Intermittent fasting is the first method on the chopping block of this idea of does it matter when you eat, so what is it and how does it measure up? Intermittent fasting (or IF for short) uses the mindset of fasting for a long period of time throughout each day and going without food until a certain feeding window. Once you reach the feeding window you take in all of your day’s calories in one massive meal and then when you are finished you go back to a long period of fasting. This method is very popular with bodybuilders because they have the ability to train when in a fasted state, and can engulf all of their food in one huge meal so they don’t have to worry about meal preparation all the time. Proponents of IF state that it’s better because you save time by only making one meal a day and you don’t have to worry of over eating because your body is satisfied with one meal so hunger is never a problem.
Does IF work better than multiple meals a day? Is it healthier? The truth is there is no evidence of this, as IF is only a method of eating. It’s not better or worse than eating many small meals a day, instead it’s just a preference. You won’t see muscle gains any more or any less if you decide to eat every few hours or if you eat once a day as long as your calories you are taking in are reaching the goal you desire. If you are bulking or cutting then you should already know your calorie requirements so whether you get that number with one meal or seven it doesn’t matter. Does it matter when you eat? No it doesn’t and no science has proven otherwise. IF is a great way to watch your food intake and is attractive if you only want to make one meal a day.
Eating many smaller meals a day
This is the other method of eating on the chopping block. The idea behind eating many small meals a day is that people feel they will be hungry often if they wait around for a while and don’t eat food. Instead of running to junk food or snacking on something they shouldn’t, they instead plan on eating multiple small meals every two to three hours and this will cut down on total calorie intake and give them a fighting chance in weight and fat loss. Preparations have to be made in advance as you can’t just wing six or seven meals a day, so if you like the idea of planning out your meals in advance this is the method for you.
How does this style of eating measure up to IF? Again we’re going to reiterate the point that neither method is better or worse. Some people prefer to make multiple small meals and snacks to keep their hands busy and to give them the mental idea that they aren’t full. Others prefer to eat one big meal a day and that’s just fine as well. Neither method will prove to be better than another and unless a breakthrough scientific study comes out after the time of this writing that proves contrary to that statement then this debate should cease. How often you eat doesn’t matter, it’s how much.
Part of this great debate between the two eating styles is the very heavily misunderstood ideas about our metabolism and catabolism. Our metabolism is always going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While it is true that prolonged over or under eating will affect our metabolism, keeping a level eating pattern won’t change that. Some people throw out this ridiculous concept that if you don’t have any food in your stomach for like 8 hours your body starts to break down muscle and eat away at itself. This idea is totally ludicrous and has been proven false so many times I’m still shocked it’s thrown around. Our body doesn’t enter a state of catabolism (when the body breaks down muscle to keep alive) for at least a good six days or so depending on the nature of the persons genes and body type. If the statement were true that we breakdown our muscle to survive after 8 hours then we’d be in catabolism constantly since we have to sleep that long to get proper rest! So in the great debate over does it matter when you eat, it surely doesn’t when it comes to choosing IF or choosing many small meals a day. Your body will not erode and tear down precious muscle when you have pounds and pounds of stored energy (fat) to tap into first so don’t let the broscience shy you away to your favorite style of eating. Eat many meals or fewer it doesn’t matter as long as you get your total caloric needs daily.
Now that the point has been made that IF and multiple meals are great and purely preference then hopefully this debate starts to disappear. If you ran a mile or walked a mile you still burn the same calories because the same effort was exerted. If it took you 10 minutes to run a mile but it takes you 40 minutes to walk it, the net result is the same force exerted. So in the same way it doesn’t matter if you get your total calories for the day in one shot or over the course of the entire day, what matters is that you got that number and your body is satisfied. If you want to eat a lot of little meals or one big one it won’t affect your body and it certainly won’t cause your body to enter catabolism unless you stop eating for a week which is never good. Take these tips to heart and choose which one you like, not which one is better. It doesn’t matter when you eat, it matters how much and either method will help you in reaching your fitness goals.