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6 meals vs 3 meals a day (part 2)




In part one of this series I had talked about the benefits and limitations of eating 6 meals a day, and who is it best suited for. So if your goals require that you eat multiple times a day, then do it, but as I mentioned, be sure that you have the lifestyle and dedication to be able to do so. In this post I will talk about what can be considered an almost opposite way of eating, that is eating 3 meals a day, since unlike the 6 meals a day, the 3 meals a day plan will have you go much longer without eating a meal. Although not as extreme as eating one meal a day, you will still generally have about 6-7 hours between meals, which is a long time for many people who are used to eating every 2-3 hours.

As you will know that the 3 meals a day plan is often referred to as eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for most of us as children, this is how we were taught to eat. According to this plan you will start your day with a meal sometime after waking up, then during the daytime you eat your lunch, and after sunset and before bedtime have your dinner. Its a very simple eating plan, and compared to eating 6 meals a day is far more convenient.

However, a few decades ago this plan was challenged by those who suggested 6 meals a day, claiming that going more than 3 hours without eating anything would lead to drop in energy levels, loss of lean muscle tissue, increased fat storing, etc. Thus began the craze for eating mini meals, carrying snacks around, and consuming expensive protein shakes. Suddenly it seemed as if one's life had to revolve around eating the whole day, and this according to the "experts" was to be done whether you were a professional athlete, or an individual who works from home and has no physical activity.

Then, like a lot of retro things that are making a comeback, the 3 meals a day also made a comeback. Actually, it came back thanks to the growing popularity of fasting. Various books and nutritional experts in the last decade or so have started promoting fasting as a way of eating for superior health and performance, with some asking you to go 24 hours without food. The fasting experts claim that the 6 meals a day plan is the worst way to eat, and is the reason for your excess bodyfat, and poor hormonal profile. This of course gave an opportunity to the 3 meals a day experts to make a comeback. Most claimed that the fasting gurus have a point when they say that 6 meals a day will lead to gain in bodyfat and poor health. They however warned that despite the benefits, very few people can actually go without food for 12 hours or more each day, and thus eating every 6 hours or so was best for most individuals.

One of the major claims for 3 meals a day being better for fat loss is that it helps to keep insulin and blood sugar levels low and thus bodyfat is lower. In my personal opinion however this is where most people make a major mistake, that is they do not take the total caloric intake into calculation. Except for the few athletes who eat 6 clean meals a day, most who eat 6 meals a day are either eating a lot of junk like doughnuts and burgers in their 6 meals a day, or are drinking high sugar protein shakes. That type of 6 meals will never compare well to 3 meals of clean homemade food. So when these people cut out the fries, burgers, and sugary protein shakes, their blood sugar level is going to be better controlled and their bodyfat will be lower. However if we compare the 6 meals of an athlete who is eating cleaner and training hard, then multiple meals in this case will not necessarily cause excess bodyfat levels.

As I have said in the previous post that both the 3 meals and the 6 meals a day plan have produced great results and there are numerous studies to prove that both are effective. Thus there is no point arguing about history and trying to determine which is better. On a more simple and practical note, here are what I believe to be some genuine benefits of eating 3 meals a day:

• Easy to follow in the long term- it should be a no brainer that eating 3 times a day requires much lesser commitment and time than eating 6 times a day. All offices, schools and colleges give people time to have lunch, and breakfast and dinner are meals that you can eat at home. So work cannot really be a reason to miss meals when you eat 3 times a day. This eating plan frees up a lot of your time to concentrate on your work, and does not make you feel like your whole day revolves around eating. Having said that, however for some people who are habitual late risers and have to rush for work, breakfast can be tough to make time for. The simple solution in this case would be to go to sleep earlier and wake up early to make time. There are also those who do not feel like eating first thing in the morning, and generally do not feel like eating till lunch. If this be the case, then do keep in mind that breakfast does not have be eaten immediately upon waking up. You can eat your breakfast even a couple of hours after waking up. So no need to miss breakfast altogether.

• Allows you to eat bigger meals- most foodies love to eat big meals. They love to eat a plate full of food, rather than survive on teeny tiny servings throughout the day. This is where 6 meals a day becomes a problem for those who love to eat big and are trying to lose weight. 6 small meals never make one mentally feel like they have eaten a meal, they always feel that they are snacking, and thus mentally are always craving for a meal.

With 3 meals a day you can eat more at each serving, which is mentally more satisfying and makes foodies feel fuller and mentally happier. In case you really love to have a big meal, then you can further modify your diet so that one meal is really large and the other two are smaller. For eg 1800 calories can be divided into two meals of 400 each, and that leaves space for one meal of 1000 calories, which is much more satisfying. But wont 1000 calories at one sitting make you fat? Well, yes it would if you have 3 meals of 1000 calories each, but in this case as long as you eat 1000 calories in only one meal and dont cross the 1800 mark you should be ok. Its the total calories, and the type of calories that you eat in the whole day that matters in the end.

• Teaches you to control hunger better- it is often correctly said that hunger is not always physical, but very often mental. And eating because you think you are hungry rather than actually being hungry makes you fat. In most cases eating 6 times a day tends to make one eat more, since they tend to mentally crave food every 2-3 hours whether they are actually hungry or not. So when they decide to eat only 3 times a day, they slowly start to control their hunger better as they now go longer without food and develop better mental control.


The drawbacks of eating 3 meals a day are exactly where 6 meals a day comes in handy. Here are some drawbacks to consider:

• Harder to consume high amount of nutrients- if you are an athlete or someone trying to gain mass, then you will likely need lots of calories and nutrients. And too many calories in each meal will slow you down and be hard to consume regularly. For eg if you need to eat 4500 calories each day, then meals of 1500 calories, eaten 3 times a day regularly could start becoming hard to keep up with on a daily basis. Also that would be the case with protein and carbs, if you have to eat a lot then its better to have them in smaller frequent servings for better digestion than to eat too much at one go. 

• Some people cannot go very long without eating anything- as I mentioned in the 6 meals a day post that there are some people who really cannot go for more than 3-4 hours without eating anything. They will start getting major mood swings, feel low on energy and perform very poorly. In these cases 5-6 feedings become mandatory. Such people can still eat 3 main meals a day, but will have to add 1-2 snacks in between their meals to be able to feel okay and perform well.

Finally comparing the two meal plans, my personal recommendation is that unless you are a pro athlete and/or are trying to eat a lot to gain mass, then 3 meals a day will work best for you. It is easy to follow and allows you to get in all nutrients. The only thing is that a perfect 3 meals a day will be hard to follow for most, and adding a snack would work well for the majority. Generally it is around evening time that most tend to crave for a snack, and adding a small snack here would be ideal. Good snacking would include some protein like eggs, some nuts, and maybe even a chicken sandwich with some green tea. If however in your case you tend to feel hungry at some other time, then plan a snack then. Its all about modifying plans to suit your individual needs best.


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