How many meals should I eat? How often? When can I have carbs?
If you find yourself asking these questions or something similar, don’t worry, you’re not alone! These are things most people struggle with and so we have come up with some simple strategies and information to try help you best understand.
“How many meals should I eat and how often?”
How you spread your meals throughout the day can make a big difference to your transformation results.
Scientifically, meal timing and frequency are less important
than your end of day and week total calories, macronutrients and micronutrients.
However, we have found that in general people who stick to simple guidelines on meal timing and frequency find it much easier to achieve those end totals.
Most people do well on around 4 to 6 evenly spaced meals per day.
Eating 4-6 smaller, more frequently spaced meals can have the following benefits:
Smaller insulin response at each meal. This is important for improving insulin sensitivity and helping fat loss.
Maintains a steady flow of nutrients in your blood stream for recovery between training sessions. This is particularly relevant with regards to protein synthesis and the building of new lean muscle tissue.
You have higher, more sustained energy throughout the day.
You are much less likely to overeat or make bad food decisions as a result of feeling hungry!
As a guide, if you can aim to eat your first meal within an hour of waking up, and then eat approximately every 4 hours after that, and try to spread your intake evenly throughout the day with meals of equal size. Our preference is 4 meals a day, not including any post workout shakes, and we encourage most of our clients to do the same as 4 meals means bigger meals and therefore greater satiety.
“When can I have carbs?”
This is an important one! First and foremost…DO NOT CUT OUT CARBS FROM YOUR DIET! There is absolutely no need to do this. It will just make you tired and lethargic, grumpy is does not produce a healthy, sustainable outcome.
Instead, we just need to be strategic about when you eat them. There are various different opinions and options on carbohydrate timing, however from our experience we’ve found that having carbs immediately post-workout to be best, as at this time you are more insulin sensitive and more likely to store it in the muscle rather than as fat.
During your workout you will use up your muscles supply of glycogen (stored fuel). This causes GLUT-4 receptors in your muscles to move glucose into your cells, causing a drop in your blood glucose levels. Therefore, carbs straight after your workout replenish both glucose and glycogen which get stored in the muscle, as opposed to being stored as fat. This also has the benefit of fuelling you for your next session or exercise.
It’s a common misbelief that you should not consume carbohydrates post 6pm. However, having carbs with your last meal before bed can actually help you sleep. Carbohydrates spike your insulin, but as with most things, what goes up MUST come down. When your insulin comes down, your sleep hormone serotonin goes up, which makes you feel sleepy and helps you to have a great night’s sleep.
Carbohydrate timing is the most difficult to master as it often depends on your goal. However, as a general rule of thumb:
When the goal is BUILDING MUSCLE, taking your carbs during your workout is best to ensure they are being stored straight in the muscle and helping with growth.
When the goal is FAT LOSS it’s best to restrict carbs to later in the day so that energy needed for your general activity during the day utilizes fat for energy.
Do remember though, these are guidelines and the BIGGEST piece of advice we can give you on nutrition is that EVERYONE IS AN INDIVIDUAL…i.e. everyone is different.
Try these strategies but you need to find what works for you. Find your sweet spot with macronutrients, meal frequencies and carbohydrate timings. Play around with them until you find what works best for YOU!