Does Nutrient Timing and Meal Timing Matter for Building Muscle?

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Often times we get caught up in the small mundane details in the health and fitness world without stopping to see the much larger picture. People often become concerned and overly critical of every last bit of information.

Am I overtraining if I do more than x amount of sets?

Will I lose all my gains if I don’t eat every 3 hours?

Can my body process more than 30g of Protein at any given time?

Related: How Much Protein Per Day is Needed to Build Muscle?

While details play a role in overall progress and development, the truth of the matter is we have to sometimes take a step back and think. Is obsessing over every single minute piece of information absolutely critical?

One of the most often talked about topics among the bodybuilding community is nutrient timing; or the importance of meal timing and frequency. The debate over how often – and when – to eat has carried on for several decades.

Nutrient Timing and Meal Frequency – Should I Eat 3 to 7 Times a Day?

Does each and every meal need to contain “x” amount of carbs and “y” amount of protein?
Although meal timing has its own unique advantages there are certain myths regarding meal timing that have been carried on among bro circles for decades.

Eating frequently increases your metabolism

One of the most common reasons people give for eating more often is the perceived “increased” metabolism. One recent study investigating the effects of the timing of the intake of meals taken at different times stated that “There were no significant changes for any trial in respiratory exchange ratio, or carbohydrate or fat oxidation rates during exercise.”

Energy metabolism was not affected by the timing of meals as it had little to no impact on the participants involved in the study. [1]

Only “x” amount of protein can be absorbed at any given time

Bodybuilders tend to eat more frequently due to the belief their bodies can only absorb x amount of protein at any given time. The myth surrounding this idea is the fact that “only 30 grams of protein can be consumed in a given meal,” and the rest is turned into glucose or fat.

However, the body does not get rid of excess protein. While it is true that 30g of protein may be processed at a given time, any protein above that amount is simply digested at a later time. Excess protein stays within the body to be absorbed at a later point in time. [2]

Protein must be consumed immediately post workout

For years bodybuilders have carried bottles filled with protein powder. Once that last set is completed they rush to the water fountain and shake the bottle up vigorously with authority.

While post-workout protein intake is important it does not need to be taken immediately. One study stated “The next scheduled protein-rich meal (whether it occurs immediately or 1-2 hours post-exercise) is likely sufficient for maximizing recovery and anabolism.” So don’t be speeding through traffic in hopes of reaching your tub of whey sooner. The few extra minutes will have little to no impact on protein synthesis. [3]

Carbs consumed at night increases bodyfat

We need to be careful consuming carbs after dark right? Wrong.

One study investigated the effect of a low-calorie diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Not only do carbohydrates not cause weight gain, it appears they may even assist in making you leaner.

The idea of carbohydrates increasing bodyfat when consumed at night can be laid to rest. [4]

Eating x times per day is necessary for muscle growth

If you go watch old school bodybuilding movies such as Pumping Iron one common thread is that bodybuilders eat often. This perception has been carried over generation after generation, but new research suggests that the number of meals you eat has little overall impact on your body.

Whether you eat three 1000 Calorie meals or six 500 Calorie meals the total caloric intake is identical. Eating more frequently may assist in hunger, but likely not for the reason you think.

Mentally, eating frequently may trick your body into believing you are consuming more food when the meals are just simply split in half. Think of it as filling up your gas tank. Whether you fill up the entire tank or a quarter of the tank four different times, the total amount is identical.

Meal timing has been proven time and time again to have little overall effect on our bodies. Metabolism, weight-loss, muscle gain, etc are not effected by increasing meal frequency. Any benefits related to meal timing and frequency are likely to be strictly mental in nature.

Follow me on Instagram @ryanrodal and on YouTube: MuscleMinds for more great nutrition advice and workout tips!

References

1) “The Effect of the Timing of Meal Intake on Energy Metabolism During Moderate Exercise. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
2) “Nutrition and Muscle Protein Synthesis: a Descriptive Review.” PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
3) “Timing of Postexercise Protein Intake is Important for Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Training in Elderly Humans.” PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
4) “Greater Weight Loss and Hormonal Changes After 6 Months Diet With Carbohydrates Eaten Mostly at Dinner – Sofer – 2012 – Obesity.” Wiley Online Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

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Name: Ryan Rodal

Bio: My short term fitness goals include reaching a 300lb bench, 405 lb squat and a 500 lb deadlift. Longterm I want to become more involved in the fitness industry and help others achieve their goals. The bodybuilding lifestyle is not about how much you can lift or even how you look, its simply about being the best version of yourself.