When & How Often Should You Eat to Reach Your Goals?
How often you should eat is something a large amount of us ask every time we feel like trying a new health kick. It’s no surprise either since every diet fad out there says something different. It’s only natural to try and find which of those is going to benefit you the most, but in actuality, how often you should eat isn't that simple.
The reason that this isn’t an easy question to answer comes from a few different aspects. There are different ways that you can try to do it, and on top of that, one of the most important factors in the whole thing is what is going to be the best for you on a personal level. There’s never a one size fits all answerer, and that is particularly prevalent here. It's complicated, but with the right guidance, it is answerable.
Let’s take a look at what we know
The first place to start here, as it usually is when looking at nutrition and fitness, comes from your calorie intake. Although calorie counting isn’t always the best way to track your health (and actually can have some negative results if you overthink it), it can be a huge indicator of how to reach your fitness goals. That mainly comes from what your goals are, and this isn't always affected by the frequency of your food.
The best advice is to make a target. How often isn't as important as how much. As long as you are aiming to hit your general calorie guideline, that’s going to be the winning factor. Aim for what your fitness and health goals need you to do, and try your best to maintain that on a regular basis. There are always reasons to go above or below but try to get as close as you can.
What Over When
Another massive thing that we need to look at on the same kind of lines that we've mentioned is that the 'what' is more important than the 'when'. In most cases, anyway. What you are eating has a huge impact on your health and fitness goals no matter when it is that you eat it. It’s hard to grasp since there are so many different theories out there, but this is almost always true.
If you need to eat 2000 calories per day to hit your muscle-building goals instead of your maintenance calories of 1800, eating a doughnut every hour for the full day isn’t going to be much help. It will also mean that you’re going to hungry for the whole day due to your insulin levels, but that’s another story. Eating one giant meal every night when you finish work may not be the easiest thing to do either, and it makes it much more likely to use junk food to fill in the gaps. This is where the problems lie.
What Your Goals Are
The third point to consider in how often you should eat comes from what you are trying to achieve in the first place. Trying to put on weight and trying to lose weight, for example, are two largely contradicting things after all. You need to be doing what’s best for you to reach your goal.
This comes down largely to a combination of the points above. You should be eating over your daily maintenance calories to build muscle, and you under to lose weight. That’s a given, and this is what we need to think about.
When you do things differently is when things change. If you are exercising in one day, for example, then you should eat more than usual. You need to extra energy, and you’re going to burn more calories than normal, so you’d cause yourself some issues. That goes even deeper when you look at different training styles, like weight training, HIIT training and LISS training, as they all use energy completely differently and need different fuels. It’s a complicated topic.
Frequency Based Diets
So what do all of these different things look like, you may be wondering? In reality, there are a lot of different ways to mix up your daily diet, and they all have their ups and downs. That’s what makes it so hard to suggest a rule size fits all answer.
One of the most popular does in recent years is without a doubt intermittent fasting, and it does have its merits if it is something that works for you. The general premise behind it is that by not eating for long durations, you burn stored fat. As a by-product, you spend less time eating during your day, and there is less room to eat bad foods you may be tempted by, making it a double-edged sword. That’s the theory
You can try methods like OMAD or one meal a day, or even eating for a window in your day like 2pm - 6pm and fasting the rest of the time. It's all relative.
Little and Often
The other side of the coin is different. It's based around eating much smaller meals at much more regular intervals and tends to be used for ulterior motives. Namely, that is trying to build muscle by eating more than you normally would by not getting full to capacity.
The thing is, that may not always work how you want it too. Although it can be amazing for getting more calories in, binging less, and even boosting performance, it may be hard to do, too. You may not have the time or the effort to prepare that much healthy food for yourself. It allows access to junk foods, cheat meals, and maybe even just not being able to reach your target in time. It needs some serious planning.
A balanced Diet
The final thing we’ll mention for how often you eat still comes from the very classic of our diet. Eating a balanced diet for three meals per day. Chop and change however you need to, but this is still a more than viable option to reach your goals even without you changing anything. You need to be careful with your food choices, but there is nothing to say that this diet is any worse than the others, so don’t feel you need to change if it something that is already working favourably for you. It's the classic for a reason; with the right calorie intake, it works.
Before we leave you with this advice on how often you eat, there are just a couple more things we need to mention. We’ll keep it brief, but they can be huge in making or breaking your nutrition, so they are vital to remember in the long term.
Watch your macros
Make sure you are getting the right fuel for your day. Eat more carbs when exercising, less when not, constant protein and more healthy fats on non-training days. Keep your eye open for sugar and try to avoid the alcohol. It's a big calorie addition!
Eat a balanced Diet
This is vital. There are no excuses. Eat a healthy balanced diet with as much nutritional value as possible. Get all of your macronutrients and your vitamins and minerals to give yourself everything you need, no matter how often you eat.
Find your preferences
Lastly, do what works for you. If you hate being hungry, eat more often, and if you binge all day, try out intermittent fasting. If you could happily just switch up a couple of things on your current diet, do that instead. Do whatever works best for you.
Ultimately, your health comes first. Use some forward planning and try your best to do what you can. Good luck, and always put your health first!
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If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.