How To Set Up Your Diet: #4 Nutrient Timing & Meal Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling

#1 Calorie Setting, #2 Macro Setting, #3 Micros & Water, #4 Nutrient Timing, #5 Supplements

It appeals to us that something as simple as changing the timing of things can have a potent effect. 

People go mad for any short cut to actually putting in some effort and marketers take advantage of this (flash a little bit of science while conveniently not talking about the bigger picture) to sell us on something new.

Any time someone presents you the nutritional importance pyramid upside-down, your BS detector should go off.

The truth: Getting the timing of things right most certainly has favorable effects on body composition, however, if you gloss over the most impactful, foundation levels of your nutrition plan (calorie intake, the macro composition, and the micronutrition) you are wasting your time, money and effort.

Consider the first three stages of the nutrition pyramid the big picture. Now we’re going to look at the fourth stage while trying to not get lost in the meaningless details. Here’s what we’ll cover:

    • How Many Meals You Should Probably Be Eating
    • When To Eat Relative To When You Train
    • Special Considerations for Macro Timing
    • Why You Might Consider Skipping Breakfast
    • Why You Might Want To Consider Calorie/Macro Cycling
    • How to Implement Calorie/Macro Cycling
    • Example Set-ups and Calculations

Notice the wording.

As with this series as a whole, this article is written in the order of importance that each addition will likely benefit you.

This is important to bear in mind because as I mentioned at the very start of this series, adherence is the most important factor in all of this – the best diet is the one you can keep – so please balance the additional complication as you work through each step, with your ability to stick to it.

And by no means feel that you have to implement all of it.

Optimal Meal Frequency – How Many Meals Should I Eat?

  • Suggestion: 2-4 meals when cutting, 3-4 meals when bulking


A meal‘ in this context refers to anything from a snack (protein shake for example) to a real food meal (protein, veggies, fats and carbs). I am not including a low-calorie pre-workout supplement such as Jack3D (whatever is the trend these days), or BCAAs in this definition.

The number or meals you will want to consume is related to the volume of food you are consuming and what time of day you will train.

Meal FrequencyI suggest you eat the minimum number of meals that you can get away with without compromising your goals.

This makes things simpler, both in terms of food preparation and in terms of macro counting for the day. Simpler -> higher adherence rate -> higher long-term success rate.

For those cutting, it can be beneficial psychologically to have fewer meals because you can eat more at each meal. This is one of the benefits of skipping breakfast – enabling larger lunches and dinners. One meal a day is simply not going to be optimal for lean mass retention and also forces people to make poor, calorie dense/highly palatable food choices in order to cram enough calories in a single meal.

For those bulking, it can get to a point where it is not comfortable or practical to eat just two meals a day because of the volume of food that needs to be consumed. Consider splitting your meals into three or four meals, or having liquid meals/snacks. Though there are no likely benefits to eating more than four meals a day, it is perfectly fine to eat more if you wish.

Note: Other than the added complication of it, there are no likely drawbacks to eating more frequently than these recommendations, so if you wish to eat more meals in a day then feel free to do so.

Meal Frequency Guideline Exceptions

Alberto Nunez - Incredible Conditioning
Alberto Nunez Displaying Exceptional Pre-Competition Conditioning

Professionals Looking For An Edge

  • Cutting: 3 meals minimum once they cross the 10% body fat threshold.
  • Bulking: 4 meals or more, fairly evenly spaced throughout the day.

Skipping breakfast can make it easier to burn stubborn fat when dieting, but also marginally increases the risk of muscle mass losses when getting exceptionally lean. This is especially true on a rushed cut, which these guys might need to do if they find themselves on a deadline but not leaning out quickly enough.

Also, there may be marginal benefits to a higher meal frequency (greater spacing of meals throughout the day) for mass gains for these advanced trainees.

Thus, as competitors are looking for every advantage they can get on the stage, they should consider a higher meal frequency and more even spacing throughout the day than the bottom end recommendations above, assuming they have the time to do that.

We’ll come back to this topic later, but you can use this jump link to skip down and read it now if you prefer:

‘To Skip Breakfast Or Not?

Athletes Training Multiple Times A Day

  • In this instance, they should eat as many meals as is necessary.

The two primary concerns here are: i) recovery between workouts (mainly, glycogen replenishment) for the endurance athletes; ii) meeting your calorie requirements for the day but without feeling so full that you feel sick during your training.

Running around on a full stomach isn’t fun. So even for non-athletes, if you’re going to have a kick around in the afternoon then it makes sense to eat less at lunch and have a snack later on that day.

Glycogen depletion requires roughly 90-120 minutes of continuous work on a single muscle group, and you must use those same muscles competitively within the same day need to worry about maximal speed of glycogen restoration.

If you are an endurance athlete, then some quick carbs* after your first workout of the day is a good idea. (*A sports drink or other easily digestible carb.)

If you’re not an endurance athlete there is no need to worry about it.

Anyway, bearing in mind the above, let’s move onto the next section.

Nutrient Timing – When Should I Eat?

  • Nutrient TimingWithin two hours of finishing your training
  • More calories post workout than before
  • Some carbs post workout
  • Not completely fasted


Training‘ refers specifically to purposeful weight training, not random exercise.

Post workout’ refers to the timeframe between when you train and the time you go to bed.

Not completely fasted’ refers to training carried out in the state where there have been one or more meals consumed earlier in the day. BCAA consumption immediately prior to ‘training’ counts as not completely fasted and is a viable option.

There are multiple ways you can set things up, but as long as you keep to these principles then you will be fine. I’ve expanded below with specific suggestions but when it comes to examples, for the sake of brevity, I’ve given the simplest set-up option for that training time only.

Training and Meal Timing Examples

Early Morning Training

Take 10g BCAAs ~10minutes pre-workout, then 10g BCAAs every two hours until you eat your first meal of the day.

Breakfast-skipping example (2 meals):

  • 06:50 10g BCAAs
  • 07:00-08:00 Training
  • 09:00 10g BCAAs
  • 11:00: 10g BCAAs
  • 13:00 Lunch ~50% calories/macros
  • 20:30 Dinner ~50% calories/macros

– A slightly larger dinner than lunch is fine, and vice versa. If you’re eating three meals, a snack in the afternoon with a big lunch and dinner is fine also.

Breakfast example:

  • 06:50 10g BCAAs / 06:00 25g whey shake
  • 07:00-08:00 Training
  • 08:00-09:00 Breakfast ~33% calories/macros
  • 13:00 Lunch ~33% calories/macros
  • 20:30 Dinner ~33% calories/macros

– The meals don’t have to be split into thirds, so if you prefer to have one bigger then the others then please feel free to shift around your meal split.

– Reasons for the BCAAs (and BCAAs vs whey) explained here by Martin Berkhan, who was pretty much the key man in bringing fasted training to the main stream by justifying it with science™.

Morning Training

Breakfast-skipping example (2 meals):

  • 08:50 10g BCAAs
  • 09:00-10:00 Training
  • 11:00: 10g BCAAs
  • 13:00 Lunch ~50% calories/macros
  • 20:30 Dinner ~50% calories/macros

– A slightly larger dinner than lunch is fine, and vice versa. If you’re eating three meals, a snack in the afternoon with a big lunch and dinner is fine also.

Breakfast example:

  • 07:00 Breakfast ~25% calories/macros
  • 09:00-10:00 Training
  • 13:00 Lunch ~35% calories/macros
  • 20:30 Dinner ~40% calories/macros

NB: I’m suggesting a lower calorie intake for breakfast so that you don’t have to train on a full stomach.

Afternoon Training


With late afternoon training the time between the end of training and dinner is greater then 2 hours, so we have a snack.

Breakfast-skipping example:

  • 13:00 Lunch (~35% calories/macros)
  • 17:00-18:00 Training
  • 18:00-18:30 Snack (10-15% calories/macros)
  • 20:30 Dinner (remaining calories/macros)

Breakfast example:

  • 08:00 Breakfast (~30% calories/macros)
  • 13:00 Lunch (~30% calories/macros)
  • 17:00-18:00 Training
  • 18:00-18:30 Snack (10-15% calories/macros)
  • 20:30 Dinner (remaining calories/macros)


With early afternoon training the time between the end of training and dinner is considerably greater then 2 hours, so we have a meal.

Breakfast-skipping example:

  • 13:00 Snack (~20% calories/macros)
  • 15:00-16:00 Training
  • 16:30 Afternoon Meal (20-40% calories/macros)
  • 20:30 Dinner (remaining calories/macros)

Breakfast example:

  • 08:00 Breakfast (~25% calories/macros)
  • 13:00 Snack (~10% calories/macros)
  • 15:00-16:00 Training
  • 16:30 Afternoon Meal (~25-35% calories/macros)
  • 20:30 Dinner (remaining calories/macros)

– NB: The time between the end of training and dinner is considerably greater then 2 hours, so we have the meal.

Evening Training

There is no need to have a snack or shake post workout as the evening meal comes within two hours of the end of training.

Breakfast-skipping example:

  • 13:00 Lunch (~40% calories/macros)
  • 18:00-19:00 Training
  • 20:30 Dinner (~60% calories/macros)

Breakfast example:

  • 08:00 Breakfast (~25-30% calories/macros)
  • 13:00 Lunch (~30% calories/macros)
  • 18:00-19:00 Training
  • 20:30 Dinner (remaining calories/macros)

Special Considerations for Nutrient Timing

Avoid Extreme Macro Partitioning

In the above examples you’ll see that I have suggested generally that you split your macros in the same ratio that you spit your calories. This is because it doesn’t really make any difference.

Despite this you’ll find some fancy ideas out there such as: only eat fats and protein earlier in the day, and only carbs and protein later. – This is not likely to have any nutrient partitioning benefits, and will threaten adherence by making your diet more complicated and restrictive.

Carb TimingSome people find that carbs make them sleepy

If this is you, you can use this to your advantage by positioning your final meal of the day nearer to bed time, or increasing the proportion or carbs in this meal.

  • Breakfast eaters that feel lethargic mid-morning should consider increasing the protein and fat content of their breakfast and reducing carb intake. Simply adjust the latter meals of the day to maintain the macro balance overall. (Of course, some people simply love a lot of carbs at breakfast and if that’s you, you feel good afterwards, and you can make it fit your macros for the day then go for it.
  • A lot of carbs at lunch may cause afternoon lethargy, that feeling of wanting to pass out at your desk. If that’s the case then try increasing veg intake or changing your choice of carb (swap that box of cereal for some potatoes or pasta for example) at lunch. Or try shifting your intake of carbs so that you have more later in the day. You could also consider breaking your lunch into two meals – a smaller lunch and an afternoon smack.

Large Meals Make You Sweat? 

  • This is not so much of a problem during the day but a small minority of people find they have issues getting off to sleep at night. You could try repositioning your carb intake to have less in the last meal of the day, eat the last meal of the day earlier, or eat less total calories in that last meal (more in an earlier meal).

Clearing Up the Nonsense Surrounding Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting NonsenseThe increasing popularity of Intermittent Fasting has led to a flood of new gurus looking to profit from it and the proliferation of nonsense such as:

“Calories don’t matter as long as you eat within an 8 hour window,”

“Your body actually wants you to gorge on junk food in the evenings after your workouts as it will shuttle the nutrients into the muscle and not be stored as fat!”

These people who make a living by selling books and e-books don’t live in the real world where they are actually held accountable to client results, so it’s very easy for them to talk utter bullshit.

I often use IF with my clients in helping them get very lean because I think it has advantages for achieving this. However, as the order of this series of articles should tell you, the IF wasn’t the deal-breaker, they would have likely gotten good results without it.

Should I Skip Breakfast Or Not?

Why You Might Consider Skipping Breakfast

1. Simplicity with meal planning and counting macros.

2. Increased control over hunger, and greater satisfaction from bigger meals. If you have previously been eating breakfast it will take around 4-7 days for your body to get used to the new meal pattern and hunger pangs in the morning to subside.

3. Potential to help oxidise more stubborn fat. – This is only relevant to those that are (or have gotten) lean to the point of visible abs, and a looking to get completely shredded. (This is why cardio is rarely needed with a well executed IF protocol in my experience, though I must point out that there is little clinical evidence to support this yet.)

Further reading: Intermittent Fasting and Stubborn Body Fat – Leangains.com

Why You Might Not Want To Skip Breakfast

1. IF increases the risk of muscle losses.

This is only really a concern when looking to get to exceptionally lean levels of body fat like you see below or even leaner. As long as you have your calorie intake and macros set up right as per this guide.

Intermittent Fasting - No Cardio - Shredded Abs

The leaner we get, the greater the potential for muscle loss with a reduced meal frequency. It’s important to put this in perspective and weigh up the pros and cons.

If you eat a greater meal frequency and spread your meals further across the day instead of skipping breakfast, your risk of muscle mass losses is minimised, but you add in more complication to your diet. – Meal preparation takes more time, macro counting is incrementally harder, and you likely have to add in cardio earlier to get shredded lean.

The greater the calorie deficit and the leaner you are, the greater the risk of muscle loss. But if you take things slow and steady then the risk is small.

I’ve coached over 1000 people with the majority of them choosing to skip breakfast and I can’t say I have noticed it causing any lean tissue losses.

Consider also that the clients you see in the picture above skipped breakfast, ate twice a day, and did not use any cardio to get into that condition. I can’t say that we detected any muscle mass losses there either.

However, it’s important to consider that they were recreational trainees without a deadline, not professional or serious amateur competitors looking to get any potential possible edge over the competition. In that case it would be better to go with the more conservative approach and have a higher meal frequency (assuming they have the time and will to do it). Also, if someone is in a rush to get into stage ready condition the deficit they will need will be higher than ideal, so a greater meal frequency should be considered so that they stand a better chance of holding onto the muscle mass.

2. Greater meal frequency/meal spacing throughout the day may lead to more muscle growth when bulking

I’d emphasise that this is marginal, and most people naturally find themselves forced to eat more then just two meals a day when bulking anyway.

Breakfast Skipping

Final Points On Breakfast Skipping

If you try skipping breakfast a few times and either don’t like it, feel good doing it, or simply feel much better when eating breakfast… then eat breakfast!

If you have a history of disordered eating then you probably shouldn’t be doing any form of fasting as it can be used as an excuse legitimise your behaviour.

I’ll end this with a quote from Alan Aragon, as I think it sums up the attitude most people would benefit from taking when it comes to their nutrition:

“In the process of obsessively seeking out the “perfect” foods, food timing, food combinations (and separations), and food avoidance, the big picture gets buried in the meaningless details.” Alan Aragon, from the AARR, Feb 2009.

RippedBody.jp Results - Katsu
Japanese client Katsu winning his class. He also skipped breakfast, ate just two meals a day and didn’t do any cardio.

Skip back up to the Meal Frequency Exceptions section.

Calorie and Macro Cycling – Worth Considering?

We are now getting into the realms of the hypothetical – there is little solid evidence of the benefits to calorie and macro cycling, as there is very little research on this topic at all.

One clear benefit of calorie and macro cycling is that it can bring greater adherence by increasing variety in our diets. However, for some people this will be a distinct disadvantage, as the additional complication will threaten their diet adherence. (A stressed-out, overwhelmed beginner would do well to skip this part for now until the more important habits are established.)

I do think that there are some benefits to calorie and macro cycling beyond just the adherence factors, but as this is another complication to sell people on, you’ll find the supposed benefits of macro cycling completely overblown in many articles on the internet.


Calorie cycling’ is the purposeful increase and decrease of  calorie intake relative to the days that you train, while maintaining the calorie balance for the week.

Macro cycling’ is the purposeful repositioning of certain macronutrients across your training week – with a goal to improve body composition, training effect or performance – while maintaining the macronutrient balance for the week.

Put another way, calorie cycling is eating more on your training days than your rest days, when your energy demands are higher.

Macro cycling has two common forms. The first being eating more carbs and less fat on your training days, and less carbs and more fats on your rest days (as with Martin Berkhan’s Leangains). The second being strategic carb refeeds, usually every 4-10 days, with general low carb dieting (the most famous/pure example being Lyle Mcdonald’s cyclical ketogenic diet CKD).

The idea is that by strategically increasing or decreasing the intake of certain macronutrients on certain days of the week relative to training one can get nutrient partitioning benefits that will positively impact recovery and growth, as well as having favourable hormonal benefits that will aid in fat loss.

The difference is mainly in the extent of the carb refeeds. The Leangains style calls for a more controlled carb refeed every training day, Lyle’s for more of a splurge, with the tradeoff being heavier restrictions on carbs at other times.

We’re going to put aside Lyle’s CKD aside for now and focus on the less restrictive style.

How to Implement Calorie and Macro Cycling

Calculating the Calorie Split

You want to give yourself more calories on your training days, less on your rest days. How much? Try anywhere from a 25% to a 50% difference between the two days. Don’t go over this or you’ll negatively impact recovery due to the especially low intake on the rest day.

Training 3-4 Days A Week? – Use This Easy Math Version

If you’re fine with not getting too hung up on the actual percentage, and follow Martin’s general guidelines of training three days a week, then here’s a simple way of going about this.

Step 1. Decide how much you’d like the calorie split to be.

Let’s say we choose ~40%.

Step 2. Add calories to the daily energy intake (calculated in #1 Calories)for the training day and subtract for the rest day.

If energy needs were calculated to be 2500kCal, then a good approximation is to take half of the 40%, (20%) and add that to get your training day calories, 3000kCal (2500×1.2), and subtract that to get your rest day calories, 2000kCal (2500×0.8).

Step 3. Adjust to maintain the calorie intake target for the week.

With fewer training days than rest days, with the above simplified calculation you’re going to be a little under calories for the week. We must maintain the energy balance for the week so we need to adjust.

Our target energy intake for the week is 17,500kCal (2500×7).

With three training days we only consume 17,000kCal (3000×3 + 2000×4), which is short by 500kCal. So the easiest thing to do would be to add ~71kCal (500/7) to your training and rest day calorie targets and not worry about the slight gap in the percentage math.

Training Day Target Intake: 3071kCal, Rest Day Target Intake: 2071kCal

Training More Or Less Frequently?

In this case the math above isn’t going to work very well.

  • If you are training more than 4 days a week, see the next part in the grey box.
  • If you are training just once or twice a week it’s probably not worth bothering with calorie and macro cycling just yet. The most impactful thing you could do for your physique is to add another day of training into your schedule, when you have time to do so. Skip the next part for now.

Training More Than 4 Days A Week?

I often get asked how people can adjust their intake based on more or less training. And though I don’t generally recommend this amount of training for anyone that is not an advanced-intermediate trainee, I want to make this guide accessible to anyone, so here we go.

The catch is that you’ll need to do a little math. But I spent a couple of hours reverse engineering these formulae for you from what jives with my experience.

We know: Number of training days a week (N),  average daily calories (A), target percentage difference expressed as a decimal (D).

We want to find: Training-day calories (y), Rest-day calories (x).

1- x/y = D
Ny + (7-N)x = 7A

Example: Three days training a week, 2500kCal calculated energy requirement per day, 30% target split. (N = 3, A = 2500, D = 0.3)

1- x/y = 0.3, 0.7 = x/y, x = 0.7y
3y + 7-3x = 7(2500)

Resolving for y: 3y + 4*0.7y = 17500, 5.8y = 17500, y = 3017
Resolving for x: x = 0.7(3017) = 2112

So, Training day intake = 3017kCal, Rest day intake = 2112kCal

  • Thanks to Michael Friedrich for making this simple spreadsheet Calorie Split Calculator(This will pop put those numbers above for you without you needing to do the math.)
  • Thanks to Paul S. from Washington DC for this Full Macro Calculator.

To use those calculators you will need to have decided your target average daily calorie intake macro intake accordingly to the guidelines in #1 Calories and #2 Macros, and I still suggest you read the guidelines in the next section anyway.

Calculating the Macro Split

In the macro part you will have calculated/set your daily average protein and fat needs, and carbs will have been the balancing figure.

  • Significantly more carbs should be co
  • nsumed on the training days than the rest days.
  • Significantly less fat should be consumed on the training days than the rest days.
  • Fat intake must not go below the calculated daily target on average for the week.

For the sake of simplicity we’ll keep protein intake the same for each day for now.

Continuing the example from above,

  • Let’s round those calorie numbers to 3000 and 2100.
  • Let’s say the protein intake was calculated to be 160g each day – that’s 640kCal.
  • We’re left with 2360kCal on the training days and 1460kCal on rest days to fill with carbs or fat.

(1g of protein & carbohydrate = 4kCal, fat = 9kCal)

Let’s say that the minimum average fat intake is 60g, which is 540kCal. That leaves us with 455g of carbs for the training day, 230g for the rest day.

The problem with that is that food choices can get quite limiting with such a low fat intake. You can swap out a good portion of those carbs on the rest day for fats as fits your taste preferences. Some guidelines (not rules):

  • You can go a little lower with the fat intake on training days if you wish as long as the average fat intake across the week does not go below your calculated minimum.
  • You can go a higher with protein intake if you wish.
  • You can drop the protein intake on the training day by around 10% if you wish.

So, taking preferences into account we may end up with the following:

Training Day Macros –  Protein 160g, Carbs 455g, Fat 60g
Rest Day Macros – Protein 180g, Carbs 97.5g, Fat 110g

Note: It is normal in most instances to consume significantly fewer carbs when cutting due to the lower energy intake.

Putting That All Together – Continuing Our Two Examples

We’ll continue with our examples of Tom and Bob, whose calorie requirements and macros we calculated in the first and Tom

Cut/Moderate Calorie Deficit – 90kg, 20% Body fat.
Daily Calorie Intake: 2152kCal.
Daily Macros: 180g Protein, 80g Fat, 180g Carbs


  • Tom chooses to train fasted @09:00. He trains 3 days a week.
  • He takes 10g of BCAAs @08:50, and again @11:00.
  • He eats 50% of his macros at lunch @12:00, 50% at dinner @19:30 on both training and rest days.

Calorie Intake

  • Training day: 2152*1.2 = 2582kCal
  • Rest day: 2152*0.8 = 1722kCal

Macro Split

  • For simplicity, Tom chooses to eat 180g of protein each day. This leaves 1862kCal (2582-180*4) and 1002kCal (1722-180*4) to be split between carbs and fats for the training and rest days respectively.
  • Tom has decided to eat 80g of fat per day on average, he chooses to have 60g on the training days, 100g on the rest days. This leaves 1322kCal (1862-60*9) and 102kCal (1002-100*9) for carbs on the training and rest days respectively.
  • Tom therefore eats 330g (1322/4) of carbs on the training days, 25g (102/4) of carbs on the rest days.

Tom’s Training Day Macros: 180g Protein, 60g Fat, 330g Carbs
Tom’s Rest Day Macros: 180g Protein, 100g Fat, 25g Carbs*

(*From starchy sources. Fibrous sources like the majority of vegetables are being purposefully ignored.)

• Related: How To Count Macros – A More Flexible Approach


Bulk/Calorie Surplus – 75kg, 10% Body fat
Daily Calorie Intake: 3141kCal
Daily Macros: 150g Protein, 87.5g Fat, 440g Carbs


  • Bob chooses to train in the evening @19:00. He trains 4 days a week.
  • He struggles to get all his food in two meals, especially on training days, and prefers to eat mid-morning.
  • He eats 25% of his macros in a mid-morning snack @10:00, 35% of his macros for a late lunch @15:00, and ~40% of his macros for dinner after training @20:00.

Calorie Intake

  • Training day: 3141*1.2 = 3769kCal
  • Rest day: 3141*0.8 = 2512kCal

Macro Split

  • For simplicity, Bob chooses to eat 150g of protein each day also. This leaves 3169kCal (3769-150*4) and 1912kCal (2512-150*4) to be split between carbs and fats for the training and rest days respectively.
  • Bob has decided to eat 87.5g of fat per day on average, he chooses to have 65g on the training days, 110g on the rest days. This leaves 2584kCal (3169-65*9) and 922kCal (1912-110*9) for carbs on the training and rest days respectively.
  • Bob therefore eats ~645g (2584/4) of carbs on the training days, 230g (922/4) of carbs on the rest days.

Bob’s Training Day Macros: 150g Protein, 65g Fat, 645g Carbs
Bob’s Rest Day Macros: 150g Protein, 110g Fat, 230g Carbs*

  • Bob struggles to eat so many carbs on his training days, and he also finds it difficult to keep fat intake that low. He increases fat intake to 75g, increases protein intake to 200g, and reduces the carb allotment to maintain the same energy balance. This is a good decision, ease of implementation beats out any small difference this will bring to results. (Which will be minimal, if any.)

Bob’s Modified Training Day Macros: 200g Protein, 75g Fat, 575g Carbs
Bob’s Modified Rest Day Macros: 150g Protein, 110g Fat, 230g Carbs

Nutrient Timing FAQ

So you don’t think that IF and calorie/macro cycling is important then?

That is not what I am saying. Importance comes with context, there is no blanket black and white statement that can be made. Please go back and re-read the above.

Researcher and nutrient timing specialist Alan Aragon in his monthly Research Review suggested a minimum of 3 meals a day as optimal. Why do you say two is fine?

This recommendation ignores the option of fasted training with BCAAs. It was based on a meal being eaten sometime before working out, some time within a couple of hours after, and one more meal either earlier or later in the day as being the minimum optimal nutrition & protein spacing/frequency.

Recently (14th January 2015) Alan Aragon, Brad Schoenfeld, and James Krieger’s, ‘Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis‘ was published. I’d encourage you to read it all, but here are the concluding comments, the bolding is mine:

Although the initial results of the present meta-analysis suggest a potential benefit of increased feeding frequencies for enhancing body composition, these findings need to be interpreted with circumspection. The positive relationship between the number of meals consumed and improvements in body composition were largely attributed to the results of a single study, calling into question the veracity of results. Moreover, the small difference in magnitude of effect between frequencies suggests that any potential benefits, if they exist at all, have limited practical significance. Given that adherence is of primary concern with respect to nutritional prescription, the number of daily meals consumed should come down to personal choice if one’s goal is to improve body composition.

There is emerging evidence that an irregular eating pattern can have negative metabolic effects, at least in the absence of formal exercise. This gives credence to the hypothesis that it may be beneficial to stay consistent with a given meal frequency throughout the week.

As for fasted training with BCAAs, is this more or less optimal than fed training?

For the same reasons as with the morning fasts it can help get through to stubborn fat for sure, this time by increasing blood flow to those stubborn fat areas.

Alan tends to constrain his thoughts by what has been proven/shown in the research, which when it comes to fasted training there is little and frankly, more is needed. I would guess this why Alan made no direct recommendation or condemnation of fasted training.

If there is anything to the added “anabolic sensitivity” of fasting, the IF strategy may well be taking advantage of it. It’s really too soon to say if the IF approach to eating is really superior or just a convenient way of dieting, but it does get results. (December 2009 issue of the AARR, guest analysis of the study ‘Increased p70s6k phosphorylation during intake of a protein-carbohydrate drink following resistance exercise in the fasted state.)

• Further reading on fasted training here, and here, over at Leangains.com.

Why do you say keep an even split of macros across the meals?

At the moment I don’t feel that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that there are any benefits significant enough to make the additional complication worth it.  Exceptions are covered in the ‘Special Considerations for Nutrient Timing‘ section.

You’ve given a range of figures for the calorie split between training and rest days. Is there an optimal figure?

From reading through old forum posts on Bodyrecomposition.com (probably the best nutrition information website in the world) we know that Martin Berkhan experimented with very large differences in his rest and training day energy intake initially when forming his Leangains system. I don’t know if he actually formulated specific guidelines, I’d imagine they’d depend on body fat percentage, calorie deficit/surplus relative to maintenance, diet history, carb tolerance, preference and recovery.

Regarding that last point on recovery, it is easy to imagine that having too large a difference in your training day and rest day intake would not be optimal.

It’s quite geeky topic that isn’t worth worrying about to most, but I’d find a roundtable with thoughts from Alan, Lyle, and Martin fascinating, particularly for the latter’s extensive client experience with such narrowly controlled variables.

Why the recommendation to eat a meal within two hours of ending your workout?

There is a definite window of opportunity for nutrient partitioning in the post workout window. This is not merely an hour as once thought (see “The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis,” Brad Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon and James Krieger), and while there may be an effect lasting 48 hours that you have read about, this is likely going to be on a sliding scale rather than any set cut off point. (Kind of like if I kick you in the nuts, the pain will fade over time.)

The recommendation of two hours is a precautionary one. It can be a full meal or a snack.

Early-morning fasted training is the exception, where you can delay eating with BCAAs post workout.

Layne Norton’s talks about advantages of more frequent meals/BCAA supplementation between meals. What are your thoughts?

Firstly, let me just say that Layne Norton seems to me to be one of the good guys in the industry, highly knowledgable, and with a very good track record with clients. It’s important to note that Layne works with competitive bodybuilders as his recommendations should be taken in that context.

Someone pointed out that he has said that 1-3 meals is not optimal. Of course, it depends on how one defines ‘optimal’. I would define it as getting a balance between simplicity and complication so that the non-competitor can stick to their nutrition plan long-term, but still reap >95% of the benefits without going fully anal about things.

Layne has also invested a lot of time and effort researching into the effect of BCAAs so it’s natural for him to be a little biased towards their use. The results of the research he has done so far, in the end, showed that the effect of BCAA dosing between meals was small/negligible.

Are you claiming the timing of carbs post-workout or pre-workout doesn’t make a difference?

It’s not quite as blanket a statement as that, but in general I don’t believe it matters a great deal for recreational trainees.

The exceptions being in the “Special Considerations for Macro Timing” part, and by definition, athletes, which I have spoken about briefly above also. There will be some individual response of course, some people will find that they perform better in their workouts with more or less carbs pre workout. There is not a one size fits all answer.

When I train fasted in the morning I don’t feel as strong/powerful. Is this a sign that I should eat something before I train?

I’m going to assume here that you have come to this conclusion based on observation of your energy in multiple, successive training sessions, under the same conditions (time, sleep, diet, stress) with sufficient sleep and no extra-stressful events recently. – I mention this because some people have a single bad session and jump to the conclusion that it’s the training time rather then something else.

I’m also assuming you are a recreational trainee, not an athlete, are not having multiple training sessions a day, are not heavily restricting carbs (relatively speaking), and are not in a highly active job (hence the word relative).

Your muscle’s fuel stores (glycogen stores) are like a gas tank in your car – you fill them up and if you come back even a day later, the energy is still there. Assuming you’re not on a highly carb restricted diet and you’re not highly active outside of your gym work (job or otherwise), then training fasted shouldn’t be a problem.

Some people find that they feel stronger when they have had something to eat before they train, some find exactly the opposite, likely due to the increase in catecholamines – epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and dopamine – in the system when training fasted. In some of these cases it’s going to come down to the placebo effect, i.e. “I worry that I can’t, therefore, I can’t.” The placebo effect is very real and needs to be taken into account.

To have any non-placebo, real physiological effect we’re talking a carby meal at least 2 hours before the training, or a sugary drink ~1 hour before. Adjust the rest of your macros throughout the day accordingly.

Some people just can’t do well with fasted training however. So try it out, see how you feel.


Onto the final and most overrated part of the pyramid importance then.

Prefer to keep with the web version? #5 Supplements →

Questions welcomed in the comments. Kindly refrain from requesting that I calculate or confirm your own personal calculations, they will be deleted.

– Andy


Please keep questions on topic, write clearly, concisely, and don't post diet calculations.


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Hi Andy, thanks for all the work you’ve put into this site. I have a question about calorie cycling, and should mention I’m female in case hormones are relevant. I’ve been looking into cycling for what might be a strange reason: on days I lift, I lift heavier fully fasted and have far less desire to eat the rest of the day after I lift. (This is true of any day on which I do a lot of physical activity, even walking: my appetite is far less than it is otherwise, as though exercise is an appetite suppressant for me.) Conversely, the day AFTER a weightlifting class, I’m ravenous and would gladly eat 15-20% more calories. Should I force equal/higher calories on workout days, or go with instinct?

Penny Magoulas
Penny Magoulas

Training vs Resting day splits. Hi Andy, I am a female, 87kg, LBW 58.5kg,approx 32% body fat. Im using the formula for the resting vs training calorie split using a 10% to 20% change and also trying to workout how to adjust my fat. My daily calorie is 1780 with protein 133g. Ive tried to use your formula but its giving me less calories on training day than it is for rest day. IM not sure if its just me or the formula is the other way around? My daily fats are 79g. Are you able to advise with a stable protein what my calorie on training days should be vs rest days as well as fats (i train 5 days a week, 2 rest days. ) Many thanks


Hi Andy Im 45 years old and would like to know if I can follow the macros that your calculator put out? I have read and heard elsewhere that when you are over 40, protein intake should be higher and that carbs need to be lower than when I was 20 or 30? according to your spreadsheet I should only have 144grams of protein and a whopping 400 in carbs


Thanks for the reply. I will try to go with lower protein and higher carb. That also make room for a broader food selection 🙂


Hi Andy,
I was reading through your setup guide and I have a question regarding calorie and macro cycling:

If the idea behind consuming more carbs on your training days is to have more energy available to fuel your workouts, does it still make sense to implement that if you train early in the morning on a small breakfast? (currently bulking, I eat a small solid breakfast and a pre-workout shake to keep myself from going hungry and to get some amino acids and carbs into my blood for the workout).

In this scenario, the vast majority of your carbs come after the workout that they are supposed to fuel?
Are there perhaps other potential nutrient partioning benefits to this approach?


If my “training” is CrossFit 3-4x a week then per your guidelines and the article you linked, I’m not really training…can I still have effective results using these timing plans?


Hi Andy, how would my meal timing look if I train at noon and then my lunch is after my workout, like 13:30? I tried to read through the comments to make sure you hadn’t answered this already but didn’t see it. I eat breakfast…I can’t go without or I get really hangry ha

Thanks for all of the great info man!


Thanks so much for the quick reply. So 30-60 min before my lunch will be during my workout, so are you saying a whey shake during my workout?


Haha no worries, thanks for the clarification, makes sense.


So then outside of that, keep the rest of the meals at about 33% cals/macros?

Jimmy Angelo
Jimmy Angelo

Hey Andy,
I was reading through the macro meal timing frequency article and i had a question in regards to protein consumption/digestion.

For arguments sake lets say protein macros are 200g per a day. If you skip breakfast your eating roughly 65g of protein for first meal, 35g for post workout and 100g of protein for your third meal. Can your body get the benefits of that much protein in one sitting?

I have heard that 100g might be a bit much to digest. With that being said what i hear has no science backing, so just wanted to get your thoughts.



Ajgar Nevashi
Ajgar Nevashi

Hi Andy,
Your pyramid is great, really puts priorities into perspective.
On the same note(related to meal timing), if you could choose either:
(1) A fasting window of 8-9 hours, but pushing the first meal of the day to 5-6 hours post-workout(No BCAAs), or
(2) A fasting window of 12-13 hours, but eating the first meal of the day 2-3 hours post-workout
Which one would you choose? If you were 27% body fat and cutting?
Or does it not really matter?

Ajgar Nevashi
Ajgar Nevashi

So if I take the pre-workout(6 am workout) whey, I can push my post-workout meal to 5 hours after my workout, and consider that meal as the fast-breaker meal of the day? Thank you, yes, the cost/availability of the BCAAs is an issue.

toby erikson
toby erikson

Hello Again Andy,

Again a check-in for clarification as I internalize things learned so far, and I think about new issues. This time I wanted to ask about mixing feeding/training schedules.

Recently I changed from 3 days/wk afternoon training (morning fast, lunch, afternoon training, dinner), to doing this only 2 days/wk and then my 3rd day of the week doing fasted training in the morning (bcca, fasted training, bcaa, lunch dinner). I have done this mainly because i like to have fridays and saturdays “free” and the gym I go to is only open in the mornings on the weekend (also i enjoy the peace of an empty gym on Sunday with no meatheads hurling used weights across the room at the end of sets in a display of manliness). I understand what you explained to me in another topic about avoiding an “all or nothing” mindset, and am sure it applies here too… BUT i want to make sure i am taking advantage of best practices.

So my question is: does having my training/feeding approaches not the same every time cause any issues that could be impeding my progress? (ie. Would i be better off just sticking to training after lunch in afternoons every time? (adherence as an issue being removed from the equation).

Thank in advance for your continued support and advice

toby erikson
toby erikson

🙁 fair enough

Thanks anyway

toby erikson
toby erikson

Hi Andy,

Last section you find me asking questions on today… Some questions have been touched on lightly in FAQ/previous comments, but i feel my questions are different enough that they warrant a separate look (although, you will be the judge of that).

1. You mention meal timing within a 2 hr window after training. Can i ask why the difference when dealing with BCAA’s? In your examples you have 10g of BCAA’s taken 1 hour after finishing training.

2. Going to the gym for bit now, I get tons of people trying to school me in everything. I’m sticking to my guns (or rather your guns) as best i can, but hearing things over and over to your face wears a fella down. One of the biggest things i am being hammered with is: BCAA’s MUST be taken 10 mins before EVERY workout, and 10 mins after EVERY workout to allow for optimal recovery (even if a meal comes within 2 hours of finishing). Is there any truth/benefit to this?

3. Finally, if i do take BCAA’s, does this count to your daily calories/macros?

My sincerest thanks as always for all your help

toby erikson
toby erikson

Thanks very much for all you help Andy.
Much appreciated.


Just a quick sneaky addiional question:

Would you have any idea how much protein is in BCAAs (per gram, or per 10g scoop)? Its not written on the tub, and searching on the internet just links me to various trolls with varying opions getting into pissing contests…

Would like to get you take on it, because i feel like i can trust what you say. I want to count the BCAAs against my macros (protein, fats and carbs) if i can get that info.


To avoid any misunderstanding perhaps i should clarify that i am askin about grams of protein in grams of BCAA powder (just like you get lets say 75g of protein in 100g of whey etc.)

toby erikson
toby erikson

Thanks again 🙂

toby erikson
toby erikson

Hi Andy,

I am fasting in the morning, 40% calories/macros @ lunch, training @ 17:00, 60% calories/macros at dinner (keeping the feeding and training in an 8 hour window, with dinner being within 2 hours of end of training). On rest days its the same, but with no training obviously. Mon/Wed/Fri training cycle.

However, intuitively I cant help but feel that perhaps on the rest days the lunch to dinner calorie/macro partitioning would be better suited to a 60% @ lunch and 40% @ dinner split (the exception being Sunday, which is far removed from the training done on friday). Is there any merit to this, or am I just trying to be cute and overthinking things?

toby erikson
toby erikson

so generally speaking, just the daily total for calories/macross is the thing that counts?

toby erikson
toby erikson

OK, thanks for the clarification. And all your help in general.


Hi Andy,

I prefer to train at night from 11 till midnight, so how would you structure the meals? I’m not too keen on having a heavy meal just before i sleep so i was wondering if there’s any solution to this dilemma of mine. Thanks in advance.



First off thanks for all the no-nonsense advice on here. I’ve gotten all your materials and they are great. However, there is one thing I have not been able to find neither on the site, in the material or in comments:

Have you ever had a trainee just eat once a day? I am doing something along those lines these days as I really prefer to work out fasted, and can’t work out until after work (“evening” in your terminology). Thus I end up with an eating window that is basically one long meal from, say, 19.00 to 21.00 or so. And I just keep it the same on rest days.

Any experience with this?




Hi Andy, how does the caloric and macro cycling scheme works for those who train 5-6 days per week?


Hi Andy – Before my two questions, just want to compliment the macro spreadsheet you provided. It’s been tremendously helpful to me.

1. On “the complete guide to setting up your diet”, you said to eat “Within two hours of finishing your training”, but in the “early morning, breakfast-skipping example”, you have the client train from 7am – 8am, take BCAA’s every two hours, and then eat at 1pm. So do BCAA’s count as eating within two hours of your training, then?

2. When eating within two hours after training, do we count from the time we start, or the time we finish? On the “morning training, breakfast example” you have the client 9-10 and then he doesn’t eat lunch til 1pm. Isn’t that a 3-4 hour wait?

Huge fan, just a bit confused. Thanks!


Whoops! Clearly I did. Thanks!


Hello Andy! Hope you are well Buddy. I’m preparing for a bodybuilding competition and it will be great if you could help me with my confusions 🙂
1) Read the section to skip or not to skip the breakfast, I enjoy skipping breakfast and have my breakfast around 1.30 and train fasted with bcaa’s pre and post workout and every 2 hours if delaying breakfast further. My body fat is somewhere around 10
% atm.I have read somewhere that there are lots of benefits of fasting like increased GH Hormone etc.I want to continue fasting even when I’m getting down to 5%.Is it possible to fast and keep muscle mass while getting ripped?
2) So its 10gm bcaa pre and post.I don’t want to use xtend,too expensive for me. If i am using pills it says 500mgL- Leucine,250mg L-Isoleucine and 250mg L-Valine per 2 pills so this means 10gm bcaas in total, right? I shpuld be taking 2 pills pre and post.
Appreciate your advice and keep up the good work.


Thanks Andy for clarification. I train fasted every morning because i can life better while fasting and much easy to prepare my food for the day. Are bcaa’s really necessary pre and post?Can i just train without them and break my fast at normal time i.e 2 hours after training

Gaddiel Pizarro
Gaddiel Pizarro

Do you have to bulk using the 16/8 fasting?
So far I know you have to fallow the 16/8 for cutti ng but what about bulking. Do i have to follow it to see the any changes?


What do you think about one meal by day (fasting 24 hours) following your rules about macros and calories?


Thank you Andy ! =) You are a rock star ! =)

Stephen G
Stephen G

I notice you eat after training.
I train late at night and sometimes don’t feel like eating, if I’m hitting my macros before training is this ok?


Hi Andy,

Unbelievably useful guide and i appreciate you putting it together.

1. My question is what calorie intake figure do you determine the calorie spit on.
For instance if i my TDEE was 2,700 is that the figure i do the split on? Or if i was looking to bulk and and my new calorie intake was 3000 is that the figure i do split on?

2.To touch on a comment i read earlier, eating 450g of carbs is tough for me trying to get it all from Brown Rice, potato etc, are fruit juices acceptable even though they lack the fibre and have a higher sugar content?

3. Is the splitting calories/macros etc only for the IF or can you spread this out across the entire day for similar if not optimum results?

I really any advice you can give.


Adam 🙂


Hi Andy, thanks for your quick response.

Can i clarify your answer on Q1: you said “You split the calorie intake based around the calculation of appropriate average daily energy intake you made in part 1”

Is the “appropriate average daily energy intake” the same figure as my TDEE (i.e maintenance) =2700cals or is it my TDEE +~300cals (i.e bulk) = ~3000cals.
I’m hoping for the former as the thought of consuming near 600g carbs is making me question my manhood.
On that note do you have any tips on how to intake a large amount of carbs without resorting to gaining shakes?

Also on Q2. what context would it not be okay?

Thanks again in advance.


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