When training to bulk or cut, the most significant factor for success in either pursuit is managing a caloric surplus or deficit. More calories lead to weight gain, and fewer calories lead to weight loss — pretty straightforward. However, when should those calories be consumed? Does the timing of meals or the frequency of meals actually matter?
There are many factors that inform the importance of meal frequency and timing, including goals, the timeline of those goals, the phase of prep or bulk one is in, and how advanced an athlete is.
From a 50,000-foot view, I’m more interested in your total daily nutrition.
For most gym-goers, the overall diet being in line with a specific goal is more important than each individual meal and when they are consumed. For those who prefer fewer but larger meals throughout the day, that is as reasonable as spreading out more frequent meals with fewer calories.
Labrada prefers to structure his meals around his training. Upwards of half his total carbohydrate intake per day is based on when he plans to train. However, for most people, there are some “golden rules” that Labrada suggests are adhered to:
Labrada’s Golden Rules for Meal Timing
- Never going more than four hours without eating.
- Meals should be a minimum of two hours apart to prevent poor digestion.
- Don’t eat too much protein in a single sitting.
After four hours without a meal, Labrada said there will likely be a measurable loss in blood glucose, which could lead to “brain fog” or a sense of fatigue. An inconsistent measure of blood glucose has potential disadvantages, which, according to Labrada, can include the body hanging on to more unwanted fat reserves.
Higher-fat meals will often take more time for the body to digest. Packing multiple meals within two hours, particularly if they have a higher fat content, can disrupt digestion in undesirable ways. Similarly, it’s Labrada’s opinion that consuming “more than 60 grams of protein in a single sitting is overkill.” In his experience, more than 60 grams of protein in a single meal leads to gas, bloating, and other digestive disruptors.
How to Structure Meals
Everyone will have a different way of structuring their daily meals to fit in with their schedules, but Labrada suggests calibrating the macros for your goals and dividing those macros into the desired number of daily meals. If the macros are measured and on point, while adhering to the rules above, “you should be golden.”
For more advanced bodybuilders deep in prep, the importance of meal timing and frequency becomes magnified as your body will more visually reflect those changes. Labrada recommends those who are deep in their contest prep eat their meals at the same time and go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.