Yoram Yasur Rubin: Three or six meals a day?
There is no doubt that eating three meals a day has been the practice of our society since we can all remember. But, regarding performance, and even weight loss, people often wonder if more small meals a day are better. The answer, as with most sports’ nutrition issues, is not straightforward. Below we will help you better understand how food cadence and size can affect performance and recovery. Eating three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner are the best way to boost performance?
How many times should we eat?
Yoram Yasur Rubin: The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding how to consume your calories is to know that you are getting enough to keep you moving and help you recover. The practice of eating three meals a day is very much a construction of how we build our lives around a typical job from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For example: you eat breakfast before work, take a lunch break while you are at work, and have dinner when you get home.
Since endurance athletes (who are not elite) tend to plan their workouts around their jobs and family life, following that schedule might make sense by squeezing a ride during one of those segments. But it is true that this typical “corporate” structure does not usually allow much flexibility. For athletes who have more flexibility with their work or train at a higher level, looking for six smaller meals throughout the day might make more sense.
For athletes with a more amateur state or those who practice exercise for leisure, the frequency with which you eat does not matter as much as we would like to think. If you are on a more elite level, following a more rigid and dedicated training plan, meal cadence can support your training efforts.
This is because athletes who follow intense training schedules need more calories than those who are more informal, and it may be easier to consume that number of calories spread over six smaller meals instead of three larger meals.
Also, your body can only absorb a certain amount of some nutrients at a time, such as protein (approximately 30 grams per session). Therefore, athletes who need large amounts of protein for muscle recovery, for example, should not try to include all their needs in one meal. It is best to consume a 3: 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within the first half hour after a hard workout or strength training session. Aim for 0.14 to 0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight and 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight.
Yoram Yasur Rubin: Your next meal, when you are hungry again, should be balanced and include all the essential macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. By spacing your nutrition in this way, you can better support your recovery and thus improve performance. It also helps you avoid overload on a regular basis, which could lead to unnecessary weight gain.
So what is better to do?
If you have the flexibility to prepare six small meals every day and are training at a moderate to intense level, I recommend this approach because you can better distribute the required calories. And for meals, we are talking about meals, not snacks or snacks. With six meals a day, we are dividing and conquering, in a sense. You should include most, if not all, of the food groups. This means all your macros: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
If you choose to eat six meals a day, we recommend that they be smaller than if you ate three meals a day. Think of it this way: If you ate six large meals a day, you would be full, and if you ate three small meals a day, you would be starving. But if the traditional three-meal-a-day route works best for your schedule, be sure to keep eating enough nutrient-dense calories (think of high-quality protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates).
And while you, as an athlete, need to be smart about dividing your calories throughout the day in a way that supports your workout, like getting enough carbs and protein after a workout to help you recover, for example, it’s worth training at home, that calories are calories at the end of the day.
Yoram Yasur Rubin: Eating three 800-calorie meals will cause the same thermal effect as eating six 400-calorie meals. No matter when, you still get 2,400 total calories. Our bodies are efficient and smart, but they don’t work with a 24-hour clock. There is no reset button at midnight. Your body doesn’t care or you know it. The best healthy strategy for you is the one you can follow in the long term. Choose the meal “plan” that works best for you, your lifestyle, and your workout. Most importantly, eat nutrient-dense foods that meet your energy needs.