7 Tips and Considerations for Eating One Meal a Day

tips for one meal a dayAs the practice of eating one meal a day has grown in popularity, the questions have poured in. Foremost among them is some variation of the most basic: Is eating one meal a day a good idea? Is it safe? Is it smart? Should you do it? And on, and on.

I’m not here to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t eat one meal a day. That’s a decision for you to make. What I can do is, if it’s something you’re leaning toward, give you some things to consider before trying and some tips for optimizing it.

After all, one meal a day is relatively novel. Six to eight small meals a day is highly novel in the human experience, don’t get me wrong, and I would never advise something like that. But, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are relatively well-preserved across the spectrum of human traditions. Most populations eat at least twice a day. Although individual exceptions exist, few if any populations eat one meal a day in perpetuity.

So, what are some things to consider?

Don’t expect it be optimal for mass gain.

When you’re trying to gain muscle mass, you need to eat. You need to eat more food than you’re used to eating. Calories in need to exceed calories out. Funnily enough, it’s during a phase of desired mass gain that calorie counting really begins to matter. Focusing on the quality of the food you eat is great for inadvertent calorie reduction and weight loss; emphasizing the quantity while maintaining the quality is usually required for desired weight gain.

It’s really hard to eat enough food in one meal to gain weight. Lose fat while maintaining muscle, perhaps even making neuromuscular or efficiency-based strength gains? Sure. But very few get huge eating OMAD.

If that’s your goal, OMAD every day might not be the best option.

Focus on protein.

Protein is the most essential nutrient, biologically-speaking. We can’t make it ourselves. We can only eat it or pull it from existing tissues. For the sake of your health, your physical function, and your aesthetics, you should do the former and avoid the latter.

Protein is also incredibly filling. Your protein intake might not make the cut eating one meal a day. You might eat too little.

Plus, recent evidence suggests that to maximize muscle gain, spreading your protein intake across four meals a day with around 0.4 g protein per kg of bodyweight per meal is the best or “optimal” method. That’s mostly based on studies in “normal” people, not “weirdos” eating grass-fed meat or going keto or (gasp) eating a single meal a day. I suspect there’s some level of adaptation in us “weirdos” that improves our ability to utilize all the protein.

On paper, there’s a lot riding against you getting enough protein.

In reality, you will absorb all the protein you eat, even if it’s a ton in a single sitting. The real trick is making sure you eat enough—that can be hard.

Don’t do it every day.

This is my general advice to everyone who wants to eat one meal a day. Doing it every single day is hard. It makes it tough to hit your required protein. It makes it hard to get enough calories. It can wear on your social relationships. It can be stressful on your body.

But if you do OMAD two or three days a week, suddenly the stress becomes hormetic. Instead of being something that wears on you, it’s something that forces an adaptation. Suddenly you’re cycling calories—high one day, low the next—and life tends to work better when it cycles back and forth.

Do it on rest days.

Workout days? Maybe eat more frequently. Maybe do a shorter eating window with two or three meals shoved in there. You’re demanding a lot from your body, and one meal simply may not cut it.

But rest days? OMAD to your heart’s content. The break from digestion and nutrient infusions will actually help your body recover from the training. In fact, OMAD on rest days, and two to three MAD on training days might be the best possible way of doing it.

Take some electrolytes in the morning.

Why? Just like fasting and going keto or very low-carb for the first time, OMAD places a greater demand on your electrolytes. It lowers insulin, which depletes sodium and then potassium and magnesium. A big glass of sparkling mineral water with plenty of fresh lime or lemon juice and a spoonful of salt and maybe a scoop of magnesium powder should do the trick. Gerolsteiner is the most mineral-rich of the readily-available waters (and it’s delicious). That’s my go-to for days when I’ll be fasting or getting back into keto after a time off, and OMAD operates along similar lines.

It doesn’t contain enough calories to nullify the OMAD, and it will keep you energized and your stores topped up.  You’ve also got Robb Wolf’s electrolyte mix if you don’t want to mix your own. He always does his homework.

Be careful if you’re a woman.

It’s just a reality that women—in general—are more vulnerable to caloric insufficiency. For the reasoning and mechanisms, read this post on women and fasting (OMAD is basically a daily fast). Some people might take offense at that, but it’s the truth and I care about all my readers. I want you all to succeed. I don’t want you to try something that not only doesn’t work, but also actually harms you.

I’ve seen OMAD work for ladies, but I’ve seen it fail more than not. What seemed to work was not doing it daily (see previous section), not going too low-carb, and making sure to eat enough food.

Just be careful and don’t ignore warning signs.

Chill out on the coffee.

Coffee can be a lifesaver on OMAD. You get up and, instead of wolfing down breakfast, drink a cup of coffee. This upregulates your fat-burning and keeps you going ’til your single meal. Thousands of people probably couldn’t manage intermittent fasting without coffee, and the same goes for OMAD. Well, maybe they could, but it certainly makes it easier. That’s hard to argue with—and I won’t try. I’m a big fan of coffee when I fast.

However, coffee also has the potential to spike cortisol and exacerbate stress. It can make the OMAD work better in the short term but worse in the long term.

Don’t do the “drink-coffee-when-you’re-bored-and-thinking-of-food” thing. Don’t drink it throughout the day. If, by the time dinner rolls around, you’ve had a dozen cups of coffee, you’re doing it wrong. Are those last eight cups really helping your productivity and energy levels? I doubt it.

Wait a couple hours to drink coffee in the morning (if you can). There’s a natural cortisol spike upon waking, and drinking coffee at the same time it’s spiking naturally will elevate cortisol even further and shortchange the boost you get. Better to wait til 9 a.m. or so.

Drink green tea or matcha or take L-theanine with your coffee. The L-theanine (present in green tea and matcha) synergizes with the caffeine, limiting the cortisol response, reducing jitters, and improving the boost to cognition.

OMAD has the potential to really help a lot of people get a handle on their eating. But there’s also the chance for it go really, really wrong. I hope these seven items help nudge you in the right direction.

If you have any further input or questions, let me know down below. How do you do OMAD? What tips do you have for others who want to try? What do you wish you knew when you started?

Thanks for reading, everyone.

References

Owen GN, Parnell H, De bruin EA, Rycroft JA. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci. 2008;11(4):193-8.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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24 thoughts on “7 Tips and Considerations for Eating One Meal a Day”

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  1. Love this post! I recently switched jobs where it doesn’t make sense for me to bring my own food, and I can’t bring myself to eat the factory raised meat at my workplace. Essentially, I’m doing 5 OMADs and 2 lunch and dinner days.
    A few thoughts.
    1. Eating a meal without protein makes lasting until dinner almost impossible. If I eat a meal at lunchtime that doesn’t have protein, I get ravenous and miserable.
    2. I haven’t lost much muscle mass at all, gained a little strength, but haven’t really gotten leaner either.
    3. The first day back after eating two meals a day can be pretty rough in the early afternoon…this may or may not be related to the fact that that day is almost always Monday.
    4. 2 meals a day (TMAD?) on the weekend feels like a TON of food. Just a normal sized salad for lunch and dinner often makes me feel really full.
    5. It’s really empowering to thrive on a smaller amount of food than I would have thought was possible. It feels good for the environment and for me too.
    6. It hasn’t really impacted the way I feel when I exercise. I usually work out one day during the week and one day during the weekend, and my energy and performance doesn’t change much from workout to workout.
    I’ll stop there, but thanks for the article!

    1. Are you aware of the Hot Logic? It’s a food warmer you can get on Amazon, plug it in, even in your car. (Not affiliated.)

  2. I get the mineral water, but what does the lime or lemon juice add in terms of electrolytes?

    1. Wondering this too, as the amount of potassium is quite low in the juice of two lemons or limes.

    2. I speculate that maybe it’s the minute amount of sugars naturally in the lemons that help drive the water and electrolytes into the cells. I recall Mark explaining why adding a teaspoon of maple syrup to a liter of water I think, results in better hydration than plain water. I could be wrong but that’s my guess going off of past posts about hydration and electrolytes.

  3. DEAR MARK:

    I’ve asked this question in the comment section a handful of times over the past couple of years, and since this post is at least peripherally related to coffee, I’m going to take the opportunity to ask again:

    I am a coffee professional who sources single origin greens. As a result I do a lot of cupping, QC, dialing in various coffees for the bar, and just generally drink a fairly great amount of coffee throughout the day.

    I’d never sleep if it weren’t for rutecarpine, a COX-2 inhibitor I take before bed (500mg or so) that increases CYP1A2, the latter of which being responsible for metabolizing caffeine.

    Any thoughts as to how safe this practice is long term?

    Thanks!

    1. I’m not Mark, but out of curiosity (since I’d never heard of it), I looked up rutaecarpine, also known as Evodia. It’s generally considered safe by the FDA. However, one website (that sells the stuff) indicated a safe dosage to be up to 100 mg., which you appear to exceed by quite a bit. Also, from WebMD: “Evodia is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth. Evodia can cause an irregular heartbeat or stop the heart completely in animals. It is not clear what dose, if any, would cause this to happen in humans.”

      My semi-knowledgeable guess is that, at the very least, you’re confusing your body’s systems on a daily basis. You’re also monkeying around in more or less uncharted territory. The upshot could be some adverse consequences.

      You could try cutting way back on the rutaecarpine and minimizing the coffee consumption. Surely a sip or two, versus an entire cupful, could inform your taste buds well enough to satisfy your job requirements. Alternatively, check with a doctor. If it were me, I’d err on the side of caution. Just because something is available doesn’t mean it’s a great idea.

  4. I’ve been mostly OMAD for years. When you are metabolically resistant it’s still hard to maintain low enough weight.

  5. I’ve been doing OMAD for years, excepting on occasion. It has definitely evened out my ability to deal with hunger (I’m basically not hungry during the day anymore), and I’m a lot more even-keeled throughout the work day. It’s probably the single most useful thing I walked away from TPB with.

  6. Loved reading your thoughts on OMAD. I’ve been overweight / obese for over a decade, but generally felt good about myself and didn’t worry much about the number on the scale until recently.

    I’ve started intermittent fasting and have been seeing good results with it. I alternate 18:6 / 19:5 days (eating within a 5-6 hr window so basically lunch and dinner with possibly a snack in between) and OMAD days (only eating dinner). The OMAD actually started by accident when I had a lot going on and didn’t even THINK food until close to 4 pm (when I had typically begun my eating window between noon & 1 pm) which was too close to dinner time so I just waited for dinner. Since then, I’ve been more intentional with alternating the days with one “cheat day” each week where I eat whatever & whenever in moderation.

    I’ve found that alternating days and having a regulary scheduled cheat day have kept my metabolism up and prevented me from feeling deprived and ditching my diet (though I only plan on doing OMAD days for a couple months or so to jump-start my weight loss, then I’ll likely do 5 & 6 hr eating windows all 6 days, keeping my cheat day until I’m at my goal weight)

  7. Mark, I truly blame your blog for the chronic Gerolsteiner shortage at my local Trader Joe’s. I should probably buy a full case when it’s in stock, but it’s hard to do as an apartment dweller. So I buy a few bottles at a time when I find them, and I enjoy every drop.

  8. I am 55 and play table tennis two or three times a week. (usually 1.5- 2.5 houra at a time), and do some body weight excercises twice a week. I would like to loose about 6-8 lbs of fat, without muscle loss. I do OMAD five days a week, and eat two meals on weekends. I also put coconut oul, butter and MCT oil in my morning and noon coffee. I found that this makes it fairly easy to stick with OMAD. What is your opinion?
    Bryan

    1. I think, that putting butter and coconut oil into your coffee will break your fast. It’s right, that these are metabolized in a different way and they would not spike insulin, but because of the amount of calories they contain, the fast is broken.

  9. I’m with you on the “be careful with OMAD if you’re a woman.” In medical keto, there are also other warnings like “be careful with keto if you’re sick.” The body will go into gluconeogenesis in some instances, like getting a cold or having a period. It’s just a fact, not a value judgement. Dr. Kossoff’s book on Ketogenic Diets has more about kids with epilepsy and what happens during a cold. The same thing seems to happen to me monthly. Just another reason we need more female subjects in scientific studies.

  10. Great thanks Mark as usual….. i eat SEAB every day Salmon (sockeye coho) Eggs (from farm) Avocado Blueberries …minimal but just eating these (plus bacon etc) is difficult unless i eat salmon avocado early so still can down the blueberries w kefir and acacia in the evening … your information helps confirm manipulize ? validate influence adjust my variables and allows me more diversity

  11. Just for consideration. Adding lemon or lime
    juice to drinking water is one of the harshest
    treatments you can give your tooth enamel
    according to my dentist. Maybe check with
    your dentist before partaking.

  12. Eating one meal a day is common practise in many cultures, sometimes for practical reasons and often due to food scarcity. Years ago I had the opportunity to spend time with the Dali Lama and his lifelong practise has been OMD, a mid day meal and possibly tea and a biscuit before bed. I witnessed a man who each day exercised (yoga), meditated twice a day and carried out a full schedule of appearances and meetings and was fully present in everything he did. He had the energy and stamina I have wished for my whole life and all while eating one full meal a day.
    Now years later I often have a single meal but most days it is a late lunch which could be a protein shake (made with coffee before a workout) and an early dinner. I never eat before noon as I am just not hungry in the morning. We have been conditioned to eating constantly but when we listen to our bodies we can find we are eating for reasons that have nothing to do with fueling our bodies. Society can make it hard to veer from what people consider the norm. I love that as I age it becomes much easier to buck the norm and do what feels right for me and my body. It is one of the reasons why I loathe to say I eat any particular way, keto/paleo/vegan etc. I prefer to eat however I feel at any given time and when invited to eat with others, I eat what is served me. I do think we can obsess too much on our macros etc., and the competitive/judgemental stuff that comes with identifying with a certain way of eating can be harmful. This is why I love Marks daily apple, it has great advise and room for everyone.

    On a completely different note, while I do practise a form of time restricted eating, I want to put in a plug for extended fasting. I do a 3-5 day fast every month or every other month strictly for the health benefits and it has greatly enhanced my health, energy and stamina. I would for Mark to weigh in on any experience he has had with fasting. Do you do extended fasts Mark?

  13. I have found you get hungry about 3 hrs before eating time, but it doesn’t bother you more than a few. Minutes. You aren’t going to die.

  14. So smart! I’ve been OMAD (most days) for 1.5 years. I’m going to alternate days after reading this. Electrolytes,..here I come. ??

  15. Amazing content, thank you so much for sharing these amazing tips with us, indeed these tips will be of great help to me when I will be traveling and don’t have enough options to eat.