Meal Frequency vs. Consistency

So far, we've looked at where you want to go on this journey, and dug into some deeper motivation to keep you on track when things get tough.  Today, we're going to change gears a little, and look at something a little less emotional that you can put into practice - meal timing.

Dispelling The Myth Of
Frequent, Smaller Meals

Before we go further, I want to dispel a very commonly accepted myth when it comes to nutrition for fat loss.

For many, many years, the generally-accepted practice in the fat loss, physique and sports nutrition fields when it came to meal frequency was that people should eat multiple small meals throughout the day, rather than the traditional "3 square meals" of the olden days.  A number of seemingly plausible reasons were given for why this was the optimal way of doing things, but really it came down to two main concepts:

  • More frequent meals to keep your metabolism "revved up" all the time
  • Smaller meals to keep insulin spikes smaller, keep blood sugar more stable and reduce fat storage

Great in theory, but what was really behind all of this?

The frequent, smaller meals idea really originated in the realm of bodybuilding, and it came about for a totally different reason than either of the above.  To put on a lot of lean muscle mass, bodybuilders need to eat a lot of food...I mean A LOT!  Serious bodybuilders train for hours per day, so they need food to fuel them and help them recover from workouts, as well as to gain muscle.  The common bodybuilding diet way back when was enormous amounts of meat and large quantities of starchy carbohydrates (rice, pasta, etc.) when trying to bulk up - so much food, in fact, that it was difficult to consume in just three meals per day, so instead, they broke it up into multiple smaller meals to keep it manageable.

Along the way, the (somewhat mistaken) idea gained prominence that taking in protein more frequently would keep more of the amino acids crucial to building muscle available to the body throughout the day, thereby resulting in more muscle.  This then also led to the idea that, if they could manage to take in that enormous volume of food and be lean, then the multiple meals thing must be the secret (never mind the hours of daily exercise - that would be too obvious an answer).

When the fitness and weight loss industry really started to take off in the late 70's and 80's, the "gurus" looked around and thought, "Hey, those bodybuilder guys are really lean.  What's their secret?"  From there, it all kind of snowballed, and we ended up with the bodybuilders' eating plan as the "optimal" eating plan for a lean physique.  Never mind that few people actually wanted to look like bodybuilders, and they certainly had no interest in training hours per day like they did.

It also just happened to work well with the diet fad of the time (ultra low fat, high carb), since the carb crazy intake resulted in big blood sugar and insulin spikes if you ate less frequently.  As ever, the research was tailored towards the fads and trends of the day, so frequent, smaller meals also became the recommendation from the medical side of things to compensate for what we know now were poor dietary intake recommendations to begin with.

So, the frequent smaller meals thing is not some kind of secret sauce - it's just a logical adaptation to the need to eat an enormous quantity of food to support multiple hours of daily training.

What Really Matters

The really important thing when it comes to meal timing/frequency is to find a routine that works for you and your life, and to apply that consistently, day in, day out.  If it doesn't fit into your life, you're not going to be able to stick with it long-term, and if you can't stick with it long-term, you will fail.

Now, I don't know about you, but for me, trying to prepare, plan for, and fit in six meals a day is a major pain in the ass.  Between work, training and family, I only really seem to have about three or four windows throughout the day when I have time to actually sit down and enjoy a proper meal.

Thankfully, while many have had a lot of success with it, we know that six meals per day is not necessary for best results.  In fact, people have been very successful in attaining and maintaining fit physiques on anything from 6 meals per day all the way down to 1 meal per day.  What matters more than meal frequency, according to the most current research, is consistency - eating your meals at the same times each day.

If eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same times each day works for you, then you can be successful with that.  One of my fittest-looking past clients maintained a body fat percentage in the low teens (verified by DXA scan) without any special dietary guidance, just by being active every day and eating his "3 square meals" at the same times every day, like clockwork.  We literally could set the clocks in the gym based on when he would arrive for training, he was that regular in his routine.

Others have had great success with the current trend of intermittent fasting, which is really a fancy way of saying "skipping breakfast" - I.E. they eat lunch and dinner at the same times each day, and don't eat outside that time window.

How we'll make your meal frequency work for you as we go through the process is by tailoring your meal composition (I.E. what you eat) to work with your schedule so that you are not too hungry or too full by the time your next meal rolls around.  That, however, is for another time.

Before we even look at WHAT you're going to eat to get the physique you want, we want you to consider WHEN you're going to eat, and commit to keeping to that schedule throughout this process.

Meal Timing You Can Stick With

As you think about what meal timing you're going to commit to, consider the activities of your daily life, seven days per week.  If you're committing to breakfast every weekday morning before going to work, we are going to expect you to eat breakfast at the same time on the weekend mornings most of the time as well.  We're looking for a schedule that you can stick to 90% of the time, so if you're eating three meals per day, that means you should only be off-schedule twice per week, so plan accordingly.

We'd also recommend not radically changing things at this point.  If you are not someone who normally eats breakfast, don't commit to eating breakfast every day right now because you think it's a good idea.  Likewise, if you always have a mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon snack, don't drop those - count them as meals.  Let's nail down a consistent schedule with the meal frequency you are already used to instead of changing too much at one time.

Finally, if you are someone who has a tendency to freak out/stress out on a schedule, RELAX.  This is only necessary for the first little while, and then we are going to move you away from watching the clock, and towards listening to your body.  The schedule part is only to get us started off right, and make sure that you are eating enough food, consistently.

We hope that we've given you some valuable info to help you on your journey, or at the very least given you something to think about!  If you like what you see, please let us know and help spread the word by liking and/or following us on Facebook and sharing this with your friends.  Thanks!  ---Coach JP