In recent years the arguments about meal frequency have started to wane off.
I’m so glad about that haha. Now that we know we can choose our prefered diet structure as long as we hit our macros, we can make our diet fit our lifestyle not the other way around. That’s great for adherence and consistency (which leads to results)!
Meal Frequency and Food Distribution Myths
Before I give you my recommended diet structure, I’d like to mention again that as long you control the total calories and macronutrients you’re eating, food distribution is irrelevant. Small meals do not ramp up the metabolism neither are they better for appetite control, eating in the evening doesn’t make you fat and you don’t need to eat protein every three hours to maintain your muscle mass.
This means you can choose whatever structure makes it easy and enjoyable for you to stick to the macros.
My recommended diet structure
With that said, I’ve noticed that eating small meals throughout the day is not the best strategy for most people. They never feel satisfied after a small meal and they lose a lot of time cooking, eating and cleaning.
For this reason I think it’s easier and more enjoyable to eat only 2 or 3 big meals a day using an Intermittent Fasting setup. This way, you maintain a negative energy balance but you can still eat big meals that leave you satisfied. The psychological pressure is much lower this way.
I’m sure most you are familiar with Intermittent Fasting. It is a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting and non-fasting. There are a few different popular types (you may have heard of Leangains, The Warrior Diet, or Eat Stop Eat) but in this guide we refer to a simple form of daily fasting where you are just purposefully skipping breakfast.
So the diet structure could look something like this:
- 12-2 PM – First meal of the day (30% of daily calories)
- 4-6 PM – Second meal (30% of calories)
- 8-9 PM – Final meal (40% of calories)
- 12-2 PM – First meal of the day (15% of daily calories)
- 4-6 PM – Second meal (60% of calories)
- 8-9 PM – Final meal (25% of calories)
- 12-2 PM – First meal of the day (40% of daily calories)
- 6-9 PM – Final meal (60% of calories)
* Training is done between meals or before the first one.
I recommend making the first meal somewhat smaller than the others. This is what I found to be the most enjoyable and convenient way to eat and so did my clients.
If you’re not familiar with IF, let me explain why this eating pattern is better for hunger control and adherance.
Why we skip breakfast
By skipping breakfast we take advantage of the fact that most people are not hungry in the morning and can save more calories for the second part of the day. In fact, many people (myself included) get hungry if they eat breakfast. Interestingly enough, fasting has appetite surpressing effects. During fasting, catecholamine levels increase and this could be an explanation for why we don’t feel hungry. Our bodies want us to move and search for food because this would increase our chance of survival.
Have you ever felt really hungry but for some reason could not eat right then only to discover that after a few hours your hunger had almost disappeared? That’s probably why that happens. By skipping breakfast we intentionally take advantage of this phenomenon.
Why we eat more in the second part of the day
We eat most of our food in the second part of the day for comfort and satiety.
Most people are genetically and socially inclined to eat more in the evening. Some researchers speculate that this is the way our species evolved – we would hunt or gather food during the morning hours and only get to eat in the second part of the day. If you think about it, this way of eating also fits our lifestyle today. In the morning and noon we go to work, or school and are generally busy and only in the second part of the day we have time to cook and eat a good meal.
Moreover, almost every social event we attend (weddings, parties, dinner with the family or friends, going to movies, etc) happens in the evening. That is why it makes sense to save a good portion of our calorie budget for the evening meal. Some people recommend the opposite, not to eat anything after 6 PM but this is a losing strategy right of the bat. How could we have a social life if we don’t eat in the evening?
How to eat during the day
The main point of fasting is pushing your first meal later in the day. To do this you’ll only have to fast for 4-6 hours after waking up. During this time you’ll drink water and have one cup of black coffee.
Coffee is great for blunting appetite so we use it strategically during the fasting hours. If you can, I recommend not drinking coffee right after you wake up but about one or two hours later. This will help you get to your first meal without feeling hungry at all. Also it helps if you drink it slowly over the course of 30-60 minutes.
If you choose to have 3 medium sized meals every day (my personal favorite) then around lunch you’ll have your first meal. I recommend having only protein and veggies for your first meal. This will save carbs for dinner allowing you to enjoy a big, satisfying meal.
So, you could eat 50-70g of protein in this meal and a large serving of veggies. For example: chicken breast and a large salad. Or you could have an omelet made from 2 whole eggs and 7-8 egg whites and a large salad. Or one large can of tuna and a large salad.
Around 4-6 PM you could have another meal like the first one or just a snack such as cottage cheese with an apple or one sandwich with a lot of lean meat. You should include at least 30g of protein in this meal while keeping the calories relatively low.
In the evening you’ll have your large meal that will consist of 50-70g of protein, 70-80g of carbs and 20-30g of fat. This will be a really large meal and you’ll feel amazing after it. You could have broiled beef or pork, a large serving of potatoes, a bit of butter and a large salad.
I personally picked up this eating style from Greg’s Aggressive Fat Loss Program and never looked back.
Other people prefer to eat just a little during the day and have a very large, kick-ass meal at night. My partner Greg from Kinobody does this.
When cutting he usually breaks his fast with an apple, about 5-6 hours after waking up.
As his first meal he has some meat and veggies or sometimes just a chocolate bar.
Then a few hours later he’ll have a 1200-1300kcal meal that includes most of his daily protein and fat, a lot of veggies and little carbs.
As his last meal he’ll have the carbs: usually potatoes, pop-chips, or frozen yogurt. That’s the beauty of Intermittent Fasting – it allows for some hedonism even when cutting.
Adherence benefits of Intermittent Fasting
So, in short the reasons I think IF works great for cutting are:
- Better hunger control because of the fasting period
- It’s harder to overeat during the short eating window
- More satisfying meals
- Less time spent preparing and eating food
- Saves enough calories for the evening meal to allow eating out
- Eliminates the need for cheat-meals
All these psychological factors combined with the right food choices will easily create the caloric deficit needed for fat loss.
What are your thoughts on the ideal diet structure? Have anything to add to this article? Do you have any questions? Let’s talk in the comment section below!
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- Frank A.J.L. Scheer, Christopher J. Morris, Steven A. Shea. The Internal Circadian Clock Increases Hunger and Appetite in the Evening Independent of Food Intake and Other Behaviors. Obesity (Silver Spring). Mar 2013; 21(3): 421–423. [PubMed]
- Berkhan M. June, 2012. Why Does Breakfast Make Me Hungry? [leangains]
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- Berkhan M. August, 2009. Ghrelin and Entertainment. [leangains]
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