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Intermittent Eating

Maximize muscle gains by changing from an intermittent fasting protocol to intermittent EATING.

Intermittent Eating Diet Plan

This is NOT an article about intermittent fasting. It’s the opposite. It's intermittent eating – IE, for short.

Yes, eating. It’s not about how to fast. It’s about how to eat to optimize recovery and maximize muscle growth.

In fact, intermittent feeding (eating) is one of the reasons why intermittent fasting fails to produce sufficient gains in muscle mass and should be used mainly for fat loss purposes.

Eat to Grow! 

Intermittent eating (IE) is a specific method of eating to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and minimize muscle protein breakdown (MPB). The amount of muscle you carry depends on the difference between MPS and MPB. The more unbalanced it is on the MPS side, the more muscle you carry. If your goal is to maximize muscle mass, your best plan is not to wake up and eat nonstop all day long. 

You won’t get enough spikes in MPS with this method. To do that, you actually need to take a break from eating in between meals. The key is creating a long enough break in feeding to maximize the spike in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) while minimizing the amount of muscle protein breakdown (MPB). 

The amount of muscle you carry is dependent on how much muscle protein you have. This is known as “net muscle protein.” Net muscle protein fluctuates and is the difference between the amount of muscle protein synthesis you have versus breakdown. The remaining amount is known as net protein balance. This is why even though you build muscle, you can still lose it if you don’t maintain your diet and training. Muscle net protein balance essentially goes down when you lose muscle and goes up when you gain muscle. 

To Eat or Not To Eat 

When you eat a high-protein meal, it spikes muscle protein synthesis and you start building muscle protein. However, if you have your next meal too soon after your last meal, you may not get another spike in muscle protein synthesis because you didn’t give the amino acids from the last meal enough time to spike muscle protein synthesis and then drop back down. If you eat again before that drop has fully occurred, the next meal won’t be able to spike muscle protein synthesis and the protein from that meal will not go toward muscle building, but mainly for energy, and possibly even be converted to fat. 

However, the longer you go without eating a meal, the more muscle protein breakdown you'll have. This is why it's difficult to maximize muscle mass gains with intermittent fasting. The long periods of not eating (often 16 hours or more) increases MPB so much that when the spike in MPS occurs it’s not enough to build muscle (i.e. increase net protein balance); it just maintains muscles. 

That being said, the longer you go without eating, the bigger the spike in MPS when you finally do eat a high-protein meal. However, because MPB is so great, most of that spike in MPS is merely going to replace the muscle protein that was broken down (or lost) during the fasting, so there's little left to build muscle by increasing net protein balance. 

Strategy Matters 

The key to IE is going long enough between meals to get a big enough spike in MPS, but without incurring too much MPB. The sweet spot for this appears to be about 3-4 hours between meals. That happens to be what I’ve been prescribing for over two decades, and there’s research to support the results that thousands have had using this advice.

Australian researchers had subjects perform a leg workout, and then they fed them a total of 80 grams of whey protein over the next 12 hours in three different methods: (1) eight 10-gram doses of protein every 1.5 hours; (2) four 20-gram doses of protein every three hours; and (3) two 40-gram doses of protein every 6 hours. They reported in a 2012 issue of the journal Nutrition & Metabolism that net protein balance was significantly greater when they consumed the four 20-gram doses of whey protein every three hours as compared to every 90 minutes or every 6 hours. 

One thing to mention here is that they were using whey protein. Whey protein has a fast-lived MPS spike. That means it spikes MPS in less than an hour, but then drops back toward normal levels within 2-3 hours. Adding a slower-digesting protein to whey extends the length of time that MPS stays elevated and has been shown to produce greater gains in muscle mass (Kerksick, 2012). Therefore, unless you consume just whey at each meal – and I don’t suggest that, as it doesn't build muscle as adequately as a protein blend – you should wait a bit longer until that next meal. At least 4 hours should be adequate enough, whether you consume a protein blend shake like Pro JYM or a whole-food meal like steak and eggs. 

How To IE 

To maximize the benefits of IE, you need to keep most meals spread apart by about 4 hours. That means no calories between meals. Much like with IF, only consume non-caloric drinks between meals such as water, black coffee, unsweetened tea, and artificially sweetened beverages.

One caveat to this is BCAAs! How much protein you consume at each meal is another important factor to consider in addition to timing. 

The branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine is the most critical amino acid for turning on MPS. It literally acts like a key to turn it on. Research suggests that it takes about 3-4 grams of leucine to adequately spike MPS. To get that much leucine from food would take you at least 40-50 grams of animal protein. You might be able to get away with just over 30 grams of protein from a protein shake (which tend to be richer in BCAAs), but whole food sources like beef, eggs, chicken, and fish will require much more to get enough leucine for really spiking MPS.

If you're uncertain if a meal is rich enough in protein to provide enough leucine, you can supplement the meal with a BCAA supplement that provides at least 3 grams of leucine at a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine; this will bump up the total leucine content of the meal and adequately spike MPS.

Older individuals, above 40 years old, may want to consider eating even more protein at each meal. Research confirms that the older we are, the less efficient our bodies are at building muscle protein from the aminos acids (protein) we eat. An older lifter will require more protein to boost MPS than a younger person in their 20s. Now that I'm in my 50s, I’m sure to get a minimum of 50-60 grams of protein at every meal. 

BCAAs Between 

An extra strategy that you can employ is to take BCAAs two hours after each meal and two hours before the next meal. Research shows that after a meal (with at least 3-4 grams leucine) is eaten, MPS spikes. However, after about two hours, leucine levels fall. This makes MPS fall, despite the fact that there are still ample amino acids from the meal in the bloodstream. 

When BCAAs are given roughly two hours after a complete protein meal, MPS spikes back up and then falls again back to normal levels after another two hours. This is due to the fact that leucine levels in the blood stream drop rapidly; after about two hours, leucine levels have dropped, and so has MPS. However, the other amino acids used for muscle building are still at high levels in the blood stream. Taking a dose of leucine along with its other two BCAAs, isoleucine and valine, will spike blood leucine levels, and therefore MPS. 

In essence, this allows you to get two spikes in MPS from each meal. That’s double the gains! And because the leucine drives those aminos from the meal into MPS, instead of being burned for fuel or being conveyed to fat can even help promote fat loss.

To use this strategy, consume 6-10 grams of BCAAs at a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. 

Nighttime Noshing 

One time you don’t need to wait the full four hours between meals – or 2 hours after your BCAA dose (if you use that strategy) – is before bedtime. Don’t stay up later just because your previous meal was only two or three hours ago. Eating, particularly a high protein meal, at any time will always work to decease MPB and can also lead to muscle mass gains. So, eat your final meal of the night, rich in protein, at any time after your last meal or BCAA dose. 

Sample IE Eating Plan

Now that you know how to space your meals and how much protein to eat at each meal, here is a sample diet for a young, 200-pound male lifter,who needs to consume 1.5 grams of protein per pound, 1 gram of carbs per pound, and 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight. Therefore, he needs to consume a total of 300 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbs, and 100 grams of fat each day. 

If he wakes up around 8:00 am every day to consume his first meal by 9:00 am, and he has his last meal before bed at 12:00 midnight, that allows him to fit in about five meals. Since he needs to total 300 grams for those 5 meals, that breaks down to be 60 grams of protein per meal, 40 grams of carbs, and 20 grams of fat. 

9:00 am Breakfast (60/40/25 – grams of protein/carbs/fat)
3 eggs
1/4 cup shredded cheese
1/2 cup organic cottage cheese
1/2 cup oats 

11:00 am (optional) 
8-10 g BCAAs 

1:00 pm Lunch (60/40/20) 
1 can tuna 
1 Tbsp mayo 
2 slices whole-wheat bread 
2 reduced-fat string cheese 

3:00 pm (optional) 
8-10 g BCAAs 

5:00 pm Dinner (55/40/25) 
8 oz top sirloin steak 
1 cup steamed broccoli 
1/2 cup steamed rice 

7:00 pm Pre-Workout Meal 
1 scoop Pre JYM (provides 6 g BCAAs) 
1 scoop Pro 
1 cup milk 

9:00 pm Post-Workout Meal 
1 scoop Pro JYM 
1 cup whole milk 
15 gummy bears 
1 scoop Post JYM Active Matrix 

12:00 am Bedtime Snack (60/15/15) 
1.5 scoop Pro JYM 
1 cup plain Greek yogurt

 

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