It's time to say goodbye to the bodybuilding tradition of eating 6 times a day. Here’s a better way.
When you cook meat, it turns brown. It's a process called the Maillard Reaction, which is simply the binding of sugars to protein.
It's also virtually identical to what happens to your body when you habitually keep blood sugar levels above approximately 85 dl/mg. If blood sugar levels are kept high enough, long enough, you're effectively slow-cooking yourself, leading to kidney disease, joint deterioration, stiffening of connective tissues, cataracts, and atherosclerosis.
I say, I say, can you pass the Heinz Barbecue Sauce?
Not only does having perpetual high blood sugar cause you to slow-cook yourself, it also leads to a host of metabolic problems, including, but not limited to, insulin resistance and its hefty partner-in arms, fat-assedness.
The logical question that follows is, what causes one to have perpetual high blood sugar? Well, aside from someone who just eats the typical American diet, the individual most prone to high blood sugar would be someone who ate large amounts several times a day and who never allowed himself to go hungry – who, perhaps deliberately, on the advice of hundreds of diet experts, kept his blood sugar levels "steady" – over a period of several years.
Sound like anybody you know? Geez, if I'm not mistaken, that sounds like how every bodybuilder or "physique athlete" on the planet has been eating.
I'm thinking that just maybe it's time to adopt a new way of eating. It's one that I wrote about briefly in a Live Training Spill, but I think it's so important that it deserves a more-detailed look.
In normal, healthy individuals, glucose is taken up by the blood stream and moved into the interior of cells where it's burned as fuel. The whole thing is mediated by insulin, which is produced and released by the pancreas after you eat a meal.
However, in diabetics, glucose builds up in the blood as cells are unable to utilize it properly, which leads to a condition known as insulin resistance. Over time, the pancreas peters out and can no longer produce sufficient amounts of insulin to successfully transport glucose into insulin-resistant cells. As the disease progresses, the pancreas produces inadequate or zero quantities of insulin, which leads to all those horrific health problems and physique problems I alluded to earlier.
Mind-blowingly, it's estimated that between one in three and one in five Americans will reach the aforementioned disease state by mid-century.
A good number of those Americans, maybe you among them, are only in the insulin resistant state now, years away from approaching a state that's virtually indistinguishable from Type I diabetes. Regardless, you're probably already experiencing some of the negative side effects, and it could well be because of the presumed "healthy" way you're eating, the cornerstone of which is your rigidly scheduled 6 meals a day.
The damnable thing is that all the steady eating has kept your insulin levels perpetually elevated for years.
While your cells were once as sensitive to insulin as a fat man in vinyl pants is sensitive to heat rash, they've gradually grown resistant because there's an onslaught of sugar in your blood stream almost all the time. It's quite possible your blood sugar levels are averaging well above 85 mg/dl, if not much higher, and you're already insulin resistant, perhaps on the way to full-blown diabetes.
A Little Blood Sugar History
Between 1979 and 1997, the medical establishment said that one of the criteria of diabetes was a fasting glucose rate of 140 mg/dl.
In 1997, they reevaluated their numbers and moved the diabetic ceiling to 126 mg/dl, but added that anyone who had a level over 110 showed "impaired fasting."
Scootch ahead to 2003 and they then asserted that no one should have a level over 100 mg/dl, which is where the bar rests today. Clearly, they're freaked out by elevated blood sugar and its potential problems and they don't know exactly where to erect the milligram-per-deciliter bulwark.
A hundred seems like a logical number, but there are a couple of problems with this number. For one thing, it seems that the glycation, or "cooking" that I mentioned in the opening paragraph, seems to rear up its charbroiled head at blood sugar levels over 85 mg/dl.
Furthermore, the whole "fasting glucose" number might be skewed, anyhow. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, fasting glucose refers to your blood sugar level derived from a sample of blood taken after a night of not eating.
The trouble with that is that not eating, especially for us meathead weightlifters, is kind of a rare situation. Most of us eat virtually all the time. Besides, even normal people eat during the day, and they experience chaotic blood sugar peaks and valleys, and to really get a decent idea of how your body handles food, you'd have to take several blood samples during the day and analyze the results.
It just doesn't happen.
So we really don't know our blood sugar levels. True, you could buy a glucometer and test it several times a day, but few of us are that dedicated or that anal. Instead, I prefer to use this rubric:
If you're a "big" guy; if you eat several meals a day; if you eat carbohydrates indiscriminately; if the only veins showing on your body are on your pecker; if the existence of your abs is as dubious and apocryphal as the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, you're probably at least a little glucose intolerant and insulin resistant and potentially on the way to full-blown diabetes.
And, perhaps more important to you, you vain, vain, bastard, you, is that getting lean is becoming more and more improbable with each carb-loaded, elevated blood-sugar day.
Do You Have Any Proof?
Do I have any proof? Admittedly, not a whole heck of a lot. I do have logic, experiential evidence, and at least a study or two on my side, though.
Logic tells me that challenging your system with a perpetual flood of blood sugar, over time, desensitizes the cells to insulin. That's just the way the body works.
I've also experienced it personally. I'd been doing the six-meals-a-day thing since the late 80's, only to watch my fasting blood sugar readings inch up year-by-year until they reached a zenith of 117 mg/dl late in 2010. And no, I wasn't eating crappy. I haven't had a McDonald's burger in over 20 years and I don't even remember what doughnuts taste like.
Nor do I have an apparent genetic predisposition towards high blood sugar.
No, it seems my 6-meals-a-day thing was the culprit.
Lastly, there seems to be some experimental evidence to back me up. One study in particular seemed to corroborate my thoughts: "Effect of meal frequency on glucose and insulin excursions over the course of a day" (Holmstrup, et al, 2010).
Rather than puke up all the particulars of the study, suffice it to say that a group of normal-weight test subjects who ate 6 meals a day exhibited significantly higher blood sugar values than those who ate 3. Despite eating the same amount of calories, the fewer meals group had 30% lower blood sugar values than those who ate 6 meals.
Furthermore, while the insulin response was no different between the two groups, the higher meal frequency group had higher blood glucose levels over the course of the day. That means that insulin was able to lower blood sugar more efficiently when eating fewer meals.
Additionally, there are several studies out there that suggest that fasting, which is, after all, a term that translates to eating fewer meals, increased insulin sensitivity markedly.
What To Do, Oh, What To Do?
The simplest way to remedy the insulin resistance problem is to change your eating habits. Do a dietary downshift from 6 meals to 4 or even 3. You don't need to necessarily eat less, just less often.
In my mind (and in my experience), an ideal dietary regimen on non-workout days would include a large, conventional bodybuilding breakfast with the emphasis – of course – on protein, smart fats, and functional carbs.
I'd follow this up a few hours later with a lunch that had a similar macronutrient profile, followed a few hours later, by a protein "pulse" consisting of a dose of Biotest's Mag-10® Anabolic Pulse or 5 grams or so of branched chain amino acids (BCAA Structured Peptides).
(And yes, yes, I know protein and/or amino acids are insulinogenic, but not nearly as much as carbs are, especially when we're only talking a few grams.)
I'd then follow that up with a sizeable late dinner of protein, fats, and as a few carbs as possible.
Non-Workout Day Diet
- Large Breakfast: protein, smart fats, functional carbs
- Lunch: protein, smart fats, functional carbs
- Mid-Afternoon: 5-gram protein "pulse"
- Late Dinner: Protein, fats
On workout days, I do virtually the same thing, except that I either replace my lunch with my para-workout nutrition protocol, or I'd simply add my para-workout nutrition protocol on top of my normally scheduled meals.
On Saturdays, I do what I call a "fasting cheat day," which seems unorthodox because it is unorthodox.
I have a large protein-based breakfast and then don't eat anything (save my "pulse" in the afternoon), until a late dinner, when I eat pretty much anything and everything I want. Despite whatever dietary excesses I may indulge in during the evening, I've fasted throughout the day, which increases insulin sensitivity and theoretically, at least, allows my physique to weather the evening calorie storm.
I know that this eating plan is somewhat similar to Christian Thibaudeau's Pulse Feast, only my plan is designed to be an eating plan for your entire lifetime. Also, my plan is specifically designed to bring your blood sugar down to healthful, non-cooking-your-meat levels and keep them that way. Fat loss and improved body comp is a side effect of my plan, while it's the primary goal of CT's plan.
Neither is my plan a "fasting" plan. I don't preach jamming in multiple meals during an 8-hour period and the fasting the rest of the day. That type of thing might work for improving insulin sensitivity, but it's my hypothesis that it invariably leads to loss of muscle – going 16 hours without eating forces your body to rob muscle of protein. Besides, this type of plan isn't practical in real life. In other words, fasting for 12 hours is okay, 16 not so much.
That's not to say there isn't a problem with my plan. There's a price to pay for eating three times a day: it's harder to get a surplus of calories – enough to gain muscle – if you're not eating as often.
The benefit of course is that you'll get leaner and more efficient in handling carbs and you'll likely feel electric as opposed to lethargic.
This is exactly why Indigo-3G® has become so hugely popular. It allows you to have your cake and eat it, too, literally and figuratively.
One of the things Indigo-3G® does is improve how your body handles sugar, dramatically. One study of the active component of Indigo-3G® showed a 22.2 percent increase in insulin sensitivity, plus or minus 5.8 percent (Stull, et al, 2010).
Furthermore, it also blocks elevation of leptin (along with improving leptin sensitivity), lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, facilitates glucose absorption into muscle tissue, blocks body fat accumulation, and inhibits intestinal enzymes that break down starch for absorption (meaning that carbs can't be absorbed and remain in the intestinal tract).
That's why people using Indigo-3G® can eat more, often lots more, and keep their insulin sensitivity extremely high while simultaneously getting leaner and more muscular.
It seemingly cures insulin sensitivity in affected people, while turning up sensitivity several notches in people with supposedly normal insulin sensitivity.
I was able, by first using this eating plan, and then taking Indigo-3G® before it was released to the general public, to bring my fasting glucose level down to 77 mg/dl (from a pre-diet, pre-Indigo 3G reading of 117), where it remains, give or take a few random fluctuations, to this day.
Furthermore, when I test my blood sugar throughout the day (as I'll occasionally do to make sure I'm on target), my blood sugar will rise modestly soon after a meal but then return to baseline within about an hour, which is exactly what one would hope for.
However, not everyone can afford Indigo-3G®. That's why I feel it's especially important that our little subculture start reevaluating our time-honored but horribly flawed 6-meals-a-day eating pattern.
You can absolutely improve insulin sensitivity by diet alone, but it won't be as easy as it would be with Indigo-3G®, nor will you be able to divert extra carb-calories to lean tissue without it. Still, improved insulin sensitivity through diet alone is a worthy and necessary goal.
The multiple-meals eating plan may have originally been devised with the best health intentions, but that's of little comfort to the legions of insulin-resistant, thick skinned, definition-challenged beefy bastards out there who can't, for the life of them, figure out why food is often their greatest obstacle to creating a lean, muscular, energetic, fuel-burning machine.
Let the multiple meals thing go, man, let it go.