, intermittent fasting, frequent feedings, the ketogenic diet, the anabolic diet, and the carb backloading diet to name just a few are some of the more popular ones. One of the most interest, yet often overlooked aspects of these diets is meal frequency.
We often look at the calorie content, the protein, carb and fat breakdown and the types of food prescribed in different bodybuilding diets, but meal frequency often goes untouched.
Traditionally, bodybuilders have always been advised to eat little and often, with the theory being that small meals boost your metabolism.
Whenever you eat, your metabolism has a mini-surge, as it jumps up a gear in an effort to digest what you’ve just put in your mouth. This metabolic boost (known as TEF, or the Thermic Effect of Feeding) results in a higher calorie burn. Therefore, dieticians, nutritionists and bodybuilding coaches seemed to decide that eating little and often was the best approach.
It’s not quite as clear cut as that though.
While it certainly is true that you burn calories whenever you eat, the number of calories you burn is also relevant to the size of the meal. Say for instance you have a 500 calorie meal, you might burn a certain number of extra calories due to the rise in TEF, but if you ate a 1000 calorie meal, you’d get double the rise.
Going to the other end of the spectrum, what about fasting?
Fasting diets have rapidly gained popularity in recent years, firstly in terms of just improving general health, as researchers and nutritionists noticed that many Eastern cultures employed fasting principles as common practice and appeared to gain increased longevity and wellbeing from it.
Proponents of fasting style diets for bodybuilding argue that fasting puts your body into a super efficient nutrient partitioning mode. Nutrient partitioning refers to what happens to calories and macronutrients when you eat them. When your blood sugars and protein levels are low due to fasting, your body is supposedly extremely effective at picking up protein and delivering it to your muscle cells for recovery, and shuttling carbs and fat to be used for energy, rather than being stored as body fat.
However, the number one problem with fasting is that it isn’t anabolic. ie. It doesn’t build muscle mass.
Whenever you’re not feeding your body with nutrients, it isn’t growing.
With the two most popular types of bodybuilding diets seemingly debunked, you may be wondering what really is the optimal meal frequency for muscle gain.