If You Miss a Meal While Bulking Will You Lose Muscle?

August 5th, 2010 by Paul Johnson

Most bodybuilders are taught either from other bodybuilder gurus or from obsessive compulsive routine and trying to be "hardcore" that they must not ever miss a meal. Its equivalent to a bodybuilding sin. You know the bodybuilding guys were talking about. They practically jump out a window if they are going to miss a meal. They will even plan their vacations or events to make sure they will always get their food at regular intervals. If they miss a meal or two they think their entire weeks progress in the gym will be severely diminished or even reversed. Is it really that big a deal if bodybuilders miss a meal occasionally while bulking?

What happens in the body when you miss a meal

To understand how important each meal is we first have to have a basic understanding of how the body of a bodybuilder reacts to bulking and protein and lost meals. When you are bodybuilding assuming you are getting a meal containing protein and carbs every 3 hours chances are your body has a steady stream of amino acids in the bloodstream. Your glucose levels won't drop too much. This means that your insulin levels will stay in the normal level for most of the 3 hours. When insulin levels start to drop significantly when you go too long without a meal (say 3+ hours) then your Glucagon levels rise. This causes your cortisol levels to rise too. Insulin blocks cortisol and also increases protein synthesis and prevents protein breakdown by up to 50% (University College London 2006 (2006) Proc Physiol Soc 3, C46) Unfortunately cortisol loves to break down protein. If it can't get the amino acids from the blood stream its more likely to get them from your muscles. You enter a catabolic state at that point because when protein synthesis drops and protelysis (protein breakdown) increases you have a net loss of protein from the muscles. This is why dieting often causes substantial muscle loss.

How bad will the muscle loss be from a lost meal?

It depends on how many hours a person is going without a meal, how often they are doing this, what critical times of the day, and if they are trying to make up those lost meals somehow. If your missing a meal within the critical 24 hour window after you have a much bigger impact, since its during this time the protein synthesis is heightened to rebuild muscle. Missing
a meal during the breakfast and early part of the day is more important too. Your metabolism is higher and your body needs more nutrients and it sets your physiology for the rest of the day.

What can we do to minimize muscle loss during lost meal?

If you can't have a full meal, anything with some protein will avoid the muscle loss. If you can't have significant protein, anything to spike your insulin should also dramatically help. Whether it be some candy or a sugar drink. Just spike your insulin and your muscle loss should be minimal or none at all.

Can we make up the lost muscle from a lost meal?

Generally speaking, I don't think its the end of the world if someone misses a meal while bulking as long as they make it up very soon with extra calories. For example, if you missed a 300 calorie meal the evening of your weight training day, but then make up the meal with an extra 300 calories that night or the breakfast the following day you should be ok. If you didn't make up the meal then you probably won't be at a calorie surplus. It's impossible to gain significant muscle without a calorie surplus, so its important you make up the calorie difference to keep you at a surplus.

If you wait too long to make up the meal its a lost cause I believe. For example, lets say you miss breakfast and it was within a 24 hour window of your weight training workout. If you miss the meal and don't make it up during the 24 hour window when your body is primed then you can't grow muscle because the window has passed. To sum it up, when you miss a meal, make sure you make it up within 24 hours of your post weight training workout by adding more calories to meals equal to the lost meal.