Over that last while I’ve been working towards eating more food but eating less often. Yup that’s right. Bigger meals but less frequently.
We used to think that eating smaller meals throughout the day was beneficial for ‘stoking our metabolic fire’ ‘boosting our metabolism’ and preserving muscle mass among other things along that line but what research is showing is that small frequent meals is not actually optimal for body composition. In fact it does not boost your metabolism like once touted.
What has come to light in recent years is that actually eating larger meals further apart is better for us in several ways.
- It can help us feel full longer
- It allows us to fully digest and be ready for our next meals thus may improve overall digestion.
- It allows us to get the proper dosage of protein (25-40g bolus) per meal for optimal body composition.
Interesting I know! It’s not what you’ve probably been told and I’ll go into those three points in more detail in a another post but you can see how it might make sense right?
Two things I want to point out here
- Be open-minded.
It’s so important to stay up to date and open to new information – Keep learning and try new things! Remember that whatever we know is what we know now but it’s not what we will ever know. Information changes. Knowledge deepens. Ignorance is not bliss 😉 That said there isn’t necessarily only one right way to do things. That brings us to my next point.
- Listen to your body.
It’s also soooooo important to listen to your body. We are all have different needs and part of your health journey is finding what works best for you. What actually works best for you might not be what you think works best for you. Without tracking i.e monitor, measure and manage then you will have something to assess. You need a plan. Just because that’s how you do now it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying another way. What is working best for you now may be fine but you may also find that some else works better. Keep experimenting and listen to your body.
As you know I’m currently reverse dieting and that means I’m slowly increasing my food (caloric) intake to increase my metabolic rate. This is done in a calculated way to avoid as much body fat gain as possible (although some is inevitable). My current intake is now 120g protein, 200g carbohydrates and 52g of fat. This is a decent amount for my 5 foot frame although still not enough for my maximizing my metabolism so I continue to increase (coach Layne’s orders ;)).
I’m currently eating that amount of food over four meals. I’ve reduced my daily meals from eating 6-8 down to 4 and I did this slowly to allow my hunger ques to adjust. What’s really interesting here is that our bodies get used to our feeding schedule and begins to expect it. Our hunger hormones are released in anticipation even before we have food in front of us. The fascinating thing is that we can train our bodies either way and that by training our bodies to eat more often (5 or more times a day) we are actually are training our bodies to rely more heavily on that blood glucose spike from our meal. This is why when you’ve been used to eating so often and you miss a meal you feel light-headed and shaky. If you can train yourself to eat less often and eat bigger meals rather than many small meals you will likely notice this less and you may also notice less hunger overall.
I found that I needed to ease into the transition because I was otherwise extremely hungry. Hungry is perfectly ok but it can be uncomfortable and if you have a sensitive stomach being extremely hungry can send you into a bit of a spasm or mega belly ache. So that said I eased into it. Basically first I combined meal 7 and 8 which were both small and fairly close together already. I probably usually ate them within 2 hours of each other so no biggie to combine them. Then I extended the time between the other meals slowly over a few weeks or months until I was eating at least 4 hours apart without feeling famished. Then I combined meals and snacks to make a total of four larger meals and ditched snacks altogether.
By reverse dieting my calories up and slowly spreading out my meals I’ve been really able to control my blood sugar spikes and hunger better. I can go 4-5 hours without even thinking about food where before I might have been feeling the need to eat every 2 hours and getting very hungry very quickly. I feel much more satiated and that old feeling of “I have to eat every few hours or I feel faint” has gone away.
I know we’ve been told eat small meals more often for a long time but that doesn’t mean it’s best or that it’s still current information. Keeping in mind that I’m not talking about intermittent fasting or only eating 1-2 meals a day, that’s something for another post. How about just back to basics of eating 3 square meals a day? Realistically your frequency and meal sizes will ultimately be based on your current caloric intake needs. For example someone eating 3000 calories a day is going to eat differently than someone eating 1500 calories a day. Just keep in mind that new information comes to light and ideal protocols can change. Try changing your habits and see how you feel. Needing to eat very so often isn’t exactly ideal if you are busy and now we know it’s not necessarily ideal for your physique gains either 😉
Because I’m taking in 120g or protein and I’m aiming for 30g per meal my current typical macros breakdown looks like this:
30P-60C-13F (pre and post workout)
30P- 40C – 13F other two meals of the day
For example, yesterday I trained after work so my day looked like this. I aim for a balanced intake at each meal with slightly higher carbohydrates around exercise for energy. You’ll see that it’s not exact and that ok. It’s within my goal range and I hit my daily macros within 5g. Most of the food came from the items I prepared during Sunday’s Meal Prep.
Breakfast 37.6P- 31C – 10.5F
Dinner Preworkout 25P-62C-21.3F
Bedtime snack/meal Postworkout 24P-70C-18F
Breakfast Preworkout 30P- 60C – 13F
Lunch Postworkout 30P-60C-13F (estimated while eating out)
Bedtime snack/meal 30P-40C-13F
If and when I drop calories again to lean out a little my overall numbers will be reduced but I aim to keep it similar in breakdown assuming I continue to like it and it works for me. Remember tune into your hunger, energy, cravings and overall results and know that consistency is absolutely most important so whatever you do you will want to stick with it long enough to see any sort of changes.
Just a side note, If you are not someone who is counting macros you can still do the same with your meal plan or meal choices. Choose a good amount (palm size) of a quality protein source for each meal add a carbohydrate source and fat sources. Your bigger meals with more carbohydrates and fat can be eaten around exercise. Pretty simple! This is what I’ve been coaching on for a long time without macro based eating. Add in the macro calculations and things are more precise and flexible but also not 100% necessary depending on your goals.
If you want to read more about meal frequency and timing, here are a few excellent up-to-date resources on the subject.