What Is Meal Timing And Why Isn’t It Important?

What Is Meal Timing And Why Isn’t It Important?

Author Image Ash May Training Nutrition

By Ash May

What Is Meal Timing?

Meal timing is the concept that has you and your friends throwing the weights to the floor on your last set of bicep curls, to grab a protein shake from your bag and drink it as fast as possible so that you get the most from it (don’t worry, we’ve all been there).

There are several ways to look at meal timing. From an extremely basic standpoint, society has created meal timing in the form of breakfast, lunch and dinner, while placing emphasis on all these meal times as important for health, energy levels, and more. However, with the rise in popularity of protocols such as intermittent fasting, more and more people are realising that these socially accepted meal times aren’t actually necessary.

Now, in the health and fitness space, we took this to the next level. Not only was the pre-workout meal brought in, followed by a post-workout meal, but it also became a common belief that in order to build muscle and get shredded, you would have to eat every 2 hours, 6 – 8 meals a day.

This is what meal timing is.

Although these meal timing concepts do have a place and reason backing them up, in this article, I am going to explain why this isn’t important for the majority of people, at all.

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Why Did Meal Timing Become Popular?

Before I go into why meal timing doesn’t matter, I first want to talk about why this became something which people do think is important. I may even support the reasoning a bit. Maybe.

Marketing

There are several reasons why meal timing became popular within the fitness industry. The absolute main one of these being for marketing reasons. Extremely good, intelligent marketing.

Companies selling consumable products such as protein powders, pre-workouts, etc. the main goal is to get customers to purchase the same thing again, as many times as possible. Therefore, they exaggerated small truths such as the anabolic window after a training session in order to create a sense of need for a protein shake post workout. This gave birth to the post-workout protein shake ritual, which keeps people buying more protein powder.

Supplement companies found how successful this was and wanted to double up on this, so used the same strategies to turn a pre-workout drink into a ritual which people feel is a necessity, meaning they will continue to buy the product.

By no means am I saying that there is no benefit to drinking a protein shake after a workout, or regularly taking pre-workout. However, the massive importance placed upon it (and most people don’t even know why they do it) is completely exaggerated in order to sell more products.

Taking a certain thing before a workout, and then another after a workout is a timed meal, and this was a big contribution to meal timing breaking into the mainstream, outside of bodybuilding.

Science

The other reasoning that meal timing is rapidly becoming more and more known is because of the science backing it.

There is legitimate science showing the benefits and effects of certain meal timings, macronutrient timings, etc. However, these are very small differences which 99.99% of the population do not to be concerned about. Basic training and nutrition must be completely covered and optimised before even thinking about splitting hairs like this.

This is why meal timing is not important – for 99.99% of the population.

Being a stimulant, caffeine before a workout can help to improve performance through mental alertness and energy. However, becoming overly reliant on this to properly execute a workout is not sustainable in the long term, as you will adapt to the stimulus and gradually require more and more to get the same benefit. It will come to a point where the caffeine in a pre-workout is no longer helping to perform better.

The other performance boosting part of a pre-workout meal or shake is the quick release energy gained from simple carbohydrates. They will help provide your body with a short-term burst of energy, leading to an improvement in energy output throughout a workout. However, the extent of this benefit is highly individual and often exaggerated.

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So, Does Meal Timing Matter?

Does meal timing matter? Overall, for 99.99% of the population, including you and me, no.

For most people, goals for exercise and nutrition are limited to either weight loss, or muscle gain. Meal timing will have absolutely no effect at all on net weight loss or gain. It is the total daily and weekly intake of calories, and the macronutrient split being consumed which will dictate this.

If you are timing your meals perfectly for fat loss according to every scientific study ever done, but are eating more calories than your body burns in a day, then you will gain fat.

If you are timing your meals perfectly for muscle gain according to every scientific study ever done, but aren’t eating enough protein, eating in a calorie surplus, or providing your body with an anabolic training stimulus, then you won’t build muscle.

What meal timing can do for these standard goals is to make fitting them into your lifestyle easier. If you are trying to build muscle and have to eat a huge amount of food to do so, smaller meals every 2 hours throughout the day may make this easier and more achievable/enjoyable for you.

Alternatively, if you are trying to lose weight and are having to eat a small amount of food each day, by using a meal timing method such as intermittent fasting where you eat 2 or so big meals within a small time frame can make your calorie deficit more sustainable and satiating.

Individual Variance

Some people will get lots of short term benefits from meal timing, such as improved performance in the gym. However, many people – including myself – do heavy and intense workouts completely fasted, with no food in their system at all. Some people perform best this way, and some people perform best with some carbs in their system. 

You need to experiment with both and find what works best for you, however, do not get caught thinking that meal timing is the be all and end all.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, meal timing is a concept that was created by marketers working for supplement companies in order to increase repeat purchases. To do this, they exaggerated scientific findings of short term benefits from meal timing and turned it into a ritual which consumers felt was necessary in order to see the results they wanted.

In reality, the actual benefit of this is minuscule and has literally no importance if your exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle are not already dialled in and optimised for your goal.

Because of this, meal timing may matter if you are at the most advanced/elite level of your sport. An example of this would be a professional bodybuilder, where their exercise and nutrition is so extremely perfected, that they may see benefit from certain meal timings.

However, even in these cases, it is not necessary, and we are seeing more and more people succeeding at the top of their sport, with less and less care for meal timing. Following the bodybuilder example, the standard for years was 8 meals per day, every 2 hours, optimised with carbs centred around workouts, etc. This standard is now changing, where bodybuilders can be seen following IIFYM or intermittent fasting, eating just 2 – 3 larger meals per day, and even working out fasted.

As mentioned earlier, it is your overall daily and weekly intake which will dictate your results, not the timing of your meals. If you are eating in a calorie surplus, then you won’t lose weight, no matter when you are eating your meals.

Because of this, meal timing should be considered with your personal goals in mind. If you are trying to gain weight but struggle to eat all of the food required, then frequent small meals may make it easier, as you will be stimulating your appetite more.

On the other hand, this approach may make losing weight harder, as you will be less satisfied from the small meals you would have to be eating throughout the day, with no room for less ‘clean’ foods such as cereal or protein bars.

When trying to achieve your goals in the most optimum way, it is always best to follow programming which is completely customised and tailored to you. You can find out about this more here.

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