What you eat is an essential factor in your fitness, fat loss and muscle building endeavours. Equally important, though often overlooked, is when you eat. Your goal is to keep your body in a constant anabolic state. That means that the nutrients that you need for muscle repair, optimal functioning and muscle building are constantly flowing through your blood stream. To make that a reality you are going to have to break away from the conventional eating habits that predominate in the Western world and start planning a smarter nutrient timing strategy.
The traditional 3 meals will not provide the nutrient environment that your body needs. What’s worse is the pattern that most people have gotten into when it comes to eating those meals…
Meal one is breakfast. It’s very name highlights how important this meal is. We are breaking the fast of 8-10 hours when absolutely no nutrition has gone into our body. It is vital, then, that we get some decent fuel into our system at the start of the day. Yet, most people do not give themselves a decent nutritional start. Many skip breakfast altogether. Those that do have it usually down a bowl of sugar laden cereal and a cup of coffee. As a result of their insufficient breakfast many people find themselves reaching for an unhealthy snack around 10am. Aim for good quality protein and fat breakfast to kickstart your motivation and focus neurotransmitters and increase satiety right through to lunch.
Lunch is usually a processed carb heavy mix of pastry and grain products.
At dinner time, all the stops are pulled out. The plate gets piled like a mini Mt Rushmore and we gorge ourselves until all we feel like doing in lying down and going to sleep. And then we lie down and go to sleep. We’ve just consumed a ton of calories – far in excess of our body’s energy needs – and now we’re going to be totally inactive for 12 or more hours.
The wonder is, not that we’re suffering an obesity epidemic, but that any of us are still alive at all!
The far smarter way to go is to eat every 3 waking hours. Following this pattern will:
- Provide a steady flow of fuel and help to keep up your energy levels
- Help reduce appetite, control cravings and prevent binges
- Provide the extra energy you’ll need to power your workouts
- Boost your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories while at rest
- Keep your body in an anabolic state 24 hours a day
So, how does the eating every 3 hours pan in reality. For most people it involves the following type of eating schedule:
6:30 – Meal One
9:30 – Meal Two
12:30 – Meal Three
3:30 – Meal Four
6:30 – Meal Five
9:30 – Meal Six
Of course you need to customise your eating plan to your individual circumstances. The important factors are to ensure that you eating eating 3 waking hours and that you stick to timelines as closely as you can. Don’t eat unplanned calories. Eating every 3 hours will dramatically reduce your tendency to binge but you will still need the self discipline to say no.
The size of each of your meals should be roughly the same. The only proviso to this is that your final meal should be a little smaller that the others. the extra calories that are shaved from this meal should be added to breakfast, the first meal of the day. The average daily caloric maintenance level for men is 2800 calories and for women it is 2300. If you want to lose fat reduce this by 350 calories and if your aim is to pack on muscle, increase your base line by 350 calories. Divide your daily caloric total by the number of meals to get your per meal total.
A typical macronutrient breakdown for an active insulin sensitive individual would be 50% carbohydrates (CHO), 30% protein (PTN) and 20% (good) fats (FAT). The carbohydrates could even be greater for a hard gainer (you know who you are). If you struggle with a little extra fat, or you’re quite neutral (neither a hard gainer or battling the bulge) then playing with your daily carbohydrate is key – when you decrease carbohydrates, the protein and fat percentages increase. Figuring out your macronutrient proportions to supply the nutrients which your body needs, is essential for achieving optimal fat loss and muscle gain.
Some other breakdowns you may like to try are:
33% CHO : 33% PTN : 34% FAT
20% CHO : 40% PTN : 30% FAT
Already tried and tested these? Feel you have plateaued? Try these 3 breakdowns (above) on a rotational basis throughout the week. High carbohydrate day on hevy strength training day.
Here’s an example of the caloric breakdown of each of 6 meals spaced 3 hours apart:
Example: Male aged 41. Total daily calories = 2450. Meals per day = 6 (eating every 3 hours)
Calories per meal = 2450 divided by 6 = 408
Carbohydrate = 1225 calories total or 204 calories per meal
Protein = 735 calories total or 123 calories per meal
Fat = 490 calories total or 82 calories per meal
Eating six meals each day may seem quite daunting. Yet, the size of the meals in this plan is quite small compared to what most people are used to. Many people also find that taking a couple of their meals in the form of a meal replacement shake is a great way to make up their meal quota. meal replacement shakes are also extremely convenient, especially if you also pick up a shaker bottle. Your second and fourth meals are good choices for your meal replacement drinks.
Getting on top of nutrient timing will allow you to get the best bang for your nutritional buck. The key to success is consistency. So, find the pattern that works for you. If six meals is just one too many, cut it back to five and adjust the caloric total at each meal accordingly. Don’t allow yourself to fall out of routine on the weekend, either. Establish good habit patterns and you will optimize your results.