Make Meal Frequency Part Of Your Transformational Arsenal
Meal Frequency - Alter meal timing to elicit differing results
Ori Hofmekler’s political art has been featured in the New York Times, the London Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, US News & World Report, and dozens of major publications. As his artistic career peaked, he began going blind in one eye and had to quit art. Ori shifted his focus to Survival Fitness. His Warrior Diet book (2002) launched the intermittent fasting meal frequency revolution.
Jean Paul Sartre once observed, “Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.” This is an oblique reference to a universal human trait: we are profoundly and intensely dissatisfied with our current physical self. We are dissatisfied with the shape, configuration, and proportion of our body, our physique.
We turn to exercise and diet as methods to attain what we seek. We seek to trigger a dramatic physical metamorphosis, to transform from an ugly earthbound caterpillar into a gorgeous, airborne butterfly. We want to change our physique so badly that we are spurred into action. Why do people diet? Why do they join gyms, why jog, why practice keto diets? Why train with free weights? The commonality, the rationale, for all our dietary and fitness efforts is we seek to undergo a radical physical transformation; this in exchange for our tenacious training efforts and dietary depravations.
The goal is profound: dramatically alter the body, from its current inadequate state into what we seek to become. We refuse to be what we are. How do we define physical “change?” The tangible changes are physical and measurable: more muscle, less body fat, an across-the-board improvement in performance, regardless the drill, skill, or sport. The fuzzy intangibles are improved health, increased energy, renewed vitality, and better mental clarity.
These are profound goals. Profound goals are only attained with profound effort and profound dietary discipline. Physiologically, to trigger muscle growth, to melt off body fat, the body must be presented with a repeating series of self-inflicted stresses. In our training, these stresses need be some expression of 100% effort. Only by exerting to a Herculean degree does the body trigger hypertrophy, muscle growth, and a concurrent increase in strength and power.
Weight training and cardiovascular training efforts need be taken up to current capacities and limits on a regularly reoccurring basis. Only by working up to (and past) current capacities will the body reconfigure itself. To melt body fat, the body need be subjected to the right combination of coordinated cardiovascular training and nutritional stresses. The body is “tricked” into oxidizing stored body fat to fuel activity.
There are four transformational levers of physical progress: resistance training, cardiovascular training, brain-train (the psychological aspects associated with a radical physical transformation) and nutrition. Within each of these four interrelated transformational disciplines, there exist a universe of sub-worlds, subdivisions, subtleties, strategies, techniques, and tactics.
Within the universe that is nutrition, one overlooked area of progress potentiality is meal frequency. This is an unmined vein of gain. Not nearly as much attention is paid to meal frequency, the timing of when we consume our calories, as is paid to caloric content and caloric volume. I will not say frequency is as important as content or volume (it is not) however meal frequency, if handled right, is a proven progress stimulator.
Progress is stimulated when the body is somehow blasted out of some aspect of its current complacent stagnation. To unblock a progress logjam requires the implementation of approaches dramatically contrasting current practices. Progress is not stimulated by doing more of the same; progress is not triggered in response to ease and sameness.
Within the nutritional universe, the meal frequency status quo is three meals a day. How can an athlete induce progress by manipulating meal frequency? Consider implementing one of the two meal frequency outliers…
- multiple-meals: bodybuilding-based strategy, 5-6 daily mini-meals, graze all day long
- intermittent fasting: eat within a four-hour window, eat less, eat less often, eat organic
The conventional meal thesis is wake up, have a hearty breakfast (the most important meal of the day!) and midday, eat again. At night, after work, have diner, the final meal of the day. Over the eons, three meals a day has become, ingrained in our DNA, thrice daily feeding have become the natural eating rhythm of humanity on a worldwide basis.
Outlier #1: bodybuilder-style nutrition
Starting in the 1960s, bodybuilding nutrition became increasingly sophisticated and increasingly effective. Those ancient bodybuilders rightly postulated that if an athlete was eating 3,000 calories a day, consumed in three square meals of 1,000 calories apiece, why not eat those same 3,000 calories in six 500-calorie meals? Would not the digestive burdened be lessened? Would not the body be “taught” how to better assimilate and distribute food nutrients? Smaller meals, more meals, was logical and got immediate results.
The regular person eats 21 meals a week, the competitive bodybuilder consumes 42 mini meals each week. Since the 1980s, the multiple meal eating schedule has been a cornerstone of bodybuilding nutrition. Every 2-3 waking hours the competitive bodybuilder consumes a food meal, or a “supplement meal.” Calories are eaten in roughly equal amounts with meals or feedings spaced at equidistant intervals throughout the day.
That this strategy works is beyond dispute, but it is cumbersome, demanding, and never-ending. When the competitive bodybuilder wants to add lean mass in the off-season, over a period of weeks the caloric content of each “feeding” is incrementally increased. The food content is kept clean, and the cardio kept up. This way the bodybuilder adds lean mass without adding an unacceptable amount of body fat.
When the competitive bodybuilder seeks to lean out, they reverse procedures and begin an incremental reduction in calories, slowly, imperceptibly. Bodybuilders will clean up the food content and tinker with micronutrients. They will gradually pull the starch calories out of the diet, replacing “lost” water-retaining starch calories with highly thermic MCTs calories. This trick of the trade preserves lean muscle mass in the face of declining carb intake.
In bodybuilding, the eternal quest is for maximum off-season increases in lean muscle mass without adding excess body fat in the process. In the pre-competition phase, the quest is for maximum leanness, this without cannibalizing muscle mass.
Multiple meals are anthesis of the three-square-meal thesis.
Outlier # 2, Intermittent Fasting
Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Some men are born revolutionaries. Ori Hofmekler is one. Ori was born in 1952 and raised in Israel. An artistic child prodigy, Ori attended the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem. He received a degree in Human Science and within five years became a world-renowned artist whose political satire was featured in books and magazines worldwide. Ori served in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in Shayetet 13, the IDF naval commandos.
Hofmekler had a lifelong interest in the fitness levels, capacities, and training protocols of ancient Greek and Roman soldiers and sailors. The rowers of the ancient Greek Trireme warships set distance and speed records unmatched to this day. Ori studied deeply the capacities and capabilities of the ancient Roman soldier, men that carried 30% of their bodyweight in armor and weaponry with every step they took.
Ori felt that the physiques and capacities of the ancients were superior to modern, one-dimensional athletic specialist. Ori’s skyrocketing art career ended when, at the height of his artist career he began going blind in one eye and had to give up art or go blind in one eye. Modern renaissance man that he is, Ori turned his full attention to “survival science.” In 1995, Bob Guccione (Penthouse owner) started a fitness magazine and named Ori the editor-in-chief of Mind and Muscle Power magazine.
Ori Hofmekler introduced his diet approach, based on the eating habits of those ancient warriors and sailors. The Warrior Diet was published in 2002. Ori’s contention was that we should eat less, eat less often, and eat organic. Ori felt breakfast was the “worst meal of the day” and that the body needed long periods where no food was ingested to cleanse and self-regulate. Ori introduced the world to the concept of intermittent fasting.
I cohosted a radio show with Ori for two years and learned his diet and exercise approach inside and out. His strategy is genius: let the body cleanse and rectify itself by not eating for 18 to 20 hours a day (with exceptions) and when we do eat, eat less, eat natural and avoid chemicals. Ori feels that precision nutrition needed to be melded with intense exercise.
Ori’s Warrior diet is antithetical to the bodybuilder multiple-meal strategy
Both outlier approaches work – how do you square this circle?
Synthesis; establish a frequency pendulum
One proven effective dietary frequency strategy, the bodybuilding approach, champions eating all the time. Another equally effective dietary strategy, Ori’s intermittent fasting approach, champions eating all the day’s calories within a 4 to 6-hour window. One would think that the synthesis (thesis/antithesis/synthesis) would be a blending of the frequencies: find the common ground between the bodybuilder approach and the Warrior Diet approach.
When one searches for the frequency common ground between the two outliers, the hybrid frequency arrived at is - three square meals a day. Right back where we started at, back to what we sought to get away from initially. Rather than look for hybrids, look for a different definition of synthesis: legislate pendulum-like contrast.
Why not use the intermittent fasting approach until you exhaust progress, grow stale, or simply want a change of pace? What greater frequency contrast could you create than to switch from the intermittent fasting, a small food window strategy, to the bodybuilder approach, a strategy of eating small min-meals throughout the day?
Conversely, if you have been using a multiple meal eating strategy and have grown weary of preparing and consuming 40 + meals a week – what could offer a better contrast than switching to an equally effective, totally opposite, intermittent fasting approach? This type of frequency shift will blast dietary stagnation into smithereens. If you are eating three square meals a day and stagnant, try one of the outlier approaches. A radical shift in meal frequency will jolt the complacent body out of whatever mire it is currently bogged down in.
Feel free to further amplify results by augmenting a dramatic shift in meal frequency with manipulations in food volume and micronutrient content. There is a science to meal frequency that needs to become part of your transformational arsenal. When you eat is nearly as important as what you eat. Don’t neglect or ignore this unmined vein of progress. Switch things up using a pendulum swing between these two frequency extremes. Get out of the bland middle.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.