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January 22, 2024

How many meals should you eat per day?

Filed under: Fitness — Tags: — admin @ 7:01 pm

How many meals do you usually eat? Three square meals? Five little ones? Or, maybe you are more of a grazer, munching every hour or two rather than committing to a larger meal.

Every person is different, but there are some benefits associated with consuming nutritionally balanced, filling meals – whether you need two, five, or more each day to satisfy your nutritional requirements.

Why are balanced meals important?

Long gone are the days in which breakfast was at 7am, lunch at 12 sharp and dinner on the table at 6pm.

READ MORE: Dietitian’s top tips for ordering healthy at a restaurant

Woman cooking a colourful and nutritious quinoa stir-fry with mixed vegetables and a drizzle of olive oil.

Nowadays, busy lives are more likely to see breakfast skipped in favour of coffee; a couple of snacks to take us through to mid-afternoon, lunch on the run and dinner as late as 8pm.

This general shift to consuming more calories in the second half of the day, leaving us prone to gradual weight gain over time.

For this reason, there is a lot to be said for prioritising balanced meals, rather than snacks. When we consume a ‘meal’, whether it is eggs on toast, leftovers at lunchtime or a balanced meal of meat and vegetables, psychologically we realise that we have eaten, which helps to regulate snacking through the day.

How long are your days?

The number of meals that we need each day will differ between individuals, and even on a daily basis, but as a rule of thumb, the longer your day, the more meals you are likely to need to adequately fuel your body.

For example, if you are up at the gym by 5am, a single meal at 7am is unlikely to sustain you until lunchtime. Whereas if you do not eat your first meal until 8 or 9am, you will be good to last until lunchtime before eating again.

READ MORE: Dietitian shares the snacks she’ll never buy from the supermarket

Young Asian blogger having vegetarian breakfast at work

If you assume that a balanced meal or snack will satisfy you for 3-4 hours, on average most people will need 3-4 meals each day, or 5-6 for those who are more active, or who start their day especially early. 

How active are you?

One of the key things to consider when working out the ideal number of meals to include in your diet each day is how active you are, and whether you routinely exercise and burn a significant number of extra calories.

If your daily workout routine consists of a walk, you are unlikely to need any extra meals.

On the other hand, if you regularly do a high-intensity workout, as well as a decent amount of walking, and your goal is not to actively lose weight, you will need an extra 200-300 calories each day, or the equivalent of an extra small meal.

Or, in the case of wanting to gain lean muscle mass, you will need an extra 500 calories each day, or an extra meal on top of your baseline 3-4 meals each day. 

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What are your dietary goals?

The other key reason there is not a one-size-fits-all model when it comes to the number of meals is that the number of calories you need will be impacted by the goals you have for your body.

For example, if your goal is fat loss, you may need to keep your calories under control by eating 3-4 small meals. On the other hand, if your goal is to gain lean muscle mass, you may need to eat 5-6 meals each day. 

Close up shot of an Asian Chinese woman eating pan fried salmon with table knife and fork in cafe

Every day will be different

While having a rough guide of the number of meals you need each day may be helpful, it is also important to remember that not all days will be the same.

Some days may be longer, and you may be more active, and as such, need an extra meal. On others, you may have eaten a lot the day before, so need fewer meals. Mixing things up is important as every day is different, and therefore the number of meals you need will differ. 

READ MORE: Healthiest road trip snacks to fuel your whole journey

What about weight-loss programs that suggest 1-2 meals each day?

The increased interest in fasting regimes has seen the emergence of a number of programs that suggest eating just one or two meals each day.

While more extreme diets may work for some, in general it is difficult to get all the nutrients we need each day when eating just one or two meals.

Always consult with your own dietitian if this is your preferred way of eating. 

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