2 Meals, 3 Meals, 5 Meals…Does It Even Matter?

Back in the “Bro Science” days of bodybuilding, it was normal practice to eat 5-6 meals a day and not go 2-3 hours without eating a meal. Then, in the last few years, all that changed, as new research came along apparently disproving this practice and everyone was quick to jump on the “it doesn’t matter when and how many meals, it all comes down to just the daily intake”.

So, what is the truth? Does it matter the number of meals you eat each day? Or is it just about how much you have, regardless of whether it 1,2 or 6 meals??

Original “Bro Science” Reasoning:

Anyone who has lifted, that was born before the year 1990, remembers that everyone aimed to eat every 3 hours in order to keep the metabolism firing and to stay “anabolic”. God help you if you missed a meal as you would literally see the muscle wasting away from your frame. Or so it felt…

Anything less than 5 meals a day and you were a bodybuilding noob with the metabolism of your 80 year old grandmother.

The New Research:

Once scientist finally got around to actually doing some research on this, it was quickly found that this wasn’t really the case. Truth is, it didn’t really matter if you had 2 meals, or 3 meals or 6, the actual effect on your metabolism was actually pretty similar across the board.

The regular community and those that lift without crippling OCD breathed a big sigh of relief as you didn’t now have to spend 17 hours in the kitchen each week meticulously prepping  and partitioning equally 30 meals to last you Mon-Fri.

It also gave rise to IF, IIFYM, or any other acronym people can add more letters to to reinvent the wheel and profit from.


Is it all as open and shut as that?

Let’s take a look at what we know and put it in to some context.

There are two things we need to look at when trying to optimise body composition:

  1. What strips body fat
  2. What maximises muscle retention (increases muscle protein synthesis)

Obviously you want to create an environment conducive to getting leaner. i.e. relative energy deficit, maximising metabolism. But you also want to make sure you are not losing any of your hard earned gym gains.

So, just because your meal distribution may not necessarily affect your Metabolism. IT DOES play a role in maximising Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). You know, the building / keeping your muscle part…

I’ve written extensively about Muscle Protein Synthesis and the factors that influence it (well, maybe like 2 facebook posts and an instagram story, but I digress). So, I won’t go on about it here. Needless to say that it requires a fast digesting protein source containing about 3g of Leucine amongst a few other things.

This influx of amino acids in to your system after a meal makes MPS peak about “45-90 minutes following a meal, and returns to baseline values by 180minutes”. (Wilson, et al, 2008-9). Translation: the most effective part of eating a meal with regards to building muscle peaks about 45-90minutes after you eat and then tapers off back to normal after about 3 hours.

The researchers found the “addition of a bolus of carbohydrates, leucine, or both, at 150minutes was able to both reinstate the ATP status of the cell as well as prolong protein synthesis.”

Paddon-Jones and colleagues also found the addition of a “low calorie (220 calories) amino acid and carbohydrate supplement between meals drastically improved protein balance through a 24hour period.

So What Does It MEAN????

  • To maximise MPS you need to optimise protein distribution NOT just hit your daily macro target
  • You can do this by eating a high quality protein source every 3 hours or so
  • OR “alternate whole meals containing 25-35g of whole protein sources with snacks containing either BCAA’s, or a combination of carbohydrates and BCAA’s”
  • in other words 3 meals and 2 snacks

Potato. Potato. (that doesn’t really have the same effect when written). It all says the same thing. Eat some quality protein every 3 hours.

If you want to maximise MPS the Amount, Quality AND Distribution of your protein intake are ALL important factors.

Especially if you are trying to get leaner and on any sort of restriction.

YESSSSS. OLD SCHOOL BRO SCIENCE FOR THE WIN!!!!! Stick that one in your Kombucha damn new age insta hippies.