How Many Meals A Day – When & How Often Should You Eat Daily?

At this point you pretty much have every major aspect of your ideal diet plan figured out.

You know how many calories to eat a day, how many grams of protein, fat and carbs to eat a day, and you have a good idea of which foods should (and should not) most often provide those nutrients.

So, you basically know the full details of the diet plan that will allow you to reach your specific goal (losing fat, building muscle, being healthy, etc.) as effectively as possible.

What you need to figure out now is how to actually organize your diet and structure your meals.

What I mean is…

  • How many meals should you eat a day? (3 meals? 6 meals?)
  • How often should you be eating? (Frequently? Infrequently? Every 3 hours exactly?)
  • What size should each of your meals be? (Big? Small?)
  • When and at what times should you eat those meals? (Early? Late?)
  • Are there certain times you must avoid eating and certain times you must eat? (Night? Breakfast?)

Those are all damn good questions. Let’s answer them…

The MOST Important Part Of Organizing Your Diet

Believe it or not, I can answer every single one of the questions above with one simple statement.

Don’t think I can do it? Alright then, check this out…

Whatever will make you most likely to consistently eat the way you are supposed to eat, THAT’S how you should eat. Whatever is most convenient, enjoyable and sustainable for YOU is the exact way YOU should organize your diet.

In all honesty, that’s the one true answer to every question you have about how many meals to eat a day, when/how often you should eat them, and how those meals should be set up.

Why? Because the thing that matters most in your diet plan is your total calorie and nutrient (protein, fat, carb) intake each day.

Once that has all been set to ideal levels (like we’ve done throughout this guide), everything else is just a minor detail that should be set up in whatever way makes you most likely to consistently stick to it.

Confused? Skeptical? Think I’m just flat out wrong? Don’t worry, it’s cool.

It just means I’m going to need to destroy a few common diet and nutrition myths. This is going to be fun…

The Myth Of Meal Frequency: How Many Meals A Day?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard that you need to eat 6 smaller meals a day. Or that you need to eat every 2-3 hours exactly. Or that eating smaller meals more frequently is better than eating larger meals less frequently.

Now raise your hand if you’ve heard that the #1 reason for eating like this is because it will “speed up your metabolism” and therefore improve your ability to lose fat, build muscle, prevent fat gain, and more.

I’m going to guess that a whole lot of hands just went up.

The funny thing is… it’s all bullshit!

And that’s scientifically proven bullshit, I might add.

Virtually every single person in the nutrition field has at some point suggested that eating 6 smaller meals a day (with a frequency of every 2-3 hours) was more beneficial than eating 3 larger meals a day (with an obviously lesser frequency).

Hell, articles I’ve written prior to 2007 may still contain such recommendations. (Updating them is on my to-do list.)

The thought was that since the process of digestion burns calories (aka the Thermic Effect Of Food), we would burn MORE calories by eating MORE often. We’d “increase our metabolism” and all sorts of wonderful things would happen as a result.

Unfortunately, NONE of it turned out to be true.

Numerous studies have been done over the last few years looking specifically at meal frequency and its effects on metabolic rate, weight loss, and other similar areas.

In every case, the conclusion is always the same: there is no significant difference whatsoever in terms of “speeding up your metabolism” or any similar meal frequency voodoo.

Whether you eat 6 smaller meals a day, 3 bigger meals a day, every 3 hours exactly, more frequently, less frequently… none of it makes any difference in the end.

As long as your total daily calorie and nutrient intake remains what it needs to be, the manner in which you consume those calories/nutrients just doesn’t matter.

Want proof? Alright…

One study took 2 groups of overweight people and had each person create the same sized caloric deficit and then consume that same calorie intake every day for 8 weeks.

HOWEVER, they had one group eat 3 meals a day, and the other group eat 6 meals a day.

The result? They all lost the exact same amount of weight in the end.

In fact, the study showed that there was no difference at all in fat loss, appetite control, or anything similar. Metabolisms didn’t speed up or slow down. Meal frequency just didn’t matter.

The only thing that does matter is eating the right total amount of calories each day and getting those calories from an ideal amount of protein, fat and carbs.

How many meals you eat a day, how frequently you eat them, and how big or small they are just doesn’t matter. It’s what you eat, not how you eat it.

So, how many meals should I eat a day?

Now that you know there are no magical benefits to eating 6 smaller, more frequent meals a day, you’re probably wondering how many meals you should actually eat.

Well, the general answer is that anywhere between 3-6 meals a day (hell, even 2-7) is a fine workable option for most people.

But the more specific answer is exactly what I told you at the beginning of this article: whatever will make you most likely to consistently stick to your diet… THAT’S how you should eat!

Meaning:

  • If you’re someone who enjoys eating 5-7 smaller meals a day, or prefers eating every 2-3 hours, and likes eating more frequently… then by all means… eat like this! It won’t “speed up your metabolism,” but if it’s the type of diet organization that you personally like best, then eating this way is what will make you most likely to stick to your diet. And really, that’s ALL that matters here.
  • But if you’re someone who finds it inconvenient having to eat so frequently, or finds it annoying eating 6 small meals that leave you constantly unsatisfied and hungry, or feel like you’re being forced to eat in a way that you don’t enjoy… then this is NOT how you should be eating. Instead, 3 (or 4) bigger meals per day is probably more ideal.

Like I said, it’s all about doing what’s best for you, your schedule, your lifestyle, and your personal preferences.

Another factor to consider when choosing your ideal meal frequency is your specific calorie intake. For example…

  • Someone with a lower daily calorie intake will end up having to eat a bunch of tiny unsatisfying snack-sized meals if they try to spread their daily calories out over 6 meals a day.
  • Someone with a higher daily calorie intake might feel like they are about to explode if they try to cram all of their daily calories into 3 huge meals a day.

This is just another example of why diet organization should always come down to doing what’s most enjoyable, convenient, and sustainable for YOU.

Because when you do that, the chances of you eating like you are supposed to be eating will increase big time, and that’s the only benefit worth caring about.

The Myth Of Meal Timing Part 1: Eating Late At Night

Have you ever heard that it’s bad to eat later in the day? That you should stop eating at 6pm, or 7pm, or 8pm, or 9pm? Or maybe that you should just stop specifically eating carbs (or maybe fat) at these times?

Yeah… that’s all bullshit too.

Calories, protein, fat, and carbs at 9am are still the same calories, protein, fat and carbs at 9pm. Your body doesn’t care or know the difference.

There’s no magical fat-storing switch that flips on at a specific time and converts everything you eat into fat from that point on. It’s pure nonsense.

This whole “don’t eat after whenever-o’clock” concept is just a stupid myth that exists because many of the people who eat more calories than they’re supposed to tend to do a lot of that excess eating at night.

Does that mean eating at night makes you fat? No, it means eating too much makes you fat, and it just so happens that night time is when a lot of people end up consuming their excess calories.

If you consume those same excess calories at 7am, you’d still gain fat just the same. The time of day you overeat isn’t the cause… it’s the overeating itself.

So, should I eat late at night?

As long as your total calorie and nutrient intake remains what it needs to be for the day, feel free to eat as late as you want. It won’t make any difference whatsoever in terms of fat loss or fat gain, muscle growth or muscle loss, or anything similar.

However, if you prefer eating earlier, or if eating later at night tends to cause you to overeat, then by all means avoid eating late at night.

Whatever is most convenient, enjoyable and sustainable for you… THAT’S what you should do.

The Myth Of Meal Timing Part 2: “Special” Required Eating Times

Have you ever heard that there are certain “special” times of the day when you absolutely MUST eat a meal? Specifically, how you MUST eat breakfast? How it’s the most important meal of the day? How you will never lose fat or build muscle if you don’t?

Guess what… that’s bullshit too.

Now, I personally eat breakfast every single day because it fits my schedule and preferences. Maybe it fits yours too. However, this doesn’t change the fact that you don’t have to if you don’t want to, and that there’s absolutely nothing magical about doing so.

The myth of breakfast being a borderline requirement for losing fat or preventing fat gain once again exists as a result of misunderstood research.

You see, studies do show that many fatter people do indeed skip breakfast. So, based on this, people like to come out and definitively say “skipping breakfast makes you fat!”

However, the actual truth is that people who skip breakfast tend to be people with poorer overall eating habits in general. They eat more junk, less healthy stuff, and of course… more total calories.

Skipping breakfast is just one of the many common dietary occurrences among people with crappy eating habits.

They aren’t fat because they skip breakfast and “their metabolisms weren’t jump started” or any similar nonsense. They’re fat because they eat in an uncontrolled fashion that leads to too many calories being eaten.

Another huge flaw in the research is that overweight people tend to skip breakfast as a way of eating less so they CAN lose weight. Meaning, they skip breakfast because they’re overweight, not the other way around.

So, should I eat breakfast?

As long as your total daily calorie and nutrient intake ends up being what it needs to be, it really doesn’t matter. So, do whatever is best for you…

  • If you’re like me and you prefer to eat breakfast, then you should definitely eat breakfast. Maybe you wake up hungry. Maybe it helps you come to yourself and get moving. Maybe it helps control the way you eat for the rest of the day (meaning you may overeat later if you don’t eat now). Whatever the reason, if you like eating breakfast… do it!
  • If you’re someone who’s super busy in the morning and don’t have the time, or just aren’t particularly hungry that early in the day, or just feel inconvenienced by having to stop and eat breakfast every morning, then feel free to skip it and have your first meal of the day a few hours later when it IS convenient for you. As long as you still eat the right total amount of calories/nutrients for day, it’s perfectly fine.

This same concept applies to any other times of the day you’ve heard you must or must not be eating.

As long as you get your totals right for the day, all that matters is doing whatever is most convenient, enjoyable and sustainable for you.

The Myth Of Meal Timing Part 3: PRE & POST Workout Nutrition

Have you ever heard that it’s beneficial to eat a proper PRE and/or POST workout meal? That what you eat in the meals before and after your workout can play a positive role in the recovery process and your overall ability to build or maintain muscle, increase strength or improve performance?

Well… that’s actually not a myth at all. IT’S TRUE!

Now that I’ve disproved the most common myths related to diet organization, I figured I should mention the one aspect of meal scheduling that actually does have real benefits.

I’m of course talking about the meals directly surrounding your workouts.

I’ll explain this aspect of your diet in detail a bit later, but for now all you need to know is that if there are any times of the day that are truly worthy of getting any special attention in your diet, it’s your PRE and POST workout meals.

They definitely won’t make or break your diet’s success (only failing to hit your ideal calorie/nutrient totals for the day will do that), but getting these meals right will most definitely help. More about this later.

Other times of the day though? It just doesn’t matter.

Summing It All Up: When and How Often Should You Eat?

Well, just like I said way back at the beginning of this article, everything you need to know about diet organization and meal structure can be summed up in one simple statement:

Whatever will make you most likely to consistently eat the way you are supposed to eat, THAT’S how you should eat. Whatever is most convenient, enjoyable and sustainable for YOU is the exact way YOU should organize your diet.

Whether that means eating 3 big meals or 6 small meals a day, frequently or infrequently, early or late, breakfast or no breakfast, or anything in between… that’s up to your own personal preferences.

There’s nothing magical or special about doing it one way or the other.

All that truly matters is that you eat the right total amount of calories, protein, fat and carbs each day and get those nutrients from mostly higher quality sources.

Whatever way you need to organize your diet and structure your meals to consistently make that happen… THAT’S how you should do it.

What’s Next?

Now it’s time to get even deeper into the specifics your diet plan.

I’m talking about exactly what foods you should and shouldn’t eat and exactly what adjustments you can (and in some cases, SHOULD) make to your diet.

Basically, how to make sure everything in your diet fits your exact preferences perfectly. Let’s do it…

How To Choose The Best Foods For Your Diet & Adjust Everything To Fit Your Preferences

(This article is part of a completely free and amazingly awesome guide to creating the absolute best diet plan possible for your exact goal and preferences. Check out the entire guide here: The Best Diet Plan)

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