Is Meal Timing Important for Muscle Gain or Fat Loss?
Meal timing is one of those things that people focus way too much of their attention on, thinking it is going to get them the results they desire.
I have seen people in the gym changing rooms with Tupperware containing 5 cooked chicken breasts for the day so they can eat one every 2 hours.
I’ve seen other people prepare 8 identical meals, and bring all of these to work and eat them on a schedule.
At the time, I was still very inexperienced myself when it came to getting results from the gym, but I thought “Surely this can’t be necessary?”
Is it really that important to focus on providing your body with a constant supply of macro and micro nutrients throughout the day (especially for building muscle?)
Is meal timing important for building muscle?
The answer is: no.
What IS IMPORTANT is the total amount of calories you’re taking in on a daily basis. This should fit with your goals.
If you’re trying to build muscle, then you need to be gaining weight. Therefore you need to be eating in a calorie surplus and getting enough protein from day to day to support muscle growth.
If you’re trying to lose fat, then all that matters is you eat fewer calories than you burn (be in a calorie deficit).
If you’re trying to lose fat but RETAIN muscle (not add muscle, this isn’t really possible whilst losing fat) then you need to be in a calorie deficit but still getting enough protein (About 1g per pound of bodyweight).
When you actually get those calories in doesn’t really matter at all. Whist bulking just getting them all in can be a challenge and you might find you’re spending all day eating anyway. You might also find you have to play catch-up at night and cram in some high calorie foods. There is nothing wrong with this. They won’t cause extra fat storage because you ate just before going to bed.
Meal timing whilst losing fat only matters in regards to how it helps you manage hunger
If you’re in a fat loss stage, just eat your meals whenever works best for you and leaves you the least hungry throughout the day.
For example, intermittent fasting works well for some. This usually means skipping breakfast, resulting in an extended fast after the last meal of the day, until about lunchtime the next day. For some people, they get less hungry throughout the day by delaying the first meal of the day.
If you had to stay below 1,800 calories for the day, then it’s probably not going to work well for you if you eat them all before lunch time and then have to wait until the next morning to eat again.
Note: There is nothing magical about intermittent fasting. Some people think it’s a magic bullet that caused their fat loss without realising it’s just made them eat less every day.
It’s also a good strategy to focus on low calorie, satiating foods. This is why I, and many other people, love porridge during a fat loss stage. If you make it with water instead of milk then it’s even less calories. You can add some berries or a bit of jam to make it more interesting. You can have a very big bowl for 250 calories that will keep you full for hours.
The times at which you eat don’t really matter for fat loss or muscle gain. Just do whatever is most convenient in your life.
HOWEVER, you may want to space out your protein a little
There is this one caveat. This is the very end range of optimal results, so don’t worry about it too much.
Whilst meal timing doesn’t really matter, splitting up your protein intake is more optimal. Don’t worry about trying to get exactly the same amount spaced apart at exactly the same intervals. Just try to split it up roughly evenly throughout the day.
I would find that I often didn’t really get any protein during the morning. This is because the foods I ate at breakfast weren’t really high in protein. I would usually eat cereal, or some porridge. Whilst I’d be getting a little bit of protein from cereal, mainly from the milk, this would only make up about 10% of what I needed to aim for in the day. 90% of my protein was coming at lunch and dinner, with more of that coming at dinner.
The most important thing is to get that protein in, regardless of time!
This isn’t really a massive problem. The number 1 priority is to make sure you actually get in enough protein. It’s probably not as optimal to get it all in one or two servings throughout the day. I trained in the morning too, so it would often be 4 or 5 hours after the workout before my body received any protein.
I’m not saying you need to eat within 30 minutes of your workout to take advantage of the “anabolic window”. There’s already way too much focus on this by guys slamming down protein shakes or eating a chicken breast in the showers. In reality, the anabolic window is not as short as people think it is.
You don’t need to eat every two hours, and you don’t need to drip feed protein to your muscles all through the day.
Just eat in a way that suits your lifestyle, but try to split up your protein intake a bit.