One of the first things you were told when you started lifting was that you needed to eat every 2 – 3 hours and eat 5 – 6 meals a day to grow and/or maintain your muscle mass, right?
It has been claimed for years by traditional bodybuilders and “fitness experts” that you should eat ever 2 – 3 hours to keep your body working, boost your metabolism, increase your energy expenditure, be constantly synthetizing protein, etc. However, science is constantly evolving, moving forward and increasing the accuracy of its studies, and it has been more than proven that no, you do not need to eat that often.
Stop stressing about it!! You do not need to bring tupperwares everywhere you go. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you shouldn’t eat every 2 – 3 hours. If you want to, go ahead!! I am just saying that you DON’T NEED TO.
MEAL FREQUENCY IS IRRELEVANT
It doesn’t matter how many times a day you eat: 3, 5, 6 or 12. What’s really important is hitting you total daily macronutrients and calories requirements.
Yes, calories and macronutrients are important. Yes, nutrition is an absolute big key of fitness and overall being healthy, but the idea of eating that often is a myth that you need to overcome.
It doesn’t matter how many meals you split your calories up in, as long as by the end of the day you are consuming the amount of calories and macros you need, you are good to go. It doesn’t matter if you have 6 meals or just 1, hit your nutritional requirements and you will be fine.
WHEN SHOULD YOU EAT THEN?
Simple, whenever you are hungry. The only real benefit of eating more frequently is that you inhibit hunger constantly. However, that may also mean that you’ll have to eat when you are not hungry sometimes, and there is honestly no need to eat if you are not hungry.
Want to wait 6 hours between your meals? Great!! Want to do intermittent fasting? Great!! Want to eat 15 times a day? Great!! Again, hit your calories and macronutrient requirements for the day, and you are good to go. The number of meals and the time gap between them is irrelevant.
Now, you may need to learn how to differentiate hunger form appetite. Hunger is the physical signs your body sends you to tell you that you are running low on fuel. Appetite, however, could be emotional or stress related. There is no universal rule on how to differentiate them, since both may manifest differently on every person. Just keep it in mind and whenever you think you are hungry, try to identify if it really is hunger or just cravings.
PRE AND POST WORKOUT NUTRITION
Even though I said meal frequency is irrelevant, there is definitely a certain moment of the day when your body needs certain nutrients, and that’s around your workouts.
- Pre workout meal: its main purpose is to provide you with enough energy for your workout. I would consume it 1,5 – 2 hours before your workout to optimize digestion.
- Post workout meal: its main purpose is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to start repairing all the damaged tissue and replenishing muscle glycogen (plot twist: you DON’T NEED TO your post workout meal immediately after your workout…but we will talk about this in a future post). I would consume it 1,5 – 2 hours after your workout to optimize absorption.
During the rest of the day, just focus on eating whenever you are hungry and hitting your nutritional requirements.
IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH EATING THAT OFTEN?
Now, the fact that you don’t need to eat every 2 – 3 hours, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. If this meal frequency is convenient for you and you like it, you should totally do it. I eat every 2 – 3 90% of the time, I like it, it adapts to my daily routine and I find it very convenient. Do I go crazy when something forces me to wait an extra hour or two before consuming my next meal? Not anymore (yes, I did when I was a beginner…). Well… sometimes I still do, but not because “I’ve missed a meal” or anything like that, but because I am hungry AF lol
There is one skill we should all develop if we want to make our lives less stressful, and it is called adaptation. Learn how to adapt to the events life throws at you. If you can’t eat your meals exactly when you planned to, it’s ok, it’s not the end of the world and your muscles won’t magically disappear. Just adapt!!
Last but definitely not least, there is one situation when eating this frequently can be helpful, in my opinion. When you are bulking (aka trying to build muscle mass), you eat tremendous amounts of food. If you are not a huge eater, you could use meal timing to spread out your calories during the day and have 5 – 7 “small” (more like medium size) meals. If you are eating 4500 calories a day, for example, hitting that amount of calories in 2 or 3 sittings can be really hard, so meal frequency can help you reach your caloric intake by spreading out your calories instead of having to eat till you can’t breathe once or twice a day.
But this is up to you and your preferences. If you like to pig out when bulking (still hitting your nutritional requirements), then stick to 2 – 3 meals a day.
Just because your favorite bodybuilder eats every 3 hours and eats 9 meals a day, doesn’t mean you have to. Does it work? Yep. Are there any other ways to do it? Yep.
As long as you hit your daily requirements in terms of calories and macronutrients, you can have as many or as few meals as you want.
That’s it for today’s post!! If you have any doubt, question, suggestion or constructive critic, please do not hesitate to let it in the comments section or use my social media.
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See you in the next one! :)