There’s an old saying, “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” This is absolutely true when it comes to nutrition and healthy eating. It’s all about planning ahead, from the grocery store, to the kitchen, to the time of day you eat. Too many times have I seen co-workers reach for the convenience of fast food because they did not plan ahead and bring their own lunch. That’s true with anything in life, if you do not have a plan and there is a lack of time, convenience is going to take over.
The average American typically eats any where from 2-3 times per day, which can be effective if portioned correctly. The typical person will either eat or very small breakfast or not at all, have decent sized lunch, and make their dinner the largest meal of the day. If you refer to my blog on Macronutrients, you’ll be informed that we eat for fuel for the body, so why you need the most fuel at the end of your day before you go to bed? This is where portion control and meal timing/frequency come into play.
Start by establishing your daily caloric needs (can easily be calculated with any online calculator) and decide how many meals you would like to break this up into. There are also Macro calculators online that can calculate how much protein, carbs, and fats you need based on your daily caloric intake. This is going to depend on your appetite and the amount of time you have to fit meals in during the day.
For the most part, as long as you are getting in the right number of macronutrients (see blog on Macronutrients), the number of meals will depend on the individual. Where I’ve seen diets fail with the 2-3 meal approach is with snacking. Typically with 2 -3 meals per day, you are talking about a minimum of 5-6 hours between each meal. If you’re like me and tend to always be hungry and that leaves lot of room for snacking. Granted if you are snacking on healthy choices, this plan will still work for you; however, more often than not, I see people running to the vending machine or again, eating what it conveniently available.
The approach that I take with meal frequency is a 6 meal per day approach. I find that with eating a smaller meal every 2-3 hours, helps fight hunger cravings and reduces snacking. With that said, this requires lots of meal prep, which I typically perform on Sundays. Pick the approach that works for you an your schedule.
Before going to the grocery store, research some healthy options that fit your taste buds that encompass all 3 macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats). Once you have found some options of each, make a list so that you know exactly what you are going to buy with out straying from your grocery list to unhealthy options. Plan for each meal that you will be prepping; using 6 meals per day example, you should get:
8 oz. per meal
1-2 cups per meal split between veggies and starchy carbs
Aim to get around the grams fit your macros per meal
Some additional items to consider:
Grill or George Foreman Grill
Seasoning (make sure it is either low sodium or no sodium)
Re-usable food containers
Lunch bag capable of carrying your meals for the day that you need to take with you
Pulling out and looking at all of the food that you bought at the store and wondering how you are going to prepare it all can look like a daunting task. However, think about all of the time you are going to save with having to prep each meal right before you eat it. The way I approach meal prep is by preparing everything in batches. I start with preparing all of the vegetables, followed the potatoes, rice, quinoa, etc. I start with these because they are the easiest to prepare and do not require as much attention. I cook all the meat last because it does require more attention to avoid under/over cooking.
Once all of you food is cooked, you have a couple options:
1. You can leave your food in big batches in containers if you are the type of person that constantly needs to vary up the combinations of food that you eat everyday.
2. You can split up everything evenly into the re-usable containers that you purchased.
I personally would recommend option 2 because then there is no more preparation involved; once the containers have been divided up, all you need to do is place in the fridge and grab and go each day. If you are someone who is worried about food not keeping by the end of the week, you can also freeze your meals in the containers to help them keep longer.
Set reminders on your phone for when you should eat. It is too easy to skip meals (especially if you’re eating 6 per day) when you are engulfed by your busy work day
Meal frequency is huge! It ramps up your metabolism and keeps it going throughout the day:
Eat 5-6 times per day (every 3 hours), this will keep your metabolism going throughout the day
Never skip breakfast. Breakfast, is rightfully named as you are breaking period of time your body was fasting overnight. This should be the meal that gives you energy to start and get through your day.
Portion Control. Best way to do this is meal prep on Sunday for the week. This way you can ensure that you split of your meals into evenly balanced portions. This will also keep you from reaching for convenience items like fast food because you are prepared.
Foods to Avoid. Avoid any processed foods or foods that are packed full of preservatives (This is one of the toughest parts because in this day and age, most of the food people eat contain either one or the other)
Avoid Carbs at night and avoid eating 2 hours before bed. The basics of carbs, is that you eat them for energy. If it is the evening time and your day is over, why would you need to fuel your body for energy? Also, eating too close to bed time will disrupt how efficiently your body digests the food and many of your bodily systems ramp down when you go to sleep.
Avoid refined/simple Sugar. Many of the so-called “low-fat” or “healthy” options that you see in the store are jam packed full of sugars. Try to keep the grams of sugar minimal in your food (under 10g)
Lots of Water. Drink a minimum of 1 Gallon of water throughout the day. This will not only keep you hydrated, but will also help keep you feeling full and prevent from snacking.
Add variety to your meal prep. This will help ensure that you do not get tired of it and stray away. Try varying different seasonings, types of meat, vegetables, grains/potatoes, and fats.
Below is my personal meal plan based on 6 meals per day, so you can get an idea of the types of food that I eat and the timing (also includes some supplementation and left off quantities as these should be determined by your own macros):
*This is also a high carb diet as it is my meal plan for adding muscle mass (bulking)*
Meal 1 – 7am
1 cup almond milk (unsweetened, original),
1 cup of Old Fashioned Oats
Chopped Almonds (Whole Natural)
Whey Protein Isolate
Meal 2 – 10am
Extra Lean Ground Turkey (97% Fat Free)
Whole green beans
Meal 3 – 1pm
Grilled Chicken Tenderloins
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Fish oil Pills (2g)
Meal 4 – 4pm
Grilled Extra Lean (99% Fat Free) Turkey Cutlets
Brown Rice or Whole Wheat Pasta
Whole Green Beans
Meal 5 – 7pm
Grilled Tilapia (or Turkey Burgers or Chicken/Turkey Tacos)
Whole Natural Almonds
Fish oil Pills (2g)
Meal 6 – 10pm
1 Scoop Casein Protein (Slow Digesting)
12 ounces of Almond Milk right before bed
1 tbsp Almond Butter
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