How Many Times Should I Eat Per Day?
Most people think they should eat about 3 meals per day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s just like most people think you should drink eight 8 oz glasses of water a day. But, every person is their own unique person. We are different sizes, we use our bodies differently, and we have our own individual goals and therefore energy requirements.
The Importance of Protein
For starters, as a Sports Nutrition Coach, I generally don’t recommend to anyone that they eat less than 3 times per day. There are some extreme situations where I might recommend this, but, without a consultation with me, with a concern that really warrants this, most people should consider fueling their body at least 3 times per day. The reason why is protein. Protein is the building block of our body. Most structures in our body are built from protein, not just our muscles. (But, our muscles are a very important reason why we need to eat protein.) By eating protein at least 3 times per day, we help to ensure we are always growing and not dying.
Our Bodies in Motion
Movement is a hallmark of life itself. Our bodies are built to be in motion. We are supposed to use our muscles to breath, to find food and water, and occasionally run for our lives. During these processes, we breakdown structures in our body built from protein. When we are at rest, we need to be rebuilding these structures so that we can do it all again the next day. If we are not consuming the right building blocks, we cannot rebuild, and we break down. This is the process of degeneration. It is considered part of the normal aging process, but it does not have to be. We don’t have to get weaker as we age if we make the right dietary (and fitness and rest) choices day in and day out.
In our office, when we begin working with new clients on nutrition, we have a conversation about their goals, and then we apply some math. The goal of this blog is to point the reader in the right direction as to the number of times they should eat, in order to reach their goals (since we don’t know you or your goals, we are going to make some assumptions. But, if you are a member of Moyer Total Wellness, you can always schedule a no charge Wellness Consultation with Dr. Moyer to get more specific information).
Do the Math
To determine the number of meals that you need, consider this situation. A 180 lb person, who wants to maintain their current body composition and is moderately active. Here is the math we would do in our office:
180 x .75* = 135
*The “.75” is the number we use to determine the number of grams of protein per day an average person needs to maintain their structure. (There is absolutely a discrepancy as to how to perform this calculation. I have seen this number be as low as .36 and as high as 1.0. It does depend on age, goals, activity levels, etc. I tend to err on the side of a bit too much protein, rather than not enough, due to the importance of protein and the fact it rarely leads to gaining fat)
So, in our example, this person needs 135 grams of protein per day.
But, research shows us, that the maximum amount of protein a person can use as building blocks in a single meal is 30**. So, the next equation we would apply in this situation is:
135 / 30** = 4.5
4.5 is the number of meals this person needs to eat per day, assuming they are getting 30 grams of protein at every meal throughout the day. (a half of a meal could be a snack.) In this situation, I would probably recommend to my client that they eat 5 times a day with 27 grams of protein per meal (5 x 27 = 135)
**A lot of research has been performed trying to determine Muscle Protein Synthesis rates based upon the amount of protein (and type of protein) at each meal. Most research shows that 20 grams per meal is very efficiently used as building blocks (and not broken down to use as energy) where as there is absolutely no benefit of 90 grams of protein over 30 grams for a single meal). There is also a individual variance, meaning some individuals may be able to put 30 grams of protein into their muscles at a meal, whereas others it might be less than 20. This might account why two people can eat the same diet, the same grams of protein, and the same type, and one person is a muscle bound, and the other is skinny. (We always recommended “hard gainers” eat 5+ meals per day).
So, How Much Steak Is 30 Grams?
Generally, an ounce of meat (egg, chicken, steak, etc) is 7 grams of protein. Due to preparation and variations in measurement, I generally use 6 grams of protein per ounce. So, I recommend 5 ounces of meat per meal. (assuming you are not vegetarian. Plant protein is not the same).
So, when it comes to daily meal planning, I recommend determining your needed amount of protein per day to determine the number of meals you need per day. If you are having trouble reaching your goals, or have special dietary concerns, give our office a call and ask for a nutritional consultation with me, Dr. Moyer, CSNC.
Written by: Randy Moyer, DC, CSNC