How do you set up the perfect day of eating?
This is one of the most common questions I get. What should I eat? How should my meals fit within my day? How many meals should I eat? How should I divide up my macros?
I don’t write meal plans. I don’t provide templates.
Why? Two reasons:
They simply don’t work long-term.
They don’t EDUCATE you on how to APPLY the perfect nutrition plan to YOUR life.
The problem with templates
Monday through Friday, templates do work because your day is the exact same. It’s a routine that you can follow. The weekdays aren’t the problem (as long as there is a routine). This is probably VERY apparent right now during COVID because now that your routine is thrown off, you’re likely struggling a bit more. Routine matters!! Templates thrive off of routine...but as you know, your routine is never fixed. You’re a human and life is a bit chaotic...again this is pretty apparent now with COVID. Sometimes, things are out of your control. It’s during the chaos where templates fall apart.
Do you keep your M-F routine on the weekends? No.
On a day off? No.
On a holiday? No.
On a day your schedule gets turned upside down? No.
On a day you decide to workout in the morning versus the evening? No! You sleep in 1 extra hour and your day has gone to shit. You say “F*** it”, throw away the template for the day, and eat like a moron.
Templates only work so long. What is 100x more effective than some template is educating yourself on...
How much food you should be eating
What meal frequency and timing works best for you and your schedule
How to navigate your specific cravings and hunger
How to navigate changes in routine
How your biofeedback relates to changes in your nutrition
...and then practicing it! Again and again until it’s second nature and integrated with any routine you throw at it.
So what does that look like? In today’s blog, I’m going to break down what a perfect day of eating looks like. Templates don’t work long term...but they are effective at providing a baseline for you to adapt and work off of. Sometimes nutrition can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to find a starting point to build from. Hopefully I will fix that for you today!
Before we get started, it’s important to remember this:
The science is in the compliance.
The science only works if it’s something you can adhere to. A templated meal plan works. Whole30 works. Paleo works. Keto works. The carnivore diet works. A high-carb diet works. There is no secret diet, just the diet that YOU can adhere to long-term to get results.
That being said, there is a daily meal structure that has been shown to work best for individuals. As you’ll see, it also leaves a ton of room for variation within each individual.
Using the model below, you will be able to set up THE perfect day of eating.
That’s right, I’m answering the “what should I eat?” question…something I never thought I’d do.
Before I get to the model, a few important pointers to take note of first on how to set up your perfect day of eating:
1. The number of meals matters far less than your daily intake. Remember the mantra: calories in = calories out.
2. You want to stay between 3-5 meals/day for a number of reasons:
More meals improves energy by consistently fueling throughout day
Prevents cravings because you’re not going hours between meals for you hunger signals to spiral out of control
SO much more feasible than eating 2x 1,000 calorie meals
Improves digestion. Our guts can only handle so much. Bogging it down with 2x 1,000 calorie meals has been shown to slow digestion and result in GI distress
Encourages a higher calorie intake. Majority of people are undereating and struggle to eat more. Increasing meal frequency (while achieving everything above) helps you eat MORE
3. Protein should be evenly spaced out
Allows for optimal conditions to build muscle
Muscle protein synthesis occurs best when provided a constant supply of protein. This approach creates the optimal “drip effect”.
How much? Take your body weight in protein. Divide by your number of meals. That’s how much protein (in oz) you’ll be eating at each meal.
Ex. Clare – 150lbs/5 meals = 30 oz protein/meal
4. Decide your workout (morning, mid-day, and afternoon/evening) and center meals around your training
Morning workout: more carbs, fewer fats pre-workout, which will be your dinner the night before and post-workout in morning after your morning workout
Lunch workout: more carbs, less fat mid-day
Afternoon workout: more carbs, less fat at the end of the day
The most common time to workout is afternoon/mid-day. This is also the recommended time to workout if all things in life were perfect. If you can only workout at 5:00am, then workout at 5:00am. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, studies have shown slight benefits to afternoon training. You’re more awake. Joints are more lubricated. You’ve eaten more and have more fuel. Exercising immediately post-fast (i.e. after sleeping) puts more stress on muscles and may make building muscle more difficult (although not impossible). Again, I’m describing THE perfect day of eating. This is if all things were perfect and we had total autonomy over our lives and our schedules.
Without further ado, the perfect day of eating would look something like this.
The Perfect Day of Eating
Now for some explanation…
Here in meal 1, we are breaking your fast (hence, breakfast). IF possible, aim to eat 8 up to 14 hours AFTER your last meal the night before. This improves insulin sensitivity, improves digestion, and improves mental clarity and focus. If you have to be out the door at 5am to work, then nix this suggestion. Simply eat breakfast when you can (remember the science is in the compliance!). Here, you see that this is a protein/fat dominant meal. Fats slow digestion and with the protein, will keep you fuller longer. The carbs provided in this meal are simply trace carbs if you maybe added some salsa to your eggs, used nut butter, or included some veggies. You want to minimize carbs here so that we can make as few insulin spikes through the day as possible. Minimizing carbs in the morning will prevent an afternoon crash. If you work out in the morning, you want to add more carbs here (swap meal 4 with meal 1).
Should you or can you skip breakfast? YES! The science is in the compliance. If you’re ensuring that calorie and macro goals are met, then breakfast isn’t essential. However, we’re talking about the perfect day of eating. Breakfast is an important meal. It IS included in the perfect day of eating because often skipping breakfast leads to cravings later in the day, energy crashes, potential muscle loss, and often skews hunger cues.
In meal 2, we are mimicking meal 1. It still is a relatively high protein/fat dominant meal. In this meal, you can add some starchy carbs or some fruit if you desire. If you tend to eat fewer carbs, then you will keep this number relatively low. If you are a high-intensity athlete and require a higher carb diet, you will include some carbs here simply out of feasibility. I aim to eat between 250-300g carbs/day. I have to include some at meal 2 because I can’t eat 125-150g pre- and post-workout. This meal should be fibrous and full of vegetables to optimize digestion and get in some key vitamins and nutrients. This is most likely your lunch or potentially a mid-morning snack.
In meal 3, we are preparing for an afternoon training session. For this, you are going to increase carbs to get the needed insulin spike and blood sugar response to fuel yourself through the workout. You will lower fats because fats slow digestion down, and you don’t want a delayed response in nutrient absorption and energy production pre-workout and you don’t want to work out with a full stomach. Imagine eating a jar of peanut butter then trying to go workout…hello vomit. Carbs should be starches and/or grains. Fruit is an option but should still include some sort of grain or starch (think rice, bread, quinoa) to optimize energy production.
Meal 4 functions as your post-workout meal. This can be split into two if you have a lot of time post-workout before you can eat a meal or if you know you have a strong cortisol response to working out. After training, we want to shut off that cortisol response (via carbohydrates) as soon as possible. A post-workout shake can help mitigate the cortisol response and give you some time until you’re able to eat a true meal. I recommend a 1:1 protein to carb shake, with your carbs either Gatorade, coconut water, or my personal favorite highly branched cyclic dextrin. Make sure to account the protein in the shake when deciding protein amounts at your other meals. A protein shake post-workout is a really effective way to get in more protein to reach your protein intake, if that’s something you struggle with. In your actual meal, carbs here are going to be the highest for recovery and to get yourself ready to sleep. Carbohydrates boost melatonin by shutting off the cortisol response. If you don’t properly turn off cortisol post-workout before you head to bed, then you’re in for a restless night of sleep which could lead to a number of problems.
Meal 5 is my favorite. What is left? Do you have nighttime cravings? Do you like snacking? If the answer is yes, then you PLAN for this ahead of time. This is what drives compliance to a diet. Save some room for some fruit, protein ice cream, rice cake and nut butters, a frozen waffle, etc. This can be post-dinner as your last meal of the day or could be thrown somewhere else in the day after meal 1.
For more help, check out a recent post I made on Instagram on several templated meal ideas, with actual meals programmed in.
Not everyone’s day is going to look like these...BUT if you struggle with a starting point in your nutrition journey, start here and work your way up to the bigger concepts. This “perfect day” is easily amenable to your routine and your day. You can combine some meals. You can move the timings around. You can adjust to your workouts.
What I recommend doing FIRST, though, is just trying it as written for at least 2 weeks. You might feel that the “perfect day” isn’t so perfect for you. If you’ve never eaten breakfast or even 4 meals in a day, this might be a struggle at first. Your body follows a biological clock, known as your circadian rhythm. This clock tells you when you’re tired and should sleep and when you should get up and be awake. It sends out hormones when you typically eat meals to signal “okay, you’re hungry! Go eat!” If you’ve never eaten a breakfast, then your body isn’t used to this meal and therefore hasn’t adapted to preparing you for this meal by sending out hunger hormones ahead of time.
Follow this plan for at least 2 weeks to signal to your body “hey this is normal!” and your circadian rhythm can adapt to it. IF after 2-3 weeks, it’s still not working, then start to adjust it. But give it time to actually work first!
And there you have it… the perfect day of eating! If you’re ready to start your journey to planning THE perfect day of eating for YOU, start here or apply today for nutrition coaching.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.