You’ve probably heard it already. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s no way in the world that you have not heard this little “tip” since it’s all over the fitness community:
In order to achieve your fitness goals, you need to eat small meals 5-6 times a day.
Whether you’re someone who’s trying to gain some muscle or someone who’s trying to lose some weight, chances are that you’ve heard this from somewhere before. But it’s true right? For those skinny guys trying to gain weight, doesn’t it make sense to eat more meals throughout the day? Or for someone who’s trying to lose fat, doesn’t eating 5-6 times a day speed up your metabolism?
What if I told you that it’s all just a myth? That meal frequency is just a common misconception that we have been mislead to believe.
No matter what you saw on TV, read in magazines, or even heard from fitness “gurus”, it’s all really just a big myth made by supplement companies and magazines. We all have come to believe that eating 6, 7, 8, or 9 meals a day is far superior than just eating anything smaller than 6 meals a day when trying to achieve your ideal physique, when in reality the only actual benefit to eating this many times a day is to supress someone’s hunger.
I myself have been a religious follower of this idea early on in my transformation, bringing tuperwares of food with me to school or work just so that I can eat every 2-3 hours. In fact, there was a time when I remember eating up to 10 meals a day. It was becoming very obsessive. Everything about meal frequency and meal timing was taking over my life.
Don’t get me wrong, getting all your proper nutrients is an important part of being fit. You need to consume the macronutrients (fats, carbs, and proteins) and calories that your body needs, whether it’s by eating over your calorie maintenance to gain weight or eating below maintenance to lose weight. Also, there is totally nothing wrong with eating more than 3 times a day. If you can’t satisfy your macronutrient requirements in 3 or 4 meals, then go right ahead and eat as many meals as you want. But what I’m talking about here is the IMPORTANCE of meal frequency and nutrient timing. If you are someone who follows this notion that you NEED to eat 5,6, 7, or 8 times a day to reach your ideal physique, it’s time for you to learn the truth.
Meal Frequency Is Irrelevant
That’s right folks. The number of times you eat in a day is irrelevant.
The idea that you need to eat a meal rich in protein every 2-3 hours to feed your muscles constantly throughout the day is nothing but a myth. Timing your nutrient intake has been scientifically proven to be unnecessary.
What is important, though, is hitting your total daily macronutrient and calorie requirements. For example, if you need to eat 2,200 calories per day, then eat 2,200 calories per day. There’s no need to worry about what time you eat your meals or how many calories you have with each one. As long as you eat hit your total macronutrient and calorie requirements at the end of the day, you’re perfectly fine.
Got a shift at work and can’t eat for more than 6 hours? Not a problem. Just make sure that you eat enough before and after work so you consume your macronutrient requirements. Got classes for 5 straight hours? No worries. Eat before and after your classes. Yes, you might get really hungry because you haven’t eaten but the point is that your muscles won’t fall off and you won’t gain any fat just because you didn’t eat. What’s important is how much you have consumed by the end of the day.
Keep in mind though that just because meal frequency is irrelevant doesn’t mean you should only eat 1 or 2 meals a day now. My recommendation would be to eat at least 3 meals per day. If I’m hungry and have some time to eat an extra meal, I will. There’s no reason to not eat multiple meals a day just because meal frequency is unimportant.
My Advice On Pre-workout and Post-workout Nutrition
Although nutrient timing is not as important as we thought, you still have to make sure that you have energy when you hit the weights. My advice on this is simple: you should have a pre-workout meal 2-3 hours before you hit the weights. And notice the word meal. Pre-workout supplements that give you energy don’t count. I’m talking about real food.
And when it comes to the importance of pre-workout vs. post-workout meals, it’s not really a big deal what types and how much food you take in post-workout since the pre-workout nutrient intake has a carry-over effect into the post-workout period. There’s a constant overlap of nutrient digestion and absorption throughout the day. Again, this is why nutrient timing is irrelevant.
Still Not Convinced?
If you’re still not convinced, go ahead and do your own research on this topic. To save you some time, I have for you a few articles that you can read from credible sources. They also talk a little about the science of it all if that’s something you’re into.
So stop worrying about how many times and when to eat. You can thank me later.
- Meal Frequency and Energy Balance
- Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked
- Fat: Pre, During, & Postexercise
- Is There a Limit to How Much Protein the Body Can Use in a Single Meal?
Posted on February 24, 2011