When do you get up and when do you go to bed? The answer to these questions can help you figure out the best meal timing and frequency for yourself. People who have a long day—those who get up fairly early and stay up quite late—are probably going to have (and might also need) more “eating events” during their waking hours. In this case, I might suggest that kilojoules be divided over three meals and three snacks: one mid-morning, one mid-afternoon and a light one in the evening. On the other hand, someone who is a late riser probably won’t need a mid-morning snack. And if they turn in relatively early, their dinner meal should probably be the last eating event of the day.
What time of day do you exercise, and how hard do you work out? The answer to this question helps determine what needs to be done in terms of fuelling up before exercise, and refuelling afterwards. Those who do low to moderate intensity exercise of relatively short duration (say, a brisk 45 minute walk) probably don’t need to fuel up before they go—even if it’s first thing in the morning. But if exercise is more strenuous, and/or longer in duration, it’s a different story.
If you work out hard first thing in the morning, you’ll need to set aside some kilojoules to spend on some carbohydrates to “top off your tank” ahead of time. Something light and easy to digest is best: a banana, a carton of yogurt, a small protein shake would all work. You’d then refuel at breakfast. If your workout takes place before lunch, you’d need to set aside some kilojoules for a mid-morning snack. If you wait until after work, you’d need a snack mid-afternoon. In both cases, the meal you eat after your workout would serve to refuel you. If you usually work out after dinner, then you’d want to spend more of your kilojoules on your mid-afternoon snack and keep dinner on the light side—and then have a small snack to help you refuel afterwards.
Who does the cooking? If you prepare most of your own meals, you have a lot of control over what goes on your plate. That means that you’re the one who decides what you’ll eat, how much, and how the food is prepared. All of this can really work to your advantage. Even so, it can be time-consuming to prepare meals. So, it helps to make sure your refrigerator, freezer and pantry are stocked with healthy staples. Put together a set of quick, easy and healthy recipes that you can turn to on busy weeknights. And take time on the weekends to plan your meals, and do some prep work to make weeknight cooking a little easier. If someone else cooks for you at home, ask for their support in helping you eat healthier meals that work with your plan. A healthy, balanced diet is something everyone in the household can enjoy.
How often do you eat out? If you eat most of your meals out, it can be more challenging to keep your kilojoules in check. This is primarily because you don’t have the same amount of control over portion sizes or how food is prepared. If you eat out frequently, a good tactic is to start your day at home with a protein shake. It’s quick and simple to make, and you can start your day with a healthy, kilojoule-controlled meal. Then, move towards protein and vegetables at lunch and dinner, and pay attention to how foods are prepared. Many restaurants post the kilojoule counts of their menu items online. Check out the information before you go, and use it to plan your meals. If you know portions are likely to be large, ask that half be set aside before it’s served to you and you can have it for lunch the next day.
Are portion sizes a problem for you? If you struggle with large portion sizes, you may find that eating more frequently can actually help. Many people eat huge portions because they think it will keep them from snacking, or keep them from eating too much at the next meal. What’s more likely to happen, however, is that you’re simply training yourself to feel satisfied only after you’ve eaten a huge meal. Instead, learn to eat just enough so that you’re not hungry any more. But not so much that you can’t eat another bite. If you know you’ll be eating every few hours, you can teach yourself to be content with less food at each meal and snack.
Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.