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How Many Meals to Build Muscle

Ecdy-Bolin Review

Hi Paul,

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Bodybuilding and Fitness Newsletter 11/3/2021

How Many Meals Should You Eat Each Day to Build Muscle?

Every hardcore lifter knows that he needs to take in enough protein and enough calories every day if he wants to build muscle, and those amounts aren’t too hard to figure out. One area that’s still pretty gray for most trainees, though, is meal frequency.

Just how many meals should you eat each day if hypertrophy — muscle growth — is your aim?

Let’s look at the factors involved to come up with an answer.

All About That Beef

Returning to the basic dietary requirements for muscle growth, all of your eating habits as a bodybuilder will stem from one important dietary component: protein.

You need plenty of quality protein in your diet because it provides amino acids, the building blocks of new muscle tissue. In general, you’re going to want to eat about one gram per pound of bodyweight of protein each day when you are trying to add mass.

Some may need a bit more, some a bit less, but one gram per pound is a solid starting place for most.

Queen Calories

Beyond your protein intake, total daily calories are going to help determine whether or not you add mass, and what kind of mass you add. Take in too little, and you’ll probably stay little. Take in too much, and you’ll pack on some flab.

How many calories do you need each day?

It’s a tough question with many multi-faceted answers depending on your health, history, and lifestyle, but a good baseline is about 15 calories per pound of bodyweight as a maintenance level for most men. You may need to try it for awhile and then adjust up or down depending on what the scale says.

So, for a 150 pound man, our starting point will be about 150 grams of protein and 2250 calories a day. Whether you eat low-carbs, low-fat, or moderate everything is not nearly as important in the grand scheme of muscle growth as these two numbers.

Now, we just need to figure out how to divvy them up over the course of a day.

Moderation Is Key

For years, standard bodybuilding advice was that you could absorb and assimilate only about 30 grams of protein per sitting, and that led to many of us eating 6-8 meals or snacks a day.

There has been a backlash against that idea recently, particular as intermittent fasting and other eating plans have come into vogue. These days, we see many guys reverting back to three or four meals a day with larger globs of protein at each and with no apparent ill-effects.

But is there any scientific evidence to lead us down the right path?

Well, in 2009, researchers from the University of Texas found that consuming 30 grams of protein at one time provided the same increase in muscle synthesis as eating 90 grams of protein.

Then, a 2012 study found that 35 grams of protein per sitting is absorbed better and leads to enhanced protein synthesis than when consuming either 10 grams or 20 grams at a time. The subjects in this research were elderly men, which makes direct comparison to young lifters tougher, but it also means the synthesis uptick was most likely the result of protein intake without interference by other factors, like strenuous weight training.

Putting It All Together

If we take our hypothetical 150-pound bodybuilder and feed him 25-40 grams of protein per meal, as loosely suggested by the studies above, we come up with four-to-six daily feedings. For most guys that will probably fit the muscle-building bill quite nicely and gives you some flexibility, too.

From a social standpoint, eating the standard three meals a day works well, as most Americans consume some form of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll be able to eat with your friends and family, provided you take care to get in some high-quality protein and fill in with whole carbs and healthy fats.

Beyond that, sneaking in a snack or two to boost your protein and calorie intake should be pretty easy, even for the busiest of us. It only takes a couple of minutes to eat a protein bar or swig down a whey shake with some almonds or a piece of fruit.

In the end, there is no set meal frequency that’s best for every lifter, but most of us should avoid very long periods without eating something, if for the sake of maintaining stable blood sugar, if nothing else. You should note that some medical conditions, like diabetes, generally require very specific meal frequencies to maintain optimal health, so always consult your physician or dietitian when planning your meal strategy.

For most lifters looking for new mass, though, the best approach is to take in some quality protein throughout the day and then fill in your caloric needs with whole, unprocessed carbs and healthy fats.

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