Are 5-7 meals really better than 3 big ones?
Both old school and modern bodybuilders have attributed a great amount of their physical success to strategic meal frequency and its direct effects on muscle building and fat loss.
For years they have claimed that eating small meals at a more frequent rate enhances the body’s anabolic abilities and all of its related muscle building capabilities.
Meal Frequency and Bodybuilding
It’s a known fact that meal frequency as a whole places itself as a longstanding tradition amongst high-performance athletes and not as a scientifically proven method that induces anabolic effects.
The previous statement leads us to ask ourselves why this dieting method is still widely popular and prevalent in today’s society.
Lack of Evidence
Several studies have shown that meal frequency has little to no effect on how the human body acts throughout the day as long as the average caloric intake is met.
Eating a small meal every two or three hours has actually been proven to be counterproductive when trying to assist the human body in developing a natural anabolic environment in comparison to eating three large meals a day.
This statement leads us to question the legitimacy of a large number of testimonials coming from bodybuilders since the ’70s that attributed a high meal frequency as their success method.
The sad truth is that the concept of meal frequency is pure “Broscience” as there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that proves that practicing a higher meal frequency will lead to better results when compared to the opposite dieting method.
Bodybuilding is a cult sport with a lot of secrets and plenty of traditions; meal frequency is one of the longer lasting ones that make no sense whatsoever. Practicing a high-frequency meal diet is difficult, unpractical and honestly uncalled for.
What does Science say?
In an article published on the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, written by Eric R Helms, Alan A Aragon and Peter J Fitschen, the world of bodybuilding nutrition is dissected and analyzed from a scientific standpoint in which a lot of misconceptions are put to rest.
The article covers a wide array of subjects ranging from caloric intakes to the importance of sports supplements and micronutrients.
Helms, Aragon, and Fitschen state that there are no studies in existence that have proven that eating smaller and more frequent meals raise energy expenditure or increase fat loss.
Experimental studies have shown that meal frequency has little to no effect on the body’s composition.
A different study showcased that Leucine, an amino acid naturally produced by the human body, is crucial in minimal doses for protein synthesis.
High meal frequency will overload the body with Leucine and therefore affect the body’s protein building process in a negative but almost insignificant manner.
The right way to diet
The previous scientific information showcased the fact that meal frequency plays little to no part in the body’s composition; this means that no matter how often you eat, your body will see no benefits from it. In short, the bodybuilding dieting lifestyle, dieting understood as a premeditated eating program, can be classified as unnecessary and over the top.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re eating six small meals a day or three large feasts, the results will be almost identical.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Eating
Meal frequency plays a small role in building muscle and losing fat but that doesn’t mean that it should be avoided. At the end of the day, meal frequency, whether it be high or low, should be based upon personal preference and not upon bodybuilding “Broscience”.
The most important factor from a bodybuilding nutrition standpoint will always be reaching one’s macro and micronutrient goal for the day, regardless if it’s achieved in as little as three large meals or as much as seven smaller balanced meals.
Helms, Aragon, and Fitschen, (2013), “Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation”, Consulted on May 31st, 2016, Available at https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20