Today we examine the impact of two different meal frequencies in athletes looking to gain mass!
Ultimately, athletes require an energy surplus to maximise their muscle growth potential. A common problem in athletes (not all) is being able to consume adequate calories to (1) support day-day movement, (2) fuel their sport specific training, and to (3) have extra energy available to support muscle growth.
Understandably, appetite suppression can occur after eating very large meals to meet their very high energy demands, and in return cause the athlete to not eat sufficient calories…and therefore, not being able to maximise muscle growth and gain body mass.
Knowing this Taguchi et al (2021) recruited college level, lightweight rowers and places them on a ‘gainers diet’ where each individual was instructed to eat in a 20kcal/kg surplus for 8 weeks. i.e. a 75kg rower would eat 1,500kcal in excess (yes, this is a lot).
Each rower was placed into either a high meal frequency group (HF – six meals/day) or a low meal frequency group (LF – three meals/day) for eight week. After the testing period, each rower returned to their normal diet for five weeks prior to starting the ‘gainers diet’ once more, but this time on the contrasting meal frequency.
To keep things super controlled and to ensure compliance was high, each rower was provided with meals to ensure they ate the prescribed calories and protein (>2.5g/kg). The downside to this study was (1) they only had 11 participant, and (2) they only trained with weights 2x week as their sport specific training was mega high (2x rowing sessions/day).
As both groups ate the same relative calories (approx. 5200kcal/day), body composition changes were not different.
Interestingly, you’d expect a huge increase in mass with such a large surplus over eight weeks, but this wasn’t seen. On average, the rowers gained ~1.2kg of muscle and 1.1kg of body fat.
Therefore it can be suggested that some athletes require larger energy surpluses than predicted to support gains in body mass….it’d probably help if they trained more specific for hypertrophy too, as this is the primary driver for muscle growth. Lol.
Further to this, appetite scores were similar, suggesting that the number of meals consumed/day doesn’t typically influence fullness. That being said, there were large individual differences here.
Knowing this, athletes looking to gain mass should eat whenever their appetite best supports this, but from a protein frequency and anabolism perspective, I wouldn’t suggested dropping under 3 meals/day.
And lift weights progressively and often too, more than twice/week anyways…