You’re an athlete. How many meals should you eat per day?
As a general rule, a high meal frequency is a game changer for allowing you to get everything possible out of your training.
For Serious Athletes & Those Who Need to Pack On Muscle
Most athletes will benefit from eating 6 or more meals a day. There are several reasons a high meal frequency is imperative:
First, athletes are training at a very high intensity every day and they require the basic raw materials from calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients to stimulate muscle growth and restoration of energy stores.
We’re not talking about a 45-minute workout several days a week. As a competitive athlete, you are spilling it and tapping into a deeper level of metabolic damage than recreational trainees. You need continued, high-quality nutrition to achieve muscle recovery.
Second, when maintaining or putting on muscle is the goal, you need to maximally stimulate protein synthesis and offset protein breakdown. Triggering protein synthesis requires a minimum of 20 grams of high-quality protein at least every three hours. In many cases, a higher protein dose may be warranted for maximal anabolism.
Eat Protein Every 3 Hours For Peak Protein Synthesis
It should be noted that there is a difference between protein breakdown and protein stimulus. You need to achieve both for maximal muscle accrual. Research shows that whey protein has a superior amino acid profile that is rapidly digested, making it great for protein synthesis, but not so good for reducing protein breakdown. A whole meal containing a beef patty that provides 70 grams of protein leads to greater suppression of protein breakdown than a smaller meal of 40 grams resulting in higher net protein balance (1, 2).
This means you can get the best results from piggybacking eating a whole protein meal on a protein shake that you drink right after a workout. You can see this in the eating schedule below.
Front loading high-protein meals is important. This means not only eating breakfast but having several high-quality meals before 1 pm. Research suggests that the most important factor with gaining muscle mass is the amount of protein consumed and properly digested before 1pm (3).
Eat Five Times Before 1 PM For Muscle Mass
For an athlete who needs to put on muscle extremely quickly, say 12 weeks or less, your goal is to eat five meals before 1 pm. Each of these meals or “feedings” will have protein and most will have healthy fat. Here is an example:
7:00 am: Wake Up
Meal #1: 7:15 am Breakfast
Grass-Fed Ribeye Steak and Cashews
Meal #2: 9:30 am 10:00 am Training
Meal #3: 10:00 am Training
Intra-Workout—Aminos and Electrolytes
Meal #4: 11:00 am Post Workout
Shake—Poliquin Whey Stronger
Meal #5: 12:00 pm Lunch
8 oz. Chicken Breast and 2 Cups of Rice
Meal #6: 3:00 pm Snack
Sliced Turkey Breast and Cup of Almonds
Meal #7: 6:00 pm Dinner
8oz Salmon with Salad Greens and Baked Potato
The average athlete who is looking to put on size will gain an average of 21 pounds of muscle in 12 weeks. Putting in high-quality training sessions along with getting in the 5 feedings before 1 pm sets the stage for success. Completing the day with 6 or 7 meals that contain at least 20 grams of protein each will allow you to get the most out of your efforts.
How many meals you should eat completely shifts if you are not a serious athlete. If you are a regular person with day job who is trying to lose body fat or simply maintain your current physique, fewer meals are generally better. Read about meal frequency recommendations for fat loss and health in this article.