How Should I Space Meals for Gaining Muscle Mass?

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question-icon-newI work the night shift from midnight to 8am in the morning. I workout at 10pm before my shift begins and I usually sleep from 9am to 5pm. My training has been going great so my question is mostly related to my diet. I know how important nutrition is for building muscle mass and I’m wondering how I should setup my eating schedule during the day so I can evenly space out my meals. I want to get closer to my goal of packing on more muscle and getting lean. Do you have any recommendations for my current work schedule and how to set up my diet for the best possible results?

answer-icon-newI’m glad you already understand the importance of nutrition and how it impacts every aspect of your fitness goals. There are so many people who workout and go through the motions in the gym and then wonder why they are not making the gains in muscle mass they truly want. Or, they get extremely frustrated because a thick layer of fat around their stomach that is lingering and has not decreased even a little over the last 12 months. Whether it’s packing on impressive slabs of muscle mass or burning up those extra pudgy pounds of body fat, the food you put into your mouth is the most critical component in the physique game. Someone can work their butt off in the gym but not make any significant gains simply due to lack of quality macronutrients that are found in clean whole foods.

You already know how critical your diet is for making gains, so now it’s just a matter of tweaking your diet a little and choosing the best schedule to space your meals correctly to get the biggest return. The key time period of eating during the day is to focus on never going longer than 3 hours without eating some type of quality food source. The ideal meal frequency will be about every 2.5 to 3 hours. You can even go as short as every 2 hours for each meal if the overall quantity is smaller in size and you like the act of nibbling during the day on a few extra meals.

meals-spacing-planningEach meal you eat during the day should always have a lean protein source in it and your choices for carbs and fat will change depending on the time of the day so you can optimize fat burning. Preparing meals ahead of time and packing them in Tupperware to bring to work is incredibly convenient and helpful for eating on a specific schedule and to take all of the guesswork out of your diet so you can be on automatic pilot during your work shift. The last thing you want is to be out of nutrient dense food when you’re super hungry at work and the only thing staring you in the face is a cornucopia of high fat and sugar loaded snack foods that are lingering in the office kitchen!

Since you work the late shift this throws a little bit of a curve ball into the overall setup for your meal planning. Most people work a traditional 9am-5pm job which works well with the body’s normal circadian rhythm of being active when the sun is up and sleeping during the night when it’s dark. Since you will be doing exactly the opposite, there are a few things you should be aware of when it comes to optimum nutrition.

The biggest factor that will have the most impact on the amount of fat you can lose is to make sure and avoid eating excess carbs for your last meal before going to sleep, which for you will be around 8am-9am in the morning. If you crave breakfast foods like pancakes, toast and hash browns when you get home from a long night of working the overnight shift, you are going to want to rethink this strategy if you want to get really lean with a set of ripped six pack abs. Your body will soak up all those carbs right before you go to sleep and it will be much easier for your body to pack on fat while you sleep.

You want to focus on a lean protein source with fibrous carbs and avoid starches and grains when you get home in the morning. Cooking up an egg white veggie omelet works great for a low carb, high protein breakfast at this time. Stir fry the veggies in a little extra virgin olive oil while cooking the egg whites in a separate pan and then add the veggies onto the eggs and flip over one side to create a delicious omelet. If you don’t feel like eating whole foods, mix up a few scoops of protein powder with water for a high protein shake before hitting the sack!

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