We know it, nutrition can be confusing. As a dietitian, one question I am often asked is regarding meal frequency and how many meals per day people should eat. This is especially important for boxers who need adequate nutrition to fuel their workouts. While some people are more comfortable with the ‘traditional’ approach of eating three meals per day, others prefer eating five to six meals a day. But which one is best?
When it comes to meal frequency, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are, however, recommendations for more active individuals such as boxers and other athletes. That’s because a boxer’s diet requires a higher caloric intake to support their high activity level and energy expenditure. To best determine what works for each person, it’s important to assess the pros and cons of each strategy.
More Meals, More Muscle?
Eating smaller meals at regular intervals throughout the day – anywhere from four to six meals – has many benefits for boxers. For one, it facilitates continuous fueling, meaning that the body is receiving energy in the form of calories more regularly. Having adequate energy is essential for physical performance during training and in the ring. Similarly, it allows for a steady delivery of protein for muscle repair and recovery, which can prevent muscle wastage and maintain body composition. The cons of this approach are that it can lead to overconsumption of calories, which may result in weight gain over time. Similarly, by eating too frequently, we may fail to listen to the body’s hunger and fullness cues, meaning that we may eat without actually feeling hungry.
Is Three The Key?
This is your typical three-meal-per-day approach: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This method of eating works well for people who have very structured schedules and may not require as much energy for physical activity throughout the day. Additionally, it allows for consistency, which your body truly appreciates. The potential issues with this approach are that people may go too long (more than five hours) without consuming a meal, affecting energy levels and leading to fatigue. As a result, in their next meal, people may consume portions that are too large, causing discomfort, bloating, and fatigue (a.k.a ‘food coma’).
What does science say?
Although more studies are warranted, current evidence suggests that increasing meal frequency can be beneficial for boxers. That’s because highly active individuals have increased nutritional needs compared to the average person. They require more calories to fuel workouts and more protein for muscle repair and recovery. For boxers, it’s also important that they maintain lean body composition and adequate weight for competitions.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, increasing meal frequency may help preserve lean body mass, have a positive effect on blood markers such as cholesterol, decrease hunger and improve appetite control in athletes. One study compared the effect of meal frequency on body composition in boxers. The study, which was fairly small, divided boxers into two groups: One group consumed two meals per day while the other consumed six meals per day. The study found that the group consuming only two meals per day had a significantly greater loss of lean body mass (LBM). The group that consumed multiple meals per day had an increase in LBM and anaerobic power.
Although these results point to smaller meals as beneficial for athletes, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics supports an individualized, case-by-case approach. However, since most athletes do not like to compete on a full stomach, they suggest consuming smaller meals in closer proximity to a sports event to allow for proper gastric emptying. Alternatively, larger meals can be consumed when more time is available before exercise or competition.
So, What’s On The Menu?
When it comes to nutrition, it is not one-size-fits-all. It’s important to acknowledge that what works for one individual may not work for another. For example, boxers may benefit from eating smaller meals more frequently to sustain their active lifestyle. But for most individuals, a combination of these meal timing tactics might be ideal. That's why it's so important to listen to your body and figure out what works best for you. By doing so, you can focus on getting adequate nutrients to fuel your FightCamp workouts.
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