Let me introduce you to Tigger ( the grey Norwegian Forest cat) and Muffin (the multi-colored Tortoiseshell Calico). My cat’s don’t read your Meal Frequency studies. They care not for your fasting debates or calorie calculations. They are instinctive eaters.
There is some debate among fitness professionals regarding how many times a day to eat to best optimize muscle gains and fat loss. The meal frequency debate is never ending. Can you build muscle on just 3 meals a day? Is eating more often but smaller meals better? Maybe you should compromise and go for 4 meals? There’s even a slew of Intermittent Fasting followers that utilize the IF protocol to eat less and look great.
I’m here to say they are all right and they are all wrong.
If you read everybody’s opinion, you come away with:
- Eat once a day
- Fast every so often
- Eat 4 meals a day
- Eat 3 meals + snacks
- Eat when you are hungry
- Eat 8 meals a day
- Never eat (okay that person is crazy)
My cats don’t think about this. You see… as I was eating breakfast, I noticed some interesting observations about the eating behaviors of my two cats.
What You Can Learn about Meal Frequency from My Cats
Tigger (the grey cat) eats about 6 times a day. He’s awake a lot. He grazes all day. He has multiple “smaller” meals. He’s not at the bowl too long but he’s there a lot. I’ve had to shoo him away a few times because I thought he was overeating. He’s never been overweight or underweight. He’s not much for sleeping all day. He weights about 7 lbs more than Muffin.
Muffin (the Tortoiseshell Calico), eats about 2-3 times a day. She’s asleep a lot. She eats at scheduled times and has bigger meals. I assume this because she’s at the food bowl for much longer. She’s never been overweight or underweight. She weights less and is smaller in size than Tigger.
Your Take Away Key Points
Tigger needs to eat more because he expends more energy. He’s bigger, he’s awake and moving more. Muffin is asleep more. She’s smaller. She doesn’t require the same amount of food.
Both cats have different meal frequencies based on what works for them. Let’s theorize for a moment that Tigger needs 3000 calories a day to maintain his weight and Muffin needs 1500 to maintain her weight.
Casual Cat Patterns
Tigger could eat 3 times a day and maintain his weight but that’s 1000 calories per sitting. That’s a lot of food. He’s not so much into stuffing himself silly. If he breaks that up into smaller but frequent meals, that’s like 500 a pop. Easy to do. His blood sugar is more stable. He’s got a constant flow of energy for his long awake periods.
Muffin could eat 6 times a day but that’s 250 calories per sitting. That’s more like a snack. Plus, she’d be forced to get up 3 more times during the day to eat when it’s not in her nature to do so. She’s obviously not hungry or she’d be eating more frequently as her body prompted her to do so. She eats 500 calories a pop. Easy to do.
Real World Examples
Joe – The Recreational Athlete
You’ve got a recreational athlete who works at a desk all day. Does an hour workout after work and goes home to relax, do home work with the kids and watch some Person of Interest (great show FYI).
Here’s a guy who can eat 3 meals a day and be just fine. He’s fuel up, no issues. He doesn’t need excessive carbohydrates. He at at 1pm and he’s not starving by 4pm for his workout. If he is, he had a small 200 calorie snack like an apple and peanut butter. No big deal.
Marc – The Obsessive Bodybuilder
This is more of your recreational bodybuilder. He’s bigger. More muscle than Joe. He still has a desk job. His workouts are around an hour, sometimes much longer and he pushes himself to the brink of destruction. After the workout he goes home to relax and watches that same super show.
Here’s a guy who’s starving meal to meal. His blood sugar is low that if he doesn’t eat that next meal, he’s very much willing to run downstairs and grab chips or beef jerky to curb the cravings. If he doesn’t have fuel prior to the workout, he hits the wall around 40 minutes. Those 20 rep old school squat routines require a bit more than an apple and peanut butter. If he eats at 1pm, he’s figging starving by 4pm. A 200 calorie snack won’t cut if. He wants a meal. If he eats a full meal, his uncomfortable during the workout. He sure wishes he could just graze all day like Tigger.
His pre and post workout nutrition are imperative to recovery and keeping cortisol levels low after those brutal workouts. Not like Joe who broke a sweat but didn’t induce so much overall stress.
- Different goals
- Different folks
- Two different meal frequencies.
Slapping down a meal frequency plan for everybody is the incorrect method to approach this very personal subject. If you are a person on the go who enjoys bodybuilding, then 3 meals a day plus some “snacks” will be just fine. If you are looking to excel as an athlete then I propose to you that you have a more complex set of variables. The optimal eating routine of Jay Cutler (Mr. Olympia winner) is probably not the same for Joe at his desk. Then again, Joe’s eating schedule won’t work for Jay.
Not to mention.. a snack to some is a meal to others (seriously, a 500 calorie anything is not really what I’d call a snack).
I hope you see that while everybody including myself would love to tell YOU the reader the EXACT number that works.. it’s more more valid than taking exact financial advice from a blog.
Your ultimate goal is to re-connect with your ability to instinctively eat once again.
Marc David – CPT