How Many Meals a Day Do You Need to Build Muscle?

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

How many meals a day do you need to build muscle?

It’s a question asked by everyone who starts strength training for the first time.

We’ve all heard or read that you need to eat 5-6 meals per day.

But who has the time or desire to do that?

Surely no one who works or has a social life.

Sounds like a real pain-in-the-ass nightmare if you ask me.

I’m a big fan simplicity and minimalism.

It’s liberating and gives you a sense of freedom. Ya know, the kind of freedom that comes from having to prepare meals every 90 minutes and eat every two hours on the button.

The kind of freedom that comes with weighing your food and counting all of your macronutrients at every meal. The freedom that carrying Tupperware containers full of steamed broccoli and chicken breasts everywhere you go brings.

Ah… that’s the life, aint it?

Sounds like…sounds like imprisonment more than freedom.

I’ll be the first one to admit, I recommended the old six-meals-per-day, eat-every-two-hours deal for years. We all did.

It was like recommending pull ups.

The squat or press aren’t universally loved, but pullups? Who doesn’t love pull ups? Everyone recommends pull ups.

Just like everyone recommended six meals a day.

It was the thing to do.

You have to keep the metabolism running at full speed ahead. If you don’t eat every two hours it’ll slow down.

You’ll get fat. You’ll lose muscle. You’ll get weak.

Your thyroid will shut down. Your wang will shrink. Your nose will grow. You’ll go broke.

It’s all bullshit.

A Step in the Opposite Direction

Eating six meals a day, every two hours is just another way of being a slave to your lifestyle and your stuff. Having to eat every two hours is just more baggage.

It’s like owning something else that you just don’t need. Something else you need to always take care of and revolve your life around.

It’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from a minimalist lifestyle that allows true freedom.

The reality is that every single reason you were told to eat six times per day is complete bullshit.

If you eat a heaping pile of eggs right now, the amino acids are in your blood stream for a lot longer than two hours.

You are not going to dip into an extreme catabolic state like Tom Hanks in Castaway if you don’t eat again exactly 120 minutes from now. It’s just physically impossible.

But surely your glycogen stores would be depleted right?

Not even close.

Unless you run a marathon you will have plenty of stored glycogen to get you through a strength training workout a day or so after you last carbohydrate meal.

Bodybuilders have to almost starve themselves and take extreme measures to deplete glycogen levels for 3-7 days before a show. I’m sure that going longer than 2-3 hours between meals isn’t going to deplete yours.

Years ago I literally used to get in a bad mood and could be somewhat pissy if I went more than a couple hours without eating. I thought all my hard work was for nothing and that I was in a severe catabolic state.

It’s embarrassing now to think back on it.

The Problem With Eating So Often

The very act of eating in itself, is stressful to the body. Digestive stress ages you and causes inflammation.

When you are busy stuffing your face all day you are stressing the body out to unhealthy levels. You never give the gut a chance to fully heal. Your enzyme pool doesn’t get replenished and your whole digestive system takes a beating.

When digestive health is compromised nothing functions properly.

Having fewer hours per day in the fed state is a good thing. It lets the body heal and replenish itself.

A little while back the New York Times reported on the recent study that showed no weight loss benefits of six meals per day over three meals per day. I don’t put a lot of stock in too many studies but it was worth noting nonetheless.

If you want to get bigger and stronger simply determine how many calories you need per day and divide them by three instead of six or seven. It’s just far more convenient and doesn’t alienate you from the rest of society so much.

Back to the Old School

All of the old time strongmen and bodybuilders ate three meals per day.

Vince Gironda’s diets consisted of three meals per day and all his guys were ripped and jacked. John McCallum used to recommend three meals per day.

I don’t know how the six meals a day thing came about but I suspect it was money driven.

“You need three meals plus three shakes,” some supplement company exec must have declared.

In the Golden Era of Physical Culture men ate three meals per day. They didn’t show up carrying coolers and sneaking protein shakes in at the bar at night.

Now I may not be that manly. But if it was good enough for Arthur Saxon it’s good enough for me.

So join me in taking another step toward freedom and minimalism. Take off the Zubaz pants and the boat neck sweatshirts (they only looked cool when worn by the Road Warriors, pictured above).

Put away the Tupperware and the countdown timer that notifies you of your next meal.

At the end of the day this whole process of immersing yourself in Physical Culture, is really about having fun, being healthy and enhancing the enjoyment of your life.

There’s no way that eating every two hours does any of those things.