Personalized Nutrition: Meal Timing & Frequency

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Time to write about timing.  I’ve been writing a whole series on personalized nutrition, starting with The Person, then discussing the importance of Basic Lifestyle Guidelines, following that with Protein, Hydration, and Food Quality.  Today, I want to help answer the questions, “When should I eat?” and, “How many times should I eat per day?”

When Should I Eat & How Many Times Should I Eat Per Day?

Well, first of all, let me say this: I never want to tell anyone what they ‘should’ do.  Sharon Prete, the OPEX CCP instructor who taught my Lifestyle Coaching course calls this, “should-ing all over people”.  If you’re worrying about what you ‘should’ do, then you’re worrying about someone else’s priorities, not your own.  If you’re telling someone what they ‘should’ do, you’re telling them how to follow your own priorities rather than their own.  That’s not good.  So, let me clarify that there are no one-size-fits-all prescriptions.  I will not tell you when you should eat, but I will talk about some principles that will be helpful.

The first principle is fasting vs. feeding.  Unless you’re Ronnie Coleman trying to get as huge as humanly possible, virtually every human being fasts through the night while they sleep and feeds during the day while awake.  This is why the first meal of the day after waking up is called ‘breakfast’.  That’s the original form of ‘intermittent fasting’, it’s called sleeping!  You don’t have to eat breakfast immediately after waking up–or even soon after–but whenever you eat your first meal, that’s called ‘breakfast’.  The last meal before you begin your nightly fast, around here we usually call that ‘dinner’.

Now, as a baseline for folks who are just beginning to make nutrition improvements and eat more consciously, I would recommend a roughly 12-hour fasting period with a roughly 12-hour feeding period.  Starting from breakfast, I would advise them to eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours for a total of 3 meals and 1-2 snacks.  This is a great system for learning about blood-sugar control.  It prevents long bouts of low blood-sugar from under-eating, as well as the massive insulin spikes that come with over-eating.  This also allows adequate time for digestion and absorption to take place between meals and before bed.

Once this baseline has been established and practiced for a while, people are able to practice departures from it.  With their improved sensitivity to blood sugar management and adequate digestion, they can now experiment with other techniques that might better suit their particular goals.  Sometimes you’ll want to eat more or less frequently to match your work or activity schedule.  Sometimes you’ll make tweaks to the schedule in order to accomplish body composition goals.  There are a lot of reasons to initiate longer fasts or to increase the feedings, but practicing that baseline first gives you a strong foundation to work from.

Now, this is where the ‘personalized’ part comes into the conversation.  Initially, everyone is going to arrange those 12-hour windows a little differently, depending on the rhythms and schedule of their day.  That 3-4 hour spacing of 3 meals and 1-2 snacks allows a lot of flexibility for folks based on their work and family life.  Some people are already basically doing this, while some folks will take months to get there.  Then, once we’ve established that baseline, everyone has the potential to take it in very different directions based on their goals.  So, they’re all on their own personal nutrition journey and all those journeys look a bit different.

What all these journeys have in common is the respect for feeding (we need energy), fasting (the digestive system needs a break), blood sugar management (keep it steady), and digestion (food’s no good without it).



Published by nicnakis

Nicholas |nik-uh-luhs| n. a male given name: from Greek words meaning "victory of the people" John |jon| n. a male given name: from Hebrew Yohanan, derivative of Yehohanan "God has been gracious" Nakis |nah-kis| n. a Greek family name derived from the patronymic ending -akis (from Crete) Amha |am-hah| n. an Ethiopian given name meaning "gift", from Geez Selassie |suh-la-see| n. Ethiopian name meaning "trinity", from Geez

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