Here is the honest truth about meal frequency. It doesn’t matter if you eat three or six meals or anything in between. All studies on different meal frequencies have shown that different setups lead to basically the same results. This also means you don’t gain anything from eating several small meals.
No, it doesn’t boost your metabolism to any meaningful degree and your overall energy expenditure will be the same as if you ate three large meals.
But what about the extreme cases like only 2 meals per day or more than six?
More than six meals shouldn’t be a problem in theory, but for me personally it wouldn’t be practical to be preparing meals all the time.
Two or even just one meal per day can lead to problems because they would have to be quite big to cover your daily calories. Also, when it comes to protein you want to ensure a steady supply throughout the day which would be difficult with only one meal as your body would digest all at once and would have a hard time storing any protein for later.
But of course anything is possible and studies on intermittent fasting have shown that if you design your diet correctly and ensure that you consume sources of slow digesting protein, two meals a day can lead to the same results. But in my opinion, you don’t have to overcomplicate things here so I’ll just leave it up to you. The most practical scenario is probably one where you eat 3 – 6 six meals throughout the day.
But what about meal timing? Do you need to eat specific foods at specific times?
The short answer is: it depends.
In the overall picture, it doesn’t really matter when your body gets its food as long as you provide a steady supply of protein to maintain muscle mass.
But if you exercise or do strength training then it makes sense to consume certain foods before and after you workout. These meals are called pre and post workout meals and they are meant to do several things:
– Reduce muscle glycogen depletion.
– Reduce muscle protein breakdown.
– Reduce post workout cortisol levels.
– Ensure optimal recovery
How exactly do you accomplish this?
Easy, you eat carbs and protein before your workout. What this means is, the most important rule of your PRE workout meal is to consume a good amount of both carbs and protein before you train.
I know it sounds very simple and maybe to simple to you, but let me tell you way too many people overcomplicate this. Of course, I don’t want to leave you with no guidelines at all so I will give you a few rough values that you can keep in mind when you prepare your pre-workout meal.
The true specifics here will always differ from person to person and depend on what time of the day you work out or how much time you actually have before your workout but it’s a good reference.
If you can, eat a balanced meal with 0.2 – 0.25 g/lbs of your target bodyweight (for both carbs and protein) around one hour before your workout and one hour afterward.
In case you don’t have time for that and/or your last meal lies more than two hours prior to your training, consume a more easily digested protein and carbs 30 minutes before your workout. This could be a protein shake with a banana for example.
I personally like to eat a normal meal of brown rice and chicken or meat an hour before my workout. This is nothing special, just protein and carbs coming from normal foods 1-2 hours before working out.
This is what is proven to get you the best results and will keep things a simple as possible. There’s really no need to get any more complicated than that, and no need to obsess about the specifics.
Last but not least, In case you don’t like rice and chicken or don’t want to eat it every day here are some more suggestions for pre-workout meals:
Meals that you can eat up to 1 hour include:
– Oatmeal with whey protein mixed in
– A large chicken sandwich with wholegrain bread
– 2x or more Hard-Boiled Eggs on an Avocado toast
– Wholegrain pasta with some sort of protein (again chicken or meat or whatever source of protein you prefer)
Snacks right 30min or less before your workout:
– A banana with protein bar
– Apple Wedges and a protein shake
– Just a protein bar