If I gave you $500 to spend in one day and you went out and spent $400 before 10am, you now need to carefully budget the remaining $100 to make sure you make it through the day right?
Well your calorie intake is no different, I introduce to you, the calorie budget.
After years of trial and error with my own nutrition, I’ve learnt a few things:
- Calories in vs calories out will determine weight loss or gain
- Meal frequency is irrelevant (1)
- Going to sleep hungry SUCKS
#1 Calories in vs calories out will determine weight loss or gain
If you are in a negative energy balance (usually caused by eating in a slight calorie deficit along with energy expenditure from strength training, cardio and everyday activities) expending more calories than you are taking in, you will lose weight.
Likewise, if you’re in a positive energy balance (meaning you are taking in more calories than you’re expending/burning) you will gain weight.
#2 Meal Frequency Is Irrelevant
When I first started out I thought I needed to eat 6-7 small meals every few hours to help increase my metabolism and lose more fat… false.
With meal frequency being irrelevant, this means the amount of meals you consume throughout the day is completely up to you, regardless of whether that’s 6, 5, 3, 7 meals it really doesn’t matter as long as you reach your calorie/macronutrient/micronutrient target (see my recommendations for total meals below).
Now, with that being said, it’s important you find a personal balance of meals per day that is going to be suitable and sustainable to you and your lifestyle. For example, if you’re job involves long days with minimal breaks, then a 7 meals per day approach isn’t going to be optimal. In this case you may be more suited to eating 3-4 bigger meals throughout the day to make sure you reach your calorie intake target without the hassle of being stressed about not eating every couple of hours.
#3 Going To Sleep Hungry SUCKS!
I think we can all agree that going to sleep hungry sucks. Back when I was eating small meals 6-7 x per day, it was extremely common that I would go to sleep hungry. Not only did this make it hard to sleep, it also increased the likelihood that I would over-eat the following day.
If you’re eating in a calorie deficit (less calories than your maintenance level), then you want to be doing anything and everything to ensure the suffering is minimal.
Let’s say to lose weight I need to be eating 2,500 calories per day. If I eat the majority of these calories by lunch time, it’s more than likely that I will be hungry later in the day as a result.
This is where budgeting your calories can pay dividends. Now, this doesn’t mean you should split your calorie intake evenly over however many meals you eat throughout the day, but you should be planning your meals (and the calories you consume in each one) depending on your day to day activities/job and training time.
As weird as it may seem, start looking at your food intake like a financial budget, I guarantee you’ll be surprised at how much more thought goes into when and why you are eating your calories.
-Figure out your calorie goal.
-Find out what time of the day you train at your best or a time that suits your lifestyle.
-If you’re in a calorie deficit and not hungry in the morning, then don’t eat until later in the morning, budget your calories wisely in a way that allows you to eat more when you need them (If you do train fasted, try supplementing with branched chain amino acids)
-If you’re planning on eating a big meal late in the day, allow for a calorie buffer (always over-estimate) make sure you eat accordingly with the calories you have left over.
-Eat a number of meals that fits in with your lifestyle, although I personally don’t recommend eating anything less than 3 meals.
-Aim to spread your protein intake out evenly over the total number of meals eaten throughout the day.
-Figure out when you need your carbohydrates the most along with how many carbs around your workout time (peri-workout) will allow you to perform optimally.
In the end of the day, the way you spread out your calorie intake is completely up you, although it’s important to find a way that will allow you to train at your best, enjoy a social life, eat when your body needs the calories the most and achieve your health and fitness goals.