When to Eat?

What has been taught to athletes for decades has become a fad in lay magazines. That fad is how often to eat. What’s the real scoop?

Let us make an analogy as we begin. Presume that your body is a car. Instead of food, the energy source to make a car operate is gasoline or some type of petroleum based fuel or natural gas. If you are traveling down a level road at a constant pace, the car will consume a constant supply of energy, i.e., fuel. This is also true for your body. On a typical day, your body will generally burn the same amount of fuel that it is accustomed to.

Now, as a car travels up hill, you must depress the accelerator further to give the car additional energy to enable it to arrive at the hills crest. Likewise, if you exercise, your body will also burn more fuel, than when you do not exercise. Just like the car when comparing a level road to a hill. Exercising is to your body as the hill is to the car. In either case, there must be a constant source of energy for the car or your body to complete its task. If there is not enough energy present, the task cannot be easily accomplished. If you do not feed the body properly before or after a major workout, you will find yourself lagging. And, most of us do not feed the body properly to help us feel our best.

The primary neglect of many if not most, is that of not eating frequently enough. Let’s illustrate why this is so. Many of us will eat breakfast and a huge dinner and that’s about all. We simply don’t take the time to feed our body throughout the day. The body becomes accustomed to all sorts of habits very quickly, this includes eating.

When you eat breakfast and then do not eat again for 6 to 8 hours, most of the nutrients are stored as fat. This is because the body knows its not going to get any more food for awhile. Consequently, as a built in safety mechanism, most of the consumed food is stored as fat, hopefully to be used later. This is rarely the case however since a great many do not exercise enough to utilize the unused calories.

To make matters worse, for those who exercise longer than 2 hours per training session, the entire time the body is working or training with no food, muscle tissue can be cannibalized for energy, thereby making one even fatter, i.e., the muscle is burned off, but the fat is left remaining. It’s a double edged sword and is also why many, who have been exercising for several years, are just as overweight at the end of this time as when they began.

People who don’t eat well are commonly the ones that complain about injuries, overtraining, chronic fatigue, lack of fat loss and poor muscle growth.

There is a simple answer to this problem: meal frequency. You should eat 5 or 6 meals per day (we recommend 6). By doing this, you trigger a number of positive factors that will increase energy, melt off fat, put on lean muscle mass, raise body metabolism, and more importantly, increase recovery rate.

The principle of meal frequency has been taught to athletes for decades and has now filtered down to the general public through lay magazines. The goal is not to eat 6 huge meals per day, but to eat 5, 6, or perhaps more small meals throughout the day, utilizing the same amount of calories in all meals that you would generally consume for the 2-3 meals you generally have.

The first meal will be early in the day; don’t skip breakfast as so many do. This first meal will raise body metabolism and is why breakfast is the most important meal, not because of nutrition, but because the earlier you eat, the sooner your body metabolism will increase and speed fat burning. All other meals should follow breakfast about 2-3 hours apart.

The later you have your first meal, the slower the body metabolism will be to that point. Meal frequency will generally be shorter between meals in the morning and further apart in the afternoon. For the morning, frequency will be about 1.5 to 2 hours and for the afternoon, 2.5 to 3 hours.

Meal Frequency Example

The following example is based on a 2,000 – 2,800 Calorie per day diet and thus, depends on your activity. The specific food choice is up to you, but this will give you a general idea of what to look for. It’s a rule of thumb so, adjust it as necessary. i.e., if you eat breakfast at 6:30 then, the second meal/snack would be at 7:00 and so forth. You may eat even more frequently depending on you schedule and activity level, but make sure to adjust total caloric intake to Calories expended.

Meal 1
7:30 a.m.
Breakfast (2 eggs, toast, coffee, juice, etc.)
500-600 Calories

Meal 2
9:00 a.m.
Snack (nuts, dried fruit, granola bar, etc.)
200-400 Calories

Meal 3
11:00 a.m.
Turkey sandwich and salad
500-600 Calories

Meal 4
1:30 p.m.
Snack, protein supplement, etc.
200-400 Calories

Meal 5
4:30 p.m.
Dinner (broiled chicken, green beans, mix of other foods)
500-600 Calories

Meal 6
7:30 p.m.
One cup of rice & two pieces of fruit
100-200 Calories

Total Daily Caloric Intake
2,000-2,800 Calories

Meal frequency works – feed your body as it needs energy.