Strong 6: T is for Timing, How Meal Intervals Can Optimize Your Diet for Success
Strong 6: T is for Timing
What time was your last meal? Do you pay attention to how frequently you eat? In this post, I’ll be giving a brief overview of the concept of meal timing- why I think it's great and how to implement it.
SO, what is meal timing?
For the purposes of this post, meal timing is the act of distributing your daily calories and macro-nutrients into meals or snacks to be consumed at pre-planned intervals of time.
Why should you time your meals?
Once upon a time, I defined “diet” or “healthy eating” as eating as little and as infrequently as possible. I’d skip breakfast, eat a serving of soup for lunch, and by dinner I was so ravenous, that I’d convince myself I deserved 2 McDoubles and a side of fries with a hefty dollop of ketchup for
dinner. And a pink lemonade- not soda- cuz #fruitishealthy. I felt lethargic, I acted like a complete shrew, and inevitably gave up within a couple days. Not a strategy for winning friends and influencing people. GREAT strategy for ending up single and left with one friend, Janice, that extra chin you grew.
Later, while doing my I’M SERIOUS THIS TIME pre-weight loss fact-finding mission, I read somewhere that eating smaller meals more frequently might help stave off hunger while dieting. Huh. Turns out, for me anyway, this theory rings true! TBH the science isn’t 100% conclusive on this point, but there IS anecdotal support for it and I see no reason why someone shouldn’t at least try it if whatever they're currently doing isn't working for them.
During my 60lb weight-loss, I was completely ignorant of macronutrients and paid no attention whatsoever to my protein intake. Don’t be me!
As I mentioned in the previous article on macro-nutrient splits, hitting a minimum daily protein intake (.8-1g/lb of body weight) (Hunt) is critical to maintaining and adding lean body mass (muscle).
Protein has also been shown to increase satiety (Paddon-Jones), so theoretically, getting small doses of it throughout the day could help keep hunger at bay.
Ideally, you want to divide your daily protein intake somewhat-evenly throughout your planned meals. For me, this is 20-35g of protein spread out between 5 meals.
In my experience, dividing protein into meals at planned intervals this way, helps me ensure I hit my daily protein goal consistently.
How often should you eat?
The answer to this question is highly specific to the individual. What’s your daily routine? Do you have time for a snack at work? Do you prefer to eat more frequently or less frequently?
About every 3-4 (awake) hours works well for me.
What this looks like: breakfast around 6:45am, snack around 9:45am, lunch at 1pm, pre-workout shake at 5:00pm, dinner at 7:45pm.
This is just an example! The exact timing and frequency may look entirely different for you. You should feel free to experiment and customize frequency to your lifestlye.
I eat slightly more frequently than 3-4 hours around my workouts
~1-2hrs pre-workout, ~1-2hrs post-workout
Like any other meal, the ones around my workout contain 20-35g of protein and 25+g of carbohydrates.
So to wrap this thing up:
I employ meal timing because it helps me be consistent and mindful about my eating choices. I feel better when I eat at regular intervals and I find that dieting is made much more sustainable. If concerning yourself with timing makes you want to rip your hair out and jump off the wagon, don’t do it, sister!!! The big picture of your nutrition is always more important than the minutia.
I think Brian St. Pierre said it best: "Follow your evidence. Track your experience. Do what works — measurably — for you. Flow with your natural inclination, and where your own self-experimentation takes you."
Hunt, Kyle. “Are You Consuming Too Much Protein - Optimal Intake For Athletes.” Hunt Fitness, 26 Oct. 2015, www.kylehuntfitness.com/optimal-protein-intake-for-athletes/.
Paddon-Jones, Douglas, et al. “Protein, Weight Management, and Satiety.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 May 2008, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/5/1558S/4650426.
St. Pierre, Brian. “Is Nutrient Timing Dead? Does ‘When’ You Eat Really Matter?” Precision Nutrition, 6 Feb. 2018, www.precisionnutrition.com/nutrient-timing.
St. Pierre, Brian. “Workout Nutrition Explained. What to Eat before, during, and after Exercise.” Precision Nutrition, 22 Feb. 2019, www.precisionnutrition.com/workout-nutrition-explained.
Some Additional Reading for Inquiring Minds: