Having a plan to meet your goals is widely accepted, but the importance of a schedule is often overlooked.
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Why a schedule can be helpful?
For example, the plan to achieve a goal of gaining 4 kg of muscle includes:
A schedule would break this down into when (timings) and how you implement the plan:
A schedule is important because it provides the detail to put the plan into action, necessary to create change and achieve results. Failing to get results and struggling to reach goals often occurs because the plan is not consistently adhered to – in other words, the action is not happening.
Taking action to create change can be challenging. There can be ambiguity around reaching health goals when you’re not fully connected to your “why”. Taking the time to determine your “why” and attach meaning to this when you set goals is helpful for this.
Other factors, such as readiness for change, levels of awareness about current state, sense of identity, mind stories, and attachment to current habits (nutrition, training, lifestyle) are all obstacles to taking action. Then there is daily life and the many stressors that occur, impacting our capacity to stick to our plan. These are all known as barriers.
Whilst it is helpful to spend time working out your “why” when you’re goal setting, the value of starting your plan by taking action cannot be underestimated. Action brings clarity, momentum, motivation and makes success visible. As Nike say, Just do it.
Don’t use the planning and scheduling as an excuse to procrastinate.
Having a schedule can reduce time and energy wasted in the thinking mind. With the decisions made, there is need to rely on motivation or discipline. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on following feelings, but they’re not always reliable. Forget feelings, just follow the schedule.
By following a schedule of eating that specific meal at that time and doing that training session on that day, we start to make our goals happen one moment at a time. And those moments build up, creating momentum and success.
A meal schedule can be loose, and used as guidelines to anchor you to what you need to do.
My meal schedules consists of having a certain number of meals per day, defining the approximate timings of those meals, the quantities that you consume at those meals, and having an idea of what the meal looks like. A schedule does not mean rigidity and in fact can help with flexibility.
How a meal schedule can be helpful
To meet energy needs: whether you need to be in a caloric deficit/surplus, or at an energy balance, meeting your caloric needs is essential to meet your goals. Even if you’re maintaining weight and don’t have particular goals, I imagine you’ll want to have sustained energy, a stable mood and be able to perform throughout the day. Fuelling your body consistently and appropriately facilitates this.
To meet protein intake: is necessary for any performance goal, body composition goal (fat loss, muscle gain), overall health and optimal recovery. If you’ve got higher protein requirements (for fat loss, muscle gain, energy intake) then ensuring you meet these needs is key. For anyone who is vegan and potentially vegetarian, this can also be pertinent. Scheduling this in can facilitate you meting your protein needs.
To distribute protein intake: since there is a maximum amount of protein that can be utilised for muscle protein synthesis at one time. Any protein above this amount consumed at this time won’t be utilised for muscle protein synthesis – this is known as the muscle full effect. Therefore distributing total protein intake relatively evenly between your four meals per day is likely optimal for results. Approximately 0.4-0.6 g/kg is recommended – check out Does protein distribution matter for maximising your muscle gains? for more detail on this.
To manage hunger and appetite: both on a physiological and psychological level. Hormones (such as the hunger hormone ghrelin) function rhythmically. Factors such as light, sleep and consuming food influence the release of these hormones. Hormones, such as ghrelin can be regulated from the regular time that you eat.
Managing hunger levels is important for any goal. If you are trying to lose weight, you don’t want to be starving, if you are trying to gain weight then having an appetite is helpful for consuming enough calories and managing hunger/appetite if helpful for general weight maintenance. Additionally, by knowing that you are eating at a certain time, your mind is assured that your energy requirements are going to be met.
To support training, performance and recovery: sufficient energy availability around training facilitates the opportunity to optimise performance and subsequent training adaptations. It is also necessary to prevent being in a catabolic state and enable muscular repair and recovery. Additionally within day energy deficiencies can be associated with a reduction in both male and female sex hormone levels levels.
To help food prep: by knowing when you’re eating and what types of food you’re including, you can more easily prepare. This is beneficial for your wallet, avoiding food waste and for practical means. It also makes eating a real and whole-food diet 80-90% of the time realistic.
To manage digestion: since the food acts as a cue for the processes that enable and facilitate digestion, the body becomes accustomed to the times that you feed it and then will sync its digestive processes accordingly. Therefore if you have meals at regular times, this can potentially help your digestion.
To include foods that you enjoy: if you’re following a nutrition plan to reach specific goals, or are in a calorie deficit, you may sometimes feel restricted or under pressure. Whatever your goals, there is no reason to not include foods that you enjoy. If there are certain foods that you consume at certain times, or potentially more impulsively, planning to include these foods in into your schedule intentionally can help you to better understand your relationship with that food and determine whether you do want them to be part of your regular diet.
How a training schedule can be helpful
Scheduling your training removes relying on feelings of motivation or any other feeling in order for you to train. This is helpful if this is something you struggle with. Additionally, if you are someone who loves a certain type of training then it may be tempting to go with that type of training more so which may not be optimal for you meeting your goals. It can also be nice to schedule your training so that you have a balance throughout the week, to avoid working the same body part intensely in consecutive days.
The pitfalls of a schedule
Schedules can feel restrictive to some people, especially if they like to go with the flow. I’d say that you can schedule in time to go with the flow too! However, if you haven’t got any goals to achieve and you’re happy with where you are, then a plan and schedule is redundant.
Use a schedule to effectively put you plan into action: and reduce the requirement for feelings, motivation, discipline and thinking to get what you want done.
If you’ve got goals, trial a meal schedule for a few weeks: and see if it makes your nutrition plan easier to adhere to and you benefit from it. Even if you want to improve your energy levels and mood, or just feel better, trial a meal schedule for a few weeks. Reflect upon it and objectively assess whether it has worked for you.
Be flexible with your schedule: to make it work for you and your life!
What’s your experience with scheduling? Do you have a meal schedule? Would love to hear your experiences and thoughts.