Meal Timing: Another Fad Diet?

Prior to competing in my first NPC bikini competition, I was eating 3 meals a day and snacking on something whenever I was hungry. When I got myself involved in my first physique competition, I quickly figured out that my diet was going to change drastically. The goal with competing is to drop to a low body fat percentage; the average bikini competitor should fall around 13% body fat. In order to do this, it was important that I ate 6 meals per day and spaced them out to eat every 2-2.5 hours exactly. Girls on my team sometimes stayed awake until two or three in the morning to get their final meals in.     Eating 3 meals per day is part of the norm. But once you get yourself involved with health and fitness, you’ll soon find from others in the industry that you should be eating 6 meals per day every 2 hours. “It’ll help with weight loss,” they say. “It’ll speed up your metabolism,” they say. What’s the deal? Does it really make a difference?   How weight loss works: calories in vs out   Directly, the number of meals or time you eat is almost irrelevant to weight loss. Weight loss is quite simple: it’s all about calorie expenditure (calories in vs. calories out). If your goal is weight loss then you need to be in a caloric deficit, regardless of anything else. There are several ways to get yourself into a deficit:

  1. Eat lower than your caloric maintenance level
  2. Start up a workout program for cardio
  3. Follow a workout program for resistance training
  4. Follow a workout program for cardio & resistance training
  The option that you choose is based upon preference and how soon you want results. The most effective program is one that includes cardio, weight training, and a maintainable diet (with cookies, if that’s what you’re into). Your meal timing and spacing won’t mean anything at all if you’re not in a caloric deficit.   Blood sugar, insulin, and meal timing   Indirectly, the number of meals you eat can be a game changer. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it was the worst and contributed to an eating disorder. Typically, eating more meals throughout the day can help in overcoming binge-eating disorders because it doesn’t cause your body to go into shock thinking that you need food (which happens often in a typical American diet), but with me it had the opposite effect because it caused me to think about food 24/7. Eating 3 meals per day vs. 6 smaller meals per day raises your blood sugar levels, which triggers a spike in your insulin. The purpose of insulin is to regulate blood sugar. In doing so, it takes the glucose (or sugar) in your body and moves it to your fat storage to lower your blood sugar. On top of this, it also disables your body to burn fat during this time. Sugar is in almost everything you eat, whether it’s considered “healthy” or “unhealthy”: candy, bread, rice, noodles, rice cakes, fruit, sweet potatoes, legumes, milk. Anything labeled as a “carb” is broken down into sugar by the body. This does not mean we should fear carbs; they’re our main energy source and we need them to live. Eat your carbs, but realize how eating too many at once can trigger an insulin spike. Because we need carbohydrates as optimal energy to survive, it’s important that we have them used as efficiently as possible rather than eating a ton at a time and having the rest stored as fat (and thus, preventing our bodies to burn fat during that time). Our bodies are in constant need of fuel throughout the day. Research says that every 2-3 hours is the time that we need to refuel and refeed our bodies. When we eat, our bodies digest those meals as quickly as 30-90 minutes. Whatever energy isn’t needed will be stored as fat and not be made useful to us.   Burning muscle instead of fat   Eating six small meals throughout the day guarantees that there will not be an insulin spike; there will be less sugar in your meals compared to eating a large meal. Because of this, very little (if any) of the calories from your meals will be sent to fat/ energy storage. This will not only stop energy from being stored as fat, but it also means that we are still able to burn fat throughout the day. Remember that our body takes energy from fat storage and uses them when needed throughout the day. Energy is often being stored as fat, but often being used as energy as well. This is why it’s important to remember that calorie expenditure is the most important thing in weight loss. As long as you’re in a deficit, you will be losing weight, but you may actually be losing muscle instead of body fat depending on how you time your meals. When you pay attention to meal timing, it ensures that your body is using body fat as energy instead of muscle. You don’t want fat burning to be altered because you spiked your insulin by eating too large of a meal. This is why sometimes bodybuilders lose more muscle than necessary due to the lack of consideration for meal timing.   Dieting to be happy   Personally, I do intermittent fasting; the complete opposite of eating small portion sizes. I prefer to eat a large amount of meals in a small amount of time or “window.” Intermittent fasting has its benefits as well and it all relates to preference and how our body and mind reacts individually to our plans. Intermittent fasting can be another great way of timing your meals, as it relies on fat storage for energy throughout the day. For me, eating larger meals at the end of the day keeps me from binge-eating. What works for one person may not work for the next. The beauty of health and fitness is discovering what works best for your mind and body. When it comes down to it, weight loss is all a matter of calories in vs. calories out, but meal timing and portion sizes are something to pay attention to if you want to take your fitness journey to another level.  

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