The Case Against Intermittent Fasting

So, yeah, I know it’s not cool or trendy to suggest you eat more than a couple meals per day, but I’m not cool or trendy so let’s have at it. There’s more than just “broscience” behind the bodybuilding mantra of six small meals daily.

For decades and beyond, this diet strategy has been a successful approach to optimizing muscle gain and fat loss. Sure, there’s been legitimate reports of late that have shown the mechanism behind it is not due to an inherent metabolism boost. That’s been refuted. You get no additional metabolic boost from six meals as opposed to three… or two… or 16. With that aside, eating six meals per day has been repeatedly shown to work – anecdotal evidence from millions of alpha dudes before you and through evidence-based research. It’s not just broscience, bro.

Do you even science, bitch?

The latest study I’ll reference for this purpose was recently published in the Journal of Nutrition. They split the study participants into two groups. Each group was fed different quantities of protein in each meal, and protein synthesis (*light bulb* this is integral to growing muscle!) was measured throughout the day. One group ate the majority of its protein at dinner (63 grams of 90 grams total) while Group 2 spread its day’s allotment over three meals equally – more so emulating the typical bodybuilding approach. Yes, it was three meals, but who eats 90 grams of protein? If you’re an aspiring strength athlete or bodybuilder, the general rule of thumb is 1 gram per lb of bodyweight (i.e. 200 lb male = 200g of protein, which will likely need to be spread over more than three meals).

THE RESULTS: Which should come as no surprise, protein synthesis was greater in Group 2 by as much as 25% over the course of 24 hours. Essentially, then, Group 2 participants built 25% more muscle over 24 hours than Group 1.

What this all means for you is simple – space your meals out and consume protein evenly throughout the day, rather than trying to scarf down a 16 oz. steak at dinner after starving yourself beforehand.

Now that we’ve got the science out of the way, a word of caution. If you want to get better at something (in your career, sport or otherwise) do you not look to those who have come before you – and achieved what you want to achieve – for guidance? A mentor, so to speak? Why don’t the same rules apply to your bodybuilding pursuits? Don’t ignore what’s worked for millions of men before you, just because it’s no longer trendy to spend a little time in the kitchen and prep meals. There is a large body of evidence through individual responses AND scientific research that shows small meals spaced throughout the day increase protein synthesis, recovery, and muscle gain.

IF Stands for “Intermittent Feasts” For Me

I don’t know about all of you, but I tend to over-eat if I don’t structure my meals appropriately and weigh out my portions. Not eating for 16+ hours a day lends itself to binge eating later on (in my experience) and, quite frankly, those in search of optimal muscle gains should look at that model and question it. If food is my fuel, why would I run on empty 2/3rds of every 24 hour period? You surely can’t think that’s the optimal environment for muscle gains, do you?

There’s always the case of the guy who can look amazing, regardless the diet or training strategies he employs. But that’s not you! You wouldn’t be searching the internet for diet and fitness tips if you had Ronnie Coleman genetics. Even some guys with average genetics can look good on IF, but they seem to forget the decade-plus of work in the gym AND kitchen they put in to build the muscle they have in the first place. I doubt they’re growing at the same pace they were before – but IF allows them to maintain and even drop a little fat, so they look good and are content. You aren’t likely in that category yet, so put in the work first.

Too often guys are looking for shortcuts nowadays. We go to the gym and let our online networks know we’re there, but are we really putting in the work that results in, well, results? With apologies to Woody Allen, 80% of success in the gym isn’t just showing up, as Bryan Krahn alludes to in his strongly-worded piece on the pussification of today’s gym goer. Read it and get inspired – it just might help you unclench your balls hidden within your undercarriage. Training hard enough to elicit results is a whole ‘nother rant, but thankfully Krahn covered that off for me in his piece.

I know for me, if I eat the IF way, I look like someone who’s been eating sporadically, whereas when I eat frequent, clean meals (with designated cheats here and there), boosting protein synthesis as often as possible, I look more like a bodybuilder…well, sort of, lol.

If you’re simply too strapped for time and can’t be bothered to throw a pile of chicken breasts in the oven once a week, that’s why God created protein powder. You can easily insert shakes into the diet while you’re busy working throughout the day and get protein synthesis going that way.

Frequent feedings may not stoke the metabolic fire as it once claimed to do, but it has a host of benefits for the bodybuilder or athlete looking to optimally grow muscle. Don’t jump on the latest diet trend because some guru told you. Assess your goals first and then determine if it’s the best option for you.

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.