One of the biggest myths in the fitness industry today has to do with meal timing. This is something that was first perpetuated by what are called “bro-scientists.” Basically, these are the types of people who try to give out advice, but they don’t really have anything to back their statements, and they are wrong 99% of the time. What used to be “common knowledge” was that you had to consume 6-8 meals spread evenly throughout the day every 2-3 hours.
The reasoning behind this is that your body needs a constant stream of nutrients throughout the day. Another reason was that it would speed up your metabolism by consuming more meals in a day. Your body would know that it was getting fed every few hours, so it would burn off calories faster because it would be getting another meal soon. Spreading meals out was also recommended since it was thought that your body could only digest 30 g. of protein in each meal.
First off, your nutrients don’t just go flying out the window if you consume too many calories at the same time. They simply get digested at a slower rate. Also, even smaller meals don’t fully digest after three hours. It actually takes much longer than that for a meal to completely digest depending on how large it was. Since the “bro” rule is to wait a few hours between each meal for it to digest so none of the nutrients go to waste, then you would technically have to wait more than 8 hours after each meal to consume the next one! Point being, scientifically speaking, there is no reason at all to think that you have to wait a few hours between meals or have so many meals per day. In fact, there have been numerous studies showing that meal timing has zero effect on body composition.
Of course, there can be some advantages on the timing of your meals such as when you have your pre-workout. If you had a meal right before training, then you may end up feeling bogged down and poor in the gym. If you didn’t go train until several hours after your last meal, then you may also feel lethargic. I would recommend waiting around two hours from your pre-workout meal until you start training. However, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to experiment! Some people have some of their best workouts after several hours of not eating a single thing. Finally, to destroy the argument on how eating often speeds up your metabolism, I will counter that argument by saying that correlation does not always equal causation.
The only way that you may see a real “crash” is if you are dropping calories into a super low deficit, but a lot of that also has to do with lost lean body mass that will occur by doing that. That’s a whole other subject that we will touch on at a later time.
When it comes down to it, 24 hour energy balance is what you should be focusing on. Let’s say that you are trying to lose one pound of fat per week, and you burn 3,000 calories each day. This means that you would have to consume 2,500 calories per day to burn that one pound of fat off each week. It would not matter whether you consume five meals of 500 calories each per day or have one meal of 2,500 calories each day; you will still yield the same results at the end.
To sum this up, meal timing is completely irrelevant. You can consume all of your calories in the morning, at night, or throughout the day as often as you would like. The important thing is that you track what you are eating, so you can hit whatever your macronutrient target is for the day. In the future, if you ever hear someone spewing out any of the “bro-science” listed about meal timing being important, then you can now correct and educate him. This myth has been destroyed.