Have you ever felt tired of eating six meals per day? Are you tired of following restrictive diets that get you nowhere?
What if I told you that there’s a diet to gain muscle which allows you to:
- Eat less and still gain muscle mass,
- eat more and still be losing fat,
- spend less time in the kitchen and more time living.
Some things sound too good to be true huh? Well not in this case.
My Struggle With Frequent Meals
I’ve been led to believe that in order to gain muscle you have to eat at least six meal a day. You know, the kind of shit you hear on most fitness message boards.
I believed this non sense for a couple of years and I must say that eating six times a day is not a fun task. Eating basically becomes your job.
The proponents of frequent meals argue that in order to fire up your metabolism, feel energetic and accelerate muscle growth, you need to supply your body with a constant influx of nutrients.
Ironically, while I was on this diet, I experienced the complete opposite. I felt drowsy and sleepy throughout most of the day and my progress in the gym was not that impressive. The weirdest thing of all was that when I finished my meals I’d still be hungry.
I spent two years (luckily just two years) preparing and eating 6 meals a day. A lifestyle possible only because I was a student so I had plenty of time on my hands. Preparing the food and eating became my full time job.
I remember that as soon as something unexpected came about, my eating schedule was compromised and as a result I’d become anxious for skipping a meal or two.
After two years, I seriously started to question whether all of this constant eating was really worth the effort and the sacrifice. Because I wanted to spend as little time possible in the kitchen, I didn’t even bother seasoning my foods which meant that all of my meals were bland and not tasty at all.
I basically started to despise this kind of lifestyle.
One of the most important things I learned so far is that if there’s a goal you’re after, try to incorporate the new habits needed to reach that goal in a holistic approach. If something doesn’t feel right after trying it for a reasonable amount of time, then it’s probably hurting your chances of success.
Because eating six meals a day wasn’t practical at all, I became frustrated. I realized that this kind of lifestyle isn’t going to bring me anywhere since I was supposed to be at home all day cooking and eating my food.
There’s no way in hell I was going to do this for the rest of my life!
A New Discovery
I figured there’s got to be a better diet to gain muscle. I was willing to compromise muscle gains for a more normal life.
I still don’t remember exactly how I came across this diet, but I remember that as soon as I tried it, I was hooked. Well to be honest, it was a rough start, but I quickly became accustomed to it.
The diet in discussion was Iron Addict’s Metabolic Rebound Diet (MRD). Here’s how the author puts it briefly:
“The basic premise of the MRD is to under-eat for a period of 18-20 hours of the day, and then to take in the bulk of your nutritional requirements during the 4 to 6 hour over-feeding period. Basically the under-eating stage primes the body to be very receptive to nutrients when it finally receives them.
The under-eating phase has the added effect of making the nutrients ingested during the over-feeding stage assimilate much better. You can consume large amounts of food without getting fat as long as you’ve completed an under-eating phase beforehand.”
The diet template given in the book has four meals. The first three meals are approximately 300 kcals each, the fourth meal (appropriately named “The Feast”) is the meal where you take in most of your daily calories.
Iron Addict was a big believer of supplementation with amino acids or what he calls it the Amino Stack. The three small meals in MRD consist of a mix of amino acids mainly L-Glutamine, BCAAs (4:1:1 ratio), EAAs and Taurine taken on an empty stomach. 10-15 minutes after this you’d take 25 grams of your favourite protein powder together with some berries.
The only side effect of this diet (besides muscle gains with fat loss) is that after the Big Feast you’re left sleepy and tired since your body switches gears and goes into the rest & repair mode. You’ll find that you’ll sleep like a baby after your biggest meal.
You might be probably thinking that supplementing with the amino acids might prove to be too costly but when you consider that 10 grams of EAAs can have the same effect as 40 grams of complete protein, then the cost of the aminos proves to be smaller than the cost of the whole protein.
The cheapest way to buy amino acids or any other supplement for that matter is to buy your supplements in bulk. I recently started to buy my supplements from MyProtein.com since I’ve found that with MyProtein you get the most bang for the buck. In case you’re located in the US, a good vendor of good supplements without the usual hyped up bullshit is TrueProtein.com
After going with the MRD for about two months I realized that this wasn’t a good diet for me. Despite having achieved good results with the MRD I decided to give it a rest because I grew tired of drinking powders 3 times a day. I just had enough.
Now I was looking for practicality. A diet that wouldn’t make me feel like was on a special diet.
The only thing I kept from the MRD was the Feast Dinner and 30 grams of BCAAs during my fasted workout.
While eating just one big meal a day (2400 kcals on average) I noticed something interesting. I noticed that I’ve lost quite some fat while at the same time keeping my strength and muscle intact.
Just when I made this realization, I stumbled upon a website called LeanGains.com, owned by Martin Berkhan.
Martin Berkhan is a renowned fitness expert who’s into intermittent fasting and minimalist training.
In short, intermittent fasting is basically a type of diet where you’re not eating anything (when I say nothing I mean nothing – fasting period) for 16 hours and then you have 8 hours where you eat all of your food.
The intermittent fasting diet has many advantages for your fitness efforts, mainly:
- When in the fasted state, your insulin levels are more stable and after some time of fasting, you become more sensitive to insulin (great thing for transporting nutrients into muscle and not into fat cells)
- Fasting increases the levels of biochemicals/hormones responsible for tissue repair and muscle growth like cAMP (cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate), growth hormone, IGF (insuline-like growth factor)
- Fasting increases your sensitivity to leptin, which is a master hormone that regulates your appetite and metabolism among other things
- Lastly fasting and fewer meals, make your body able to absorb more nutrients in one sitting (forget about 30 grams of protein per sitting dogma)
After reading the core articles of the website, I decided to give intermittent fasting a try.
This is how I structured my initial diet. Since I was going for simplicity I opted for two meals a day:
Meal 1: 400g chicken breast + 200g pasta + 250g of cottage cheese + 100g blueberries + 2 scoops of casein (milk protein)
Meal 2: 400g ground beef + salad with olive oil as dressing + 2 scoops of casein
Whatever meal frequency suits you during those 8 hours, go for it. Just remember that you’re not supposed to eat anything in the fasting period (16 hours).
While on intermittent fasting I was able to drop a couple percent of bodyfat while retaining my muscle mass. I also managed to score new a personal record on my deadlift.
More important than this to me was the fact that for the first time in more than four years, I didn’t feel like I was on some special diet and even better, I wasn’t feeling deprived. For the first time I also felt no regrets when eating out with friends.
Best of all, this type of diet allows you to have a social life. You no longer have to avoid hanging out with your friends fearing that you’re going to spoil your fitness progress. You can eat outside whatever you want as long as you’re in your feeding window. If not just adjust the time of your eating accordingly.
This truly is a diet to gain muscle mass which you won’t get tired of.
How To Set Up An Effective Diet To Gain Muscle Mass (IF STYLE)
Getting the Calories Right
If you’re trying to gain muscle mass, you first need to figure out how much food you need to eat every day. The simplest way to do this is to use a formula, but you might probably already know that cookie cutter formulas wont do you any good.
The best way to determine what your maintenance caloric levels are, is by using this simple 4 step process:
Step #1: Create an account on a food tracking software like FitDay in order to record the food you eat during the 10 day period. On your weigh-in day make sure that you weigh yourself first thing in the morning, right after taking a leak.
It’s really important that you record your weight since you’ll need this information later in order to calculate your caloric needs.
Step #2: During the following 10 days, try to enter into FitDay everything that you eat. The more thorough you are, the more accurate your end result will be.
Make sure that during these 10 days you eat as you’d eat normally. Don’t try to change your diet all of the sudden during this 10 day period since this will likely skew the results.
This is the hardest part to do but if you’re serious about achieving your fitness goals then you need to do this. Cookie cutter formulas just won’t do.
Step #3: After the 10 days are up, weigh yourself again first thing in the morning, just after taking a leak and make sure you record the number.
Step #4: Now you have all the data necessary to find out what your caloric maintenance level is.
If your weight remained the same, you can determine your maintenance level by simply taking the average amount of calories you consumed during your 10 day period and presto, you have the magic number.
If you find yourself that you’ve lost or gained some pounds then finding your maintenance level simply requires you to do some simple math.
If you think you gained 1 pound of fat during the 10 day period it means that you were 3500 calories above maintenece (1 lbs of fat = 3500 kcals). On a daily basis it means that you were 350 kcals above maintenence (3500 kcals divided by 10 days).
So lets say that during the 10 day period you’ve consumed on average 3000 kcals/day. This means that in order to get your maintenance number, you need to subtract 350 kcals from your daily average, which gives you a maintenance level of 2650 kcals/day.
If you think that you’ve gained 1 lbs of muscle then you do the same thing but using 2000 kcals instead of 3500 kcals.
In case you’ve lost weight then you just do the opposite.
Once you got your daily numbers, it’s time to figure out what’s the best meal frequency.
Actually tbh, there’s no such thing as the “best meal frequency”. Whatever you find more comfortable just go with it … it doesn’t matter if it’s 1, 2 or 3 meals per day. As long as you’re eating all of the stuff you need to eat within your feeding window, then you’re good to go.
Keep in mind though that there are certain times you’d want to eat more.
When you’re not training your first meal should be the biggest meal. It doesn’t have to be, but in my experience, if you’ve got a lot of food to consume you’d want to eat most of it during your first meal since that’s the time you’ll be most hungry. You’ll want to take advantage of that.
If your first meal is small then later you might have problems eating the rest of your food.
On your training day you should eat most of the food immediately after your workout since the post-workout period is the best time to supply your body with nutrients.
If for example you’re eating three meals a day, it’s a good idea to eat at least 50% of your daily caloric needs after your workout. Your other two meals could be split into 25% each or whatever you see most fit.
There’s no need for a post-workout shake, simply eating your main meal immediately or about an hour after your workout is more than enough for continued progress in the gym. But do keep in mind that it’s not recommended to train on an empty stomach. If you haven’t had a chance to eat any of your meals before your workout, try to get at least 10g of BCAA (branched chain amino acids) 10 minutes before your workout.
The intermittent fasting style diet does not differ from other diets when the selection of foods is concerned. You’ll still have to eat clean foods if you want to gain muscle mass without gaining fat.
Keeping track of things
By keeping track of your daily food intake long term (using a food tracking software like FitDay), you’ll drastically maximize the chances of your success.
I noticed that whenever I tracked the food I eat using FitDay I always progressed in the gym. In case I got stuck on some lifts it took me just a few minutes to figure out that the problem was me not eating enough food.
If I didn’t track the quantity of foods I’ve been eating then I’d probably be clueless to what the source of the problem was.
Intermittent fasting is basically the best diet to gain muscle. Give it a try and I’m sure that you’ll never want to go back to eating the old way.
In case you need any help with setting up your Intermittent Fasting Diet, please post your questions in the comments section below.
I’d be more than happy to help you out.
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