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? Because they simply don’t work long-term. Monday through Friday, they work because your day is the exact same. It’s a routine that you can follow. BUT are you going to keep that routine on the weekends? On a day off? On a holiday? On a day your schedule gets turned upside down? 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.
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.
Improves energy by consistently fueling throughout day.
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.
3. Protein should be perfectly 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”.
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 macros around training
Morning workout: more carbs, fewer fats pre-workout (dinner night before) and post-workout in morning
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.
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 out the door at 5am to work, then nix this suggestion. Simply eat breakfast when you can. 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.
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.
In meal 3, we are preparing for our 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 workout with a full stomach. Imagine eating a jar of peanut butter then trying to go workout…hello vomit.
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 coconut water or highly branched cyclic dextrin. Make sure to account the protein in the shake when deciding protein amounts at your other meals. 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.
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.
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.