So you just realized that you only eat two, maybe three times per day. One or two of those meals are composed of junk and hardly contain any nutritional value.
You also just learned that eating 4-6 times per day will give you the best chance of obtaining all of the nutrients your body needs.
As a busy professional, it is difficult to eat regularly and get an adequate amount of nutrition on a daily basis.
What do you do?
Today we are going to teach you how to eat 6 meals a day, even with a busy schedule.
Welcome to the WCT time hack series. Over the next few posts, we will share with you proven tips on how to improve your fitness as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This post will cover
- Why eating more frequently is in your best interest, especially if you have a demanding schedule
- Intermittent fasting and whether or not you should do it
- 5 simple strategies that you can use to eat 4-6 times throughout the day when your schedule is unpredictable and not conducive to eating
Although we are doctors and personal trainers, we are not your doctors. The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary activities are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any damage or injury which may occur. Please read our full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning we may receive a commission if you use them.
Okay, let’s get started.
Why You Should Consume Up To 6 Meals Per Day
No matter how good you think your meals are, eating twice a day will not provide your body with the nutrition that it needs.
There are way too many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are absolutely essential for your body to function optimally.
Do you think you get enough Vitamin A, D, K, E, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Folate and Potassium in your diet from 2-3 meals each day?
If you do, then you can disregard my advice.
Eating 4-6 times per day will give you the best shot at consuming the appropriate amount of micronutrients that you need.
There is a caveat.
You must consume real, high-quality food.
This does not mean eating 4-6 servings of Bagels, Cheetos, and pizza. You need to eat 4-6 high quality, nutrient-dense foods.
What Are The Benefits of Eating More Frequently?
Besides increasing the amount of nutrient you consume, eating more frequently can improve your energy, mood and concentration levels, keep your insulin levels in check and decrease cravings. This is particularly true for busy professionals who have unpredictable eating schedules.
1) Improves your energy, mood and concentration levels
Anyone who has ever gone through long periods of hunger knows that it is one of the most uncomfortable sensations of all time. It can change your mood and lead to the phenomenon known as “hangry.”
2) Decreases large fluctuations in insulin levels as your meals are typically smaller
By eating 4-6 times per day, you are more likely to consume smaller portions, and thus decrease the glucose load on your body. As a result, insulin never has to rise and fall at the levels typically seen from large meals.
3) Decreases cravings and binging
How many times have you gone home and binged on food when you went the whole day without eating? Unfortunately, this has become a natural reality for many people. Eating 4-6 times per day ensures that you do not go through long periods of hunger, especially when your lunch time may not be a guarantee.
With that said, eating 4-6 times is certainly a difficult task to accomplish with a 12-16 hour work day.
When was the last time you had to skip lunch because of your workday? Resident doctors may be stuck in a surgery that lasts 8+ hours or working on multiple projects that have strict deadlines.
There were days on the labor and delivery unit when I didn’t eat from 730 am to 6 pm.
I quickly learned that this was not a viable option for me in the long run, so I developed a few strategies so that I could get my food in no matter what.
A Quick Word on Intermittent Fasting for Busy Professionals
The opposite of consuming multiple meals per day is following the eating schedule known as intermittent fasting. This is a popular approach that many people are using to meet their dietary goals.
In a nutshell, it involves fasting for a designated period of time, followed by a period in which you can eat. (We wrote an entire article on the subject which you can find at Intermittent Fasting Explained (And How To Decide If It’s Right For You.)
There are many different variations of intermittent fasting, with the most common strategy being a 16/8 split. This means fasting for 16 hours, followed by an 8-hour window to consume ALL of your meals.
I do not recommend this approach for busy professionals with unpredictable schedules.
It assumes that you will have an 8-hour stretch to peacefully consume all of the nutrition that you need in a single day.
As we all know, this is usually not the case. Purposefully fasting with an unpredictable schedule is likely to result in high caloric restriction, intense hunger and nutrient deficiency.
Also, busy professionals (especially doctors) already have enough factors competing for their mental resources. Experiencing hunger during your busy workday can impact your concentration, especially when it is important for you to be sharp at all times.
Intermittent fasting can certainly work for some individuals, but following the strategies in this post is easier and much more palatable.
5 Valuable Ways Ways to Eat 6 Meals A Day During Your Busy Life
Without further ado, here are 5 actionable tips you could implement right now to ensure that you are getting enough nutrients in your body.
Keep in mind, each meal doesn’t have to be a full sitting. A nutrient-dense snack could be sufficient for 1-2 of the meals
This could include:
-A carrot with almond butter
-1/2 of an avocado on a whole wheat toast with hummus
-A bowl of Greek yogurt with chia seeds
-3 ounces of pistachios and an apple
… you get the idea.
Tip#1: Start Your Day Off Right
One of the easiest and most sure-fire ways of consuming more meals throughout the day is by eating breakfast.
Many people say that they cannot eat breakfast in the morning because it is too early. You need to suck it up. A cup of coffee will not do.
Wake up 5 to 10 minutes earlier and prepare yourself a nice healthy breakfast to get your day started off right. We have spoken at length regarding the benefits of breakfast, and I highly encourage you to check it out at
5 Quick and Healthy Breakfast Options for the Busy Professional.
We also discuss learning how to make a 5-minute breakfast every morning.
Do not miss this easy opportunity to consume a nutrient-dense meal in a short amount of time.
5 minutes to prepare a healthy breakfast > 5 more minutes of sleep!
Tip#2: Invest Time in Preparation
It is very beneficial to get into the habit of preparing some of your meals.
Meal prepping takes away the hassle of having to figure out where the majority of your meals are going to come from, and it allows you to hand-select all of the ingredients you are consuming.
Having food readily available to you at your workplace also eliminates unpredictable factors that can contribute to you skipping meals.
This includes needing to go to the cafeteria, selecting where you are going to order from, or worrying about how and when your order is going to get to you.
In addition, you can prep quick and easy snacks that can be easily and readily consumed when you’re short on time.
To learn more, check Healthy Meal Prep Basics: A Step By Step Guide For Busy Individuals
Nuts are one of the easiest foods to meal prep in bulk
Tip#3 Make Portability Your Friend
This tip goes hand-in-hand with meal prepping. Try and make as many meals as you can portable.
This includes glass containers, Ziploc bags, and cups with lids.
This way, you can easily carry around a meal or two in your pocket, to have at any given moment.
Whenever I am in between cases in the operating room, I have a ready to go snack in my pocket (or inside the fridge in the lounge) to consume in the break room in 5 minutes or less.
Never be caught off guard without high-quality energy readily available. The cafeteria or your food delivery may be very far away!
Tip#4: Eat Prophylactically
This tip is huge.
Do not wait until you are hungry to eat. Do not wait until it is noon or 5 PM to have your “lunch “or “dinner”.
If you know that you are going to have a large time commitment coming up soon, go ahead and eat prophylactically.
Go ahead and have a second breakfast if you know you will be stuck in a meeting that will go past lunch. Eat dinner early if you know you that won’t be leaving work at a reasonable hour.
Having the energy stored in your body for use at a later time pays off in the long run.
Don’t forget, going very long periods of time without any food dramatically increases the chance of you eating unhealthy foods and binging on them.
Tip #5: Liquefy a Meal
I am a big proponent of shakes and smoothies.
You should be too.
Liquid calories are one of the easiest ways to consume a moderately sized meal in a portable and quick manner.
Every morning, as I’m cooking my breakfast, I am blending the WCT power smoothie to take with me to work.
The smoothie contains many fruits and vegetables to meet our micronutrient requirements.
In addition, you can add extra ingredients to increase the nutritional value such as nut butter, dark chocolate, and/or seeds (flax, hemp, chia).
You can drink this meal at any time without needing to stop what you’re doing.
Be careful though. Liquid calories are a double-edged sword. You can easily slurp down a ton of calories without knowing it. That’s why your smoothie should mainly be composed of vegetables, which are high in nutrient content and low in calories.
What Does A Typical 6 Meals A Day Schedule Look Like?
I usually wake up between 530 and 6 am on any given day and spread out my food intake as evenly as I can.
Meal 1: (~6 AM) Breakfast: Usually containing eggs, vegetables, and/or avocado or Green smoothie
Meal 2: (~9 AM) Second meal usually consists of yogurt or oats with nuts/seeds and berries
Meal 3: (~12PM) Whole grain carbohydrate with protein and vegetables
Meal 4: (~3 PM) Green smoothie with several vegetables
Meal 5: (~5 PM) Mixed Nuts or Rice Cakes and Almond Butter
Meal 6: (~7 PM) Protein shake or whole grain with protein
Obviously, this schedule can vary significantly depending on a number of variables. Some days I’m lucky if I can eat 4 times a day.
The important thing is to consume real high-quality food throughout the day and not go through prolonged periods of hunger.
Final Words on Eating More with a Busy Schedule
There you have it. Those are the top 5 things that we do to make sure that we get all of our nutrition on a daily basis.
Spreading your nutrient intake into 4-6 meals per day is do-able and chock full of benefits.
There are way too many nutrients that your body needs on a daily basis to think that eating 2-3 time a day will be sufficient.
Treat your body with the fuel that it needs, and watch how it treats you back with aesthetics, and most importantly PERFORMANCE!
Now we turn it over to you.
Do you agree with us?
How many meals do you typically consume? Do you think you can get all of your nutrition in 2-3 meals, or in 4-6?
Have you ever tried intermittent fasting?
Comment below and let us know.
What about eating habits? We can help you with that too. We have listed 7 Bad Eating Habits You Can Change Right Now to improve your diet today.
Also don’t forget to check out Part 2 of the WCT Time Hack Series: Healthy Meal Prep Basics: A Step By Step Guide For Busy Individuals where we go over the strategies we use to prepare ~3 of the meals we consume on a given day.
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.