How many meals should you eat a day
Three meals a day is no longer the standard for everyone. Alternative schedules, with which you eat more small meals, for example, are becoming increasingly popular. But is it actually healthier to eat more often? Or is it better to stick to breakfast, lunch, and dinner? In short: how many meals should you eat a day is an ideal choice? That turns out to depend on many factors! In this blog, we list what you should take into account when planning your food.
Multiple meals a day?
First the basics: what do we actually mean when we talk about extra meals in a day? There are various schedules imaginable in which you eat more often. Popular options include:
- Eat six small meals instead of the three ‘standard’ meals
- Eat three slightly smaller main meals with healthy snacks in between
- Eat an extra lunch, so that on balance you eat four meals a day
Of course, not every meal has to be an extensive menu. Just a peanut cheese sandwich is also a great option.
But why would you choose to eat more often in the day? There are many different reasons for this, depending on the goal you are trying to achieve with it. Below we discuss the benefits of eating multiple times a day if you want to lose or gain weight.
How many meals should you eat a day for weight loss?
Eating more often is often promoted as a useful weight loss trick. There would be two reasons for this. First, the idea is that if you eat more often, your digestion will speed up and you will burn more calories. Second, eating more often can help prevent hunger. To what extent are those stories correct?
To be clear right away: the idea that you burn more calories with smaller meals is unfortunately nonsense. It is true that after eating your body has to work a little harder: the so-called thermogenesis. And it is also true that this leads to energy consumption.
But: if you eat more often, you will consume less per meal. And with that, the effect per meal is also less great! Research shows that eating more often does not automatically lead to more fat loss. This is therefore not a good reason to eat more often a day.
Reason number two, however, is a great reason to schedule more meals per day! Many people get a rumbling stomach when they have to wait hours between lunch and dinner. There is a good chance that sooner or later you will reach for unhealthy snacks. And that doesn’t make losing weight any easier!
Extra meals, or hearty snacks, can provide a solution. Because you plan them in advance, you ensure that they can fit in well with your total amount of calories per day. And because you are less hungry, you stick to it better.
That doesn’t mean extra meals are the only way to lose weight! Further below, we mention a few more considerations that you can take into account when planning.
How many meals should you eat a day for Muscle Growth?
Interestingly enough, multiple meals a day are also recommended if you want to gain weight. But why should eating more often be helpful for muscle growth?
Again, two reasons are often put forward here. The first: your body can absorb more proteins if you spread them out throughout the day. The second: if you eat more often, you can often eat more.
Proteins per meal
You may have heard that your body can only absorb a maximum of 30 grams of protein per meal. Good news if fright now hits your heart: that is a myth. Your body is a lot more flexible than that and can absorb more protein if necessary.
However, that’s not to say it’s wise to cram all your protein into one meal a day. Your body is producing new cells all day long, and it is nice if the building materials are a bit spread out in stock.
This is fine in three meals, but eating more often can be a way to get extra protein. For example, if you do intensive strength sports, that can have a lot of added value.
In addition, extra meals can also help you to eat more in general. Especially if you exercise fanatically and want to grow, you often have to eat a lot. You can divide 3000 kcal per day over three meals – but then you will be packed after every meal.
It is therefore often better to eat several meals, which are a bit smaller. How many meals per day is ideal for you, of course, differs per person. But with, for example, six meals of 500 kcal, many people can already manage a lot better.
How many meals should you eat a day?
So it is advantageous to schedule more than three meals a day. Does that also mean that you have to’ eat more often if you want to lose or gain weight?
That is certainly not the case. There are also advantages to eating less often. That is, for example, the idea behind Intermittent Fasting, a diet in which you always fast for part of the day. That too has all kinds of health benefits. And although it is less useful for gaining weight, it can help you lose weight.
And skipping breakfast isn’t as unhealthy as it is sometimes made (provided you do it right). In short: multiple meals a day is certainly not necessary.
How do you determine whether it is a good choice for you? The following points are good to consider:
Are you hungry quickly?
Not everyone digests their meals equally quickly. One can easily go through a day on a hearty breakfast. The other is already looking forward to a plate of food after two hours.
If you’re hungry quickly, it’s probably a great idea to eat a little more often. This prevents you from being hungry for hours – and possibly having quick snacks.
But don’t you need food that quickly at all? Then there is less need to eat more often. In that case, it may even be easier to eat less if you also eat fewer meals.
When are you hungry?
How many meals a day are ideal for you also depends on how your appetite is distributed throughout the day. For example, some people don’t feel like eating at all in the morning. It doesn’t make much sense to plan both breakfast and a morning snack. Skipping breakfast is just as good an option.
Conversely, some people feel like eating late at night, and others not at all. An evening snack can be a good way to provide your body with extra protein for recovery during the night. But don’t you feel like it at all? Then it is also not ‘mandatory’.
Also, look at the distribution of the calories according to your needs throughout the day. Do you like a hearty breakfast? Then plan a relatively large meal there. Do you always collapse during the afternoon? Don’t forget to plan tasty energy-rich meals there!
What is practical?
And last but not least: what comes out in your daily routine? You may well have thought that you want to eat eight times a day, but during an office day with one break that is not convenient.
So also take a look at the times when you can eat. When do you have a break? When can you put work aside for a quick snack for a few minutes? How much time is there between your meal times and where is it nice to fill that gap with a snack?
This often makes it clear how many meals per day are practically feasible for you. And this way you also prevent your good intentions from being stranded by practical problems within a few days.
Make a feeding schedule!
Once you have figured out how many meals a day is ideal for you, it is wise to make a nutritional schedule. That certainly applies if you start with a new nutritional plan. If you never eat in between meals, you don’t have much sense of how much each meal should be. When you try to do that off the cuff, problems are lurking.
So avoid accidentally eating too much or too little, and at least make a plan for the first weeks! This way you can be sure that you are consuming the right number of meals in a healthy way.