How Many Meals Per Day Should You Eat?
As far as health and fitness goes, you’ll all be very well aware of the fact that, compared with the diet and nutritional aspects of things, exercising and working out is, pardon the pun, a piece of cake. We can do all of the cardio that we like, along with as many reps and sets as possible, but the simple fact remains that, if we don’t watch our diets and watch what we’re putting into our bodies, we will never see, or make, the progress that we would have been hoping to make. There are people out there that exercise six, even seven, days per week, and really push their bodies to the absolute limit, yet when the time comes to weigh themselves, or have their body fat percentages tested, the numbers and measurements will not be showing them what they may have been hoping to see. The reason for this is almost certainly down to a poor diet. Sometimes however, there are people out there that eat super-clean and super-healthy, and barely touch an unhealthy ingredient, yet they also don’t make the improvements to their health, fitness, and physiques in general, that they may have been hoping for. This isn’t through too many trans fats, or a lack of nutrients, as the foods and drinks they contain are packed full of goodness. It is instead, down to incorrect meal timings and meal frequencies. People often wonder, and indeed, debate, about how many meals per day they should be eating, and when, so to help clear things up, here’s a more in-depth look.
Common mistakes that are often made
When it comes to diet and nutrition, one of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make, especially when trying to lose body fat, is, to skip meals, and instead consume just one or two very large meals per day. For example, a person may wake up in a morning, roll out of bed, shower and get dressed etc, and then rush out of the door to work, as quickly as possible. In the melee of getting ready for work, they will have forgotten to eat breakfast, which is one of the worst things you can do. When you go to bed at night, providing you’re getting enough sleep, you should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Now, combine this with the fact that many of us can’t go to sleep on a full stomach, so will eat 1 or 2 hours prior to going to bed, that means that we’re going at least, 9 – 11 hours before waking up when we should be eating breakfast. If we skip breakfast, the next chance we get to eat may be 3 or 4 hours later, so that is now, around 13 – 16 hours since we last ate. Needless to say, by this time our energy levels will be at rock bottom, and we’ll be so hungry that truthfully, when we do get to eat, we won’t actually care whether it’s healthy or not. Some people will instead snack their way through the day, until they get home, where they will then have a huge dinner. It doesn’t matter if that dinner is healthy or not, a huge portion of that size, accompanied by a now suppressed metabolism, is a recipe for weight gain, or at the very least, it is a recipe for disappointment as your weight loss progress may come to a grinding halt.
The dangers of skipping meals
So, as we now know some of the most common mistakes that people make on a daily basis in regards to their meals and meal frequencies, it is now time to take a look at some of the main dangers of skipping meals. These include:
A slow metabolism – Your metabolism basically refers to every single internal process going in within your body, which requires energy in order to be carried out correctly. The more efficient your metabolism becomes, the more calories and body fat stores the body will burn off, and convert into energy for you. In order for the metabolism to function correctly however, it is like a fire, in that it needs to be fed regularly in order for it to generate the most energy, and function at its best. By skipping meals, you are depriving your metabolism of the fuel that it needs, which in turn will make it tougher for you to lose weight, and easier for you to gain weight.
Hunger – Obviously, another common side-effect and danger associated with skipping meals, is hunger, and as you know, feeling hungry is not a nice feeling. Add that to the fact that you’re tired due to a lack of energy, and you are going to feel pretty miserable until you do finally get to eat.
Increased risk of giving in to temptation – Let’s face it, when we’re hungry, we are far more likely to give into temptation and break our healthy eating regimes, because we generally crave unhealthy foods and beverages that we shouldn’t be eating. When you’re hungry, you generally don’t crave a plate of steamed cod and boiled vegetables, you crave greasy, sugary, unhealthy junk food. If however, you’ve eaten a healthy meal not too long ago, your stomach will be full, you’ll be full of energy, you’ll be thinking clearly, and you won’t be craving anything unhealthy at all.
So, how often should you be eating?
If you head online, or indeed, if you ask other people, you will find a lot of contradictory information on this subject, as there will be some articles/people, who swear that meal frequency is pointless, and that it doesn’t actually matter how often you eat, as long as you hit your daily macros. However, there will be plenty of others, who will point out that, in actual fact, eating small and healthy meals regularly, is extremely important and is essential for anybody looking to get in shape and improve their athletic performance in the process. For physically active individuals who exercise regularly, and who perhaps are looking to increase lean muscle mass and burn body fat, experts recommend eating a small, nutritionally balanced meal every three hours or so, to keep your metabolism and energy levels through the roof.
What are the benefits of eating frequently?
Of course, there are people out there who say that eating frequently is pointless, but there have been many, many studies carried out in the past, that have proved that, in fact, not only is frequent nutrition beneficial, it is essential for some people, and so for that reason, here’s a look at some of the main benefits of eating frequently:
Increased metabolism – Forget the naysayers, countless studies have proved that the best way of ensuring your metabolism runs efficiently, and possibly even improves, is to keep it well stocked up on energy. Again, think of it like a fire. If you have a fire and feed it with small handfuls of wood every few hours, it will burn hot and bright. If however, you let the fire burn down, and then, at the end of the day, throw a huge handful of wood onto it, it will simply smoulder and smoke and will struggle to burn the wood. The same principle applies to your metabolism, which is why eating little and often, is so essential.
More energy – As we said, eating small and healthy meals every few hours is a great way of boosting the metabolism, and as you know, our metabolisms are responsible for taking fat and calories, and converting them into energy. This is ideal because the more efficient our metabolisms become, the more energy we will have, allowing us to become more physically active, and get more out of our workouts.
Less likely to cheat on your diet – If you are dieting and following a healthy eating regime, the idea behind frequent meal consumption, is to help ensure that you don’t ever feel hungry. Hunger is the body’s way of telling you that it needs energy and nutrition, and when eating every few hours, this should not be an issue. As you know, if you never feel hungry, you are far less likely to crave, and eat, unhealthy junk food.
Increased muscle mass – Perhaps the biggest benefit associated with frequent meal consumption, is the fact that it has been proven to increase your lean muscle mass. There are two main reasons for this. The first reason is simply because, as you will have more energy, your workouts will become more productive, so you will be able to push your body harder than usual. The second benefit however, is that the body can only process so much protein in one sitting, so if you were to starve yourself and then consume 60 – 70g of protein in the evening, as the body can only process around 40g of protein per sitting, the remaining 20 – 30g would go to waste. By eating little and often, the muscles are constantly being fed the protein and amino acids they require (as long as you’re consuming protein) and are therefore able to recover and grow more efficiently.